The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
 Should the troops leave Iraq or stay? Let the Iraqis decide!
Death and disorder - when is the right time for troops to pull out?
The Guardian, January 22, 2005

As the insurgency appears each day to grow in strength, and casualties mount, the question being asked with increasing urgency in Washington and London is this: are US and British troops part of the solution or part of the problem?

Troop withdrawal is back on the agenda. The issue is not if, but when. Policy papers emerging in Washington, London and Baghdad set out different scenarios for withdrawal, but they are secret. As casualties rise, the debate about the merits of a speedy departure is growing, especially in the US. Yesterday another American soldier was killed, pushing the US death toll to more than 1,070, with thousands more injured.

Even Republicans are now joining the call for an early pullout.

Over the past 48 hours the Guardian has contacted a cross-section of prominent foreign policy analysts on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as in Iraq.

The main argument for a pullout is that, by their very presence, the US and British forces encourage the insurgency. The counter-argument is that such an early pullout, with the Iraqi army and police far from ready, risks a full-scale civil war, and possible disintegration of Iraq. [complete article]

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Vote is at risk of inflaming, not taming, the region
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, January 21, 2005

Amid escalating insurgent attacks, a threatened Sunni boycott, and growing American misgivings, the prospect of Iraq's elections producing a strong, inclusive government looks increasingly remote.

Despite the violence and signs of cold feet in the interim administration led by Ayad Allawi, the polls will go ahead on January 30. The US knows Iraq's Shia majority parties, which expect to emerge victorious, will brook no further delay.

But the elections are also likely to be deeply flawed in terms of security, participation and transparency. The UN has relatively few staff in place. Iraqi poll organisers are quitting due to intimidation.

Even if they want to vote, many among the Sunni Arab minority may not dare, said Rime Allaf, a Middle East expert at Chatham House. "The elections will not produce a credible government," she predicted.

For hardline secular nationalists and Islamist terrorists alike, the polls are irrelevant. Their overriding aim is ending foreign military occupation. Violence will continue at least until that objective is achieved. [complete article]

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Iraqi insurgency growing larger, more effective
By Tom Lasseter and Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, January 21, 2005

The United States is steadily losing ground to the Iraqi insurgency, according to every key military yardstick.

A Knight Ridder analysis of U.S. government statistics shows that through all the major turning points that raised hopes of peace in Iraq, including the arrest of Saddam Hussein and the handover of sovereignty at the end of June, the insurgency, led mainly by Sunni Muslims, has become deadlier and more effective.

The analysis suggests that unless something dramatic changes - such as a newfound will by Iraqis to reject the insurgency or a large escalation of U.S. troop strength - the United States won't win the war. It's axiomatic among military thinkers that insurgencies are especially hard to defeat because the insurgents' goal isn't to win in a conventional sense but merely to survive until the will of the occupying power is sapped. Recent polls already suggest an erosion of support among Americans for the war. [complete article]

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Arabs say U.S. rhetoric rings hollow
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, January 22, 2005

President Bush's inaugural address placing the fostering of democratic freedoms around the world at the center of U.S. foreign policy drew a skeptical reaction Friday in the Arab world, where analysts questioned whether the rhetoric of the speech was consistent with the administration's actions in the Middle East.

With Arab countries mostly shuttered for a four-day Islamic holiday that marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, there was little public reaction to Bush's address. Many newspapers have not published for days, and government offices closed earlier than usual this week.

In interviews, however, a number of political analysts and commentators commended the values outlined in Bush's speech, in which he proclaimed that the United States "will persistently clarify the choice before every ruler and every nation, the moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, and freedom, which is eternally right." But they said the words belied the fact that the United States supports several authoritarian governments in the Middle East and would ring hollow to the many Arabs who perceive U.S. policy in the oil-rich region as motivated by financial concerns and support for Israel. [complete article]

Comment -- George Bush might currently be all fired up having just finished reading Natan Sharansky's, The Case for Democracy, but Bush and his Reaganite and neoconservative friends revealed their true colors after the fall of the Soviet Union. The big issue was never freedom and democracy but free markets and capitalism. China has learnt the lesson well and its regime knows well that they don't need to lose any sleep while Bush pumps out his bogus message.

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Baghdad's checkpoint madness
By Rod Nordland, Newsweek, January 20, 2005

Minister of State Adnan al-Janabi, an intimate of Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, tells Newsweek that he was so incensed by his treatment by American soldiers as he tried to enter the Green Zone to go to a cabinet meeting that he resigned in protest.

Probably no single aspect of the American presence in Iraq has so infuriated Iraqis as their treatment at these checkpoints. The lines are long, and as everyone in Iraq now knows, a long line is an invitation to a bombing. Tempers fray among Iraqis and the beleaguered soldiers—usually reservists, often on their second, extended tour in Iraq. Iraqis are convinced the Americans only care about protecting themselves, not them. Iraqi troops and police, who have been so aggressively targeted by insurgents for the past few months, have imitated the Americans' methods, which only heightens their sense of alienation from their own people. And as Iraq gears up for elections, checkpoint madness is multiplying around police stations, possible polling places, public places of every description. [complete article]

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Vote in Basra could take secular turn
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, January 21, 2005

Residents of this southern city of 1.8 million have learned over the past two years not to criticize the Shi'ite Islamic parties that have controlled its government -- at least, not out loud.

But many Basra residents say they plan to cast votes for secular political parties Jan. 30, defying the omnipresent shadow of the religious figures who claim primacy here. And others who do support the religious parties say practical needs take precedence over doctrine.

The election debate in Basra, taking place mostly in private, gives a strong signal about the surprising range of opinions within Iraq's Shi'ite majority. That could provide a major boost to candidates such as Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a secular politician who is considered acceptable to the Shi'ite religious establishment.

On a crowded market street in the Tanounia district, hand-printed cloth banners and sleek posters trumpeted the front-runner Shi'ite slate of candidates commonly known by its ballot number, 169.

"The Islamic list, 169, has the most propaganda and biggest organization," said a schoolteacher who gave his name only as Abu Ali, wheeling his bicycle on the crowded market street. "But when you come to the inside of people, they will say, 'We are free; we don't have to choose this list.' " [complete article]

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Anti-war movement divided over trade unionist's murder
By Andrew Grice, The Independent, January 22, 2005

The murder of a prominent trade unionist in Iraq has provoked a split in the anti-war movement in Britain over whether he should be seen as a hero or a collaborator with the American-led occupation.

The torture and killing of Hadi Saleh in Baghdad on 4 January has become a litmus test of whether campaigners who opposed the Iraq war should "move on" and embrace moves towards democracy in the country. The more moderate voices in the anti-war camp have accused hardliners of failing to condemn the murder and implying it was a justified act by insurgents.

Mr Saleh, the international officer of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, spent five years in jail during Saddam Hussein's regime. He returned from exile abroad after Saddam's fall to try to establish trade unions in the new Iraq. Allies say he was tied, blindfolded, severely tortured and strangled by an electric cord as part of a campaign by the "Iraqi resistance" to eradicate democrats. [complete article]

Comment -- The nub of the issue here is that a simplistic understanding of the insurgency has blinded some members of the antiwar movement to the insurgency's identity. To refer to it as "resistance" is to impute nationalistic motives, even when they are far from evident; to regard it as a common cause, even though it seems clear that it involves multiple elements some of whom appear to be simply making alliances of convenience; to see it as a product of the occupation and ignore its strategic core - an operation that appears to reflect long-term planning and significant involvement from members of the former regime.

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Extinction tied to global warming
By Guy Gugliotta, Washington Post, January 21, 2005

Scientists call it "the Great Dying," a 250 million-year-old catastrophe that wiped out 90 percent of ocean species and 70 percent of land species in the biggest mass extinction in Earth's geologic history.

The cause of this cataclysm is a matter of great dispute among paleontologists, but research released yesterday offers new evidence that global warming caused by massive and prolonged volcanic activity may have been the chief culprit.

Huge amounts of carbon dioxide were released into the air from open volcanic fissures known to geologists as the "Siberian Traps," researchers said, triggering a greenhouse effect that warmed the earth and depleted oxygen from the atmosphere, causing environmental deterioration and finally collapse.

A second set of findings suggested that the warming also crippled the oceans' ability to refresh their oxygen supply, causing the seas to go sterile, destroying marine life and allowing anaerobic bacteria (which do not require oxygen) to release poisonous hydrogen sulfide "swamp" gas into the air.

The two reports, prepared independently, both cast doubt on another theory -- that the Great Dying was caused by the impact of an asteroid or comet such as the one that triggered the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. [complete article]

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In stench, amid ghosts, seeking the Tsunami dead
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, January 21, 2005

Almost a month after the tsunami hit, huge numbers of bodies are still being found here, a reminder that for all the money and outside help, even the most basic condition for a return to normalcy is nowhere near.

On Monday, searchers found 2,440 bodies. Two days before, the number was 2,972. For the first time, the numbers have now dropped below 2,000 a day, though not because the dead are close to being cleared. It is just harder to get to them now.

"It's difficult to find them now because a lot of them are under houses, under the rubble," said Eka Susila, a 27-year-old engineer whose job now, with the Indonesian Red Cross, is to count the dead and coordinate the teams going out to find and bury them.

In an announcement meant to mark a crucial advance in the cleanup, the government said this week that it intended to pick up all the bodies by Jan. 26, exactly one month after the earthquake and tsunami. But few here think that is possible.

The official count of the dead buried in Aceh was 92,751 on Thursday. Mr. Susila estimates at least 10,000 more bodies are scattered under collapsed houses, ground into the mud, mixed with the millions of tons of mud and debris. [complete article]

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U.S. adds Israel to the Iran equation
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2005

In bluntly threatening terms on Inauguration Day, Vice President Dick Cheney removed any doubt that in its second term the Bush administration intended to directly confront the theocracy in Tehran.

Cheney, who often has delivered the Bush team's toughest warnings to foreign capitals, said Iran was "right at the top" of the administration's list of world trouble spots, and expressed concern that Israel "might well decide to act first" to destroy Iran's nuclear program. The Israelis would let the rest of the world "worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterward," he added in a radio interview with Don Imus that was also broadcast on MSNBC.

The tough talk was part of the administration's attempt to halt what Iran contends is a peaceful, civilian nuclear energy program but which Washington believes is a clandestine program to develop nuclear weapons.

Facing weak diplomatic and military options, the administration has issued increasingly stern warnings in hopes that threats of sanctions and international isolation will convince Iran to shun nuclear weapons. President Bush and other top administration officials also have spoken in menacing terms about Iran in recent days.

But Cheney's words marked the first time that a senior official has amplified the threat by suggesting that the United States could be unable to prevent military attack by its close allies in Jerusalem, analysts and diplomats said. [complete article]

Transcript of part of the Imus-Cheney interview:

IMUS: Back to not Iraq, but Seymour Hersh, in the current issue of The New Yorker, suggesting that you all are up to something in Iran, and I guess my question is -- I don't understand that much about it, but my question is, are we trying to determine what they have? And if we find out that they have a nuclear program, then what?

R. CHENEY: Well, we are, I'd say, very concerned about Iran, because for two reasons, again, one, they do have a program. We believe they have a fairly robust new nuclear program. That's been developed by, or being pursued I guess would be the best way to put it, by members of the E.U. -- the Brits, the Germans and the French -- have been negotiating with the Iranians to get them to allow greater transparency in their program so the outside world can be confident they're not building weapons, that it's for peaceful purposes.

The other problem we have, of course, is that Iran is a noted sponsor of terror. They've been the prime backers of the Hezbollah over the years, and they have, in fact, been -- used terror in various incendiary ways to kill Americans and a lot of other folks around the globe, too, and that combination is of great concern.

We'll continue to try to address those issues diplomatically, continue to work with the Europeans. At some point, if the Iranians don't live up to their commitments, the next step will be to take it to the U.N. Security Council, and seek the imposition of international sanctions to force them to live up to the commitments and obligations they've signed up to under the non-proliferation treaty, and it's -- but it is a -- you know, you look around the world at potential trouble spots, Iran is right at the top of the list.

IMUS: Would that mean us again?

R. CHENEY: I think it means a serious effort to use the...

IMUS: Why don't we make Israel do it?

R. CHENEY: Well, one of the concerns people have is that Israel might do it without being asked, that if, in fact, the Israelis became convinced the Iranians had significant nuclear capability, given the fact that Iran has a stated policy that their objective is the destruction of Israel, the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards.

We don't want a war in the Middle East, if we can avoid it. And certainly in the case of the Iranian situation, I think everybody would be best suited by or best treated and dealt with if we could deal with it diplomatically.

IMUS: We already have a war in the Middle East, don't we?

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Zarqawi vows war will go on
By Edward Wong, New York Times, January 21, 2005

The most wanted insurgent in Iraq acknowledged in an Internet audio message on Thursday that a top guerrilla leader had died in fighting in Falluja, but he vowed to continue waging holy war against the Americans.

In the 75-minute message, the militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, insisted that the holy war "could last months and years."

"In the fight against the arrogant American tyrant who carries the flag of the cross, we find that despite its military might, it is being crushed emotionally and morally," he said, according to a translation from Reuters. "Our battle with the enemy is a battle of streets and towns and has many tactical, defensive and offensive methods. Fierce wars are not decided in days or weeks."

The audio message, posted on a guerrilla Web site, could not be immediately authenticated.

In the message, Mr. Zarqawi said Omar Hadid, a leader of the Falluja resistance and one of the most wanted guerrillas in Iraq, had died in Falluja after helping to kill American troops. A prominent tribal leader from Anbar Province, which includes Falluja, said last week that he had heard that Mr. Hadid had been killed. [complete article]

Comment -- What's the function of a headline? Provide a pithy summation of the story? But not if it's appears in the New York Times. Unsure that its readers would recognize the name "Zarqawi", they insist on referring to the "top rebel in Iraq." The NYT's hip sister paper, the International Herald Tribune (which runs NYT articles), is so bold as to assume that its readers are familiar with Zarqawi. (So am I and thus favor their headlines.) What's the NYT's problem? Scared to re-write a style guide from circa 1920?

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At least 14 killed, 40 hurt by car bomb
By Bassem Mroue, Associated Press (via WP), January 21, 2005

A car bomb exploded outside a Shiite mosque in Baghdad Friday where worshippers were celebrating a major Muslim holiday, killing at least 14 people and wounding 40, police and hospital officials said, the country's latest violence in the lead-up to this month's elections.

The car blew up outside the al-Taf mosque in the capital's southwest, where Shiites were celebrating one of Islam's most important holidays, Eid al-Adha, or Feast of Sacrifice. The feast coincides with the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia.

Attacks on Shiites have increased in the run-up to Iraq's Jan. 30 parliamentary and provincial elections. Friday's blast was the second outside a Shiite mosque in the capital this week and it came a day after a chief terror leader in Iraq berated Shiites in an Internet audio recording that appeared aimed at sowing division in the country. [complete article]

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U.S. prisons in Iraq nearly full with rise in insurgent arrests
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, January 21, 2005

Major U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq are nearing capacity, with the number of suspected insurgents in custody on Thursday at the highest level since March, according to detention officials.

The U.S. military has about 7,900 so-called security detainees -- people suspected of participating in the insurgency or otherwise threatening Iraq's security -- at its three primary holding facilities in Iraq, officials said. In addition, releases have been suspended until after Jan. 30, when Iraqis are to elect a National Assembly.

Military officials said the surge in detainees reflected the expansion of the insurgency campaign aimed at disrupting Iraq's first democratic elections in nearly half a century.

"It's been steadily growing since September," said Maj. Gen. William H. Brandenburg, commander of U.S. detention operations in Iraq. He said that an average of 50 people were being arrested every day and that U.S. and Iraqi security forces had recently been capturing as many as 70 in a day.

The number of detainees includes about 650 arrested during fighting in Fallujah, which U.S. and Iraqi security forces recaptured from insurgents in November. Though U.S. and Iraqi officials have repeatedly said that foreign fighters are heavily involved in the insurgency, the detainee population includes just 334 foreigners. [complete article]

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Give me liberty or give me... what?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, January 20, 2005

President Bush's inaugural address today was a flimsy, shallow speech -- eloquent, even graceful, but in the service of cliches and slogans, not ideas or policies. The theme was attractive: "freedom" and the necessity to spread it to around the world, not just for its own sake but to protect those who already enjoy it. Tyranny spawns resentment, hatred, and violence; freedom is the force of history that breaks tyranny. Therefore:
The survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands. The best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world.

The template, clearly, was John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural address, which began, "We observe today not a victory of party but a celebration of freedom" and went on, more famously, "We shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty."

But George W. Bush is not John F. Kennedy and, more to the point, 2005 is not 1961. It is doubtful that even Kennedy's words -- so flush with idealism at the time -- would have come off so stirringly had they been written, say, eight years later, at the height of the Vietnam War. They would have raised questions, set off alarm bells. And so should Bush's paraphrasings in the middle of the present war in Iraq. [complete article]

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Iraq shadows Bush's inaugural
By Ron Fournier, Associated Press (via Newsday), January 20, 2005

Not a word on Iraq. President Bush's inaugural address contained 2,000 words of passion and promise for his second term, but no direct mention of the war that could sink it.

The conflict in Iraq, win or lose, could define his presidency. Bush knows this as well as anyone, which explains his strategic omission.

As he swore the oath for a second time, U.S. casualty totals in Iraq stood at more than 1,360 dead and 10,500 wounded. The war already cost $100 billion, with a pricetag running at more than $1 billion a week.

A majority of Americans say the conflict is not worth the cost in lives and money, polls show, though they seem willing to give the president time to stabilize Iraq.

Bush asked for the public's patience Thursday, as he did during his re-election campaign. "Our country has accepted obligations that are difficult to fulfill, and would be dishonorable to abandon," the president said.

That, along with a tribute to fallen troops, is the closest Bush got to mentioning Iraq. [complete article]

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On television, torture takes a holiday
By Frank Rich, New York Times, January 23, 2005

On the day that the defense rested in the military trial of Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr. for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, American television news had a much better story to tell: "The Trouble With Harry," as Brian Williams called it on NBC. The British prince had attended a fancy dress costume party in Wiltshire (theme: "native and colonial") wearing a uniform from Rommel's Afrika Korps complete with swastika armband. Even by the standards of this particular royal family, here was idiocy above and beyond the call of duty.

For those of us across the pond, it was heartening to feel morally superior to a world-class twit. But if you stood back for just a second and thought about what was happening in that courtroom in Fort Hood, Tex. - a task that could be accomplished only by reading newspapers, which provided the detailed coverage network TV didn't even attempt - you had to wonder if we had any more moral sense than Britain's widely reviled "clown prince." The lad had apparently managed to reach the age of 20 in blissful ignorance about World War II. Yet here we were in America, in the midst of a war that is going on right now, choosing to look the other way rather than confront the evil committed in our name in a prison we "liberated" from Saddam Hussein in Iraq. What happened in the Fort Hood courtroom this month was surely worthy of as much attention as Harry's re-enactment of "Springtime for Hitler": it was the latest installment in our government's cover up of war crimes.

But a not-so-funny thing happened to the Graner case on its way to trial. Since the early bombshells from Abu Ghraib last year, the torture story has all but vanished from television, even as there have been continued revelations in the major newspapers and magazines like The New Yorker, The New York Review of Books and Vanity Fair. If a story isn't on TV in America, it doesn't exist in our culture. [complete article]

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China's risky scramble for oil
By David R. Francis, Christian Science Monitor, January 20, 2005

Look at this imbalance: The average American consumes 25 barrels of oil a year. In China, the average is about 1.3 barrels per year; in India, less than one.

So as the 2.4 billion Chinese and Indians move to improve their living standards, they're going to want more oil - likely more than can be produced.

That perceived shortage is setting off an intensifying scramble to tie up oil reserves around the world. So far, China has been the most aggressive player. But the competition is just getting going.

The pattern is clear. China has been weighing buying Unocal, a major US oil firm. Last month in Beijing, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez promised to open that nation's oil and natural gas fields to China. Russia, in effect renationalizing the giant oil subsidiary of Yukos, may offer China a 20 percent chunk of the new firm.

China's efforts to tie up oil and gas resources - in places such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Sudan - have not been cheap. But it has an unfair advantage, says Michael Lynch, president of Strategic Energy and Economic Research in Amherst, Mass. Its national oil firms have access to cheap capital from government institutions - and few limits on entering areas seen as sensitive for publicly held Western firms. (Think violence-prone Sudan.)

The challenge is huge. For China and India to reach just one-quarter of the level of US oil consumption, world output would have to rise by 44 percent. To get to half the US level, world production would need to nearly double.

That's impossible. The world's oil reserves are finite. And the view is spreading that global oil output will soon peak. [complete article]

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In age of security, firm mines wealth of personal data
By Robert O'Harrow Jr., Washington Post, January 20, 2005

It began in 1997 as a company that sold credit data to the insurance industry. But over the next seven years, as it acquired dozens of other companies, Alpharetta, Ga.-based ChoicePoint Inc. became an all-purpose commercial source of personal information about Americans, with billions of details about their homes, cars, relatives, criminal records and other aspects of their lives.

As its dossier grew, so did the number of ChoicePoint's government and corporate clients, jumping from 1,000 to more than 50,000 today. Company stock once worth about $500 million ballooned to $4.1 billion.

Now the little-known information industry giant is transforming itself into a private intelligence service for national security and law enforcement tasks. It is snapping up a host of companies, some of them in the Washington area, that produce sophisticated computer tools for analyzing and sharing records in ChoicePoint's immense storehouses. In financial papers, the company itself says it provides "actionable intelligence."

"We do act as an intelligence agency, gathering data, applying analytics," said company vice president James A. Zimbardi.

ChoicePoint and other private companies increasingly occupy a special place in homeland security and crime-fighting efforts, in part because they can compile information and use it in ways government officials sometimes cannot because of privacy and information laws. [complete article]

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U.S. and Congress knew Saddam was smuggling oil
By Mark Turner, Financial Times, January 19, 2005

The Clinton and Bush administrations not only knew but told the US Congress that Iraq was smuggling oil to Turkey and Jordan, and in both cases recommended continuing military and financial aid to countries seen as important allies.

Recent revelations that Saddam Hussein was able to raise billions of dollars in illicit revenue in defiance of international sanctions have prompted savage criticism of the United Nations by members of Congress and rightwing commentators.

Yet two letters sent by the State Department to Congress in 1998 and 2002 clearly show that successive US administrations knew of sanctions-busting and turned a blind eye to it. Some US lawmakers are now demanding that the US also hold itself to account for those decisions and not shift all the blame to the UN. [complete article]

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U.S. contractor slain in Iraq had alleged graft
By Ken Silverstein, T. Christian Miller and Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2005

An American contractor gunned down last month in Iraq had accused Iraqi Defense Ministry officials of corruption days before his death, according to documents and U.S. officials.

Dale Stoffel, 43, was shot to death Dec. 8 shortly after leaving an Iraqi military base north of Baghdad, an attack attributed at the time to Iraqi insurgents. Also killed was a business associate, Joseph Wemple, 49.

The killings came after Stoffel alerted senior U.S. officials in Washington that he believed Iraqi Defense Ministry officials were part of a kickback scheme involving a multimillion-dollar contract awarded to his company, Wye Oak Technology, to refurbish old Iraqi military equipment.

The FBI has launched an investigation into the killings and whether they might have been retaliation for Stoffel's whistle-blowing activities, according to people familiar with the inquiry. The FBI declined to comment.

Stoffel, of Monongahela, Pa., made his allegations in a Dec. 3 letter to a senior Pentagon official and in a meeting with aides to Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.). Soon after, Stoffel was summoned to the Taji military base in Iraq by coalition military officials to discuss his concerns about his contract. He complained about payment problems with a mysterious Lebanese businessman designated by the Iraqis as a middleman, sources said.

As Stoffel, Wemple and an Iraqi interpreter left the Taji base in a car Dec. 8, another vehicle rammed theirs head-on. Two masked men jumped out and executed the two Americans in a fusillade of bullets, according to news accounts at the time. Their interpreter fled and is missing.

Stoffel's death has prompted new worries about the integrity of the reconstruction effort in Iraq, which has been plagued by accusations of corruption and cronyism almost from the start. [complete article]

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Approximately 300 academics have been killed
By Charles Crain, USA Today, January 17, 2005

Isam al-Rawi, who marks down the dead in a datebook, can read back the details: a scientist killed on Dec. 21; the assistant dean of Baghdad's medical college killed on Christmas Day; a professor in Mosul killed on Dec. 26.

Al-Rawi, a geologist at Baghdad University and head of the Association of University Lecturers, says about 300 academics and university administrators have been assassinated in a mysterious wave of murders since the American occupation of Iraq began in 2003. About 2,000 others, he says, have fled the country in fear for their lives.

American and Iraqi officials say elections Jan. 30 will be one step toward ending the insurgency raging here. But scientists and academics have been under siege for more than a year and a half, and they fear the threat against them will continue. Doctors, scientists and academics -- the educated elite who would be the foundation of a healthy economy and democratic society -- continue to leave Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- America can pour billions of dollars into rebuilding the infrastructure of Iraq, but the intelligentsia form a small, but vital part of the fabric of society and are much more difficult to replace. In truth, people cannot be replaced. Others will come along, but the ones lost are gone - a fact that our own throw-away culture so easily ignores.

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Sunni vote boycott may not hurt community
By Hamza Hendawi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 20, 2005

There are no election posters anywhere in sight in Baghdad's Sunni stronghold of Azamiyah. Even when a single banner for a Sunni-led party was put up recently, local youths promptly hauled it down.

Iraq's majority Shiites are embracing the Jan. 30 vote, which is expected to confirm their new status as the country's most politically powerful group. Many Sunni leaders want the vote postponed, and militant Sunni clerics are calling for a boycott.

"You tell me that the election will not be perfect, but I disagree. It will be absolutely worthless," said Azamiyah native Mohammed Yehia outside the Imam Abu Hanifa mosque, a towering structure with a vast plaza that's Sunni Islam's most revered site in Iraq. "There will be no election in Azamiyah."

On the face of it, Sunni Arabs' plan not to participate in Iraq's Jan. 30 elections would appear to go against their own self interests, damaging their chance for representation in a new legislature that will draw up a permanent constitution expected to settle some of Iraq's most enduring racial and religious issues. Sunnis would seem to be abandoning the future of the country to Shiites and Kurds.

In reality, though, Sunni leaders could gain stature by distancing themselves from a political process many in Iraq see as tainted by U.S. influence and flawed by the tenuous security situation. [complete article]

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Logistical challenges remain before Iraqis cast ballots
By James Glanz, New York Times, January 20, 2005

Farid Ayar separated three pieces of cardboard, folded them along their prefabricated seams, and assembled a square column a few feet high with a diagonal brace inside. "Help me," he said to another Iraqi, and they fitted the last piece into the top, turning up a flap to make a little shelf that was shrouded on three sides.

In less than a minute, Mr. Ayar, a member of the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, had assembled a polling booth. He pantomimed a vote by jiggling his fingertips over a ballot before folding it and dropping it in an imaginary ballot box.

It looked easy. But if the country is to have its scheduled elections on Jan. 30, then over the next 11 days Mr. Ayar's organization will have to ship 90,000 of those cardboard kits and 60 million individual ballot sheets to more than 5,500 polling places, some of them in the most perilous regions of Iraq.

From training as many as 200,000 poll workers to tabulating the choices of about 14 million eligible voters, the logistical challenges of organizing fair elections in an unstable country that has not voted freely since the 1950's have been lost in the wash of violence and political strife. Election workers are days away from putting this gigantic machine to the test in one of the most forbidding challenges to democratic ingenuity. [complete article]

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Iraqis' readiness disputed in hearing
By Josh White, Washington Post, January 20, 2005

The pace and effectiveness of U.S. efforts to train Iraqi security forces, a central factor in the Bush administration's exit strategy, became part of the debate yesterday over Condoleezza Rice's nomination to be secretary of state.

Rice, whose nomination was endorsed by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday, told the panel that 120,000 members of various Iraqi security forces are now trained and equipped, a number that falls short of initial goals but shows progress.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) challenged that number, arguing yesterday that no more than 14,000 Iraqi troops are trained, equipped and able to fight.

U.S. military commanders in Iraq defended Rice's estimate as reasonable, but they acknowledged yesterday that some of the more than 120,000 are not yet capable of waging effective operations against an aggressive insurgency. Some lack experience, and many are fresh from training. [complete article]

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Army scrounging to boost troops in Iraq
By Joseph L. Galloway, Knight Ridder, January 19, 2005

The third rotation of American soldiers and Marines into Iraq is under way. The Pentagon is doing the old robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul thing to boost total troop strength temporarily to 150,000 for the coming Iraq elections.

What that means is some outfits find themselves on their way back over after only nine months at home since their last combat tour. In other outfits where they were expected home for Christmas, the troops instead got a two-month extension on top of their "standard" 12-month combat tour.

This time around, about 50 percent of the troops going in will be Army Reserve and National Guard soldiers. The burden just gets heavier and heavier, and the Reserve commander has warned his superiors that his force is being broken by poorly thought-out Pentagon policies and overuse.

The Army's response was to propose a change of policy to allow the reserve troops to be called up for 24 months instead of 18 months, and more frequently. [complete article]

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The other, man-made tsunami
By John Pilger, January 6, 2005

The west's crusaders, the United States and Britain, are giving less to help the tsunami victims than the cost of a Stealth bomber or a week's bloody occupation of Iraq. The bill for George Bush's coming inauguration party would rebuild much of the coastline of Sri Lanka. Bush and Blair increased their first driblets of "aid" only when it became clear that people all over the world were spontaneously giving millions and a public relations problem beckoned. The Blair government's current "generous" contribution is one sixteenth of the £800m it spent bombing Iraq before the invasion and barely one twentieth of a billion pound gift, known as a "soft loan", to the Indonesian military so that it could acquire Hawk fighter-bombers.

On 24 November, one month before the tsunami struck, the Blair government gave its backing to an arms fair in Jakarta, "designed to meet an urgent need for the [Indonesian] armed forces to review its defence capabilities," reported the Jakarta Post. The Indonesian military, responsible for genocide in East Timor, has killed more than 20,000 civilians and "insurgents" in Aceh. Among the exhibitors at the arms fair was Rolls Royce, manufacturer of engines for the Hawks, which, along with British-supplied Scorpion armoured vehicles, machine guns and ammunition, were terrorising and killing people in Aceh up to the day the tsunami devastated the province. [complete article]

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Indonesia kills 120 rebels in devastated Aceh, tsunami toll nears 220,000
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), January 21, 2005

Indonesia's military said it had killed 120 separatist rebels over the past two weeks in tsunami-devastated Aceh province, despite pledges by both sides to focus on a massive relief effort rather than fighting.

"Over the past two weeks we have been forced to kill 120 GAM (Free Aceh Movement) members and seized their weapons," army chief General Ryamizard Ryacudu said, claiming they had been stealing relief supplies.

GAM has declared its own ceasefire and both it and the Jakarta government have expressed interest in sitting down for peace talks after the disaster killed 166,760 people in Aceh and elsewhere in north Sumatra. [complete article]

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At Mecca, an oasis of open debate
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, January 20, 2005

The two-hour panel presentation on "Mecca: The Cultural Capital of Islam" was pretty dry but things got rolling in the question and answer session, in a way that was quintessentially Meccan.

One by one, audience members, a surprising number of them women, came to the microphone and tossed out questions that few others would dare ask publicly.

"How will we deal with the issue of terrorism?" asked one woman.

"Why do we look only into the past and not to the future?" another woman demanded.

The session soon grew into a raucous series of debates about the critical issues facing Muslims - disunity, extremism, leadership. And soon the meeting's organizer, Abubaker Bagader, a sociology professor at King Abdul Aziz University, had to step in to admonish them - not for being too argumentative but for veering from the subject.

Rare in most of the Muslim world, the willingness to debate and raise seemingly taboo questions is standard here in the birthplace of Islam and the site of the hajj, the annual pilgrimage beginning Wednesday that attracts about 1.5 million Muslims from all corners of the world for five days of meditation, prayer and, often, vigorous debate. [complete article]

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Islam's claim on Spain
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2005

Across a valley of fragrant cedars and orange trees, worshipers at the pristine Great Mosque of Granada look out at the Alhambra, the 700-year-old citadel and monument to the heyday of Islamic glory.

Granada's Muslims chose the hilltop location precisely with the view, and its unmistakable symbolism, in mind.

It took them more than 20 years to build the mosque, the first erected here in half a millennium, after they conquered the objections of city leaders and agreed, ultimately, to keep the minaret shorter than the steeple on the Catholic Iglesia de San Nicolas next door.

Cloistered nuns on the other side of the mosque added a few feet to the wall enclosing their convent, as if to say they wanted neither to be seen nor to see.

Many of Spain's Muslims long for an Islamic revival to reclaim their legendary history, and inaugurating the Great Mosque last year was the most visible gesture. But horrific bombings by Muslim extremists that killed nearly 200 people in Madrid on March 11 have forced Spain's Muslims and non-Muslims to reassess their relationship, and turned historical assumptions on their head.

"We are a people trying to return to our roots," said Anwar Gonzalez, 34, a Granada native who converted to Islam 17 years ago. "But it's a bad time to be a Muslim." [complete article]

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The dangers of silencing Saudi dissent
By Mahan Abedin, Asia Times, January 21, 2005

The inclusion of Saudi dissident Saad al-Faqih and the organization that he leads, the Movement for Islamic Reform in Arabia (MIRA), in the United Nations Security Council 1267 Committee's list of terrorist individuals and organizations is not an altogether uncontroversial decision. After all, Faqih has been living openly in the United Kingdom since 1994 and has not once ran afoul of the authorities.

The inclusion of the Saudi dissident, and another Saudi, Adil al-Battarji, in the UN list was a foregone conclusion after the US government declared in late December 2004 that it had frozen their assets and submitted their names to the UN. There are essentially two central questions regarding the inclusion of Saad al-Faqih that have remained unanswered: is the designation fair, and, moreover, is it likely to prove effective in the fight against terrorism? [complete article]

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Fears increase that Kuwait may face Saudi-style violence after clashes
Agence France Presse (via Daily Star), January 19, 2005

Kuwait could face a cycle of violence similar to that rocking Saudi Arabia following last week's deadly clashes between security forces and Islamist militants, analysts and Western diplomats said Tuesday. The Gulf state is shocked by the fact that an elected Parliament, a free press and freedom of speech, all lacking in most other Gulf Arab states, have failed to prevent extremists from resorting to violence.

Two security officers were killed and four others wounded in two gunbattles last week with suspected Islamist militants believed to be linked to the Al-Qaeda network.

"Kuwait will witness a cycle of violence, but it will not last for long. I believe the shooting in Hawalli signaled the start" of armed violence, independent political analyst Ayed al-Manna said of a Jan. 10 clash in a Kuwait City suburb. Two suspects were killed in the clashes, one of them a Saudi, while 20 to 25 Kuwaiti and Saudi men were in custody - up from 15 detainees reported on Monday by the interior minister - and are being questioned about the clashes, according to an Interior Ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity. "Nobody has been referred to the prosecution yet," he said. [complete article]

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Rice promises more of the same
By Tony Karon,, January 19, 2005

... the worldview Dr. Rice articulated throughout her confirmation hearings may be even more troubling to alienated allies than the specifics of Iraq. Her idea that the campaign against Islamist extremism and terrorism can be likened to the epic struggles of the Cold War and World War II is simply not widely accepted outside of Washington. Dr. Rice has previously sought to explain events in Iraq by comparing the situation there to that in Germany in the years immediately after World War II -- a common conceptual approach among a number of U.S. officials involved in the troubled occupation, including former U.S. administrator J. Paul Bremer. But among the skeptical allies the idea of basing an Iraq strategy on the success of managing postwar Germany is taken as a sign of an inability in the Bush administration to grasp the specific nature and history of the problems it faces in Iraq, and in the Arab world more generally.

The Cold War became an epic generational conflict precisely because all of the players on the international stage came to define themselves by their alignment with one camp or the other -- it was the basic organizing principle of their foreign policy. But many countries that are working closely with the U.S. on the problem of international terrorism are not about to make this cooperation the organizing principle of their foreign policy, for the simple reason that they don't see the problem of terrorism as anything remotely approaching the geopolitical menace represented by the Axis powers in World War II, or the Soviet bloc in the half century that followed. The idea that the world changed on September 11 has less currency among U.S. allies than the Bush administration might like, and even Blair's Britain has entered 2005 proclaiming poverty, AIDS and global warming as foreign policy priorities. Also, many U.S. allies are more likely to see the Bush administration as exacerbating, rather than removing, the terror threat through its policies in the Middle East, particularly in relation to Israel and the Palestinians, and in relation to Iraq.

Dr. Rice may maintain that the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq does nothing to change the strategic rationale for the war, but for the allied governments who went against their own electorates in order to support the U.S. the failure to find the offending weapons, and the chaos that has characterized almost two years of occupation, are nothing short of catastrophic politically. If the U.S. had been vindicated by events, the size of its coalition of those willing to help out in Iraq would have grown; instead it continues to steadily shrink as countries pull their troops out. [complete article]

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From the axis of evil to the outposts of tyranny
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, January 20, 2005

As the torch passed yesterday at the pinnacle of US diplomacy, Condoleezza Rice the incoming Secretary of State, identified a new category of miscreant states - half a dozen "outposts of tyranny" that may replace President George Bush's "axis of evil" in the international political lexicon.

The six countries where Ms Rice said the US had a duty to help foster freedom are Cuba, Zimbabwe, Burma and Belarus, as well as Iran and North Korea, the two surviving founder members of the original "axis of evil". Ms Rice offered her new definition as a Congressional panel voted to confirm her as Secretary of State to replace Colin Powell.

Quite what practical action the US intends against the sextet is unclear. But the gesture signals Ms Rice's commitment to the over-arching foreign policy goal proclaimed by Mr Bush, of extending liberty and democracy around the world. [complete article]

Comment --In today's Haaretz, Akivar Eldar writes that:
One week after Bush, in an interview with The Washington Post, recommended the book [The Case for Democracy] by Natan Sharansky, which became the major subject of every conversation with the president, the secretary of state-designate said the world had to embrace what Natan Sharansky terms the "town square test." If a person is prevented from going to the town square and expressing his views due to a fear of being arrested or beaten up, this means that he lives in a "fear" society. "We will not rest," Rice said, "until every person that lives in a fear society receives freedom."

Curious it is then to note which countries were highlighted as "outposts of tyranny" and which were not. Contrast the outpost of tyranny, Belarus, with Uzbekistan, a US ally in the war on terrorism.

Here's how each of them is described in the US State Department's 2003 Reports on Human Rights Practices. It's worth reading each statement before knowing which country is being referred to. In one country:
The Government's human rights remained very poor, and it continued to commit numerous serious abuses. Citizens could not exercise the right to change their government peacefully. Security force mistreatment likely resulted in the deaths of at least four citizens in custody. Police and NSS forces tortured, beat, and harassed persons. Prison conditions remained poor. Serious abuses occurred in pretrial detention. Those responsible for documented abuses rarely were punished. Police and NSS arrested persons the Government suspected of extremist sympathies, although fewer than in previous years. Police routinely and arbitrarily detained citizens to extort bribes. Several human rights activists and journalists were arrested in circumstances that suggested selective law enforcement. The number of persons in prison for political or religious reasons, primarily individuals the Government believed were associated with extremist Islamic political groups but also members of the secular opposition and human rights activists, was estimated to be between 5,300 and 5,800. Police and NSS forces infringed on citizens' privacy.

In the other country:
The Government's human rights record remained very poor and worsened in some areas; although there were improvements in a few areas, it continued to commit numerous abuses. Authorities effectively continued to deny citizens the right to change their government. Authorities did not undertake serious efforts to account for the disappearances of well-known opposition political figures in previous years and continued to discount credible reports regarding the Government's role in those disappearances. Police abuse and occasional torture of prisoners and detainees continued. There were also reports of severe hazing in the military forces. Prison overcrowding remained a problem. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens, and the number of politically motivated detentions remained high, although most of these detentions were for short periods. Security services continued to infringe on privacy rights and freedom of movement by closely monitoring the activities of opposition politicians, human rights organizations, and other segments of the population.

The first paragraph describes conditions in Uzbekistan; the second refers to Belarus. In spite of the fact that it is far from passing Sharansky's "town square test," rather than being labelled an outpost of tyranny, in the first two years of the war on terrorism, Uzbekistan was allocated approximately $170 million of "security assistance" from the United States. (For more information on their respective records see the Human Rights Watch's reports on Belarus and Uzbekistan.)

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World fears new Bush era
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, January 20, 2005

George Bush will be sworn in as president of the United States for a second term today in a lavish Washington ceremony, amid mounting international concern that his new administration will make the world a more dangerous place.

A poll of 21 countries published yesterday - reflecting opinion in Africa, Latin America, North America, Asia and Europe - showed that a clear majority have grave fears about the next four years.

Fifty-eight per cent of the 22,000 who took part in the poll, commissioned by the BBC World Service, said they expected Mr Bush to have a negative impact on peace and security, compared with only 26% who considered him a positive force.

The survey also indicated for the first time that dislike of Mr Bush is translating into a dislike of Americans in general. [complete article]

See the complete results of the poll, "Global views on Bush's reelection" (Globescan).

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Caught between church and state
By Susan Jacoby, New York Times, January 19, 2005

Shortly after the 1925 Scopes "monkey trial," the usually astute historian Frederick Lewis Allen concluded that fundamentalism had been permanently discredited by the prosecution in Dayton, Tenn., of John T. Scopes, who had taught his biology students about Darwin's theory of evolution. "Legislators might go on passing anti-evolution laws," Allen wrote, "and in the hinterlands the pious might still keep their religion locked in a science-proof compartment of their minds; but civilized opinion everywhere had regarded the Dayton trial with amazement and amusement, and the slow drift away from fundamentalist certainty continued."

This was a serious historical misjudgment, as most recently demonstrated by the renewed determination of anti-evolution crusaders - buoyed by conservative gains in state and local elections - to force public school science classes to give equal time to religiously based speculation about the origins of life. These challenges to evolution range from old-time biblical literalism, insisting that the universe and man were created in seven days, to the newer "intelligent design," which maintains that if evolution occurred at all it could never be explained by Darwinian natural selection and could only have been directed at every stage by an omniscient creator. [complete article]

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A New Deal to scupper a presidency
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, January 20, 2005

In his second term, President Bush is determined on regime change. The country whose order he seeks to overthrow is not ruled by mullahs or Ba'athists. But members of his administration have compared its system to communism. The battle will be "one of the most important conservative undertakings of modern times", the deputy to White House political director Karl Rove wrote in a confidential memo. Since the election, the president has spoken often of the "coming crisis" and he has mobilised the government to begin a propaganda campaign to prepare public opinion for the conflict ahead. The nation whose regime he is set on toppling is the United States.

Since the New Deal, the American social contract has been built upon acceptance of its reforms. When Dwight Eisenhower became the first Republican president after Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, he never challenged the New Deal, solidifying the political consensus that had prevailed for decades. But now Bush has launched an assault on the social contract in earnest, seeking to blast away at its cornerstone, social security, which disburses pensions to the elderly and payments to the disabled. [complete article]

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Shias heed clerics' call to win their rights at the polling booth
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, January 20, 2005

In a deserted, whitewashed school in the part of Baghdad known as Sadr City, highly educated young men were risking their lives helping to organise the country's election.

"We have been repressed a long time," said the group's 35-year-old leader, an Arabic poetry scholar reluctant to give his name. "Our real weapon is to seek our rights through this election. So we have to participate."

Less than five months ago this vast urban slum in east Baghdad was in the grip of a militia that fought running battles with the much more heavily armed and better-trained US forces. The young Iraqi fighters, born into poverty and with poor education, were loyal to the rebel cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. He would regularly denounce the occupation and lambast the Iraqi exiles who dominate the US-appointed government.

Twice last year he orchestrated big uprisings across southern Iraq against the US and British military. But now he has turned to politics. His followers, the more violent end of Iraq's Shia spectrum, are intent on voting in the January 30 poll. They know that for the first time in centuries they will see a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad. [complete article]

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Suspected supporters of Iraq's insurgency voice distrust, anger
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, January 19, 2005

Wednesday was billed as "peace day" by the governor of Diyala province, and its goal was simple enough: Persuade people suspected of supporting the insurgency here to come over to the government's side. In return, the government would help solve the problems that supposedly drove them to the insurgents.

Instead, the day became a window on the difficulty that officials here face in trying to undercut the insurgency. Rather than sign a pledge to back the government, most of those taking part in "peace day" voiced distrust for a government installed by Americans. Some were open in their support for the insurgency.

"Is it right that somebody is trying to tarnish my reputation?" asked Sheik Walid al Rujail, 50, who said police had raided his home repeatedly and yet no one had ever told him why his name appears on a list of suspected supporters of the insurgents.

Al Rujail was one of dozens of suspected insurgent sympathizers invited to the governor's house Wednesday for the peace day ceremony. [complete article]

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Without Sunnis, outcome of Iraq election could be deadly
By Trudy Rubin, Detroit Free Press, January 19, 2005

It was an Iraqi gathering straight out of Bush administration dreams: Educated professionals and businessmen, both Shiite and Sunni Muslims, who wanted to build a new Iraq and had been eager for elections.

But when the heated discussion started in Ghassan Attiyah's living room, you saw how these elections are tearing the country apart.

Attiyah, a wry, bearded intellectual who returned from London exile to found a Baghdad think tank, put together a secular political movement that is contesting the forthcoming elections on a platform of bridging the gap between ethnic and religious groups.

Around 40 members of his Independent Iraqi Movement gathered on Friday in the living and dining rooms of his comfortable one-story house in a middle-class Baghdad neighborhood. His street was blocked off by armed guards to ward off any assassination attempts. [complete article]

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A man of the shadows
By Jon Lee Anderson, The New Yorker, January 17, 2005

... there have been persistent rumors that, a week or so before he took office, Allawi shot and killed several terrorist suspects being held prisoner at a Baghdad police station. When reporters asked him about the rumors, Allawi denied that he had shot anyone, but added that he would do "everything necessary" to protect Iraqis. I was in Baghdad at the time; although most Iraqis I spoke to believed the rumors, journalists and diplomats speculated that Allawi had spread them himself, in order to bolster his stern reputation.

In late June, however, I sat in on an interview, conducted by Paul McGeough, a reporter for the Sydney Morning Herald, of a man who claimed to have witnessed the executions. He described how Allawi had been taken to seven suspects, who were made to stand against a wall in a courtyard of the police station, their faces covered. After being told of their alleged crimes by a police official, Allawi had asked for a pistol, and then shot each prisoner in the head. Afterward, the witness said, Allawi had declared to those present, "This is how we must deal with the terrorists." The witness said that he approved of Allawi's act, adding that, in any case, the terrorists were better off dead, for they had been tortured for days.

In the ensuing months, the story has lingered, never having been either fully confirmed or convincingly denied. (Allawi did not address the incident with me.) During my visit to Jordan, a well-known former government minister told me that an American official had confirmed that the killings took place, saying to him, "What a mess we're in -- we got rid of one son of a bitch only to get another."

Just as, in the past, Iraqis hid their true feelings about Saddam's brutal tyranny by referring to him as "strict," Iraqis today commonly describe Allawi as "tough." It is an oddly polite term -- a euphemism -- that conceals varying degrees of fear, loathing, and admiration. An Iraqi friend of Allawi's who has close links to Jordan's Hashemite monarchy told me, "Iyad's a thug, but a thug where he needs to be one. The Americans who set this up call him Saddam Lite." Another old friend of Allawi's, an Iraqi who now lives in Jordan, told me that, during a recent private reunion, Allawi had said that he was shocked, upon returning to Iraq after thirty years in exile, by the degree to which Saddam's rule had debased Iraqi society. "He said Iraqis had become liars and cheats and murderers, and only respected brute force, and that was how he had to deal with them," the friend recalled. In a fit of emotion, Allawi had exclaimed, "I will use brute force!" -- three times, as if uttering a vow, punching one fist into the palm of his other hand. [complete article]

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Abuse of Iraqi civilians by British soldiers was not confined to one camp, says colonel
By Tony Paterson, Colin Brown and Kim Sengupta, The Independent, January 20, 2005

The abuse of Iraqi civilians by British troops was more widespread than the torture and sexual humiliation allegedly carried out by three members of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, a court martial was told yesterday.

An Army Lieutenant Colonel revealed prisoner abuse had become so frequent in British-occupied Iraq that he had been forced to issue specific orders insisting soldiers should not assault civilians and that they should be treated "with humanity and dignity at all times". [complete article]

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Media training now required for Iraq-bound soldiers
By Joe Strupp, Editor and Publisher, January 18, 2005

As the U.S. military approaches nearly two years in the Iraq conflict, media training for soldiers going into the war zone has been stepped up, becoming mandatory for Army troops since October, E&P has learned.

"Talking point" cards for military personnel, meanwhile, are being updated regularly as the war progresses -- often as much as once a week -- to keep up with the conflict's changing issues and the proximity of embedded reporters. Among the current talking points: "We are a values-based, people-focused team that strives to uphold the dignity and respect of all." [complete article]

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Don't ask, don't think
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, January 18, 2005

In one of those itsy-bitsy items you're likely to miss, the New York Times reported last week that, since 1998, the military has discharged 20 service personnel who spoke or had studied Arabic, six from the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif. They all had, in some way, been caught being gay. Try translating that into common sense.

This country, this government, this Congress and social conservatives in states both blue and red have so much invested in anti-gay policies that they will, if need be, jeopardize national security. It does not matter that Arabic interpreters are badly needed in Iraq, where they could save lives. What matters more -- what is downright paramount -- is that no gays get into the military or, if they do, that they stay deep in the closet, where, of course, they are smugly felt to belong. This is national policy. [complete article]

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Baptism of fire
By Ian Black, The Guardian, January 19, 2005

No-one imagined that Mahmoud Abbas, the new president of the Palestinian Authority, would have much time to get his feet under the table before problems began piling up in his in tray. But it was hard to predict that he would face a serious crisis even before taking office.

Yet that's exactly what happened to Abbas - widely known as Abu Mazen - who has assumed the mantle left when Yasser Arafat died in November. Last Thursday, days after the PLO veteran was elected by a comfortable majority, gunmen from three militant groups - including members of his own Fatah organisation - attacked an Israeli post at Karni, on the border with the Gaza Strip, killing six civilians.

It was a bloody reminder of the central difficulty this unassuming pragmatist faces - convincing Palestinians that their armed struggle is getting them nowhere and the best hope lies in negotiations with Israel, but doing it without fatally undermining his credibility or igniting a civil war. Abbas condemned the Karni incident, consistent with his long-held view that the armed intifada, which erupted in September 2000, was a mistake that has cost his people dear.

But by the time the new man, chosen in a remarkably fair and credible election, was sworn in as president by the Palestinian legislative assembly on Saturday, Israel was already calling for him to be boycotted. Ariel Sharon, the Israeli prime minister, ordered the army to take off the gloves in Gaza.

It was, someone quipped folksily, a case of the honeymoon being over even before the wedding had been held. [complete article]

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Should we stay or should we go?
By Frederick Barton, Bathsheba Crocker and Craig Cohen, New York Times, January 19, 2005

With Iraqi elections scheduled to take place in two weeks, many Americans already have one eye on the exit. The Bush administration insists that American troops will stay until a free, stable and peaceful Iraq is established, as Condoleezza Rice did yesterday at her Senate confirmation hearings. But it seems likely that momentum for a speedy withdrawal will increase after the January elections no matter the degree of stability in Iraq.

When is the proper time, then, to withdraw the bulk of our 150,000 troops from Iraq? The answer does not lie in the corridors of Washington, but on the streets of Baghdad, Tikrit, Mosul and Falluja. The answer lies with the people of Iraq.

As it now stands, there are three situations under which American forces could withdraw: we achieve our goals and depart in triumph; we are asked to leave by the Iraqi government; or we leave Iraq in chaos but spin it as a win. There are obstacles or drawbacks to all three. Achieving our goals may be impossible now with the current levels of insurgency and distrust. Iraqi leaders may be slow to show us the door if we are guaranteeing their security. Lowering our standard of success is unlikely to increase American credibility either at home or abroad.

Why not let the Iraqis themselves decide? Ask Iraqi voters in a referendum six weeks after the national elections if they think foreign soldiers should withdraw immediately. Let the Iraqis debate what the absence of American forces will mean for their families and nation. Tell them we'll hold the referendum every nine months until they vote us out or we determine it's time to leave.

Referendums have proved to be an effective first step to broadening political participation in countries making the transition to democracy, like Chile in 1988, Malawi in 1993 and Albania in 1998. The two questions uppermost in the minds of most Iraqis right now are these: how can we be safe? And when are the foreigners going to leave? A referendum gives Iraqis the power to decide these questions themselves in a more straightforward way than sorting through a ballot of 7,000 candidates or waiting for a new constitution to be written and ratified.

The plan has several advantages. First, it affirms an American commitment to self-determination. Such a policy could do as much for spreading democracy in the Middle East as all the support we give to citizens' groups and political parties.

Second, it steals the thunder from the insurgents. Their support arises from their claim that they are the best chance the country has of kicking out the foreigners. A referendum in Iraq would show that democratic participation, not violence, is Iraq's best chance at full political independence.

Third, a referendum could help avert civil war. If the American presence has been divisive, a vote that asks us to leave could prove the opposite. One of the most consistent unifying ideologies in Iraq since its inception has been independence from Western control. We ought to harness this ideology to the benefit of the Iraqi people rather than fight it.

Fourth, if the majority of Iraqis vote for us to stay, then the United States suddenly has a mandate in Iraq - one we can use to win hearts and minds, limited by Iraqi sovereignty and the date of the next referendum.

And fifth, a referendum gives us an exit strategy, one that affirms the very reasons we went into Iraq in the first place. There's more honor in being voted out than in climbing into helicopters from the roof of the embassy.

Two criticisms are sure to follow. First, the plan could be perceived as a smokescreen that allows the United States to cut and run. Second, our departure could create a power vacuum, emboldening the insurgents and leading to an anti-American regime or a civil war.

Rather than signaling wavering support, however, a referendum would show our commitment to empowering the Iraqis. We're not saying we're leaving; we're saying that it's up to the Iraqi people to decide what's best for themselves. And the results of a referendum may not be as obvious as some people think - careful consideration of life after a withdrawal may encourage Kurds and Shiites, for example, to back a continued American presence.

And rather than strengthening the insurgents, a referendum could weaken them considerably, separating those committed to violence or Sunni rule at all costs from those who only want the foreigners gone.

Of course, there's nothing to stop the Sunnis from trying to retake power by force once we've left. This could happen, however, whenever American forces decide to depart. There's no guarantee that the Iraqi government will be better able to prevent chaos and civil war if the United States stays longer. But a government that's viewed as legitimate and independent will stand a better chance of defeating the insurgency than battalions of American-trained Iraqi policemen and soldiers.

Will Iraq's mess be cleaned up overnight if the Iraqis vote for us to withdraw? No, but our withdrawal after a referendum telling us to go would signal a willingness to engage with Iraq as an ally rather than an occupier, a perception that January's elections are unlikely to correct.

Frederick Barton and Bathsheba Crocker are co-directors of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Craig Cohen is a researcher there. (This article has been posted in full by permission of the authors.)

Comment -- Here is an idea, brilliant in its simplicity. It forces honesty from every direction. It would force the US government to respect the will of the Iraqi people and dispel the perception that a weak Iraqi government is being pushed around by its American backers. If the Iraqis asked coalition troops to remain, critics both inside and outside Iraq could no longer present their criticism as representing the desires of ordinary Iraqis. If the troops were asked to leave, even if a civil war then ensued this would be a consequence of the choice of Iraqis - not the choice of Americans who simply want to wash their hands of the affair.

Empowering Iraqis by giving them the opportunity to vote on this issue would also disempower the insurgency. Those who have supported or participated in the insurgency simply out of national pride would have the opportunity to shift their militancy into political action by campaigning to kick out the foreigners. Those elements in the insurgency who tried to prevent the referendum occuring would thereby be making it transparent that they are truly anti-Iraqi forces.

Above all, when so many non-Iraqis have had so much to say about the fate of Iraq, such a referendum would put real power in the hands of the Iraqi people.

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U.S. intelligence says Iraqis will press for withdrawal
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, January 19, 2005

The Iraqi government that emerges from elections on Jan. 30 will almost certainly ask the United States to set a specific timetable for withdrawing its troops, according to new American intelligence estimates described by senior administration officials.

The reports also warn that the elections will be followed by more violence, including an increased likelihood of clashes between Shiites and Sunnis, possibly even leading to civil war, the officials said.

This pessimism is consistent with other assessments over the past six months, including a classified cable sent in November by the Central Intelligence Agency's departing station chief in Baghdad. But the new assessments, from the C.I.A. and the Defense and State Departments, focus more closely on the aftermath of the election, including its potential implications for American policy, the officials said.

The assessments are based on the expectation that a Shiite Arab coalition will win the elections, in which Shiites are expected to make up a vast majority of voters, the officials said. Leaders of the coalition have promised voters they will press Washington for a timetable for withdrawal, and the assessments say the new Iraqi government will feel bound, at least publicly, to meet that commitment. [complete article]

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Support for war in Iraq hits new low
By Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, January 19, 2005

Support for the war in Iraq has continued to erode, but most Americans still are inclined to give the Bush administration some time to try to stabilize the country before it withdraws U.S. troops, the Los Angeles Times Poll has found.

The poll, conducted Saturday through Monday, found that the percentage of Americans who believed the situation in Iraq was "worth going to war over" had sunk to a new low of 39%. When the same question was asked in a similar poll in October, 44% said it had been worth going to war.

But when asked whether the United States should begin withdrawing troops after Iraq's election Jan. 30, 52% said the administration should wait to see what the new Iraqi government wanted. More than a third, 37%, said the United States should begin drawing down at least some of its troop strength. [complete article]

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Car bombs kill at least 26 in Baghdad
By Doug Struck, Naseer Nouri and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, January 19, 2005

At least 26 people died this morning in four separate attacks during a 90-minute convulsion of violence aimed at derailing Iraq's planned Jan. 30 elections, the U.S. military said.

The blasts took their toll mostly among Iraqi security personnel and ordinary Iraqis making their way to work on the day before the most important Muslim holiday.

"This is the gift that those insurgents are giving to the Muslims for the Eid," the holiday marking the annual religious pilgrimage to Mecca, said an angry man near one of the blasts who gave his name as Abu Hassan.

"They want Iraqis to spend the day at the graveyards and hospitals." [complete article]

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In Iraqi vote, the writing isn't on the wall
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 19, 2005

The election of a 275-member parliament, which will then draw up a constitution, is scheduled for Jan. 30. In Baghdad, the campaign is underway even as the capital is essentially under siege, bracing for an intensified insurgent campaign to disrupt the vote. Instead of rallies, there are small gatherings in fortified locations -- homes, offices or party headquarters behind barricades and barbed wire. Instead of speeches, there are TV sound bites. Some stations are saturated with electioneering. Instead of pressing the flesh, the candidates put up posters with their messages.

Some are simple. On one of the concrete slabs, stacked like dominoes along Waziriya Street, one leaflet from an independent candidate, Ahmed Taha, meekly says, "I am trying to introduce myself."

Others are more sophisticated.

The United Iraqi Alliance, the group fielding the most prominent Shiite list, has blanketed parts of Baghdad with messages that lean toward the moralistic. "For the sake of assuring social virtue," says one leaflet. "To guarantee the identity of Islamic Iraq," says another, graced with a portrait of Sistani, whose authority among the most religious Shiites is unquestioned. [complete article]

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Slates still blank for Iraqi voters
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, January 18, 2005

Less than two weeks before the Jan. 30 vote, Iraqis' frustration is rising as they prepare for the most important election of their lives amid a climate of fear, insecurity and scant information.

There have been no public debates or voter fact booklets to help citizens wade through the 111 slates offering candidates for a transitional national assembly, which will write the country's constitution. Iraqis still don't know where they will vote, what the ballots will look like or, because of assassination fears, the names of 7,400 candidates.

"How can we vote for people when we don't even know their names yet?" asked Heider Khalid, 21, a mathematics student at Baghdad University. "This is such a critical vote. We don't know nearly enough." [complete article]

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'Britain's Abu Ghraib' photos dog Blair
By Madeline Chambers, Reuters (via WP), January 19, 2005

Iraq returned to haunt Prime Minister Tony Blair on Wednesday as pictures of British soldiers apparently abusing Iraqis were splashed over newspapers in an echo of last year's Abu Ghraib prison scandal.

As a court martial of three British soldiers continued in Germany, front-page pictures showed naked Iraqi prisoners appearing to be forced to simulate anal and other sexual acts under "Shame" and "Shock" headlines.

Just four months before an expected election, Blair will be forced yet again to defend his decision to side with U.S. President George W. Bush and lead Britain into the deeply unpopular Iraq war. [complete article]

See also, A catalogue of British abuse (The Independent).

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Civil war if Sunnis boycott polls: Iraqi minister
Agence France Presse (via Arab News), January 18, 2005

Iraqi Interior Minister Falah Naqib yesterday warned the country risked sliding into civil war if the Sunnis boycotted the Jan.30 general elections.

"Failing to take part in the elections is tantamount to treason and will lead to a civil war and the division of the country," the minister told reporters.

"All Iraqis should take part in the elections as best they can. It is not crucial who they vote for, the important thing is that everyone participates," he said.

Naqib himself is a member of the Sunni Arab minority, which has threatened to boycott the polls. Some argue that elections are impossible amid relentless nationwide violence, others intend to boycott the vote in protest at the presence of foreign troops, while extremists oppose the very idea of a democratic system for Iraq and seek to create chaos. [complete article]

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Two front-runners vie for Iraqi prime minister post
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, January 18, 2005

In the race for Iraq's new parliament, voters don't know the names of most of the candidates. But in the race for prime minister - which hasn't even begun yet - political watchers already have reduced the list of candidates to two.

The first is the interim prime minister, Ayad Allawi, the most visible and prominent politician since the Americans turned control of the government over to Iraqis last summer.

The other is Adil Abdel Mahdi, the interim finance minister, who some think is the most likely person to head the government that will emerge after the Jan. 30 election.

Mahdi is a member of the slate of candidates offered by the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite Muslim alliance backed tacitly by Iraq's most influential cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al Sistani. Most observers here expect the United Iraqi Alliance to dominate the voting and that a member of its slate will be selected as prime minister. [complete article]

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Kurds want justice - and the oil
By Jack Fairweather and Mohammed Fawzi, The Telegraph, January 18, 2005

Iraq's Kurds want one thing in particular from this month's election and the political horse-trading to follow: oil-rich Kirkuk.

Kurdish politicians insist that justice demands that the city, lying just outside the Kurdish autonomous zone in the country's north, is theirs.

For decades Saddam Hussein's forces pursued a brutal policy of Arabisation in Kirkuk, driving out Kurdish families to replace them with Arab settlers.

The problem is that the Kurds share the city with substantial Arab and Turcoman communities who have staked their own claims to the territory. In the run-up to the election on Jan 30 the various ethnic groups have agreed a truce, proof of the ballot box's impact on Iraq. [complete article]

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Iraqi intelligence service chief interviewed on terrorism, related issues
Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (FBIS translation via FAS), January 5, 2005

Major General Muhammad Abdallah al-Shahwani, director of the Iraqi National Intelligence Service, has estimated the number of gunmen in all parts of Iraq who are carrying out the attacks and bombings at between 20,000 and 30,000. He said they have the sympathy of around 200,000 persons without this meaning that the latter are giving the gunmen any material or logistical support "but are turning a blind eye to the gunmen and do not report them if they have information about them."

In a telephone interview with "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" conducted with him in his office in Baghdad yesterday, he said former Iraqi Vice President Izzat al-Duri, former Regional Command member Muhammad Yunis, and Saddam's half brother Sab'awi Ibrahim al-Hasan are supervising the implementation of qualitative operations because of their huge financial influence. He pointed out that these leaders "are in Syria and move easily the to Iraqi territories." He also reported that the Ba'th Party has split into three wings and that Na'im Haddad and Tayih Abd-al-Karim are now operating inside the Iraqi territories. [complete article]

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Political divisions persist after election
By Richard Morin and Dan Balz, Washington Post, January 18, 2005

President Bush will begin his second term in office without a clear mandate to lead the nation, with strong disapproval of his policies in Iraq and with the public both hopeful and dubious about his leadership on the issues that will dominate his agenda, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

On the eve of Thursday's presidential inaugural ceremonies, the survey found few signs that the country has begun to come together since Bush defeated Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) two months ago. The president has claimed a mandate from the election, but the poll found as much division today as four years ago over the question of whether Bush or Democrats in Congress should set the direction for the country.

Fewer than half of those interviewed -- 45 percent -- said they preferred that the country go in the direction that Bush wanted to lead it, whereas 39 percent said Democrats should lead the way. During the first months of his presidency, after the bitterly disputed 2000 election, Americans said they preferred Bush to take the lead by 46 percent to 36 percent. [complete article]

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Where's the rest of him?
By Errol Morris, New York Times, January 18, 2005

So why is George W. Bush taking the oath of office this week and not John Kerry? For me, the answer is clear: Mr. Kerry failed because of his inability to tell his own story. John Kerry could have presented to the American people his full biography, but instead he chose to edit who he was. Why?

My guess is that Mr. Kerry and his campaign believed that certain things could not be mentioned. Foremost among these was Mr. Kerry's opposition to the war in Vietnam, which was largely erased from the candidate's life. That was a mistake. People think in narratives - in beginnings, middles and ends. The danger when you edit something too severely is that it no longer makes sense; worse still, it leaves people with the disquieting impression that something is being hidden.

Muting Mr. Kerry's opposition to the Vietnam War had precisely this effect. [complete article]

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As Jan. 20 nears, terror warnings drop
By Dan Eggen and Sari Horwitz, Washington Post, January 18, 2005

In April, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announced that al Qaeda terrorists might strike during this week's presidential inauguration festivities in Washington. The warning was part of a drumbeat sounded by U.S. officials throughout 2004 that terrorists were seeking to launch attacks both during and after the election season.

Nine months later, the threat level has been lowered, and Ridge, speaking at a news conference last week, said there is no evidence of a plot to disrupt President Bush's inauguration. Previous warnings, Ridge explained, stemmed from threat reports tied to the elections -- not to the inauguration more than two months later.

"There is nothing that we've seen, not just today, but over the period of the preceding several weeks, that gives us any reason to even consider, at this point, raising the threat level," Ridge said. "Normally, it's an aggregation of information we receive that we conclude is credible over a period of time. But there's absolutely nothing out there that would suggest we should even think about it."

The shift in rhetoric about the dangers posed by terrorists during the inauguration marks the latest retreat from last year's terrorism warnings, which, in retrospect, were based largely on faulty intelligence, dated information or -- as with the inauguration -- an educated guess.

The change in posture also illustrates the extent to which sketchy scraps of wiretap information, interrogation reports and other intelligence, known colloquially as "chatter," form the basis for much of the government's analysis of the terrorism threat. It underscores a simmering political debate over whether last year's warnings were influenced by a presidential campaign in which national security figured prominently. [complete article]

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A tug of war in Mosul ahead of the Iraqi vote
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, January 18, 2005

Commanders have raised U.S. troop levels here by 50 percent since Jan. 1, from 8,000 to 12,000, doubling the number of battalions from three to six, according to officers involved in the buildup. The growing force includes light infantry battalions that conduct foot patrols in the heart of the city and the first tank companies seen in Mosul in over a year. The military has also called in 4,500 additional Iraqi troops, among them a freshly minted brigade known as the Iraqi Intervention Force.

The buildup has dramatically altered the face of Iraq's third-largest city, 220 miles north of Baghdad. Mosul has been convulsed by violence since Nov. 10, when insurgents launched an offensive in an apparent response to the U.S. assault on Fallujah. In a persistent show of force, F-16 fighter jets roar across the sky each day, Apache helicopters circle menacingly above the downtown traffic and 33-ton Bradley Fighting Vehicles patrol the city streets.

"We're in the middle of the battle of Mosul," said Brig. Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of U.S. forces in northern Iraq. "This is a very strongly contested battle. The insurgents want control and we're not going to let them have it."

The buildup reflects Mosul's critical importance to the elections, according to U.S. military officers. With a population of nearly 2 million people, about two-thirds of whom are Sunni Muslims generally hostile to the American occupation, a fragile local government and an 8,000-man police force that all but disintegrated during the November attacks, Mosul will help determine whether the elections are a milestone in the Bush administration's effort to stabilize Iraq or whether that effort ultimately fails. [complete article]

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New intelligence reports raise questions about U.S. mission in Iraq
By Warren P. Strobel, Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, January 17, 2005

... pessimistic indicators have led a growing number of senior U.S. military and intelligence officials to say they worry that the mission in Iraq is becoming untenable for the American military.

The United States faces an agonizing choice, they say, because an American withdrawal would hand militant Islam a huge victory and probably doom the transitional Iraqi government that will be chosen in less than two weeks.

Another possibility is that the transitional government, expected to be dominated by Shiites, could give the United States a timetable to leave. The White House and State Department have said such a request would be honored.

The reports, also by the CIA and the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency, were shared and discussed at a recent U.S. intelligence community conference.

Intelligence analysts expect the Iraqi insurgents, who are primarily Sunni, to have three post-election goals:

-Crippling and discrediting the new government by assassinating key officials, killing police officers and demonstrating that the government and its American allies can't secure the country.

-Fomenting Sunni-Shiite violence.

-Driving the Americans out of Iraq by undermining public and political support there and the United States for the U.S. mission. [complete article]

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Eight Chinese taken hostage in Iraq as archbishop goes free
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), January 18, 2005

Insurgents set free a Catholic archbishop seized in Iraq as kidnappers released footage of eight Chinese hostages, threatening to execute them unless Beijing "clarifies its role" in Iraq.

In a fresh bout of pre-election violence, a deadly car bomb rocked the Baghdad headquarters of a front-running Shiite party, while Iraqi authorities decided to close the country's land borders for three days around the January 30 general elections to help curb violence. [complete article]

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Iraq war vets fight an enemy at home
Experts say up to 30% may need psychiatric care

By Julian Guthrie, San Francisco Chronicle, January 17, 2005

The nation's military system is quietly preparing for one of its toughest missions in decades: ensuring that soldiers who return from Iraq get the help they need to deal with the stress and horrors of war.

Military officials and mental health providers predict that up to 30 percent of returning soldiers will require psychiatric services -- a number not seen since the end of the Vietnam War.

And, after several years of double-digit increases in federal funds for veterans health care, the 2005 inflation-adjusted budget is only 1.5 percent higher than last year's.

"The system is tremendously challenged," said Fred Gusman, who founded the nation's first combat stress center in 1977 and is director of the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Menlo Park. [complete article]

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U.S. is punishing 8 Chinese firms for aiding Iran
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 18, 2005

The Bush administration imposed penalties this month against some of China's largest companies for aiding Iran's efforts to improve its ballistic missiles. The move is part of an effort by the White House and American intelligence agencies to identify and slow important elements of Iran's weapons programs.

The White House made no public announcement of the penalties, and the State Department placed a one-page notice on page 133 of The Federal Register early this month listing eight Chinese companies affected. The notice kept classified the nature of the technology they had exported.

Since the Federal Register announcement, the penalties have been noted on some Web sites that concentrate on China and proliferation issues.

President Bush has repeatedly praised China for its help in seeking a diplomatic end to the North Korean nuclear standoff. Some officials in the administration speculated in the past week that the decision not to publicize the penalties might have been part of an effort not to jeopardize Chinese cooperation at a critical moment in the administration's effort to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table. [complete article]

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Neocons turn their attention to Iran
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times (via Yahoo), January 17, 2005

Having adopted legislation in the past aimed at Cuba and Iraq, similar groups of Republicans and Democrats in Congress are currently setting their sights on promoting "regime change" in Iran.

As a result, new exiled Iranian opposition groups backed by some of Washington's neoconservatives are springing up in the hope of seeing large doses of US funding.

One such group the Alliance for Democracy in Iran is taking shape, strategically located in the heart of the capital's think-tank quarter. Activists described it as an opposition umbrella group that would act as a "clearing house" for US taxpayers' money dedicated to advancing the cause of democracy. [...]

The Alliance says it is in partnership with the rightwing Hudson Institute. Alliance members are also inspired by Michael Ledeen of the American Enterprise Institute, an influential neoconservative policy group, who is a veteran campaigner for regime change.

Mr Ledeen said he had not advised the group. "Change in Iran depends on people inside the country and on western government policies," he commented.

A prominent backer of the Alliance is Jerome Corsi, well known for his role in the Swift Boat Veterans and POWs for Truth campaign against John Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate. He believes the freeze on nuclear development agreed between Iran and the European Union will collapse by March and that Israel, supported by the US, will then launch military strikes. [complete article]

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Now U.S. ponders attack on Iran
By Julian Borger and Ian Traynor, The Guardian, January 18, 2005

"The Iranian regime's apparent nuclear ambitions and its demonstrated support for terrorist organisations is a global challenge that deserves much more serious treatment than Seymour Hersh provides," Lawrence DiRita, the chief Pentagon spokesman, said yesterday: "Mr Hersh's article is so riddled with errors of fundamental fact that the credibility of his entire piece is destroyed."

However, the Guardian has learned the Pentagon was recently contemplating the infiltration of members of the Iranian rebel group, Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK) over the Iraq-Iran border, to collect intelligence. The group, based at Camp Ashraf, near Baghdad, was under the protection of Saddam Hussein, and is under US guard while Washington decides on its strategy.

The MEK has been declared a terrorist group by the state department, but a former Farsi-speaking CIA officer said he had been asked by neo-conservatives in the Pentagon to travel to Iraq to oversee "MEK cross-border operations". He refused, and does not know if those operations have begun.

"They are bringing a lot of the old war-horses from the Reagan and Iran-contra days into a sort of kitchen cabinet outside the government to write up policy papers on Iran," the former officer said. [complete article]

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U.S. troops gather for onslaught as Mosul unrest threatens election
By Richard Beeston, The Times, January 17, 2005

Thousands of American reinforcements are pouring into Iraq's northern capital for a battle that could decide the fate of the country's elections, being held in less than two weeks.

In the biggest military operation since US troops stormed the rebel city of Fallujah two months ago, paratroopers, infantrymen and armoured units have converged on the city over the past two weeks, increasing the number of Americans on the ground to more than 10,000.

Their objective is not only to wrest back control of the city from insurgents, but to create enough stability so that Mosul's inhabitants can be coaxed into voting in the January 30 elections. [complete article]

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Vote stirs ethnic rivalries in Kirkuk
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2005

Looming elections in this ancient city are igniting the kind of ethnic strife that many have long feared.

Militants kidnapped a local Kurdish politician two weeks ago, and seven Kurdish refugees were slain in a Sunni Arab neighborhood late last month. Last week, gunmen sprayed the main Turkmen political party headquarters with bullets. Campaign posters for the leading Arab slate have been torn down or crossed out with black paint.

On Saturday, a mortar round landed near the Kurdistan parliament building in Irbil shortly after leaders debated whether to boycott the Kirkuk local election.

"If this continues, we are headed for a civil war," said Riad Sari Kehya, the political chief of the Iraqi Turkmen Front in Kirkuk. [complete article]

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Insurgent violence flares in areas around Baghdad
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 17, 2005

Insurgents who have vowed to disrupt Iraq's parliamentary elections unleashed an array of attacks Monday that stretched the breadth of the country, from the kidnapping of a Catholic archbishop in northern Iraq to a car bombing of a police station to mortar attacks on polling stations in Basra in the south. Nearly two dozen people were killed.

In the worst of two assaults, gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades and rifles attacked a minibus carrying Iraqi soldiers in Buhruz in central Iraq, killing at least seven of them and a civilian.

In the other attack, explosives packed in a car detonated at the gate of the police station in the northern town of Baiji, killing seven policemen, witnesses said. Scenes of anguish, across a street littered with burned wreckage and body parts, were met with anxious fear that violence would continue before the Jan. 30 vote.

"Damn the elections. They are just a disaster hanging over our head," said the mother of one of the slain Baiji policeman, 20-year-old Nayif Ratif. "What was the fault of my son? He was a very simple and good man. He died because of these elections." [complete article]

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Anxious Iraqis are leaving before elections
By Jackie Spinner and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, January 17, 2005

Iraqi officials have said they were encouraged by the millions of people checking to make sure they were registered to vote. This is one of the few tangible, statistical signs that the populace is gearing up to participate.

An estimated 15 million Iraqis are eligible to vote in the elections, which will choose 18 provincial councils and a 275-member National Assembly. The assembly will appoint a central government and draft a constitution.

But despite the significance of the elections -- the first democratic vote in the country in nearly half a century -- a growing number of Iraqis are making plans to get as far from the voting booths as possible. [complete article]

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Saddam agents, militants plan 'vicious' poll attacks
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, January 16, 2005

Saddam Hussein's former agents are funding a sophisticated alliance with foreign Muslim militants to carry out vicious attacks on polling stations during Iraq's elections, the deputy prime minister said on Sunday.

Barham Salih said intelligence gathered from dozens of Saddam's former intelligence and army officers and foreign fighters arrested in the past week points to a major offensive during the polls.

Members of Saddam's toppled Baath Party and foreign militants inspired by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his key ally in Iraq, Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, may have suffered setbacks but have plenty of cash. [complete article]

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Iraqi vote may be just the beginning
By Alissa J. Rubin and Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2005

If only a small percentage of the Sunni Arab population turns out to vote, it is likely to fuel the insurgency, according to most experts who study Iraq. The logic goes that if Sunnis feel they are left out of the power-sharing, they will be less likely to stand up against the insurgency. Some may join it actively, while others may simply look the other way when the insurgency carries on its activities in their backyard.

The best-case scenario is that the insurgency remains unchanged — and even that is a grim picture. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said Thursday in an interview with the PBS program "NewsHour" that the election would do little to defuse the violence. "It is a raging insurgency, and we are not trying to dismiss it or downplay it," he said.

"The insurgency is not going away as a result of this election. In fact, perhaps the insurgents might become more emboldened" if they succeed in keeping turnout low, Powell said, voicing what other officials said was the administration's worst-case scenario.

Some experts see the possibility of an even more dire outcome.

"Who knows if there will be an imminent civil war, but low Sunni participation further raises the prospects for it because positions harden after an election," said Bathsheba Crocker, co-director of the Post-Conflict Reconstruction Project at the private Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Administration officials, however, are counting on the election to increase the legitimacy and popularity of the Iraqi government, which now is widely viewed as a tool of U.S. interests. The administration reasons that the insurgents will have more difficulty rallying support if the government is selected by popular vote.

"The illegitimacy of the current government will have been removed," said a State Department official. "That particular moral legitimacy of the insurgents will have been brought into question." [complete article]

Comment -- To portray the current conflict as a contest for legitimacy is to imply that the insurgency is empowered by some degree of perceived legitimacy. On the contrary, its power appears to spring from sheer brutality, impervious to the influence of a larger or smaller turnout among Sunni voters. The insurgency has its own logic within which the outcome of the election may turn out to be irrelevant.

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Memory failures
By Mike Pitts, The Guardian, January 17, 2005

"By the waters of Babylon", goes the song. There we sat down, and wept.

As I read John Curtis's tersely-worded report, the sound of this lament rang in my mind. Archaeologists deal with things usually so broken as to be unrecognisable to the untrained eye, yet for us these documents reverberate with people's lives. So this list of trenches and swaths of flattened ground across ancient Babylon conjured ancient empires and civilisations. I thought of a century and a half of international research and fieldwork. I imagined an emerging nation seeking its glorious, complex heritage in the gashes and violations of an occupying force.

What were they thinking? In a war acknowledged to be more about politics and culture than territory, surely the significance of Babylon was not missed? Babylon the capital city of Hammurabi, of Nebuchadnezzar, of the hanging gardens described by Herodotus; Babylon the military powerhouse that ravaged its neighbours in the sixth and fifth centuries BC, yet also developed astronomy, science and art to extraordinary levels. Surely no one in the west was so ignorant at least not to ask: should we not be concerned? [complete article]

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Curbs leaving big holes in reporting about Iraq
By Robert Fisk, The Independent (via The Star), January 17, 2005

"Hotel journalism" is the only way to describe it. More and more, Western reporters in Baghdad are reporting from their hotels rather than the streets of Iraq's towns and cities.

Some are accompanied everywhere by hired and heavily armed Western mercenaries. A few live in local offices, from which their editors refuse them permission to leave.

Most use Iraqi "stringers" - part-time correspondents who risk their lives to conduct interviews for American or British journalists - and none can contemplate a journey outside the capital without days of preparation, unless they "embed" themselves with US or British forces.

Rarely, if ever, has a war been covered by reporters in so distant and restricted a way. Several Western journalists simply do not leave their rooms while on station in Baghdad. [complete article]

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The torture memo by Judge Jay S. Bybee that haunted Alberto Gonzales's confirmation hearings
By John W. Dean, FindLaw, January 14, 2005

White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales now has had his confirmation hearing, and is on his way to becoming the new Attorney General of the United States. In that position, he can serve as a firewall for the president.

As confirmation hearings go, this was about as uneventful as they come, which is exactly what the White House wanted: no new headlines.

Recognizably, after four years in Washington, Gonzales has learned the craft of the non-responsive answer. His practice hearing sessions before traveling to Capitol Hill prepared him well to speak naught.

Actually, Gonzales, it turns out, was not the only focus of attention at his confirmation hearings. Time and again, one heard the name Jay S. Bybee - now a federal appellate judge. Bybee was confirmed for his seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit by the Senate on March 13, 2003. [complete article]

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Even Bush's most loyal GOP soldiers alarmed by strain on troops
By Ronald Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, January 17, 2005

The strains on the volunteer military from the war in Iraq are now unsettling as many Republicans as Democrats -- and exposing an enduring contradiction in President Bush's agenda.

Conservative defense analysts and GOP legislative leaders are raising alarms over the pressures that Iraq is imposing on the military, especially the part-time Army National Guard and Reserve. With growing urgency, these critics argue that the Pentagon is relying too heavily on the citizen-soldiers of the Guard and Reserve in Iraq because the administration has refused to enlarge the size of the full-time military enough to meet new demands.

"The problem for the United States is not imperial overstretch, it's trying to run the planet on the cheap," American Enterprise Institute fellow Tom Donnelly, a leading neoconservative defense commentator, wrote recently. Military historian Frederick W. Kagan delivered a similar indictment in the Weekly Standard, a conservative magazine.

Most strikingly, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) this month urged an increase in the active military and condemned lengthy deployments that he said were compelling Guard and Reserve volunteers to effectively "serve in the permanent forces."

These dissents signal an important shift in the political weather as Bush begins his second term. Until recently, complaints about the Pentagon's personnel strategy came from Democrats and a few maverick Republicans such as Sen. John McCain of Arizona. But it's a more ominous sign for the White House when a GOP leader such as Blunt, ordinarily a loyal soldier for Bush, breaks ranks. [complete article]

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War's 'hidden cost' called heavy
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, January 14, 2005

A forthcoming request for additional funds to continue waging war in Iraq will not begin to address the "hidden cost" of the conflict, according to Pentagon officials and other government authorities who say that tens of billions of dollars more will eventually be needed to repair or replace heavily used equipment and to compensate for the wear and tear on members of the armed services.

The Pentagon next month plans to ask Congress for up to $100 billion in supplemental funds to pay for the ongoing combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, bringing the total budgeted so far to well over $200 billion. But military officers say the administration's estimates do not include the investment that will be necessary to fix what they say they fear is becoming a broken ground force.

"We're going to be paying for this war for years to come," Representative Martin T. Meehan, a Lowell Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, said by telephone yesterday from the Middle East, where he has been touring US military bases in Iraq. "We are not preparing for much of the cost." [complete article]

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U.S. and Indonesia may restore military link
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, January 17, 2005

The United States and Indonesia are seeking to use their cooperation in dealing with the tsunami crisis as a springboard to restore closer military ties after a decade of limited contact because of American concern over human rights abuses by the Indonesian Army, senior defense officials from both countries said Sunday.

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz, visiting here on a trip to three countries hit hard by the tsunami last month, said Congressional restrictions on American training and arms sales should be re-evaluated in light of what the Indonesian military is doing to refashion itself into a more professional and accountable force.

"If we're interested in military reform here," Mr. Wolfowitz told reporters, "I think we need to reconsider a bit where we are."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Wolfowitz, who was the American ambassador here from 1986 to 1989, in the Reagan administration, said, "Cutting off contact with Indonesian officers only makes the problem worse." [complete article]

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Rebels express thanks for aid to Indonesians
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, January 17, 2005

The rebel, dressed in military fatigues and carrying a cellphone and an old Kalashnikov, had a message for the scores of foreigners who have come here to help after the tsunami: You are welcome, and we will not hurt you.

"What GAM wants is for the international community to stay and help and see for themselves what is happening," the rebel, Mucksalmina, told a reporter on Sunday, using the common acronym for the Free Aceh Movement, the separatist army that has been fighting the Indonesian government for most of the past 30 years.

It is rare for foreigners to speak with the rebels - Aceh Province has been closed to outsiders for almost two years - but the political aftermath of the tsunami in Indonesia has given them something to say. In doing so, it has also shifted the political dynamic in this war zone, leading secretive rebels under siege by the Indonesian military to welcome the security that foreign scrutiny can provide, while the government in Jakarta remains wary about any prolonged foreign presence. [complete article]

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Missile defense "glitch"? Yeah, right
By Noah Shachtman, Defense Tech, January 14, 2005

Everything is working perfectly. There is nothing -- repeat, nothing -- to worry about. The reason the missile defense system flunked it's most recent $100 million test? Just a "very minor" software glitch, insisted Missile Defense Agency chief Lt. Gen. "Trey" Obering. It was inconceivable, Obering told the Washington Post, that such a problem could ever, ever happen again. The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system may have face-planted this time. But against a real missile, he promised, it was absolutely sure to work right. [complete article]

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The coming wars
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, January 17, 2005

George W. Bush's reelection was not his only victory last fall. The President and his national-security advisers have consolidated control over the military and intelligence communities' strategic analyses and covert operations to a degree unmatched since the rise of the post-Second World War national-security state. Bush has an aggressive and ambitious agenda for using that control -- against the mullahs in Iran and against targets in the ongoing war on terrorism -- during his second term. The C.I.A. will continue to be downgraded, and the agency will increasingly serve, as one government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon put it, as "facilitators" of policy emanating from President Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney. This process is well under way.

Despite the deteriorating security situation in Iraq, the Bush Administration has not reconsidered its basic long-range policy goal in the Middle East: the establishment of democracy throughout the region. Bush's reelection is regarded within the Administration as evidence of America's support for his decision to go to war. It has reaffirmed the position of the neoconservatives in the Pentagon's civilian leadership who advocated the invasion, including Paul Wolfowitz, the Deputy Secretary of Defense, and Douglas Feith, the Under-secretary for Policy. According to a former high-level intelligence official, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff shortly after the election and told them, in essence, that the naysayers had been heard and the American people did not accept their message. Rumsfeld added that America was committed to staying in Iraq and that there would be no second-guessing.

"This is a war against terrorism, and Iraq is just one campaign. The Bush Administration is looking at this as a huge war zone," the former high-level intelligence official told me. "Next, we're going to have the Iranian campaign. We've declared war and the bad guys, wherever they are, are the enemy. This is the last hurrah -- we've got four years, and want to come out of this saying we won the war on terrorism." [complete article]

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Tribe versus tribe
By Rod Nordland and Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 24, 2005

When elections are held in Iraq at the end of the month, Iraqis will not see any of the 150,000 American troops stationed there guarding the polling places. Instead, voters will pass groups of armed, masked men wearing black balaclavas to hide their faces. The gunmen may look like terrorists, but they'll be Iraqi Army and police, hiding their identities to protect themselves from retaliation by insurgents, who rarely bother to hide their faces anymore. American officials are hopeful the much-beleaguered Iraqi forces will prove their mettle on Election Day, and preside over an election "by Iraqis and for Iraqis," as an American general puts it. Yet Iraq's rebellious Sunni minority is likely to see it differently: an election for Shiites and Kurds, guarded by Shiites and Kurds, to dominate the Sunnis who once ruled the country.

The goal of American military planners has long been to use the new Iraqi military to build national unity. And officially, that hasn't changed. American military officials insist that Iraq's security services are not dominated by non-Sunnis. "Absolutely incorrect," says Lt. Gen. David Petraeus, who is in charge of training efforts for the Iraqi forces. "The national forces are national forces, typically Shia, Sunni, Kurds, Yezidi, everything. There is no shortage of recruits from all the difficult areas." That may be true on paper (although no official ethnic breakdown is available). Still, key units and leaders are clearly dominated by Shiites and Kurds, who together represent 75 percent of the population. [complete article]

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The day after
By Drake Bennett, Boston Globe, January 16, 2005

As Iraq's election day approaches, President Bush and some commentators have spoken as though the mere march of the calendar toward Jan. 30 is in itself a sign of progress toward democracy. "I suspect if you were asking me questions 18 months ago and I said there's going to be elections in Iraq," Bush told the White House press corps on Jan. 7, "you would've had trouble containing yourself from laughing out loud at the president. But here we are at this moment, and it's exciting times for the Iraqi people."

Despite a sharp debate in recent weeks over whether to delay the balloting to allow for improved security and to bring more Sunni Arabs into the process, the administration has stuck firmly to the timeline for the vote. Under the current plan, in two weeks Iraqis will elect a 275-member transitional National Assembly -- empowered to make laws, choose a prime minister and president, and write the nation's new constitution -- along with 18 provincial assemblies and a 105-member Kurdistan National Assembly in the semi-autonomous Kurdish north.

But what then? Most public discussion has focused on the vote itself. Democracy, however, does not consist simply of voting. If the elections proceed on Jan. 30, and a reasonable degree of order is maintained, there remains the question of what happens on Jan. 31, when the work of governing really begins.

When asked whether the elections can bring a semblance of stability and democracy to the country, Iraq experts and democracy scholars here in the United States tend to fall along a continuum of pessimism. Some, like Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, see the elections as currently planned as "one of many not very good choices." Juan R.I. Cole, a professor of modern Middle East history at the University of Michigan, puts it more bluntly: "It looks like these elections are going to be a disaster." [complete article]

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Bush says election ratified Iraq policy
By Jim VandeHei and Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, January 16, 2005

President Bush said the public's decision to reelect him was a ratification of his approach toward Iraq and that there was no reason to hold any administration officials accountable for mistakes or misjudgments in prewar planning or managing the violent aftermath.

"We had an accountability moment, and that's called the 2004 elections," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. "The American people listened to different assessments made about what was taking place in Iraq, and they looked at the two candidates, and chose me."

With the Iraq elections two weeks away and no signs of the deadly insurgency abating, Bush set no timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops and twice declined to endorse Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's recent statement that the number of Americans serving in Iraq could be reduced by year's end. Bush said he will not ask Congress to expand the size of the National Guard or regular Army, as some lawmakers and military experts have proposed. [complete article]

See the transcript of Bush's interview.

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Divided Iraq faces all-out civil war
By Colin Freeman and Aqeel Hussein, The Telegraph, January 16, 2005

In a land where almost everyone has a horror story to tell, Jassem Aziz's experience of Sunni violence against Shias is particularly grisly. He holds back tears as he talks of how his cousin, Ahmed al-Bahadli, was murdered 10 days ago.

A Shia Muslim from the Sadr City slums of Baghdad, Ahmed had joined the new Iraqi National Guard, only to be killed in his patrol car when a bomb planted by insurgents exploded.

The next day, as his family took his coffin for burial in the holy Shia city of Najaf, 100 miles south of Baghdad, they were stopped at what purported to be a police checkpoint near the town of Iskandaria and ordered out of their minibus.

Insurgents wearing fake police uniforms shot and beheaded six of the mourners, including Ahmed's mother. Then they ripped Ahmed's body out of the coffin and decapitated him too.

"We found their bodies and heads scattered under some trees near the road," said Mr Aziz, who was travelling in a car behind and managed to flee. "It is too terrible to think about."

While the west has largely focused on violence against coalition forces, the depth of hatred for fellow Iraqis which spares no quarter for the bereaved or dead runs deep through the Sunni towns along the road to Najaf. Coalition forces know the area as the "Triangle of Death" but it is becoming no less lethal to Iraqi Shias. The towns are strongholds of Salafism, a form of Sunni Islam which despises Shias for revering Imam Ali, the son-in-law of the prophet Mohammed.

Salafist-led insurgents have been linked to the murders of scores of Shia pilgrims in the past year. The campaign has attracted little publicity but fears are growing that it is among the first skirmishes of Iraq's much-feared civil war. [complete article]

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Abu Ghraib abuse firms are rewarded
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, January 16, 2005

Two US defence contractors being sued over allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison have been awarded valuable new contracts by the Pentagon, despite demands that they should be barred from any new government work.

Three employees of CACI International and Titan - working at Abu Ghraib as civilian contractors - were separately accused of abusive behaviour.

The report on the Abu Ghraib scandal implicated three civilian contractors in the abuses: Steven Stefanowicz from CACI International and John Israel and Adel Nakhla from Titan.

Stefanowicz was charged with giving orders that 'equated to physical abuse', Israel of lying under oath and Naklha of raping an Iraqi boy.

It was also alleged that CACI interrogators used dogs to scare prisoners, placed detainees in unauthorised 'stress positions' and encouraged soldiers to abuse prisoners. Titan employees, it has been alleged, hit detainees and stood by while soldiers physically abused prisoners.

Investigators also discovered systemic problems of management and training - including the fact that a third of CACI International's staff at Abu Ghraib had never received formal military interrogation training.

Despite demands by human rights groups in the US that the two companies be barred from further contracts in Iraq - where CACI alone employed almost half of all interrogators and analysts at Abu Ghraib - CACI International has been awarded a $16 million renewal of its contract. Titan, meanwhile, has been awarded a new contract worth $164m. [complete article]

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A trail of torture at hands of U.S. forces
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times (via The Australian), January 17, 2005

The Pentagon has admitted to five detainee deaths as a result of abuse in Iraq and Afghanistan, with a further 23 under investigation.

These figures may be revised upwards when a report on interrogation methods from Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan and Iraq by Vice-Admiral Albert Church is released next month.

Mark Danner, author of Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror, which is published [in the UK] next month [and was published in the US in October], said the Bush administration was anxious to publicise the case against Graner at the expense of others.

"Here was a criminal who committed crimes and is being brought to justice. It fits their theory of a few bad apples. The photographs, in their grotesqueness, look so outlandish that it's hard to believe the torture might be procedural," he says.

Danner believes the deaths of prisoners tell another story. [complete article]

Iraqi anger at abuser's jail term
BBC News, January 16, 2005

The BBC's Jim Muir in Baghdad says with elections only two weeks away, violence wracking many areas and daily life for many people a harsh struggle for survival, most Iraqis have not exactly been following the Abu Ghraib prosecutions with baited breath.

But he says, now that the verdict on Graner is out, most of those who are aware of the case believe the sentence should have been tougher.

One Iraqi who saw pictures of the abuse on the internet said Graner should be sent back to Abu Ghraib to serve his sentence among the prisoners still there, our correspondent says. [complete article]

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Army contests Rumsfeld bid on occupation
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, January 16, 2005

The Army is engaged in a bureaucratic brawl with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld over how to organize troops for "nation-building," a growing problem for the military as it settles in for lengthy occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and possibly other countries.

Rumsfeld wants to shift thousands of civil affairs troops from the Special Operations Command to the regular Army on the theory that the service needs to do better at security and stabilization. This comes as he is pushing other components of the elite Special Operations Command -- such as Navy SEALs and the Army Delta Force -- to focus on aggressive actions against terrorists and other missions.

Officers specializing in civil affairs -- which helps establish local governments in occupied areas, oversees humanitarian assistance and coordinates military activities with aid organizations -- say they oppose the move. They say many officers believe, based in part on their experience in Iraq, that regular combat commanders do not understand their work and do not know how to use them well. [complete article]

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Is Shiite good will a good bet?
By Erik Eckholm, New York Times, January 16, 2005

As foreigners entered his office last week, the Basra chief of the Islamic Dawa Party made an urgent request. "No photographs of the ayatollah," he said, pointing to the picture of the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran.

"It would be misleading to show this," explained the chief, Salem al-Husseiny. "Our ties to Iran are religious, not political."

Mr. Husseiny spent some 20 years in exile in Iran, and he remains grateful for the refuge. He also knows how sensitive the questions of Iranian and Shiite clerical influence have become - for the wary Sunni Iraqis who dread the coming era of Shiite power, for the Americans, even for many fellow Shiites.

Leaders of the main Shiite parties all now voice the same soothing line: They want democracy not theocracy. They do not seek violent retribution for their oppression under Saddam Hussein, when Sunnis dominated Iraq, and they won't brook Iranian interference.

But Iraqi Sunnis and the country's influential ranks of secular professionals are wondering why they should believe all this. Are the Shiite politicians just saying what an apprehensive world and Iraq's apprehensive minorities want to hear? Or have time and experience damped the messianic streak that drove these men to revolt in decades past? And has the forbidding prospect of real national power pushed them toward moderation? [complete article]

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Rising violence and fear drive Iraq campaigners underground
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, January 16, 2005

The threat of death hung so heavily over the election rally, held this week on the fifth floor of the General Factory for Vegetable Oil, that the speakers refused to say whether they were candidates at all.

"Too dangerous," said Hussein Ali, who solicited votes for the United Iraqi Alliance, a party fielding dozens of candidates for the elections here. "It's a secret."

And then Mr. Ali and his colleagues left, escorted by men with guns.

So goes the election campaign unfolding across Iraq, a country simultaneously set to embark on an American-backed political experiment while writhing under a guerrilla insurgency dead set on disrupting the experiment. [complete article]

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Sweeping security is set for Iraq vote
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, January 16, 2005

Iraqi authorities announced sweeping security measures yesterday designed to prevent suicide bombings and other attacks during the national election scheduled for Jan. 30, including a three-day ban on car travel between major cities and wide cordons around thousands of polling places.

The plans are the latest sign that the violence racking the country presents obstacles at every step of the way in the vote, from educating voters to counting ballots.

The stakes are high in Iraq's first competitive election in decades, as voters choose a national legislature that will draft a new constitution, setting the country's course on issues from the role of Islam in government to the balance of power among the country's fractious ethnic groups. But because of security fears, Iraqis will not know the names of most candidates or where to go to vote until days, possibly even hours, before the election. More than 200 candidate slates are campaigning without naming most members, and the locations of polling stations will be handwritten onto preprinted election posters just before the vote.

Voters from such restive cities as Fallujah and Mosul, where voter registration was canceled last month because of safety concerns, will be allowed to register the day of the election and cast ballots at any polling station in their province, Iraq's provincial affairs minister, Wael Abdul-Latif, said yesterday. But with even stricter driving restrictions still under consideration, it is unclear whether they will be allowed to travel to safer areas. [complete article]

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When the price for speaking out is death
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, January 16, 2005

Wijdan al-Khuzai would not give in.

The threats came usually by cellphone, a sinister voice promising a terrible end if Ms. Khuzai pursued a seat in Iraq's national assembly. Sometimes, as she drove around Baghdad, she would glance into the rear-view mirror and notice that another car was following her.

"Terrorists," she would say, snapping her cellphone shut.

Then she would get on with her campaign, a quest she hoped would ultimately raise the prospects of Iraqi women. Ms. Khuzai, a 40-year-old mother of five, saw in the elections on Jan. 30 a rare moment to steer her country in a more humane direction. She was determined to make the most of it.

"Wijdan always said, 'If you have a goal, go after it, and don't let anything stop you,' " recalled her sister, Nada. "She thought God would save her."

The Americans found Wijdan al-Khuzai's body on Dec. 24, on the airport highway, a grim stretch rife with insurgents. Ms. Khuzai had been shot five times, once in the face. Her shoulder blades had been broken, and her hands had been cuffed behind her back so tightly that her wrists bled.

"The police said she had been tortured," said her brother, Haider Jamal al-Khuzai.

Ms. Khuzai's fate is indicative of the risk borne by nearly all the 7,400 candidates in this country, where the prospect of democratic elections has inspired insurgents to embark on a new wave of intimidation. The violence has sent most of the candidates into hiding. Few have publicly identified themselves. [complete article]

Covertly running for office in Iraq
By Robin Fields, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2005

It is a measure of how unsafe it has become for women seeking office in Iraq that one, in a moment of grim humor, joked recently that she was afraid her husband would find out she was a candidate.

Aside from about a dozen women with established national profiles, female candidates in Iraq's upcoming elections are running in secret, forced underground by the threat of violence.

Insurgents have taken aim at male and female candidates alike in their effort to disrupt the landmark Jan. 30 vote, but women have been particularly vulnerable, facing the wrath of religious conservatives as well. [complete article]

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New meaning behind the same old violence
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, January 16, 2005

The attack by Palestinian gunmen on Gaza's Karni crossing on Thursday, in which six Israelis died, and Israel's response, seems wearingly familiar. But while a year ago, it would have been possible to say it was simply part of the numbing cycle of violence, inviting inevitable retaliation, this time, however, the violence has a different and more subtle meaning.

The attack, delivered less than a week after the election of 69-year-old Mahmoud Abbas as the successor to Yasser Arafat, has already been disastrous for attempts to start a fresh dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians ahead of a readoption of the road map towards peace and Palestinian statehood.

If there had been some faint hope only seven days ago that more than four years of the intifada were slowly coming to an end, the Karni attack has signalled the deep problems that lie ahead, and within Palestinian society itself.

Karni is an indication of how divided Palestinian society is. Thursday's attack was a brutal message to Abbas and all those who hope to bring the intifada to a conclusion by those Palestinians who most benefit from its continuation; a message from a younger generation that has thrown itself into the violent struggle for statehood that they will not be 'sold out'. [complete article]

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How red tape and poverty prevented warnings going out to battered shores
By Geoffrey Lean, The Independent, January 16, 2005

Red tape stopped scientists from alerting countries around the Indian Ocean to the devastating Boxing Day tsunami racing towards their shores, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.

Scientists at the Tsunami Warning Centre in Hawaii - who have complained about being unable to find telephone numbers to alert the countries in peril - did not use an existing rapid telecommunications system set up to get warnings around the world almost instantly because the bureaucratic arrangements were not in place.

Senior UN officials attending a conference here of small island countries - some of them badly hit by the tsunami, now recognised to have been the deadliest in history - revealed that the scientists did not use the World Meteorological Organisation's (WMO) Global Telecommunication System to contact Indian Ocean countries because the "protocols were not in place". [complete article]

Religious aid groups try to convert victims
By Jason Burke, The Observer, January 16, 2005

Many survivors of the disaster are deeply traumatised by their experience and thus, experts say, vulnerable to religious groups. The disaster has led to a huge increase in religious sentiment. Many Acehnese speak of the wave as a punishment from God for immorality and lax Islamic practice, pointing out that in many villages only the mosque was left standing.

'I had faith but never did what I should have done,' said Shinta Ekhsani, a 29 year-old English teacher. 'I did not pray five times a day. I did not teach my children about Islam. I was too materialistic. Now I have changed.'

Most Indonesians follow a moderate strand of Islam, very different from more hardline varieties increasingly prevalent in the Middle East. Local Muslim groups were among the first to bring help to victims. Aceh is Indonesia's most religiously conservative province.

However, more radical Muslim groups started arriving in the province within days. These include the Islamic Defenders' Front, which has attacked bars and shops selling alcohol in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, and Lashkar Mujahideen, which endorses a militant ideology and has alleged links to the killing of Christians.

Last week, speaking outside a tent at Banda Aceh's busy military airport under a banner reading 'Islamic Law Enforcement', Salman al-Farizi said his group were in Aceh to give medical and food assistance, remove corpses, evacuate refugees and to preach. 'The survivors will be helped to spread the true word of Allah,' al-Farizi said.

Elsewhere, groups are handing out Korans and even veils alongside aid. Volunteers from the al-Azhar Foundation in Jakarta said they had distributed 1,993 Korans to refugees from Lokh Nga, one of the worst-hit villages. 'Many want to read the Koran to help them with their trauma,' said Anwar Sani, director of the foundation.

Some Christian groups, however, are instructing workers not to display church names or wear crosses.

'We prefer to address the physical needs first,' said William Suhanda, an Indonesian whose Christian group, 'Light of Love for Aceh', is helping distribute food in Banda Aceh and hopes to bring 50 children to a Christian orphanage in Jakarta. 'We also want to expose them to Christian values... so they can see the other side, that we're about the love of Christ,' he said.

Mark Kosinski, an American evangelist who arrived in Aceh from Malaysia last week, said: 'These people need food but they also need Jesus. God is trying to awaken people and help them realise salvation is in Christ.' [complete article]

Indonesia's rebels will resume fight, local commander says
By Ken Moritsugu, Knight Ridder, January 14, 2005

Last month's tsunami swept away Indonesian rebel staging areas for attacks on government forces, but the rebels had few casualties and will resume fighting for the independence of Aceh province, a local rebel commander said Friday.

The interview with the commander, who declined to give his name but whose men said he led four regiments totaling 720 men, was the first inside view of how the tsunami has affected communities controlled by Free Aceh Movement guerrillas, who have waged a three-decade-long war on Indonesia's central government.

The commander asked that the name of the village where he was interviewed not be revealed, for fear of military retaliation.

The village, which was undamaged by the tsunami, is one of more than 30 near Lamno, where the Indonesian government has established a relief center. The rebels in the village are providing food to about 60 refugees who have sought shelter there. The military "doesn't want to give food aid here because this is a rebel base," the commander said.

Most rebel fighters survived the onslaught, the commander said, because their redoubts are largely inland. But the rebels, including the commander, lost family members who lived along the coast. The commander said both his parents perished. [complete article]

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EMAIL UPDATES -- Click here to sign up for weekly email updates -- a digest of key articles from the last seven days. (Please include your name in the message and put "subscribe" in the subject line.)
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven plus days:

U.S. ignored warning on Iraqi oil smuggling
By Claudio Gatti, Financial Times, January 13, 2005
For months, the US Congress has been investigating activities that violated the United Nations oil-for-food programme and helped Saddam Hussein build secret funds to acquire arms and buy influence.

President George W. Bush has linked future US funding of the international body to a clear account of what went on under the multi-billion dollar programme.

But a joint investigation by the Financial Times and Il Sole 24 Ore, the Italian business daily, shows that the single largest and boldest smuggling operation in the oil-for-food programme was conducted with the knowledge of the US government.

"Although the financial beneficiaries were Iraqis and Jordanians, the fact remains that the US government participated in a major conspiracy that violated sanctions and enriched Saddam's cronies," a former UN official said. "That is exactly what many in the US are now accusing other countries of having done. I think it's pretty ironic."

Overall, the operation involved 14 tankers engaged by a Jordanian entity to load at least 7m barrels of oil for a total of no less than $150m (€113m) of illegal profits. About another $50m went to Mr Hussein's cronies.

In February 2003, when US media first published reports of this smuggling effort, then attributed exclusively to the Iraqis, the US mission to the UN condemned it as "immoral".

However, FT/Il Sole have evidence that US and UK missions to the UN were informed of the smuggling while it was happening and that they reported it to their respective governments, to no avail.

Grand Ayatollah Sistani is once again the trump card in Iraqi politics
By Hannah Allam and Huda Ahmed, Knight Ridder, January 13, 2005
Last year, when Shiite factions with differing agendas threatened to split the vital Shiite vote, Sistani appointed a six-person committee to close ranks and sprinkle in token Sunni and other minorities for a slate with broad appeal. The result was the United Iraqi Alliance, announced in early December.

Alliance opponents, including interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, are furious at the politicians for trying to garner votes by turning a venerated cleric into a campaign tool. Accusations of cheating, lying and blasphemy have flown in the debate over the use of the ayatollah's image.

Amer Hassan Fayadh, a political science professor at Baghdad University and a secular candidate in the elections, said the United Iraqi Alliance dealt a devastating blow to competitors by adding Sistani's face to campaign materials. The alliance is widely viewed as the front-runner of about 100 slates of candidates on the ballot.

"They're trying to fool voters by using Sistani," Fayadh said. "Using Sistani's image is a cunning move to exploit the ignorance of voters to get more votes, but it's a clear violation of the rules."

The independent Iraqi Electoral Commission said Monday that it was investigating many complaints about the use of "religious symbols," which are banned from the campaign, but it's not clear if Sistani's image constitutes a religious symbol.

Iraq's imperfect election
By Tony Karon,, January 13, 2005
Fear of violence may stop many Iraqis going to the polls [on January 30], but those that do get there will be handed a ballot paper that could prove deeply confusing. It will simply list, in an order decided by lottery, 111 different options, for which the voter can cast one vote. This list comprises 75 parties, 9 coalitions and 27 individuals. It ranges from mega coalitions like the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), comprising the major Shiite religious parties and scores of independents grouped together on a single slate at the discreet behest of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, to individuals who have put their own names on the form in the hope they can achieve the approximately 44,000 votes nationwide that will be needed to gain a seat in the 275-member National Assembly.

The parties on the ballot will be identified simply by name, symbol and the name of the candidate at the top of their list. The vast majority of these parties and coalitions have been created over the past year, and are unknown to most Iraqis. Each party or coalition has put forward a list of candidates, and it will be allocated seats in the assembly proportionate to the share of the nationwide vote it wins on January 30. For example, if a party or coalition wins 20 percent of the nationwide vote, it will be allocated 55 of the 275 seats in the Assembly -- automatically filled by the first 55 names on the list submitted by that party or coalition to the Iraqi Electoral Commission in December. But in order to protect the candidates from assassination, each party or coalition's list remains secret less than three weeks away from election day. Right now, Iraqi voters will be asked to choose a party list without knowing the names of any but the top candidate -- giving a whole new meaning to the term "secret ballot."

Ukraine teaches U.S. lesson in Iraq
By Martin Sieff, UPI (via Washington Times), January 11, 2005
The democratic "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine has just had its first unanticipated blowback for the United States: When outgoing President Leonid Kuchma decided to pull Ukraine's military contingent out of Iraq, his successor and political enemy, President-elect Viktor Yushchenko supported the move.

And on Tuesday, Ukraine's Supreme Rada, or Parliament made the decision official. A motion to withdraw the Ukrainian peacekeeping contingent from Iraq was approved overwhelmingly by 308 out of 450 deputies.

Yushchenko's support for the pull out of Ukrainian troops from Iraq should come as no surprise. He had made that position clear during his hard-fought presidential election campaign. Still, it makes a mockery of the neo-conservative and Bush administration fantasy that they could rely on a "new Europe" in the former communist East to replace the caution and skepticism of the "old" Europe in the West of the continent.

The next nuclear wave
By Jon B. Wolfsthal, Foreign Affairs, January/February, 2005
Not since the early days of the Cold War have proliferation experts and the general public been so attuned to the threat of nuclear weapons--and with good reason. There are more than 28,000 nuclear devices in existence today, more and more countries are acquiring the means to produce them, and there is mounting evidence that al Qaeda has every intention of using a nuclear weapon if only it can get its hands on one. Simply recognizing these dangers, however, is not a strategy for confronting them; workable remedies are sorely needed.

Nuclear threats fall into two basic categories. In the short term, nuclear terrorism poses the most acute risk. Once al Qaeda or another group possesses a weapon, deterring or preventing an attack will be all but impossible. Luck, as much as money and hard work, has helped prevent such an attack to date. A second, more complex danger stems from the proliferation of nuclear capabilities to governments. In the long term, the wider state acquisition of nuclear weapons dramatically increases the odds that one might be used, intentionally or not. This concern applies not only to so-called rogue regimes, but to key U.S. allies as well. Given the global insecurity of much weapons material, state proliferation also contributes to the risk of a nightmarish nuclear terrorism scenario.

Interrogating Donald Rumsfeld
By Karen J. Greenberg and Joshua L. Dratel (introduction by Tom Engelhardt), TomDispatch, January 11, 2005
The "torture memos," as they have come to be known, reveal much about the current administration. They point to a level of secrecy matching, or even surpassing, any sought or achieved by the executive branch in prior eras, even during wartime. They point to a lack of concern for accountability that veers far from previously acknowledged limits on unchecked executive power. They deliberately disregard, even nullify, the balance-of-powers doctrine that has defined the United States since its inception. Essentially, much of what has been put in place by the Bush administration in the wake of 9/11 has relied on the fear of terror as a means to establish a new doctrine of state; it is a doctrine that, before the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, had lingered in the outer corridors of power. Much of the Patriot Act, for instance, had already been drafted before 9/11; and the proposal for the Department of Homeland Security was also in draft form at that time. So, too, were plans for a war in Iraq.

The torture memos developed inside the White House by a task force of lawyers headed by presidential confidant and White House Legal Counsel Alberto Gonzales are important, and not just as evidence of a policy that disregards human rights and reciprocity in the treatment of soldiers, civilians, and prisoners. The torture memos are also -- perhaps primarily -- important because they reveal the most basic attitudes with which the administration greets the Congress, the courts, the American public, and the world at large.

City of ghosts
By Ali Fadhil, The Guardian, January 11, 2005
On November 8, the American army launched its biggest ever assault on the Iraqi city of Falluja, considered a stronghold for rebel fighters. The US said the raid had been a huge success, killing 1,200 insurgents. Most of the city's 300,000 residents, meanwhile, had fled for their lives. What really happened in the siege of Falluja? In a joint investigation for the Guardian and Channel 4 News, Iraqi doctor Ali Fadhil compiled the first independent reports from the devastated city, where he found scores of unburied corpses, rabid dogs - and a dangerously embittered population.

Iraqi security forces: hunters and hunted
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, January 11, 2005
The masked men in the streets of Iraq's capital see themselves as the good guys. Manning checkpoints and darting through traffic on foot, Iraqi policemen, soldiers and National Guardsmen assume a distinctly defensive posture: rifles up, ski masks down.

"It's part of the uniform," said Ahmed, a first lieutenant with a black woolen balaclava tugged down to the collar of his camouflage jacket. Both jacket and mask are now standard issue for the security forces of Iraq's interim government, newly trained troops who do double duty as hunter and hunted.

Ahmed and four fellow police commandos said they would not go on duty without their ski masks, give out their full names for publication or tell their neighbors what they really do for a living.

Is the world falling out of love with U.S. brands?
By Dan Roberts, Financial Times (via YaleGlobal), January 5, 2005
Joseph Nye, the Harvard academic who coined the phrase "soft power" to describe indirect US influence in the world, likes to recall the dining deliberations of a family in India to explain what he means.

Asked what attracts them to McDonald's, the middle-class parent she cites suggest something more seductive than a Chicken Maharaja Mac and fries cooked in vegetable fat. They say they want to take the children out "for a slice of America".

When burgers can stir such emotional aspirations, it is no accident that 64 of the most valuable 100 global brands, as measured by Interbrand, are owned by US companies. For more than half a century, the US and its products have stood for progress, glamour and freedom in the minds of consumers around the world.

But Mr Nye sees a growing challenge for US companies in the attitudes of people such as John McInally, a Scottish management consultant living in Brussels, whose boycott of US products goes as far as asking that his four-year-old son not be given Coca-Cola at birthday parties.

"I used to have a lot of respect for America; now there is mostly fear," says Mr McInally. "You feel pretty powerless, but the one thing you can do is stop buying American products."

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