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Zarqawi targets Baghdad and Kirkuk
Institute for War and Peace Reporting, January 28, 2005

Al-Qaeda-linked Islamic militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is planning to disrupt voting in Baghdad and Kirkuk, two high-ranking Iraqi intelligence sources told IWPR.

Zarqawi believes targeting the election in these key areas will cause it to fail throughout the country, one source said.

Zarqawi, who is blamed for much of the violence in Iraq, has already threatened the elections in voice recordings posted on the internet.

The sources said Zarqawi militants are also moving to Saddam Hussein's home town of Tikrit, and the two regional capitals of Iraqi Kurdistan, Arbil and Sulaimaniyah, to attack polling stations there on election day. Until now, Arbil and especially Sulaimaniyah have been relatively safe areas. [complete article]

Comment -- Whether there's any substance to these predictions may shortly become clear. Meanwhile, UPI reports that some "former members of Saddam Hussein's army linked to the insurgency" have "told their U.S. military contacts that they planned to reduce their armed attempts to undermine the election weekend." The motives for the US to initiate such a "deal" would be to help boost the turnout in the election. UPI doesn't venture to speculate on what would motivate these insurgent groups to withdraw. An end to the marriage of convenience between the Ba'athists and the jihadists?

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U.S. debate focuses on plan B - to stay on or to go?
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, January 29, 2005

On the eve of the Iraqi elections, a debate has begun in Washington over what America's "plan B" should be if the vote does not bring the stability the Bush administration is hoping for.

In the past few days leading Democrats have called for an accelerated withdrawal, breaking a bipartisan consensus that the US should stay until the insurgency is defeated.

But the Bush administration shows no signs of preparing for a pullout. The army has said it will need 120,000 soldiers for the next two years at least, and the Pentagon is building a string of permanent bases at a cost of billions of dollars. The new bases, critics of the administration argue, add weight to accusations that the US plans a permanent presence.

A Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that "half a dozen" "enduring bases" were being constructed, but added they were intended for use by the new Iraqi army.

But an independent research group,, which tracks Pentagon contracts and military movements, claims there are about 12 of the bases under construction. "They are suggestive that the American presence is going to dominate for years not months," said John Pike, the head of the organisation. He added that the bases were not the only evidence that US troops planned a long stay.

"How many fighter jets does the new Iraqi army have? None. How many tanks? None. What do you call a country with no jets and no fighter planes? It's called a protectorate.

"They're so far away from giving Iraq a normal military you don't even have industry seminars salivating over the prospect of selling them stuff." [complete article]

See also, Hoon and Rumsfeld agree Iraq exit strategy (The Guardian).

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Shiite faction ready to shun Sunday's election in Iraq
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, January 29, 2005

Less than 48 hours before nationwide elections here, Nasir al-Saedy, one of the city's most popular Shiite clerics, stood before a crowd of 20,000 Iraqis and uttered not a single word about the vote.

Sheik Saedy spoke of faith, humility and the power of God. But about Sunday's elections, the first here in more than 30 years, nothing.

For the throngs of Iraqis who had come to Al Mohsen Mosque to listen, the sheik's silence came through loud and clear.

And it foreshadowed a less than overwhelming voter turnout in many parts of Iraq.

"God willing, I will not be voting," Ziad Qadam, an unemployed 27-year-old, said after Friday Prayers at the mosque in Sadr City, the vast Shiite district in Baghdad. "Our religious leaders have not told us to vote." [complete article]

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The streets of Baghdad are empty. It feels like a city preparing for war
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, January 29, 2005

In the hours before tomorrow's election, Baghdad feels like a city preparing for war. American helicopters roar noisily overhead just above the roof- tops, setting off car alarms. Iraqi police nervously finger their assault rifles. Most people are taking no risks and stay at home, so streets are eerily empty.

The government's security measures for the election sound impressive. The Deputy Prime Minister, Barham Saleh, announced that the military adviser to the most-wanted Islamic militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an Iraqi named Anad Mohammed Qais, had been arrested. The National Security minister said two of the Jordanian militant's other aides had been captured, including his alleged chief of operations in Baghdad. There was, however, scepticism about the claims coming on the eve of polling.

As Iraqis outside the country began voting yesterday, the country's land borders were closed and travel between Iraq's 18 provinces was banned. A curfew is in force from 7pm to 6am. The interior ministry has issued contradictory and confusing instructions about its ban on cars tomorrow. But given that the US troops and Iraqi security forces are trigger-happy at the best of times, most Iraqis will err on the side of caution and keep off the streets. [complete article]

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Kurdish pledge of 'no compromise' on Kirkuk raises fears of conflict
By Gareth Smyth and Krishna Guha, Financial Times, January 28, 2005

Nichervan Barzani, the prime minister of the Kurdish administration in Arbil, has ruled out compromise over the disputed northern Iraqi province of Kirkuk, raising the prospect of conflict in the weeks following Sunday's election.

His comments coincided with a warning by Turkey, which neighbours Iraq, that a move by Kurds to take control of the province - shared by Kurds, Arabs and Turcomen - could spark civil war in Iraq.

Yesterday Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, said he was particularly concerned by moves in Kirkuk. "Recent developments in Kirkuk are not positive," he said, criticising proposals to redraw provincial boundaries. He also said Sunday's elections would not stem violence in Iraq or be fully democratic.

Local elections in the province, held alongside the parliamentary elections, will play a big role in deciding who ultimately controls the area. In an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Barzani said the US and the interim government of Iyad Allawi, the Iraqi prime minister, had been mistaken in thinking "time might solve the problem". [complete article]

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In violence-prone Mosul, voters will need a shield of snipers
By Christine Hauser and Thom Shanker, New York Times, January 28, 2005

Snipers are taking up positions across Mosul. The concrete barriers around the voting sites are up. The actual polling stations are being opened, replacing the decoys set up to deceive the insurgents.

An election will be held Sunday in this violence-racked city of 1.6 million, but it remains an open question here - as in so many other Sunni Arab cities where the insurgent presence is strong - whether enough people will brave the dangers to vote in significant numbers.

"Mosul is a hot spot," said Salem Isa, the head of security for Nineveh Province. "We have special security plans and will try to take all the possible steps to get them to the boxes peacefully."

It will not be easy. Even handling election materials is considered so dangerous that ballots and ballot boxes will be distributed to the 80 polling centers by armored American military convoys. "The military has to do it because of the security situation," said Khaled Kazar, the head of the elections commission here. "No one would ever volunteer to move this stuff."

Once considered a model city of the occupation, Mosul has descended into a hellish sectarian stew, 65 percent Sunni Arab and 30 percent Kurdish, with a sprinkling of Turkmens, Assyrians and other ethnic groups. Making matters worse, in November thousands of police and security officers abandoned their posts under an insurgent assault that coincided with the American attack on Falluja. [complete article]

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In armored vehicles, U.S. troops tell Iraqis to vote
By Ibon Villelabeitia, Reuters, January 28, 2005

A rumbling column of U.S. Bradley fighting vehicles grinds to a stop in a rebellious Iraqi neighborhood of scarred houses and mud streets.

Heavily-armed troops jump out and begin searching homes as loudspeakers blast in Arabic: "On Sunday you should go out to vote. Vote to give freedom to Iraq. Vote to save Iraq." A soldier hands out fliers to a group of untidy children.

In the heartland of Iraq's insurgency, American soldiers are trying to combine fighting with getting out the vote. [complete article]

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NOTE: The report shown below has now been retracted. Follow the links to read the revised report.

U.S. and allies 'kill most Iraqis'
BBC News, January 29, 2005

Coalition and Iraqi troops may be responsible for killing 60% more non-combatants in Iraq than the insurgents, the BBC has learned.

The civilian death toll for the last six months is contained in confidential records obtained by [the BBC TV current affairs program] Panorama.

More than 2,000 civilians were killed by the authorities, while insurgent attacks accounted for 1,200 deaths. [complete article]

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A question of hope
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, January 29, 2005

The boom of tank rounds barely distracts Mais Haithem as she translates a poem by Victor Hugo from French into Arabic. The 21-year-old is used to the fighting by now. Her neighborhood, where there is hardly a sign that Iraq is holding an election tomorrow, is frequently a launching ground for insurgent attacks.

In another neighborhood, a young doctor who dreams of postgraduate studies in England keeps thinking about a close friend who was kidnapped two months ago and is probably dead. Riyadh Rubaie, 26, is worried that someone he knows will get hurt when people go to the polls.

The two twentysomethings are a far cry from the image of the angry Iraqi distrustful of the West. But both are disillusioned with their country's current leaders; both harbor doubts about the capacity of any new government to improve their situation; both are bleak about the future of the country. And only one — Rubaie, a Shiite Muslim — plans to vote Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iraqis are in the same position as Haithem and Rubaie. They are making private choices about whether to participate in an election that is being described as the most important in their lifetimes, but which could be a life-or-death decision. [complete article]

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A path to Sunni engagement
By Edward P. Joseph, International Herald Tribune, January 29, 2005

With a dismal turnout expected among Sunnis in Iraq's election on Sunday and growing expectations for Shiite and Kurdish participation, the issue will soon shift from election-related violence to the legitimacy of the process. If Shiites and Kurds swamp the polls while Sunnis stay home, the sense of alienation among the Sunnis is likely to grow - and so will the intensity of the insurgency and the prospects for civil war.

Administration officials, buoyed by helpful signals from the dominant Shiites and their spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, have spoken of "correcting" the election results in order to place more Sunnis in the new government. But dealing with the Sunni question will require more than devices to boost representation and more than generosity on the part of the victors. It will require, foremost, accepting three difficult truths.

First, the core issue is not representation, but influence. Sprinkling Iraq's new government, its National Assembly or even the constitution drafting committee with a few more Sunnis will not itself legitimize the process. What counts is the perceived ability for Sunnis to influence the process now - to see that their "vital national interests" (a term used by feuding Balkan peoples in their own post-war power-sharing arrangements) will be protected. Because the new National Assembly will write the constitution, there is no sense talking about how Sunnis will have another chance in the next election in December. That poll will merely elect a government. It is this parliament that will draft the document that will decide Iraq's course - and the fate of the Sunnis - probably for decades. Legitimacy depends on Sunni influence now. [complete article]

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Flashback to the 60's: a sinking sensation of parallels between Iraq and Vietnam
By Todd S. Purdum, New York Times, January 29, 2005

Not quite 38 years ago, enmeshed in a drawn-out war whose ultimate outcome was deeply in doubt, Lyndon B. Johnson met on Guam with the fractious generals who were contending for leadership of South Vietnam and told them: "My birthday is in late August. The greatest birthday present you could give me is a national election."

George W. Bush's birthday is in early July, but his broad goals for the Iraqi elections on Sunday are much the same as the Johnson administration's in 1967: to confer political legitimacy and credibility on a government that Iraqis themselves will be willing and able to fight to defend, and that American and world public opinion will agree to help nurture.

"I think one lesson is that there be a clear objective that everybody understands," Mr. Bush said in an interview with The New York Times this week, reflecting on the relevance of Vietnam today. "A free, democratic Iraq, an ally in the war on terror, with an Iraqi army, all parts of it - Iraqi forces, army, national guard, border guard, police force - able to defend itself. Secondly, that people understand the connection between that goal and our future."

But the difficulties of achieving such objectives, then and now, have led a range of military experts, historians and politicians to consider the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq to warn of potential pitfalls ahead. Nearly two years after the American invasion of Iraq, such comparisons are no longer dismissed in mainstream political discourse as facile and flawed, but are instead bubbling to the top. [complete article]

Comment -- The debate about the presense or absense of parallels between the wars in Iraq and Vietnam has a tendency to amount to little more than a question about the outcome. Pessimists see the similarities and optimists see the differences, but both look from the same vantage point - in reference to America. To my mind, however, the strongest parallel is that in both wars the United States was intent on imposing its will in a region about which it was largely ignorant.

The biggest difference between the two wars is the difference between Iraq and Vietnam. One is a country united yet at risk of becoming fractured; a colonial fabrication that might easily unravel. The other was fractured yet striving for unity; home to a people whose national identity spans centuries.

The insurgency in Iraq may draw a measure of support from a section of society that is being marginalized, but there is no Ho Chi Minh, nor a compelling vision around which a popular guerilla movement could coalese.

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Forget armor. All you need is love
By Frank Rich, New York Times, January 30, 2005

Watching "Gunner Palace" - the title refers to the 2-3 Field Artillery's headquarters, the gutted former Uday Hussein palace in Baghdad - you realize the American mission is probably doomed even as you admire the men and women who volunteered to execute it. Here, at last, are the promised scenes of our troops pursuing a humanitarian agenda. Delighted kids follow the soldiers like pied pipers; schools re-open; a fledgling local government council receives a genial and unobtrusive helping American hand. In one moving scene, Specialist James Moats tenderly cradles a tiny baby at an Iraqi orphanage while talking about the birth of his own first son back home: "I've seen pictures but I haven't got to hold him yet." He's not complaining, just explaining. He is living in the moment, offering his heart fully to the vulnerable infant in the crook of his arm.

These scenes are set against others in which the troops, many of them from small towns "that read like an atlas of forgotten America," have to make do with substandard support from their own government. "It'll probably slow down the shrapnel so that it stays in your body instead of going straight through," says one soldier as he tries to find humor in the frail scrap metal with which he must armor his vehicle. Eventually many of his peers, however proud to serve, are daunted by what they see around them: the futility of snuffing out a growing insurgency, the fecklessness of the Iraqi troops they earnestly try to train, the impracticality of bestowing democracy on a populace that often regards Americans either indifferently or as occupiers. When "The Ride of the Valkyries" is heard in "Gunner Palace," it does not signal a rip-roaring campaign as it did in "Apocalypse Now" but, fittingly for this war, a perilous but often fruitless door-to-door search for insurgents in an urban neighborhood. [complete article]

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Palestinians march in Gaza to celebrate Hamas victory
By Eric Silver, The Independent, January 29, 2005

Hundreds of Palestinians marched through Gaza City yesterday to celebrate the sweeping victory of Hamas candidates in the first local elections held in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli and Palestinian officials interpreted it less as a vote for continuing the violence than as an opportunity for the Islamic movement to reinvent itself as a political party sharing power under Mahmoud Abbas's reforming presidency.

Hamas, which has dispatched hundreds of suicide bombers against Israeli civilians during the four-year intifada and seeks a Muslim state in the whole of historic Palestine, claimed 77 seats out of 118 in the 10 town and district councils where polling took place on Thursday. Fewer than 40 seats went to the ruling Fatah party. Hamas will control seven councils.

Mahmoud Zahar, its Gaza political leader, hailed the vote as "a huge achievement for the Palestinian people". But he declined to crow. The results, he said, were good for Mr Abbas, who had decided to hold the elections. The 88 per cent turnout was not a vote against anyone. [complete article]

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Democracy's new face: radical and female
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, January 29, 2005

Fathiya Barghouti Rheime sees herself as the new face of Islam in the democratic Middle East espoused so fervently by President Bush.

She is a 30-year-old high school teacher, mother of a 9-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. She describes herself as a "very religious" Muslim. She wears the hejab, a scarf wrapped tightly over her head. She does not shake hands with men outside of her family.

Two weeks ago, Rheime became the first woman ever elected mayor of a Palestinian community, an achievement that stunned many residents in this traditional, patriarchal society. [complete article]

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Iraqis' big issue: U.S. exit plan
By Scott Peterson and Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, January 28, 2005

... the one thing every Iraqi agrees upon is that occupation should end soon. Though the United States is certain to play a major military role here for the near future, Iraqi politicians face intensifying pressure to speak out against its presence.

Interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi got political mileage out of a recent Arabic statement on his party's website that called for a "conditions- based withdrawal" and talked of a timetable.

After US complaints, Mr. Allawi, who worked closely with the CIA in the 1990s and is the current US favorite, gave a slew of interviews to foreign media, saying there was no timetable, and telling the BBC it was "premature" to talk about a pullout.

"He's got two messages that verge on the contradictory," says a Western diplomat. "He doesn't want to give the impression ... that he wants to get rid of [US-led forces]. But his message to Iraqis is that, 'we have a plan' to do so."

"Iraqis are struggling with exactly the same paradox," adds the diplomat. "They want the multinational forces to leave, but ask them if they want them to leave tomorrow, and they say 'no.' " [complete article]

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Iraqi democrats can't win in this desperate election
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, January 28, 2005

Ancient lawlessness, lost amenities, and foreign occupiers are not all one sees in Basra these days. An election campaign has been unfolding here which has been touted as a major turning point in Iraq's return to normality. It has certainly been livelier and more trouble-free than elsewhere in Iraq.

Election posters are sprouting on walls like ivy, including those of polling stations, in what will be a violation of the rules if they are not taken down before Sunday.

As most Shias want to vote, the risk of violence is relatively low, though you would not know it from the Baghdad-style precautions the British are taking. British tank units were even doing exercises this week for what they call the doomsday scenario - how to retake Basra if militias of the radical cleric Moqtada al Sadr were to seize it.

Whoever wins, much will be made of the turnout figure, as it always is when polls take place during insurgencies. Every vote will be described by the British and US governments as a vote against terrorism and against those who called for a boycott. Washington and London also trumpet the huge number of party lists on the ballot as though quantity alone guarantees choice. In fact the differences between the various lists and candidates' programmes is minimal.

The key issue of how long the occupation should continue has not been debated. This leaves the many Iraqis who want to see an early end to it in a dilemma. A contested election is undoubtedly seen by many Iraqis as a historic step forward. On the down side, the vote gives legitimacy to the occupation, especially when there is no party on the ballot which is campaigning unambiguously for the troops' departure. [complete article]

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Bush says Iraqi leaders will want U.S. forces to stay to help
By Elisabeth Bumiller, David E. Sanger and Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, January 28, 2005

President Bush said in an interview on Thursday that he would withdraw American forces from Iraq if the new government that is elected on Sunday asked him to do so, but that he expected Iraq's first democratically elected leaders would want the troops to remain as helpers, not as occupiers.

"I've, you know, heard the voices of the people that presumably will be in a position of responsibility after these elections, although you never know," Mr. Bush said. "But it seems like most of the leadership there understands that there will be a need for coalition troops at least until Iraqis are able to fight."

He did not say who he expected would emerge victorious. But asked if, as a matter of principle, the United States would pull out of Iraq at the request of a new government, he said: "Absolutely. This is a sovereign government. They're on their feet." [complete article]

Comment -- At least one reader suspected that my recent highlighting of a proposal to have a referendum on the occupation was somehow playing into the designs of the Bush administration. Note however that Bush only speaks about the wishes of the new Iraqi government - not the will of the Iraqi people. Given that mere candidacy is a life-threatening choice, it's clear that personal security will be at the top of the agenda for those who enter office. A weak government will be reluctant to end the occupation until it is confident that it can guarantee its own safety. At the same time, unless the Iraqi people are given the opportunity to voice their wishes on this issue -- an opportunity that Sunday's election will not provide -- the seething resentment at the presence of foreign troops will undoubtedly fuel the insurgency.

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Strongman Allawi prepares to tough it out
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, January 28, 2005

In a sudden, last minute burst of election campaigning dozens of political posters have appeared on walls, bridges and lampposts across Baghdad. One of the most prominent shows Ayad Allawi, the current US-appointed prime minister, with the slogan "Strong leadership, safe country".

Not long ago few thought Mr Allawi's political career would outlast his current office. Seven months ago he was largely unknown to most Iraqis, because of a life spent in exile, mostly in Britain, away from Saddam Hussein's regime. His appointment by the Americans meant many saw him as a puppet. He is a secular Shia Muslim, but some were concerned about his past: before his defection in the 1970s he was a member of the Ba'ath party.

Now, with elections just days away, Mr Allawi appears to be in a much stronger position than expected. His coalition of candidates, "the Iraqi list," is not likely to win but may come in a surprise second behind the United Iraqi Alliance, the powerful Shia coalition which has the backing of many clerics. Mr Allawi stands a strong chance of striking a deal with them that would keep him in his job as prime minister.

He is strongly backed in private by both US and British diplomats because he supports their policies in Iraq and keeping him as prime minister would provide continuity. He is also well known to their governments, not least because he worked with the CIA and MI6 in the opposition years. [complete article]

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Journalists' objectivity needs balance of truth
By Chris Hedges, Philadephia Inquirer, January 23, 2005

Balance and objectivity, without a strong commitment to the truth, can turn journalism into farce. It was impossible to witness the army massacres in El Salvador or the murder of children by Bosnian Serb snipers in Sarajevo without being revolted. I hated these crimes. I took risks, along with many of my colleagues, to expose and explain them. And I wanted, through my reporting, to get the world to wake up and put an end to the wholesale murder of innocents.

This commitment, however, was effective only when we were rigorous about telling the truth. It is this moral core, this belief that we can contribute to an open society and make the world a better place, that keeps me and other reporters focused on truth as well as balance and objectivity. [...]

The failure of the coverage leading up to the invasion of Iraq was the failure to be wary of the powerful, the failure to listen to those who are not our own. Stories about an imminent Iraqi threat, which turned out to be false, were splattered across the pages of the nation's most prominent newspapers. There were voices, important voices, that questioned the assertions, but they were largely unheard because the media ignored them. This failure was also, and perhaps more important, a failure to honor the moral contract that journalists have with viewers and readers to be truthful, even when it means challenging conventional wisdom and ferreting out unpleasant facts.

Those who defend the prewar coverage argue that reporters are only as good as their sources. They say they reported accurately the falsehoods leaked to them by those who sought to wage war. By making such an argument they are also saying they are morally neutral, that they are little more than conduits for lies, half-truths and truths all rolled into one unintelligible message. They forget the contract.

There is a concerted attempt to destroy this contract. Balance and objectivity have become code words to propagate the insidious and cynical moral disengagement that is destroying American journalism. This moral disengagement gives equal time, and sometimes more than equal time, to those who spread falsehoods and distort information. It tacitly sanctions the dissemination of lies. It absolves us from making moral choice. It obscures and often shuts out the truth. [complete article]

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Researchers who rushed into print a study of Iraqi civilian deaths now wonder why it was ignored
By Lila Guterman, The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 27, 2005

When more than 200,000 people died in a tsunami caused by an Asian earthquake in December, the immediate reaction in the United States was an outpouring of grief and philanthropy, prompted by extensive coverage in the news media.

Two months earlier, the reaction in the United States to news of another large-scale human tragedy was much quieter. In late October, a study was published in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, concluding that about 100,000 civilians had been killed in Iraq since it was invaded by a United States-led coalition in March 2003. On the eve of a contentious presidential election -- fought in part over U.S. policy on Iraq -- many American newspapers and television news programs ignored the study or buried reports about it far from the top headlines. [complete article]

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On campaign trail, a single shot
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, January 28, 2005

The 21-ton Stryker attack vehicles pulled into the neighborhood of al-Whada just after noon. Their rear ramps dropped simultaneously, disgorging dozens of American infantrymen into the cold rain.

The soldiers had multiple tasks on this day. In addition to hunting insurgents and searching houses, they were to help get out the vote for Sunday's national elections. For the next three hours, soldiers armed with assault rifles and election fliers moved warily through al-Whada's muddy streets, trying to get Iraqis to embrace democracy.

The inherent danger of the mission was driven home at 3:30 p.m. A single shot rang out, and 1st Lt. Nainoa K. Hoe, 27, the popular leader of the 2nd Platoon, C Company, 3rd Battalion of the 21st Infantry Regiment, fell dead in the street. [complete article]

Comment -- To satisfy the Bush administration's need to showcase democracy in the Middle East, the democratic process in Iraq has been reduced to a one-act performance. American soldiers handing out leaflets and being shot at by insurgents is not part of a democratic process. The act of casting a vote is the focal point of democracy, but unless it takes place in a democratic context it becomes little more than a hollow symbol. Bush will get his "grand moment" but at what cost?

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Two top Zarqawi lieutenants arrested
By Sameer N. Yacoub, Associated Press (via WP), January 28, 2005

The government on Friday announced the arrests of two close associates of Abu Musab Zarqawi, including the chief of the terror mastermind's Baghdad operation. The announcement came two days before historic elections that extremists have vowed to subvert.

Insurgents, meanwhile, targeted more polling sites across the country, and a suicide car bomber killed four policemen in the capital. U.S. fighter jets thundered through the skies over Baghdad throughout the morning in a show of force against the militants.

American troops and insurgents exchanged fire on a major Baghdad thoroughfare. The crackle of gunfire could be heard over the noon call to prayer.

Qassim Dawoud, a top security adviser, told reporters that the arrests of the Zarqawi lieutenants occurred in mid-January but gave few details. [complete article]

Iraqi candidate killed on videotape
By Edward Wong, New York Times, January 28, 2005

Insurgents unleashed a string of fierce attacks across central and northern Iraq on Thursday that left nearly a dozen Iraqis and an American marine dead, while the militant group led by the country's most wanted guerrilla posted a video on the Internet showing the fatal shooting of a candidate from the prime minister's slate in Sunday's elections.

The killing of the candidate, Salem Jaafar al-Kanani, was one of the most direct strikes yet against Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's party. Mr. Kanani appears as No. 150 in a list of candidates led by Dr. Allawi, according to a Web site aimed at informing overseas Iraqi voters. Dr. Allawi's slate is expected to perform well on Sunday, when millions of Iraqis are to vote in the country's first multiparty elections in decades. But given the large number of competing slates, it was considered unlikely that Mr. Kanani would have ended up winning one of the new National Assembly's 275 seats.

The video of his killing, with at least three shots to the chest, was posted by the group led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian militant who vowed earlier this week to wage all-out war on the process of democracy. [complete article]

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Insurgents target polling places
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2005

Insurgents in the Sunni-dominated city of Samarra killed at least four Iraqi national guardsmen and five civilians Thursday in a series of firefights, car bombings and explosions that rocked a community U.S. forces had declared pacified in October.

The insurgents also blew up a school building and fired mortar rounds into another school in Samarra, targeting polling places for Sunday's landmark national election. [complete article]

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Violent intimidation campaign nearly paralyzes Baghdad
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, January 27, 2005

Baghdad kicked into panic mode three days before the election, with terrified Iraqis stockpiling food and evacuating homes near polling places Thursday for fear that insurgents would make good on threats to disrupt Sunday's vote with violence.

At least 15 Iraqis and a U.S. Marine were killed Thursday. Insurgents blew up six polling places, detonated car bombs in three cities, triggered at least three roadside bombs and gunned down several Iraqi policemen, according to the U.S. military and Iraqi authorities.

Iraqis who support the parliamentary election and those who oppose it agreed on one thing: They expect such attacks to grow much, much worse.

"How much fear is there? A lot of fear. A whole lot of fear," said Dhikra Hussein, 25, who lives a block from a polling center. "Our neighbors are all gone. We've bought 3 kilos of everything we need."

Leaflets passed out to residents of several neighborhoods in Baghdad warn of more attacks that will "strike voting centers powerfully and without mercy." Another insurgent flier says "a gift" is waiting for each polling place. Rumors abound that Iraqis in line to cast ballots Sunday will be mowed down by gunfire or blown up by suicide bombers posing as voters. [complete article]

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Turkish Prime Minister: U.S. will be responsible for unrest in Kirkuk
Agence France Presse (via Arab News), January 28, 2005

The United States will bear the consequences of ethnic turmoil in Kirkuk if it fails to prevent the oil-rich city in northern Iraq from falling under Kurdish control, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned yesterday.

"Any wrong move in Kirkuk will have a negative impact on peace in Iraq in the future," Erdogan told reporters at Ankara airport before he flew out to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

"The United Nations, America and the other coalition forces should never allow an unfavorable structure there," he said. "If they turn a blind eye to such a mistake, they will pay the bill in the future." [complete article]

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Iraqi forces expected to do little to stop election day violence
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, January 27, 2005

Three days before Sunday's historic balloting in Iraq, there's widespread agreement that Iraq's security forces are incapable of stopping election-day violence.

Instead, American forces will be called in to respond to any efforts to derail the election with attacks on polling places and voters.

American military officers say Iraqi security forces are improving, but they remain poorly trained, ill-equipped, reluctant to fight and infiltrated by insurgents.

The inability of the Iraqi forces to take over even basic security chores a year after the United States began training them in 2003 is a major hurdle to the success of U.S. policy in Iraq - whatever the outcome of Sunday's balloting. [complete article]

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Shiite victory threatens to fracture the Arab Middle East
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson and Huda Ahmed, Knight Ridder, January 27, 2005

Iraq's January 30 elections are almost certain to bring Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority to power after decades of brutal repression.

That prospect has fueled fear and uncertainty inside the country; unsettled Iraq's Sunni Muslim neighbors; and created new uncertainties about what kind of Iraq will replace Saddam Hussein's dictatorship, and even about whether Iraq will remain one country or dissolve into civil war.

How the Shiites rule Iraq, and how their Iraq relates to its Sunni neighbors and to Iran, a Shiite Islamic republic, could determine whether the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq produces a stable democracy, another Islamic republic or a new hotbed of terrorism and trouble in the heart of the Persian Gulf. [complete article]

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The lessons of the failed Osirak raid
By Joseph Cirincione, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, January 27, 2005

The words that mattered the most on inauguration day may not have been the president’s address, but the few comments offered by Vice-President Richard Cheney. "Iran is right at the top of the list," he told radio host Don Imus on January 20. With a nod towards diplomacy, he then came close to endorsing military action, noting, "the Israelis might well decide to act first, and let the rest of the world worry about cleaning up the diplomatic mess afterwards." Back in June 1991, then-defense secretary Cheney gave a photograph of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak to the man who commanded the Israeli air force during the raid on the site in 1981. "With thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job he did on the Iraqi Nuclear Program in 1981," Cheney wrote, "which made our job much easier in Desert Storm." Cheney may have forgotten that the Reagan administration condemned the raid when it took place, as did most nations in the world. He may not know that the raid did not cripple the Iraqi nuclear program, but accelerated it. The raid was a tactical success but a strategic failure. [complete article]

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American consumers are weakest link
By Gary Duncan, The Times, January 27, 2005

America needs to act to put its economy in order and rein in "self-indulgent consumers" before its vast government borrowing triggers a global economic crisis, experts claimed in Davos yesterday.

The day after the White House forecast a deficit of $427 billion this year, some of America's most prominent economists sounded warnings of a dollar crisis.

Fred Bergsten, the director of the Institute for International Economics in Washington, told delegates at the World Economic Forum that he feared that the beginning of such a crisis could come within days or weeks if President Bush's budget proposals did not convince financial markets that the deficit would start coming down over the next few years.

"The dollar would come down sharply, US inflation and interest rates would be pushed up sharply and the world would follow a much slower growth pattern. Trade would be a big casualty it would be poison for US trade policy," he said.

His warnings were echoed by Stephen Roach, the chief economist of Morgan Stanley, the Wall Street investment bank, who said that the US Federal Reserve was "in denial" over the threat posed by America's balance of payments and budget deficits. He pinned much of the blame for the economy's vulnerability on "self.indulgent" US consumers, who, he said, were the "weakest link" in a global economy that could be derailed at any time. "For me, something just doesn't add up. The American consumer is an accident waiting to happen." [complete article]

At Davos forum, every topic is fair game for Bill Clinton
By Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, January 28, 2005

Taking center stage at the World Economic Forum, former President Clinton delivered a virtuoso performance Thursday with a discussion of everything from Mideast crises to his past as president and future as a global activist.

Clinton was clearly in his element in the high-powered annual talkfest that is Davos. He won a standing ovation from a rapt audience of political, business and cultural leaders.

Clinton's focus during meetings here was on AIDS, poverty and Africa, issues on which he and his nonprofit foundation concentrate. But the evening conversation with talk show host Charlie Rose showcased Clinton's intellect, eloquence and occasional slipperiness on an array of issues. [complete article]

Watch a webcast of the Clinton discussion.

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Anti-vote violence in Iraq is intensifying, latest data shows
By James Glanz and Thom Shanker, New York Times, January 27, 2005

More than two-thirds of all Iraqis live in districts that have experienced insurgent attacks in the past month, according to an analysis of new intelligence data.

More than half the Iraqis live in districts - roughly the equivalent of large counties in the United States - that suffered an average of at least one attack every three days in the 30 days ending Jan. 22, according to the analysis, which was conducted by The New York Times using Iraqi census data and information gathered by two private security companies with extensive access to intelligence on Iraq. A bit more than one-fifth of the people live in districts with no attacks over that period.

An "attack" could involve anything from car and roadside bombs to rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms fire and mortars, without regard to how severe or insignificant.

In the weeks leading up to the elections this Sunday, the pace of attacks intermittently soared to levels as high and as widespread as those seen during the major insurgent outbreak last April. American military commanders, Iraqi government officials and the private analysts are all predicting that the violence will intensify as insurgents attempt spectacular new attacks aimed at intimidating Iraqi security forces and dissuading citizens from going to the polls. [complete article]

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Across Baghdad, security is only an ideal
By John F. Burns, New York Times, January 27, 2005

When American troops entered Baghdad and overthrew the government of Saddam Hussein 21 months ago, Raad al-Naqib felt free at last.

But Dr. Naqib, a 46-year-old Sunni dentist who opposed Mr. Hussein, will not vote Sunday when Iraqis will have their first opportunity in a generation to participate in an election with no predetermined outcome. It is, he said, far too dangerous when insurgent groups have warned that they will kill anybody who approaches a polling station.

Starkly put, Baghdad is not under control, either by the Iraqi interim government or the American military. [complete article]

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U.S. troops' role in Iraqi elections criticized
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, January 27, 2005

The United Nations' top elections official, Carina Perelli, sharply criticized U.S. military forces in Iraq Wednesday for distributing material urging Iraqis to vote in the country's elections Sunday.

Perelli and other U.N. officials are concerned that such U.S. military involvement is compromising efforts to convince the Iraqi public that Iraqis are directing the elections.

Perelli said she and the top U.N. election official in Iraq, Carlos Valenzuela, have been "asking, begging military commanders" to stop the distribution of material promoting the elections. Officials from the U.N.-backed Iraqi Electoral Commission have also asked the United States to stop, she said. [complete article]

Comment -- Was President Bush aware of these criticisms when he was being unusually complimentary towards the UN yesterday? ("I appreciate the hard work of the United Nations, which is providing good leadership on the ground. And I anticipate a grand moment in Iraqi history.")

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Iraqi sheik struggles for votes, and against religious tradition
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 27, 2005

[Sheik Adnan] Aidani is a minority within Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, running on a small campaign list opposed by the United Iraqi Alliance, a coalition that has the tacit endorsement of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most prominent religious leader.

In a region famed for its dates and poets, along the Shatt al Arab waterway that flows to the Persian Gulf, he confronts a constellation of forces that hold sway in Iraq's fiercely traditional countryside and that may prove decisive in Sunday's election for parliament.

Uphill might be too simple a word to describe Aidani's struggle; it is more like climbing a steep mountain. In this village, politics are reflected through a religious prism, and many people see the vote as a turning point in a centuries-long Shiite narrative of oppression and disinheritance. [complete article]

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Turkish army warns Iraqi Kurds, U.S. over Kirkuk
Agence France Presse (via Turkish Press), January 26, 2005

Ethnic strife in Kirkuk, sparked by Kurdish attempts to take control of the oil-rich city in northern Iraq, would create "serious" security concerns for Turkey, the Turkish army warned Wednesday.

It might also open a rift with the United States, it said.

The number two of the influential Turkish military renewed Ankara's charges that more Kurds than those expelled from Kirkuk under Saddam Hussein's regime have now settled in the city and registered for Sunday's elections in Iraq.

"We have repeatedly said that such a situation may make the election results in Kirkuk disputable and make it almost impossible to find a fair and lasting solution for Kirkuk," General Ilker Basbug told a news conference. [complete article]

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On the world's most dangerous roads
By Tom Roberts, New Statesman, January 31, 2005

What is life in Iraq for the average GI? By that, I do not mean those such as the marines who are used primarily for combat. I mean those engaged in the wider spectrum of military work, which the US army calls "lines of operation". These include economic development, political engagement and general peacekeeping as well as straightforward combat. To find out, I and a camera crew spent a month from the beginning of November embedded with the awkwardly named 5th Brigade Combat Team (5BCT) - a Donald Rumsfeld-inspired amalgamation of diverse outfits from across the US army (it even had navy units assigned to it) that would fight together only during their year in Iraq.

The 5BCT was stationed in south Baghdad, which combines urban and rural landscapes, and has a mixed population of Shias, Sunnis and Christians. One of its jobs was to guard "the crown jewels": Baghdad's only oil refinery, Iraq's main north/south highway, and a big power station, which only ever operated at 60 per cent of capacity while we were there.

The first encounter was perhaps the most unexpected. Colonel Lanza, the brigade commander, and his subordinates spent about three hours explaining to us the subtleties of the Sunni/Shia power struggle, the tension between conducting combat operations while trying to build a rapport with civilians, and the problems of their limited resources and the ruined Iraqi economy. Their grasp of the situation can only be called sophisticated. This, it seemed, was not an army reliant solely on "Texan firepower". [complete article]

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Military rumblings on Iran
Editorial, New York Times, January 27, 2005

President Bush began his second term with speculation rising about future military moves against Iran. Last week, Vice President Dick Cheney placed Iran first on the list of world trouble spots and darkly hinted that unless tougher measures were taken to curtail its nuclear program, Israel might launch its own pre-emptive airstrikes. Earlier this month, Seymour Hersh reported in The New Yorker that secret reconnaissance operations have already gotten under way inside Iran, as the Pentagon prepares target lists of nuclear sites that could be attacked from the air or by ground-based commando units.

Thus far, Mr. Bush has kept his own counsel. But these hawkish rumblings eerily recall the months before the American invasion of Iraq when some of the same officials pressed hardest for military action, while the president remained publicly uncommitted. Given that experience, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the current rhetorical buildup. We hope that this time, wiser heads in the administration will intervene before it is too late. [complete article]

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U.S. Air Force playing cat and mouse game over Iran
By Richard Sale, UPI (via WPH), January 26, 2005

The U.S. Air Force is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse with Iran's ayatollahs, flying American combat aircraft into Iranian airspace in an attempt to lure Tehran into turning on air defense radars, thus allowing U.S. pilots to grid the system for use in future targeting data, administration officials said.

"We have to know which targets to attack and how to attack them," said one, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The flights, which have been going on for weeks, are being launched from sites in Afghanistan and Iraq and are part of Bush administration attempts collect badly needed intelligence on Iran's possible nuclear weapons development sites, these sources said, speaking on condition of strict anonymity.

"These Iranian air defense positions are not just being observed, they're being 'templated,'" an administration official said, explaining that the flights are part of a U.S. effort to develop "an electronic order of battle for Iran" in case of actual conflict. [complete article]

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Iran's theocracy has lot riding on Iraqi democracy
By Barbara Slavin, USA Today, January 26, 2005

As Iraqis brave bombs and bullets to vote in elections Sunday, their Iranian neighbors will be watching a process that in some ways could have almost as much impact here as in Baghdad.

If Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority dominates the voting, as is now expected, Iran's own Shiite government could suddenly have a friendly neighbor after decades of hostility that erupted into war between the two countries in the 1980s.

But if Iraq's new government can't bring security to what is now a chaotic and violent nation, Iraq's instability, which is already having an effect here, could spread across the border into Iran.

Iran's government also hopes that its Shiite co-religionists in Iraq will find a way to push out the 150,000 U.S. troops who could pose a threat to the regime in Tehran. President Bush labeled Iran, along with North Korea and Saddam Hussein's Iraq, as members of an "axis of evil" in his 2002 State of the Union address. Both he and Vice President Cheney have implicitly threatened military intervention to stop what they say is Iran's effort to develop a nuclear bomb. [complete article]

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Poverty, climate on Davos agenda
By Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2005

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and French President Jacques Chirac urged political and economic leaders Wednesday to take drastic action against poverty and global warming as the World Economic Forum began its annual meeting here.

Blair and Chirac used the gathering of major world figures at this Alpine resort to speak for a European Union that was trying to forge an assertive foreign policy targeting social and environmental causes. In contrast to the major initiatives and strong turnout by European leaders, there were notably fewer high-level U.S. officials present than in previous years.

And the opening messages highlighted tensions between Europe and the U.S. Whereas Blair called climate change one of the most urgent international challenges today, the Bush administration remains a holdout from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on global warming. [complete article]

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God and Darwin
Editorial, Washington Post, January 24, 2005

With their slick web sites, pseudo-academic conferences and savvy public relations, the proponents of "intelligent design" -- a "theory" that challenges the validity of Darwinian evolution -- are far more sophisticated than the creationists of yore. Rather than attempt to prove that the world was created in six days, they operate simply by casting doubt on evolution, largely using the time-honored argument that intelligent life could not have come about by a random natural process and must have been the work of a single creator. They do no experiments and do not publish in recognized scientific journals. Nevertheless, this new generation of anti-evolutionists, arguing that children have a "right to question" scientific truths, has had widespread success in undermining evolutionary theory. [complete article]

Comment -- The Washington Post is justified in using its editorial weight to focus on the threat posed by anti-evolutionists but weak-kneed when it comes to making the final thrust in its attack. It concludes by saying:
The deeply religious nature of the United States should not be allowed to stand in the way of the thirst for knowledge or the pursuit of science. Once it does, it won't be long before the American scientific community -- which already has trouble finding enough young Americans to fill its graduate schools -- ceases to lead the world.

So science must be defended in the name of that holiest of holies, American leadership? I guess the implication is supposed to be that anti-scientific Americans risk damaging the American economy. But is that really the greatest danger that this trend presents?

The argument against providing equal access in education to science and superstition has been made largely on political grounds. To allow anti-evolutionists to tamper with education in science transgresses the constitutional separation of Church and State. The underlying rationale for treating this as a political issue seems to be that some of those who accept the scientific validity of evolution don't want to offend the skeptics by pointing out their ignorance and saying that questioning evolution makes no more sense than questioning whether the Earth revolves around the Sun. Others are less assertive in defense of evolution because their acceptance of the theory has more to do with faith in science than real understanding of its principles.

The problem is, the powerful anti-scientific culture in America has an impact on the world far more pervasive and destructive than, say, Islamic fundamentalism or any of the other pre-scientific belief systems that shape people's lives elsewhere. The 55% of Americans who don't believe in evolution aren't just undermining the education of their own children; they undermine the will of American politicians to address issues such as global warming, environmental degradation, population growth, depletion of natural resources -- concerns of scientists and better-educated populations all over the world that will continue to be largely ignored by the most powerful nation in the world if the minds of the bulk of its population remain shrouded in ignorance.

Further reading: The latest attack on evolution is cleverly argued, biologically informed -- and wrong (Boston Review) and The crusade against evolution (Wired).

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Communicator in chief keeps the focus on Iraq positive
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, January 27, 2005

President Bush's opening statement at his news conference on Wednesday was striking for what it left out: any mention of the 31 Americans who died overnight in the crash of a Marine helicopter in Iraq, the largest number of American deaths in a single incident since the war began.

Mr. Bush instead focused on his long-term goal of "ending tyranny in our world," and then cast the Iraqi election coming Sunday as part of a march of freedom around the globe. He said that if he had told the reporters in the room a few years before that the Iraqi people would be voting, "you would look at me like some of you still look at me, with a kind of blank expression."

The president's words were part of an aggressive White House communications strategy this week and next to frame the risky Iraqi election - a critical test of his assertion that the country is on the path to stability - in the best possible light. The goal, a Bush adviser said, was not only to lower expectations but to avoid any definition of success. [complete article]

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What next? Don't ask Washington
By Andrew Stephen, New Statesman, January 31, 2005

Boy George had no sooner finished his speech on inauguration day ('we will defend ourselves and our freedoms by force of arms if necessary') than Dad was wheeled out to put his boy's excesses in perspective: 'People want to read a lot into it - that this means new aggression or newly asserted military forces,' explained Bush the Elder on an impromptu visit to the White House briefing room. 'That's not what that speech is about. It's about freedom.'

In other words, the elder Bush might just as well have added, we should not be taking anything his son said on inauguration day seriously. Poppy was quite right: the principles of his boy's administration are endlessly elastic, ready to be bent or squeezed in any direction that Karl Rove and the indefatigable White House speechwriters might choose to take them - for immediate political purposes, as stirring new backdrops to pageantry, or as attempts to start laying down a presidential persona for posterity. Or, indeed, for any other eventualities that might crop up. [complete article]

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The Middle East's Generation X
By Allegra Stratton, New Statesman, January 31, 2005

Washington has long feared the Middle East's pear-shaped population. Samuel Huntington, in The Clash of Civilisations (1996), argued that the large number of unemployed young males was a 'natural source of instability and violence'. Six months before 9/11 - where at least half the hijackers were under 25 - the CIA reported on 'the doomed future of youngsters living in the Middle East'. Yet the Bush administration tends to downplay all this. When Andrew Natsios, administrator of the US Agency for International Development since 2001, made an explicit link between youth bulges and terrorism in testimony to the US Senate, his words were edited out of the transcript on Usaid's website. 'The administration's policy,' says Rich Cincotta of Population Action International, 'has to agree with their religious backers. This would not include suggesting that what we need right now is condoms in the Middle East.'

During the Clinton years, when Nato's Major General William Nash helped oversee the restoration of Bosnia's sovereignty, he initially followed the manual: policing borders, confiscating weapons and keeping ethnic factions separate. Then he realised that the real problem was idle young men, and so he put them to work. Now, in Nato and UN circles, employing the local rebels with a cause is a critical element of post-conflict recovery.

Not so in Iraq. When military contractors tried to set up a programme to find jobs for the country's 400,000 ex-soldiers, almost all under 30, they were ordered to stop. The US military preferred to hire foreign workers from Bangladesh and India because, as Colonel Damon Walsh, head of the Coalition Provisional Authority's procurement office said, 'Iraqis are more vulnerable to bad-guy influence'. Unemployment among young Sunnis is said to be running at nearly 80 per cent. [complete article]

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Israeli officials wary as Russia plays disruptive role in Middle East
By Leslie Susser, JTA, January 24, 2005

A projected billion-dollar arms sale to Syria is the latest sign of a major shift in Russia’s Middle East policy -- and analysts are asking how dangerous it might be for regional stability and for Israel.

In what they see as an ongoing bid to regain its lost global influence, Russia -- like the former Soviet Union -- has been developing regional ties as a counterweight to American influence in the Middle East, analysts say.

Israeli leaders are concerned that a Russian axis including Syria, Turkey and Iran could make peacemaking with the Palestinians and regional accommodation more difficult. Moreover, they say, the supply of missiles to Syria and nuclear technology to Iran constitutes a direct military threat to Israel. [complete article]

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Russia writes off $9.8 billion of Syrian debt
Daily Star, January 26, 2005

Russia on Tuesday agreed to write off a huge chunk of Soviet-era debt held by Syria, a country at the center of Moscow's attempts to revive its influence in the Middle East.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was on his first official visit to Russia, which has long defended the Arab state against U.S. and Israeli charges of ties to terrorism.

In a sign Moscow was ready to take its relations with Syria to a new level, Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said Russia had agreed to write off 73 percent - $9.8 billion - of Syria's net debts to Moscow.

It was unclear what Moscow, whose influence waned in the Middle East after the collapse of the Soviet Union, would get in return, but Assad called on Russia to boost its voice in global politics. [complete article]

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Pentagon's Feith, an architect of Iraq policy, to leave post
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, January 26, 2005

The Pentagon's third-ranking policy-maker has decided to leave his post this summer, the Pentagon said Wednesday, announcing the first resignation of a senior civilian architect of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith cited personal and family reasons for his decision, said a brief Department of Defense announcement.

The announcement came on the deadliest day for U.S. troops since the Iraq war began 22 months ago, with 37 American troops killed, and four days before elections for an interim Iraqi assembly.

An official working under Feith has been under investigation for allegedly passing classified information to Israel, and the Senate Intelligence Committee has been looking into Feith's role in developing the faulty intelligence on Iraq's weapons programs and ties to terrorism that the Bush administration used to build its case for invading Iraq. [complete article]

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Criminals the lot of us
By Scott Ritter, The Guardian, January 27, 2005

The White House's acknowledgement last month that the United States has formally ended its search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq brought to a close the most calamitous international deception of modern times.

This decision was taken a month after a contentious presidential election in which the issue of WMD and the war in Iraq played a central role. In the lead-up to the invasion, and throughout its aftermath, President Bush was unwavering in his conviction that Iraq had WMD, and that this posed a threat to the US and the world. The failure to find WMD should have been his Achilles heel, but the Democratic contender, John Kerry, floundered, changing his position on WMD and Iraq many times.

Ironically, it was Kerry who forced the Bush administration to acknowledge that it was WMD that solely justified any military action against Iraq. Before the US Senate in 2002, secretary of state Colin Powell responded to a question posed by Kerry about what would happen if Iraq allowed UN weapons inspectors to return and they found the country had in fact disarmed.

"If Iraq was disarmed as a result of an inspection regime that gave us and the security council confidence that it had been disarmed, I think it unlikely that we would find a casus belli." [complete article]

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2020 vision
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, January 26, 2005

Who will be the first politician brave enough to declare publicly that the United States is a declining power and that America's leaders must urgently discuss what to do about it? This prognosis of decline comes not (or not only) from leftist scribes rooting for imperialism's downfall, but from the National Intelligence Council -- the "center of strategic thinking" inside the U.S. intelligence community.

The NIC's conclusions are starkly presented in a new 119-page document, "Mapping the Global Future: Report of the National Intelligence Council's 2020 Project." It is unclassified and available on the CIA's Web site. The report has received modest press attention the past couple weeks, mainly for its prediction that, in the year 2020, "political Islam" will still be "a potent force." Only a few stories or columns have taken note of its central conclusion:
The likely emergence of China and India ... as new major global players -- similar to the advent of a united Germany in the 19th century and a powerful United States in the early 20th century -- will transform the geopolitical landscape with impacts potentially as dramatic as those in the previous two centuries.

In this new world, a mere 15 years away, the United States will remain "an important shaper of the international order" -- probably the single most powerful country -- but its "relative power position" will have "eroded." The new "arriviste powers" -- not only China and India, but also Brazil, Indonesia, and perhaps others -- will accelerate this erosion by pursuing "strategies designed to exclude or isolate the United States" in order to "force or cajole" us into playing by their rules. [complete article]

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Under-informed, over here
By Bob May, The Guardian, January 27, 2005

During the 1990s, parts of the US oil industry funded - through the so-called Global Climate Coalition (GCC) - a lobby of professional sceptics who opposed action to tackle climate change by cutting greenhouse gas emissions. The GCC was "deactivated" in 2001, once President Bush made it clear he intended to reject the Kyoto protocol. But the denial lobby is still active, and today it arrives in London.

The UK has become a target because the government has made climate change a focus of its G8 presidency this year. A key player in this decision is chief scientific adviser Sir David King, who became public enemy number one for the denial lobby when he described climate change as a bigger threat than terrorism. [complete article]

Alarm at new climate warning
By Richard Black, BBC, January 26, 2005

Global temperatures could rise by as much as eleven degrees Celsius, according to one of the largest climate prediction projects ever run.

This figure is twice the level that previous studies have suggested.

The scientists behind the project, called, say it shows there's no such thing as a safe level of carbon dioxide. [complete article]

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Israel refuses to rule out attack on Iran
By Anne Penketh, The Independent, January 27, 2005

Israel's Defence Minister refused to rule out a pre-empt-ive strike on Iran yesterday, claiming that Tehran was "close to a point of no return" on its suspected development of a nuclear weapon.

At a meeting with journalists in London, Shaul Mofaz did little to dispel the sense of unease caused by comments last week by the US Vice-President, Dick Cheney, who suggested Israel might "decide to act first" to end Iran's nuclear threat.

Mr Mofaz said: "I believe that none of the Western countries can live with Iran having a nuclear capability - not the US, not the European countries and nor other countries." [complete article]

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Marking Holocaust, Sharon blasts Israel critics
By Dan Williams, Reuters, January 26, 2005

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon branded as anti-Semites those critics of Israel who liken its crackdown on a Palestinian revolt to Nazi efforts to exterminate Jews.

Speaking on the eve of a gathering of world leaders in Poland to mark the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camp Auschwitz, Sharon said on Wednesday the lessons of the Holocaust were still ignored by the world.

"This phenomenon, of Jews protecting themselves and fighting back, is deemed outrageous by the new anti-Semites," he told Israel's parliament.

"The legitimate self-defense measures which Israel takes in its war against Palestinian terror -- measures any sovereign state would be obliged to take in order to safeguard its residents -- are presented by sundry anti-Semites as Nazi-style acts of aggression," the right-wing former army general said. [complete article]

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For Israel, the wounds of the Holocaust remain fresh
By Ravi Nessman, Associated Press (via San Francisco Chronicle), January 25, 2005

Though it ended six decades ago, the Holocaust remains a fresh trauma here, a tragedy that darkens Israeli society and forms an integral part of the national identity.

The Holocaust is everywhere. It is a tool used by hard-liners and doves to score political points and a reference point for cultural debates. It hovers over the Middle East conflict, where Israel, despite its military superiority, still fears being wiped out.

Thousands of Israeli high school pupils make annual pilgrimages to Auschwitz and other Nazi death camps to forge a personal link to the murder of 6 million Jews. Visiting foreign leaders are routinely brought to Israel's Holocaust memorial to directly confront the dimensions of the nightmare.

Israel maintains an informal ban on the works of Richard Wagner, Hitler's favorite composer. A planned speech by German President Horst Koehler in Israel's parliament next week sparked threats of a boycott by some legislators, who said it would be too painful to hear German in the Knesset.

As the world marks the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this week, Israelis say it's impossible to understand their national psyche without viewing it through the prism of the Holocaust. [complete article]

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Hamas officials turning focus to local politics
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, January 26, 2005

Newly elected Mayor Ramadan Shatat makes no apologies for being part of the Islamic militant Hamas movement. He supports suicide attacks against Israelis, whom he views as brutal occupiers. His campaign brochure features a map of Palestine drawn as if Israel didn't exist.

But it's not with Kalashnikovs and Qurans that Shatat battles on behalf of his 10,000 constituents. Instead, his weapons are ledger books and shovels and his enemies are budget deficits and potholes as Hamas moves into politics to gain control of Palestinian society.

"We need more services. We're lacking schools and hospitals. Public libraries don't exist. Not everyone has running water," said Shatat, 33, who with a neatly trimmed moustache and suit and tie looks more like an accountant than a bearded Hamas official and sheik of the local mosque. "Our religion requires us to provide the best." [complete article]

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Study: Palestinian Authority conducting Nazi propaganda against Jews
By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz, January 26, 2005

A new study conducted at the request of Diaspora Affairs Minister Natan Sharansky accuses the Palestinian Authority of conducting systematic Nazi propaganda against Jews. The researchers admit that no direct proof of a directed policy was found, and that the theory that they developed was based on "circumstantial evidence" through analyzing Palestinian publications with clear anti-Semitic themes.

Sharansky said Tuesday that Palestinian Authority schools were training "tens of thousands of future terrorists."

"We welcome the efforts being made recently to prevent dozens of terrorists from carrying out terror attacks. But at the same time, Palestinian schools teach and Palestinian national television broadcasts terrible anti-Semitic propaganda," Sharansky said at a press conference in Jerusalem, in which the findings of the study were presented. [complete article]

Palestinian textbooks: Where is all that 'incitement'?
By Roger Avenstrup, International Herald Tribune, December 18, 2005

Palestinian textbooks contain incitement to hatred of Israel, right? Both President George W. Bush and President Bill Clinton have said so. Zionist groups constantly lobby European foreign ministries to stop support for Palestinian textbooks on that basis, and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon affirmed it at a recent Likud party meeting.

Detailed analyses of the textbooks have been done by research institutes. The U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem commissioned studies from the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), and in Europe the Georg Eckert Institute facilitated research. Research papers have also been published in international fora such as the Hebrew University's Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, the Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture, and presented at the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

At the political level, a U.S. Senate subcommittee on Palestinian education and the Political Committee of the European Parliament have both held hearings on the matter. No country's textbooks have been subjected to as much close scrutiny as the Palestinian.

The findings? It turns out that the original allegations were based on Egyptian or Jordanian textbooks and incorrect translations. Time and again, independently of each other, researchers find no incitement to hatred in the Palestinian textbooks. [complete article]

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Top U.S. general: 15,000 insurgents killed or caught
By Gideon Long, Reuters (via Yahoo), January 26, 2005

U.S. and Iraqi forces have killed or captured 15,000 people over the past year in their fight against an insurgency ravaging Iraq, the commander of U.S. forces in the country said Wednesday.

In the past month alone, they had seized around 60 leaders of the various Islamist and Baathist groups trying to drive the Americans from the war-torn country, General George Casey said.

Speaking on the deadliest day for U.S. troops since the invasion in 2003, Casey said the insurgency was limited to just four of Iraq's 18 provinces.

But he conceded that the number of car and suicide bombs had increased and that Iraqi security forces were not capable of dealing with the violence themselves.

"If you look back over the last year we estimate we have killed or captured about 15,000 people as part of this counter-insurgency," Casey, the only four-star American general in Iraq, told reporters. [complete article]

Comment -- In October, the New York Times cited unnamed US officials estimating the size of the insurgency as between 8,000 to 12,000 (up from earlier estimates of 2,000 to 7,000). Now General Casey wants us to believe that 15,000 have been killed or captured over the past year. When is a government official going to have the guts to stand in front of a microphone and admit that the US military cannot determine the size of the insurgency, does not know whether it is increasing in size, and cannot estimate when or if it will be brought under control? Casey might be the highest ranking American officer in Iraq, but he sounds like a four-star fool!

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Iraqi insurgency proves tough to crack
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2005

Four days before the landmark Iraqi national election, U.S. officials and their allies are bracing for fresh insurgent attacks with far less of the optimism that marked previous milestones.

The capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2003 was greeted as a likely death blow for the guerrillas, then regarded as an incipient array of ill-organized holdovers from the ousted dictator's Baath Party. When sovereignty was returned to Iraq six months later, the insurgents were seen as a more substantial threat, but it was widely anticipated that their strength would wither under an Iraqi government.

Today, after more than 18 months of often-fierce confrontations, tens of thousands of hard-core fighters are said to be operating in and around Baghdad and the Sunni Muslim heartland of central Iraq. The insurgents have plenty of firepower and mobility, employ strategic military thinking and operate openly in some areas, defying Iraqi government control.

On Tuesday, insurgents assassinated an Iraqi judge, killed at least five members of Iraqi security forces and made public a videotape of an American hostage begging for his life at gunpoint.

Recently the insurgents have carried out about 50 attacks daily, including a spate of killings and the bombing of a water main that disrupted the supply for hundreds of thousands of Baghdad residents. After a round of killings in Ramadi, the capital of Al Anbar province in the Sunni heartland, word came Tuesday that the 1,000-member police force had abandoned its posts, the latest flop of the U.S.-sponsored security services.

Regardless of the turnout for Sunday's election, U.S. officials are no longer predicting the swift vanquishing of the insurgents, who have stymied the world's most potent military machine with bombings, assassinations, abductions and infrastructure attacks. [complete article]

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'The U.S. is behaving as if every Sunni is a terrorist'
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, January 26, 2005

Two weeks ago, Adnan al-Janabi, the then minister of state in the Iraqi interim government of premier Ayad Allawi, and a tribal leader of one of Iraq's largest predominantly Sunni tribes, was arrested, handcuffed and insulted by US soldiers manning a checkpoint leading into the Green Zone where he worked. Only when a senior bodyguard of the prime minister intervened was he released. That same day he resigned from government.

"You know, and other brother ministers know," he wrote, "how many insults we suffer on the hands of the occupation forces, and the Iraqi people suffer from far more. We have been patient telling ourselves maybe we can do something ourselves to reduce the effect of the occupation. But arresting one of the ministers in such a humiliating way can mean only one thing: that the sovereignty the security council talked about means nothing to the occupation force."

Janabi, apart from being one of Iraq's most revered tribal sheikhs, is also a highly educated man who found himself in an awkward position after the war.

He leads one of the largest tribes in what is known now as the triangle of death south of Baghdad. He is also a western-educated former Opec official who knows how to talk to the Americans as well as the UN. Finally, when he puts on his traditional Arab dress, he becomes the charming sheikh who can reason with everyone including Ayatollah Sistani. For almost two years now he has been trying very hard to bridge the ever growing gap between his community and the Americans; as fruitless a task as one might imagine. [complete article]

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Only one in four will cast vote, Iraqi minister warns
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, January 26, 2005

The government is planning exceptional security measures for the polls, which will include banning the movement of cars for three days. Voters must walk to cast their ballot and will not be allowed to leave their home district. Many businesses plan to close for five days.

Even so, political leaders suspect there will be a very low turnout. Ayham al-Samarrai, the Minister of Electricity, said yesterday "the vote all over Iraq might be only 25 per cent. I asked 18 senior managers in my ministry if they were going to vote; only one said he would." [complete article]

Fear eroding Iraqis' resolve to vote
By Liz Sly, Chicago Tribune (via Yahoo), January 25, 2005

Schoolteacher Rajah Musa was perhaps a little too enthusiastic about Sunday's election in Iraq. He talked frequently about it, he urged all his neighbors to vote, and at the local high school where he teaches, he lectured his students about the benefits democracy brings to a society.

Three weeks ago, a car pulled up outside his home as he set out for work and a gunman opened fire. Musa ducked--one of the bullets grazed his head--but he has gone into hiding, terrified for his life, and he has ordered all the members of his family not to vote.

"It is sad, but it isn't safe," said his son, Anis, 23, who had shared his father's eagerness for the elections until the attack. "We were expecting that everybody in the family would go together and vote in peace, but because of this we're very afraid and now we won't go." [complete article]

Still in the dark over where to vote - or for whom
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, January 26, 2005

With four days to go before the election in Iraq, the vote looks unlike most other exercises in democracy. In an unusually secret ballot, Iraqis are going to the polls unaware of the identities of many of the people they will be voting for.

Although there are more than 7,700 candidates standing for seats in the new national assembly, hardly any of their names have been made public because of the security crisis that has enveloped the new Iraq.

Last week UN officials promised the names would be published in Iraqi newspapers before the vote, but that has yet to happen. [complete article]

Iraqis abroad seem reluctant to vote, too, sign-up shows
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, January 26, 2005

After a two-day extension, registration of Iraqi voters living abroad drew to a close Tuesday but fell well below expectations, with about a quarter of the number predicted by organizers signing up for Sunday's election.

By Tuesday morning, some 255,000 Iraqis living overseas had registered in 14 nations. Organizers had expected that roughly one million voters would sign up. The low turnout added to the troubles of a process that was burdened throughout by security concerns, confusion and some controversy. [complete article]

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Coaching Iraq's new candidates, discreetly
By Karl Vick and Robin Wright, Washington Post, January 26, 2005

Funded by U.S. taxpayers, the Baghdad office of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs stands at the ambitious heart of the American effort to make Iraq a model democracy in the Arab world. In the 13 months it has operated in the country, the institute has tutored political aspirants from all of Iraq's major parties, trained about 10,000 domestic election observers and nurtured thousands of ordinary citizens seeking to build the institutions that form the backbone of free societies.

The work is in many ways entirely routine for the institute -- as it is for the two other Washington-based organizations that are here advising on the architecture of democracy: the International Republican Institute (IRI), which declined requests for an interview, and the International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES), which along with the United Nations is providing crucial technical assistance to Iraq's electoral commission. The groups work in scores of countries, from those in Eastern Europe to Yemen and Indonesia, and arrived in Baghdad with solid reputations for encouraging democratic norms. Together, the three have been allotted as much as $90 million for their work in Iraq.

But such is the state of Iraq less than a week before elections for the National Assembly that the Democratic Institute's instructors dare not see their names in print. "You can say, 'an official with an international organization that operates in Iraq,' " said the institute's country director, a former political operative and public relations executive who, like his boss, happens to be Canadian. He later agreed to allow the use of the organization's name. [complete article]

Iraq election logistics juggle politics, fear
By Thanassis Cambanis and Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, January 25, 2005

The letter slipped into the doorjamb contained a simple unsigned threat: If the family's son kept working for the Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq, he would be killed, and his parents' home blown up.

An anonymous caller followed up, telling the election worker's sister: "We will kill your brother and put him in a garbage bag."

That was all it took for the man -- an artist who would allow only his nickname, Abu Ahmed, to be published -- to quit his election job; six weeks later, he is still in hiding, terrified that he or his family will come to harm.

The man's plight encapsulates the enormous logistical challenge facing the Electoral Commission, which intends to field 140,000 poll workers on election day this Sunday amid a pervasive climate of intimidation and violent attacks in Baghdad and the entire center of the country. [complete article]

Sunnis weigh the risks of running
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, January 26, 2005

Mishaan Jubouri does not dare set foot in his home district in Mosul to campaign for a seat in Iraq's National Assembly. His posters are torn down -- if anyone was emboldened to put them up in the first place. Stores do not sell the newspaper he runs, and some post large signs on their windows saying so. Even in Baghdad, where Jubouri lives now, his wife and family are afraid to leave their home, which is guarded by 54 armed security men.

Still, Jubouri, a Sunni Muslim and Mosul's first mayor after the fall of Saddam Hussein's government, defies those trying to stop the Iraqi elections. He has to run, he says, "to give the people some hope."

In another northern city, Kirkuk, things are almost as bad. Ethnic strife looms over the coming vote, politicians have been kidnapped, mortar fire punctuates campaign debate, candidates are scared and their staff members are hunkered down in their homes. A Sunni leader there, Abdul Rahman Asi, took stock of the situation and chose to do the opposite of what Jubouri is doing. [complete article]

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Top Iraqi candidates won't press for withdrawal of U.S. troops
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, January 25, 2005

Both interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who heads a secular slate, and his chief rival, the Shiite Muslim-based United Iraqi Alliance, are calling for a gradual transfer of responsibilities from U.S. troops to Iraqis. The switch [from earlier campaign promises to set a deadline for the withdrawal of American forces] coincides with a U.S. military report that some 120,000 American troops would remain in Iraq through 2006.

"I will not set final dates (for troop withdrawal) because dates now would be both reckless and dangerous," Allawi told journalists at the heavily protected Baghdad Convention Center.

The change is especially significant for the United Iraqi Alliance, favored by many to dominate the balloting. Until this week, its campaign materials listed its No. 2 promise as "setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraq."

But the alliance rewrote its campaign materials this week, revising its platform. The second item now reads: "The Iraq we want is capable of protecting its borders and security without depending on foreign forces." [complete article]

Warning issued about ethnic conflict in Kirkuk after elections
By Susan Sachs, New York Times, January 26, 2005

In the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk, where Turkish and Kurdish interests collide, provincial elections that are part of Sunday's polling could trigger an ethnic war and wider regional instability, an international conflict-resolution group has warned.

In a report scheduled for release on Wednesday, the International Crisis Group, an independent organization that tries to prevent and resolve global conflicts, described Kirkuk as a powder keg set to explode if Kurds sweep the election for a new regional council, creating a situation that might tempt Turkey to intervene to protect the city's ethnic Turkmen population.

"It is not at all a good idea to have provincial elections in Kirkuk at this time," said Joost R. Hiltermann, the Middle East project director of the Crisis Group and author of the Kirkuk report. "Various groups are arming themselves and it may take only a minor provocation for open conflict to break out." [complete article]

Iraq's Kurds: The temptation to break free
The Economist, January 22, 2005

...once this month's general election is over and a new transitional assembly in Baghdad starts to draw up a new and permanent constitution, arguments over the most basic issues of borders and autonomy are bound again to threaten the fragile understanding that Kurds and Arab Iraqis (those, at least, who have not joined the insurgency) have enjoyed since Mr Hussein fell nearly two years ago.

In particular, Iraq's Shia Arabs, who make up some 60% of the total populace and are sure to dominate the new parliament, object to a clause in the interim constitution which allows two-thirds of the voters in three provinces to block constitutional amendments, thereby giving the Kurds (and, for that matter, Iraq's Sunni Arabs, also about a fifth of the total) a veto. There is also a growing movement among Shia intellectuals for a self-rule area in the south, centred on Basra.

Tension is rising in Kurdish circles too. Some Kurds want wide autonomy in a federal state; others want independence. Many are ambivalent: they accept federalism today but might seek independence if the rest of Iraq fell deeper into chaos, or if their Arab compatriots scrapped the TAL's effective veto, or refused to widen the territory of the federal region to include areas now in effect run by the Kurds. These include the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, to the south of the officially designated Kurdish provinces, which virtually all Kurds consider part of historic Kurdistan. [complete article]

Seeking Iraq's oil prize
By David R. Baker, San Francisco Chronicle, January 26, 2005

The Iraqi government that emerges from Sunday's election may open its oil business to foreign investment, and international petroleum companies are jockeying to curry favor with the war-torn country.

Firms from the United States and Europe -- including Royal Dutch/Shell Group and the Bay Area's own ChevronTexaco -- are literally working for free on certain engineering and training projects to get their feet in the door.

The companies are forging these arrangements with Iraq's oil ministry to help train Iraqi engineers and study ways to tap more of the country's vast oil reserves, estimated to be either the second- or third-largest in the world. [complete article]

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How the U.S. became the world's dispensable nation
By Michael Lind, Financial Times, January 25, 2005

In a second inaugural address tinged with evangelical zeal, George W. Bush declared: "Today, America speaks anew to the peoples of the world." The peoples of the world, however, do not seem to be listening. A new world order is indeed emerging - but its architecture is being drafted in Asia and Europe, at meetings to which Americans have not been invited.

Consider Asean Plus Three (APT), which unites the member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations with China, Japan and South Korea. This group could become the world's largest trade bloc, dwarfing the European Union and North American Free Trade Association. The deepening ties of the APT member states are a big diplomatic defeat for the US, which hoped to use the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum to limit the growth of Asian economic regionalism at American expense. In the same way, recent moves by South American countries to bolster an economic community represent a clear rejection of US aims to dominate a western-hemisphere free-trade zone.

Consider, as well, the EU's rapid progress towards military independence. American protests failed to prevent the EU establishing its own military planning agency, independent of the Nato alliance (and thus of Washington). Europe is building up its own rapid reaction force. And, despite US resistance, the EU is developing Galileo, its own satellite network, which will break the monopoly of the US global positioning satellite system.

The participation of China in Europe's Galileo project has alarmed the US military. But China shares an interest with other aspiring space powers in preventing American control of space for military and commercial uses. Even while collaborating with Europe on Galileo, China is partnering Brazil to launch satellites. And in an unprecedented move, China recently agreed to host Russian forces for joint Russo-Chinese military exercises.

The US is being sidelined even in the area that Mr Bush identified in last week's address as America's mission: the promotion of democracy and human rights. The EU has devoted far more resources to consolidating democracy in post-communist Europe than has the US. By contrast, under Mr Bush the US hypocritically uses the promotion of democracy as the rationale for campaigns against states it opposes for strategic reasons. Washington denounces tyranny in Iran but tolerates it in Pakistan. In Iraq, the goal of democratisation was invoked only after the invasion, which was justified earlier by claims that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and was collaborating with al-Qaeda. [complete article]

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Closing the neocon circle
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, January 25, 2005

Natan Sharansky can bestow no higher praise than to call George W. Bush an honorary "dissident." And the Israeli cabinet minister says he is elated that the U.S. president, in his second inaugural speech last week, appeared to fully embrace Sharansky's vision of foreign policy. "It's clear to me that he read my book," Sharansky, a squat cannonball of a man with a heavy Russian accent, told Newsweek. "I only wish that my mentor, Andrei Sakharov, were alive to see this," Sharansky added, referring to the Soviet nuclear scientist who risked his life and career to help open up the Soviet Union.

Bush, in his Jan. 20 address, did prove himself a dissident in one sense. When the president declared that "the survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands," he was delivering a dissent from traditional U.S. foreign policy, one that could have been lifted whole from the pages of Sharansky’s new book, "The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror." (Public Affairs; New York). Bush, in fact, has been pressing the book on aides and friends in recent weeks and urging them to read it. And it is clear that Bush's speech -- as well as Sharansky’s influence -- could have huge consequences for America in the coming years. [complete article]

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Record '05 deficit forecast
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, January 26, 2005

Additional war spending this year will push the federal deficit to a record $427 billion for fiscal 2005, effectively thwarting President Bush's pledge to begin stanching the flow of government red ink, according to new administration budget forecasts unveiled yesterday.

Administration officials rolled out an $80 billion emergency spending request, mainly for Iraq and Afghanistan, conceding that the extra money would probably send the federal deficit above the record $412 billion recorded in fiscal 2004, which ended Sept. 30. Bush has pledged to cut the budget deficit in half by 2009, a promise the administration says it can keep. But at least for now, the government's fiscal health is worsening. [complete article]

New front for Bush: The dollar
By David E. Sanger, New York Times (via IHT), January 26, 2005

After a first term in which terrorism and war dominated President George W. Bush's foreign policy agenda, his allies in Europe and Asia suspect that his next confrontation with the world could take on a very different cast: a potential monetary crisis, in which a steep plunge in the value of the dollar touches off economic waves around the world.

Already, the tensions over the dollar are becoming a recurring source of friction, a conflict that does not reverberate as loudly as the differences over Iraq but may be as deeply felt. [complete article]

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Pentagon prepares to rethink focus on conventional warfare
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, January 26, 2005

The Pentagon has drafted terms for an ambitious reshaping of U.S. forces that would put less emphasis on waging conventional warfare and more on dealing with insurgencies, terrorist networks, failed states and other nontraditional threats, according to senior defense officials and others familiar with the confidential planning.

This proposed shift in strategic focus stems partly from a recognition that U.S. forces were inadequately prepared for the insurgency in Iraq and the wider hunt for terrorists around the world. But officials said it also grows out of a heightened perception of other potential threats.

The new thinking has emerged in a classified document being readied for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's signature by the Pentagon's policy branch in coordination with the Joint Staff and service representatives. The document, called the "Terms of Reference," sets the framework for the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), which Congress has mandated to compel a comprehensive look at U.S. military strategy at the start of each presidential term. [complete article]

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France says Iraq recruiting ring busted
Aljazeera, January 26, 2005

France has said it has arrested seven people, smashing an underground network recruiting French nationals to fight US forces in Iraq.

A source close to Interior Minister Dominique Villepin said the five men and two women were arrested by the DST domestic intelligence agency on Monday in Paris.

The seven remain in custody in the DST's headquarters pending further investigation.

"This operation has allowed us to completely smash this network," the source said. "This is the first operation of its kind, and an important one. The fight against radical Islamic groups is one of the interior minister's priority." [complete article]

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Terrorism ruling sparks outcry in Italy
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, January 26, 2005

An Italian judge's ruling that five North Africans accused of sending suicide bombers to Iraq were "guerrillas" and not "terrorists" has ignited outrage here and given rise to a debate over the definition of militancy in times of war.

Politicians across the ideological spectrum excoriated the judge Tuesday, as did some of her colleagues in the judiciary and leading newspaper editorialists. Several of the defendants in the case had been linked by investigators to violent extremists.

"You don't have to be an Oriana Fallaci to be shocked by this decision," the La Stampa newspaper said in a front-page editorial, referring to a writer known lately for her anti-Muslim views.

Expressing "rage and disbelief," Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said the ruling represented "a shameless distortion of a reality before the eyes of the entire world." [complete article]

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Europe vs. America
By Tony Judt, New York Review of Books, February 10, 2005

America's cultural peculiarities (as seen from Europe) are well documented: the nation's marked religiosity, its selective prurience, its affection for guns and prisons (the EU has 87 prisoners per 100,000 people; America has 685), and its embrace of the death penalty. As T.R. Reid puts it in The United States of Europe, "Yes, Americans put up huge billboards reading 'Love Thy Neighbor,' but they murder and rape their neighbors at rates that would shock any European nation." But it is the curiosities of America's economy, and its social costs, that are now attracting attention.

Americans work much more than Europeans: according to the OECD a typical employed American put in 1,877 hours in 2000, compared to 1,562 for his or her French counterpart. One American in three works more than fifty hours a week. Americans take fewer paid holidays than Europeans. Whereas Swedes get more than thirty paid days off work per year and even the Brits get an average of twenty-three, Americans can hope for something between four and ten, depending on where they live. Unemployment in the US is lower than in many European countries (though since out-of-work Americans soon lose their rights to unemployment benefits and are taken off the registers, these statistics may be misleading). America, it seems, is better than Europe at creating jobs. So more American adults are at work and they work much more than Europeans. What do they get for their efforts?

Not much, unless they are well-off. The US is an excellent place to be rich. Back in 1980 the average American chief executive earned forty times the average manufacturing employee. For the top tier of American CEOs, the ratio is now 475:1 and would be vastly greater if assets, not income, were taken into account. By way of comparison, the ratio in Britain is 24:1, in France 15:1, in Sweden 13:1. A privileged minority has access to the best medical treatment in the world. But 45 million Americans have no health insurance at all (of the world's developed countries only the US and South Africa offer no universal medical coverage). According to the World Health Organization the United States is number one in health spending per capita -- and thirty-seventh in the quality of its service. [complete article]

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Osama who? When no news is 'bad news'
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, January 24, 2005

In late 1996, veteran CBS foreign correspondent Tom Fenton pitched his network on a plan to use Saudi connections to land an interview with Osama bin Laden.

"Our bosses saw him as an obscure Arab of no interest to our viewers," Fenton says. "More concerned with saving dollars than pursuing the story, they killed the project."

Months later, Fenton says, he sat down with an Arab journalist who had interviewed bin Laden and described his violent designs on America, but "our navel-gazing executives" left that part of the piece "on the cutting-room floor." He says CBS executives asked that all references to bin Laden be cut because the story had "too many foreign names."

In his forthcoming book "Bad News," Fenton, who retired last month, uses tales like these to castigate network news for failing to adequately cover the rest of the world. It is a stinging indictment that gains force from his quarter-century of service in CBS's London bureau. [complete article]

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Pentagon files reveal more allegations of abuse in Iraq
By John Hendren, Los Angeles Times, January 25, 2005

Pentagon documents released Monday disclosed that Iraqi prisoners had lodged dozens of abuse complaints against U.S. and Iraqi personnel who guarded them at a little-known palace in Baghdad converted to a U.S. prison. Among the allegations was that guards had sodomized a disabled man and killed his brother, whose dying body was tossed into a cell, atop his sister.

The documents, obtained in a lawsuit against the federal government by the American Civil Liberties Union, suggest for the first time that numerous detainees were abused at Adhamiya Palace, one of Saddam Hussein's villas in eastern Baghdad that was used by his son Uday. Previous cases of abuse of Iraqi prisoners have focused mainly on Abu Ghraib prison.

A government contractor who was interviewed by U.S. investigators said that as many as 90 incidents of possible abuse took place at the palace, but only a few were detailed in the hundreds of pages of documents released Monday. [complete article]

See the documents released by the ACLU.

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Unusual suspects
By Tara McKelvey, The American Prospect, February 4, 2005

In the barrels of newsprint that have been devoted to Abu Ghraib since 60 Minutes II released the now-infamous photos on April 28, 2004, one aspect of the story has received scant attention in the American media: the detention of women. The liberation of women in Iraq and (especially) Afghanistan has been, at times, a major talking point for Bush administration officials as they have touted the successes of their war on terrorism in the Middle East. Yet in Iraq, the benefits of a free society have eluded at least part of the female population.

Forty-two women have been held at Abu Ghraib, according to a U.S. Department of Defense statement provided at the request of a U.S. senator and forwarded to me, though none are interned there now. (Many of the women were released in May, shortly after the scandal broke, and the last woman was let go in July.) Overall, 90 women have been held in various detention facilities in Iraq since August 2003, says Barry Johnson, a public-affairs officer for detainee operations for the Multi-National Force, the official name of the U.S.–led forces in Iraq, speaking on a cell phone from Baghdad. Two "high-value" female detainees are now being held, he says. More women may be in captivity, he adds, explaining that "units can capture and keep them up to 14 days." In addition, approximately 60 children, or "juveniles," are being held. [complete article]

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Last U.K. Guantanamo detainees arrested on return
By Peter Graff, Reuters (via ABC News), January 25, 2005

The last four British detainees in the U.S. prison camp at Guantanamo Bay flew home Tuesday after three years in custody and were immediately arrested by British anti-terrorism police.

A UK military plane brought the four Muslim men from Cuba to an air base near London.

Their return resolves a diplomatic challenge for Prime Minister Tony Blair, Washington's closest international ally.

But their treatment remains a politically charged issue at home, particularly among Britain's nearly two million Muslims, more so since other prisoners released from Guantanamo Bay have alleged that they were tortured or abused there. [complete article]

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Mass suicide bid at Guantanamo
By Robert Verkaik and Terri Judd, The Independent, January 25, 2005

Twenty-three inmates at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay staged a mass suicide attempt in 2003 by trying to hang or strangle themselves.

US military confirmation of the mass suicides came yesterday as the families of four Britons detained without charge for three years by the US authorities waited for their loved ones to arrive home from the prison on Cuba. The four will be arrested by anti-terrorist police officers as soon as they are released from American custody.

The US Southern Command yesterday admitted that, between 18 and 26 August 2003, the detainees tried to hang or strangle themselves with pieces of clothing and other items in their cells. However they played down the incidents, saying that one - on 22 August - was "a coordinated effort to disrupt camp operations and challenge a new group of security guards from the just-completed unit rotation". [complete article]

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The last Palestinian
By Hussein Agha, Robert Malley, New York Review of Books, February 10, 2005

Much as his political ascent gave shape to the contemporary Palestinian landscape, Yasser Arafat's death will fundamentally transform it. Arafat was unique, and uniquely suited to his people's condition following the 1948 war: defeated, dispossessed, and dispersed, without a state to defend them, a territory to hold them, or a political strategy to unite them. Palestinians were divided by family, class, and clan, scattered throughout the region and beyond, exploited by the competing purposes of many and prey to the ambitions of all. By dint of his history and personality, charisma and guile, cajoling and bullying, luck and sheer perseverance, Arafat came to represent them equally and to emerge as the face of the Palestinian people, to them and to the world.

Arafat's paramount goal was national unity, without which he believed nothing could be achieved. He was the bridge between Palestinians in the Diaspora and those on the inside, those who were dispossessed in 1948 and those who were occupied in 1967, West Bankers and Gazans, young and old, rich and poor, swindlers and honest toilers, modernists and traditionalists, militarists and pacifists, Islamists and secularists. He was national leader, tribesman, family elder, employer, Samaritan, head of a secular-nationalist movement, and deeply devout all at once, aspiring to be the preeminent embodiment of each of these disparate groups, even when they held opposing views. His style was often criticized and disparaged but his preeminent position was seldom questioned. No Palestinian leader is likely to reproduce his kind of politics, almost certainly not under conditions of occupation, and unquestionably not right now. [complete article]

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Israel seizes Palestinian land in Jerusalem cut off by barrier
Associated Press (via WP), January 23, 2005

Israel has quietly seized large tracts of Jerusalem land owned by Palestinian residents of the West Bank after they were cut off from their property by Israel's separation barrier, attorneys for the landowners said.

The land was taken after the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided several months ago to enforce a long-dormant law that allows Israel to seize lands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out during the 1948-49 war that followed the establishment of the Jewish state.

The new policy, first reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, could affect hundreds of Palestinians who own property in Jerusalem and intensify the dispute over the city, which Israel and the Palestinians both claim as their capital.

The affected landowners live in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, just south of Jerusalem. Their land was taken in August, after the West Bank separation barrier cut them off from their land in the city. [complete article]

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Tsunami took heavier toll on Aceh's women
By Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, January 25, 2005

When the tsunami inundated the northern and western coasts of Indonesia's Aceh province, killing more than 100,000 people, most of the victims in seaside villages like this one were women and children. Three out of four of the survivors in relief camps are men or boys, according to U.N. officials.

Many in these coastal towns were fishermen who survived at sea or farmers in the hills above the high water line. But their wives and children were killed at home not far from the beach when the driving waves turned the village into ruins on Dec. 26.

In Lamteungoh, there are 105 widowers and only 19 widows. These rugged men are now grappling with unfamiliar roles, dependent on one another and uncertain about what comes next. With their families gone, some say their lives have lost purpose. They are caring for children in communal style and tending to the injured. They are struggling to move through their grief and reclaim their future. [complete article]

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Allawi: No deadline for troop withdrawal
Associated Press (via Newsday), January 25, 2005

Interim Prime Minister Ayad Allawi said Tuesday it was "futile" to set a timetable now for the withdrawal of U.S. and other foreign troops from Iraq and that the country must first build up its security forces to confront the insurgents.

"Others spoke about the immediate withdrawal or setting a timetable for the withdrawal of multinational forces," Allawi told reporters. "I will not deal with the security matter under political pretexts and exaggerations that do not serve Iraq and its people."

Allawi, who is running for the National Assembly in Sunday's national elections, promised to "build a strong Iraqi security force" that will be able to take responsibility for protecting the people.

"I will not set final dates" for the withdrawal of international forces "because setting final dates will be futile and dangerous," Allawi said. [complete article]

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Army plans to keep Iraq troop level through '06
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, January 25, 2005

The U.S. Army expects to keep its troop strength in Iraq at the current level of about 120,000 for at least two more years, according to the Army's top operations officer.

While allowing for the possibility that the levels could decrease or increase depending on security conditions and other factors, Lt. Gen. James J. Lovelace Jr. told reporters yesterday that the assumption of little change through 2006 represents "the most probable case."

Recent disclosures that the Pentagon plans to beef up training of Iraqi security forces and press them into action more quickly has fueled speculation that the Bush administration could be preparing to reduce the number of U.S. troops significantly this year. As more Iraqi troops join the fight, the thinking goes, U.S. troops could begin to withdraw.

But Lovelace's remarks indicated that the Army is not yet counting on any such reduction. Indeed, the general said, the Army expects to continue rotating active-duty units in and out of Iraq in year-long deployments and is looking for ways to dip even deeper into reserve forces -- even as leaders of the reserves have warned that the Pentagon could be running out of such units. [complete article]

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Iraq vote to bring security change, pledges leading Shia
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, January 25, 2005

One of the most senior politicians in Iraq has promised a "radical change" in the country's security forces after this week's election and said officers with Ba'athist links would be removed.

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, 54, heads an alliance of Shia Muslim candidates that is widely expected to win the vote. Although Mr Hakim is not thought to want the job of prime minister, he and his party will be instrumental in shaping the new government and its policies.

One of the party's demands is that the US military set a timetable for withdrawal.

In an interview at his office in Baghdad, Mr Hakim openly criticised the US for allowing Iraq to descend into a security crisis. American commanders depended too much "on the criminals from the former regime", he said, in a reference to former Ba'athist police and military officers who have returned to their jobs in recent months.

His party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), had its own militia, the 15,000-strong Badr Brigade, which Mr Hakim led. It is possible that more fighters from the militia may be incorporated into Iraq's security forces. [complete article]

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Political Islam put to the test in southern Iraq
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 25, 2005

Among the fault lines that define Sunday's vote for an Iraqi parliament, the divide between religious and secular is one of the most decisive. The slate that has attracted the most attention is a coalition known as the United Iraqi Alliance, which brings together Iraq's most prominent Shiite parties and, many Iraqis believe, has the blessing of Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. Its campaign is steeped in religious imagery, and its success in the elections would ensure a voice for the country's conservative clergy in the writing of a new constitution.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, those parties have effectively run Basra. Under their leadership, power and water supplies remain sporadic, city officials have been accused of corruption, and political killings have sown fear in the city. Judging by the opinions of residents, what may be postwar Iraq's first experiment in Islamic rule may also be its first failure.

"How long has it been? Two years?" Salah Abdullah, 34, asked while shopping at a cell phone store downtown. "Show me one person from the parties who has paved the road. Either you're a thief working for them or you are on your own." [complete article]

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Kurds saddled with Saddam's men
By Aaron Glantz, IPS (via Asia Times), January 26, 2005

As with all election lists in Iraq, the identity of the Kurdish candidates remains officially a secret for security reasons. Unlike other election lists, however, the contents of the Kurdish one became known when it was obtained by the independent Kurdish weekly Hawalti. The list revealed that about a dozen Kurdish candidates were former Ba'athists.

"These are people who helped Saddam in his campaign against the Kurds," said Zirak Abdullah, managing editor of the newspaper's office in Arbil in northern Iraq. "Remember that 182,000 people were killed in the campaign, which was carried out by Saddam in the 1980s, including what happened in Hallabja," where 5,000 Kurdish civilians were gassed with chemical weapons, he said. "These people - they have the blood of the Kurdish people on their hands."

Among the former Ba'athists on the Kurdish election slate are people who were once known as "Rafiq Hizbi" or the "Comrades". These were high-ranking members of the Ba'ath Party. Mustashars, the heads of Saddam's Kurdish paramilitary and mercenary groups, are also on the Kurdish election slate, according to Hawalti. [complete article]

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Shiites are coming, Shiites are coming
By David Hirst, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2005

For the first time in centuries, Shiites are about to come into their own as the rulers, or at least the politically dominant community, in a key Arab country -- a transformation that has been inexorably underway since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

In the Arab world, the rulers of all 22 states (except for largely Christian Lebanon) have traditionally hailed from the orthodox Sunni majority. Until now, that has included the two countries, Iraq and Bahrain, where Shiites actually make up the majority. The correction of this anomaly in the Iraqi elections on Jan. 30 cannot but be momentous, given Iraq's history and geopolitical weight in the region, and the tumultuous conditions in which it is taking place.

Iraq, after all, is where, in the bloody struggle over the Prophet's succession, Islam's great schism first took root; where, for centuries, Shiites living under Sunni Ottoman rule bore the brunt of the empire's conflicts with Shiite Persians; where, in the 1920s, Shiites led the rebellion against British mandatory rule but ended up grossly underrepresented in the Sunni-dominated, modern Iraqi state that Britain created; where, after the rise of Baathism, the Sunnis turned minority rule into despotism of the most narrow, chauvinistic and brutal kind at Shiite expense.

But even though it may be long overdue, the idea of electorally established Shiite dominance of Iraq nevertheless deeply troubles Arab regimes, whether they are pro- or anti-American, republic or monarchy, with or without Shiites among their populations. [complete article]

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U.S. and U.K. 'ignore torture by Iraqi police'
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, January 25, 2005

Iraqi security forces have been committing widespread torture and other human rights abuses while US and British authorities turn a blind eye, according to a report.

The accusation that police and soldiers, trained by the occupying powers, are routinely mistreating detainees, including children, is made by the pressure group Human Rights Watch. In a report called The New Iraq - Torture and Ill-treatment of Detainees in Iraqi Custody, it has catalogued malpractice by security forces ranging from arbitrary arrest and severe beatings to extortion. It says the interim government of Iyad Allawi had flouted the principles for which the overthrow of Saddam Hussein was justified.

Human Rights Watch says international monitors put in place to prevent corruption and brutality by Iraqi security officials have failed to act."The US government has devoted considerable resources towards providing international advisers to assist the Iraqi interim government in training and equipping Iraq's security and police forces. Unfortunately, these advisers have apparently given low priority to addressing the crucial issue of detainee abuse by the Iraqi police." [complete article]

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Arrest announced of suspected car-bombing mastermind allegedly linked to 2003 assault on U.N. headquarters
By Bassem Mroue, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), January 24, 2005

An al-Qaida lieutenant in custody in Iraq has confessed to masterminding most of the car bombings in Baghdad, including the bloody 2003 assault on the U.N. headquarters in the capital, authorities said Monday.

Sami Mohammed Ali Said al-Jaaf, also known as Abu Omar al-Kurdi, "confessed to building approximately 75 percent of the car bombs used in attacks in Baghdad" since the Iraq war began, according to the interim Iraqi prime minister's spokesman, Thaer al-Naqib.

Al-Jaaf was taken into custody Jan. 15 and confessed to 32 car bombings, a government statement said, including the bombing of the U.N. headquarters that killed the top U.N. envoy in Iraq, Sergio Vieira de Mello, and 21 other people.

The suspect, a top lieutenant of al-Qaida's Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also built the car bomb used to attack a shrine in the Shiite holy city of Najaf that killed more than 85 people, including Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim, in August 2003, the statement said. [complete article]

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Killings in Mosul have taken a huge toll
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, January 23, 2005

The bodies turn up at night. Pulled from the trunks of cars, throats slit and dropped off in a cemetery. Or shot in the back of the head and dumped in the middle of the road.

There's no official tally, but interviews with U.S. Army officers and soldiers in Mosul indicate that hundreds of the corpses - calling cards of the insurgency - have turned up during the past several months.

It's part of a vicious guerrilla campaign of murder and intimidation in the northern Iraq town that's killed not only hundreds of police, national guardsmen and contractors, but also interpreters working for the U.S. military. U.S. troops have proved unable to stop it. [complete article]

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Saudi clerics point militants toward Iraq
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via Yahoo), January 24, 2005

Fundamentalist Islamic leaders in Saudi Arabia are telling militants intent on fighting "infidels" to join the insurgency in Iraq instead of taking up Osama bin Laden's call to oust the Saudi royal family at home, say Saudi dissidents who monitor theological edicts coming out of the kingdom.

Iraq as a battleground offers the solution to a quandary facing the Saudi clerics who have to both placate the kingdom's rulers and keep their radical base happy.

"If they preach that there ought to be absolutely no jihad, they would lose credibility and support among their followers. So what they do is preach jihad -- not in Saudi Arabia, but in Iraq," said Abdul-Aziz Khamis, a Saudi human rights activist in London.

"To them, Iraq is the answer to their dilemma."

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 gave the Saudi government the opportunity to send men there to wage holy war against communism, supported by the United States.

It also opened the field for the Saudi regime to spread a rigid form of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. The royal Al Saud family adheres to it, as do Saudi-born bin Laden and his followers.

Today, Iraq, more than anywhere else in the world, is where the future of political Islam is being shaped. It has become a free-for-all for extremists and anti-American movements. [complete article]

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Fear of civil war as Sunnis turn away from polls
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, January 24, 2005

Just two months ago Ayad al-Samarrai's offices were crowded with staff drawing up plans for their election campaign. Today the offices are deserted.

Iraq's elections are less than a week away but in the compound of the country's largest Sunni Muslim party the corridors are empty and there is not one campaign poster on the wall.

The Iraqi Islamic party, which Mr Samarrai, an engineer from Baghdad, joined as a young man, withdrew from the elections last month saying the violence raging through so much of Iraq, and Sunni frustration with the occupation, meant the vote on January 30 could never be legitimate.

It was a decisive moment that underlined the sense of bitterness and exclusion many in Iraq's Sunni community feel about the unfolding political process. [complete article]

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Iraq battens down for vote
By Dan Murphy and Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2005

The US and its Iraqi allies are working hard to protect the process - and hope the election will prove a turning point against the insurgency. One ad run by the government on local and Arab satellite television shows how they want to turn the tables. Two masked gunmen confront a woman on her way to vote, who stares back as the ranks of voters swell behind her, and the insurgents slink off.

But while many Iraqis are enthusiastic about voting, especially the country's majority Shiite Arabs and Kurds in the north, fear can be just a phone call away.

Last week, an acquaintance of a Monitor reporter was chatting on a Baghdad street, when he was interrupted by the jangle of his cellphone. The smile faded and his posture slumped. His brother-in-law was found in a city morgue, along with nine other security officers.

The Iraqi national guardsman had been abducted by masked men the night before near his home in the volatile Abu Ghraib district west of Baghdad, where insurgents mingle with oil smugglers.

At the morgue, the guardsman's calf is branded with a mark designed to send fear beyond his immediate friends and family: the sign of Mohammed's army, a group that has executed dozens in recent months. The Interior Ministry say it is run by former members of Mr. Hussein's feared internal security service. [complete article]

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Civil war erupts online as Iraqis prepare for a great experiment
By Michael Evans, The Times, January 24, 2005

The comparative calm of Basra has been shattered by three suicide bombs, a handful of failed assassination attempts and ominous warnings that the million voters in the capital of southern Iraq risk death if they cast their ballots in the election on Sunday.

British sources said that posters have been spotted elsewhere in the South that bear the striking symbol of a headless body and an ink-marked thumb beside the words: "You vote, you die".

Saeed Abdul Saheb al-Battat, head of the independent electoral commission of Iraq in Basra, expressed confidence yesterday that his 15,000 workers, backed by a similar number of Iraqi police, a large chunk of Iraq's newly trained army and thousands of British-led troops, would be capable of safeguarding voters as they start lining up from 7am on Sunday to enjoy their first taste of real democracy.

The mainly Shia population of the South will, however, still be facing the threat of violence, just as it did when they were obliged to vote for Saddam Hussein in the Baath version of democracy. [complete article]

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Sadr group signals rejection of election
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, January 24, 2005

Around the corner from a five-mile line stretching toward a gas station, past election posters calling voting a religious duty, hundreds of bleary-eyed protesters threw down what goes for prayer carpets among followers of the Shiite Muslim cleric Moqtada Sadr. They put down black-checkered kaffiyehs, the sweaters they wore, sacks of flour distributed as government rations and, most commonly, scraps of cardboard.

It was noon, the time for Muslims to pray. It was time, too, for them to make their demands heard at the Iraqi Oil Ministry as part of a four-day protest last week over Iraq's months-long fuel crisis.

"They must hear that the Iraqi people will always demand their rights, even if we give our lives!" the preacher declared. Behind him, slogans put up on a concrete blast wall echoed the protesters' pleas. "We don't want elections," one read. "We want electricity."

The protest in Baghdad and others in towns across southern Iraq, including Kut, Amarah and Karbala, marked the latest campaign by Sadr's group, a grass-roots movement led by Shiite clergy that claims to speak on behalf of the Shiite downtrodden. Through protests, sermons and declarations by the reclusive Sadr, the movement is signaling its doubts about the Iraqi election, ending months of ambiguity over whether Sadr had surrendered his arms for a place in the political process. [complete article]

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Shiites in Iraq say government will be secular
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, January 24, 2005

With the Shiites on the brink of capturing power here for the first time, their political leaders say they have decided to put a secular face on the new Iraqi government they plan to form, relegating Islam to a supporting role.

The senior leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance, the coalition of mostly Shiite groups that is poised to capture the most votes in the election next Sunday, have agreed that the Iraqi whom they nominate to be the country's next prime minister would be a lay person, not an Islamic cleric.

The Shiite leaders say there is a similar but less formal agreement that clerics will also be excluded from running the government ministries.

"There will be no turbans in the government," said Adnan Ali, a senior leader of the Dawa Party, one of the largest Shiite parties. "Everyone agrees on that."

The decision appears to formalize the growing dominance of secular leaders among the Shiite political leadership, and it also reflects an inclination by the country's powerful religious hierarchy to stay out of the day-to-day governing of the country. Among the Shiite coalition's 228 candidates for the national assembly, fewer than a half dozen are clerics, according to the group's leaders. [complete article]

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Book of U.S. code names challenges secrecy
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, January 23, 2005

If you think of a hit television series when you read the words "West Wing," then you probably do not have to worry about your next security clearance polygraph.

But if it brings to mind secret U.S. bases in Jordan, you might have a problem if you have read William M. Arkin's new book, which amounts to the sort of unauthorized dump of classified information you would have to report to protect your clearance.

In "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World," Arkin discloses and briefly defines 3,000 military code names.

Some of them are still classified. Each one represents a discrete dot in the ever-growing clandestine world of Delta Force and SEAL commandos, of spy satellites and electronic worldwide eavesdropping. Once fleshed out and connected, Arkin hopes, the dots will reveal the invisible world where billions of dollars have been spent to fight terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001, without the scantest of public debates. [complete article]

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Dream on America
By Andrew Moravcsik, Newsweek, January 31, 2005

Not long ago, the American dream was a global fantasy. Not only Americans saw themselves as a beacon unto nations. So did much of the rest of the world. East Europeans tuned into Radio Free Europe. Chinese students erected a replica of the Statue of Liberty in Tiananmen Square.

You had only to listen to George W. Bush's Inaugural Address last week (invoking "freedom" and "liberty" 49 times) to appreciate just how deeply Americans still believe in this founding myth. For many in the world, the president's rhetoric confirmed their worst fears of an imperial America relentlessly pursuing its narrow national interests. But the greater danger may be a delusional America -- one that believes, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the American Dream lives on, that America remains a model for the world, one whose mission is to spread the word. [complete article]

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A higher realism
By Robert Kagan, Washington Post, January 23, 2005

The most significant thing about President Bush's inaugural address was the word he did not utter: terror. Until now the war on terrorism has been the administration's foreign policy paradigm, giving unity and coherence to disparate and morally contradictory policies: promoting democracy in the Middle East, for instance, while ignoring undemocratic practices in Russia and China. One would have expected Bush to make the war on terrorism the theme of his address.

That he did not shows a remarkable evolution in Bush's thinking over the past half-decade. That evolution has gone through three phases. The first was realist retrenchment. Bush came to office intending to pull America back from what he, his advisers, most Republicans in Congress and most conservatives regarded as the moralistic, "humanitarian" excesses of the Clinton years. He would pursue the "national interest" narrowly defined, with a far more selective approach to involvement overseas.

Then came the attacks of Sept. 11 and Bush's second foreign policy phase: the war on terrorism. He led the United States back to global involvement on a Cold War scale and with the Cold War's moral fervor (if not with the Cold War's attention to alliances.) He also came to believe that the struggle against radical Islamic terrorism required democratic reform and even nation-building in the Muslim world. This conviction, bolstered by the successful elections in Afghanistan, blended Bush's earlier realism and his burgeoning idealism. The moralistic policy of promoting democracy in the Middle East derived from hard-headed calculations of American security interests, as did the alliance with authoritarian regimes in Moscow and Beijing.

Bush still asserts that "America's vital interests and our deepest beliefs are now one." But in his inaugural address he has taken a step beyond that. In this third phase he has grounded American foreign policy in universal principles, in the Declaration of Independence and what Lincoln called its "abstract truth, applicable to all men at all times." The goal of American foreign policy is now to spread democracy, for its own sake, for reasons that transcend specific threats. In short, Bush has unmoored his foreign policy from the war on terrorism. [complete article]

Comment -- Leading neoconservative theoretician, Robert Kagan, eloquently sums up the neoconservative agenda for the next four years (and the rest of this century). Bush's inaugural vision has drawn responses from skeptical commentators ranging from the mealy-mouthed (E.J. Dionne - 'Most of us believe in "the global appeal of liberty." What's in question is whether the president has been candid about the costs of his all-embracing vision, about how to pay for it and raise the troops to fight for it') to blunt dismissal (Zbigniew Brzezinski - 'As a sermon, it's nice, it's moving, and has some elegant moments, but it's vacuous').

Kagan, however, gives the game away by pointing out that the most significant thing about Bush's address was the absence of the word terror.

The neoconservatives have been well tutored by Karl Rove (and Republican consultant Frank Luntz) -- though their uncontainable arrogance often makes them undisciplined.

(Picture that gleeful epiphany as word swept through Washington that terror is out and tyranny is now in. If there's a benchmark problem when it comes to measuring success in the eradication of tyranny it now shifts from Defense to State as sweet-talking Rice will replace brusque Rumsfeld in offering progress reports on the campaign against tyranny.)

What the neocons learnt from Rove is that the easiest way to control political discourse is to studiously avoid uttering problematic words. The monumental shift that Kagan is highlighting is that terrorism is a concept that has out-lived its utility for the Bush administration. No one needs to declare victory in the war on terrorism if they simply let the notion wither away.

In the same way, the issue of torture need not be addressed if those who should be held accountable refuse to utter the word. Social Security can be privatized if no one uses the word "private" but instead talks about "personal" -- as in "personal accounts." And if the news coming out of Iraq gets increasingly worse, what's the solution? Stop talking about it.

Politicians have rarely had a reputation for being honest, but never it seems has a government with so much power made such systematic use of deceit. Dissembling, for our current leaders, does not simply provide the occasional exit from a tight corner, it is their modus operandi.

What we were told was a values-driven presidential election, now demands a values-driven response. One value stands out above all others: truth-telling.

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DoD vs. CIA

Secret unit expands Rumsfeld's domain
By Barton Gellman, Washington Post, January 23, 2005

The Pentagon, expanding into the CIA's historic bailiwick, has created a new espionage arm and is reinterpreting U.S. law to give Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld broad authority over clandestine operations abroad, according to interviews with participants and documents obtained by The Washington Post.

The previously undisclosed organization, called the Strategic Support Branch, arose from Rumsfeld's written order to end his "near total dependence on CIA" for what is known as human intelligence. Designed to operate without detection and under the defense secretary's direct control, the Strategic Support Branch deploys small teams of case officers, linguists, interrogators and technical specialists alongside newly empowered special operations forces.

Military and civilian participants said in interviews that the new unit has been operating in secret for two years -- in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places they declined to name. According to an early planning memorandum to Rumsfeld from Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the focus of the intelligence initiative is on "emerging target countries such as Somalia, Yemen, Indonesia, Philippines and Georgia." Myers and his staff declined to be interviewed. [complete article]

CIA in decline, Pentagon on the rise
By Ustina Markus, ISN Security Watch, January 24, 2005

In the war over intelligence authority, Rumsfeld has clearly won a number of battles with the CIA. What is interesting is that the new CIA chief, Goss, has not put up much of a fight defending the agency's traditional territories. Any leader of a major organization hates seeing any prerogatives slip from it, so Goss's attitude is strange. It may be that he does not view the CIA as his final nest. The one name consistently raised in connection with the appointment for head of the new National Intelligence Directorate is his. If he is indeed counting on the nomination then his behavior makes sense, as he places his own people in charge of the previously uncooperative intelligence agency and cuts its authority down to size, it becomes a much more malleable organization for him to deal with when he moves on. [complete article]

Some question background of unit's leader
By Barton Gellman, Washington Post, January 23, 2005

The Strategic Support Branch's human intelligence "augmentation teams" have deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq with a commando unit -- most recently called Task Force 626 -- that drew the most demanding intelligence missions, including the hunt for weapons of mass destruction and the recruitment of informants in Iraq's insurgency. Task force members, in interviews, complained that some of Waldroup's personnel were unprepared for the assignment.

Waldroup did not respond to telephone calls and detailed written inquiries sent by e-mail.

Internal Pentagon briefings describe Strategic Support Branch members as experienced intelligence professionals with specialized skills, "military operations backgrounds," and the training to "function in all environments under adverse conditions." But four special operations soldiers who provided information for this article, directly or through intermediaries, said those assigned to work with them included out-of-shape men in their fifties and recent college graduates on their first assignments.

"They arrived with shiny black kneepads and elbow pads, shiny black helmets," said one special forces officer who served with Waldroup's men in Iraq. "They brought M-4 rifles with all the accoutrements, scopes and high-end [satellite equipment] they didn't know how to use." An older member of Waldroup's staff "became an anchor because of his physical conditioning and his lack of knowledge of our tactics, techniques and procedures. The guy actually put us in danger."

Another special forces officer, who served with the augmentation team members in Afghanistan, said some of the intelligence officers deployed with his unit were reluctant to leave their base and spoke only to local residents who ventured inside. "These guys can't set up networks and run agents and recruit tribal elders," he said. [complete article]

McCain expects hearings on Defense intelligence unit
By Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post, January 24, 2005

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on a Washington Post report that the Defense Department is reinterpreting U.S. law to give the secretary broad authority over clandestine operations abroad.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has created a new espionage unit called the Strategic Support Branch, according to the news report, but McCain, speaking on CBS's "Face the Nation," said he doubts Rumsfeld has broken any laws.

"I'm always sorry to read about things in The Washington Post when they affect a committee that I am a member of," McCain said.

Pentagon spokesman Lawrence T. DiRita issued a carefully worded statement yesterday that appears to dispute parts of the Post article. [complete article]

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Torture becomes a matter of definition
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, January 23, 2005

The question Democratic senators put to Condoleezza Rice last week seemed easy enough to answer: Did the secretary of State nominee consider interrogation practices such as "water-boarding," in which a prisoner is made to believe he will drown, to be torture?

She declined to answer.

"I'm not going to speak to any specific interrogation techniques," Rice said, adding that it was up to the Justice Department to define torture.

About the same time, senators on another committee were asking nearly identical questions and getting nearly identical answers from Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush's choice for attorney general.

The back-to-back confirmation flare-ups spotlight a problem the Bush administration faces in its policies for detaining and interrogating terrorism suspects.

In the months since the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the administration has insisted that America does not and will not use torture. At the same time, the government has tried to preserve maximum leeway in the interrogation of terrorism suspects by not drawing a clear line between where rough treatment ends and torture begins. [complete article]

See also, A Nuremberg lesson (Los Angeles Times).

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Blair's loyalty tested as Bush menaces Iran
By Tony Allen-Mills, The Sunday Times, January 23, 2005

After two years of unswerving solidarity over the war in Iraq, Tony Blair's relationship with President George W Bush is coming under strain from the newly revived threat of an American military attack on nuclear facilities in Iran.

British officials are increasingly concerned that months of patient European-led diplomacy aimed at curbing the ayatollahs' nuclear ambitions may suddenly explode in a torrent of bunker-busting bombs dropped by B-2 stealth bombers.

Reports last week that US special forces are already scouting for targets in Iran have fanned concern that London and Washington are heading for an embarrassing split over American mistrust of Tehran.

Despite Blair's commitment to the so-called EU-3 Iran initiative launched by Britain, France and Germany, a consensus is emerging in Washington that an approach dubbed by some officials as "European carrot and American stick" -- and by others as "good cop, bad cop" -- is failing to produce results.

European negotiators were recently described by David Kay, the former US weapons inspector, as "impotently manipulable". A prominent Washington defence hawk warned: "At some point the Americans are going to turn to the Europeans and say, 'The goal is disarmament but all we are getting is arms control. It's time for a bigger stick'." [complete article]

Comment -- "The goal is disarmament" ... if only that was true! In an age when the US president has become the advocate of universal freedom, neither he nor any of his allies care to explain by virtue of what "right" one country in the Middle East (Israel) can possess nuclear weapons while all others should be excluded; nor the "right" that allows the existing nuclear powers in the West and East to retain their arsenals without making any serious attempt to bring about global nuclear disarmament.

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U.K. foreign secretary snubs U.S. hawks on Iran
By David Cracknell and Tony Allen-Mills, The Sunday Times, January 23, 2005

Jack Straw has drawn up a dossier putting the case against a military attack on Iran amid fears that President George W Bush's administration may seek Britain's backing for a new conflict.

Straw and his officials fear that hawks in Washington will talk the American president into a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities, just as they persuaded him to go to war in Iraq.

The foreign secretary has produced a 200-page dossier that rules out military action and makes the case for a "negotiated solution" to curbing the ayatollahs' nuclear ambitions amid increasingly bellicose noises from Washington.

He will press home the point at a meeting with Condoleezza Rice, the incoming secretary of state, at a meeting in Washington tomorrow.

The document says a peaceful solution led by Britain, France and Germany is "in the best interests of Iran and the international community". It refers to "safeguarding Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology".

The dossier, entitled Iran's Nuclear Programme, was quietly issued in the Commons on the eve of Bush's inauguration last week for fear of provoking a public rift with Washington -- although privately tensions are running high between the two nations. [complete article]

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End of Iraq's nightmare ... or the start
By Peter Beaumont, Rory McCarthy and Paul Harris, The Observer, January 23, 2005

Mohammed Hassan al-Balwa is a Sunni Muslim businessman from the devastated Iraqi city of Falluja. The former head of the city council, he says he will not vote in his country's forthcoming elections on 30 January. 'The election will be the beginning of the division of the Iraqis,' he said. 'From the beginning [of the US-led invasion], the Sunnis have been marginalised, because they said the Sunnis were all Baathists. This was their mistake.'

'The majority of people in Falluja,' he adds, 'have hatred and anger in their hearts.'

Balwa reflects the sharp divisions in Iraq in the run-up to an election for which 12.5 million people are registered to vote.

He reflects on an Iraq divided between those who will vote and those, either through fear, or rejection of the process, will stay at home.

He reflects, too, on an Iraq divided between the minority Sunni Muslims, who dominated the Iraq of Saddam Hussein for decades, and southern Shias and northern Kurds. The latter comprise 80 per cent of the population who were persecuted under Saddam's rule, while the Sunni minority of just 20 per cent dominated all areas of Iraqi life, the ruling Ba'ath party in particular.

It is the lethal tension between these two groups that will define whether the next 12 months of the political process, which the elections will kick-start, will mark the beginning of the end of Iraq's violence, or the start of the country's break-up and descent into civil war. [complete article]

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U.S. plans new tack after Iraq elections
By Robin Wright and Josh White, Washington Post, January 23, 2005

The United States plans to revise its approach to the insurgency after Iraq's elections next week, beefing up the new Iraqi military by bringing back more troops and officers from Saddam Hussein's former army and moving Iraqis into the front lines after earlier false starts.

The broad goal is to let Iraqis assume increasing responsibility for the stabilization of Iraq and to diminish the American face on the campaign against the insurgents, according to U.S. and allied officials. The shift reflects the growing consensus among U.S. and Iraqi officials that the current strategy may be spurring greater opposition and deeper anger at the coalition, possibly even making the counterinsurgency unwinnable as it is now being conducted, they say.

The administration has been talking for weeks about a further intensification of Iraqi training. But the more significant shift being pursued is an acceleration in the deployment of Iraqi forces against the insurgents. "It's time now to get them out into the fight," said an administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the subject. [complete article]

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Zarqawi said to declare 'fierce war'
By Bassem Mroue, Associated Press (via WP), January 23, 2005

A speaker purporting to be Abu Musab Zarqawi declared a "fierce war" on democracy and said in an audiotape posted Sunday on the Web that the Americans were using next weekend's Iraqi elections to install the Shiites in power.

"We have declared a fierce war on this evil principle of democracy and those who follow this wrong ideology," said the speaker, who identified himself as Zarqawi, head of the al Qaeda affiliate in Iraq. "Anyone who tries to help set up this system is part of it."

The speaker said candidates running in the Jan. 30 elections are "demi-idols" and those who vote for them "are infidels." U.S. and Iraqi officials fear insurgent attacks and have announced massive security measures to protect voters.

"You have to be careful of the enemy's plan to implement so-called democracy in your country," he added. He said the Americans have engineered the election "to make Shiites dominate the regime in Iraq. Four million Shiites were brought from Iran to take part in the elections to achieve their aim of winning" most of the positions. [complete article]

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The Kirkuk tinderbox
By K Gajendra Singh, Asia Times, January 22, 2005

Located in northern Mosul province about 250 kilometers north of Baghdad near the foot of the Zagros mountains, underneath Kirkuk lie more than 10 billion barrels of proven oil reserves. It has key oil sites, although pipelines connecting it to Ceyhan terminal in Turkey have been repeatedly damaged. Often compared to Jerusalem because of conflicting claims, Kurds claim Kirkuk as a symbol of Kurdish heritage. Many Kurdish leaders, such as Jalal Talabani, head of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) among them, claim that Kirkuk is historically Kurdish.

There have been repeated clashes between Turkmens and Kurds over the past 50 years. In 1959, there were bloody riots between poorer and communist led Kurds and the Turkmens. The latter belonged to the ruling elite in the Ottoman era and are still prosperous. In 1996, during a brief rapprochement with the Baghdad regime, the Iraqi military executed 17 Turkmen activists and officials in the nearby city of Irbil. Iraqi Turkmens blame this event on the Kurds. There were ethnic flare-ups between 1998 and 2000 as well.

According to UN officials and a Human Rights Watch report, it is claimed that between 120,000 and 200,000 Kurds, as well as Turkmens and Assyrians, were expelled from the city after 1991, tens of thousands were squeezed out earlier. Iraqi Kurds claim that Kirkuk was overwhelmingly Kurdish in the 1950s before the "Arabization" of the city. [complete article]

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Iraq campaign season becomes a test of faith
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, January 23, 2005

As Iraq's campaign season winds into its final week, voters will have to make their choices in a fog of limited information.

Candidates will not hold rallies because of the constant violence and death threats against them. Instead, they are relying on religious and tribal networks and Islamic holiday feasts to spread their message.

Laconic posters and television ads round out the campaign. As a result, people's perceptions of the candidates, and their understanding of the election, are as vague as the candidates' platforms.

Eternal damnation has emerged as a central campaign tactic in the run-up to the election next Sunday, with Shi'ite and Sunni Muslims hearing opposing but equally stark messages emanating from the capital's minarets: You will be damned if you vote, damned if you don't. [complete article]

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Religious surge alarms secular Syrians
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, January 23, 2005

A religious revival is sweeping Syria, challenging the secular, ruling Baath Party to allow more Muslim influence in government and frightening many Syrians schooled for decades to fear political Islam.

Growing religious feeling can be seen across the landscape, from the proliferation of head scarves worn by young women in Damascus to an enormous privately funded mosque nearing completion in downtown Aleppo, Syria's second city. Muslim clerics, meanwhile, are growing increasingly bold in asking for democratic political reforms that could give them a larger role in government.

Alarmed by the trend, some within Syria's secular intelligentsia and middle class have begun writing and organizing against it. From his airy home in Nasiriyah, a town 35 miles northeast of Damascus, Nabil Fayyad, a secular writer, accused the government in print last September of softening its stand against the increasingly popular Islamic movement, its chief rival for power, amid pressure from the United States to reform.

"It's a temporary cooperation," said Fayyad, 49, a thin, excitable Sunni Muslim who was arrested by government agents and held for a month soon after his columns appeared in a Kuwaiti newspaper to which he frequently contributes. "Nowadays, they have the same enemy: the United States. But once the U.S. soldiers leave Iraq, what happens to us?"

Islam's growing political clout is challenging governments across the Middle East, even those built on Islamic principles, as religious sentiment intensifies among young, frustrated populations. Syria's ruling Baath Party, an Arab nationalist movement, has been at odds with Islamists for more than 35 years. [complete article]

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Deaths 'will reach 250,000' as rebel areas reveal losses
By Stephen Khan and Justin Huggler, The Independent, January 23, 2005

The [December 26] tsunami now ranks as the eighth-worst natural disaster in history and the death toll is poised to climb still further, thanks to the bitter legacy of ethnic conflicts.

Exactly four weeks after the wave struck, and with bodies still being uncovered in parts of Indonesia, official figures put the total number of dead at close to 225,000. But a survey by The Independent on Sunday has found that that the final death toll is now certain to exceed 250,000 as the fate of tens of thousands in war-torn regions becomes clear.

Decades-long bloody confrontations in Indonesia and Sri Lanka have left vast areas where governments have little control or information and it appears that they have vastly underestimated the numbers killed, injured and displaced. Indonesia's number of dead dramatically leapt by 50,000 to almost 170,000 last week and information coming out of Sri Lanka suggests that many more people died in the Tamil-dominated north and east of the island than was previously thought. [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:

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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."

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."

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