The War in Context  
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Iraq's hard-line Shi'ites vow to resist US agenda
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, February 12, 2005

A vociferous and well-organized faction of extremist Shi'ite Muslims is mobilizing to challenge the new government that emerges from Iraq's recent election and to push for a hard line against the United States.

The religious and political leaders are loosely allied with the militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and include supporters of Sadr's uprising in several cities last April. In recent days, including at prayer services yesterday, they vowed to use seats they expect to win in the Transitional National Assembly to demand a timetable for the departure of US forces.

One key leader, Fatah al-Sheikh, seen as Sadr's most direct proxy in the political process, has also pledged to lead the opposition to Iraq's still unwritten new constitution. He also supports military resistance against US forces.

This burgeoning rejectionist wing is already exerting pressure on the United Iraqi Alliance, the mainstream Shi'ite coalition poised to command a majority in the new government. The Alliance has been busy fending off allegations by Iraqi secularists and some US officials that it is influenced by Iran and that it plans to push for an Islamic government. Its leaders are trying to position themselves as moderate modernizers, to assuage such fears.

But the more radical Shi'ite faction is launching a campaign against the Alliance, calling its members American stooges. [complete article]

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Car bombs in Baghdad and Musayyib kill 18; fighting erupts around Mosul mosque
By Robert H. Reid, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), February 12, 2005

A car bomb killed 17 people Saturday and injured 21 others in a mostly Shiite Muslim town south of Baghdad, and U.S. troops backed by tanks battled rebels in the country's third-largest city as the insurgency showed no sign of abating after national elections.

Officials plan to announce the final results of the Jan. 30 vote on Sunday, election commission spokesman Farid Ayar said. [complete article]

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Sectarian massacres shake Iraq
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, February 12, 2005

Violence swept Iraq yesterday as insurgents switched the focus of their attacks from the security forces to Shia civilians, killing at least 12 in a bombing outside a mosque and gunning down nine in a Baghdad bakery.

The massacres appeared designed to raise sectarian tension as the country prepared for the results from last month's election which will cement the ascendance of the Shia majority and the political marginalisation of the Arab Sunni minority. [complete article]

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'01 memo to Rice warned of Qaeda and offered plan
By Scott Shane, New York Times, February 12, 2005

A strategy document outlining proposals for eliminating the threat from Al Qaeda, given to Condoleezza Rice as she assumed the post of national security adviser in January 2001, warned that the terror network had cells in the United States and 40 other countries and sought unconventional weapons, according to a declassified version of the document.

The 13-page proposal presented to Dr. Rice by her top counterterrorism adviser, Richard A. Clarke, laid out ways to step up the fight against Al Qaeda, focusing on Osama bin Laden's headquarters in Afghanistan. The ideas included giving "massive support" to anti-Taliban groups "to keep Islamic extremist fighters tied down"; destroying terrorist training camps "while classes are in session" and then sending in teams to gather intelligence on terrorist cells; deploying armed drone aircraft against known terrorists; more aggressively tracking Qaeda money; and accelerating the F.B.I.'s translation and analysis of material from surveillance of terrorism suspects in American cities.

Mr. Clarke was seeking a high-level meeting to decide on a plan of action. Dr. Rice and other administration officials have said that Mr. Clarke's ideas did not constitute an adequate plan, but they took them into consideration as they worked toward a more effective strategy against the terrorist threat.

The proposal and an accompanying three-page memorandum given to Dr. Rice by Mr. Clarke on Jan. 25, 2001, were discussed and quoted in brief by the independent commission studying the Sept. 11 attacks and in news reports and books last year. They were obtained by the private National Security Archive, which published the full versions, with minor deletions at the request of the Central Intelligence Agency, on its Web site late Thursday. [complete article]

Read the memo at the National Security Archive (George Washington University).

Comment -- There are two stories here: one that the New York Times is reporting and the other that it has yet to tackle. The latter is the big story. How come documents that were declassified on April 7, 2004, were't made available to the public until after the election? It seems transparent that the process of responding to Freedom of Information Act requests has become a political process under the Bush administration. Is this their idea of democracy? Is it even legal?

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CIA operation in Iran failed when spies were exposed
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2005

Dozens of CIA informants in Iran were executed or imprisoned in the late 1980s or early 1990s after their secret communications with the agency were uncovered by the government, according to former CIA officials who discussed the episode after aspects of it were disclosed during a recent congressional hearing.

As many as 50 Iranian citizens on the CIA's payroll were "rolled up" in the failed operation, said the former officials, who described the events as a major setback in spying on a regime that remains one of the most difficult targets for U.S. intelligence.

The disclosures underscore the stakes confronting the CIA and its informants as the United States is under pressure to produce better intelligence on Iran and especially its nuclear activities. The Bush administration has indicated that preventing Iran from obtaining an atomic weapon will be a priority of the president's second term. [complete article]

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U.S. reviewing its intelligence on Iran
By Dafna Linzer and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 12, 2005

The intelligence community is conducting a broad review of its Iran assessments, including a new look at the country's nuclear program, the future of its ruling clerics and the impact of the Iraq war on Tehran's powerful position in the region, according to administration officials and congressional sources.

Two separate reports -- a wide-ranging National Intelligence Estimate and a second memo focusing exclusively on Tehran's chemical, biological and nuclear capabilities -- will reflect an updated consensus within the intelligence community. The documents are meant to guide the Bush administration as it continues to deliberate on a policy for dealing with Iran and its nuclear ambitions.

This week, Vice President Cheney said that although Iran claims its move to uranium enrichment is for peaceful purposes only, "there's some evidence to suggest that they have military aspirations and they're trying to acquire nuclear weapons." He joined other U.S. officials in urging Iran to halt its nuclear program. (Fox News Sunday)

The review, which began last month, comes after several weeks in which President Bush, Vice President Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have challenged Iran to halt an alleged nuclear weapons program. The pattern and tone of the administration's comments have struck some as similar to claims made in 2002 about weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. [complete article]

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Too angry or fearful to vote, Sunni Iraqis are marginalized
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 12, 2005

Abdullah Muhammad al-Ajili was standing next to his old Toyota pickup on the dusty road from Baghdad to Tikrit, simmering with resentment, the sleeves on his dark blue dishdasha rolled up on his forearms.

Mr. Ajili tries to make a living by filling the back of his pickup with fruits and vegetables in Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's hometown, and selling them in other cities. But on Thursday afternoon, as on so many other days, the road was blocked by American military convoys moving armored vehicles, portable living quarters and other matériel.

"I didn't vote, and I'm not going to vote," said Mr. Ajili, 46, who like nearly everyone else in these parts is a Sunni Arab. "Saddam was bad. But this situation is worse."

Voting, he said, would change nothing. And so Mr. Ajili explained why no ballot had been cast by one of the millions of Sunni Arabs who were absent from the polls. [complete article]

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No exit for British in poor corner of Iraq
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, February 12, 2005

Whenever local officials complain about the troops, "I've found the best way to combat that is to say, 'Okay, we'll pull out tomorrow. Then what will you do?' " The question silences critics, [Lt. Col. Ben] Bathurst [of the Welsh Guard] said.

The situation in Maysan, the poorest of Iraq's 18 provinces, illustrates how difficult it will be for the United States and its allies to extricate themselves from Iraq no matter how successful January's election turns out to have been or how much progress is made against the insurgency. [complete article]

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Suicide car bomb kills at least 17 south of Baghdad
By Sinan Salaheddin, Associated Press (via WP), February 12, 2005

A car bomb exploded in front of a hospital south of Baghdad Saturday, killing 17 and wounding 16, police said, a day after 23 were killed in two attacks aimed at the Shiite community.

A police captain, who refused to give his name, said the Saturday blast occurred in front of the Musayyib General Hospital, about 35 miles south of the capital.

Elsewhere, a prominent Iraqi judge under Saddam Hussein, Taha al-Amiri, was assassinated Saturday by two gunmen in the southern port city of Basra, said Lt. Col. Karim al-Zaidi. [complete article]

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Islamic parties carry Iraq local vote
By Doug Struck and Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, February 12, 2005

Islamic parties will be heavily represented on provincial councils across Iraq, according to final results released Friday from races in 12 provinces that revealed enthusiastic voter participation in the north and south and lower turnout in Baghdad and Sunni Muslim-populated areas.

"This is a message to all political parties to respect the Islamic identity of the people," said Jalaleddin Saghir, a preacher at a prominent mosque in Baghdad and a candidate on a Shiite Muslim-backed political list. [...]

Elections officials, facing growing complaints, said results of the National Assembly vote would be available in "a few days, maximum."

"The counting is in the very final stages," said Abdul-Hussein Hendawi, the head of the election commission.

But the provincial council returns provided the first solid indication of voter turnout in Iraq's first free election since the 1950s. In two Kurdish-populated areas in northern Iraq, turnout reached 80 and 89 percent; it reached 73 percent around the holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in the predominantly Shiite south. But turnout was significantly lower -- 48 percent -- in Baghdad, and dropped to 34 percent in Diyala province, east of Baghdad. [complete article]

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Allawi aims to lead opposition to Shiites
Daily Star, February 11, 2005

Iraq's interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi met with a key Kurdish leader on Thursday, while police found more than 20 rotting bodies in an ambushed convoy and separate attacks claimed another 10 lives.

In the latest emergency measures, the Iraqi government said Thursday it will seal the country's borders to prevent Shiite pilgrims flooding into the country in an attempt to thwart insurgent violence.

With results from the historic Jan. 30 elections due within days, Allawi traveled to the northern city of Irbil to meet Massoud Barzani.

Allawi later told reporters that a partnership might be on the cards.

"We have been allies for a long time in our struggle against the regime and the issue of a coalition is possible," Allawi said, but stressed the process should be inclusive.

"We agreed that all parties should take part in the political process," he said.

Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, said the meeting was "to make sure that no party - whether it is Shiite, Sunni or Kurd - monopolizes power."

Some commentators said Allawi is seeking to organize the future opposition in the transitional National Assembly - with him at the helm. [complete article]

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It's time to talk to Pyongyang
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 11, 2005

So the North Koreans say they have a nuclear weapon. Why should anyone be surprised? And why does everyone in the Bush administration and the White House press corps seem to think the announcement is something new?

Back on April 25, 2003 -- nearly two years ago -- the Washington Post published a front-page story by Glenn Kessler headlined "North Korea Says It Has Nuclear Arms: At Talks with U.S., Pyongyang Threatens 'Demonstration' or Export of Weapon."

What is truly new about this week's story is the North Korean foreign ministry's outright refusal to take part in the next round of six-party talks on nuclear disarmament, though Pyongyang officials have threatened such a boycott before, and the ministry may soften its adamancy before the month is out.

We don't know whether the North Koreans possess any actual nuclear weapons until they test one. We do know that they have reprocessed enough plutonium to build a dozen or so nukes, and President Bush's reckless policies -- no less than Kim Jong-il's -- must be held responsible for that frightening development. [complete article]

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In Pyongyang, raising the ante
By Glenn Kessler and Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, February 11, 2005

By heightening the stakes in a two-year standoff, North Korea has signaled it has little interest in giving up its nuclear programs for relatively minor upfront concessions from the Bush administration -- and appears to be gambling that the United States and its allies will ultimately accept the idea of a nuclear North Korea.

At each step of the way in the crisis, the government in Pyongyang has carefully crossed once-unthinkable thresholds, with little apparent consequence. North Korea's announcement yesterday that it has nuclear weapons and is withdrawing from negotiations on its nuclear programs has once again upped the ante. But it appears unlikely it will jar the United States and its allies to take any dramatic actions, analysts and officials said.

Indeed, the North Korean statement is less about nuclear bombs -- nations generally announce they have joined the nuclear club by conducting a successful test -- than a calculated diplomatic gambit designed to gain a new edge in the debate over its nuclear ambitions. [complete article]

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Torture, American style
By Bob Herbert, New York Times, February 11, 2005

Maher Arar is a 34-year-old native of Syria who emigrated to Canada as a teenager. On Sept. 26, 2002, as he was returning from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by American authorities at Kennedy Airport in New York, where he was in the process of changing planes.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen, was not charged with a crime. But, as Jane Mayer tells us in a compelling and deeply disturbing article in the current issue of The New Yorker, he "was placed in handcuffs and leg irons by plainclothes officials and transferred to an executive jet."

In an instant, Mr. Arar was swept into an increasingly common nightmare, courtesy of the United States of America. The plane that took off with him from Kennedy "flew to Washington, continued to Portland, Maine, stopped in Rome, Italy, then landed in Amman, Jordan."

Any rights Mr. Arar might have thought he had, either as a Canadian citizen or a human being, had been left behind. At times during the trip, Mr. Arar heard the pilots and crew identify themselves in radio communications as members of "the Special Removal Unit." He was being taken, on the orders of the U.S. government, to Syria, where he would be tortured. [complete article]

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CIA interrogator's defense to cite Bush at brutality trial
By Scott Shane, New York Times, February 11, 2005

A contract interrogator for the Central Intelligence Agency, charged with beating an Afghan prisoner who died the next day, is basing his defense in part on statements by President Bush and other officials that called for tough action to prevent terrorist attacks and protect American lives.

Documents unsealed this week in federal court in Raleigh, N.C., show that the interrogator, David A. Passaro, 38, may cite top officials' written legal justifications for harsh interrogation techniques and a Congressional resolution passed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and the Pentagon calling on the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force" to thwart further terrorism.

Mr. Passaro's lawyers contend in court filings that in passing the legislation under which their client is charged, Congress "cannot have contemplated" the use of the law to "provide grounds for criminal prosecution of a battlefield interrogation of a suspected terrorist linked to constant rocket attacks."

Thomas P. McNamara, Mr. Passaro's lead defense lawyer, has officially notified the government that he will pursue a "public authority defense." Such a defense involves a claim that the defendant believed, even if incorrectly, that he was acting with the authority and approval of the government. [complete article]

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Lawyer is guilty of aiding terror
By Julia Preston, New York Times, February 11, 2005

Lynne F. Stewart, an outspoken lawyer known for representing a long list of unpopular defendants, was convicted yesterday by a federal jury in Manhattan of aiding Islamic terrorism by smuggling messages out of jail from a terrorist client.

In a startlingly sweeping verdict, Ms. Stewart was convicted on all five counts of providing material aid to terrorism and of lying to the government when she pledged to obey federal rules that barred her client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, from communicating with his followers. Her co-defendants, Ahmed Abdel Sattar and Mohamed Yousry, were also convicted of all the charges against them. [complete article]

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'I'm more scared of going out with these guys than fighting insurgents'
By Anthony Loyd, The Times, February 11, 2005

The ramps of the Bradley armoured fighting vehicles drop and the combat equivalent of a ride on the ghost train begins as scores of American troops and hundreds of Iraqi soldiers start moving northwards through al-Karkh district towards Haifa Street.

Three quarters of patrols here result in clashes with insurgents, so trouble is likely. It is just a question of when and where. "Hey," Sergeant Walton, a US team leader shouts to his interpreter. "Make sure that when the shooting starts the Iraqi commander knows only to let his men nearest it start firing back."

The Americans are technically on a familiarisation mission, guiding the 303rd Iraqi Army Battalion through the streets as a prelude to handing the zone over to them next week. But they have good reason to call for caution.

I do not know what effect the Iraqi soldiers will have on the enemy, but they terrify me. An eagerness to pull the trigger gleams in their eyes as they wave their Kalashnikovs about.

They have a reputation for spraying bullets all around them if fired on, and two Americans have been killed by such stray rounds. "I'm more scared of going out with these guys than clashing with the insurgents," an American trooper says. "They have no concept of identifying friendlies, and let loose at anything." [complete article]

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Iraq's election was a technical success but insurgency rages and outlook uncertain
By Robert H. Reid, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), February 10, 2005

Iraq pulled off a national election Jan. 30, deemed largely successful despite about 40 deaths in attacks. Millions turned out especially in the Shiite south and Kurdish north to choose their first elected leaders since Saddam Hussein's fall. The vote count isn't over, but Shiites are already the clear winners.

However, it is by no means certain the elections will set the stage for a stable Iraq. Instead, the weeks ahead could repeat the slide into chaos that followed last summer's transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government.

Ominously, violence is once again on the rise just as some of the most experienced U.S. military units prepare to leave. Their replacements, some of them part-time soldiers from the National Guard, will need time to learn the situation on the ground. [complete article]

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The cheers were all ours
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, February 11, 2005

Iraq is a "totalitarian state", and that's official, according to the logic of Condoleezza Rice this week. Maybe it was because she was in carefree Paris. Maybe it was because she was having breakfast with a bunch of French intellectuals. But the new US secretary of state let down her political hair and stunned the company with the looseness of her terminology.

She was talking about Iran, the latest Bush administration target for regime change. She used to call Iran's Islamic republic "authoritarian", she told them, but since the parliamentary polls last spring, in which candidates at one end of the spectrum were off the ballot, Iran had moved to being "totalitarian".

She did not draw any comparison with Iraq, of course, let alone with Saudi Arabia (which embarked on a men-only, no-parties election yesterday). But the similarities are obvious. If Iran qualifies as totalitarian because it holds an election in which voters had only a limited choice, then the same is true of Iraq, where parties and movements which want an immediate end to the occupation were off the ballot. [complete article]

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Fears of a vacuum as more troops go home
By Richard Beeston, The Times, February 11, 2005

Several key members of the US-led coalition in Iraq are making plans to withdraw or substantially reduce their presence in the country now that democratic elections have taken place.

Even before the results are announced, and in spite of the upsurge in violence, thousands of foreign troops are to leave in the coming weeks and months.

Many of the troops are from European countries, where domestic political pressure for them to come home is strong.

Although the move is causing concern among Iraqi leaders in Baghdad, the trickle could turn into a flood at the end of the year by which time Iraq should have in place a constitution, an elected government and improved security forces. By that time the United Nations mandate for foreign forces in Iraq will also expire. [complete article]

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Iraq attacks kill 24
The Guardian, February 11, 2005

More than 20 people have been killed today in attacks on a bakery and a mosque in Iraq.

Thirteen people were killed when a car bomb exploded outside a Shia mosque near Baghdad, local police told Reuters. The blast took place as worshippers were leaving a religious ceremony in the town of Balad Ruz, northeast of Baghdad, the official said.

Earlier, masked insurgents opened fire on a crowd at a bakery in Baghdad's New Baghdad neighbourhood, killing 11 people. [complete article]

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Iraqis take over danger zone as Americans start the big exodus
By Anthony Loyd, The Times, February 11, 2005

Hot on the heels of Iraq’s election, American forces have begun discreetly withdrawing from one of the country’s worst combat zones, leaving it in the hands of Iraqi security forces.

Starting five days ago, two Iraqi battalions began assuming control of an infamous area of inner Baghdad surrounding Haifa Street that has become a battle zone between insurgents and coalition forces. The handover should be completed within another week.

The move is the first step in a much broader post-election plan to scale back the US military presence in towns across rebellious central Iraq, leaving behind “advisers” to help the Iraqi Army to take over security duties.

If it works, British and American troops can look forward to a relatively swift exit from Iraq. But if the Iraqi forces cannot control the situation the US strategy for withdrawing could be thrown back by years. [complete article]

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The Shi'ites' Faustian pact
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, February 11, 2005

In Najaf, the holy Shi'ite city, the grand ayatollahs are busy advancing a religious agenda: Ali al-Sistani, Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayad, Bashir al-Najafi and Mohammad Said Hakim compose the al-marja' iyyah (source of infallible authority on all religious matters). They are unanimous: the Shi'ite religious parties, the big winners in the elections, must implement Sharia (Islamic) law - and in fact this is one of the parties' top priorities. This does not mean that Sistani wants - or needs - to control an Iraqi theocracy: it means that the Shi'ite religious parties themselves - led by secular people - will give birth to an Iraqi Islamic republic.

Sistani's representatives have been stressing in the past few days that what matters for the grand ayatollah is equal rights for all. According to his senior aide, Mohammad al-Haboubi, the top priority in the writing of the future Iraqi constitution is "the preservation of the rights of all citizens, majority or minority, so they are all equal in the eyes of the law".

Most Shi'ite scholars insist the Americans must stay away from the writing of the new constitution. Whether the Americans like it or not, Sharia law will prevail over civil law. What's left is a matter of degree: how deep will Sharia in Iraq rule over everything - apart from stating that women may not shake hands with men, music is allowed only "if it is not for enjoyment" and daughters inherit less than sons? [complete article]

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Despite falling out with U.S., Chalabi still a player in the new Iraq
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, February 9, 2005

Former Bush administration favorite Ahmad Chalabi is lobbying hard for the post of prime minister in the new Iraqi government that will be formed after election officials finish counting the tally from last week's vote.

While it's a long shot, Chalabi has made himself an important player in Iraq since the Bush administration unceremoniously dumped him amid charges, which he denied, that he was spying for Iran.

The mention of Chalabi's name can ignite passionate reactions from citizens, politicians and American officials. Chalabi, a brilliant man and crafty politician, is still the darling of some Washington neo-conservatives. He gained fame as the leader of the Iraqi National Congress, an exile group, and lobbied hard for the Bush administration to invade Iraq. The INC supplied defectors to U.S. intelligence who provided what turned out to be phony or exaggerated evidence of Iraqi weapons programs, which President Bush used to justify the war. [complete article]

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Iraq insurgent attacks kill more than 50
By Mariam Fam, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 10, 2005

A car bomb detonated by remote control exploded Thursday in Baghdad, killing two Iraqis but missing a U.S. military convoy as insurgent violence claimed more than 50 lives. Clashes between Iraqi police and rebels erupted along a major highway southeast of the capital.

With violence on the rise after the Jan. 30 election, Iraqi officials announced they would seal the country's borders for five days this month around a major Shiite religious holiday. Last year during the holiday, about 180 people were killed in suicide attacks at Shiite shrines.

The car bomb detonated on Tahrir Square in the heart of Baghdad, shattering the vehicle and setting several other cars on fire. At least two Iraqis were killed and two others were wounded, U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. James Hutton said. [complete article]

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Iraq's unpredictable politics
By Jonathan Schell, TomDispatch, February 9, 2005

Introspection is not the purpose of this occasional column, but a moment of it seems appropriate in the wake of the election recently held in Iraq. That election might have been a blood-soaked fiasco, aborted by insurgent forces. It might have been a nonevent, with sparse turnout and sullen voters. It might have been well attended but still inexpressive and mysterious, a merely formal exercise whose meaning was hard to interpret. But none of these eventualities -- which pretty much represented the range of my expectations -- transpired. Instead, the election was a full-throated, long-suppressed cry by millions of oppressed and abused people against tyranny, torture, terrorism, penury, anarchy and war, and an ardent appeal for freedom, peace, order and ordinary life. [complete article]

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Iranians answer unity rally call
BBC News, February 10, 2005

Tens of thousands of Iranians have braved blizzards to attend rallies marking the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The government had urged people to turn out to show support for its nuclear programme amid pressure led by the US.

President Mohammad Khatami told them Iran would become a "burning hell" for any country that invaded it. [complete article]

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The plain meaning of torture?
By Peter Brooks, Slate, February 9, 2005

Has newly minted Attorney General Alberto Gonzales studied the opinion handed down by the Supreme Court last November in Leocal v. Ashcroft? There, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist issued a ringing reaffirmation of "plain meaning." "Our analysis begins with the language of the statute," Rehnquist wrote. "When interpreting a statute, we must give words their 'ordinary or natural' meaning."

Leocal concerned whether a drunk-driving offense -- in which injury to others occurred -- could be construed by the immigration authorities as a "crime of violence" meriting deportation of the offender. No, said Rehnquist -- interpreting an automobile accident as a "use of physical force" violates our common sense understanding of "use." Rehnquist reasonably re-emphasized a cardinal rule of legal analysis: that interpretation must proceed by what is often called the "plain meaning rule," affectionately known to lawyers as the PMR.

But something odd happened to the PMR in the memorandum on torture that Attorney General Gonzales, as White House Counsel, solicited from the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department he now heads. That memo (signed by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee, and hence known as the "Bybee Memo"), dated Aug. 1, 2002, offers the OLC's interpretation of "standards of conduct under the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment as implemented by Sections 2340-2340A of title 18 of the United States Code." It offers a remarkable example of textual interpretation run amok -- less "lawyering as usual" than the work of some bizarre literary deconstructionist. And it's virtually impossible to read without wondering whether another casualty of this war on terror is the doctrine that words indeed mean what they say. [complete article]

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Unrest spills into quiet Kuwait
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, February 11, 2005

A series of gunbattles here over the past month between Islamic militants and security forces have left many Kuwaitis wondering whether the violence plaguing neighboring Iraq and Saudi Arabia is about to spill over into their oil-rich Gulf state.

The Kuwaiti police have conducted several raids to round up Islamic militants who were allegedly planning to carry out attacks against Western targets, including American troops based in the country. Eight militants and four policemen have died in the clashes and 18 militants remain in custody. Large amounts of weapons and bombmaking materials have been seized.

With the authorities here admitting that the militants pose a serious threat, Kuwaitis fear they could pay a price for being America's staunchest ally in the Arab world. Kuwait gave full support to the US-led invasion of Iraq, and the country remains an important logistics hub for the US. [complete article]

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Penetrating a totalitarian fog
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, February 10, 2005

The challenge of probing the bizarre, hermitlike world of North Korea makes Kremlinology look like an exact science, any expert will tell you. Even the best intelligence is mere guesswork. What was the meaning of the North Korean Foreign Ministry's strange statement on Thursday that it now had "nukes" (yes, it used that English colloquial term)? Why did Pyongyang abruptly decide to pull out of negotiations to dismantle its nuclear-arms program?

Speculation was immediately rife in Washington. Could it be that North Korea's "Dear Leader," the pouf-haired Kim Jong Il, wanted to rattle his rusting saber a bit because his birthday was coming up soon? Perhaps the ministry's statement was a reaction to the recent trip by Michael Green, the National Security Council senior director for Asian affairs, who traveled to the region to get China, Japan and South Korea to increase the pressure on Pyongyang in the "six-party" (the United States, China, Japan, South Korea, Russia and North Korea) disarmament talks. Was Pyongyang anticipating the backlash to come after last week's leaks of scary, if still very flimsy, evidence that North Korea might have been selling nuclear material to Libya?

The best guess is that we should simply take Pyongyang at its word. The few times American officials have been able to penetrate the totalitarian fog of North Korea and talk with Kim Jong Il, they have found him to be strange but rational. And Thursday's statement was in fact quite a rational response to the Bush administration's approach to the North Korean regime, which has basically been to call it evil and hope for its collapse. "We ... have manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's evermore undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the [North]," the ministry said. [complete article]

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North Korea admits to nuclear weapons, suspends talks
By Sang-Hun Choe, Associated Press (via WP), February 10, 2005

North Korea on Thursday announced for the first time that it has nuclear weapons and rejected moves to restart disarmament talks any time soon, saying it needs the weapons as protection against an increasingly hostile United States.

The communist state's pronouncement dramatically raised the stakes in the two-year-old nuclear confrontation and posed a grave challenge to President Bush, who started his second term with a vow to end North Korea's nuclear program through six-nation talks.

"We ... have manufactured nukes for self-defense to cope with the Bush administration's ever more undisguised policy to isolate and stifle the (North)," the North Korean Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

Like most North Korean statements, the claim could not be independently verified. North Korea expelled the last U.N. nuclear monitors in late 2002 and has never tested a nuclear bomb, though international officials have said for years the country is believed to have one or two nuclear bombs and enough fuel for several more. [complete article]

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Bush bites his tongue
By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, February 10, 2005

There are two words the Bush administration doesn't want you to think about: North Korea.

That's because the most dangerous failure of U.S. policy these days is in North Korea. President Bush has been startlingly passive as North Korea has begun churning out nuclear weapons like hot cakes.

The dangers were underscored with last week's reports that the uranium in Libya's former nuclear program may have come from North Korea. Indeed, Mr. Bush seems to recognize that his policy has failed - that's why he isn't talking much about North Korea now, at least publicly, and why (as reported in The Times today) he sent an emissary to talk last week with the Chinese leader, Hu Jintao, about how to tame North Korea.

North Korea is particularly awkward for Mr. Bush to discuss publicly because, as best we know, it didn't make a single nuclear weapon during Bill Clinton's eight years in office (although it did begin a separate, and secret, track to produce uranium weapons; it hasn't produced any yet but may eventually). In contrast, the administration now acknowledges that North Korea extracted enough plutonium in the last two years for about half a dozen nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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U.S. aims to oust ElBaradei
By George Jahn, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 10, 2005

The United States is lobbying allies in a bid to oust the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, perhaps as early as the end of the month, diplomats and officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Anticipating that present European diplomatic efforts on Iran will fail, the diplomats and officials also told AP that Washington plans to increase pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program when the International Atomic Energy Agency meets Feb. 28.

In Tehran, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told foreign diplomats that no Iranian government would ever abandon the progress the country has made in developing peaceful nuclear technology.

Washington, which accuses Iran of making nuclear weapons and wants it brought before the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, considers IAEA head Mohammed ElBaradei too soft on the Tehran leadership. [complete article]

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Since election, Shiites build bridges to Iraq's minorities
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, February 10, 2005

Bakar Humam Hammoudi, a leader of one of the Shiite religious parties that are poised to become the country's most important political force, sips tea in his garden on a springlike day. As he speaks of a new, inclusive Iraqi politics in the sunlight, the brutal realities of the war seem far away.

He's waiting for important guests - a large delegation of Sunni clerics and politicians. "They're coming because of the success of the elections," says Mr. Hammoudi, a senior member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). "I think most of our differences can be solved with talk. We're determined to build a coalition government."

Since Iraq's Jan. 30 elections, hardly a day has gone by without high-level contacts between Iraq's majority Shiites and the Sunni Arab minority that made up Iraq's governing elite under Saddam Hussein and is fueling the country's insurgency. But it remains an open question whether these moderate Sunni leaders will be able to deliver peace in exchange for a role in the process. Even as Hammoudi was meeting the Sunni leaders on Monday, insurgents killed 27 Iraqi soldiers and policemen in Baquba and Mosul. [complete article]

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Shiite offers secular vision of Iraq future
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 10, 2005

Adel Abdul Mahdi, one of the leading candidates to become the new Iraqi prime minister, recalled the day last year when he and other Iraqi leaders were summoned to the holy city of Najaf by the country's senior Shiite clerics.

The topic was the role of Islam in the new Iraqi state. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most powerful Shiite leader, questioned whether Mr. Mahdi and the others, members of the American-appointed Iraqi Governing Council, had the legitimacy to draft an interim constitution.

"You were not elected," Ayatollah Sistani told the group.

Mr. Mahdi says he did not hesitate to answer.

"You were not elected," he told the ayatollah.

With that, Mr. Mahdi and the others returned to the capital and drafted an interim constitution intended to govern Iraqi for the next year, naming Islam as a source, but not the only source, of legislation. The language bridged one of the most divisive issues in forming the new government, whether it should be secular or religious. [complete article]

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9/11 report cites many warnings about hijackings
By Eric Lichblau, New York Times, February 10, 2005

In the months before the Sept. 11 attacks, federal aviation officials reviewed dozens of intelligence reports that warned about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, some of which specifically discussed airline hijackings and suicide operations, according to a previously undisclosed report from the 9/11 commission.

But aviation officials were "lulled into a false sense of security," and "intelligence that indicated a real and growing threat leading up to 9/11 did not stimulate significant increases in security procedures," the commission report concluded.

The report discloses that the Federal Aviation Administration, despite being focused on risks of hijackings overseas, warned airports in the spring of 2001 that if "the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable." [complete article]

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Detainees accuse female interrogators
By Carol D. Leonnig and Dana Priest, Washington Post, February 10, 2005

Female interrogators repeatedly used sexually suggestive tactics to try to humiliate and pry information from devout Muslim men held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to a military investigation not yet public and newly declassified accounts from detainees.

The prisoners have told their lawyers, who compiled the accounts, that female interrogators regularly violated Muslim taboos about sex and contact with women. The women rubbed their bodies against the men, wore skimpy clothes in front of them, made sexually explicit remarks and touched them provocatively, at least eight detainees said in documents or through their attorneys.

A wide-ranging Pentagon investigation, which has not yet been released, generally confirms the detainees' allegations, according to a senior Defense Department official familiar with the report. While isolated accounts of such tactics have emerged in recent weeks, the new allegations and the findings of the Pentagon investigation indicate that sexually oriented tactics may have been part of the fabric of Guantanamo interrogations, especially in 2003.

The inquiry uncovered numerous instances in which female interrogators, using dye, pretended to spread menstrual blood on Muslim men, the official said. Separately, in court papers and public statements, three detainees say that women smeared them with blood. [complete article]

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Rove is promoted to deputy staff chief
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, February 9, 2005

During President Bush's first term, outsiders often suspected that Karl Rove was really behind virtually everything. Now it's official.

Rove, the political mastermind behind two presidential elections, yesterday was named White House deputy chief of staff in charge of coordinating domestic policy, economic policy, national security and homeland security.

For a man who spent a lifetime in the business of polls and campaign strategy, it is an expansive portfolio cutting across virtually the entire policy spectrum. But many in the White House said the new position largely formalizes what was already true, noting that Rove has quietly played a vital role in shaping domestic policy from the inception of the Bush presidency. Now, for the first time, he will have a formal hand in foreign policy as well. [complete article]

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Important job, impossible position
By Richard A. Posner, New York Times, February 9, 2005

Robert M. Gates a highly regarded former head of the C.I.A., announced last week that he would not leave his job as president of Texas A&M University to become the first director of national intelligence. This is evidence that the Bush administration may be having trouble finding a qualified candidate who is willing to take the job. It is now close to two months since President Bush signed the law that created the position - almost as long as it took Congress to pass it.

The delay may be attributable to a fundamental structural defect in the law, a consequence of the haste with which it was passed. [complete article]

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Hamas says it is not bound by cease-fire
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, February 9, 2005

Two key Palestinian militant groups criticized Israeli and Palestinian pledges to end bloodshed, but said they will wait to see what comes next before deciding whether to continue attacks.

A Hamas representative said his group is not bound by the truce.

Their remarks came shortly after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon declared at the summit an end to all military and militant operations.

"The talk about what the leader of the Palestinian Authority called a cessation of acts of violence is not binding on the resistance because this is a unilateral stand and was not the outcome of an intra-Palestinian dialogue, as has been agreed previously," Osama Hamdan, the Hamas representative in Lebanon, told The Associated Press. [complete article]

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Can Abbas and Sharon succeed?
By Tony Karon,, February 8, 2005

Longtime observers of the Middle East could be forgiven for experiencing a moment of deja vu in the spectacle of Ariel Sharon and Mahmoud Abbas declaring an end to hostilities in an Arab Red Sea port on Tuesday. The Sharm el-Sheik summit repeated many of the themes echoed by the two men when they met 18 months ago at the Jordanian port of Aqaba, and the resulting truce, was, then as now, hailed as a new beginning. That deal collapsed within weeks, and many of the factors that contributed to its demise have not been fundamentally altered. To be sure, Yasser Arafat, blamed by the U.S. and Israel for sabotaging the peace effort, has gone. But that hasn't narrowed the chasm between the two sides on such fundamental questions as where to draw borders, the status of Jerusalem, and more immediately the future of Israeli settlements and the seperation fence, and even steps required to sustain a truce. The reason? The basis of Abbas's truce declaration was not a new commitment by the Palestinian security services to wage war on militant groups like Hamas and the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade, but a voluntary truce or "hudna" adopted by those groups in exchange for Israel agreeing to end attacks on their leaders, ease conditions in Palestinian territories and free Palestinian prisoners from Israeli jails. [complete article]

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The coming clash over Kirkuk
By Sandra Mackey, New York Times, February 9, 2005

As the Iraqis turn their focus from holding elections to writing a constitution, the make-or-break issue for their nation may be the city of Kirkuk. Situated next to Iraq's northern oil fields, Kirkuk is a setting for all the ethnic-sectarian conflicts that are the historic reality of Iraq - Muslim against Christian, Sunni against Shiite, Kurd against Arab. It is also home to the Turkmens, who are the ethnic cousins of the Turks and look to a willing Turkey as their protector. In their fierce competition for the right to claim Kirkuk, the Turkmens and the Kurds threaten to turn Iraqi internal politics into a regional conflict.

On a visit to Kirkuk last fall, I talked to both Turkmens and Kurds, and it was immediately obvious that both groups have a passion and feeling of possession toward the city, with its impressive citadel built on an ancient tell. . Kirkuk is the center of the Turkmen population in Iraq, while for Kurds, the city is a touchstone of their identity.

Each group employs demographics to back up its claim to the city. The last official Iraqi census, in 1957, listed 40 percent of Kirkuk's population as Turkmen and 35 percent as Kurdish; the rest were Arabs, Assyrians, Armenians and others. Today, the population is roughly 850,000; based on unofficial estimates, the number of Arabs has significantly increased, and the percentages of the Turkmens and Kurds are probably reversed.

When the American invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, Kurdish militias advanced southward from the Kurdish autonomous zone established in the northern third of Iraq in 1991 and entered Kirkuk. Since then the Kurds have used their position as American allies to bring in Kurdish families and thus bolster their demand that Kirkuk be incorporated in the Kurds' autonomous zone. [complete article]

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Ballot strength gives Kurds political muscle
By Edward Wong, New York Times, February 9, 2005

Early election returns indicating that the Kurds could well be the power brokers in forming a new government have emboldened their leaders to press an ambitious agenda that could define the political battlegrounds in the new Iraq.

If current election returns hold, the relatively secular Kurds may prove a necessary coalition partner, putting them be in a position to limit any attempts by religious Shiites to install an Islamic government. Kurdish leaders said Tuesday that they were pushing for a Kurd to be president of Iraq. They are also seeking guarantees that they can maintain an autonomous region in the north, which could in turn heighten tensions with neighboring countries that are suspicious of any moves toward Kurdish independence.

American officials have long considered the Kurds to be their closest allies in Iraq, partly because the Kurds, mostly Sunni Muslims, are generally less religiously observant than Arabs here. As the country moves toward a new government and constitution, the Americans will likely find themselves depending on the Kurds to act as a check on conservative Islamic politicians.

The Kurds' confidence in their political muscle has grown tremendously since Monday, when it became apparent they are likely to have the second-largest bloc in the 275-seat constitutional assembly, and possibly the most cohesive and most courted. [complete article]

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Blast at Iraqi recruiting center kills 21 as insurgency mounts
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, February 9, 2005

A man walked into a crowd of Iraqi army recruits in central Baghdad on Tuesday and blew himself up, killing at least 21 people and wounding at least 27. The death toll has reached 168 in Iraq since the Jan. 30 parliamentary elections, and Iraqi security forces have borne the brunt of the violence.

Of 153 Iraqis reported killed in the past nine days, 106 were soldiers, police officers or army and police recruits, according to figures released by the U.S. military and Iraqi authorities. Fifteen U.S. soldiers have been killed in that period.

The violence suggests that the election, despite a larger-than-predicted turnout, has not slowed a grinding insurgency that has killed thousands of Iraqis. In addition, the Pentagon reports that there have been 1,302 military deaths since the end of major combat operations on May 1, 2003. Attacks appear to have surged in such cities as Baghdad and Mosul, where security was increased significantly for the elections. [complete article]

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Final Iraqi election results said delayed
By Mariam Fam, Associated Press (via The State), February 9, 2005

Iraqi officials said Wednesday that the announcement of final results from landmark national elections will be delayed because the election commission must recount votes from about 300 ballot boxes.

Amid spiralling post-vote violence, gunmen killed an Iraqi journalist working for a U.S.-funded television station and his son as they left their home Wednesday in the southern city of Basra, an official said.

Final results from the Jan. 30 election were to be announced on Thursday. But spokesman Farid Ayar said the deadline would slip due to the need for a recount. [complete article]

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Sistani's vision for democratic Iraq has cricket but no chess
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, February 9, 2005

Cricket is allowed but chess is "absolutely forbidden". Women may not shake hands with men. Music is permitted but only if it is not for enjoyment. Men cannot pray when wearing earrings.

These are the views of the most powerful man in Iraq. After the US invasion, various American officials and generals believed they occupied this position. They turned out to be wrong. As the election victory of the Shias has confirmed, the most influential figure in Iraq, dressed in tattered grey robe and black turban, is Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani.

In politics he is a moderate. He opposes the US occupation but has not issued a call to oppose it in arms. It was his determination that Iraqis must be allowed to vote which forced the US, after prolonged prevarication, to agree to an election. It was under his auspices that the United Iraqi Alliance, combining diverse parties, mostly Shia, was formed. It is likely to win at least half the vote. [complete article]

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Bush request to fund nuclear study revives debate
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 9, 2005

The Bush administration is seeking $8.5 million to resume a study by the Energy and Defense departments on the feasibility of a nuclear "bunker buster" warhead, but the proposal is generating opposition in Congress and some leaders are pushing for a broader review of the nation's multibillion-dollar nuclear weapons programs.

Rep. David L. Hobson (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee that handles the $6 billion-plus annual budget of the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, says he wants to raise fundamental questions this year about the size of the U.S. nuclear stockpile and why so many weapons remain on high levels of alert.

"Why are we still preparing to fight the last war?" Hobson asked in a speech last week to the Arms Control Association. "The time has come for a thoughtful and open debate on the role of nuclear weapons in our country's national security strategy." [complete article]

Read the full transcript of Rep. Hobson's speech to the Arms Control Association.

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Up to 480 U.S. nuclear arms in Europe, private study says
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, February 9, 2005

The United States still keeps as many as 480 nuclear weapons at air bases across Europe, more than twice what independent military analysts previously estimated, according to a new study that says the weapons' presence is hurting efforts to curb nuclear proliferation worldwide.

Military officials insisted that the size of the nuclear stockpile in Europe, while classified, was smaller than that. But they acknowledged that it still existed to deter terrorists or nations that could threaten America or its allies with unconventional weapons. The officials also say the stockpile's presence and its long-term fate have caused simmering tensions among senior NATO political and military officials.

The report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private group here that advocates arms control and monitors nuclear trends, says short-range nuclear weapons are stored under American control and regulated by secret military agreements at eight bases in Germany, Britain, Italy, Belgium, Turkey and the Netherlands. The bombs are kept under tight security at sites reinforced against attack. [complete article]

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Bush seeks to cut test ban treaty funding
By David Ruppe, Global Security Newswire, February 8, 2005

The Bush administration's fiscal 2006 budget request is seeking a 25-percent reduction in the U.S. annual contribution to the international treaty banning nuclear weapons testing, in the latest sign of U.S. opposition to the agreement.

The proposed reduction from $19 million appropriated by Congress for this year to $14.35 million for fiscal 2006 could push the United States down for the first time to being the second-largest contributor to the treaty's implementing organization in Vienna. Japan contributed about $18 million for 2005.

The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which administers the treaty and collects annual dues, has a $105 million budget for calendar year 2005.

A State Department official said the agency could not provide an explanation for the requested cut at this time. [complete article]

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Apocalypse now: how mankind is sleepwalking to the end of the Earth
By Geoffrey Lean, The Independent, February 6, 2005

Future historians, looking back from a much hotter and less hospitable world, are likely to play special attention to the first few weeks of 2005. As they puzzle over how a whole generation could have sleepwalked into disaster - destroying the climate that has allowed human civilisation to flourish over the past 11,000 years - they may well identify the past weeks as the time when the last alarms sounded.

Last week, 200 of the world's leading climate scientists - meeting at Tony Blair's request at the Met Office's new headquarters at Exeter - issued the most urgent warning to date that dangerous climate change is taking place, and that time is running out.

Next week the Kyoto Protocol, the international treaty that tries to control global warming, comes into force after a seven-year delay. But it is clear that the protocol does not go nearly far enough.

The alarms have been going off since the beginning of one of the warmest Januaries on record. First, Dr Rajendra Pachauri - chairman of the official Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) - told a UN conference in Mauritius that the pollution which causes global warming has reached "dangerous" levels.

Then the biggest-ever study of climate change, based at Oxford University, reported that it could prove to be twice as catastrophic as the IPCC's worst predictions. And an international task force - also reporting to Tony Blair, and co-chaired by his close ally, Stephen Byers - concluded that we could reach "the point of no return" in a decade.

Finally, the UK head of Shell, Lord Oxburgh, took time out - just before his company reported record profits mainly achieved by selling oil, one of the main causes of the problem - to warn that unless governments take urgent action there "will be a disaster". [complete article]

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Outsourcing torture
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, February 7, 2005

On January 27th, President Bush, in an interview with the Times, assured the world that "torture is never acceptable, nor do we hand over people to countries that do torture." Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer who was born in Syria, was surprised to learn of Bush's statement. Two and a half years ago, American officials, suspecting Arar of being a terrorist, apprehended him in New York and sent him back to Syria, where he endured months of brutal interrogation, including torture. [...]

A year later, in October, 2003, Arar was released without charges, after the Canadian government took up his cause. Imad Moustapha, the Syrian Ambassador in Washington, announced that his country had found no links between Arar and terrorism. Arar, it turned out, had been sent to Syria on orders from the U.S. government, under a secretive program known as "extraordinary rendition." This program had been devised as a means of extraditing terrorism suspects from one foreign state to another for interrogation and prosecution. Critics contend that the unstated purpose of such renditions is to subject the suspects to aggressive methods of persuasion that are illegal in America -- including torture.

Arar is suing the U.S. government for his mistreatment. "They are outsourcing torture because they know it's illegal," he said. "Why, if they have suspicions, don't they question people within the boundary of the law?" [complete article]

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Rummy's got a secret
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 8, 2005

Two things are striking about next year's military budget, which President Bush sent to Congress Monday. First, it's a lot larger than the published numbers show -- at least $20 billion and possibly as much as $40 billion larger, not including the hidden costs of the war in Iraq -- and the undercounting seems to be a deliberate ploy to make the deficit look smaller and the budget less weighed down with armaments than they really are.

Second, whatever the budget totals, tens of billions in defense spending could be slashed if the president followed the principle he laid down in his State of the Union Address last week—to "substantially reduce or eliminate" all programs that "do not fulfill essential priorities." [complete article]

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Abbas and Sharon pledge to halt attacks
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, 2005

The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel declared an effective cease-fire here today in the four-year low-intensity war known as the intifada.

Mr. Abbas said the two sides "have agreed to cease all acts of violence against all Palestinians and Israelis everywhere."

Mr. Sharon, in a separate statement, said he and Mr. Abbas "agreed that all Palestinians will stop all acts of violence against all Israelis everywhere, and in parallel, Israel will cease all its military activity against all Palestinians everywhere." [complete article]

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Israelis and Palestinians aren't firing, but for how long?
By Ghazi Hamed, Bitterlemons (via Daily Star), February 8, 2005

Among Palestinians the hot topic of the day is what exactly is the nature of the understandings that appear to have been reached between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the different armed factions. There have been many educated guesses - some say a truce or cease-fire was agreed upon, while others say what happened was simply a "calming" of the situation and not a truce in the true sense.

The wording is very important, and goes some way to explaining the attitude of the Palestinian factions. Abbas knew that the factions would not respond to a demand for a full truce if they did not get guarantees in return that Israel would halt all its military operations against the Palestinians, especially the assassinations, incursions and house demolitions. Israel has responded to the current calm unenthusiastically, and is simply issuing official statements. Abbas has received no formal guarantees of anything yet.

It is in this context that the statements of Hamas and other factions must be understood. The factions have already declared that what is happening is only a calming of the situation, with Hamas saying that it "would not accept a truce except in the context of the higher interests of the people and an integral policy congruent with the challenges of the coming phase." The movement said it considered this an inappropriate time for any talk about a truce or cease-fire since the Israeli Army is continuing its crimes against the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip.

Statement after statement from the armed factions have come back to make the same point. What matters is what happens on the ground, and for as long as people are killed - on Jan. 26, for example, the victim was a three-year-old girl named Rahma Abu Shamas - the factions will take this as a signal that Israel is not prepared to encourage the calm. [complete article]

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Militants are wild card in Mideast negotiations
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2005

With automatic rifles clanking as they shifted in cramped seats, a dozen Palestinian fugitives sipped tiny cups of Arabic coffee and talked about an almost unthinkable notion: what life might be like after a cease-fire.

"I'd get married," one said a bit dreamily. "I'd finish up my sociology degree," piped up another. "I'd find a normal job and take care of my family," said a third.

Across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, hundreds and perhaps thousands of young Palestinian men have spent the last four years as full-time foot soldiers for militant groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, as well as an array of smaller, lesser-known factions.

Now, as Israel and the Palestinians prepare for a landmark summit Tuesday, hoping to shore up an informal truce that has been in effect for nearly a month, much will depend on whether these men choose to hold their fire or resume their bloody attacks against Israelis. [complete article]

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Natan Sharansky and U.S. Israel Policy
By Tom Barry,, February 8, 2005

There is little doubt that George W. Bush and Natan Sharansky, a Soviet emigre who is a top political official in Israel, share a similar perspective about international affairs, especially in the Middle East.

Following his inaugural address, the U.S. president said that Sharansky's book The Case for Democracy: The Power of Freedom to Overcome Tyranny and Terror, published last September, confirmed what he already believed. He added that the Israeli author's thinking was "part of my presidential DNA."

Paralleling Bush's own description of international affairs as a divide between good and evil, and those who are fighting terrorism and those who support it, Sharansky writes in his book that the world is "divided between those who are prepared to confront evil and those who are willing to appease it."

The book makes that case that the world's nations are situated in a stark moral universe of "free societies" that foster peace and "fear societies" that breed war and terrorism. [complete article]

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The human rights case against attacking Iran
By Shirin Ebadi and Hadi Ghaemi, New York Times, February 8, 2005

During her tour of Europe, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has given assurances that a military attack by the United States on Iran "is simply not on the agenda at this point." But notwithstanding Ms. Rice's disavowal, recent statements by the Bush administration, starting with President Bush's State of the Union address and Vice President Dick Cheney's comments about a possible Israeli military attack on Iran, are reminiscent of the rhetoric in the months leading up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And Ms. Rice herself made clear that "the Iranian regime's human rights behavior and its behavior toward its own population is something to be loathed."

American policy toward the Middle East, and Iran in particular, is often couched in the language of promoting human rights. No one would deny the importance of that goal. But for human rights defenders in Iran, the possibility of a foreign military attack on their country represents an utter disaster for their cause.

The situation for human rights in Iran is far from ideal. Security forces harass, imprison and even torture human rights defenders and civil society activists. The authorities attack journalists and writers for expressing their opinions and regularly shut down newspapers. Political prisoners languish in jails. Superfluous judicial summonses are routinely used to intimidate critics, and arbitrary detentions are common.

But Iranian society has refused to be coerced into silence. The human rights discourse is alive and well at the grassroots level; civil society activists consider it to be the most potent framework for achieving sustainable democratic reforms and political pluralism.

Indeed, American readers might be surprised to know how vigorous Iran's human rights organizations are. Last fall, when security forces unlawfully detained more than 20 young journalists and bloggers because of what they had written, independent Iranian organizations like the Center for Defense of Human Rights, the Association of Journalists for Freedom of Press, and the Students Association for Human Rights campaigned for their release. [complete article]

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Iraq: spinning off Arab terrorists?
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Christian Science Monitor, February 8, 2005

The lessons of Afghanistan are not lost on counterterrorism experts and Arab government officials here.

As the insurgency continues in Iraq, the risk is that the country becomes a regional training ground for terrorists - as Afghanistan was in the 1990s - creating newly radicalized and experienced jihadis who return home to cause trouble in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and elsewhere.

In fact, there's evidence it's already happened in Kuwait. In the past month, the tiny Gulf state has been rocked by a series of shootouts with Muslim militants, some of whom learned their craft by working alongside Iraqi insurgents. [complete article]

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Suicide blast in Baghdad kills 21
By Jason Keyser, Associated Press (via WP), February 8, 2005

A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of Iraqis outside an army recruitment center Tuesday, killing 21 other people and injuring 27 more, the U.S. military said. It was the deadliest attack in the Iraqi capital since last week's election.

There were conflicting reports about the attack, which occurred at an Iraqi National Guard headquarters at the Muthana airfield. Iraqi officials blamed the explosion on mortar fire and officials at Baghdad's Yarmouk Hospital said they had received 16 bodies from the scene, all of them army recruits.

But witnesses reported only one explosion, and the U.S. military said the blast was caused by a suicide bomber. [complete article]

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Pain and loss of a brutal beheading lingers on for young son of the victim
By Scheherezade Faramarzi, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), February 8, 2005

Shihab Khaled Anwar cannot bear to think of his father, beheaded in Iraq for allegedly being an informant for Americans.

"If I think of him, I picture his head and I won't be able to sleep," the 10-year-old boy said.

The severed head was dumped on the pavement near his home in the northern city of Mosul a day after his father, Khaled Ibrahim, 29, was abducted by gunmen on his way to buy bread.

Shihab, too young to grasp the motives behind such brutality, refers to his father's killers as "burglars." The adults in the family have a different theory: he was tipping off the Americans about "terrorists."

Now the family feels abandoned by America, for whom Ibrahim sacrificed his life. [complete article]

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The Abu Ghraib scandal you don't know
By Adam Zagorin, Time, February 7, 2005

American soldiers often have a tough time with Arabic names, so to guards, he was just "Gus." To the world outside Abu Ghraib prison, he became an iconic figure, a naked, prostrate Iraqi prisoner crawling on the end of a leash held by Private Lynndie England, the pixyish Army Reserve clerk who posed in several of the infamous photographs that made the name Abu Ghraib synonymous with torture. Now, it emerges, there may be another dimension to Gus' story and certainly to the horrors of Abu Ghraib. In what amounted to a perversion of the traditional doctor's creed of "first, do no harm," the medical system at the prison became an instrument of abuse, by design and by neglect. As uncovered by legal scholars M. Gregg Bloche and Jonathan Marks, who conducted an inquiry published by the New England Journal of Medicine, not only were some military doctors at Abu Ghraib enlisted to help inflict distress on the prisoners, but also the scarcity of basic medical care was at times so severe that it created another kind of torture.

Medical personnel and others who worked at the prison tell Time that, with straitjackets unavailable, tethers--like the leash on Gus--were put to use at Abu Ghraib to control unruly or mentally disturbed detainees, sometimes with the concurrence of a doctor. That such a restraint-- which is supposed to be placed around legs, arms or torsos--ended up instead around a man's neck seems to be a case of a medically condoned practice degenerating into abuse. But there was also medical disarray at the prison: amputations performed by nondoctors, chest tubes recycled from the dead to the living, a medic ordered, by one account, to cover up a homicide. That in itself would have made Abu Ghraib a scandal even without the acts of torture inflicted on the inmates by their guards. [complete article]

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Fallujans welcome security, await electricity
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, February 8, 2005

Amid the ruins of Fallujah, white flags are emerging - alerting US and Iraqi forces to the presence of Iraqi families moving back home, clearing the rubble, and trying to renew hope.

Residents say that the insurgents who made the city a virtual no-go zone are gone. They were violently cut out of this former stronghold by US forces during a monthlong battle in November - the toughest urban combat for US forces since Vietnam - that pulverized this city of some 300,000.

But now, the US Marines and the Iraqi government face a new challenge: convincing Fallujans that the insurgency here is overand that their ravaged homes can and will be rebuilt. [complete article]

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Big rise for FBI in antiterror war
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, February 8, 2005

he big winner in the president's budget among law enforcement agencies - as it has been since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 - is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with state and local police agencies again facing major cutbacks in federal assistance.

The budget proposes an 11 percent increase in financing for the F.B.I., to $5.6 billion. The proposal continues the sharp rise in F.B.I. financing since 2001, when the bureau's budget was $3.3 billion. [complete article]

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Israel, Palestinians plan deal on military operations
By John Ward Anderson and Robin Wright, Washington Post, February 7, 2005

Israel and the Palestinians will issue separate and mutually dependent vows Tuesday to halt military operations against each other, according to Palestinian and Israeli officials who expressed hope that the move would eventually lead to the end of more than four years of fighting.

The statements to be made by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at a summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh will not amount to a joint cease-fire agreement, the officials said late Monday. Rather, they said, they are intended to reinforce each other, and the commitments made by each side will be dependent on the other fulfilling its obligations.

Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian cabinet member and the chief negotiator with Israel, said that "Abbas will declare an end to violence against Israelis everywhere, and Sharon will declare an end to violence against Palestinians everywhere." [complete article]

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27 die as new wave of attacks hits Iraq
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, February 8, 2005

Two suicide bombers struck in Iraqi towns yesterday, claiming at least 27 lives, in a return to the grim familiarity of insurgency just a week after millions of Iraqis flocked to the polls.
It was the most violent day since the January 30 elections and signals that after a brief lull the attacks and kidnappings have restarted in earnest.

Iraq's interior minister said it could be a further 18 months before Iraqi forces could properly secure their country.

Yesterday's first bomber struck at the main police headquarters in Baquba, a mixed Shia and Sunni town 40 miles north of Baghdad. At least 15 people were killed and 17 injured. Witnesses said the bomber had tried to drive a car laden with explosives through the gate of the police station but instead hit a concrete blast wall and detonated near a crowd outside.

In the second attack a man apparently wearing a vest of explosives walked into a crowd of police standing outside the Jumhuri hospital in the northern city of Mosul. At least 12 people were killed and four injured. [complete article]

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Fraud and corruption
By George Monbiot, The Guardian, February 8, 2005

The Republican senators who have devoted their careers to mauling the United Nations are seldom accused of shyness. But they went strangely quiet on Thursday. Henry Hyde became Henry Jekyll. Norm Coleman's mustard turned to honey. Convinced that the UN is a conspiracy against the sovereignty of the United States, they had been ready to launch the attack which would have toppled the hated Kofi Annan and destroyed his organisation. A report by Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the US federal reserve, was meant to have proved that, as a result of corruption within the UN's oil-for-food programme, Saddam Hussein was able to sustain his regime by diverting oil revenues into his own hands. But Volcker came up with something else.
"The major source of external financial resources to the Iraqi regime," he reported, "resulted from sanctions violations outside the [oil-for-food] programme's framework." These violations consisted of "illicit sales" of oil by the Iraqi regime to Turkey and Jordan. The members of the UN security council, including the United States, knew about them but did nothing. "United States law requires that assistance programmes to countries in violation of UN sanctions be ended unless continuation is determined to be in the national interest. Such determinations were provided by successive United States administrations."

The government of the US, in other words, though it had been informed about a smuggling operation which brought Saddam Hussein's regime some $4.6bn, decided to let it continue. It did so because it deemed the smuggling to be in its national interest, as it helped friendly countries (Turkey and Jordan) evade the sanctions on Iraq. The biggest source of illegal funds to Saddam Hussein was approved not by officials of the UN but by officials in the US. Strange to relate, neither Mr Hyde nor Mr Coleman have yet been bellyaching about it. But this isn't the half of it. [complete article]

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Al-Sistani to have detailed involvement in Iraq's political process
By Tom Lasseter and Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, February 6, 2005

The main parties of a cleric-led political ticket set to sweep elections in Iraq are planning to vet their prime minister candidates with the nation's top Shiite Muslim cleric.

And the cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, will oversee the drafting of the constitution if he is unhappy with the direction it is taking, a lead al-Sistani spokesman, Murtadha al Kashmiri, said Sunday.

While the general effect of al-Sistani's words and wishes on the political process has been widely understood - it was his insistence on elections that set the timetable for them in the first place - such a level of detailed involvement had not previously been publicly acknowledged.

Many in Iraq are growing worried that the sectarian rift between Shiites and the minority Sunni Muslim population may widen to the point that it causes massive unrest. And the increasing calls for Islamic-based rule in Iraq stand to disrupt, if not derail, U.S. plans for secular democratic rule. [complete article]

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What Sistani wants
By Rod Nordland and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Newsweek, February 14, 2005

[Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani] may live humbly and poor, but he also presides over a multimillion-dollar network of charities and religious foundations from Pakistan to England. He may not get out very much, but he has a highly developed network of representatives in every Shia neighborhood in Iraq. One of his sons-in-law runs an Internet company with 66 employees in the Iranian city of Qom, and Sistani's own office is one of the best-wired in Iraq. The interim government installed a T-1 connection to the Internet, so his representatives can stay in touch by e-mail. When he has new visitors, his staff Googles them and prints out a briefing paper. When folks in Baghdad, 90 miles north, need to call his office, they dial a local number that patches through. And he may refuse to have his photo taken, but he doesn't object to his followers' plastering the few available grainy shots on campaign posters and mosques around the country.

All that makes sense. Al-Sayid Ali al-Husseini al-Sistani is now indisputably the most powerful man in Iraq. The elections he demanded, on the terms he insisted upon, were an unexpected success; the party he crafted, and then blessed, has won a landslide victory. The United Iraqi Alliance, better known as the Shia List, racked up more than 65 percent of the votes counted as of last weekend. That's at least enough to choose the leaders of the new government, and when final results come in, it may come close to the two-thirds margin necessary to dictate the terms of Iraq's new constitution. "Ayatollah Sistani is very elated," says Mowaffak al-Rubaie, a member of the United Iraqi Alliance and national-security adviser to the interim government, who spoke to him by phone as results came in last week. [complete article]

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View emerging of Shiite-ruled Iraq
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, February 7, 2005

Many weeks and months of hard bargaining lie ahead for Iraq's 275-member assembly, which could sit as soon as the end of the month, and it is difficult to project precisely where those negotiations will lead.

"We don't know what's going to happen yet - in politics things are changing all the time," says Hamid al-Bayati, a deputy foreign minister and a leader of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the other major faction in the UIA list.

Nevertheless, Mr. Bayati says there are three leading figures to be Iraq's next prime minister, and all are from the UIA: Jaafari, Finance Minister Adel Abdel Mehdi, and Ahmed Chalabi, a secular Shiite and former Pentagon favorite. "Mr. Chalabi isn't necessarily as strong a candidate as the other two, but he's put his name forward," says Bayati.

Another name that is frequently mentioned for Iraq's top post is Hussein al-Shahrastani, a nuclear scientist who is close to Iraq's most popular religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. [complete article]

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Iraq Shiite leaders demand Islam be the source of law
Agence France Presse (via Turkish Press), February 6, 2005

Iraq's Shiite leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and another top cleric staked out a radical demand that Islam be the sole source of legislation in the country's new constitution.

One cleric issued a statement setting out the position and the spiritual leader of Iraqi Shiites made it known straight away that he backed demands for the Koran to be the reference point for legislation. [...]

The surprise statement was released by Sheikh Ibrahim Ibrahimi, a representative of Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Ishaq al-Fayad, another of the marja [leading Shiite clerics].

"All of the ulema (clergy) and marja, and the majority of the Iraqi people, want the national assembly to make Islam the source of legislation in the permanent constitution and to reject any law that is contrary to Islam," said the statement.

A source close to Sistani announced soon after the release of the statement that the spiritual leader backed the demand. [complete article]

See also, Leading Shiite clerics pushing Islamic constitution in Iraq (NYT).

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Sadr militant to take up anti-U.S. battle in Iraqi national assembly
Agence France Presse (via Turkish Press), February 7, 2005

A few months ago Fathallah Ghazi Ismail was at the forefront of the campaign by followers of Shiite Muslim radical cleric Moqtada Sadr against the US military in Iraq.

Now he is preparing to take up a seat, as the head of the Sadr list, in the national assembly which the US occupiers helped to set up. But he says his priorities have not changed.

Ismail, 38, proudly showed off a picture of himself seated with the firebrand cleric at his modest home in Sadr City, an impoverished Shiite neighbourhood of two million in eastern Baghdad.

His success in the January 30 election came out of the blue.

In the latest vote count results released Friday, Ismail was in third place with 43,383 votes, or 1.3 percent of the 3.3 million counted up to then.

Without any campaign advertising, his National Independent Cadres and Elites list overshadowed some established political figures.

Even if he does not maintain that place up to the end of the count, the outspoken Ismail is guaranteed at least his place in the assembly that will draw up a new constitution. [complete article]

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'More a census than an election'
By Aaron Glantz, IPS (via Kurdmedia), February 7, 2005

Kurds are declaring victory after elections in Iraq's northern oil-rich city, Kirkuk, but other groups in the multi-ethnic city are not ready to concede. Some allege massive voter fraud.

"This election was done without any oversight from the United Nations," says Ali Mahdi, an officer in the Iraqi Turkomen Front, the largest party of ethnic Turks in Kirkuk. The Turkomen front alleges many of the 100,000 Kurdish refugees allowed to vote in Kirkuk's election were not forced out of the city by Saddam Hussein as they claimed. He says many of the refugees never actually lived in Kirkuk.

"We want the United Nations to come here and investigate these allegations," he said. "Until then, we cannot say there has been a fair election here."

The Turkomens' allegations are echoed by Arab parties who boycotted the election in Kirkuk. "The result of the election was fixed before it even began," Sunni Arab Sheikh Hosbi al-Ubaidy, a leader of the united Arab slate told IPS. He was referring to the interim Iraqi government's decision to allow Kurdish refugees to vote in the election. [complete article]

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Miles of barren desert dotted with smugglers, insurgents
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, Frebruary 7, 2005

This is Iraq's wild west, where for a year Marines have fought a relentless battle with insurgents and smugglers along hundreds of miles of barren desert that is the unmarked border with Syria.

The action here has been overshadowed by ongoing violence in Baghdad, Mosul and in Fallouja and other cities in the so-called Sunni Triangle. Nevertheless, the Marines say their efforts to choke off the border to foreign mercenaries, jihadists and weapons smugglers have been marked by near-daily military clashes. In addition, U.S. diplomatic pressure has been brought to bear on Syria.

Washington has complained that Damascus, at a minimum, is providing a haven for smugglers and insurgents as they prepare to head into Iraq and, at worst, may be assisting their clandestine efforts. [complete article]

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Iran challenges U.S. over nuclear programme
By Alec Russell, The Telegraph, February 7, 2005

Iran dared America to attack it yesterday as the senior hawks in President George W Bush's administration all but admitted that Washington faced a dilemma in trying to prevent Teheran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

In a rare interview, Dick Cheney, the vice-president, stressed repeatedly that Washington was backing a European diplomatic initiative to persuade Teheran to freeze permanently its nuclear ambitions - even though it is Washington's worst-kept secret that the administration believes the attempt is doomed to fail.

"[The Iranians] know very well that we do not want them to acquire nuclear weapons, nor does the civilised world," Mr Cheney told Fox News. "I can't think of anybody who is eager to see the Iranians develop that kind of capability. Now, we are moving to support efforts to resolve it diplomatically."

America had not "eliminated any alternative", he said, an apparent threat of military action whose obliqueness reflected the deep uncertainty in the US capital over its policy towards Iran.

Apparently sensing America's difficulties, Iran has become increasingly outspoken. Hassan Rohani, the secretary general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said yesterday that there was nothing the West could do to make it scrap its nuclear programme. [complete article]

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U.S. redesigning atomic weapons
By William J. Broad, New York Times, February 7, 2005

Worried that the nation's aging nuclear arsenal is increasingly fragile, American scientists have begun designing a new generation of nuclear arms meant to be sturdier and more reliable and to have longer lives, federal officials and private experts say.

The officials say the program could help shrink the arsenal and the high cost of its maintenance. But critics say it could needlessly resuscitate the complex of factories and laboratories that make nuclear weapons and could possibly ignite a new arms race.

So far, the quiet effort involves only $9 million for warhead designers at the nation's three nuclear weapon laboratories, Los Alamos, Livermore and Sandia. Federal bomb experts at these heavily guarded facilities are now scrutinizing secret arms data gathered over a half century for clues about how to achieve the new reliability goals.

The relatively small initial program, involving fewer than 100 people, is expected to grow and produce finished designs in the next 5 to 10 years, culminating, if approval is sought and won, in prototype warheads. Most important, officials say, the effort marks a fundamental shift in design philosophy.

For decades, the bomb makers sought to use the latest technologies and most innovative methods. The resulting warheads were lightweight, very powerful and in some cases so small that a dozen could fit atop a slender missile. The American style was distinctive. Most other nuclear powers, years behind the atomic curve and often lacking top skills and materials, settled for less. Their nuclear arms tended to be ponderous if dependable, more like Chevys than racecars.

Now, American designers are studying how to reverse course and make arms that are more robust, in some ways emulating their rivals in an effort to avoid the uncertainties and deteriorations of nuclear old age. Federal experts worry that critical parts of the arsenal, if ever needed, may fail. [complete article]

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Iraqis cite shift in attitudes since vote
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, February 7, 2005

With a hero who gave his life for the elections, a revived national anthem blaring from car stereos and a greater willingness to help police, the public mood appears to be moving more clearly against the insurgency in Iraq, political and security officials said.

In the week since national elections, police officers and Iraqi National Guardsmen said they have received more tips from the public, resulting in more arrests and greater effectiveness in their efforts to weaken the violent insurgency rocking the country.

None of the officials said they believed the violence was over. An attack Sunday on a police station in Mahawil, 50 miles south of Baghdad, left 22 policemen and National Guardsmen and 14 attackers dead, the Associated Press reported. The incident was a bloody end to a day in which at least nine other Iraqis were reported slain, and a U.S. soldier was killed and two others were wounded north of the capital. Four Egyptian engineers were kidnapped and two insurgent groups issued statements threatening to kill an Italian journalist who was taken hostage on Friday.

But officials in Baghdad said a relative lull in violence in the capital has fueled the sense that something has fundamentally changed since the vote. A change of attitudes in Baghdad could make a crucial difference in the battle against the insurgency, and a buoyed sense of civic pride is already beginning to change the way the public treats the police, authorities say. [complete article]

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In Iraq, at least 30 killed in two bomb attacks
By Miriam Fam, Associated Press (via WP), February 7, 2005

Insurgents struck at Iraqi police forces with a suicide bomb, a car bomb and mortars in the cities of Mosul and Baqubah on Monday, killing at least 30 people as they pressed their campaign to undermine the nation's fledgling security forces.

The deadliest attack came in Baqubah, where a car bomb exploded outside the gates of a provincial police headquarters, killing 15 people and wounding 17, police Col. Mudhahar Jubouri said. Many of the victims were there to seek jobs as policemen, Jubouri said.

In the northern city of Mosul, a suicide bomber blew himself up inside the compound of Jumhouri Teaching Hospital, killing 12 policemen guarding the site and injuring four others, hospital officials said. [complete article]

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Looking for a few good spies
By Christopher Dickey, Mark Hosenball and Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, February 14, 2005

This is a terrorist cultleader? Maryam Rajavi is dressed in a Chanel-style suit with her skirt at midcalf, lilac colored pumps and a matching headscarf. Over a dinner of kebab, rice and French pastries, Rajavi smiles often and laughs easily. She's at once colorful and demure, like many an educated woman in the Middle East. Indeed if George W. Bush -- who relies on powerful females for counsel -- were pressed to identify a Muslim model of womanhood, this 51-year-old Iranian would look very much the part.

But of course that's exactly the impression Rajavi seeks to give. Behind her smile is a saleswoman's savvy -- and a revolutionary's zeal to prove that she and her mysterious husband, Massoud Rajavi, are neither cultists nor terrorists. Maryam Rajavi is demanding that the exile groups they lead together, centered on the Mujahedin-e Khalq (People's Holy Warriors) or MEK for short, should be taken off the State Department's list of terrorist organizations, their assets unfrozen and their energies unleashed. The MEK, Rajavi says, is the answer to American prayers as Tehran continues to dabble defiantly in both terrorism and nuclear arms. "I believe increasingly the Americans have come to realize that the solution is an Iranian force that is able to get rid of the Islamic fundamentalists in power in Iran," she told Newsweek in a rare interview at her organization's compound in the quiet French village of Auvers sur Oise. The group's own former role in terrorist attacks dating back to its support for the U.S. Embassy takeover in 1979, Rajavi insists, is ancient history. And the MEK is not a Jim Jones-like cult as critics allege, with forced separation between men and women and indoctrination for children, all overseen by the Rajavis' autocratic style. Instead, she insists, it is "a democratic force." [complete article]

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Israelis act to encircle East Jerusalem
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, February 7, 2005

The Israeli government and private Jewish groups are working in concert to build a human cordon around Jerusalem's Old City and its disputed holy sites, moving Jewish residents into Arab neighborhoods to consolidate their grip on strategic locations, according to critics of the effort and a Washington Post investigation.

The goal is to establish Jewish enclaves in and around Arab-dominated East Jerusalem and eventually link them to form a ring around the city, a key battleground in the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict because of its Jewish and Muslim holy sites, according to activists involved in the effort and critics of the campaign.

The Israeli government has sometimes violated its own laws and regulations to advance the encircling effort, the Post investigation found. Critics of the plan charge that the government is subsidizing and protecting Jewish groups that are deliberately scuttling peace efforts by establishing Jewish enclaves in overwhelmingly Palestinian neighborhoods. [complete article]

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Shia 'poll landslide' set to put religion at heart of Iraqi power
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, February 6, 2005

There is a word used often by politicians in Iraq's deep south. It is tahmeech, meaning isolation.

It is used to say that for decades not a single government minister in Baghdad has come from Iraq's second city, Basra. It signifies a generation of discrimination against Shias by Saddam's Sunni-dominated regime.

Now, if the initial results of last Sunday's Iraqi elections prove to represent the final picture, the centre of political gravity has shifted inexorably south - away from the violence of the cities of the north, away from Baghdad and that city's technocratic class - towards the poverty-stricken, dust-blown Shia heartland. [complete article]

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Top Shiite welcomes overtures by Sunnis
By Anthony Shadid and Doug Struck, Washington Post, February 6, 2005

The leading Shiite candidate to become Iraq's next prime minister welcomed overtures on Saturday by groups that boycotted national elections and declared that he and others were willing to offer "the maximum" to bring those largely Sunni Arab groups into the drafting of the constitution and participation in the new government.

But Adel Abdel-Mehdi, the current finance minister and a powerful figure in the coalition expected to dominate Iraq's parliament, rejected a key demand of those groups -- a timetable for a withdrawal of the 150,000 U.S. troops in the country.

"We are hearing some positive remarks coming from their side. That's very good. We are encouraging them," he said in an interview. "We are really willing to offer the maximum. . . . It's a balanced view -- from them, from us -- to see what the future has." [complete article]

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I will bring al-Sadr into government, says the man tipped to be Iraq's new prime minister
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, February 6, 2005

A leading contender to become Iraq's new prime minister has offered to welcome Moqtadr al-Sadr, the demagogic Shia cleric behind bloody uprisings against coalition forces, into a new government expanded to include those who boycotted the election.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a moderate Shia whose United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) list is certain to top last weekend's poll, told The Telegraph that Sadr, wanted for alleged involvement in the hacking to death of a fellow cleric, was "a good person" who could play a constructive role in the new Iraq.

"Moqtadr Sadr's father was killed by Saddam Hussein," he said. "He has a large number of followers. We can involve them. If they are not killers, and if we have no evidence against them, then we can give them a chance to share in the political process." [complete article]

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Many votes cast along ethnic, religious
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, February 6, 2005

Imam Jalaluddin al-Saghir struck all the right notes of tolerance as he preached to Shi'ite Muslims about their triumph in Iraq's national elections, reminding them, "We suffered under dictatorship, but we can never let ourselves become dictators."

But Saghir and the crowd of 1,000 that attended Friday prayers at his prominent Baghdad mosque also celebrated last week's massive, disciplined Shi'ite turnout as a show of devotion to their sect that brought long-awaited power over their enemies. Before the vote that handed what looks like an overwhelming victory to a coalition of religious Shi'ite parties, Saghir had urged the faithful to vote for the coalition or answer "on Judgment Day," and warned that some Sunni Muslims would brook Shi'ite power only "over their dead bodies."

Now, early results suggest that most Iraqis cast the first freely chosen votes of their lives for parties that represent their ethnic or religious communities: A vast majority of Shi'ites voted last Sunday for the Shi'ite-identified United Iraqi Alliance, while Kurds supported Kurdish parties and many Sunnis stayed away from the polls.

Iraqis and politicians alike are waiting to see if that trend is a healthy expression of democracy -- with groups coalescing to defend their interests after decades in which Kurds and Shi'ites were massacred by Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated regime -- or the first step downhill toward a polarized society or even civil war. [complete article]

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Policeman who tackled bomber is election hero
By Toby Harnden and Aqeel Hussein, The Telegraph, February 6, 2005

An Iraqi policeman who saved dozens of lives by locking a suicide bomber in a fatal embrace and wrestling him away from a line of voters has been hailed as a hero of the recent election, which drew forth countless acts of individual bravery.

Capt Abdul Amir Khadam, 29, forced the struggling terrorist, believed to have been Sudanese, 20 yards away from the crowd at a polling station in Baghdad's Mansur district before the terrorist detonated his explosive-packed belt, killing them both.

The incident has been seized on by Iraqi politicians to symbolise the sacrifices that Iraqi security forces made in order to give their country hope for a democratic future. Iyad Allawi, the interim Iraqi prime minister, said that Capt Khadam, an orphaned Shia who joined the police at 18, was "Iraq's real national hero", while others proposed erecting a statue to commemorate his action. [complete article]

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Kidnapped reporter had no way out, witness says
Associated Press (via WP), February 6, 2005

The interpreter sensed trouble as soon as he saw a gray Opel with four men inside. "Back up!" he yelled at the driver next to him. Suddenly, a man wielding a pistol was racing toward him shouting, "Search! Search!"

The armed man headed straight for Giuliana Sgrena, 56, an Italian journalist quivering in fear in the back seat. On Friday, she became the latest foreign victim of Iraq's wave of kidnappings. [complete article]

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An attack burns anguish into Kurdish region
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, February 6, 2005

He was promised a straight shot to heaven and 72 maidens to wait on him once he got there, but Hoshir Sabir Hasan was not ready to die.

So instead of agreeing to be a suicide bomber, Hasan, a 23-year-old Iraqi Kurd who belonged to a group of radical Islamic insurgents tied to al Qaeda, said he consented to be the lookout in a plot last June in this northern city. [complete article]

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Suddenly, it's 'America who?'
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 6, 2005

The Iraqi focus on its own democracy, and the new view of the United States, surfaced in dozens of interviews with Iraqis since last Sunday's election. It is unclear, of course, how widespread the trend is; whole communities, like the Sunni Arabs, remain almost implacably opposed to the presence of American forces. But by many accounts, the elections last week altered Iraqis' relationship with the United States more than any single event since the invasion.

Since April 9, 2003, when Saddam Hussein's rule crumbled, Iraqis have viewed themselves more or less as American subjects. American officials ran their government, American soldiers fought their war, American money paid to rebuild Iraq.

Indeed, the American project to implant democracy in Iraq often seemed to be in danger of falling victim to the country's manifest political passivity, born of a quarter-century of torture centers, mass graves, free food and pennies-a-gallon gasoline. The more the Americans tried to nudge the Iraqis towards self-government, the more the Iraqis expected the Americans to do.

As the insurgents wreaked more and more havoc, and sabotaged more and more of the country's power supply, the Iraqis, not surprisingly, blamed the people in charge. Day by day, many Iraqis' gratitude for the toppling of Saddam Hussein seemed to harden into bitterness and contempt.

After June 28, when American suzerainty here formally ended, not many Iraqis bought the notion that the interim government of Ayad Allawi was anything other than a caretaker regime, hand-picked by the Americans and the United Nations.

All that seemed to change last Sunday, when millions of Iraqis streamed to the polls. Few if any Iraqis had ever voted in anything approaching a free election, yet most seemed to know exactly what the exercise was about: selecting their own representatives to lead their own country. [complete article]

Comment -- To many readers of this site, Dexter Filkins' description of the elections as a turning point will sound like another round of applause from the American mainstream media gladly delivering good news from Iraq, nicely presented in a package much to the liking of the Bush administration. After all, isn't this how the policy of "Iraqification" was supposed to play out?

I suspect not, for if election day is looked back on as the most significant turning point in the destiny of post-Saddam Iraq -- in fact, the first real turning point -- it may not be because the elections were a vindication for Bush's push for democracy, but because it turned out that at this juncture America actually ceded far more control over Iraq than it ever anticipated or intended.

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Bush, Iran and the bomb
By Christopher de Bellaigue, New York Review of Books, February 24, 2005

In 2002, Kenneth Pollack's book The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq helped to persuade some Americans that, sooner or later (preferably sooner), the US would have to unseat Saddam Hussein in order to safeguard its own security. Pollack put his case more cautiously, and more adroitly, than many Republican proponents of "regime change" in Iraq, but he turned out, like them, to be wrong about the threat that Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. He also failed, like them, to predict the grave repercussions of an invasion. In contrast to many hawkish members of the Bush administration, and a great many newspaper columnists and editors, Pollack had the grace to apologize for his errors. Now that the Bush administration is trying to decide how it should respond to a second hostile Middle Eastern state, Iran, which it suspects of seeking nuclear weapons, Pollack has written another long book, The Persian Puzzle: The Conflict Between Iran and America, advising what should be done.

Although Pollack's judgment has been found lacking, he is more qualified than most to write about US policy toward the Middle East. Besides serving as director of Persian Gulf Affairs and Near East and South Asian Affairs on Bill Clinton's National Security Council, he has variously worked on policy toward Iran (as well as Iraq) for the CIA and for several think tanks and universities. Iran's recent efforts to acquire advanced nuclear technology justify his argument that now is the time to devote attention to the Islamic Republic. "If we do not take advantage of this window of opportunity to deal with Iran's nuclear program," he says, "someday we doubtless will regret not having done so." [complete article]

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Extreme makeover
By Brian Urquhart, New York Review of Books, February 24, 2005

For more than two centuries, nationalism in all its various forms -- from the high-minded chauvinism of the British Empire to the virulent poison of Nazism -- has been a familiar, and often negative, phenomenon. Emerging first in Europe, which it nearly destroyed and which has now apparently learned to control it, extreme nationalism still erupts from time to time in other parts of the world.

The word "nationalism" never quite seemed to fit the United States, where continental vastness and enormous power have hitherto been tempered by an often-expressed distaste for empire and by the notion of world leadership by example. Two American presidents, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, both sponsored world organizations whose primary objective was to contain and disperse the aggressive force of nationalism.

In the first years of the twenty-first century, however, in a dramatic departure from traditional policy, the spirit of unilateralism and militant nationalism began to dominate Washington's policies and attitudes toward the outside world. Reaction to the attacks of September 11, 2001, gave new force and a new direction to this change. Anatol Lieven's America Right or Wrong: An Anatomy of American Nationalism examines the roots of longstanding American nationalistic tendencies that have given public support to this fundamental change in United States policy. As is already clear from some reactions to his book, for a foreigner (a Washington-based British journalist), and a European intellectual at that, this is a courageous, even foolhardy, undertaking, but it may well be that an outside observer can best approach such a sensitive American subject with candor and objectivity. Lieven is relentlessly candid, and has produced a remarkably thought-provoking book. [complete article]

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What bin Laden sees in Hiroshima
By Steve Coll, Washington Post, February 6, 2005

At a conference on the future of al Qaeda sponsored by Los Alamos National Laboratory last month, I posed a dark question to 60 or so nuclear weapons scientists and specialists on terrorism and radical Islam: How many of them believed that the probability of a nuclear fission bomb attack on U.S. soil during the next several decades was negligible -- say, less than 5 percent?

At issue was the Big One -- a Hiroshima-or-larger explosion that could claim hundreds of thousands of American lives, as opposed to an easier-to-mount but less lethal radiological attack. Amid somber silence, three or four meek, iconoclastic hands went up. (More later on the minority optimists. They, too, deserve a hearing.)

This grim view, echoed in other quarters of the national security bureaucracy in recent months, can't be dismissed as Bush administration scaremongering. "There has been increasing interest by terrorists in acquiring nuclear weapons," Mohamed ElBaradei, the Egyptian director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the world's chief nuclear watchdog, said in a recent interview, excerpts of which were published in Outlook last Sunday. "I cannot say 100 percent that it hasn't happened" already, he added, almost as an afterthought. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven plus days:


The issue of the insurgency - its makeup, its actions, and its objectives - often receives insufficient attention from those of us who have been critical of the war in Iraq. Nevertheless, understanding the war is impossible without understanding the insurgency.

Unmasking the insurgents
By Rod Nordland, Tom Masland and Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, February 7, 2005
The key to defeating the insurgents, Iraqi officials now believe, is to find ways to separate and eliminate the most radical groups, like Zarqawi's, from those others that may be willing to make peace. (Similar strategies were tried, and succeeded, in Algeria and Egypt in the 1990s.) Taking out a key bombmaker producing Zarqawi's arsenal is a solid step in the right direction. But to understand how this might work, it's important to look at the very beginnings of the insurrection, in those months when the Bush administration first seriously threatened war against Saddam and started massing its troops, but hadn't yet made its move. As the world pondered the question of whether Saddam would give up the weapons of mass destruction that, in fact, he no longer had, he was preparing another kind of surprise for the Americans.

A Newsweek investigation shows that long before U.S. and other Coalition troops blasted across the border into Iraq on March 20, 2003, Saddam had put aside hundreds of millions of dollars (some sources claim billions) and enormous weapons caches to support a guerrilla war. Since the aftermath of his defeat in the 1991 gulf war, Saddam had started preparing secret cells of younger officers from his military and intelligence services, according to Ali Ballout, a Lebanese journalist who had close ties to the former dictator. They were meant, at first, to help him defend against a coup. "He was very good at that," says Ballout, who often acted as an intermediary between Saddam and foreign leaders. Later, some of these officers would provide core leadership in the resistance.

Bank heists fuelling Iraq's terror
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, February 5, 2005
He chuckles. As an insurgency heavy, still determined to fight the US in Baghdad, Abdul recalls the chaotic looting when Saddam Hussein fell - especially when his gang made off from the vaults of the Rasheed Bank in a 40-seater Kia bus bulging with boxes of tightly packed US banknotes.

They were ferocious days. Crowds were protesting outside the banks, demanding their deposits; hardened criminals were inside, blasting open the vaults; and bewildered American soldiers looked on, not knowing what to do. Abdul (a pseudonym to preserve his anonymity) is uncertain of how much money there was - but he's sure it was hundreds of millions.

During our meeting at a Baghdad hotel, he pauses to sip a soft drink before he reveals the unholy alliance in which the city's most notorious criminal now channels the Baghdad banks' stolen millions to the insurgency that has reduced Iraq to chaos.

3 French extremists in U.S. custody in Iraq
By Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2005
U.S. troops in Iraq have detained three French militants and police here rounded up 10 of their comrades from a group that sent raw youths from Europe to take part in the conflict with America, officials said Friday.

The first confirmed capture of European Islamist fighters turns attention on the increasing movement of militants from countries such as Italy, Germany, France and Belgium to Iraq, European officials say. Several of the recruits reportedly have died in Iraq, but investigators were unaware Friday of any being held by U.S. forces other than the three Frenchmen.

The makeup of the group illustrates the evolving profile and speedy radicalization of Iraq-bound extremists, authorities said.

"This is a new and spontaneous generation," said an official in the French Interior Ministry. Unlike previous militants, they had never been to Afghanistan or Bosnia, considered traditional training grounds for Muslim extremists.

Villagers take up arms against militants
Agence France Presse (via IOL), February 3, 2005
Inhabitants of an Iraqi village killed five insurgents who attacked them for taking part in the country's historic election, police said on Thursday.

The insurgents launched the raid after earlier warning the inhabitants of Al-Mudhiryah, south of Baghdad, against taking part in Sunday's vote, said a police captain who requested anonymity.

Another eight insurgents and three villagers from the same tribe were wounded in the clashes late on Wednesday, said the police official.

Eight cars belonging to the attackers were set ablaze.

The village, which is near Mahmudiyah in Babel province, is made up of Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.

"We call on the government to intervene to stop the Salafists who have been threatening our country," tribal leader Sheikh Abu Mohammed said, referring to Sunni hardliners.

60 hours of terror
By Ellen McCarthy, Washington Post, February 4, 2005
They came for Hamin Dizayee in the dim light of a Baghdad dawn, brandishing their pistols and AK-47s. They said they had a warrant for his arrest. And as they forced him into the back of a police car, blindfolded and handcuffed, he was certain it was just a mistake.

After all, he was an Iraqi and an electrical engineer. His construction company had recently won a subcontract with a U.S. company to help rebuild the Ministry of Defense. And, after five years living in Northern Virginia, he had good relations with the U.S. military, which had trained the Baghdad police. They would straighten it all out at the police station. Dizayee stayed calm.

At least that is how he recounts it now, from the comfort of an Arlington apartment where he has been recuperating from back surgery. He plans to return to Iraq this weekend.

But when the police car stopped after a 15-minute drive and he was moved into an unmarked car, he realized something was very wrong. These men, despite their uniforms, were not the police. He was in the hands of kidnappers.

Dizayee's terrifying ordeal, the 60 hours of negotiations to free him and the ransom paid by his company have, improbably, made him even more determined to resume his work in Iraq, where kidnapping has become a major, if unacknowledged, obstacle to reconstruction.

Handicapped boy who was made into a bomb
By Paul McGeough, Sydney Morning Herald, February 2, 2005
Amar Ahmed Mohammed was 19 years old. But the fact that he had the mind of a four-year-old did not stop the insurgency's hard men as they strapped explosives to his chest and guided him to a voting centre in suburban Al-Askan.

Before dawn yesterday in Baghdad, his parents strapped his broken remains to the roof of a taxi to lead a sorrowful procession to the holy city of Najaf. There, they gave him a ceremonial wash and shrouded him in white cotton before burying him in the shadow of the shrine of Imam Ali, the sainted founder of their Shiite creed.

Unlike the hundreds of others in the region who knowingly volunteered for an explosive death, Amar died because he did not know. He had Down syndrome.


The Shiite earthquake
By Juan Cole, Salon, February 1, 2005
The elections held on Jan. 30 in Iraq were deeply flawed as a democratic process, but they represent a political earthquake in Iraq and in the Middle East. The old Shiite seminary city of Najaf, south of Baghdad, appears poised to emerge as Iraq's second capital. For the first time in the Arab Middle East, a Shiite majority has come to power. A Shiite-dominated Parliament in Iraq challenges the implicit Sunni biases of Arab nationalism as it was formulated in Cairo and Algiers. And it will force Iraqis to deal straightforwardly with the multicultural character of their national society, something the pan-Arab Baath Party either papered over or actively attempted to erase. The road ahead is extremely dangerous: Overreaching or miscalculation by any of the involved parties could lead to a crisis, even to civil war. And America's role in the new Iraq is uncertain.

Making sense of Iraq's vote
By Tony Karon,, January 31, 2005
... even as President Bush claimed vindication for his Iraq strategy in the spectacle of millions of Iraqis braving terror and intimidation to go to the polls, the real author of Sunday's election -- Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani -- confined himself to a simply thanking voters for turning out, and expressing regret that his own Iranian birth prevented him from joining them. It may be easily forgotten in the post-election spin that Sunday's vote was not the Bush administration's idea -- quite the contrary. The U.S. had never intended for Iraqis to democratically choose the body that would write their new constitution; Washington had envisaged an election only after a constitution had been written by a body appointed by, and under the tutelage of the U.S.

Initially, the plan had been to hand power to returning exiles after toppling Saddam Hussein. When the exiles proved too unpopular, the U.S. then sought to have its handpicked Iraqi Governing Council write the new constitution. Even after the IGC proved incapable, the Bush administration consistently rejected Sistani's demand for democratic elections. Instead, U.S. administrator J. Paul Bremer proposed, that a constitution-making body be appointed by a series of caucuses comprising handpicked elites around the country. Sistani was having none of it. He insisted on democratic elections, used his influence among Shiites on the Governing Council to block Bremer's scheme, and then brought his supporters onto the streets to warn that anything short of democracy would be deemed illegitimate by the Shiite majority.

And it was this pressure from the Iranian-born Ayatollah -- certainly an unlikely Tom Paine figure -- that forced the administration to scrap its own plans for Iraq and agree to hold elections by the end of January 2005.

Top Shi'ite clerics begin to press for an Islamic constitution
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, February 2, 2005
Top Shi'ite clerics, emboldened by what they perceive as a massive turnout by their followers for the coalition of Shi'ite religious parties, have already directed their attention to advocating for an Islamic constitution, several of them said in the aftermath of Sunday's election.

The turnout for the top-finishing electoral slate, a coalition of Islamist parties supported by the Shi'ite clerical establishment, has convinced leading clerics in Najaf that religious parties will have a majority in the Transitional National Assembly that will write Iraq's next constitution.

The clerics of Najaf who orchestrated the Shi'ite political party coalition say they expect a constitutional debate between hard-core Islamists, who want Koranic law to be the constitution's primary source, and moderate Islamists, who want a milder form of religious law. This debate, they say, will dwarf any challenge from secular parties.

US officials are counting on Islamists who oppose a direct role for clerics in government to prevail; otherwise, they fear, Iraq's Shi'ite majority could push the country in the direction of neighboring theocratic Iran. The officials say Iraq's Shi'ite clergy has supported democratic principles, including elections, and shown political restraint since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime.

Interviews with clerics representing the leading schools of thought in Najaf reveal a major debate between the moderate and extreme Islamists, and a growing belief that clerics will shape the constitutional debate far more than secular politicians.

No exit
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 2, 2005
Much can be challenged and attacked in tonight's address, but one charge leveled by the president's critics -- that he hasn't laid out a strategy for our continued presence in Iraq -- was firmly laid to rest. Those who thought President Bush might use Iraq's election as the occasion to withdraw U.S. troops had their illusions dashed tonight. "We will not set an artificial timetable for leaving Iraq," he said. "We are in Iraq to achieve a result -- a country that is democratic, representative of all its people, at peace with its neighbors and able to defend itself." Only when those results are achieved, he added to stormy, bipartisan applause, will our troops come home.

Some might dispute this strategy or these preconditions for withdrawal, but if they do, let them devise their own plans and start a substantive debate. Why do I doubt this will happen?

Still, that is quite a list of preconditions, and, by the most optimistic of appraisals, it suggests we're staying in Iraq for many years. Take just those two last criteria of success -- that Iraq must be "at peace with its neighbors and able to defend itself." This requires not just a trained police force but also a well-equipped army. Iraq has few if any tanks or fighter planes, and few surviving soldiers or pilots who could operate them. Nor is the U.S. military training effort (which the president acknowledged is just beginning to get serious) geared toward defending borders or repelling an invasion.

Koranic duels ease terror
By James Brandon, Christian Science Monitor, February 4, 2005
When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen's Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.

Nervous as he faced five captured, yet defiant, Al Qaeda members in a Sanaa prison, Judge Hitar was inclined to agree. But banishing his doubts, the youthful cleric threw down the gauntlet, in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."

The prisoners eagerly agreed.

Now, two years later, not only have those prisoners been released, but a relative peace reigns in Yemen. And the same Western experts who doubted this experiment are courting Hitar, eager to hear how his "theological dialogues" with captured Islamic militants have helped pacify this wild and mountainous country, previously seen by the US as a failed state, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Zarqawi and the D-word
By Fawaz A. Gerges, Washington Post, January 30, 2005
If President Bush wanted to conjure up someone from central casting to act as a foil to his inauguration call for worldwide freedom, he couldn't ask for a villain more fitting than the terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, who, on the eve of Iraqi elections, denounced democracy as an "evil principle."

In a widely disseminated Internet audiotape, Zarqawi didn't merely say that he opposed the mechanics or timing of the U.S.-run elections being held today in Iraq to choose a 275-member assembly and transitional government. And he didn't say he thought Iraqis should wait and vote after U.S. occupation forces depart. No, Zarqawi said that he opposes any elections under any circumstances.

In doing so, he sets up a clash with more at stake than the outcome of today's voting. In the audiotape, which surfaced last Sunday, Zarqawi, the most feared and wanted militant in Iraq, declared a "fierce war" against all those "apostates" who take part in the elections. He called candidates running in the elections "demi-idols" and the people who plan to vote for them "infidels." And he railed against democracy because he said it supplants the rule of God with that of a popular majority. This wicked system, he said disapprovingly, is based on "freedom of religion and belief" and "freedom of speech" and on "separation of religion and politics." Democracy, he added, is "heresy itself."

The questions Zarqawi raises go way beyond the elections in Iraq to the whole issue of modernization of the Arab world. Is democracy un-Islamic? Is there a fundamental clash between the principles of representative government and the principles of Islam?

Who's dying in our war?
By Rone Tempest, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2005
Some months after the Americans took over the sprawling Balad Air Base, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, someone posted an enigmatic sign on the main gate asking: "Is Today the Day?" Soldiers at the base, which the U.S. military renamed Logistics Support Area Anaconda, or Camp Anaconda, take turns speculating about what the sign means. In the tense months leading up to today's planned national elections in Iraq, the population at the base has swollen to more than 22,000 soldiers and civilian contractors. Some Camp Anaconda residents -- installed in relative comfort inside the 15-square-mile compound that now features four dining halls, two swimming pools, a first-run movie theater and a Burger King franchise -- have concluded that the sign is a military safety message: "Stay Alert!"

For the 90 California National Guard soldiers who make up Alpha Company, a Petaluma-based arm of the 579th Engineer Battalion of Santa Rosa, and regularly venture outside the base to patrol the treacherous canal-veined perimeter, the sign carries a more ominous meaning. The soldiers are part of one of the most star-crossed National Guard units in Iraq. Since arriving at Anaconda last March, one out of five in Alpha Company has been killed or wounded. Three of the nine California National Guardsmen killed in Iraq by the end of 2004 were from Alpha Company.

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