The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Attacks continue on Shiite holy day
By Maggie Michael, Associated Press (via WP), February 19, 2005

Eight suicide bombers struck in quick succession Saturday in a wave of attacks that killed 55 people as Iraqi Shiites marched and lashed themselves with chains in ritual mourning of the death of the founder of their Muslim sect 14 centuries ago. Ninety-one people have been killed in violence in the past two days.

For the second year running, insurgent attacks shattered the commemoration of Ashoura, the holiest day of the Shiite religious calendar, but the violence produced a significantly smaller death toll than the 181 killed in twin bombings in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala a year ago.

With majority Shiites poised to take control of the country for the first time in modern Iraqi history, the interim government and Shiite politicians vowed the bloodshed would not cause the nation to spiral into civil war. [complete article]

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Soldiers sometimes rough despite risk of antagonizing friendly Iraqis
By Ken Dilanian, Knight Ridder, February 18, 2005

American soldiers barged into the house at midnight. A bomb had exploded on the highway out front earlier that day, killing an Iraqi national guardsman.

"I want some answers," Sgt. 1st Class Glenn Aldrich demanded through an interpreter as he shoved the homeowner out his front door. The man's wife and children watched, sobbing, from a side room.

Hadn't this guy seen something? The Iraqi swore to God he hadn't.

As two soldiers with rifles stood by, Aldrich yelled into the man's face and whacked the ground with a metal baton that the Americans called a "haji-be-good stick."

"If I'm out here, and I get shot at, I'm shooting every house near me!" Aldrich, 35, yelled in his booming former drill sergeant's voice. "Because you aren't helping me catch the bad guys, and if you're not helping me, you are the bad guy." [complete article]

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PBS under fire for editing Iraq war documentary
By Scott Collins, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2005

PBS, the public broadcaster caught in the middle of the nation's culture wars, is entangled in another programming controversy.

The producers of a "Frontline" documentary about U.S. combat troops in Iraq on Thursday criticized a PBS decision to send member stations an edited satellite feed of the program that cut out profanity used by soldiers.

Boston station WGBH, which produced "A Company of Soldiers," a 90-minute "Frontline" documentary set to air Tuesday on many of PBS' 349 affiliates, argued in a statement that PBS overreacted out of concern about Federal Communications Commission indecency rules. [complete article]

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The final proof: global warming is a man-made disaster
By Steve Connor, The Independent, February 19, 2005

Scientists have found the first unequivocal link between man-made greenhouse gases and a dramatic heating of the Earth's oceans. The researchers - many funded by the US government - have seen what they describe as a "stunning" correlation between a rise in ocean temperature over the past 40 years and pollution of the atmosphere.

The study destroys a central argument of global warming sceptics within the Bush administration - that climate change could be a natural phenomenon. It should convince George Bush to drop his objections to the Kyoto treaty on climate change, the scientists say.

Tim Barnett, a marine physicist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego and a leading member of the team, said: "We've got a serious problem. The debate is no longer: 'Is there a global warming signal?' The debate now is what are we going to do about it?" [complete article]

Comment -- "Crime against humanity" is an expression charged with the greatest possible moral outrage, yet it is also a figure of speech. But will not those political and business leaders who, in spite of solid evidence, still continue to ignore the threat that global warming now poses, be guilty in the most literal sense of a crime against humanity?

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Why Bush advisers fight the evidence on climate change
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, February 19, 2005

For the Bush administration, global warming and climate change have so far been the great unmentionables, topics that interfered with the march towards the promised land of the perfect free market.

Many say that the discovery by scientists that there is an unequivocal link between man-made greenhouse gases and a dramatic heating of the Earth's oceans, as reported to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is unlikely to change that. "There's a denial of the science by the upper levels [of the administration]," a spokesman for the Sierra Club said.

For "upper levels" read the President and vice-president. Their links with energy companies are well known and oil, coal and other natural resources companies have been prime contributors to campaign coffers. [complete article]

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Lebanese opposition demands 'intifada for independence'
By Nada Raad, Daily Star, February 19, 2005

Lebanon's political opposition has called for an "intifada for independence" as it stepped up it attacks on the government.

In a significant escalation of its feud with the government in the wake of the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri, the opposition added that all parliamentary business is on hold until Hariri's murderers are identified.

Speaking from Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt's residence in Clemenceau Qornet Shehwan Gathering member Samir Franjieh said: "In response to the criminal and terrorist policy of the Lebanese and Syrian authorities, the opposition declares a democratic and peaceful intifada [uprising] for independence."

He added: "We demand the departure of the illegitimate regime." [complete article]

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Lebanese argue assassination theories that point toward Syria or away from it
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, February 18, 2005

The pro-Syrian Lebanese government and a growing opposition movement locked in a battle on Thursday over the source of the blast that killed the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and 15 others on Monday. Many here expect that the outcome will largely determine Lebanon's future relations with Syria.

On Thursday, Lebanon's interior minister, Suleiman Franjieh, maintained that the explosion was most likely the work of a suicide car bomber. But the opposition points to evidence suggesting that the bomb was more likely to have been buried and set off remotely.

Defining the cause is critical to trying to determine what role, if any, Syria played in the assassination. If the assassination was carried out by the simple means of a suicide bomber, the government's logic goes, the involvement of Al Qaeda would be indicated, tending to exonerate Syria. But if it was a result of a remote-controlled bomb, opposition figures say, the involvement of sophisticated agents, probably tied to Syria, would be likely. [complete article]

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Hizbullah rejects U.S. call to disarm
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, February 18, 2005

Hizbullah, the Lebanon-based militia organisation, rejected US demands to disarm yesterday, one of the main causes of tension between Washington and Iran and Syria.

In a defiant response to US pressure, Hussein Nablousi, a spokesman for Hizbullah, said: "We are a sword that prevents Israel attacking Lebanon.Without Hizbullah, you would see the Israelis back in downtown Beirut."

Hizbullah, a Shia Muslim organisation that is one of the most disciplined and feared fighting forces in the Middle East, receives support from Iran and Syria. [complete article]

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Bashar Assad: The Syrian sphinx
By Charles Glass, The Independent, February 18, 2005

When Syria's young president, Bashar Assad, contemplates the forces ranged against him, he may recall that his father faced greater odds and won.

Bashar was only 16 in 1982, when an uprising by Islamic fundamentalists and an Israeli invasion of Lebanon threatened the survival of the regime. The Muslim Brotherhood seized control of the northern city of Hama that spring. A few months later, Israel decimated Assad's army in Lebanon and destroyed his air force. Moreover, Israel appointed its client, Bashir Gemayel, as Lebanon's president to undertake further actions against Syria. Assad's health nearly gave out. A year later, while he languished in hospital with a weak heart, his younger and pugnacious brother Rifaat put his own troops onto the streets of Damascus to stake a claim to the crown. Hafez Assad, whose enigmatic style led his biographer Patrick Seale to dub him the "sphinx of Damascus", did the only thing a survivor could do: he waited. [complete article]

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At least 31 killed in attacks at Shiite mosques
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, February 18, 2005

A series of suicide bombings killed at least 31 people and wounded dozens more in attacks against Shiite Muslims and Iraqi troops at Baghdad mosques Friday as sectarian tensions in the capital boiled on the eve of the holiest of Shiite holidays.

The deadliest blast occurred at a small neighborhood mosque in southern Baghdad, just minutes before prayers were to begin. A man with a shopping bag walked toward the entrance, looking apprehensive, and was spotted by a security guard. Seeing it was too late to get him away from the mosque, the guard tackled the bomber just before a boom and a flash of light erupted, according to witnesses. [complete article]

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Democratic Iraq may raise new challenges for the U.S.
By Tony Karon,, February 17, 2005

As the dust settles on post-Saddam's Iraq's first democratic election, the big winners are the Shiite Islamist parties rather than the U.S.-backed interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. Indeed, Allawi, whose list gathered just 14 percent of the national vote, appears to have conceded that he's unlikely to keep his job, accepting that Iraq's first democratically elected government will be "Islamic." Instead, Allawi is assuming the role of an opposition figure, warning the Shiite victors against drawing too close to Iran or making religion the basis of government. Still, the likely outcome of the political horse-trading currently under way to apportion power on the basis of election results is likely to be an Iraqi government that is far closer to Iran than what the Bush administration would have preferred. [complete article]

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Tehran calls for launch of regional Islamic alliance
Daily Star, February 18, 2005

Iran on Thursday urged regional countries to create a powerful alliance and remain vigilant in the face of "U.S. and Israeli plots," a call coming a day after Syria and Iran declared they would form a united front in the face of any threats. U.S. President George W. Bush in turn said he would use diplomacy to convince Iran that it would be unacceptable for it to develop nuclear weapons, and vowed to support Israel if its security is threatened by Tehran.

The United States has recently escalated its criticism of both Syria and Iran, demanding that Syria withdraw its troops from Lebanon and accusing Tehran of running a covert nuclear weapons program.

On Thursday Bush said Syria is "out of step" with other nations in the Middle East and said the U.S. would work with other countries to pressure Damascus to remove its troops from Lebanon.

Iran's powerful former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, speaking after meeting Syrian Premier Mohammad Naji al-Otari, said strengthening relations between Iran, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other Islamic states in the region was of great importance, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. [complete article]

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Hizbollah leader urges patience and unity amid crisis
By Adnan El-Ghoul and Shawn M. Jackson, Daily Star, February 18, 2005

Hizbullah Secretary General Sayyed Hussein Nasrallah urged the country to be patient on Thursday and allow investigators - including international experts if necessary - to uncover the truth behind the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

"We have to be rational and keep dialogue open to get through this crisis and not fall into a trap of disrupting our unity," Nasrallah said.

He said that Israel would only benefit from further divisions between Lebanon's political parties, and was attempting to take advantage of the current turmoil to target Hizbullah.[complete article]

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Disarray in Syrian ranks leads to crisis
By Joshua.M.Landis, Syria Comment, February 17, 2005

"The decision to extend [Lebanese] President Emile Lahoud's term was taken by the Asad family itself."

So said a smart diplomat when we met yesterday to discuss the crisis. "We know that," he said." Vice President Khaddam and Interior Minister Canaan – Syria's most knowledgeable Lebanon hands who long handled the Lebanon portfolio – recommended against extending Lahoud's term and manipulating the Lebanese constitution as if it were the Syrian constitution. "They were over-ruled by the Asad family itself," the diplomat said. The decision turned out to be a fateful one, for it set Syria on its recent collision course with Lebanon.

Why the young Asad brother and cousins decided they could do without the advice of "the Old Guard" is where conjecture and speculation begin. [complete article]

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Hariri conveyed no fear on the eve of his assassination
By Rosana Bou Monsef, Daily Star, February 16, 2005

My last meeting with former Premier Rafik Hariri in his residence in Koraytem, some 24 hours before his assassination, was "off the record" - as he repeatedly insisted during our meeting before noon on Sunday, Feb. 13.

The businessman felt more comfortable to talk freely away from media pressure, revealing data and information on many issues and about many people, which he did not wish to be broadcast out of context since he wished to relay these messages by himself and to avoid those lurking to nail him politically.

The assassination, however, which took his life and affected the Lebanese who have not experienced such a shock since the days of civil war, allows one to break this moral media commitment, at least partially, regarding the issues that Hariri wanted to highlight in his indirect messages.

The paradox lies in the fact that Hariri, on the eve of his death, did not fear assassination.

When asked, for instance, why he did not demonstrate his opposition to the extension of President Emile Lahoud's mandate last September like other members of the opposition did, such as Chouf MP Walid Jumblatt and the Christian opposition, he denied the reason was fear from an attempt against his life or against all that he stood for. [complete article]

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Hariri's brutal killing sparks backlash
By Nayla Assaf, Daily Star, February 18, 2005

Beyond losing one of its most charismatic and vibrant statesmen in former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Lebanon has lost its most respected statesman top speaker to the outside world, analysts say.

They agreed, however, that his brutal killing may have had a backlash.

Ziad Majed, a political analyst and the vice president of the opposition Democratic Leftist Movement said: "Hariri was perhaps the only politician capable of placing Lebanon on the international agenda. In every way, he was larger than Lebanon and by hitting him his assassins have hit Lebanon where it hurts most."

Hariri, a billionaire and one of the fathers of the 1989 Taif Accord which ended the civil war here, enjoyed strong connections with world leaders, international lobby groups and prominent business circles.

And although many criticize his financial policies and question the integrity of the team that he appointed to reconstruct the country in the 1990s, there is a general consensus among the Lebanese that when it comes to speaking to world leaders or bringing foreign investors to Lebanon, Hariri was the man. [complete article]

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Who stands to gain from Hariri's death?
By Michael Jansen, Jordan Times, February 17, 2005

Who, then, is the main beneficiary of Hariri's assassination? The Bush administration. Washington has meddled in Lebanese affairs for more than half a century. It has even used a car bomb on at least one occasion: in the mid-1980s, the US Central Intelligence Agency tried and failed to kill Sheikh Hussein Fadlallah, Hizbollah's spiritual mentor, with a massive device.

As soon as Hariri's death was announced, Washington began to take political advantage of the event to step up pressure on Syria to leave Lebanon, end its support for Palestinian militants, and deal with Iraqi resistance elements attempting to cross its border into Iraq.

The quick withdrawal "for consultations" of the US ambassador in Damascus and threats to go beyond the current limited sanctions regime show that the administration is prepared to take serious action against Syria. By just issuing such threats, the US has secured for itself heightened political leverage in the Levant.

George Bush and his neoconservative officials have had a scenario in mind for Syria-Lebanon ever since they took office in 2001 . By forcing Syria to withdraw its troops and political influence from the country, the administration, like Israel in 1982, could hope to install its own men as president and prime minister. Bush could take credit for "liberating" Lebanon and bringing democracy to that country. If the Bush administration is successful in this enterprise, it would have achieved a second regime change in its favour in the Arab world -- after that in Iraq -- and could be encouraged to shift to another target. [complete article]

Comment -- Here's what's wrong with this popular line of reasoning: it presupposes that the agents anticipated the outcome. Outcomes often look inevitable after the fact, but just apply the same line of reasoning -- whoever benefits must have made it happen -- and you'd have to conclude that Iran was behind the war in Iraq.

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Bush demands Syrian pullout as investigation begins
By Mayssam Zaaroura and Nada Raad, Daily Star, February 18, 2005

U.S. President George W. Bush delivered a stark warning to Syria telling it to withdraw its troops from Lebanon as pressure intensifies on Damascus and the Lebanese government in the wake of Monday's assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

His warning came hard on the heels of comments from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who said that while the U.S. favors diplomacy to resolve its differences with Syria, the use of military force has not been ruled out.

The international hardening of attitudes toward Syria came at the same time as the Hariri family demanded an international commission to investigate his murder, intensifying its estrangement from the Lebanese government.

Speaking during a news conference on Thursday, Bush insisted Syria "is out of step with other countries in the Middle East," adding Washington would be "working with Europe to convince Damascus to make rational decisions." [complete article]

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'America would back Israel attack on Iran'
By Francis Harris, The Telegraph, February 18, 2005

President George W Bush added a new twist to the international tension over Iran's nuclear programme last night by pledging to support Israel if it tries to destroy the Islamic regime's capacity to make an atomic bomb.

Asked whether he would back Israel if it raided Teheran's nuclear facilities, Mr Bush first expressed cautious solidarity with European efforts, led by Britain, France and Germany, to negotiate with Iran.

But he quickly qualified himself, adding that all nations should be concerned about whether Iran could make nuclear weapons.

"Clearly, if I was the leader of Israel and I'd listened to some of the statements by the Iranian ayatollahs that regarded the security of my country, I'd be concerned about Iran having a nuclear weapon as well. And in that Israel is our ally, and in that we've made a very strong commitment to support Israel, we will support Israel if her security is threatened." [complete article]

Comment -- Call me a stickler for accuracy, but saying "we will support Israel if her security is threatened" is not the same as "America would back Israel attack on Iran." Bush Sr. pledged to support Israel in the Gulf War and did so to make sure they would stay out of the conflict.

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Our friends, the torturers
By Bob Herbert, New York Times, February 18, 2005

The United States has long purported to be outraged over Syria's bad behavior, the latest flash point being the possible Syrian involvement in the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri.

From the U.S. perspective, Syria is led by a gangster regime that has, among other things, sponsored terrorism, aided the insurgency in Iraq and engaged in torture. So here's the question. If Syria is such a bad actor - and it is - why would the Bush administration seize a Canadian citizen at Kennedy Airport in New York, put him on an executive jet, fly him in shackles to the Middle East and then hand him over to the Syrians, who promptly tortured him?

The administration is trying to have it both ways in its so-called war on terror. It claims to be fighting for freedom, democracy and the rule of law, and it condemns barbaric behavior whenever it is committed by someone else. At the same time, it is engaged in its own barbaric behavior, while going out of its way to keep that behavior concealed from the American public and the world at large. [complete article]

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Iraqi died while hung from wrists
By Seth Hettena, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 17, 2005

An Iraqi whose corpse was photographed with grinning U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib died under CIA interrogation while in a position condemned by human rights groups as torture -- suspended by his wrists, with his hands cuffed behind his back, according to reports reviewed by The Associated Press.

The death of the prisoner, Manadel al-Jamadi, became known last year when the Abu Ghraib prison scandal broke. The U.S. military said back then that the death had been ruled a homicide. But the exact circumstances under which the man died were not disclosed at the time.

The prisoner died in a position known as "Palestinian hanging," the documents reviewed by The AP show. It is unclear whether that position was approved by the Bush administration for use in CIA interrogations.

The spy agency, which faces congressional scrutiny over its detention and interrogation of terror suspects at the Baghdad prison and elsewhere, declined to comment for this story, as did the Justice Department.

Al-Jamadi was one of the CIA's "ghost" detainees at Abu Ghraib -- prisoners being held secretly by the agency. [complete article]

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'Nobody is talking'
By James Meek, The Guardian, February 18, 2005

One day in the autumn of 1942 Kim Philby, an officer in Britain's secret intelligence service, received a message from a colleague in MI5. The MI5 man, Helenus Milmo, was in a state of near despair about a Spanish prisoner and suspected spy, Juan Gomez de Lecube, who had been under interrogation since his arrest in the Caribbean that summer.

Despite Spanish protests, Lecube had been transported across the Atlantic and imprisoned, incommunicado, in Britain's interrogation centre for suspected enemy agents at Camp 020, the codename for Latchmere House in Middlesex.

MI5 and MI6 had high hopes for war-shortening information from Lecube. They believed they had verified beyond doubt that he was a spy. They only needed to make him talk. But after a week, Milmo wrote: "No progress has been made ... it looks as though he is going to be an extremely obstinate nut to crack." Soon afterwards, Milmo wrote to Philby, seeking approval to apply special measures to the interrogation of the detainee.

Sixty years later, in the aftermath of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Milmo and Philby's counterparts in US military intelligence and the CIA faced what they believed was a similar dilemma. All over the world, US agents and soldiers were seizing and interrogating hundreds of foreign men whom they suspected held information that would enable new terrorist attacks to be prevented. Like Milmo, they began coming up against stubborn prisoners. Like Milmo, they wrote to those higher up the chain of command seeking permission for special measures to make the prisoners talk.

It has taken more than half a century for Britain's government to put the details of Camp 020 into the public domain. But thanks to a small group of leakers, journalists and freedom of information campaigners, together with the testimony of released detainees, the story of torture and its official endorsement in America's secret overseas prison system - in Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Afghanistan and other locations - is emerging more quickly. [complete article]

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Papers reveal Bagram abuse
By Suzanne Goldenberg and James Meek, The Guardian, February 18, 2005

New evidence has emerged that US forces in Afghanistan engaged in widespread Abu Ghraib-style abuse, taking "trophy photographs" of detainees and carrying out rape and sexual humiliation.

Documents obtained by the Guardian contain evidence that such abuses took place in the main detention centre at Bagram, near the capital Kabul, as well as at a smaller US installation near the southern city of Kandahar.

The documents also indicate that US soldiers covered up abuse in Afghanistan and in Iraq - even after the Abu Ghraib scandal last year. [complete article]

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In Europe, new force for recruiting radicals
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, February 18, 2005

When robbers stole more than $300,000 from an armored car here in 1997, investigators were taken aback by the size and brazenness of the heist. But they really became alarmed when they discovered that one of the culprits had been under surveillance as a suspected Islamic extremist.

That man, Mustapha Darwich Ramadan, was arrested shortly before he planned to flee Copenhagen on a flight to Amman, Jordan, police said. He was convicted of robbery and served 3 1/2 years in prison. After his release in June 2001, Copenhagen police said, he struck again, robbing a money-transfer store of about $15,000. This time, he escaped to either Jordan or Lebanon, police said.

Since then, according to European intelligence officials, Ramadan has surfaced in Iraq as a leader of Ansar al-Islam, a radical group that U.S. officials say has carried out at least 40 suicide bombings and other attacks resulting in more than 1,000 deaths in the war-ravaged country.

Officials say Ansar also operates an extensive underground network that recruits young Muslims across Europe to join the insurgency in Iraq. Intelligence estimates of the numbers sent from Europe by Ansar and other groups vary from 100 to more than 3,000, but there is general agreement that the flow is increasing. [complete article]

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Explosion kills at least 14 Baghdad mosque
By Omar Anwar and Mariam Karouny, Reuters (via WP), February 18, 2005

A suicide bombing killed 14 people at a Shiite mosque in Baghdad on Friday as thousands of Shiites -- Iraq's majority Muslim sect -- commemorated Ashura, the main event in their religious calendar.

A man wearing an explosives-packed belt merged into a crowd near the mosque in the Doura district of southwestern Baghdad around prayer time and blew himself up, survivors told hospital officials and police. At least 22 people were wounded.

Soon afterwards, an explosion shook a second Shi'ite mosque in Baghdad, killing at least one person and wounding four others, the U.S. military and police sources said. The police sources said the blast was caused by a mortar strike. [complete article]

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Shiites and stereotypes
By Robert Kagan, Washington Post, February 18, 2005

Compare liberal and journalistic open-mindedness during the Cold War, when the subject was communism, with the remarkable rigidity from these same quarters today when it comes to a very different group of people: Shiite Muslims. The votes were still being counted in Iraq this month when the New York Times reported in the opening sentence of a front-page article that the likely winners of the Iraqi election were "an alliance of Shiite parties dominated by religious groups with strong links to Iran." The Post went the Times one better 10 days later with this sensational headline: "Iraq Winners Allied With Iran Are the Opposite of U.S. Vision." Columnist Robert Scheer wants to know "why the United States has spent incalculable fortunes in human life, taxpayer money and international goodwill to break Iraq and then remake it in the image of our avowed 'axis of evil' enemy next door." Or as James Carville says more pithily: "We done trade a half-a-trillion dollars for a pro-Iran government!" [complete article]

Comment -- So now that the neocons know that secular democracy is not on the brink of sweeping the Middle East and that their conviction that they could make it so may end up as a great boon to political Islam, Robert Kagan is all in favor of a nuanced approach to understanding the Shiites. Rightly so! But just as important would be a nuanced approach to understanding the regime in Tehran. And if the neocons want to promote a more sophisticated approach to the whole of the Middle East, they could start by looking at the simplistic assumptions that many in their own company still harbor.

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The religious face of Iraq
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, February 18, 2005

The Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the most revered Shiite leader in Iraq, seems through the prism of the Western media to be an elusive character. He has not met with coalition leaders directly, and he doesn't speak to reporters. His views on current affairs are known through statements made by those who surround him, which makes the ayatollah appear a remote, oracular, figure. Although he has avoided jumping directly into the political process, election results announced this week make his Shiite supporters the dominant force in the new government, and Sistani has proved in the past that he can muster tens of thousands of protesters to influence the course of the new Iraq. His impact on U.S. efforts to remake Iraq has been enormous. And yet he remains in many ways an enigma, an unseen hand and a powerful force guiding the country who knows where. [complete article]

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Stability eludes Sunni Arab strongholds
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, February 18, 2005

The Iraqi woman signed a standard U.S. government invoice and a soldier gave her $10. She folded the crisp bill and frowned.

She had just signed over her two-story house for use by the U.S. military, which then placed snipers on the roof, hoping to spot and kill insurgents.

This had the woman worried. "Please, I want to show you a picture of my husband," she pleaded with the soldiers. "He's coming home soon with the kids. He has a white Mitsubishi. Please don't shoot him."

U.S. soldiers are back in this city in central Iraq four months after the U.S. military announced that it had "freed the city of Samarra from the clutches of anti-Iraqi forces." A U.S. offensive in October in this Sunni Arab city was designed to provide stability for nationwide elections, install a new local government and lay the groundwork for $13.5 million in reconstruction.

But insurgents continue to attack U.S. and Iraqi forces with bullets, mortars, land mines, grenades and bombs. Caught between the insurgents and the U.S. military's response are the city's 300,000 residents, most of whom have nothing to do with the fighting, U.S. commanders say. [complete article]

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Iraqi Kurds detail demands for a degree of autonomy
By Edward Wong, New York Times, February 18, 2005

From his snow-covered mountain fortress, Massoud Barzani sees little other than the rugged hills of Iraqi Kurdistan and green-clad militiamen posted along the serpentine road below.

The border with the Arab-dominated rest of Iraq is far off. Baghdad lies even farther off and, if Kurdish leaders like Mr. Barzani have their way, will fade almost entirely out of the picture here.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein, the Kurds have made known their determination to retain a degree of autonomy in the territory they have dominated for more than a decade. Now, after their strong performance in the elections last month, Kurdish leaders are for the first time spelling out specific demands.

From control of oil reserves to the retention of the Kurdish militia, the pesh merga, to full authority over taxation, the requested powers add up to an autonomy that is hard to distinguish from independence. [complete article]

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"They are Arabs and you can't trust them"
By Ferry Biedermann, Salon, February 17, 2005

Shiite soldiers on the roof, Kurdish fighters down below, and no Sunnis to be seen. That was the picture at one polling station on Election Day in the violence-racked northern Iraqi town of Mosul. Now, in the wake of the publication of the election results, the question is whether that picture will prove to be emblematic of Iraq's future. Judging from the mistrustful, strained and often outright poisonous relations between Kurds and Arabs here, the prospects for harmony could be bleak.

The Hay al-Tahrir neighborhood in Mosul is mostly Sunni Arab, but the troops guarding the Jana'ain high school where the polling took place were pulled in from the Shiite south and the Kurdish north. The election officials who oversaw the polls were all from outside the city -- 11 of them Christians and one Yezidi. In fact, almost everything that had to with the elections in Mosul was imported, and hardly any of it was Sunni Arab.

Iraq's election results have led to much hand-wringing about the non-participation of the formerly dominant Sunni minority. For a stable Iraq, goes the received wisdom, Sunnis have to be included in the political process, particularly in the drawing up of the new constitution. But as always, politics are being dictated and overtaken by realities on the ground. And in Mosul -- as well as the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, which is being claimed by the Kurds -- the reality seems to be that the Sunnis are going to be mercilessly squeezed. It's payback time. [complete article]

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The thinking man's spy: Michael Vincent Hayden
By Scott Shane, New York Times, February 18, 2005

Though the White House had to scramble to find a director of national intelligence to corral the nation's scheming, competing intelligence agencies, the choice for deputy director was all but certain weeks ago. As chief of the National Security Agency, the eavesdropping and code-breaking operation that is the largest American spying enterprise, Lt. Gen. Michael V. Hayden has made himself the indispensable man.

In six years at the N.S.A., General Hayden, an Air Force officer, has mastered the technical wizardry of information-age spying, proved skillful in maneuvering for the agency's share of the Pentagon's annual intelligence budget, won powerful allies at the White House and on Capitol Hill, and forged ties with officials throughout the American intelligence archipelago. [complete article]

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Negroponte's dark past
By David Corn, The Nation, February 17, 2005

How many times can I write the same piece about John Negroponte?

Today George W. Bush named him to the new post of Director of National Intelligence. Previously, Bush had hired Negroponte to be UN ambassador and then US ambassador to the new Iraq. On each of those earlier occasions, I noted that Negroponte's past deserved scrutiny. After all, during the Reagan years, when he was ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte was involved in what was arguably an illegal covert quid pro quo connected to the Iran/contra scandal, and he refused to acknowledge significant human rights abuses committed by the pro-US military in Honduras. But each time Negroponte's appointment came before the Senate, he won easy confirmation. Now that he's been tapped to lead the effort to reorganize and reform an intelligence community that screwed up 9/11 and the WMD-in-Iraq assignment, Negroponte will likely sail through the confirmation process once again. [complete article]

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Israel halts decades-old practice of demolishing militants' homes
By Greg Myre, New York Times, February 18, 2005

Israel ordered a halt on Thursday to the policy of demolishing the homes of Palestinian militants, a step welcomed by Palestinian and human rights groups.

The decision by Israel's defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, suspends a practice that Israel has employed on and off for decades despite harsh international criticism of it as collective punishment.

A military statement did not say why the policy was being changed, but the newspaper Haaretz reported on its Web site that Maj. Gen. Udi Shani, who headed a committee reviewing the matter, had challenged the existing military position that demolitions were an effective deterrent. It said he had concluded that the policy had caused Israel more harm than good by generating hatred among the Palestinians.

A military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, offered a slightly different explanation, saying the demolitions were not regarded as necessary during a period of relative calm. [complete article]

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A 'pragmatic' Islamist for Iraq
By Dan Murphy and Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, February 17, 2005

Ibrahim Jaafari, a stern and careful Iraqi doctor whose Islamist activism began in his youth and continued during a 20-year exile, is pulling ahead of his rivals in the race to lead Iraq's first elected government since World War II.

Though there's still room for change, aides to both Mr. Jaafari and members of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the party of his main rival, say they're close to a deal that will deliver him the premiership.

"There's a general acceptance that Jaafari should be our sole candidate," says Adnan Ali al-Khadimi, Jaafari's deputy chief of staff. "That's what we're hearing, but there hasn't been a formal announcement yet."

Jaafari's rise will put a Shiite Islamist in charge of the government for the first time in Iraq's history. It also underscores waning US influence over Iraq's politics. The US would have preferred to see a secular leader emerge, not an Islamist who once lived in Iran. Jaafari's party is also unlikely to support expanded ties with Israel, a goal articulated by the US at the start of the war. [complete article]

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With elections past, many are critical of U.S. presence
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, February 17, 2005

Hamid Mohammed says he is certain of one thing: The Americans will never leave Iraq.

"They have come for their own interests. They will stay," said Mohammed, 36, an unemployed laborer who was passing time on a roadside, hoping someone would stop and offer him work for a day.

As he spoke, a U.S. military convoy of heavy brown Humvees rumbled past, heading toward a nearby base. Atop each vehicle, menacing in a helmet and dark visor, a gunner swept the surroundings with the barrel of a machine gun.

Almost two years after the Americans came here, many Iraqis say they see no sign that they're going to leave. Some shrug and say the U.S. presence is necessary to counter instability in Iraq. Others say that presence is causing the violence and the quickest way to end the insurgency is for the Americans to go home. [complete article]

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The specter of nuclear proliferation
By Graham Allison, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2005

If North Korea has, in fact, assembled an arsenal of six or eight nuclear weapons, so what?

Well, for one thing, North Korea's forced entry into the nuclear club is likely to trigger a "cascade" of nuclear proliferation -- as the U.N. High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change termed it -- in Northeast Asia. To be sure, in the weeks ahead, Japan and South Korea will publicly reaffirm their nonnuclear status, but privately, officials there are almost certainly discussing their options.

My firm prediction is that on the current course, before the end of the decade, we will see a nuclear Japan and a nuclear South Korea. And when Japan creates its own independent nuclear deterrent, China will unquestionably respond in what promises to be a rerun of the U.S.-Soviet arms race.

Moreover, that is not the worst we have to fear from a nuclear North Korea. [complete article]

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Iran sees nuclear fuel deal with Russia
Reuters, February 17, 2005

Russia will sign a deal with Iran next week to start nuclear fuel shipments for the Russian-built reactor there, an Iranian official says.

The United States, which accuses Iran of secretly working to develop nuclear weapons, has long called on Russia to avoid supplying the Islamic state with nuclear fuel.

"A fuel deal for the Bushehr nuclear power plant will be signed on February 26," Assadollah Sabouri, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, told state television on Thursday. [complete article]

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Bush selects ambassador Negroponte as new intelligence czar
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, February 17, 2005

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte, tapped Thursday by President Bush to be the first director of national intelligence, will be taking on one of the most difficult jobs in government as he oversees a sweeping reorganization of the U.S. intelligence community.

Negroponte, 65, if confirmed by the Senate, would run 15 secret bureaucracies - eight of them within the Pentagon - that jealously guard their turfs, cultures and budgets. These agencies don't always communicate with each other, and they've been accused of failing to detect the 2001 attacks. Some produced faulty analyses of Iraq's illegal arms programs. [...]

...Air Force Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden, nominated by Bush as Negroponte's deputy, would make up for Negroponte's lack of intelligence experience.

Hayden is the longest-serving head of the National Security Agency, the super-secret agency that eavesdrops on global communications and is the largest component of the Intelligence Community. [complete article]

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U.S. tensions with Syria escalate
By Robin Wright and Peter Baker, Washington Post, February 17, 2005

After decades of tension with Syria, the Bush administration intensified its search yesterday for punitive actions -- from freezing assets to tightening diplomatic isolation -- to force Damascus to withdraw troops from Lebanon, end support for terrorism and block assistance to the Iraqi insurgency through Syria.

The United States is now using the world furor over the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri to generate momentum against the regime of President Bashar Assad. Before flying to Washington, U.S. Ambassador Margaret Scobey relayed a stern message yesterday to Foreign Minister Farouk Charaa. [complete article]

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Allies resisting as U.S. pushes terror label for Hezbollah
By Steven Weisman, New York Times, February 17, 2005

As rising instability in Lebanon increases tensions in the Middle East, the Bush administration is arguing with European governments over whether they should designate the Lebanon-based Shiite group Hezbollah a terrorist organization, American and European officials say.

The United States is already stepping up pressure on Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's main sponsors. The American rift with Syria deepened this week, with suspicions that Syria might have been behind the assassination of Lebanon's former prime minister in Beirut on Monday.

The disagreement over Hezbollah presents another challenge for President Bush, who will go to Europe on Sunday on a mission to fix ruptures with Europe over the Iraq war.

In the past two weeks, the officials said, France has rebuffed appeals by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the Israeli foreign minister, Silvan Shalom, to list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, which would prevent it from raising money in Europe through charity groups. The United States has long called Hezbollah a terrorist organization, but the French, American and European officials said, have opposed doing so, and argue that making such a designation now would be unwise, given the new turbulence in Lebanon. [complete article]

Comment -- Within a country of only 3.7 million, Hezbollah ("Party of God") enjoys the support of an estimated 100,000 Lebanese and has 50,000 members. While operating a large militia, it is also a major political force in Lebanon and in spite of receiving external support from Iran draws most of its strength from the indigenous Shia population. Though the US is pushing Europe to outlaw the organization, before his assassination, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri was holding weekly meetings with Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah.

In a detailed review of Hezbollah's complex history, Adam Shatz, in the New York Review of Books notes that:
...a growing number of American scholars, notably Augustus Richard Norton of Boston University, Judith Harik of the American University in Beirut, and Sami Hajjar of the US Army War College, argue that the party has undergone a genuine transformation, that it cannot be regarded as a terrorist group comparable to al-Qaeda, and that it would be pragmatic to engage in talks with Hezbollah and test its intentions. Their views are shared both by European diplomats such as Giandome-nico Picco, former assistant secretary-general for political affairs at the United Nations, and by retired American diplomats, such as Richard Murphy at the Council on Foreign Relations, and by some officials in the State Department. Dennis Ross, the Middle East envoy under the first Bush and Clinton administrations, has stated that Hezbollah's resistance to the Israeli occupation, unlike its past activities aimed at Western targets, is not terrorism.
To learn more, see, In search of Hezbollah (NYRB), and Party of God (PBS-Frontline).

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All eyes turn to Syria
By Michael Young, International Herald Tribune, February 17, 2005

If there was any doubt as to who killed the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, it was not evident in the street outside his home on Monday evening, or at his funeral Wednesday. Between lamentations on the wantonness of the crime, mourners issued a more pronounced refrain: "Syria out!"

Whether Syria did kill Hariri or not, it has already started paying the price, with the Bush administration pointing a finger at Damascus. In recent months there have been persistent reports that harm to the former prime minister, among others, constituted American and French "red lines" in the ongoing struggle between Syria and a broad, multisectarian Lebanese opposition front demanding a withdrawal of Syrian forces from Lebanon. This demand, which echoes UN Security Council Resolution 1559 (sponsored by Washington and Paris), has been strenuously resisted not only by Syria, but also by the pro-Damascus Lebanese authorities, particularly President Emile Lahoud.

In recent weeks, the tension between the two sides has escalated. Government officials and Syrian allies have savaged the opposition, accusing it of being in the pocket of the United States and Israel. Two weeks ago, charges of treason were topped off by a public threat from Prime Minister Omar Karami, which, in light of the Hariri murder, proved a wretched choice of words: "We'll show them," he told a gathering. [complete article]

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Killing of Hariri forges a rare unity
By Katrin Bennhold, International Herald Tribune, February 17, 2005

The assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister killed in Beirut on Monday, may reinforce a rare convergence of interests between France and the United States, diplomats and analysts said Wednesday.

Neither Paris nor Washington has publicly blamed Damascus for the attack, but both see in Hariri's death an opportunity to rein in Syria, albeit for different reasons.

Their methods, however, are likely to differ despite their mutual interest in limiting Syria's dominant role in Lebanon. Among other things, France has resisted an American demand that Europe list Hezbollah as a terrorist organization.

The United States has been openly worried about Syria sponsoring terrorist activity in the Middle East, a concern that was reinforced when a car bomb killed Hariri and 15 others Monday.

The French, meanwhile, support the kind of democratic and anti-Syrian currents in Lebanon once represented by Hariri. But the country's interest went beyond the political: Hariri was a close friend of President Jacques Chirac, who went to Beirut on Wednesday to offer condolences to the family of the slain politician. Their friendship symbolized the close historic and cultural ties between the two countries, and, by extension, France's influence in the Middle East. [complete article]

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Grieving Lebanese round on Syria
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, February 16, 2005

Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese turned yesterday's funeral of their former prime minister Rafik Hariri into a huge public demonstration against three decades of Syrian occupation.

During a three-mile procession through the capital, Beirut, mourners chanted "We need Syria out", and "We don't want Bashar [Assad, the Syrian president]".

They called for the resignation of the pro-Syrian government led by Emile Lahoud. The public outburst of hostility towards Syria marks a significant change in this part of the Middle East. Until yesterday the Lebanese harboured such thoughts about their Syrian overlords but mainly kept them private.

One mourner, a businessman, said: "There has never been a demonstration against Syria before. You would have been arrested. No one dared to say anything before." But he preferred to be anonymous. "It would kill me if they [the Syrians] had my name," he said. [complete article]

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Hariri's assassination
Editorial, Financial Times, February 16, 2005

Rafik Hariri was the only Lebanese political figure to articulate a national project to revive the country after the sectarian bloodletting of the 1975-90 civil war. He foresaw Beirut's re-emergence as the financial and services entrepot of the Middle East, in a Lebanon independent but in political step with Syria, which has dominated it since the war.

But while Hariri successfully rebuilt Beirut, he came into frequent conflict with Damascus, which could not countenance the autonomy either of Lebanon or its political class. The assassination of the former prime minister in this week's bombing - believed almost universally to be the work of Syrian intelligence or its local agents - was final confirmation of that. [complete article]

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Iraqi insurgents an emerging threat, Goss says
By David Morgan, Reuters (via WP), February 16, 2005

The United States faces a broad array of global threats, ranging from North Korean and Iranian missiles to a Sept. 11-scale attack by Islamist militants inspired by Osama bin Laden and hardened by their experience in Iraq, top U.S. intelligence officials warned Wednesday

In his first public appearance as U.S. spymaster, CIA Director Porter Goss told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence there was an emerging terrorist threat from experienced fighters now battling U.S.-led forces in Iraq later joining international militants.

"Those jihadists who survive will leave Iraq experienced in and focused on acts of urban terrorism. They represent a potential pool of contacts to build transnational terrorist cells, groups and networks," Goss said.

"The Iraq conflict, while not a cause of extremism, has become a cause for extremists," he said. [complete article]

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Iraq's PM race goes to secret ballot
By Maggie Michael, Associated Press (via Yahoo), February 16, 2005

Top Shiite politicians failed to reach a consensus Wednesday on their nominee for prime minister, shifting the two-man race to a secret ballot and exposing divisions in the winning alliance. In a chilling reminder of challenges facing the winner, a videotape showed a sobbing Italian hostage pleading for her life.

After hours of closed-door meetings, members of the United Iraqi Alliance agreed to hold a secret ballot to choose between Ibrahim al-Jaafari and Ahmad Chalabi, most likely on Friday, said Ali Hashim al-Youshaa, one of the alliance's leaders. [complete article]

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Leading Iraqi prime minister candidate embraces Islamic influence
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, February 16, 2005

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who emerged Wednesday as the favorite to be the next Iraqi prime minister, is almost certain to bring a stronger Islamic influence into the Iraqi government should he win the post.

Exactly how much Islam influences the constitution and the government could determine whether Iraqis are divided along sectarian lines and whether the United States can realize plans for democracy in Iraq.

Al-Jaafari , currently Iraq's interim vice president, says he wants to build a unified Iraq with equal room for religious and secular leaders. But the party he leads has received support from theocratic Iran in the past and has the ultimate goal of creating an Islamic state, according to Jawad Talib, a top al-Jaafari adviser and a friend since childhood. [complete article]

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White House turns tables on former American POWs
By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2005

The latest chapter in the legal history of torture is being written by American pilots who were beaten and abused by Iraqis during the 1991 Persian Gulf War. And it has taken a strange twist.

The Bush administration is fighting the former prisoners of war in court, trying to prevent them from collecting nearly $1 billion from Iraq that a federal judge awarded them as compensation for their torture at the hands of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The rationale: Today's Iraqis are good guys, and they need the money.

The case abounds with ironies. It pits the U.S. government squarely against its own war heroes and the Geneva Convention. [complete article]

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Can Kyoto really save the world?
By Hamish McRae, The Independent, February 16, 2005

After seven years, huge international debate and the freezing out of George Bush's United States from the international community, the Kyoto Protocol is formally ratified today.

The agreement, which seeks to limit the world's carbon emissions, was signed by 84 countries in Japan's former capital city in 1997. It bound the industrialised countries to cut emissions by 5 per cent from their 1990 level by 2012.

The treaty has been hailed as the key step forward in confronting the environmental challenges posed by climate change. But it remains controversial: is it a great leap forward in international co-operation or another example of empty political posturing? Or maybe, just maybe, something of both? [complete article]

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Mocking our dreams
By George Monbiot, The Guardian, February 15, 2005

Tomorrow, after 13 years of negotiation, the Kyoto protocol on climate change comes into force. No one believes that this treaty alone - which commits 30 developed nations to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 4.8% - will solve the problem. It expires in 2012 and, thanks to US sabotage, there has so far been no progress towards a replacement. It paroles the worst offenders, the US and Australia, and imposes no limits on the gases produced by developing countries. The cuts it enforces are at least an order of magnitude too small to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations at anything approaching a safe level. But even this feeble agreement is threatened by our complacency about the closing of the climatic corridor down which we walk.

Why is this? Why are we transfixed by terrorism, yet relaxed about the collapse of the conditions that make our lives possible? One reason is surely the disjunction between our expectations and our observations. If climate change is to introduce horror into our lives, we would expect - because throughout our evolutionary history we survived by finding patterns in nature - to see that horror beginning to unfold. It is true that a few thousand people in the rich world have died as a result of floods and heatwaves. But the overwhelming sensation, experienced by all of us, almost every day, is that of being blessed by our pollution. [complete article]

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Russia to sell advanced missiles to Syria
By Maria Golovnina, Reuters, February 16, 2005

Russia said on Wednesday it wanted to supply Syria with advanced missile systems, a move certain to anger the United States which accuses Syria of having links to terrorism.

Russia had long denied reports it wanted to sell missiles to Syria, its Cold War-era ally. The United States and Israel have urged Moscow to drop any such plans, saying Russian arms supplies would only strengthen militants in the Middle East.

"Talks are underway with this country to sell it Strelets air defense short-range missile systems," the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

The statement said Strelets missiles are not man-portable and can only be used when attached to a heavy vehicle -- which officials believe makes them less attractive to militants than the relatively cheap and easy-to-use shoulder-fired missiles. [complete article]

Comment -- Ahead of his meeting with President Bush, is this President Putin's way of saying to America, you can huff and puff about Iran and Syria as much as you like but we're still going to forge our own course?

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Moscow trades in ideology for business in Middle East
By Paul de Zardain, Daily Star, February 16, 2005

Figuring out the Kremlin is often like solving a puzzle. Despite faint attempts at transparency, the only guiding principle lately is that it is a value puzzle: what piece fits where is no longer a personal whim, but the result of a cost-benefit analysis. At least that is the message coming down the power vertical. Russian President Vladimir Putin sees oil and gas as a lever to reclaim political influence in Syria and Iraq. It will also raise Russia's profile as peace broker in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But how far the Kremlin is willing to take business with Iran is still an unknown. [complete article]

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Why Syria feels the heat from a Beirut bombing
By Tony Karon,, February 16, 2005

There is no evidence, thus far, linking any specific suspect to Monday's assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri. But as fears sweep Beirut of a resumption, after a 15-year timeout, of the bloody civil war that began in 1975, Syria and its allies in the Lebanese government are already taking the heat. Lebanese opposition parties have openly accused pro-Syrian politicians in Beirut of complicity in or authorship of the crime, and have warned President Emil Lahoud and other members of his government to stay away from Wednesday's funeral lest their presence provoke violence. The U.S. responded to the killing by demanding Syrian withdrawal from Lebanon, and by summoning home its Damascus ambassador in order to express its "profound outrage" over Hariri's death. The Bush administration has stopped short of directly accusing Syria of complicity, although it has not hidden the obvious implications of its actions -- and has warned that it holds Syria responsible because of its domination of Lebanon. [complete article]

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Angry citizens storm Lebanon's streets
By Mohammed Zaatari, Daily Star, February 16, 2005

Demonstrators took to the streets across Lebanon to protest against the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.

The strongest condemnation of the killing came from Hariri's hometown of Sidon, where angry demonstrators blocked roads with barricades of burning tires sending billows of black smoke rising into the air.

Demonstrators chanted slogans against Syria and the pro-Damascus Lebanese government, including: "Bashar Assad, what do you want from us? Take your soldiers and leave," and "We will not fear speaking out. We don't want to see [President] Emile Lahoud." [complete article]

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Hand of Damascus seen behind Hariri killing
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, February 16, 2005

Thousands of Lebanesesaw the hand of Damascus behind Monday's assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the popular former prime minister.

"Don't ask me what will happen next, I am a simple man," said a young taxi driver who missed the bomb by five minutes.

"You must ask Syria."

Lebanon's many political killings have rarely been properly explained, but Syria has been suspected of being responsible for a number of high-profile assassinations, including that of Kamal Jumblatt, the Druze leader, in 1977, and of Bashir Gemayel, the Israeli-allied president-elect, in 1982. [complete article]

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IAEA head disputes claims on Iran arms
By Dafna Linzer and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 16, 2005

The head of the U.N. agency responsible for investigating Iran's nuclear program said Tuesday that there had been no discoveries in the last six months to substantiate claims that the Islamic state is secretly working toward building a nuclear bomb.

In a wide-ranging interview with four U.S. newspapers, Mohamed ElBaradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency also described White House policies on Iran and North Korea as inconsistent. Without greater U.S. participation in diplomacy, ElBaradei said, confrontation could increase.

"North Korea and Iran are still the two 800-pound gorillas in the room and not much is happening," he said in his office overlooking Vienna. [complete article]

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Al-Jaafari emerges as top contender for Iraqi premier's job
By Naseer Al-Nahr, Arab News, February 16, 2005

Ibrahim Al-Jaafari, a physician who lived in London and is a leading figure in a Shiite party that fought Saddam Hussein, has emerged as the top contender for the prime minister's job after his main rival dropped out.

Ahmad Chalabi, a former Pentagon favorite, was still in the running, however Al-Jaafari seems all but certain to win the approval of the Shiite political alliance that has provisionally won more than half the seats in the new National Assembly.

Al-Jaafari said that if he is confirmed as prime minister, he would first try to stymie the violence that has crippled the country's recovery from decades of war and hardship.

"The security situation is at the top, as it is a pressing element," Al-Jaafari said. He also said he would not push for the US and its allies to withdraw their troops from Iraq any time soon.

"Blood is being spilled and the land is under attack," he said. "How about if we decided to get these troops out of Iraq?" he said, implying that the situation would be much worse than it is now. [complete article]

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E-mail shows Jordan seeking approval on oil
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, February 16, 2005

A Jordanian oil firm sought approval from a U.S.-led international naval force to import millions of barrels of Iraqi crude through the Persian Gulf in violation of U.N. sanctions in February 2003, according to an internal company e-mail released yesterday by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.).

Whether approval was granted was unclear, but the disclosure provided the first documentary evidence that could support allegations that the United States allowed Jordan to export large quantities of oil from an unauthorized Iraqi terminal to build up its strategic oil reserves in the weeks leading up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. It also signaled that Levin intends to broaden a probe by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which has focused on U.N. mismanagement of the oil-for-food program in Iraq, into U.S. enforcement of sanctions.

A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which oversaw the U.S.-led Maritime Interdiction Force's effort to prevent smuggling in the Persian Gulf, referred calls to the Pentagon. A Pentagon spokeswoman said it was too late in the day to obtain comment. [complete article]

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Bush's latest $81.9 billion request for wars pushes total past $300 billion
By Alan Fram, Associated Press (via Boston Globe), February 14, 2005

The United States' military and reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are approaching half what it cost the country to fight the Vietnam War with more expenses to come.

President Bush asked Congress on Monday for $81.9 billion to keep the conflicts going this year and to finance other U.S. efforts overseas, including aid to help Indian Ocean countries rebuild from last December's tsunami. He said the money would help Iraq and Afghanistan pursue ''the path of democracy and freedom.''

Assuming congressional approval which seems likely the proposal would push the total spent in Iraq and Afghanistan and other efforts against terrorism beyond $300 billion. It stood at about $228 billion before Bush's latest request, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, which writes reports for Congress. [complete article]

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Battlefield in a larger conflict
By David Hirst, The Guardian, February 15, 2005

There is one broad certainty about the highly professional assassination of Rafik Hariri, the billionaire former prime minister who has dominated Lebanese politics since the end of the civil war in 1991. He fell victim to the hapless role this small, politically fragile and religiously divided country is once again playing: the battleground of international conflicts larger than itself. It played that role in the 16-year war; and while few really expect it to be plunged once more into such fratricidal strife, conflict has, with this murderous deed, reached a dangerous new level of intensity. And everyone fears there will be worse to come.

Some key actors in the civil war, such as the Palestinian guerrilla movement for which Lebanon had become the main base, are barely present today. But one of them, Syria, is, as before, at the very heart of Lebanon's quickly deepening crisis. Syria, the main external "victor" of the war and virtual overlord of Lebanon ever since, is pitted against a disparate array of forces, ranging from the US, France and Israel to all those within Lebanon who line up more or less openly in the anti-Syrian camp. As ever these are mainly, but far from exclusively, Christian. The pro-Syrians are mainly Muslim.

It is Syria, with only one real ally left in the world, Iran, that is on the defensive. So are its Lebanese allies, inside and outside the regime. The conflict is an outgrowth of American strategies in the Middle East, from the war on terror to regime change, democratisation and the invasion of Iraq. Syria is not a member of President Bush's "axis of evil", but, with Iran, it is increasingly targeted as a villain. It is regularly charged, for example, with aiding and abetting the insurgency in Iraq, interfering with the Arab-Israel peace process and sponsoring the Hizbullah militia in Lebanon. The Hizbullah are in turn accused by Israel of aiding and abetting Hamas. [complete article]

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Lebanon on edge
By Tom Aspell, NBC News, February 15, 2005

How great are the fears that this attack will revert Lebanon back to the political violence which dominated the country from 1975-1990?
This was the second biggest car bomb here in the last six months. Fifteen years ago when the civil war was at its height, car bombs were an almost-daily occurrence. I think for a lot of older people here, it's reminded them just how dark those days were. There is a great deal of fear here.

I was talking to some young people this morning, and many of them said, "This place is hopeless." Many of them are trying to think of a way to get out, to study abroad or to find jobs outside the country. That's always been Lebanon's problem.

Hariri was the mastermind and the chief financier of the reconstruction of Lebanon. So, it's got the business community worried, too. Now that the man with the money is dead, what will happen to the Lebanese economy? That's certainly got people very worried as well.

Whichever way people look at it here, it signals to a great deal of uncertainty in the future. It's not even sure whether the upcoming election will go ahead on time. People are expecting a great deal of pressure, perhaps from France and the United States, to see what can be done about that.

There are also strong rumors that Syria that will be pressured into cracking down on some of its client militias, such as Hezbollah and some of the Palestinian groups that still function inside Lebanon.

Many people see that might be kind of a cosmetic step for Syria to agree to tighten controls on Hezbollah or on some of the militias it continues to finance and arm. I think people worry that might promote some instability as well. Trying to disarm a group as well organized and well armed as Hezbollah would not be easy and may certainly bring violence back to the capital -- and that's the last thing anybody wants at the moment. [complete article]

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U.S. recalls ambassador to Syria following bombing
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2005

The United States today recalled its ambassador to Syria, a day after the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister whose motorcade was bombed as it traveled through a seaside Beirut neighborhood.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington that Margaret Scobey was being recalled for "urgent consultation."

Following Hariri's assassination on Monday, "Ambassador Scobey delivered a message to the Syrian government expressing our deep concern as well as our profound outrage over this heinous act of terrorism," Boucher said. [complete article]

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Shia victory is blow to U.S. line on Iran's N-arms
By Charles Clover, Financial Times, February 14, 2005

The victory by Shia clerics in Iraq's elections is likely to complicate US efforts to press Iran to dismantle its nuclear programme.

The United Iraqi Alliance is dominated by two political parties formerly based in Iran, and many members of the bloc still have close ties with their Shia neighbour.

One of the parties is Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (Sciri), whose militia, the Badr Brigades, was trained by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Daawa, the other Islamist party to make up the bulk of the Alliance candidate list, was also based mainly in Tehran.

Their success makes it likely that Iraq's future prime minister will be from one of the two groups.

Sciri and Daawa members insist they are not beholden to Iran, but nonetheless feel kinship with the former exile home. One key Alliance politician warned that the US could not count on their support against Iran if Washington or its allies struck Iran's nuclear facilities, something the US has not ruled out. [complete article]

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Persians are known for cunning - so why would they go to war?
By Ali M Ansari, The Telegraph, February 13, 2005

Three years after George W Bush denounced Iran as a member of the "axis of evil", the threat of Iran appears to be looming over the horizon once again. In his State of the Union address, Mr Bush reminded the world that the Islamic Republic was the primary sponsor of state terrorism, and, while he acknowledged the Iranian people's desire for "freedom", he let it be known that Iran would not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons technology.

Raising the temperature against the "Persian menace" is nothing new, and we are periodically subjected to rhetorical flourishes, particularly when allies wish to reaffirm their loyalty to one another. Thus, as Condoleezza Rice engineered US bridge-building with "old Europe" (and the EU in general), a natural consequence of this process of healing was for everyone to heartily join in a condemnation of Iran. Expect similar historical revisionism to raise its ugly head if the Middle East peace process discovers a new momentum. All of a sudden, Arabs and Israelis will rejoice in their common roots and redirect their mutual ire towards the perfidious Persians. [complete article]

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EU-U.S. trainwreck over Iran?
By Arnaud de Borchgrave, UPI (via Washington Times), February 14, 2005

The United States holds the only sticks and carrots that might conceivably make a difference. Sticks, short of military action, would be a U.N. Security Council censure of Iran and economic sanctions. Iran can circumvent any sanction regime by buying whatever it needs across the Gulf, in Dubai or Oman, an emirate and a country that enjoy close relations with Iran. EU3 countries would continue trading - via Dubai.

The carrots -- which range from $6 billion in frozen Iranian assets in the United States to the non-aggression pact Iran might buy in return for relinquishing its uranium enrichment to weapons-grade quality -- can be negotiated only in direct talks with the United States. Several U.S. administrations, beginning in 1953 with a CIA-engineered coup to oust Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and bring Shah Reza Pahlavi back from a brief exile in Rome, to the U.S. betrayal of the shah in 1978, interfered directly in the country's internal affairs.

The United States is willing to talk to North Korea in six-power talks, but not in four-power talks or face-to-face with Iran, where mullahs are models of mental health compared to the Stalinist monarch who tyrannizes his slave subjects in North Korea. Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Iran's president from 1989 to 1997, told USA TODAY's Barbara Slavin last week that "al-Qaida terrorists are our enemies, too." [complete article]

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Top Iraq rebels elude intensified U.S. raids
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, February 15, 2005

Intensified military raids in Iraq over the past few months have significantly battered the ranks of mid-level insurgents but have scored few gains against the 30 or so most wanted rebels, according to senior U.S. military officers here.

As much as a third of this group is thought to move in and out of Iraq with some frequency, the officers said. Many have eluded U.S. and Iraqi forces by a combination of moving constantly, avoiding use of telephones and receiving protection from family or tribal connections.

"Are we having success rolling up some of the top-tier leaders? Not at this time," said Brig. Gen. John DeFreitas, the highest-ranking Army intelligence officer in Iraq. "But we're successfully working the second- and third-tier leaders to put pressure on the top tier." [complete article]

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U.S. hints at a lesser role as Iraq ponders leaders
By Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, February 15, 2005

US officials and regional specialists said the administration's views had evolved significantly since the months after the March 2003 invasion, when US officials planned for a long-term occupation and handpicked Iraq's governing assembly. At that point, many key US figures were reluctant to embrace any Iraqi government that was dominated by Shi'ites with deep ties to Iran.

"I think there has been a lot of rethinking in the administration that a pro-Iranian outcome is no longer to be feared, but is good enough," said Kenneth Katzman, a senior analyst of Persian Gulf affairs for the Congressional Research Service. "It may not be what they desired or wanted, but if it produces a stable situation, it is good enough."

Katzman said the US government, particularly the Defense Department, was initially concerned about Shi'ite political parties and their closeness to Iran, which the US considers a rogue state bent on producing nuclear weapons. But he said the instability in Iraq had caused them to accept that Iraq's majority Shi'ite population would elect Shi'ite politicians who had lived in exile in Iran during Saddam Hussein's rule and remained close to Iran's theocratic regime. [complete article]

Comment -- The administration might not be as sanguine as Katzman seems to suggest. It may simply recognize that there's little it can do to stop Iraq and Iran being closely aligned.

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Iraq women set to take almost third of seats in new parliament
Agence France Presse (via Yahoo), February 15, 2005

Iraqi women are poised to take almost a third of seats in the new national assembly following the country's first free elections in decades, bringing about a situation unprecedented in Arab politics.

Women are set to take 86 of the 275 seats up for grabs according to results announced Sunday thanks to a quota system which meant that one in four candidates in the historic vote was a woman.

The country's transitional law stipulates that women must make up at least 25 percent of the national assembly, yet Iraqi women have exceeded that figure to win 31 percent of the seats.

Observers say that the winning Shiite list backed by the majority community's spiritual leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani will have 46 women out of its predicted sweep of 140 seats. [complete article]

Comment -- Any chance that the US Congress might learn something from this?

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Sunnis admit poll boycott blunder and ask to share power
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, February 15, 2005

Iraq's Arab Sunnis will do a U-turn and join the political process despite their lack of representation in the newly elected national assembly, Sunni leaders said yesterday.

Many Sunnis protested that the election was flawed and unfair, but in the wake of Sunday's results, which confirmed the marginalisation of what was Iraq's ruling class, their political parties want to lobby for a share of power.

"Our view is that this election was a step towards democracy and ending the occupation," said Ayad al-Samaray, the assistant general secretary of the Iraqi Islamic party. He said unnamed Sunni leaders blundered in depicting the election as a deepening of the occupation. [complete article]

See also, Election results leave Sunnis almost unrepresented, but not at a loss (Knight Ridder).

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Poll success fuels Turkish fears over Kurdish independence
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, February 15, 2005

Kurdish successes in Iraq's elections, notably in the disputed oil centre of Kirkuk, have heightened Turkey's worries about a future Kurdish drive for independence and Iraq's consequent territorial disintegration.

With domestic pressure increasing on Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, ministers have hinted at renewed military intervention. This is causing additional strains in Ankara's relations with the US. Turkish concerns focus on the area around multi-ethnic Kirkuk, where the Brotherhood slate allied to the Kurdish Alliance of Jalal Talabani and Massoud Barzani won 59% of the provincial council vote. The Turkoman Front, representing a minority that Ankara has vowed to protect, took 18%.

Turkey ruled Kirkuk until 1923, and nationalists still regard it as Turkish territory. [complete article]

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Lawmakers told about contract abuse in Iraq
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, February 15, 2005

A government contractor defrauded the Coalition Provisional Authority of tens of millions of dollars in Iraq reconstruction funds and the Bush administration has done little to try to recover the money, an attorney for two whistle-blowers told Democratic lawmakers yesterday.

The lawyer, Alan Grayson, represents two former employees who charged in a federal lawsuit that the security firm Custer Battles LLC of Fairfax was paid approximately $15 million to provide security for civilian flights at Baghdad International Airport, even though no planes flew during the contract term. Grayson said the firm received $100 million in contracts in 2003 and 2004, despite a thin track record and evidence the government was not getting its money's worth.

A former Coalition Provisional Authority official who briefly oversaw the airport security contract also spoke, depicting a temporary governing body awash with cash but lacking in the necessary controls to ensure that money generated from the sale of Iraqi oil actually went to rebuilding the country. [complete article]

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Elliott Abrams: A fallen hawk soars again
By Tom Barry, IPS (via, February 15, 2005

Elliott Abrams, a figure from the Ronald Reagan-era Iran-Contra scandal who describes himself as a "neoconservative and neo-Reaganite," is moving to center stage in U.S. foreign policy as head of President George W. Bush's Global Democracy Strategy.

In his new position, Abrams will oversee the administration's promotion of democracy and human rights while continuing to provide oversight to the National Security Council's directorate of Near East and North African affairs – including involvement in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Although not known as a regional specialist, Abrams has frequently voiced his strong support for Israel's Likud party positions on the Oslo peace process and "land for peace" negotiations. [complete article]

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U.S. seems sure of the hand of Syria, hinting at penalties
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, February 15, 2005

The Bush administration, condemning the assassination of the former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in Lebanon, suggested Monday that Syria was to blame and moved to get a new condemnation of Syria's domination of Lebanon at the United Nations Security Council.

American and European officials also said the administration was studying the possibility of tougher sanctions on Syria, effectively tightening penalties imposed in May, when Washington said the Syrian government had failed to act against militant groups in Israel and against a supply line from Syria to the insurgents in Iraq. [...]

Mr. McClellan and other administration spokesmen said they had no concrete evidence of Syria's involvement in the killing of Mr. Hariri, a prominent opposition leader and critic of Syria's role in Lebanon, who died along with at least 11 others when a car bomb blew up next to his motorcade in Beirut.

And in fact the Syrian foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, speaking at a news conference in Damascus, also condemned the attack.

But the target of the American criticism was unmistakable, as several officials condemned Syria's role in Lebanon as part of their comments on the attack.

"We're going to turn up the heat on Syria, that's for sure," said a senior State Department official. "It's been a pretty steady progression of pressure up to now, but I think it's going to spike in the wake of this event. Even though there's no evidence to link it to Syria, Syria has, by negligence or design, allowed Lebanon to become destabilized." [complete article]

Comment -- The NYT, reversing it's usual practice of finding the most oblique, mealy-mouthed way of constructing a headline, today sees fit to express sureness above, even when little can be found underneath. Who actually spotted "the hand of Syria"?

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A cloud descends over Lebanon's political future
By Hanna Anbar and Michael Glackin, Daily Star, February 15, 2005

The bomb blast that murdered former premier Rafik Hariri along with eight others and ripped though downtown Beirut has cast a giant cloud over Lebanon's immediate political future.

Lebanon has been under the international microscope for most of the last six months. In addition to UN Resolution 1559 calling for Syria to withdraw the 15,000 troops it still has stationed in Lebanon, the country is also facing the prospect of being caught up in U.S. sanctions against Damascus.

Against this backdrop of international disquiet there has also been a fierce internal debate in the run up to parliamentary elections scheduled for this May.

The Lebanese opposition, which has called for an end to Syrian involvement in Lebanon's affairs, was a few days ago fretting the election would be "rigged" to ensure a victory for pro-Syrian factions. Against this background the opposition has been quick to point the finger at Damascus, insisting it, along with the Lebanese government, is responsible for Hariri's murder. [complete article]

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Killing of Hariri renews instability in Lebanon
By Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, February 14, 2005

Lebanon was thrown into renewed instability on Monday after Rafiq Hariri, a former prime minister and architect of the country's reconstruction, was killed in a massive car bomb explosion. Mr Hariri, a billionaire businessman who led Lebanon for most of its post-civil war years, died in hospital after his motorcade was hit by a bomb, leaving several aides and bodyguards also dead. [complete article]

The killing of 'Mr Lebanon'
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, February 15, 2005

The length of the street was slippery with water and blood. I counted 22 cars exploding and burning. The Saudi billionaire who dined with kings and princes - whose personal friendship with Jacques Chirac helped Lebanon ride its $41bn (£21.7bn) public debt - had ended his life in this inferno.

In private, he did not hide his animosity towards the Hizbollah, whose attacks on Israeli occupation troops before their 2000 retreat would set back his plans for Lebanon’s economic recovery. And while he tolerated the Syrians, he had his own plans for their military departure. Was it true, as they said in Beirut, that Hariri was the secret leader of the political opposition to the Syrian presence? Or were his enemies even more sinister people?

Lebanon is built on institutions that enshrine sectarianism as a creed, in which the president must always be a Christian Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim - like Hariri - and the speaker of parliament a Shia Muslim. Anyone setting out to murder Hariri would know how this could re-open all the fissures of the civil war from 1975 to 1990. [complete article]

Hariri killer suspected of al Qaeda connection
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, February 14, 2005

Al-Jazeera satellite television aired a video of a bearded man wearing a white turban and a black robe saying he belonged to Support and Jihad in Syria and Lebanon, a previously unheard of group.

"We have carried out a resounding martyrdom operation," said the man, who described Hariri as a tyrant. "It (the attack) will be an introduction to several martyrdom operations against infidels, renegades and tyrants."

Later in the day, Lebanese authorities identified the man as Palestinian Ahmed Abu Adas who lives in Beirut's western neighborhood of Tariq al-Jadidah, security officials said.

The officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Abu Adas left the house early Monday and never came back. They said he is suspected of having links with Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida terror network. [complete article]

The tycoon who rebuilt a nation ravaged by war
By Nicholas Blanford, The Times, February 15, 2005

Loved by some, loathed by others, no figure has dominated postwar Lebanon more than Rafik Hariri.

A self-made billionaire Sunni Muslim from the coastal city of Sidon in the south, Mr Hariri was the driving force behind an ambitious reconstruction programme to rebuild the war-shattered country. He used his contacts in the West and the Gulf to attract billions in investment capital which were spent on refurbishing the collapsed infrastructure and rehabilitating the centre of Beirut.

His supporters hailed him as the only man with the vision to rebuild the country. His detractors claimed that he was a crude opportunist who viewed Lebanon as an extension of his personal business empire. [complete article]

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Iraq winners allied with Iran are the opposite of U.S. vision
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, February 14, 2005

When the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq two years ago, it envisioned a quick handover to handpicked allies in a secular government that would be the antithesis of Iran's theocracy -- potentially even a foil to Tehran's regional ambitions.

But, in one of the greatest ironies of the U.S. intervention, Iraqis instead went to the polls and elected a government with a strong religious base -- and very close ties to the Islamic republic next door. It is the last thing the administration expected from its costly Iraq policy -- $300 billion and counting, U.S. and regional analysts say.

Yesterday, the White House heralded the election and credited the U.S. role. In a statement, President Bush praised Iraqis "for defying terrorist threats and setting their country on the path of democracy and freedom. And I congratulate every candidate who stood for election and those who will take office once the results are certified."

Yet the top two winning parties -- which together won more than 70 percent of the vote and are expected to name Iraq's new prime minister and president -- are Iran's closest allies in Iraq. [complete article]

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Iraqi election catapults critic of U.S. to power
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2005

The triumph of a Shiite Muslim slate in Iraq's national elections is a victory for one of the nation's most enigmatic figures and a consistent critic of U.S. policy: senior cleric Abdelaziz Hakim.

Hakim leads the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the most powerful party on the United Iraqi Alliance slate, which claimed about half the seats in the transitional National Assembly.

Though he is listed as the top candidate on the alliance's election list and will have a seat in the assembly, Hakim has ruled out holding a leadership position such as president or prime minister. It is widely believed, however, that he will exert powerful influence over whomever is selected to lead Iraq.

That has left many in the U.S. and Iraq anxious about Hakim, a soft-spoken man who worked closely with Iranian officials during nearly 20 years as an exiled militia leader opposed to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Prospective Iraqi premier a man of many labels
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, February 14, 2005

On Friday, Feb. 8, 1963, a radical young college student sat in Iraq's Military Prison No. 1 contemplating a grim future. The next day, he and a group of fellow students were to be sentenced to 15 years in prison for political activism.

Suddenly, the doors of the jail burst open. The Baathist revolution had begun. A rebel threw the keys of the prison to the young student, Adel Abdul Mahdi.

His sudden freedom was one step on a dizzying path for Mahdi, now 62, who today is the leading candidate to become Iraq's next prime minister. En route, he acquired numerous labels, including Baathist, Marxist, French-trained economist, exiled opposition leader, Islamist and religious party leader.

Mahdi represents the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the largest party within a Shiite coalition that emerged as the strongest bloc in elections for an Iraqi parliament, according to results released Sunday. Backroom negotiations over who will get which top posts in the new government have been going on for two weeks. [complete article]

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Clerics become powerbrokers in the South
By Jack Fairweather, The Telegraph, February 14, 2005

A silent and largely undocumented social revolution has transformed the Shia-dominated south of Iraq into a virtual Islamic state in the two years since the US army invaded.

In Basra's courthouses, Sharia law is now routinely used in place of civil codes. Politicians work with the tacit approval of the Shia clergy and refer many important decisions to religious leaders.

Control of security forces – as demonstrated by the meeting between the deputy governor and the head of the Thar-allah religious party – is often shared between local police and party militia.

Residents of Basra, where secular traditions are stronger than other Shia cities, describe the changes as an Iranian-style revolution, hesitant at first but rapidly building momentum. [complete article]

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Balance of parties means new constitution will be a product of compromise
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, February 14, 2005

Iraq has gained a relatively stable foundation for drawing up a new constitution after yesterday's election results.

The figures show that no group will be able to railroad its proposals through the drafting process. The watchwords will have to be dialogue and compromise.

The Shia list, known as the candle, which has emerged as the largest block, is made up largely of religious groups. But because it has fallen short of 50%, the forthcoming debate over whether secular or religious values will dominate in the constitution is wide open.

Even the definition of religious values is contested since the candle list also includes Christians.

By the same token the debate on federalism is also open. [complete article]

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Peril in Iraq's constitution
By Peter W. Galbraith, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2005

Kurds and Shiites have radically different visions for Iraq's future. The Kurds are secular and pro-American and look to Western democracy for their political model. The Shiites want to make Islam the principal source of law and, although insisting they will not copy Iran's overtly clerical system of government, clearly see Iran as a friend and inspiration.

How to deal, for example, with Kurds who are proud of the progress that women have made in their region and Shiite clerics who want religious law written into the constitution -- law that includes provisions for daughters getting only half as much inheritance as sons? Even more problematic, Kurds and Arabs do not share a commitment to the idea of Iraq. Sunni Arabs have always been nationalistic, and the Shiites may become nationalists now that they are rulers. But the Kurds do not want to be Iraqi at all and will not accept a constitution that restores any central government authority over their region.

The neoconservative architects of U.S. policy on Iraq talk about the creation of an Iraqi constitution as if it were going to be a version of the American experience in Philadelphia in 1787, with divisive issues settled by a series of grand compromises. But some differences are so profound that a forced compromise could actually contribute to the breakup of the country (as indeed was true of the Philadelphia compromise on slavery).

Clearly, a constitution acceptable to all three of Iraq's main constituencies would be the best of all possible worlds, and it's not inconceivable that the Iraqis could somehow achieve it. But the question for Iraqi leaders -- and the Bush administration -- is how hard to push for a governing document when it could destroy a fragile but functioning government already in place. [complete article]

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Regional Kurdish victory could lead to conflict
By Marwan Anie and Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, February 14, 2005

A Kurdish-backed list of candidates on Sunday won a majority of seats on the regional council that governs this diverse northern city, a major political step in reversing the bloody course set by former president Saddam Hussein to make Kirkuk an Arab-dominated city.

But the highly contested outcome also could spark a civil war if the Kurds, Turkmens and Arabs who share the oil-rich city are unable to reconcile their reactions to the political shift, their leaders said.

The Kurdish-backed Kirkuk Brotherhood slate won 59 percent of the vote, according to the official results, which still must be certified. The Iraqi Turkmen Front got 18 percent of the vote, and the Arab-dominated Republican Iraqi Gathering won 11 percent.

"We consider it false elections and not honest," said Sheik Abdul-Rahman Munshid Asi, a representative of the Arabic Gathering, one of the parties running on the Republican Iraqi Gathering slate. "This will lead to . . . civil war in Kirkuk. People are angry and feel hatred toward the Kurdish parties because they worked on marginalizing the Arabs and Turkmens." [complete article]

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U.S. troops braced for ethnic conflict in Kirkuk
By Gideon Long, Reuters, February 14, 2005

U.S. troops were braced for violence in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk Monday after a strong showing by Kurds in provincial elections threatened to upset the city's delicate ethnic balance.

"I think there'll be some ethnic violence here, I really do," said U.S. Captain Mitch Smith, a company commander in the heart of Kirkuk, the most ethnically diverse city in Iraq.

"Before the elections there were concerted attacks on coalition forces and Iraqi security forces but I think the focus may have shifted now," he told Reuters.

"Rather than targeting us, I expect we might see the various groups in the city fighting among themselves." [complete article]

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Kurds celebrate amid fear of ethnic clash
By Aref Mohammed, The Independent, February 14, 2005

Hundreds of Kurds flooded on to the streets in the northern city of Kirkuk yesterday firing weapons in the air and honking horns after the powerful Kurdish alliance came second in the Iraqi elections, winning 25 per cent of the vote nationwide.

Kurdish leaders will enter negotiations with the Shia coalition, which took nearly half the votes but lacks the two-thirds majority necessary to appoint leaders and pass legislation. Despite the strong showing and groundswell of support for greater autonomy in the Kurdish north the message from the newly elected leaders was more conciliatory. "Iraq is a mosaic," said a Kurdistan Democratic Party spokesman, Faraj al-Haidary. "It is a combination of all parts - not as an alliance with one party."

The two major Kurdish political parties, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan and the Kurdistan Democratic Party, ran on the same ticket in the national elections and have agreed to put up the PUK leader Jalal Talabani as their candidate for president, a nomination that seems likely to win the support of the Shia bloc. [complete article]

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Why Iran will go nuclear
By Tony Karon,, February 12, 2005

... the strongest impulse to build nuclear weapons, in Iran, as everywhere else, comes from the fact that its key enemies are nuclear-armed and the resulting belief that a nuclear deterrent is therefore essential to Iran's national security, or at least the security of its regime. Iran's primary enemies -- Israel and the U.S. -- have nuclear capability, as does regional rival Pakistan. And the Iranian government is believed to have begun its nuclear quest in earnest during the 1980s, when the country was locked in mortal combat with Iraq -- and Saddam Hussein had made no secret of his own nuclear ambitions.

Tehran is simply following the strategic logic that drove the proliferation of nuclear weapons over the past half-century: The Soviet Union saw acquiring nuclear weapons as a matter of survival because the U.S. had built and used them to decisively tip the balance in a conventional conflict. France, Britain and later China acquired them because they sought strategic independence from the U.S. and the Soviets respectively. Israel built nukes as the ultimate strategic trump card in the face of the numerical strength of surrounding Arab armies; India pursued them because its prime strategic rival was not Pakistan, but nuclear-armed China; but Pakistan pursued them because its arch-enemy is nuclear-armed India. [complete article]

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Reading the future in Tehran
By K. Subrahmanyam, Indian Express, February 14, 2005

Even as the US and Western European countries (UK, Germany and France) are discussing with Iran the need for Tehran to completely abjure its uranium fuel cycle activities, it is ironic that neither side raises in public the question why Iran insists on the need to keep its nuclear fuel cycle option (nuclear weapon option) open. Iran was attacked with weapons of mass destruction (chemical weapons) during the Iraq-Iran war in the ’80s and at that time the US and European powers and all Sunni-ruled Islamic nations not only kept quiet but shielded Saddam Hussein at the UN. Iran was subjected to seven years of war and attacks by hundreds of missiles financed by Sunni money from oil-exporting Arab countries, particularly Wahabi Saudi Arabia. [complete article]

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Iran row clouds defence summit
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, February 14, 2005

Tensions between the US and Europe over the conduct of the "war on terror" - in particular, how to stop Iran building nuclear weapons - spilled over yesterday at a high-level security conference.

Sharp differences were exposed and even the usefulness of Nato, the US-dominated institution at the heart of the transatlantic relationship, was questioned.

Joschka Fischer, the German foreign minister, urged America yesterday to embrace the EU's diplomatic efforts to ensure Iran did not develop nuclear weapons.

"If the United States were to engage positively, and I'm aware of how difficult that is, it would substantially strengthen the European drive," he told the annual Munich security conference.

"If the whole process collapsed then we would have to go to the [UN] security council," he said.

But Mr Fischer suggested that sanctions could strengthen hardline elements in the Iranian government and weaken democrats. [complete article]

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Iran hardens stand on nuclear reactor
By Al Akbar Dareini, Associated Press (via Dtroiot Free Press), February 14, 2005

Iran rejected a European demand to stop building a heavy-water nuclear reactor in return for a light-water reactor Sunday, hardening Iran's position on a key part of its nuclear facilities that critics claim is part of a weapons program.

Iran has given indications in the past that it will insist on keeping its heavy-water nuclear reactor, but Sunday's announcement is its clearest statement yet of its nuclear plans. It underscored the unresolved differences between Iranian and European negotiators, who are continuing their talks over Iran's nuclear program that the United States says is aimed at producing an atomic bomb.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi also said Iran plans to become a major nuclear fuel supplier in 15 years, part of a program that Iran says is for peaceful domestic energy purposes. "We intend to turn into an important and a major player in the nuclear fuel supply market" because there will be an energy shortage, Asefi said.

Asefi rejected a proposal by European negotiators to stop building a 40-megawatt heavy-water nuclear reactor near Arak, in west-central Iran, in return for European assistance in building a light-water reactor. Iran says it has gone a long way in developing the Arak facility. [complete article]

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Abbas declares war with Israel effectively over
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, February 14, 2005

The new Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said in an interview this weekend that the war with the Israelis is effectively over and that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is speaking "a different language" to the Palestinians. Mr. Sharon's commitment to withdraw from Gaza and dismantle all Israeli settlements there and four in the West Bank, despite "how much pressure is on him from the Israeli Likud rightists," Mr. Abbas said, "is a good sign to start with" on the road to real peace.

"And now he has a partner," Mr. Abbas said.

In a 40-minute interview in his Gaza office late on Saturday night, Mr. Abbas spoke with pride about persuading the radical groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad to respect the mutual declaration of a truce that he and Mr. Sharon announced last Tuesday at their first meeting, in Sharm el Sheik, Egypt, which was the highest-level meeting between Israelis and Palestinians in four years. [complete article]

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Israel set to free 500 Palestinian prisoners
Associated Press (via WP), February 14, 2005

Israel's cabinet on Sunday approved a list of 500 Palestinian prisoners to be released in coming days, and several hundred Palestinian workers returned to jobs in Israel in line with agreements reached at a Middle East summit last week.

At the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon also told Israel's law enforcement agencies to act against Jewish extremists opposing his plan to withdraw settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip. [complete article]

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It's the Middle East. Don't expect much. Right?
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, February 13, 2005

Have we seen this movie before? You know, the one that has Israeli and Palestinian leaders meeting at an Arab resort on the Red Sea, promising a cease-fire and a renewal of serious security cooperation that could lead to peace? The one that's always being rerun on the cable news channels?

Gershon Baskin, the co-director of the Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information, thinks he has. "Too much of what has happened in the Israeli-Palestinian relationship since the election of Mahmoud Abbas is reminiscent of the failed Oslo process," he wrote, noting "the same euphoria, the same voices of self-assurance and self-reliance that 'we can do it by ourselves.' "

Roni Shaked of the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot thinks it's familiar, too: same settings; same speeches; roughly the same promises as the Aqaba summit in July 2003, when Mr. Abbas was the new Palestinian prime minister.

"But this time," he observed, "it's a whole new film." [complete article]

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Controversial Pentagon espionage unit loses its leader
By Barton Gellman, Washington Post, February 13, 2005

The leader of a new Pentagon espionage unit has resigned his position, shortly after public disclosure that the Defense Department is expanding into clandestine operations traditionally undertaken by the CIA.

The Strategic Support Branch and its departing leader are controversial among the elite special operations forces assigned to work with them on high-risk intelligence missions overseas, some of whom aired complaints in a Jan. 23 Washington Post story about deficits in the training and performance of the unit's officers. Defense officials with firsthand knowledge said the unit's leader, reserve Army Col. George Waldroup, surprised his staff in the first week of February with an announcement that he was stepping down immediately. [complete article]

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Iraq's Shias in landmark poll victory
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, February 14, 2005

Iraq's Shia Muslims sealed their historic political ascendance last night when they won just under half of the votes in the country's landmark multi-party elections, giving the long-oppressed majority its first taste of power in decades.

Final results from the January 30 ballot released yesterday showed the Shias won more than 4 million votes, or about 48% of those cast.

Though they fell short of achieving a parliamentary majority, and will have to bring minorities into any new government, a coalition backed by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's leading cleric, will fill almost half the 275-seat national assembly and almost certainly claim the premiership and leading cabinet posts.

The Iraqi Electoral Commission said just over 8.5 million of the 14 million registered to vote did so, a turnout of 58%.

A Kurdish alliance came second with 2.2 million votes, or 26%, and a ticket headed by the outgoing prime minister, Ayad Allawi, came third with 1.2 million, or 14%.

But in stark contrast to hefty ballot boxes from the Kurdish north and Shia south those from Arab Sunni areas were light and largely empty, risking the marginalisation of the community. Only 13,893 people - 2% of eligible voters - turned out in Anbar province, which includes the restive towns of Falluja and Ramadi. [complete article]

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Pentagon covers up failure to train and recruit local security forces
By Andrew Buncombe, Kim Sengupta and Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, February 13, 2005

Training of Iraq's security forces, crucial to any exit strategy for Britain and the US, is going so badly that the Pentagon has stopped giving figures for the number of combat-ready indigenous troops, The Independent on Sunday has learned.

Instead, only figures for troops "on hand" are issued. The small number of soldiers, national guardsmen and police capable of operating against the country's bloody insurgency is concealed in an overall total of Iraqis in uniform, which includes raw recruits and police who have gone on duty after as little as three weeks' training. In some cases they have no weapons, body armour or even documents to show they are in the police.

The resulting confusion over numbers has allowed the US administration to claim that it is half-way to meeting the target of training almost 270,000 Iraqi forces, including around 52,000 troops and 135,000 Iraqi policemen. The reality, according to experts, is that there may be as few as 5,000 troops who could be considered combat ready. [complete article]

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Insurgents step up violence on civilians
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, February 13, 2005

Insurgents have answered hopes for a post-election calm with a wave of carnage, capping two days of violence with a suicide bombing Saturday in front of a hospital south of Baghdad that killed 17 people.

The car bombing was the deadliest attack on a day that included the discovery of 12 bodies in the northern city of Mosul; a fierce firefight between U.S. troops and insurgents, also in Mosul; and the killing of a prominent judge in Basra, in far southeastern Iraq. [complete article]

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Iraq grows more dangerous. But...
By Roger Cohen, New York Times, February 13, 2005

Are things getting better or worse in Iraq? That is the basic question, on which much hinges for the United States and the world. Here are some impressionistic answers.

Just over a year ago, on my last visit to the country, I was able to drive north to Tikrit, Saddam Hussein's home town, and south to the Shiite holy city of Najaf. These were not excursions for sitting back and enjoying the scenery. But they were feasible, at high speed and with some risk.

Today, no Westerner with any vestige of sanity would contemplate making such trips, even in the aftermath of an election that was a remarkable success. It is not merely that images of beheadings prey on the mind. It is not simply that this month's kidnapping of Giuliana Sgrena of Italy's Manifesto newspaper formed part of a pattern. It is that, by any rational assessment, the danger is unacceptable.

By that crude yardstick, things are getting worse. [complete article]

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Tailor-made for the CIA
By Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, February 13, 2005

Members of this capital's most selective reading group have been hashing over the story of "Kamal" the tailor without reaching consensus on their protagonist's character and motives. The sooner they do, the better the chances U.S. forces will have of subduing Iraq's violent insurgency.

Kamal -- a pseudonym -- is not a creation of John le Carre or John Grisham, though the three-page treatment of the tailor's life and times circulating here is said to have the crackle of a spy novel in places. No wonder: It was written by spies for other spies and for the most senior policymakers in the Bush administration.

People with stratospheric security clearances have been meeting at the White House to chew over the CIA's depiction of its subject insurgent as a resentful "at-large Iraqi fighter who is motivated to fight because the United States is occupying his country," in the words of an otherwise unidentified "senior intelligence official" who spoke to Walter Pincus of The Post.

Personalizing the Iraqi insurgency through one individual is the agency's imaginative response to a continuing deadlock in the Bush administration over the nature of the Iraq insurgency, which now involves tens of thousands of rebels and has cost nearly 1,000 American lives from hostile fire. [complete article]

Comment -- Jim Hoagland's commentary appears to be part of the long-running campaign in certain Washington circles to undermine the credibility of the CIA. What the CIA's use of a storybook narrative as an educational tool for policymakers says about which party has less intelligence, is unclear. In and of itself, the use of such tools should hardly be a cause for scorn when so many members of the Bush administration earlier attributed the 9/11 attacks to a "failure of imagination."

The question that needs to be answered yet Hoagland fails to raise, is: Why does the U.S. understand so little about the insurgency after having been in Iraq for almost two years? It's no use pounding the table and demanding to know more, if you haven't already understood why you know so little.

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Postelection optimism ebbing in Iraq
By John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2005

Two weeks after Iraq's first democratic election, hopes for a better future have given way in some quarters to pessimism, or at least to more limited expectations, as resurgent violence and a delay in the final tally have added to political uncertainty.

Western and Iraqi officials said they had seen a slight decrease in violence against coalition forces. However, a string of attacks directed mainly at Shiite Muslims and ethnic Kurds left scores of civilians dead and shattered hopes that a significant portion of insurgents would desist after the election.

On Saturday, at least 21 people were killed in attacks even as election officials promised to release final results at 4 p.m. today.

In random interviews with more than 20 Iraqis across the country, conducted over recent days in five cities, Times correspondents found a range of moods. Some expressed deep disappointment; others still harbored hope that their lives would improve. Many were willing to wait and see whether the election victors could make a difference. [complete article]

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Chalabi sees his political hopes revive in Iraq
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, February 13, 2005

Nine months ago, American soldiers pulled up to Ahmad Chalabi's compound here to help raid and ransack the place, marking a dramatic break between the Bush administration and the Iraqi exile who, more than anyone else outside the American government, helped make the case for the invasion of Iraq.

Earlier this week, as dusk settled on the capital, a line of Humvees and American trucks returned, this time bearing one of the American Embassy's most important diplomats, Robert Ford. The purpose of Mr. Ford's visit was to assess what the next Iraqi government, perhaps with Mr. Chalabi in a senior post, was planning for the future.

After two hours of discussion, Mr. Ford and his retinue of armed guards and armored cars departed. Mr. Chalabi could barely contain his delight.

"At least there is dialogue," he said with a small smile. [complete article]

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Freedom, from want
By James Traub, New York Times, February 13, 2005

Why does foreign aid have such a dismal reputation in the country that financed the Marshall Plan? Maybe it's the term itself (which may explain why it has been replaced by the studiously neutral "official development assistance"). For many Americans, "foreign aid" sounds suspiciously like "welfare for foreigners." We don't like welfare, and we aren't quite sure what to think about foreigners. What's more, American giving typically proceeds from a sense of personal affiliation, whether to church or community or school; and we have, until very recently, thought of foreigners as a remote species. That era came to an end with 9/11, of course. In his Inaugural Address, President Bush vowed that "all who live in tyranny and hopelessness" will find a staunch friend in the United States. For all those around the world who live in poverty, however, he made no such promise.

Tyranny is a very great evil, and freedom a very precious good; but there are other evils, and other goods. The week after the president's address, Europe's three major leaders -- Tony Blair, Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schroder -- addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Blair, as ever, defended President Bush's self-assigned mission of democracy promotion. But he went on to say that ''if America wants the rest of the world to be part of the agenda it has set, it must be part of their agenda, too.'' And Blair, like Chirac and Schroder, defined the core of that agenda very differently from President Bush. For all three, strikingly, the great good worth striving for was the elimination of global poverty, and the paramount means was an increase in aid.

The subject has barely dented the American debate; and yet there was an almost giddy sense at Davos that a transformative moment on aid and development was nigh. Gordon Brown, Blair's chancellor of the exchequer, spoke of ''a worldwide change of opinion'' on the subject. Blair himself asserted that he would dedicate his leadership of both the G8 and the European Union this year to the issue of Africa. And Chirac proposed a new scheme of taxes on international currency transactions to finance a big increase in aid. This is to be the year of development, but it's widely understood that very little will happen without the United States. [complete article]

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Our man sold secrets to Iran, admits Pakistan
By Massoud Ansari, The Telegraph, February 13, 2005

Pakistan has conceded for the first time that Dr A Q Khan, the rogue nuclear scientist who is under house arrest in Islamabad, passed secrets and equipment to Iranian officials and is now considered the "brain" behind the programme that has put Teheran on the brink of acquiring nuclear weapons.

An investigation by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence agency, details of which have been disclosed to The Telegraph, confirmed that Khan, a hero in Pakistan as the "Father of the Bomb", and his associates sold nuclear codes, materials, components and plans that left his "signature" at the core of the Iranian nuclear programme.

The admission came during private talks in Brussels at the end of last month between European Union officials and senior ministers from Pakistan and India. The EU officials were told that cooperation between Teheran and Khan, 68, and associates from his Khan Research Laboratories began in the mid-1990s and included more than a dozen meetings over several years. [complete article]

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U.S. uses drones to probe Iran for arms
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, February 13, 2005

The Bush administration has been flying surveillance drones over Iran for nearly a year to seek evidence of nuclear weapons programs and detect weaknesses in air defenses, according to three U.S. officials with detailed knowledge of the secret effort.

The small, pilotless planes, penetrating Iranian airspace from U.S. military facilities in Iraq, use radar, video, still photography and air filters designed to pick up traces of nuclear activity to gather information that is not accessible by satellites, the officials said. The aerial espionage is standard in military preparations for an eventual air attack and is also employed as a tool for intimidation.

The Iranian government, using Swiss channels in the absence of diplomatic relations with Washington, formally protested the incursions as illegal, according to Iranian, European and U.S. officials, all speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. [complete article]

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Washington steps up campaign to remove U.N.'s nuclear chief
By Phillip Sherwell, The Telegraph, February 13, 2005

America is stepping up its efforts to remove Mohammed El Baradei, the Egyptian head of the United Nations atomic energy agency, as Washington prepares for a showdown over Iran's secret nuclear programme, a senior Bush adminstration official has revealed.

"It cannot be good for an organisation when the biggest contributor and its director general are at odds with each other," said the official, who is at the heart of policy-making in Washington.

Mr El Baradei has just completed his second four-year term at the helm of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the usual limit for any chief of a UN body. Washington views him as soft on Iran's ruling clerics and suspects that he was behind the embarrassing leak about missing explosives in Iraq in the final week of last year's United States presidential election campaign.

"There are gracious ways to leave the stage," the official said. "El Baradei has not chosen the gracious way, but that has not changed our view that we need a new IAEA head." US officials are trying to gain support for a no-confidence vote, possibly at the next IAEA meeting on February 28. [complete article]

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Hamas agrees to cease attacks
By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2005

Hamas and Islamic Jihad militants said Saturday that they would hold fire against Israel while deciding whether to honor the cessation of hostilities declared at last week's landmark summit in Egypt between Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

The announcements, essentially restoring a de facto cease-fire in place before the summit, mark a partial victory for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who met with militant leaders late Saturday in Gaza City to press them to halt further attacks on Jewish settlements.

The talks carried urgency after Hamas fighters let loose with an extended barrage of rocket and mortar fire in the Gaza Strip two days after Tuesday's summit in the seaside resort of Sharm el Sheik.

Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar said after Saturday's meeting that his group was "committed to what is called 'quietness.' " He added that Hamas would launch strikes against Israeli targets in retaliation for any perceived hostile acts by Israel. [complete article]

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This time, I'm hopeful
By Eyad Sarraj, Washington Post, February 13, 2005

A couple of days after Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared a halt to hostilities, I met with a few of the many journalists and commentators who roam our streets.

They did not think peace had much of a chance. Hamas had already fired rockets into an Israeli settlement in defiance, and Sharon has long shown he is willing to respond to any provocation with more than equal force. Like all of us here, these journalists had seen many cease-fires and declarations come to nothing. A few of them knew colleagues who had been killed.

The mood was so sour that I -- a children's psychiatrist by profession -- was suddenly struck by the feeling that I was in a counseling session, trying to instill hope in the hearts of traumatized youngsters. [complete article]

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For Arabs, uneasy calm, little hope for lasting peace
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, February 13, 2005

In the days after a declaration of truce between Israel and the Palestinians at a summit meeting in Sharm el Sheik, Palestinians are more than ready for quiet, but hardly optimistic about peace.

In interviews at two major Israeli checkpoints - this one, dividing southern and central Gaza, and Hawara, just outside the West Bank city of Nablus - Palestinians said that the Israeli grip on travel had eased somewhat in the last week or so, and that they had hopes the trend toward calm would continue, at least for a little while.

They acknowledged that their collective fatigue with violence and the difficulties of everyday existence had produced wide support for Mahmoud Abbas, the new Palestinian president, but also raised expectations that he can deliver on promises of a more normal life.

But at the same time, the Palestinians interviewed recognized with bitterness that their own political perspectives have narrowed, and that they had lost ground, despite so many deaths over the last four and half years. They expressed nostalgia for the relative prosperity and freedom of travel they had before the outbreak of this last intifada, in September 2000 - even though those conditions were onerous enough to fuel the intifada itself. [complete article]

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Detainee says he was tortured while in U.S. custody
By Raymond Bonner, New York Times, February 13, 2005

Mamdouh Habib still has a bruise on his lower back. He says it is a sign of the beatings he endured in a prison in Egypt. Interrogators there put out cigarettes on his chest, he says, and he lifts his shirt to show the marks. He says he got the dark spot on his forehead when Americans hit his head against the floor at the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

After being arrested in Pakistan in the weeks after Sept. 11, 2001, he was held as a terror suspect by the Americans for 40 months. Back home now, Mr. Habib alleges that at every step of his detention - from Pakistan, to Egypt, to Afghanistan, to Guantanamo - he endured physical and psychological abuse.

The physical abuse, he said, ranged from a kick "that nearly killed me" to electric shocks administered through a wired helmet that he said interrogators told him could detect whether he was lying. [complete article]

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

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.

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.

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.

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

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".

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?"

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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."

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.

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.

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