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Illegal nuclear deals alleged
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2005

A federal criminal investigation has uncovered evidence that the government of Pakistan made clandestine purchases of U.S. high-technology components for use in its nuclear weapons program in defiance of American law.

Federal authorities also say the highly specialized equipment at one point passed through the hands of Humayun Khan, an Islamabad businessman who they say has ties to Islamic militants.

Even though President Bush has been pushing for an international crackdown on such trafficking, efforts by two U.S. agencies to send investigators to Pakistan to gather more evidence have hit a bottleneck in Washington, said officials knowledgeable about the case.

The impasse is part of a larger tug-of-war between federal agencies that enforce U.S. nonproliferation laws and policymakers who consider Pakistan too important to embarrass. The transactions under review began in early 2003, well after President Pervez Musharraf threw his support to the Bush administration's war on terrorism and the invasion of neighboring Afghanistan to oust Pakistan's former Taliban allies. [complete article]

Comment -- While millions of Americans remain vexed about the ethical questions surrounding Terri Schiavo's hold on life it might be more fruitful to consider a much larger question: Is America itself brain-dead? The Bush administration sends out its highest officials to strut around the world and issue dire warnings about the dangers of nuclear proliferation yet then goes and rewards the worst proliferator of all, Pakistan, with F-16 fighter jets. Does this point to a troubling contradiction in US foreign policy? Does this concern the average American? Is the average American even aware of the issue? What's the point in valuing life if you don't value consciousness? Hey America, wake up!

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Rice describes plans to spread democracy
By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 26, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday set out ambitious goals for the Bush administration's push for greater democracy overseas over the next four years, including pressing for competitive presidential elections this year in Egypt and women's right to vote in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.

Rice, in an interview with Washington Post editors and reporters, said she was guided less by a fear that Islamic extremists would replace authoritarian governments than by a "strong certainty that the Middle East was not going to stay stable anyway." Extremism, she said, is rooted in the "absence of other channels for political activity," and so "when you know that the status quo is no longer defensible, then you have to be willing to move in another direction." [complete article]

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Why America must stop John Bolton
Citizens for Global Solutions

On March 7th, President Bush nominated John Bolton, who's dedicated his life to undermining the United Nations, to be our UN Ambassador. In April, the Senate will decide to approve this nomination or not. We must not stand for this.

John Bolton is a disastrous choice. Right now, the U.S. needs to work through the UN more than ever to make the world a safer place for Americans.

Bolton, however, has made a career out of belittling and dismissing the UN, suggesting at one point that "if the UN secretary building in New York lost 10 stories, it wouldn't make a bit of difference." He advocates a go-it-alone foreign policy that alienates our allies and strengthens our enemies. He has a history of rash behavior. And he has consistently put his own priorities over those of his country by refusing to obey orders. [see a video of the ranting Americanist]

Thanks to the indispensible ArmsControlWonk for bringing this to my attention.

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Bush administration probes Syria's future with Assad's opposition
By Robin Wright and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 26, 2005

The Bush administration is reaching out to the Syrian opposition because of growing concerns that unrest in Lebanon could spill over and suddenly destabilize Syria, which borders four countries pivotal to U.S. Middle East policy -- Israel, Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey, U.S. and Syrian sources said.

In an interview, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday that the United States is talking to "as many people as we possibly can" about the situation in Syria, as well as in Lebanon, to ensure that Washington is prepared in the event of yet another abrupt political upheaval.

"What we're trying to do is to assess the situation so that nobody is blindsided, because events are moving so fast and in such unpredictable directions that it is only prudent at this point to know what's going on," Rice told Washington Post editors and reporters, citing "the possibility for what I often call discontinuous events, meaning that you were expecting them to go along like this and all of a sudden they go off in this direction, in periods of change like this. So we're going to look at all the possibilities and talk to as many people as we possibly can." [complete article]

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Detainees abused in N. Iraq, Army papers suggest
By Josh White, Washington Post, March 26, 2005

Guards and military intelligence personnel allegedly tortured detainees at a U.S. Army holding facility in northern Iraq in late 2003, according to Army criminal investigative documents released yesterday. The treatment, intended to soften up detainees for interrogations, involved hours-long physical exercise sessions, hoods and beatings at the same time guards at the Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad were carrying out similar tactics.

Army officials yesterday also released the first full accounting of 16 closed detainee homicide investigations and eight open cases from Afghanistan and Iraq, a list showing that half of the cases -- 12 -- occurred in U.S. detention facilities. Chris Grey, a spokesman for the criminal investigation command, said there appears to be no pattern in the deaths, which occurred from late 2002 to late 2004 under a variety of situations. [complete article]

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Israeli settlement plan 'at odds' with U.S.
By Paul Richter and Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice criticized Israel in unusually sharp terms Thursday, warning that its plans to expand an Israeli West Bank settlement was "at odds with American policy" and could threaten progress toward peace with the Palestinians at a critical moment.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Rice said Israeli explanations of plans to add 3,500 housing units to the Maale Adumim settlement east of Jerusalem were "not really a satisfactory response."

"We have noted our concerns to the Israelis" in diplomatic meetings this week with the government of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, she said.

It was Rice's most pointed criticism of Israel since she assumed her post in January. The administration has staunchly supported the Sharon government since President Bush took office. [complete article]

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U.S. will accept Israel settlements
BBC News, March 25, 2005

The US ambassador to Israel says that Washington expects Israel to retain control over large Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Dan Kurtzer told Israel Radio that it was unrealistic to expect a full Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank in any final status agreement. He denied reports that he had said there was no such understanding between the US and the Israelis. He said he was reiterating pledges by President Bush on the issue.

US policy is the support that the president has given for the retention by Israel of major Israeli population centres [in the West Bank] as an outcome of negotiations
Dan Kurtzer

During a visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to the White House last April, President George W Bush said a permanent peace deal would have to reflect "demographic realities" in the West Bank regarding Israel's settlements. [complete article]

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'Incitement' may be just another word for writing the truth
By Danny Rubinstein, Daily Star, March 25, 2005

The Israeli demand that the Palestinian Authority halt incitement against Israel in the Palestinian media and school system is well known. It is a justified demand. Ever since the Oslo Accord was signed more than a decade ago, the issue has come up again and again: schoolbooks have been examined in the West Bank and Gaza; joint committees that did not do very much have been established; and in practically every speech delivered by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon he has demanded that the Palestinians cease their incitement.

The dictionary defines "incitement" as trying to urge or tempt into action. In fact, anyone listening to the Palestinian broadcasts on both television and radio recently can testify there has been a significant change: The pounding rhetoric of the past is gone.

But what can be found in the Palestinian media - and in large quantities - are the news items about what is happening on the ground: detailed, daily reports with dramatic headlines accompanied by lots of photographs about what Israeli forces and the settlers are doing in the West Bank and Gaza.

Here are some examples. Every day recently, the Palestinian media carried high-profile reports about two wide-scale Israeli plans to confiscate Arab land and build new housing in West Bank settlements. The land expropriations amount to more than 2,700 acres, from villages south of Mount Hebron, to build the separation fence, and for a project of more than 6,400 housing units for the various settlements in the area. The source of that information was the Israeli media, and the reports included reactions from Palestinian spokesmen. There is no need to point out that every Arab who sees and hears these reports gets angry. [complete article]

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The third PLO
By Amira Howeidy, Al-Ahram Weekly, March 24, 2005

After handing over Jericho last week, on Tuesday Israel completed its security handover of the West Bank city of Tulkarm to the Palestinians. Yet the fact that Israeli occupation forces have withdrawn from two Palestinian cities has excited little comment in the Arab world. Not only is life outside these two cities extremely harsh for Palestinians, such symbolic gestures fade in comparison with developments announced last week in Cairo.

After a fruitless two-and-a-half years of dialogue between Palestinian factions, sponsored by Egypt, representatives from across the Palestinian political spectrum finally agreed on the fundamental principles that will determine the future of the Palestinian people. The six-point Cairo Declaration, issued on 17 March, restated Palestinian "constants" -- including the right of the Palestinian people to resist the Israeli occupation and the right of approximately five million refugees to return to their homes and property.

The Cairo Declaration also agreed to extend the "atmosphere of calm", conditional on Israeli "adherence" to "stopping all forms of aggression against our land and the Palestinian people, no matter where they are". It noted that continuing construction of settlements and of the Apartheid Wall, and the Judaisation of East Jerusalem, remain "explosive issues". [complete article]

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Pentagon will not try 17 G.I.'s implicated in prisoners' deaths
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, March 26, 2005

Despite recommendations by Army investigators, commanders have decided not to prosecute 17 American soldiers implicated in the deaths of three prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2003 and 2004, according to a new accounting released Friday by the Army.

Investigators had recommended that all 17 soldiers be charged in the cases, according to the accounting by the Army Criminal Investigation Command. The charges included murder, conspiracy and negligent homicide. While none of the 17 will face any prosecution, one received a letter of reprimand and another was discharged after the investigations.

To date, the military has taken steps toward prosecuting some three dozen soldiers in connection with a total of 28 confirmed or suspected homicides of detainees. The total number of such deaths is believed to be between 28 and 31. [complete article]

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Stunted recovery in battered Falluja
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times (IHT), March 26, 2005

Four months after American bombs and guns pounded much of this city into ruins, signs of life are returning.

A kebab shop and a bakery have reopened on the bullet-scarred main boulevard. About a third of the city's 250,000 residents have trickled back since early January. U.S. marines and Iraqi police officers patrol the streets, and there has been little violence.

But the safety has come at a high price. To enter Falluja, residents must wait for about four hours to get through military checkpoints, and there are strict night curfews.

That has stunted the renascent economy and the reconstruction effort. It has also frustrated the residents, who are still coming to grips with their shattered streets and houses. Many have jobs or relatives outside the city.

"Falluja is safe," said Hadima Khalifa Abed, 42, who returned to her ruined home in January with her husband and 10 children. "But it is safe like a prison." [complete article]

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U.S. is set to sell jets to Pakistan; India is critical
By Thom Shanker and Joel Brinkley, New York Times, March 26, 2005

The United States will sell F-16 jet fighters to Pakistan in a deal that State Department officials said Friday would improve regional security. But the decision was immediately denounced by India as adding a fresh element of instability to relations between the nuclear neighbors.

The size of the arms sale has not been decided, State Department officials said, although Pakistan previously said it was seeking about two dozen of the planes, which can be used in ground or air attack roles and have a maximum range of more than 2,000 miles.

President Bush personally telephoned Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India early Friday to inform him of the decision to sell F-16's to Pakistan, White House officials said.

In words apparently meant to soften the impact of a major weapons transfer to India's rival, Mr. Bush said the administration had also cleared the way for India to discuss a combat aircraft purchase with American arms manufacturers. [complete article]

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Kyrgyzstan in chaos as riots sweep capital
By Nick Paton Walsh, The Guardian, March 26, 2005

A second night of looting and violence gripped the capital of Kyrgyzstan last night as the opposition, having declared leader Kurmanbek Bakiyev the new head of state, struggled to control the city after four people were killed in rioting earlier in the day.

The interior ministry said it was considering a curfew to restore order, as Mr Bakiyev appointed a new police chief, top prosecutor, and defence minister to try to restore order. Felix Kulov, a former vice-president and police chief released from prison on Thursday and now coordinating law enforcement, told the Associated Press: "It's an orgy going on here. We have arrested many people, we are trying to do something, but we physically lack people."

An Interfax report that the curfew was supposed to start at 6pm was later denied. At 7.15pm angry looters appeared to have broken into the TsUM department store, the only major shop not devastated in Thursday night's destruction. Police stood by as looters attacked civilians. [complete article]

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Europe is risking silence to end its longest war
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, March 25, 2005

The boredom factor in world politics can never be under-rated. If a conflict goes on long enough, foreign leaders and the media lose interest. The spotlight switches and the international caravan moves on. Pick your metaphor, but the shameful reality is the same.

So it is with Chechnya, Europe's longest-running but least visible war. When Vladimir Putin, its architect, met the leaders of France, Germany and Spain in Paris last week, the subject was not discussed. Silence was also the order of the day when George Bush got together with the Russian president during his European foray a fortnight earlier. He mentioned his concerns about democracy and the rule of law in Russia, but saw no need to bring up Chechnya.

On the battlefield Putin also seems to have won a breathing space. Aslan Maskhadov, the titular leader of the Chechen resistance and the republic's last freely elected president, was surrounded and killed by Russian special forces in a house not far from the capital, Grozny. Whether it was a brilliant military coup, as the official Russian media claim, or the result of a tip-off by a traitor in the Chechen ranks is in dispute. Maskhadov's international representative, Akhmed Zakayev, puts it down to unguarded use of a mobile phone that gave away his leader's position. [complete article]

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The era of exploitation
By Bob Herbert, New York Times, March 25, 2005

Congress is in recess and the press has gone berserk over the Terri Schiavo case. So very little attention is being paid to pending budget proposals that are scandalously unfair, but that pretty accurately reflect the kind of country the U.S. has become.

President Bush believes in an "ownership" society, which means that except for the wealthy, you're on your own. The president's budget would cut funding for Medicaid, food stamps, education, transportation, health care for veterans, law enforcement, medical research and safety inspections for food and drugs. And, of course, it contains big new tax cuts for the wealthy.

These are the new American priorities. Republicans will tell you they were ratified in the last presidential election. We may be locked in a long and costly war, and federal deficits may be spiraling toward the moon, but the era of shared sacrifices is over. This is the era of entrenched exploitation. All sacrifices will be made by working people and the poor, and the vast bulk of the benefits will accrue to the rich. [complete article]

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What happens once the oil runs out?
By Kenneth S. Deffeyes, New York Times, March 25, 2005

President Bush's hopes for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge came one step closer to reality last week. While Congress must still pass a law to allow drilling in the refuge, the Senate voted to include oil revenues from such drilling in the budget, making eventual approval of the president's plan more likely.

Yet the debate over drilling in the Arctic refuge has been oddly beside the point. In fact, it may be distracting us from a far more important problem: a looming world oil shortage.

The environmental argument over drilling in the refuge has often been portrayed as "tree huggers" versus "dirty drillers" (although, as a matter of fact, the north coastal plain of Alaska happens to have no trees to hug). Even as we concede that this is an oversimplification, we should also ask how a successful drilling operation would affect American oil production. [complete article]

See also, Me and my hybrid (Oliver Sacks).

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Western-Islamist talks counter confrontation trend
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, March 25, 2005

While mutual threats and accusations define much of the public interaction between the United States and Hizbullah and Hamas, another kind of interaction under way was manifested most recently in a two-day meeting in Beirut this week.

Smaller groups of American and British experts, including retired former intelligence and other officials, are quietly meeting with Hizbullah, Hamas and other leading Middle Eastern Islamists to probe each other's perceptions, positions and goals. In the process, according to participants in the Beirut gathering, they may be identifying a tantalizing middle ground of democratic reform, where Islamists and the West seem to share core values. One day, they might move toward political processes to give those values life and meaning, judging by some sentiments expressed by participants at these novel meetings. [complete article]

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British government rejects call to publish all Iraq legal advice
By Richard Norton-Taylor, Ewen MacAskill and David Hencke, The Guardian, March 25, 2005

The government was challenged yesterday to publish the "entire paper trail" of the legal advice it received about the war against Iraq in light of the disclosure that the attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, believed it would be unlawful less than two weeks before the invasion.

The disclosure, which the government tried to suppress, came in the resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, deputy legal adviser at the Foreign Office, who resigned in protest at the war.

Key passages in her letter - in which she also said the attorney general changed his view twice in the days before the invasion - had been censored but were passed to the Guardian and Channel 4 News. The suppressed text said that the attorney general "gave us to understand" that he agreed with Foreign Office lawyers that the war was illegal without a new UN security council resolution, but changed his advice twice just before the war to bring it in line with "what is now the official line". [complete article]

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Forming Iraq's government to take another week
AFP (via Daily Star), March 25, 2005

Shiite and Kurdish figures warned Thursday that talks on forming Iraq's next government could drag on another week, while Iraqi forces battled insurgents in their former stronghold of Fallujah. Hopes of clinching a government nearly two months after Iraq's epic election were dented as the election-winning Shiite political list pushed to reconvene the 275-member Parliament Saturday without consensus on a Cabinet.

"Even if the Parliament convenes Saturday or Sunday, it may take another week to have a government," said Haidar al-Mussawi, a spokesman for Ahmed Chalabi, a leading member of the Shiite list, the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA).

A Kurdish source said the delay stemmed in part from efforts to convince outgoing Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's list to join the government. [complete article]

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Suicide car bomber kills 11 Iraqi police commandos in Ramadi
By Edward Harris, AP (via WP), March 25, 2005

A suicide bomber detonated an explosives-laden vehicle near the central city of Ramadi, killing 11 Iraqi policemen and wounding 14 other people including two U.S. Army soldiers, the U.S. military said Friday.

In eastern Baghdad, unidentified attackers killed five female translators working for the U.S. military late Thursday, said Iraqi police Capt. Ahmed Aboud. [complete article]

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Doubts surface on Iraq raid toll
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, March 25, 2005

New details about an intense battle between insurgents and Iraqi police commandos supported by U.S. forces cast doubt Thursday on Iraqi government claims that 85 rebels were killed at what was described as a clandestine training camp.

Accounts of the fighting continued to indicate that a major battle involving dozens of insurgents occurred Tuesday on the eastern shore of Tharthar Lake, which is about 50 miles northwest of Baghdad. However, two U.S. military officials said Thursday that no bodies were found by American troops who arrived at the scene after the fighting. A spokesman for the Iraqi Interior Ministry, meanwhile, said he presumed the announced death toll was accurate, but he played down the scope of the fighting. [complete article]

See also, Accounts of Iraq raid rife with discrepancies (New Standard).

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Democracy's nasty surprises
By Geoffrey Wheatcroft, International Herald Tribune, March 25, 2005

Democracy is implicitly founded on the belief that electorates will act responsibly and rationally. Nations can in the end acquire the habits of political responsibility, it's true, as the Germans have done in the second half of the 20th century. But then to look back at the first half is a reminder that they learned the hard way.

It has been said that it is a denial of the whole experience of the past century to suppose that men will reject their passions in favor of their interests. If men or women always followed a rational political course, would so many Germans have voted for Hitler in 1932? Or would have more than a third of Czech voters voted Communist in the free elections of 1946, making the takeover less than two years later much easier?

All this is far from academic today. Assuming the sincerity of the ideological proponents of the Iraq war, they must have believed that bringing democracy to the Middle East would lead people there to vote for parties that are sensible, moderate and pro-American. It doesn't seem to have occurred to them that the more democratic Iraq might become, the more strongly nationalist or Islamist, or both, it might be - and the more bitterly hostile to America as well as Israel. [complete article]

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FBI probe into leaked secrets takes aim at AIPAC
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, March 25, 2005

Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin was reinstated a few weeks ago, after sitting at home for half a year and being barred from returning to his job on the Iranian desk in the Department of Defense's policy division. Franklin was at the center of a lengthy FBI investigation after suspicions arose that he transfered classified information about U.S. policy on Iran to members of the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee).

In the seven months since the affair made headlines on the CBS evening news, the investigation has been kept under tight wraps, but its ramifications are already being felt.

While Franklin is back at work, and, say well-placed sources, is expected to reach a plea bargain, the spotlight has moved to the AIPAC officials - two senior members were suspended for the duration of the case and four other senior officials were forced to testify at length before the special investigative jury in Virginia (whose proceedings are classified) appointed for the case. [complete article]

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Ukraine's proliferation skeletons
By David Isenberg, Asia Times, March 25, 2005

Recent stories about the alleged sale of 12 former Soviet nuclear-capable unarmed air-launched cruise missiles (ALCM) to Iran and China - six to each nation - by Ukraine advance a long unfolding slow-motion scandal, but still leave many questions unanswered.

Allegations of Ukranian arms sales to Iran and other countries have been around for years. For example, in November 2002 lawmaker Hryhoriy Omelchenko, a former reserve colonel in the Ukranian intelligence service, promised to lay out "proven facts" of Ukraine's arms sales "not only to Iraq, North Korea, China and Iran", but even other states, according to his office. Omelchenko is the same legislator who went public last month in letters to President Victor Yuschenko and the prosecutor general, Svyatoslav Piskun, with allegations of the smuggling operation.

The 2002 charge came at the same time that Ukraine was in the news for a scandal over the alleged sale of Kolchuga air-defense radars to Iraq. It was then feared that the radars could be used to track Western aircraft in Iraq's no-fly zones. [complete article]

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EU studying Iranian plan for small-scale uranium enrichment
AFP (via Daily Star), March 25, 2005

The EU is considering an Iranian proposal to allow the Islamic Republic to produce enriched uranium on a small scale, despite the bloc's demand that Tehran abandon the process to guarantee it will not make atom bombs, officials and diplomats said Thursday.

Iran made the proposal to be allowed to run a pilot centrifuge project for uranium enrichment at a meeting in Paris on Wednesday with EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany, according to a European official who asked not to be identified.

The pilot plant would have a relatively small number of centrifuges, the machines arranged successively in order to refine out enriched uranium.

Experts have told AFP the idea is to have 500 to 2,000 centrifuges instead of the 54,000 centrifuges Iran has said it wants to build, an industrial-style arrangement which could produce large amounts of fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but also what in highly enriched form can be the explosive core of atom bombs. [complete article]

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Nuclear accord eludes Iran and Europeans
By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, March 24, 2005

Iran and its European negotiating partners struggled without success on Wednesday to break an impasse on reaching a long-term agreement on nuclear, economic and security cooperation.

But the Iranian side presented new proposals to provide further assurances to the Europeans that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful, and the two sides have agreed to meet again soon, participants said.

"We had rather extensive talks, and we presented a number of ideas on how we can move forward," M. Javad Zarif, ambassador to the United Nations and the leader of the delegation, said in a telephone interview. A European who took part in the meeting said, "By the standards of international group bureaucracies and negotiations, we've moved forward a bit." [complete article]

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U.S.-China relationship entering a new and difficult era
By Tony Karon,, March 24, 2005

Despite the smiles and words of praise, Secretary of State Condolleeza Rice left no doubt during her brief visit to China last weekend that the Sino-U.S. relationship will be an increasingly important -- and perilous -- dimension of Washington's foreign policy in years to come. The visit highlighted new tensions over Taiwan, mounting U.S. concern over China's efforts to modernize its military and impatience over its diplomatic efforts to restrain North Korea's nuclear program -- and, of course, the Bush administration's promotion of democracy. "China must embrace some form of open representative government if it is to reap the benefits and meet the challenges of a globalizing world," Rice said bluntly, although Chinese foreign policy types might conclude that they're doing rather nicely in terms of reaping those benefits on the basis of the current system. Rice also made it clear that she believed the Europeans had no business selling arms to China in light of the fact that "defending the Pacific" was a U.S. responsibility. [complete article]

See also, U-turn politics on EU-China arms ban and Bush wins big as China overplays its hand (Asia Times).

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The 'tulip revolution' topples Krygyzstan's president of 15 years
By Andrew Osborn and Kumar Bekbolotov, The Independent, March 25, 2005

Kyrgyzstan became the third former Soviet republic to experience a popular revolt in less than 18 months yesterday after its authoritarian government was toppled by thousands of opposition protesters.

The revolt, known popularly as the "tulip revolution", occurred at lightning speed as the demonstrators swarmed into the government's headquarters in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, forcing officials to flee and riot police to melt away.

The country's president, Askar Akayev, 60, was last night reported to have fled to neighbouring Kazakhstan with his family. Earlier, some opposition protesters threatened to execute him if he showed his face on the streets of Bishkek. [complete article]

See also, Another hole gapes in Putin's post-Soviet vision (The Guardian), Kyrgyzstan: The day the tulip revolution came (The Independent), New Kyrgyz leader promises polls (BBC) and Revolt returns to ex-Soviet sphere (CSM).

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Trading places
By Peter F. Drucker, The National Interest, Spring, 2005

The New world economy is fundamentally different from that of the fifty years following World War II. The United States may well remain the political and military leader for decades to come. It is likely also to remain the world's richest and most productive national economy for a long time (though the European Union as a whole is both larger and more productive). But the U.S. economy is no longer the single dominant economy.

The emerging world economy is a pluralist one, with a substantial number of economic "blocs." Eventually there may be six or seven blocs, of which the U.S.-dominated NAFTA is likely to be only one, coexisting and competing with the European Union (EU), MERCOSUR in Latin America, ASEAN in the Far East, and nation-states that are blocs by themselves, China and India. These blocs are neither "free trade" nor "protectionist", but both at the same time.

Even more novel is that what is emerging is not one but four world economies: a world economy of information; of money; of multinationals (one no longer dominated by American enterprises); and a mercantilist world economy of goods, services and trade. These world economies overlap and interact with one another. But each is distinct with different members, a different scope, different values and different institutions. [complete article]

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Startling scientists, plant fixes its flawed gene
By Nicholas Wade, New York Times, March 23, 2005

In a startling discovery, geneticists at Purdue University say they have found plants that possess a corrected version of a defective gene inherited from both their parents, as if some handy backup copy with the right version had been made in the grandparents' generation or earlier.

The finding implies that some organisms may contain a cryptic backup copy of their genome that bypasses the usual mechanisms of heredity. If confirmed, it would represent an unprecedented exception to the laws of inheritance discovered by Gregor Mendel in the 19th century. Equally surprising, the cryptic genome appears not to be made of DNA, the standard hereditary material.

The discovery also raises interesting biological questions - including whether it gets in the way of evolution, which depends on mutations changing an organism rather than being put right by a backup system. [complete article]

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Pakistan is booming since 9/11, at least for the well-off
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times, March 23, 2005

Umar Sheikh, 31, British-born, New York-trained and married to a woman from New Jersey, long dreamed of running his own restaurant. London was too expensive. New York was too risky. Karachi seemed just right.

His gamble, in this restive port city better known for its religious radicals than its ravioli, has worked so far. Limoncello, Mr. Sheikh's cozy Italian-inspired fine dining spot with lemon-colored walls and a kebab-free menu that features arugula and Norwegian salmon, is thriving.

Its success reflects an unexpected post-Sept. 11 boon: prompted by a mix of government policy, serendipity and changing global tides brought on by the American campaign against terrorism, Pakistan's economy is booming. The well-off, at least, are living extremely well. [complete article]

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The rabbi who pricks Israel's conscience
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, March 25, 2005

Rabbi Arik Ascherman has spent years planting himself atop doomed Palestinian homes, reading extracts of international law to Israeli forces as they demolish the buildings beneath his feet.

More recently, the American-born rabbi, with a knitted blue skull cap pinned to his woolly black hair, has been at the forefront of resistance to the construction of what Israel calls its "security barrier" penning in and carving up West Bank villages.

Along the way he has been a persistent embarrassment to the Israeli government as a fervent Zionist who claims to reflect the true soul of the Jewish state by resisting its oppression of Palestinians. He has been arrested many times but this week, for the first time, the 45-year-old director of Rabbis for Human Rights was convicted for his form of resistance.

"The way to be pro-Israel is to work for a better Israel, and the real Zionism is to work for an Israel that is not only physically strong but morally strong," he said. "There is a false equation that if you voice any criticism of Israel you are delegitimising Israel at some level. I believe the opposite." [complete article]

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U.S. handling of terror suspects questioned
By Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, March 24, 2005

The former British ambassador to Uzbekistan says that over the past three years, the United States has routinely handed over dozens of low-level terrorism suspects to Uzbekistan, an authoritarian regime that systematically uses torture to obtain terrorist confessions during interrogations.

The former ambassador, Craig Murray, also contends that the CIA and the British intelligence agency MI6 routinely cited information in their regular intelligence briefings that has been passed on by Uzbek authorities and was almost certainly obtained under torture.

Murray's assertions, made in a telephone interview with the Globe and in a series of confidential memos to the British Foreign Office, raise questions about the close cooperation between the United States and war-on-terror allies such as Uzbekistan. The State Department's annual human rights reports detail how Uzbek authorities routinely use torture to elicit confessions, allegedly burning one man on his genitals, killing another with a pair of pliers, and apparently boiling two prisoners alive.

"We should cease all cooperation with the Uzbek Security Services -- they are beyond the pale," Murray wrote in a July 2004 memo to the foreign office. The memo appeared on the website of an Uzbek democracy group and Murray confirmed for the Globe its authenticity.

US officials including CIA Director Porter Goss have contended they do not turn suspects over to countries that use torture without receiving diplomatic assurances that the suspect will not be mistreated. [complete article]

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Army documents shed light on CIA 'ghosting'
By Josh White, Washington Post, March 24, 2005

Senior defense officials have described the CIA practice of hiding unregistered detainees at Abu Ghraib prison as ad hoc and unauthorized, but a review of Army documents shows that the agency's "ghosting" program was systematic and known to three senior intelligence officials in Iraq.

Army and Pentagon investigations have acknowledged a limited amount of ghosting, but more than a dozen documents and investigative statements obtained by The Washington Post show that unregistered CIA detainees were brought to Abu Ghraib several times a week in late 2003, and that they were hidden in a special row of cells. Military police soldiers came up with a rough system to keep track of such detainees with single-digit identification numbers, while others were dropped off unnamed, unannounced and unaccounted for.

The documents show that the highest-ranking general in Iraq at the time acknowledged that his top intelligence officer was aware the CIA was using Abu Ghraib's cells, a policy the general abruptly stopped when questions arose. [complete article]

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Coalition forms to oppose parts of Patriot Act
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, March 23, 2005

Battle lines were drawn Tuesday in the debate over the government's counterterrorism powers, as an unlikely coalition of liberal civil-rights advocates, conservative libertarians, gun-rights supporters and medical privacy advocates voiced their objections to crucial parts of the law that expanded those powers after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Keeping the law intact "will do great and irreparable harm" to the Constitution by allowing the government to investigate people's reading habits, search their homes without notice and pry into their personal lives, said Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman who is leading the coalition.

Mr. Barr voted for the law, known as the USA Patriot Act, in the House just weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks but has become one of its leading critics, a shift that reflects the growing unease among some conservative libertarians over the expansion of the government's powers in fighting terrorism.

He joined with other conservatives as well as the American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday in announcing the creation of the coalition, which hopes to curtail some of the law's more sweeping law-enforcement provisions. [complete article]

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'Intelligence fiasco' stirs up the Korean peninsula
By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2005

At a sensitive time when the United States is trying to build a consensus on North Korea, South Koreans are in a furor over allegations that Washington hyped intelligence about the North's nuclear activities.

The flap, which roughly parallels some of the disputes over Iraq, concerns a trip by National Security Council officials through Asia this year to present evidence to Chinese, Japanese and South Korean officials about North Korea's alleged role in supplying Libya with uranium hexafluoride. The gas is used to make weapons-grade uranium.

In a Washington Post report Sunday, two U.S. officials were quoted as saying the U.S. had covered up a key role played by Pakistan as middleman to bolster the case against North Korea as a dangerous proliferator of nuclear material. [complete article]

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Iraq war: The smoking gun?
By Colin Brown, The Independent, March 24, 2005

Documentary evidence has emerged showing that the [British] Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, changed his mind about the legality of the Iraq war just before the conflict began. The damning revelation is contained in the resignation letter of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, a legal adviser at the Foreign Office, in which she said the war would be a "crime of aggression". She quit the day after Lord Goldsmith's ruling was made public, three days before the war began in March 2003.

The critical paragraph of her letter, published yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act, was blanked out by the Government on the grounds that it was in the public interest to protect the privacy of the advice given by the Attorney General. But last night the contents of the paragraph were leaked, and Tony Blair was facing fresh allegations of a cover-up. There has long been speculation that Lord Goldsmith was leant on to switch his view, and to sanction the war - and confirmation of that would be devastating for the Prime Minister. The Wilmhurst letter stops short of explaining what caused Lord Goldsmith to change his mind.

The revelations come two weeks after it emerged that there had never been a detailed dossier from the Attorney General setting out the case for military action before troops were committed, and that Britain went to war on the basis of nine paragraphs on a single sheet of A4 paper. [complete article]

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A wall of faith and history
By David Fromkin, New York Times, March 24, 2005

A distinctive feature of the events of 1989 in Germany that is not found in the Middle East in 2005 is that those who manned the Berlin Wall were no longer willing to defend it. The Communist regimes had lost faith in communism and in themselves; they offered no resistance when the crowds pulled down the barricades.

That is not true of our adversaries, or even many of our friends, today in the Middle East. The jihadists believe in their cause with a fanatic ardor. Taliban raiders continue to harass the democratically elected regime in Afghanistan. It is not clear whether armed groups will respect the Palestinian truce. And even if Syria should withdraw from Lebanon, the dictatorial regime in Damascus is not dissolving itself, as Moscow's did after 1989; on the contrary, any withdrawal would be part of a larger plan to consolidate its hold on domestic power.

Nor are the forces on our side necessarily fighting for democracy, as they were in Berlin. The demonstrators in the streets in Beirut were not demanding democracy, but asking for independence - which is rather a different thing. [complete article]

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Oil squabbles stop Iraq government
By Beth Potter, UPI (via WP Herald), March 23, 2005

Oil. No matter what else the politicians say, that's the biggest reason a new Iraq government hasn't been formed after weeks of haggling.

Almost two months after voters braved car bombs and mortars to elect a new Parliament Jan. 30, politicians still have not been able to decide who will control the country's oil revenues and run the powerful Oil Ministry.

Kurds, an ethnic group living in northern Iraq, want 25 percent of the oil revenues to spend on their own three provinces, said Saad J. Kindeel, acting head of the political bureau of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq. SCIRI, as it's known, is one of two Shiite Muslim parties in the United Iraqi Alliance, which won a little less than 50 percent of the 8 million ballots cast.

Kurds also want the oil minister to be Kurdish to better control the northern oil city of Kirkuk, Kindeel said. Kirkuk has long been disputed between Kurds and other Iraqis. [complete article]

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In Iraq, Army takes lesson from a U.S. battle
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, March 23, 2005

As it struggles to control the insurgency in Iraq, the US Army is looking for lessons from an unusual source: urban gangs.

After two years of steady violence, a new Army War College analysis concludes that, instead of fighting a ragtag army, American troops in Iraq are dealing with an enemy that more closely resembles sophisticated, violent street gangs, similar to powerful Central American groups spawned more than a decade ago in Los Angeles.

Challenging the conventional approach of the US military and its allies of relying on firepower to defeat guerrillas, the study argues that the current anti-insurgent strategy can't succeed without tough police work and social programs addressing the root causes of street conflict -- poverty, injustice, repression, lack of opportunity.

"We traditionally think of insurgency as primarily a military activity, and we think of gangs as a simple law enforcement problem," according to the study by Max Manwaring, a professor of military strategy. "Yet insurgents and gangs are engaged in a highly complex political act: political war."

The Iraq insurgency shows signs of spiraling into a broader criminal network. Some senior officers have recently reported that criminals for hire are playing larger roles in the violence. But Manwaring's paper, which is getting attention on military websites and in internal Pentagon discussions, warns that the US military still treats insurgents as largely a security problem, not a societal one -- a major reason why violence remains high in Iraq. Some specialists worry that without a more holistic approach, the instability will remain long after the troops come home. [complete article]

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Sunnis now want to join Iraq politics
By Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, March 24, 2005

Two years after war dramatically changed Iraq's political landscape, the former ruling minority Sunnis are developing plans to participate in a government formed by elections they boycotted.

In a significant shift, several Sunni groups that hitherto shunned the political process met last weekend to create a unified front and set of demands that they will present to the Shiite and Kurdish leaders now hammering out a new government.

The meeting was a reversal for Sunni leaders who have supported insurgents and urged US troops to leave Iraq immediately.

The new effort, observers say, appears to be an admission that their strategy - to stop Iraq's election and denounce the formation of a new government - has failed. Bringing the former ruling class into Iraq's emerging power structure, they add, could help quell the insurgency. [complete article]

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Iraqi Shiism could topple the mullahs
By Cameron Khosrowshahi, International Herald Tribune, March 24 , 2005

Rather than worrying about Iran's influence over Iraq, we should be harnessing the strength of Iraq's newly empowered Shiites against the regime in Iran. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the spiritual leader of Iraq's Shiites, is cut from a different cloth from the ruling clerics in Tehran.

He is of the quietist tradition, which holds that mosque and state should be kept separate. There are already profound roots for this philosophy within Iran itself. It was the conventional thinking among the religious authorities of my grandfather's era and was the norm until Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini politicized Iranian Shiism.

A major artery of information flow and exchange has existed between the two countries for centuries. As Iraq's democracy and civil society stabilize, more and more Iranians will travel to Najaf and Karbala as pilgrims and seminary students. The Iranian state can restrict movement, what its people say, read and write, and what they see and hear on radio, TV and the Internet. But it will never be able to curtail their right to perform the pilgrimage to Iraq, which is a religious duty. The ideas these pilgrims take back with them to Iran could be the beginnings of an authentic counterrevolution against the tyranny of the mosque.

Sistani's religious credentials and learning dwarf those of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his counterpart in Iran. There are many Iranians who would rather listen to the Iranian-born Sistani if he chooses to speak to them. Moreover, his call to freedom will be couched within a language they understand, that of tradition and religious scholarship. [complete article]

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A way to break the nuclear impasse
By Bennett Ramberg, International Herald Tribune, March 24, 2005

Iran is on a nuclear roll. In recent weeks it signed a deal with Russia to acquire nuclear fuel for its Bushehr reactor, rebuffed reprimands from the International Atomic Energy Agency, berated European interlocutors for bad faith and got the United States to back off from veiled military threats and even to agree to modest economic incentives. In addition, the mullahs have stonewalled continuing efforts to end their nuclear fuel enrichment program while denying international inspection of suspicious sites. The West's response: We can still make a deal.

While President George W. Bush remains unequivocal about not letting Iran have nuclear weapons, the new tack offers little to bring Tehran around, and options are wearing thin. What is required at this point is a new face-saving, risk-taking, bluff-calling alternative. Co-opting Iran's demands for enrichment offers an unexplored prospect.

The instrument of this strategy would be a joint enrichment venture between Iran and the three European countries it has been dealing with on the nuclear issue - France, Germany and Britain. Iran would agree for European personnel to permanently operate and monitor the operation, and would agree to allow snap inspections of suspect sites by the nuclear energy agency. [complete article]

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Iran agrees fresh nuclear talks
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, March 24, 2005

The Iranian government decided to enter into a fresh round of negotiations with Britain, France and Germany next month, aimed at resolving the nuclear stand-off, after a meeting with British, French and German officials in Paris yesterday.

A European diplomat said: "On balance, it is a reasonably positive outcome. The Iranians have decided it is still worth talking and see benefits from this."

Iran denies being engaged on a covert programme to build a nuclear bomb. Britain, France and Germany remain suspicious and want Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment programme indefinitely. [complete article]

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Detainee helped bin Laden flee, document says
AP (via WP), March 23, 2005

A terrorism suspect held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, was a commander for Osama bin Laden during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s and helped the al Qaeda leader escape his mountain hideout at Tora Bora in 2001, according to a U.S. government document.

The document, provided to the Associated Press in response to a Freedom of Information request, says the unnamed detainee "assisted in the escape of Osama bin Laden from Tora Bora." It is the first definitive statement from the Pentagon that bin Laden was at Tora Bora and evaded U.S. pursuers.

"The detainee was one of Osama bin Laden's commanders during the Soviet jihad," the document says, referring to the holy war against Soviet occupiers.

The events at Tora Bora were a point of contention during last year's presidential race. President Bush and Vice President Cheney asserted that commanders did not know whether bin Laden was there when U.S. and allied Afghan forces attacked the area in December 2001. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda and its affiliates: A global tribe waging segmental warfare? (PDF)
By David Ronfeldt, Highlands Forum (via YaleGlobal), March 21, 2005

Al Qaeda and its affiliates are operating much like a global tribe waging segmental warfare. This paper describes the dynamics of classic tribes: what drives them, how they organize, how they fight. Al Qaeda fits the tribal paradigm quite well. Thus, continuing to view Al Qaeda mainly as a cutting-edge, post-modern phenomenon of the information age misses a crucial point: Al Qaeda and affiliates are using the information age to reiterate ancient patterns of tribalism on a global scale. The war they are waging is more about virulent tribalism than religion. The tribal paradigm should be added to the network and other prevailing paradigms to help figure out the best policies and strategies for countering these violent actors. [complete article]

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New online book lays out al-Qaeda's military strategy
Jamestown Foundation, March 18, 2005

An interesting new publication to hit the web gives insight into the thinking of an al-Qaeda strategist on the next stages of the struggle. Posted on the al-Ikhlas jihadi forum [] the work is entitled Idarat al-Tawahhush, "The Management of Barbarism," further defined as "the phase of transition to the Islamic state." Due to the strategic importance of the document, Terrorism Focus has undertaken an in-depth examination of the Arabic text.

Published by the Center of Islamic Studies and Research (an al-Qaeda affiliate), the 113-page work 'Management of Barbarism' aims to map out the progressive stages of establishing an Islamic state, from early beginnings in defined areas in the Arabian Peninsula, or Nigeria, Jordan, the Maghreb, Pakistan or Yemen, and its subsequent global expansion. The author is Abu Bakr Naji, a name familiar from his contributions to the Sawt al-Jihad online magazine (which are republished at the end of this book).

By "Management of Barbarism" the author refers to the period just after the collapse of a superpower, the period of "savage chaos". It appears pointedly to be a method of not repeating the experience of Afghanistan prior to the rule of the Taliban, and of improving controls over the periods experienced, for instance, in Somalia after the fall of Siad Barre. [complete article]

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'As scared as people are, we have to have faith in Lebanon'
By Jessy Chahine, Daily Star, March 24, 2005

The bustling and picturesque area of Kaslik had escaped unscathed from 15 years of civil war but in the early hours of Wednesday morning a large bomb tore through a shopping arcade, killing three Indian workers sleeping inside and causing extensive damage to the surrounding area.

The bomb, which official sources said was about 30 kilograms while other reports indicated it was between 80 and 100 kilograms, detonated at around 1:30 a.m. in the Alta Vista shopping center in downtown Kaslik. Security officials think the bomb may have been planted under one of the centers' escalators.

For many Lebanese, Kaslik was the main recreational area immediately after the end of the civil war, when much of Beirut was still in ruins. [complete article]

See also, Wave of panic grips country after Kaslik bombing (Daily Star).

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Long road to reform in Damascus
By Abigail Fielding-Smith, The Guardian, March 21, 2005

"The smell of freedom is in the air," announced a Newsnight correspondent in a recent report from Lebanon. The overthrow of the Iraqi regime and the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon have led to talk of a domino effect in the Middle East, and all eyes are now on the ancien regime in Damascus.

Anyone expecting to find the Syrian people on the verge of overthrowing the government will, however, be disappointed. Old men sit at cafe tables drawing pensively on their sheesha pipes. The younger crowd meet in mixed company in the city's burgeoning collection of bars and cheerfully dance off a week's work. In contrast to a pro-government demonstration last week, which drew thousands of people, only 100 gathered to protest at the government's abuses of power.

The Ba'athist regime in Syria has been very effective at suppressing opposition. As the dissident writer Yasseen Hassalah says: "When you put a complete society in a bottle for 25 years, you cannot expect people to get out of the bottle strong and ready to fight." [complete article]

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Abdullah: Syria, Hezbollah promote terror against Israel
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, March 24, 2005

Jordan's King Abdullah warned yesterday that Syria and Hezbollah are encouraging Palestinian activists to carry out terror attacks against Israel, trying to divert attention from the situation in Lebanon and Syria.

In a meeting with representatives of leading Jewish organizations, Abdullah also said Iran, Syria and Hezbollah are the greatest threats to stability in the Middle East.

Abdullah said he recently told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that in case of a terrorist attack Sharon should check carefully who is behind it to avoid an Israeli retaliation against the wrong target. Abdullah was implying that, should a terror attack occur, Sharon would find that Hezbollah was responsible. [complete article]

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Without U.S. intervention, chances for further Palestinian-Israeli peace progress are 'absolutely zero'
Council on Foreign Relations interview, March, 2005

Henry Siegman, the director of the Council's U.S./Middle East Project, says that Palestinian-Israeli relations have improved since the death of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. But he says that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policy of unilateralism threatens to bring down the government of President Mahmoud Abbas, because Sharon shows no sign of ending the expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Washington has to intervene forcefully with Sharon, Siegman says. "That is the only hope for a two-state solution. If there is any prospect of halting...developments that simply make a peace agreement absolutely impossible and that guarantee, also, the collapse of Abu Mazen's government--I'd say within six months--it is an American insistence that these preemptive measures end and be rolled back." [complete article]

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Palestinian mood is pro-peace and anti-terror
Council on Foreign Relations interview, March, 2005

Khalil Shikaki, director of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, says recent developments have left the Palestinian public optimistic about peace and opposed to terror.

The negotiation of a Palestinian-Israeli cease-fire and the election of a new Palestinian leadership receive high marks. Palestinians are "optimistic about the cease-fire. They're optimistic about the ability to reach agreements with Israel. They're optimistic about domestic conditions in the Palestinian Authority with regard to building a more democratic political system," he says. Palestinians, however, remain unhappy with the perceived corruption in public life, a carryover from the long rule of Palestinian Authority President Yasir Arafat, who died in November. They are also firmly opposed to new acts of terrorism that might threaten the cease-fire. [complete article]

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Erekat to ask U.S. envoys to block Ma'aleh Adumim expansion
AP (via Haaretz), March 24, 2005

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Thursday he will ask visiting U.S. envoys to help block the expansion of the West Bank settlement of Ma'aleh Adumim, warning that the planned construction would cut off East Jerusalem - the Palestinians' intended capital - from territory they seek for a future state.

The envoys, National Security Council official Elliott Abrams and David Welch, assistant secretary of state for the Near East, asked Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Wednesday about the planned expansion of the settlement, the largest one in the in the West Bank. Israel plans to build 3,500 more homes in Ma'aleh Adumim, which is located five kilometers east of Jerusalem, driving a wedge between East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Erekat said the Ma'aleh Adumim expansion would top his agenda in talks later Thursday with Abrams and Welch. "The most important thing at this stage is to ... stop settlement activities," Erekat said. [complete article]

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Israeli plan would expand a Jewish settlement on strategic territory
By Ben Lynfield, Christian Science Monitor, March 23, 2005

With international attention riveted on Gaza in the run-up to Israel's planned withdrawal there, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is shoring up Israel's hold on the Greater Jerusalem area.

Even as Israel handed over a second West Bank town - Tulkarem - to Palestinians yesterday, its plan to expand its largest settlement, three miles from Jerusalem, has angered Palestinians who say it's a direct violation of the peace process.

The idea behind building 3,500 residential units at the Maale Adumim, say both proponents and critics, is to fill the territory between it and existing settlements within annexed East Jerusalem with Israeli housing.

But those three miles make up some of the most sensitive real estate in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. They help to determine which side enjoys territorial contiguity in and around traditionally Arab East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians view as essential for having a viable capital of an independent state. [complete article]

U.S. seeks Israeli 'clarification' on settlement expansion plans
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, March 23, 2005

The Bush administration, expressing muted concern about Israeli plans to build new housing outside Jerusalem, said Tuesday that two top envoys would seek "clarifications" on whether the action contradicted American policy opposing an expansion of "settlement activity" in the West Bank.

The two envoys - Elliott Abrams, a deputy national security adviser, and David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs - arrived in Israel on Tuesday on a previously scheduled visit, the State Department announced.

Adam Ereli, the department's deputy spokesman, said they would "make the point that U.S. policy on this issue is very clear" and that "there needs to be an end to settlement activity." The term has traditionally referred to an often repeated ban on expansion of settlements, including "natural growth" resulting from population increases. [complete article]

One step back in the Mideast
Editorial, New York Times, March 23, 2005

Maybe Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel doesn't quite get it yet, but this new era of hope in the Middle East means he needs to restrain his instincts for settlement building.

On Monday, Israel publicly confirmed plans to expand the already large settlement a few miles east of Jerusalem called Maale Adumim. In a community already housing 30,000 residents - not to mention a Blockbuster Video, Ace Hardware and other shops - Israel plans to build an additional 3,500 new housing units.

The Palestinians have rightly criticized this as a major obstacle to ever resolving one of the most emotional and intractable issues between the two: the final borders of Israel and eventually Palestine, and the dividing up of Jerusalem. [complete article]

Greek Orthodox Church facing crisis over alleged Jerusalem land sale
AFP (via Daily Star), March 23, 2005

The Greek Orthodox Church was flung into a fresh crisis Tuesday as Palestinian MPs voted for Arab Orthodox Christians to secede from the Greek patriarchy following its alleged sale of Jerusalem land to Jewish investors.

The latest twist in the ongoing scandal, which has resurrected a bitter split within the Greek Orthodox community in the Holy Land, came as the Greek Patriarch Irineos I denied any involvement in the alleged land sale in Jerusalem's Old City.

In a special session to discuss the crisis, the Palestinian Parliament passed a resolution urging the Palestinian Authority to no longer recognize the authority of the Greek Orthodox patriarchy over the Orthodox Arab community. [complete article]

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Palestinians 'foiling militants'
BBC News, March 22, 2005

A senior Israeli intelligence official has praised Palestinian security forces for preventing as many militant attacks as their Israeli counterparts. Brig Gen Yossi Kuperwasser was speaking to the Knesset foreign affairs and defence committee.

However, he gave no figures and did not say whether he was referring to the West Bank, the Gaza Strip or both. His comments came a day after Israel handed over security responsibility for the West Bank town of Tulkarm. [complete article]

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U.S. says disarming Hizbullah is a Lebanese issue
By Majdoline Hatoum, Daily Star, March 23, 2005

Hizbullah's political position as a resistance group seems to have garnered a hint of international legitimacy recently, with the U.S. administration saying disarming the party was an internal Lebanese issue and a Euro-American think-tank holding talks with representatives from the party.

Adam Ereli, Deputy Spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said Monday that the disarmament of Hizbullah was an internal Lebanese issue that should be solved by the Lebanese government.

He said: "The disarmament of Hizbullah and other militias found in Lebanon is an issue that should be decided by the Lebanese government."

This statement clearly contradicts the traditional American position on the party, which has long been labeled a "terrorist organization" by American administrations.

However, the latest comment did not come as a complete surprise as it comes on the heels of other moderate statements by U.S. officials, including President George W. Bush, who said last week that Hizbullah could be viewed as a political party if it laid down its weapons. [complete article]

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Three killed as new blast rocks Beirut shopping mall
AFP (via Daily Star), March 23, 2005

Three people were killed early Wednesday when a bomb ripped through a shopping center in the coastal night life and shopping district of Kaslik, 20 kms north of Beirut, the second explosion since the assassination last month of ex-premier Rafiq Hariri plunged Lebanon into political turmoil.

Police confirmed that the blast, which occurred near the port of Jounieh, was caused by an explosive device.

Three people were security personnel at the mall.

The blast followed an explosion in another Beirut suburb early Saturday, which injured 11 people, and seemed certain to heighten fears of a resurgence in the sectarian violence that devastated Lebanon during its 1975-1990 civil war. [complete article]

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Drop in U.S. casualties accompanies increase in attacks on Iraqis
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, March 22, 2005

The number of U.S. troops killed in Iraq has plummeted recently and attacks on American troops have dropped significantly, prompting U.S. military officials to wonder whether to hail the drop-off as a sign of success or brace for renewed attacks later.

At the same time, many Iraqis are alarmed by a rise in attacks on Iraqi civilians and security personnel. They fear that the war is turning inward, toward more intense sectarian violence that could lead to civil war. [complete article]

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U.S. turns to Iraqi insiders in battle against insurgency
By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2005

Rather than trying to defeat the insurgency in Iraq militarily, U.S. commanders now taking charge here say they are focused on developing better intelligence and using unorthodox tactics to chip away at militant cells with help from Iraqi security forces.

As part of that strategy, commanders and their Iraqi allies say they have had informal contacts with Sunni Muslims who either support the insurgency or are active participants. Some of these Sunnis want to take part in the country's fledgling political process, intelligence officers say.

The overall strategy reflects the Pentagon's emphasis on turning over security responsibilities to Iraqis. The commanders say intelligence developed by Iraqi security forces is disrupting some insurgent cells while also leading to roundups of low- and mid-level insurgents. [complete article]

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More than 80 insurgents killed, Iraq officials say
By Caryle Murphy, Washington Post, March 23, 2005

Iraqi officials said Wednesday that more than 80 insurgents were killed when Iraqi commandos, assisted by U.S. helicopter support, attacked a suspected insurgency training camp on Tuesday.

The insurgent death toll was the largest for a single battle since the U.S. Marine-led assault on the former militant stronghold of Fallujah in November.

Seven members of the Iraqi police special forces members were also killed and five others were injured in the daylight attack on the camp located near the man-made Lake Tharthar north of Baghdad, officials said. [complete article]

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Iraq moves to expel foreign Arabs
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, March 23, 2005

In a bid to rid the country of foreign insurgents, the Iraqi government is using strict new residency rules to detain and expel non-Iraqi Arabs.

Any Arab without the proper permit can be detained, interrogated and asked to leave the country, Interior Ministry officials said. So far the program has swept up mostly Syrians, Sudanese, Saudis and Egyptians, and about 250 people have been asked to leave.

Far more are being detained -- as many as 200 a day in the Baghdad area alone -- although most are released within a few days. Though some are taken in for suspected terrorist activities, others are held with no evidence other than not having proper residency permits under the new rules. Such people can be deported without any evidence of having committed crimes. Although the focus has been on Arabs, a few Chechens and Iranians also have been detained. [...]

Most deeply alarmed are Palestinians, whose community in Iraq numbers more than 30,000, most of them in Baghdad. Many came here in 1948, when the British mandate in Palestine ended and the state of Israel was created. [complete article]

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Death at 'immoral' picnic in the park
By Catherine Philp, The Times, March 23, 2005

In the election in January, the battle between secular and religious forces in Basra came down to the ballot box. The main Shia alliance triumphed with 70 per cent of the province’s vote, most of the rest going to a secular rival.

That victory has brought to a head the issue of whether Iraq’s new constitution will adopt Islamic law -- or Sharia -- as most religious Shia leaders desire.

In Basra, however, Islamic militias already are beginning to apply their own version of that law, without authority from above or any challenge from the police. [complete article]

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Tehran reaffirms full nuclear program
AFP (via Daily Star), March 23, 2005

Iran reaffirmed Tuesday that it will pursue a full-scale nuclear program, a day ahead of talks in Paris at which the European Union will urge Tehran to abandon crucial fuel activities in order to show it is not secretly developing atomic weapons. Mohammad Saeidi, vice president of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told a conference on nuclear power Tuesday in Paris that Iran was committed however to enriching uranium for what can be nuclear fuel.

But highly enriched uranium can also be the explosive core of nuclear bombs.

The Iranian program aims for "self-sufficiency in all aspects of the peaceful use of nuclear energy including the provision of nuclear fuel," Saeidi said. [complete article]

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U.S. rules out Iran security pledge
BBC News, March 23, 2005

The US has dismissed a call by the head of the UN's nuclear agency to offer Iran security assurances as a boost to talks over its nuclear programme.

State department spokesman Adam Ereli said the issue was not what the US would do, but what Iran would do, to allay the international concerns.

Iran is said to be seeking assurances of US and Israeli non-aggression. [complete article]

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Nuclear power is good: U.S. and Iran have no argument there
By Elaine Sciloino, New York Times, March 23, 2005

In an unadorned conference center at the French Ministry of Finance, the United States and Iran discovered this week that they had something in common. They are both passionate cheerleaders for nuclear power.

It's just that the United States wants to deny Iran the right to develop its own nuclear power capacity. [complete article]

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Nuclear power is the future
By Donald J. Johnston, International Herald Tribune, March 22, 2005

Global energy demand is rising dramatically, particularly in developing countries. Over the next few years, China and India will develop significant nuclear capacity. Smaller developing countries will follow suit. They have to, if they are to respond to the energy needs of their citizens.

Certainly, biomass, wind power, hydro power and solar panels can help. But the contribution of these sources of energy to the world's energy needs is predicted to remain modest: 14 percent at most. Nuclear is at present the only viable proven technology that can meet rising energy demand without producing the greenhouse gases that threaten the future of our planet. What must governments do to make the nuclear option possible? [complete article]

The energy crunch to come
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, March 22, 2005

The worldwide decline in new [oil] discoveries has profound implications for the global supply of energy and, by extension, the world economy. Given a recent surge in energy demand from China and other rapidly-developing countries, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) predicts that, for all future energy needs to be satisfied, total world oil output will have to climb by 50% between now and 2025; from, that is, approximately 80 million to 120 million barrels per day. A staggering increase in global production, that extra 40 million barrels per day would be the equivalent of total world daily consumption in 1969. Absent major new discoveries, however, the global oil industry will likely prove incapable of providing all of this additional energy. Without massive new oil discoveries, prices will rise, supplies will dwindle, and the world economy will plunge into recession -- or worse. [complete article]

Nuclear power is the only green solution
By James Lovelock, The Independent, May 24, 2004

What makes global warming so serious and so urgent is that the great Earth system, Gaia, is trapped in a vicious circle of positive feedback. Extra heat from any source, whether from greenhouse gases, the disappearance of Arctic ice or the Amazon forest, is amplified, and its effects are more than additive. It is almost as if we had lit a fire to keep warm, and failed to notice, as we piled on fuel, that the fire was out of control and the furniture had ignited. When that happens, little time is left to put out the fire before it consumes the house. Global warming, like a fire, is accelerating and almost no time is left to act.

So what should we do? We can just continue to enjoy a warmer 21st century while it lasts, and make cosmetic attempts, such as the Kyoto Treaty, to hide the political embarrassment of global warming, and this is what I fear will happen in much of the world. When, in the 18th century, only one billion people lived on Earth, their impact was small enough for it not to matter what energy source they used.

But with six billion, and growing, few options remain; we can not continue drawing energy from fossil fuels and there is no chance that the renewables, wind, tide and water power can provide enough energy and in time. If we had 50 years or more we might make these our main sources. But we do not have 50 years; the Earth is already so disabled by the insidious poison of greenhouse gases that even if we stop all fossil fuel burning immediately, the consequences of what we have already done will last for 1,000 years. Every year that we continue burning carbon makes it worse for our descendants and for civilisation.

Worse still, if we burn crops grown for fuel this could hasten our decline. Agriculture already uses too much of the land needed by the Earth to regulate its climate and chemistry. A car consumes 10 to 30 times as much carbon as its driver; imagine the extra farmland required to feed the appetite of cars.

By all means, let us use the small input from renewables sensibly, but only one immediately available source does not cause global warming and that is nuclear energy. [complete article]

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Deficit bigger risk than terrorism
Reuters, March 22, 2005

The budget deficit has overtaken terrorism as the greatest short-term risk to the U.S. economy, and concern about the current account gap is rising, a survey of American businesses released on Monday showed.

In the survey of 172 members of the National Association For Business Economics, 27 percent said the deficit or government spending was the largest short-term threat to the economy, up from 23 percent who thought so in August.

Terrorism dropped to second on the list, with 24 percent saying it was the biggest threat, down from 40 percent. Those most concerned about the deficit in the current account -- the largest measure of U.S. trade with other nations -- tripled, to 15 percent from 5 percent in August. [complete article]

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Despite 'road map,' Israel approves expansion of West Bank settlement
By Dan Ephron, Boston Globe, March 22, 2005

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's government has given final approval for the building of 3,500 new housing units in Maaleh Adumim, already the most populous Jewish settlement in the West Bank, Israeli officials said yesterday. The expansion is the largest single housing project on occupied Palestinian territory in years and violates the terms of the US-conceived peace plan known as the ''road map."

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz endorsed the new construction last week, under a plan launched six years ago to link Maaleh Adumim to Jerusalem about seven miles away and tighten Israel's grip over a large swath of West Bank land. The approval went through even as Sharon's government continued pushing forward his program to withdraw from another part of the West Bank and from all of the Gaza Strip this summer.

Critics of settlement expansion said the extension of Maaleh Adumim would nearly bisect the West Bank and seriously set back the Palestinian goal of establishing a contiguous independent state -- an aim also articulated by President Bush. [complete article]

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Arab leaders to show solidarity with Syria at summit meeting
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, March 22, 2005

Arab leaders arrived Monday in the Algerian capital for a summit meeting that will include a statement of solidarity with Syria and a rejection of any further "foreign intervention" in that country's promised pullout from Lebanon.

The proposal, which was completed Sunday and is expected to be ratified by the Arab League during its meeting, which opens Tuesday, is the most definitive stand yet by Arab leaders in the monthlong crisis over Syria's role in Lebanon.

While the league deplored the international pressure on Syria, its foreign ministers, who set the meeting's agenda over the weekend, also encouraged President Bashar al-Assad to continue with the planned withdrawal, which is based on existing agreements between Syria and Lebanon. [complete article]

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Predator to see more combat
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 22, 2005

The newest version of the Air Force's Predator unpiloted aircraft will perform primarily "hunter-killer" missions, according to newly available Pentagon documents.

The current Predator's primary mission has been to supply real-time intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for other forces. The new Predator B will perform that as a secondary role, according to the documents sent to Congress last month and now published on a Pentagon Web site.

The current Predator, which CIA operators originally armed with just two Hellfire missiles in late 2001, has since proven itself in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Predator B will be armed with as many as 3,000 pounds of precision-guided bombs or missiles and carry sensors that will allow it to automatically find, track and hit moving targets on the ground. [complete article]

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Justice redacted memo on detainees
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, March 22, 2005

U.S. law enforcement agents working at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, concluded that controversial interrogation practices used there by the Defense Department produced intelligence information that was "suspect at best," an FBI agent told a superior in a memo in May last year.

But the Justice Department, which reviewed the memo for national security secrets before releasing it to a civil liberties group in December, redacted the FBI agent's conclusion.

The department, acting after the Defense Department expressed its own views on which portions of the letter should be redacted, also blacked out a separate assertion in the memo that military interrogation practices could undermine future military trials for terrorism suspects held at Guantanamo Bay. [complete article]

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U.S. is faulted over Algerian's detention
By Michael Powell, Washington Post, March 22, 2005

United Nations human rights group has accused the Bush administration of arbitrarily detaining an Algerian man for three years and subjecting him to eight months of a "high security prison regime . . . that could be described as torture."

Taken into custody in New York on Sept. 11, 2001, Benamar Benatta has been detained ever since, though the FBI formally concluded in November 2001 that Benatta had no connection to terrorism. No one else taken into custody since the attacks is known to have spent as much time in detention. [complete article]

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Al-Qa'eda linked to bombing in Qatar
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, March 21, 2005

Authorities in Qatar were last night investigating whether al-Qa'eda was responsible for the suicide-bomb attack which killed a British expatriate at a theatre staging a Shakespeare play in the oil-rich Gulf state.

Anti-terrorism experts from the Metropolitan Police will fly out this week to assist in the investigation.

The bombing, near the capital Doha on Saturday, came on the eve of the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Qatar is home to the US Central Command, which was the operational base for the war, but the tiny country had not suffered any other major attack on Western targets. [complete article]

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Hard-liners want evidence that Iran is up to no good
By Laura Rozen and Jeet Heer, The American Prospect, April 8, 2005

For Iranians in exile -- and the Americans who become embroiled in their intrigues -- Paris has long been the city of shadows. This is where the Ayatollah Khomenei awaited the ominous victory of his Islamic revolution; and where the deposed ministers and brutal spies from the late shah’s government washed up in the 1979 revolution's bloody aftermath.

For well over two decades now, dreamers and schemers who hope to overthrow the mullahs have been lurking along the banks of the Seine, passing secrets and lies through proxies, back channels, and middlemen. Among the Persian plotters marooned in the French capital is a former minister of commerce in the shah's government, who has recently acquired the code name of "Ali."

To the influential U.S. congressman who bestowed that somewhat unoriginal alias on him, the elderly bureaucrat is actually an oracle who passes along invaluable intelligence about terrorist conspiracies emanating from Tehran, and an important asset who should be cultivated by the CIA.

Yet "Ali" is actually a cipher for Manucher Ghorbanifar, the notorious Iranian arms dealer and accused intelligence fabricator -- and the potential instrument of another potentially dangerous manipulation of American policy in the Persian Gulf region. [complete article]

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Anti-Iran militants return home
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2005

Clutching flowers, chewing fingernails, and nervously holding their faces in their hands, 31 Iranian families awaited a reunion they thought would never come. They were reuniting with sons who had joined anti-Iran militants, officially tagged "terrorists" by both the US and Iran.

The journey of one of those sons, Hamid Khalkali, is typical: He went to Turkey five years ago for work, but ended up at a military training camp in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. He was recruited by the Mujahideen-e Khalq, the "People's Holy Warriors," or MKO, Iran's largest opposition group, which aims to overthrow the government. It was supported for two decades by Mr. Hussein.

But now Mr. Khalkali is being officially welcomed home. He's one of more than 250 former combatants who have returned home since December - among the first to test Iran's offer of amnesty. Even as hawks in Washington debate tapping the group to help engineer regime change in Iran, a growing disillusionment within the MKO, coupled with a new Shiite- dominated government in Iraq that has little sympathy for it, has thinned the ranks of this once-feared militant group. [complete article]

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Iran in Iraq: How much influence?
Middle East Report, International Crisis Group, March 21, 2005

Iran's influence in Iraq has been one of the most talked about but least understood aspects of the post-war situation. Tehran has been variously accused by Washington of undue and nefarious interference, by Arab leaders of seeking to establish an Islamic Republic, and by prominent Iraqi officials of an array of illegitimate meddling (manipulating elections, supporting the insurgency, infiltrating the country). In reality, as Crisis Group discovered during months of extensive research in Iran and Iraq, the evidence of attempted destabilising Iranian intervention is far less extensive and clear than is alleged; the evidence of successful destabilising intervention less extensive and clear still.

That Iran has vital interests in what happens in Iraq is beyond dispute. That it so far has exercised its influence with considerable restraint also is apparent, as is the fact that it has the capacity to do far more, and far worse. To maximise the chance that Iraq emerges successfully from its political transition, it will be critical for Tehran and Baghdad to work together on common security issues, and for the U.S. at least to prevent a further deterioration of its relations with the Islamic Republic. [complete article]

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Iraq parliament says it will convene Saturday
Reuters (via MSNBC), March 22, 2005

Iraq's parliament will convene by Saturday to elect a speaker and try to reach agreement on a government to end a political crisis in the country, politicians said.

The assembly's first working session will be held at the weekend after the Shiite and Kurdish blocs, who between them have the two-thirds majority needed to form a government, sign a declaration on the status of the oil city of Kirkuk and the role of Islam, they said.

"We will affirm the need to solve territorial disputes according to the interim constitution, which also says Islam is a main source of legislation and dispels fears that Iraq will be ruled by the clergy," said Ali al-Dabagh, a member of the Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance. [complete article]

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Sistani urges Iraqis to form coalition
By Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2005

The most powerful Shiite cleric in Iraq called late Sunday for quick agreement on a new government, expressing displeasure with the weeks of drawn-out haggling, which has begun to stir unrest in the Iraqi public.

The cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, appeared to be putting pressure on Kurdish politicians in talks on forming a governing coalition.

Even though he has no constituency in the mostly Sunni Kurdish territory, the ayatollah has proved to be the most influential authority in the new Iraq. He brought together the largest and most successful Shiite bloc in the elections, and he has been able to call up huge street protests and get voters to the polls.

A leading Shiite politician, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, told reporters that the ayatollah felt "discontent" over the delay and was calling for speed in forming a government "on the basis of maintaining equality for everyone." Mr. Hakim made his remarks in Najaf after meeting there Sunday evening with Ayatollah Sistani. [complete article]

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Iraq united: Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim interviewed
By Anwar Rizvi, Open Democracy, March 21, 2005

Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the largest party in the victorious Shi'a coalition likely to dominate Iraq's new government, talks to Anwar Rizvi about uniting Iraq, defeating insurgency, and keeping faith with an Iran threatened by United States attack. [complete article]

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Kirkuk: microcosm of Iraq
By Omar A. Omar, Open Democracy, March 21, 2005

Kirkuk is one of the world's richest oil regions, but two years after the war began, there is no end in sight to its suffering.

At its root is the legacy of four decades of intensive ethnic cleansing by Saddam’s regime. But this has been compounded by the American failure to alleviate the hardship of the Iraqi people. In Kirkuk there is an urgent need for action.

Forty years of Ba'ath policy created two groups in Kirkuk: the persecuted and the expelled. The Kurds, the demographic majority in the city, were the main target, followed by the Turcomans and Assyrians. The Arabs also suffered, though some benefited too from Ba’athist rule. Now, with regime change, they are threatened with the loss of any privileges they had been granted.

Because of these divisions, Kirkukis now face daily antagonism between different ethnic groups: Kurds, Arabs, Turkomans and Assyrians. The problems here are a microcosm of the wider complexities of Iraq.

Every Kirkuki seems to believe in the need for peace and democracy. Each ethnic group, perhaps understandably, has a different view on how best to achieve peace and democracy. But none is willing to listen to the views of the others or to consider them as an option. [complete article]

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There are signs the tide may be turning on Iraq's street of fear
By John F. Burns, New York Times, March 21, 2005

Nearly two years after American troops captured Baghdad, Haifa Street is like an arrow at the city's heart. A little more than two miles long, it runs south through a canyon of mostly abandoned high-rises and majestic date palms almost to the Assassin's Gate, the imperial-style arch that is the main portal to the Green Zone compound, the principal seat of American power.

When most roads in central Baghdad are choked with traffic, there is rarely more than a trickle of vehicles on Haifa Street. At the day's height, a handful of pedestrians scurry down empty sidewalks, ducking into covered walkways that serve as sanctuaries from gunfire - and as blinds for insurgent attacks in one of Iraq's most bitterly contested battle zones.

American soldiers call the street Purple Heart Boulevard: the First Battalion of the Ninth Cavalry, patrolling here for the past year before its recent rotation back to base at Fort Hood, Tex., received more than 160 Purple Hearts. Many patrols were on foot, to gather intelligence on neighborhoods that American officers say have been the base for brutal car bombings, kidnappings and assassinations across Baghdad.

In the first 18 months of the fighting, the insurgents mostly outmaneuvered the Americans along Haifa Street, showing they could carry the war to the capital's core with something approaching impunity.

But American officers say there have been signs that the tide may be shifting. On Haifa Street, at least, insurgents are attacking in smaller numbers, and with less intensity; mortar attacks into the Green Zone have diminished sharply; major raids have uncovered large weapons caches; and some rebel leaders have been arrested or killed. [complete article]

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Threats against progressive women in Iraq
Reuters, March 21, 2005

Pharmacist Zeena Qushtiny was dressed in the latest Western fashion and wearing a sparkling diamond necklace when she was taken at gunpoint from her pharmacy in Baghdad by insurgents.

Her body was found 10 days later with two bullet holes close to her eyes.

She was covered in a traditional abaya veil preferred by Islamic conservatives with a message pinned to it saying: "She was a collaborator against Islam", according Qushtiny's family.

Qushtiny was the mother of two young girls and a divorcee. She was a popular professional in the capital and respected for her work but was considered by radicals as being an insult to Islam.

She was also working for women's rights and was advocated greater democracy in Iraq according to her friends and colleagues. She was considered an outspoken activist by radicals and her dress was seen as being too extravagant for Iraq.

Women activists have been suffering since the last war in Iraq because of calls for improved rights and equality with men in this Muslim country, according to a report by the local Women's NGO association. [complete article]

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Chechnya: 'disappearances' a crime against humanity
Human Rights Watch, March 21, 2005

With "disappearances" continuing on a wide scale in Chechnya, the practice has now reached the level of a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said today.

The European Union, which had in previous years introduced a resolution on Chechnya at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, has declined to do so at this year's Commission, which is now in session.

"It is astounding that the European Union has decided to take no action on Chechnya at the Commission," said Rachel Denber, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch's Europe and Central Asia Division. "To look the other way while crimes against humanity are being committed is unconscionable."

Under international law, a widespread and systematic pattern of enforced disappearances constitutes a crime against humanity -- an act that outrages the conscience of humankind. Any state may prosecute the perpetrators of such crimes, including responsible government officials and heads of states. [complete article]

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Will Kyrgyzstan's protests follow Ukraine's lead?
By Fred Weir, Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2005

Echoes of Ukraine's "Orange Revolution" have struck in the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan, where crowds of opposition activists have burned a police station and seized government buildings in rolling protests against alleged vote fixing.

Embattled Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev, who has ruled the tiny nation in semiauthoritarian style for the past 15 years, responded to the growing unrest in Kyrgyzstan's volatile and multiethnic south Monday by ordering a probe into the elections that international observers found seriously flawed.

Although a revolution appears to be taking shape in Kyrgyzstan similar to the ones that erupted in Georgia in 2003 and Ukraine last December, experts suggest the violent street revolts rocking Kyrgyzstan could develop very differently from the democratic upheavals that brought peaceful change to the other ex-Soviet states. [complete article]

Protesters overrun Kyrgyzstan city
By Kadyr Toktogulov, AP (via BG), March 22, 2005

Thousands of protesters, some armed with clubs and Molotov cocktails, overran Kyrgyzstan's second-largest city yesterday, prompting police to flee as the government lost control of the impoverished southern region of the former Soviet republic.

Demonstrators burned and stomped on portraits of President Askar Akayev and seized control of the airport. The army did not intervene despite the chaos. No casualties were reported.

The opposition occupied government buildings in five cities and towns across southern Kyrgyzstan, Interior Ministry spokesman Nurdin Jangarayev said. The capital, Bishkek, cut off from the south in winter by an impassable mountain range, remained calm, but the opposition vowed to press on until Akayev resigns.

"Power in Osh has been taken over by people!" opposition member Anvar Artykov told the crowd. "I congratulate you ... and urge you to maintain order."

The protests, involving more than 17,000 people in the affected cities, won the first concession from Akayev -- an investigation into allegations of widespread vote-rigging in two rounds of parliamentary elections since Feb. 27. The allegations, backed by European observers, have led to demands for Akayev's resignation and to weeks of violent protests. [complete article]

Kyrgyzstan declares disputed poll valid
Reuters (via FT), March 22, 2005

Kyrgyzstan’s authorities, flying in the face of violent protests in the south and international criticism, have declared a disputed parliamentary election valid.

Protesters kept up their pressure on President Askar Akayev, retaining control of two southern towns on Tuesday and asserting their authority by organising joint patrols with police.

The protests against elections in the former Soviet Central Asian country, deemed flawed by international observers, have forced the veteran leader on the defensive. He sought to defuse the crisis on Monday by saying he was prepared to negotiate with the opposition.

But central election authorities, ignoring the criticism, said officially published results validated 69 out of the 75 seats elected to parliament in the February and March polls. [complete article]

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U.S. misled allies about nuclear export
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, March 20, 2005

In an effort to increase pressure on North Korea, the Bush administration told its Asian allies in briefings earlier this year that Pyongyang had exported nuclear material to Libya. That was a significant new charge, the first allegation that North Korea was helping to create a new nuclear weapons state.

But that is not what U.S. intelligence reported, according to two officials with detailed knowledge of the transaction. North Korea, according to the intelligence, had supplied uranium hexafluoride -- which can be enriched to weapons-grade uranium -- to Pakistan. It was Pakistan, a key U.S. ally with its own nuclear arsenal, that sold the material to Libya. The U.S. government had no evidence, the officials said, that North Korea knew of the second transaction.

Pakistan's role as both the buyer and the seller was concealed to cover up the part played by Washington's partner in the hunt for al Qaeda leaders, according to the officials, who discussed the issue on the condition of anonymity. In addition, a North Korea-Pakistan transfer would not have been news to the U.S. allies, which have known of such transfers for years and viewed them as a business matter between sovereign states. [complete article]

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Pakistani's black market may offer secrets to build nuclear weapons
By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, New York Times, March 21, 2005

Nuclear investigators from the United States and other nations now believe that the black market network run by the Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan was selling not only technology for enriching nuclear fuel and blueprints for nuclear weapons, but also some of the darkest of the bomb makers' arts: the hard-to-master engineering secrets needed to fabricate nuclear warheads.

Their suspicions were initially raised by the discovery of step-by-step instructions, some of which appear to have come from China and Pakistan, among the documents recovered last year from Libya. More recently, investigators have found that the Khan network had offered similar materials to Iran.

The secrets range from how to cast uranium metal into the form needed at the core of a bomb to how to build the explosive lenses that compress the core and start the detonation.

The discoveries have set off a debate in the intelligence community about whether those technological skills made their way to North Korea and Iran. President Bush has vowed he will not tolerate either country's obtaining a nuclear weapon. [complete article]

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U.S. says it may need new ways to deal with N. Korea
By Saul Hudson, Reuters (via WP), March 21, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Monday Washington and its Asian allies would have to find new ways of dealing with North Korea if it continued to shun nuclear disarmament talks.

Rice, concluding a sweep through Asia designed to revive the negotiations, also gave her strongest hint to date that the United States was prepared to report North Korea to the United Nations should the talks fail.

"Obviously, everyone is aware of the other options in the international system," Rice told a news conference in Beijing.

"Of course if we cannot find a way to resolve the North Korean issue in this way (through six-party talks), then we will have to find other means to do it." [complete article]

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Rice gives diplomacy new focus
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 20, 2005

Since becoming secretary of state two months ago, Condoleezza Rice has transformed the language and image of U.S. diplomacy, offering a relentless and consistent message that has turned the State Department into an adjunct of the White House communications machine. [complete article]

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Nuclear spat boosts critics of US in Iran poll
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, March 20, 2005

The agreement by Washington and the European Union to seek joint diplomatic means to curtail Tehran's nuclear programme has added spice to Iran's presidential election in June, emboldening conservative Islamists eager to confront the "Great Satan".

Most Iranians aware the US encouraged the Shah's nuclear programme before the 1979 Islamic Revolution believe their government should not give up uranium enrichment, even though the US and EU are threatening to refer Iran to the UN Security Council if it does not do so.

"The nuclear issue is one where the people are ahead of us," says an Iranian diplomat.

But differences over how to respond to international pressure are playing a growing role in the run-up to the election, when Mohammad Khatami, the reformist president, stands down. [complete article]

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'One huge U.S. jail'
By Adrian Levy and Cathy Scott-Clark, The Guardian, March 19, 2005

Kabul was a grim, monastic place in the days of the Taliban; today it's a chaotic gathering point for every kind of prospector and carpetbagger. Foreign bidders vying for billions of dollars of telecoms, irrigation and construction contracts have sparked a property boom that has forced up rental prices in the Afghan capital to match those in London, Tokyo and Manhattan. Four years ago, the Ministry of Vice and Virtue in Kabul was a tool of the Taliban inquisition, a drab office building where heretics were locked up for such crimes as humming a popular love song. Now it's owned by an American entrepreneur who hopes its bitter associations won't scare away his new friends.

Outside Kabul, Afghanistan is bleaker, its provinces more inaccessible and lawless, than it was under the Taliban. If anyone leaves town, they do so in convoys. Afghanistan is a place where it is easy for people to disappear and perilous for anyone to investigate their fate. Even a seasoned aid agency such as Médécins Sans Frontières was forced to quit after five staff members were murdered last June. Only the 17,000-strong US forces, with their all-terrain Humvees and Apache attack helicopters, have the run of the land, and they have used the haze of fear and uncertainty that has engulfed the country to advance a draconian phase in the war against terror. Afghanistan has become the new Guantánamo Bay.

Washington likes to hold up Afghanistan as an exemplar of how a rogue regime can be replaced by democracy. Meanwhile, human-rights activists and Afghan politicians have accused the US military of placing Afghanistan at the hub of a global system of detention centres where prisoners are held incommunicado and allegedly subjected to torture. The secrecy surrounding them prevents any real independent investigation of the allegations. "The detention system in Afghanistan exists entirely outside international norms, but it is only part of a far larger and more sinister jail network that we are only now beginning to understand," Michael Posner, director of the US legal watchdog Human Rights First, told us. [complete article]

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Iraq-Jordan dispute deepens
By Caryle Murphy, Washington Post, March 21, 2005

Iraq and Jordan recalled their top diplomats from Amman and Baghdad Sunday in a deepening dispute over the alleged involvement of a Jordanian citizen in a suicide bombing last month.

The diplomatic moves came on a day when a U.S. soldier was killed and three were injured by a bomb as they patrolled near the northern oil city of Kirkuk, U.S. military officials said. Hours later, 24 insurgents were killed and seven were wounded when they attacked a U.S. military convoy on the southern outskirts of Baghdad, injuring six American soldiers, the officials added.

The recall of the envoys came as Iraqi anger grew over a recent report in the Jordanian newspaper Al-Ghad that Raed Mansour Banna had carried out the Feb. 28 suicide bombing in Hilla in which 125 people died, one of the deadliest single attacks since the U.S.-led invasion. The report said Banna's family had honored him as a heroic martyr during his funeral. [complete article]

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Curbing terrorism stumbles over Bush's war on terror
By Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, March 20, 2005

Two years after U.S. troops invaded Iraq, Americans are no safer from Islamic terrorism, and the war that President Bush bills as "a vital front of the war on terror" has become a major obstacle in the United States' effort to curb international terrorism, experts warn.

A smorgasbord of terrorist groups operates in Iraq, turning the country's vast deserts and shrapnel-scarred city streets into hands-on training grounds for killing Americans.

The unrelenting battle with insurgents distracts Washington from the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the world's Terrorist No. 1. Bush's anti-terrorism coalition is crumbling.

"We're way beyond the claim that the war in Iraq was a distraction from the war on terrorism -- it's more than that. It has made the war on terrorism far more difficult to execute," said Jessica Stern, a lecturer at Harvard University and author of "Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill."

"It has made the terrorism problem worse." [complete article]

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Two years of war: taking stock
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 20, 2005

A bear of a man, with an exuberance that matches his girth, Mohammed Hayawi looked over one shoulder, then the other. He glanced up at shelves eight rows high, and down at dusty stacks spilling across his bookstore, some a dozen deep.

There were books by communist poets and martyred clerics, translations of Shakespeare, a 44-volume tome by a revered ayatollah and tales of Gertrude Bell, a British archaeologist and adventurer. Along the window were books on Iraq's recent past: "What Happened in Baghdad," "The Secret Life of Saddam" and "The American Empire and the Invasion of Iraq."

Hayawi shook his head. He shrugged his burly shoulders. None of them can describe his country, nor his time.

"Not one book," Hayawi said. He squinted his eyes, a look of suspicion tempered by a mercurial smile.

There's a phrase that Hayawi has uttered often over the past two years. He has said in times that are good and bad, chaotic and, more rarely, subdued: "I challenge anyone to say what has happened, what is happening now and what will happen in the future."

In interviews every few months, beginning before the U.S. invasion in March 2003, Hayawi, now 41, has watched the fate of his country unfold with fear that turned to anger, and resentment that melted into resignation, bound together by a resilience that is perhaps this country's defining trait. Resilience can mean many things -- fatalism, endurance, persistent hope and an ability to make the unusual normal. [complete article]

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Twists make predictions a dubious bet in Iraq war
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, March 20, 2005

Last fall, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld predicted a "process of tipping" in Iraq in which citizens there would become fed up with the murder and mayhem of extremists, and eventually turn to embrace democracy. His remark drew from the currently fashionable notion of "tipping points" to describe how major shifts occur in society and elsewhere.

Last month, Rumsfeld said the Jan. 30 elections in Iraq had demonstrated a "tipping" of support away from the insurgency and toward the new Iraqi government.

But last week, the Pentagon leader was careful to hedge his judgment of Iraqi developments so far, speaking more in terms of ebbs and flows than decisive movement in a single direction. [complete article]

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U.S. avoids role of mediator as Iraqis remain deadlocked
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, March 20, 2005

Senior Bush administration officials said this week that the administration was avoiding direct intervention to break the deadlock among Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions, still trying to form a government in Iraq six weeks after national elections.

The officials said they had concluded that despite the bitter wrangling over how much power to distribute among the factions, particularly Shiites and Kurds, any attempt by the United States to mediate would be likely to backfire.

"So far, we're letting it happen," a senior administration official said, referring to the Kurdish-Shiite dispute. "That's really by design. If we try to impose a solution, then anyone who gets the short end of the stick will hold a grudge, not only against us, but against the deal that was reached. It could lead to instability down the road."

Another senior official said that Kurds, Shiites and some of Iraq's Arab neighbors want the United States to play a facilitating role in forming a new government, but that Washington is resisting. "There's pressure from the players out there, but not here," he said. "We are comfortable exactly where we are." [complete article]

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U.S. warns Iraq on new government
By Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune, March 21, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld warned Iraqi politicians Sunday to be "darned careful" in forming a new government so that they not weaken Iraqi security forces. He also indirectly blamed Turkey for the persistent strength of the Iraqi insurgency, saying U.S. troops could have sharply curtailed it had they been able to invade Iraq from the north.

His caution to the Iraqi politicians struggling to assemble a government seemed a rather unusual intervention by a Pentagon chief in the internal deliberations of a nascent democracy, albeit one that would not have existed without the U.S.-led occupation. [complete article]

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Shoot first, pay later culture pervades Iraq
By Awadh al-Taee and Steve Negus, Financial Times, March 18, 2005

Two bursts of automatic gunfire rang out across a busy street in west Baghdad, echoing off the walls of the Australian embassy and one of the city's major hotels.

A few seconds later, a three-vehicle convoy belonging to a private security company, transporting a foreigner working to facilitate Iraq's parliamentary elections, began to drive away from the scene.

Askew in the centre of the street sat a civilian car, a neat line of bullet holes piercing its hood and windscreen. The driver lay some five metres away, wounded in the side and stomach, and going into shock. Later that day, he died in hospital.

Another motorist, who was driving with his two children in the car, stood dazed in the street, his head lightly grazed by a bullet.

Scenes such as this, witnessed by FT correspondent Awadh al-Taee on January 23, repeats itself time and again across Iraq. This Baghdad neighbourhood of Kerrada alone, according to local police, sees one fatal shooting a week by either private security companies or the military. [complete article]

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The education of Paul Wolfowitz
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, March 28, 2005

Paul Wolfowitz's appointment might be a very good thing for the World Bank, but for a reason exactly the opposite to the one his supporters believe. The deputy Defense Secretary's champions are certain that he will take over the bank and give it a thorough overhaul. In fact, it might be the bank that will change Mr. Wolfowitz. At least that's the hope.

It is often said in Washington these days that conservatives are full of fresh ideas while liberals defend old orthodoxies. At least in the realm of fighting poverty, the opposite is true. On those few occasions when they think about the subject, conservatives recite a stale catechism of clichés based on virtually no research or experience. You've heard them often: foreign aid is a waste, all of it ends up in Swiss banks; poor countries should just free up their markets and they will grow; Africans don't want to work, etc.

If Wolfowitz is inclined toward these mantras, he should read Jeffrey Sachs's compelling new book, "The End of Poverty." Sachs, a distinguished economist who has spent the last three decades working with governments around the world, explains that none of these conventional wisdoms gets it right. Much foreign aid has been very well spent and led to landmark results. [complete article]

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Behind Lebanon upheaval, 2 men's fateful clash
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, March 20, 2005

On an unseasonably mild day last August, a small group of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri's closest political allies could tell from his flushed face and subdued manner that something awful had happened in the Syrian capital of Damascus, where he had been summoned to a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad.

The four men, all Lebanese Parliament members, recalled waiting for him at the Beirut mansion of the Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, in the so-called garden, basically a carport paved with concrete bricks, plus one short orange tree in a faux terra cotta tub.

Mr. Hariri - wearing an expensive blue suit and a white shirt, his tie loosened - lumbered over mutely and flung himself onto one of a dozen white plastic chairs, his head lolling back and his arms dangling over the edges.

After a few moments, he leaned forward and described how the Syrian leader had threatened him, curtly ordering him to amend Lebanon's Constitution to give President Émile Lahoud, the man Syria used to block Mr. Hariri's every move, another three years in office.

"Bashar told him, 'Lahoud is me,' " Mr. Jumblatt recalled in an interview. "Bashar told Hariri: 'If you and Chirac want me out of Lebanon, I will break Lebanon.' " [complete article]

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Hezbollah role at issue in Lebanon
By Charles A. Radin, Boston Globe, March 20, 2005

With Syria pulling back under intense international and domestic pressure, eyes are turning to Hezbollah -- Syria's longtime ally in Lebanon -- and especially to the issue of the huge quantities of weaponry in the Islamic group's control.

Two questions are central to the fate of Lebanon's democracy, and they focus on those weapons, according to leaders of the pro-sovereignty movement:

Will Hezbollah join other major religious sects in urging Syria to remove all its troops, intelligence services, and secret agents from Lebanon if Hezbollah's militia is not required to disarm now?

And will Hezbollah be willing to give up its arms at a future date and participate in normal democratic politics?

"They must choose between resistance and politics," said Elias Zoghby, a top official of the Free Patriotic Movement, a primarily Christian group organized around General Michel Aoun, who was forced into exile by the Syrians and is planning to return to Lebanon within a month. "They can't continue to hold weapons and have members of parliament." [complete article]

See also, Hizbullah honors Hariri for first time (AFP).

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The survivor
By Michael Young, New York Times, March 20, 2005

At 12:55 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 14, Walid Jumblatt heard a loud explosion that he mistook for a sonic boom. As the truth became known, he rushed to the American University Hospital. The head of security there took him aside and mentioned that the apparent target of the blast, the former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri, had still not been brought in. Realizing the implications, Jumblatt informed Hariri's eldest son, Bahaa, "The news is bad." He repeated the phrase at Hariri's home, as the family anxiously awaited information. "The news is bad."

That was characteristic of Jumblatt, the paramount leader of Lebanon's Druse community: displaying concern for the fate of a friend and ally but also the blunt realism of someone who has seen many die. The cycle started when his own father, Kamal, was killed in 1977; it is widely believed the Syrian regime targeted Kamal for having challenged the entry of its army into Lebanon. As a reminder, Jumblatt still has in his office the ID card his father carried that day, a bullet hole piercing the photograph of his face. [complete article]

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Lebanon's opposition says Syria behind car bomb
By Adnan El-Ghoul, Daily Star, March 21, 2005

Lebanon's political opposition accused Syria of the car bomb blast which rocked the eastern suburbs of Beirut in the early hours of Saturday morning.

The explosion, which wounded 11 people and took place in the Christian area of New Jdeide, has been followed by the discovery of a series of fake bombs and has revived fears of widespread sectarian violence re-emerging in Lebanon.

Commenting on the blast, opposition leader Walid Jumblatt warned that there would be more attacks and political assassinations if the heads of the intelligence services and President Emile Lahoud, are not sacked. [complete article]

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Who will prevent the pogrom?
Editorial, Haaretz, March 21, 2005

Last week, Palestinian laborers were attacked by settlers in what the Israel Defense Forces described as an "attempted lynching." At various locations throughout the West Bank, Jewish hooligans have used guns, iron bars and hammers in an attempt to ignite the territories.

In one case, students of the Yeshuat Mordechai Yeshiva attacked five laborers who had come to work in the settlement of Nahliel with sticks and stones. In a second case, Nawaf Hanani of Nablus was beaten all over his body by armed settlers who forced him to get out of his truck. In a third case, Hebron settlers invaded an Arab house, attacked the residents and destroyed part of the ceiling with hammers. In all of these places, soldiers and policemen were in the vicinity. Granted, some of the assailants were arrested the same day, but they were later allowed to go home.

The lenient attitudes shown by the army and police allow the settlers to conclude that the state either cannot or will not deal with them. If a handful of rioters from Nahliel and Hebron get off scot-free after what the army itself defined as an attempted lynching, the next pogrom is virtually inevitable. The extreme right will stop at nothing to put a spoke in the wheels of disengagement, and the current clashes are merely an omen of what is to come. [complete article]

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Jews in Gaza recoil at idea of expulsion
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, March 20, 2005

The green tanks in their berms and the protective walls around the Israeli settlements here are surrounded by yellow daisies and deep pink oleander. But this is probably the last spring for the Jews of Gaza.

Slogans and bumper stickers denounce Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as a dictator and an enemy of the Jewish people, on a par with Nebuchadnezzar and Titus, who destroyed the first two Temples. Most cars fly the orange-and-blue flags of those opposed to Mr. Sharon's plan to dismantle all 21 Israeli settlements in the Gaza Strip and to help the nearly 9,000 people here find new homes and new lives.

The late winter sun is California bright, and a salty breeze comes off the nearby beaches, which the settlers here can see but not visit.

Except for two small areas, the beaches belong to the 1.3 million Palestinians of Gaza, who will soon, if Mr. Sharon gets his way, inherit these community centers, schools and hospitals, which were built by the settlers, with government backing, to lay claim to the biblical land of Israel. With so many Palestinians and so few Jews in Gaza, Mr. Sharon and his aides contend, defending the settlers here is too expensive and difficult, both militarily and diplomatically. [complete article]

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Cut-rate 'Mein Kampf' sells well in Turkey, spurring concerns
By Amberin Zaman, Los Angeles Times (via BG), March 20, 2005

"Mein Kampf," Adolf Hitler's notorious work outlining his anti-Semitic worldview, has become a bestseller in this officially secular but mainly Muslim nation. Its sudden rebirth has alarmed the country's small Jewish community and raised concerns among officials in the European Union, which Turkey aspires to join.

Remzi and D & R, Turkey's two largest bookstore chains, rank the work among the top 10 on their bestseller lists this month, as they did in February. At the Ada bookshop in a popular Ankara shopping strip, "Mein Kampf," or "Kavgam," as it is called in Turkish, has sold out.

"It's our fifth-highest-selling book," said Serkan Oznur, the store manager.

While overall sales numbers nationwide are not available, the number of publishers releasing editions of "Mein Kampf" in Turkey has grown to 13. One publisher, Manifesto, declared a press run of 50,000 on its version, which jockeys for shelf space with such titles as "Hitler's Secretary" and "The Unknown Hitler." The German dictator's work appears prominently in most bookstore displays. [complete article]

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Attack highlights Qatar's importance in Gulf
By Otto Pohl, International Herald Tribune, March 21, 2005

A car bomb that exploded here over the weekend, killing one British citizen and injuring over a dozen more, is deadly confirmation of the importance this Gulf country has attained in recent years.

Qatar's willingness to engage in political brinkmanship has given this country an influence in the region far beyond its diminutive size. That growing influence also could have given terrorists ample reason to stage an attack on Saturday, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq.

While Qatar officials have not confirmed any connection between terrorist groups and the detained suspect, Omar Ahmad Abdullah Ali, an Egyptian, the country's recent policies may have put it at risk. [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:

Marking time
By Rod Nordland, Newsweek, March 18, 2005
It's always dangerous making predictions, and nowhere more so than in Iraq. When voters defied terrorist attacks to cast their ballots in the Jan. 30 election, some officials forecast that as soon as the votes were counted the newly elected National Assembly would agree on a new government, which would immediately take over from Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim administration. That was the "big bang" theory, and it was almost instantly proved wrong.

It took two weeks to certify the vote, but that milestone passed without a government in place as the victorious Shia and the second-place Kurds negotiated endlessly. Then the parties agreed that the National Assembly would convene March 16, and it was expected that surely they'd have a government by then. No such luck. Even before the event, the man expected to be prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari, warned, "It might be a day or two, more or less." Yet once the assembly met this week, amid high security and perfunctory pomp, it was more, not less. Depending on whom you talked to it would be another two days (Ali al-Dabagh, a United Iraqi Alliance deputy, now proved wrong), next week (Hoshyar Zebari, the acting foreign minister), March 25 or so (Jalal Talabani, the Kurdish leader expected to be chosen as the new president), or two more weeks (a prominent participant in the on-going negotiations).

The truth is the negotiating parties have a long way to go yet, and most recently the Kurds proposed not even meeting again to discuss it all until the end of the month, according to sources close to the negotiations. It's conceivable that it could still take months longer. Meanwhile, the soon to be new rulers of Iraq have let it be known that they're deeply unhappy with the interior and defense ministers, who will almost certainly lose their jobs once there's a new cabinet. Since those are the two ministries most concerned with helping to fight the Iraqi insurgency, that doesn't bode well for the American goal of accelerating the security handover to Iraqis so that foreign troops can leave. In every area of government, the impasse has serious consequences. Allawi has ordered his caretaker government not to enter into any long-term contracts nor to implement policies that would have long-term consequences. In other words, everyone is just marking time.

Nothing 'new' in this war
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Post, March 19, 2005
"We are redefining war on our terms." So declared an exuberant George W. Bush just two years ago as the U.S. military completed its stunning demolition of Saddam Hussein's regime.

The president seemingly had good reason to boast. In its initial stages, Operation Iraqi Freedom surpassed all expectations, affirming the verdict first rendered more than a decade before by Operation Desert Storm: The United States, the greatest power the world had ever seen, had apparently mastered the art of war. America's armed forces appeared invincible.

Two years later war is no longer doing the president's bidding. In recent weeks, much of the news from the Middle East has been about the movements for democracy and free elections in Iraq and neighboring countries. But the claims that "freedom is on the march" cannot conceal this fact: In Iraq, protracted conflict is draining the lifeblood from America's armed services.

'Something was going to happen - it was going to be me or him'
By Nicholas Blanford, Richard Beeston and James Bone, The Times, March 18, 2005
Days before Rafik Hariri's assassination last month, the Lebanese politician had played host to Walid Jumblatt, the Druze leader, at his mansion in west Beirut. Mr Hariri had a warning for his old friend: the Syrians were after them.

"He told me that in the next two weeks it was either going to be me or him," Mr Jumblatt told The Times. "Clearly he thought something was going to happen."

Something did. On February 14 Mr Hariri was killed when 600lb of explosives apparently buried in the road outside St George’s Hotel in Beirut blew up beneath his car.

The blast has echoed round the world. Hundreds of thousands of Lebanese have demonstrated in Beirut, the world has united in demanding Syria's withdrawal from Lebanon and the drive for democracy in the Middle East has been given a huge boost.

Syria has repeatedly protested its innocence and no irrefutable evidence of its involvement has yet emerged. But a reconstruction of events leading to Mr Hariri's murder, and interviews with at least a dozen Western, Lebanese and even Syrian officials, leave not the slightest doubt that the plot was hatched in Damascus.

Afghan crime wave breeds nostalgia for Taliban
By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, March 18, 2005
"We are savage, cruel people," the kidnappers warned in a note sent to Abdul Qader, demanding $15,000 to spare the life of his son Mohammed, 11. The construction contractor quickly borrowed the money and left it at the agreed spot. But the next morning, a shopkeeper found the boy's bruised corpse lying in a muddy street.

A wave of crime in this southern Afghan city -- including Mohammed's killing two months ago and a bombing Thursday that killed at least five people -- has evoked a growing local nostalgia for the Taliban era of 1996 to 2001, when the extremist Islamic militia imposed law and order by draconian means.

Residents reached their boiling point last week, after a second kidnapped boy was killed. Hundreds of men poured into the streets, demanding that President Hamid Karzai fire the provincial governor and police chief. Some threw rocks at military vehicles and chanted, "Down with the warlords!" Witnesses recalled some adding, "Bring back the Taliban!"

Jordan cracks down on unions as dissent grows
By Ibon Villelabeitia, Reuters, March 17, 2005
The men from Jordan's intelligence services came looking for Ali Hattar two days after he gave a speech calling for a boycott of the United States.

"I knew my words would make them angry and that they would arrest me," said Hattar, a leading union activist who faces a two-year prison term for "slandering" the Jordanian government.

Jordan, a close U.S. ally, is hardening its stance against the country's increasingly militant unions, long-time bastions of dissent and opposition to the kingdom's pro-Western policies and its diplomatic ties to Israel.

"The government wants to silence us, but I am not afraid of speaking," said Hattar, a blunt-speaking 58-year-old engineer.

Hattar is being charged under a vague defamation law that makes it a crime to "insult" the government, legislation that has been used to suppress dissent at union halls and mosques.

Why graft thrives in postconflict zones
By Mark Rice-Oxley, Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 2005
Five Polish peacekeepers are arrested for allegedly taking $90,000 worth of bribes in Iraq. Several Sri Lankan officials are suspended for mishandling tsunami aid. US audits show large financial discrepancies in Iraq. Reports of aid abuse taunt Indonesia.

Two of the world's biggest-ever reconstruction projects - Iraq and post-tsunami Asia - are facing major tests of credibility, as billions of dollars of aid and reconstruction money pour in.

And according to a major report released Wednesday by Transparency International (TI), an international organization that focuses on issues of corruption, the omens are not good.

From Iraq and Afghanistan to Cambodia and Bosnia, from the wrecked coasts of Asia to the kleptocratic carve-up in some African countries, crisis zones are proving to be fertile soil for corruption, the report argues.

The Atlantic divide over fighting terrorism
By Jonathan Schell, YaleGlobal, March 16, 2005
Last March, a new word entered Spanish vocabulary: "9/11" of the United States has found an echo in Spain's "M-11," the March 11 terrorist attack on Madrid. Yet the first annual commemoration and accompanying international conference on terrorism could not have made clearer the vast gulf between Americans and the Spanish, or even international response to the same threat. Civic courage, and not fear, is the message Spain wants to convey to those attempting to terrorize the public.

From the start, the countries' responses differed. In Spain, the attack upon civilians in four Madrid railway stations – killing 191 and wounding some 2,000 people – prompted immediate, huge public demonstrations. Viewed from the United States, where no such response occurred after 9/11, the response at first seemed puzzling: Why demonstrations? Did Spaniards imagine that marches with placards would reach the hearts of people who carry out massacres? On second thought, the logic of the act became apparent: Terrorism is an attack upon civilians, not soldiers; it is meant to strike fear into other civilians. It made sense, then, for civilians, not soldiers, to respond with a clear message: We are not intimidated. Since intimidation is the purpose, the demonstration scored an immediate victory over terrorism. At a stroke, it removed the point of the attack. [complete article]
See also, Terrorism and its consequences: a tale of three cities (Fred Halliday).

Israel pleased with choice of Wolfowitz
By Herb Keinon, Jerusalem Post, March 16, 2005
Senior Israeli officials reacted with satisfaction Wednesday to news that US President George W. Bush tapped Paul Wolfowitz as his choice to be the next head of the World Bank.

Wolfowitz, currently Deputy Defense Secretary to Donald Rumsfeld, is slated to replace James Wolfensohn, who will end 10 years as World Bank President on June 1.

Wolfowitz's appointment to head the World Bank will have significance for Israel since the World Bank is expected to play a key economic role in Gaza after Israel's withdrawal. [...]

The World Bank is expected to supervise the implementation of hundreds of million of dollars worth of projects to rebuild Gaza. One official said that Wolfowitz would likely ensure that the Palestinians fulfill strict conditions regarding reform and democratization in order to get the money.

Pentagon has far-reaching defense spacecraft in works
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 16, 2005
The Pentagon is working to develop a suborbital space capsule within the next five years that would be launched from the United States and could deliver conventional weapons anywhere in the world within two hours, defense officials said.

This year, the Falcon program will test a launcher for its Common Aero Vehicle (CAV), an unmanned maneuverable spacecraft that would travel at five times the speed of sound and could carry 1,000 pounds of munitions, intelligence sensors or other payloads. Among the system's strengths is that commanders could order a CAV -- an unpowered glide vehicle -- not to release its payload if they decided not to follow through with an attack.

The first-generation CAV, expected to be ready by 2010, will have "an incredible capability to provide the warfighter with a global reach capability against high payoff targets," Gen. Lance W. Lord, commander of Air Force Space Command, told the House Armed Services Committee last Wednesday.

Coming to terms with China
By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, March 15, 2005
I recall forty years ago, when I was a new professor working in the field of Chinese and Japanese international relations, that Edwin O. Reischauer once commented, "The great payoff from our victory of 1945 was a permanently disarmed Japan." Born in Japan and a Japanese historian at Harvard, Reischauer served as American ambassador to Tokyo in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Strange to say, since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and particularly under the administration of George W. Bush, the United States has been doing everything in its power to encourage and even accelerate Japanese rearmament.

Such a development promotes hostility between China and Japan, the two superpowers of East Asia, sabotages possible peaceful solutions in those two problem areas, Taiwan and North Korea, left over from the Chinese and Korean civil wars, and lays the foundation for a possible future Sino-American conflict that the United States would almost surely lose. It is unclear whether the ideologues and war lovers of Washington understand what they are unleashing -- a possible confrontation between the world's fastest growing industrial economy, China, and the world's second most productive, albeit declining, economy, Japan; a confrontation which the United States would have both caused and in which it might well be consumed.

Iraqi TV has a hit, starring insurgents
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe (via IHT), March 16, 2005
Iraq's wildly popular new television show features a nightly parade of men, most with bruised faces, confessing to all kinds of terrorist and criminal acts.

"Terrorism in the Hands of Justice" is the Iraqi government's slick new propaganda tool. Its televised confessions, the police say, aim to discredit the armed resistance and advertise the government's success at cracking down on gangs.

If it is meant to showcase a brave new Iraq, the television show is disturbingly reminiscent of the bad old Iraq. The show, which appears six nights a week on the state-run Iraqiya network, has a strong flavor of Saddam Hussein-era strong-arming.

Since its debut a month ago, "Terrorism" has become a fixture in Iraq's cafes and living rooms.

Government officials brag that the show has ruined the image of jihad in the country, exposing members of the resistance not as holy warriors but as street criminals and thugs who attack Americans and Iraqi security forces for pay.

It also raises a host of disturbing questions. The bruised, swollen faces and hunched shoulders of many of the suspects suggest that they have been beaten or tortured. The neat confessions of terrorist attacks at times fit together so seamlessly as to seem implausible. And the suspects are presented to the public without any legal process to protect them, presumed guilty, with no word about rule of law as a weapon in the arsenal against terrorism.

In Mideast, Shiites may be unlikely U.S. allies
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 16, 2005
A quarter-century after its first traumatic confrontation with the Shiite world, when the U.S. Embassy was seized in Iran, the United States is moving on several fronts to support, recognize or hold out the prospect of engagement with Islam's increasingly powerful minority.

The White House is now counting on a Shiite-dominated government to stabilize Iraq. In a tactical shift, the United States is indirectly reaching out to Iran, backing Europe's offer of economic incentives to get Tehran to surrender any nuclear weapons program.

And in Lebanon, President Bush suggested yesterday, Washington might accept Hezbollah as a political party -- if it renounces terrorism, as the Palestine Liberation Organization did in 1988. "I would hope that Hezbollah would prove that they're not [a terrorist organization] by laying down arms and not threatening peace," he said in a joint appearance with Jordan's King Abdullah.

Taking aim at Iran
By Uzi Mahnaimi and Tony Allen-Mills, Sunday Times, March 13, 2005
For the past few months, elite Israeli commandos have been training for an assault on Iran's nuclear facilities. One more full rehearsal has been scheduled for next month, said senior Israeli intelligence sources last week.

The news that Israel is planning unilateral action to end what it considers an imminent Iranian nuclear threat comes as American and European diplomats are announcing new initiatives for negotiation with Tehran.

Although publicly committed to the diplomatic effort, Israeli officials say the "point of no return" will come later this year when they calculate Iran will be in a position to start processing uranium. They say Ariel Sharon's inner cabinet has decided to act alone if the impasse has not been broken.

Jihad express
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 21, 2005
The most fanciful park in Paris, and one of the least known, set among the city's poorest immigrant neighborhoods, is the Buttes Chaumont. A craggy mountain rises out of a taciturn lake, and a narrow path leads across what's called the "Bridge of Suicides." Muslim boys trained there last year for holy war in Iraq. Several were in their teens, born and raised in France, and many knew nothing more about guns and bombs than what they'd seen in movies. Some spoke no Arabic. But they heard the call to jihad that was raised by radical Islamist preachers, and they answered it. One died in Fallujah. Three are known to be imprisoned in Iraq, at least one of them in Abu Ghraib. Three others are jailed in France. One blew himself up in an attack on the road to Baghdad airport.

The boys had little impact on the Iraq war. But they represent a growing threat to Europe -- and, some studies suggest, to the United States. Over the last three years, starting even before the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the Jordanian terrorist Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and groups close to him developed a sort of underground railroad to smuggle zealous fighters from Europe through Turkey and Syria into Iraq -- and home again, if they survived. Now those recruits have been joined by a stream of young Islamists from Western Europe who are making their own way to the battlefield. Some are looking for Paradise as "martyrs," some just for street cred back home and some for serious combat experience in urban warfare. "Those who don't die and come back will be the future chiefs of Al Qaeda or Zarqawi [groups] in Europe," says French terrorism authority Roland Jacquard.

Guns or ballots?
By Kevin Peraino, Newsweek, March 21, 2005
As Mustafa Haj Ali, a top Hizbullah official, points out: "The resistance gave us our popular support. Nobody can deny that." But it's hard to build an independent nation out of a philosophical negative, and that is the dilemma facing Hizbullah. Some analysts view Lebanon as a potential model for a new Middle East, despite its sectarian rifts, because Beirut, its capital, is secular and the country as a whole is multiethnic. Opposition figures like to say that Lebanon will have to choose between becoming "Hong Kong or Hanoi." Despite the large pro-Syria rally, most Lebanese want their country to regain its sovereignty. In a 2004 poll by the Beirut weekly Ash Shiraa, 56 percent of Lebanese rejected Syria's occupation. But before Lebanon can start to assert itself, Hizbullah, the country's most influential force, will have to decide what role it wants to play in the country's, and the region's, future. The organization remains virulently anti-American and anti-Israel -- and its leaders have dismissed the U.S. and U.N. demand (under last year's Resolution 1559) that its fighters lay down their arms. But Hizbullah is redefining itself -- edging away from militancy and steadily raising its political profile. The so-called Party of God has essentially given up on its once declared goal of turning Lebanon into an Islamic republic. What's more, Eyal Zisser, a Hizbullah expert at Tel Aviv University, estimates the group could win almost 40 of Lebanon's 128 parliamentary seats in the May election -- meaning the organization is leveraging its street popularity into substantial political clout.

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