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Sunnis urged by clerics to join military
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 2, 2005

Dozens of influential Sunni Muslim clerics broke with a long-standing boycott Friday and exhorted followers to join Iraq's fledgling armed forces.

The edict, signed by 64 Sunni clerics and scholars, declared that joining the security forces was necessary to prevent the country from falling into "the hands of those who have caused chaos, destruction and violated the sanctities."

It was announced by Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, a Sunni preacher and member of the Association of Muslim Scholars, which has stridently opposed the U.S. military presence in Iraq and discouraged Sunnis from cooperating with foreign occupiers or Iraqi institutions allied with them. [complete article]

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Pakistan approaches boiling point
By Syed Saleem Shahzad and Masood Anwar, Asia Times, April 2, 2005

On the face of it, the post-September 11 era sees Pakistan re-established in the world community, nurturing friendly relations with India, and enjoying political stability in the shape of President General Pervez Musharraf's grip on power, with the economy steady.

Appearances can be deceptive, though: Pakistan's economic development is "asset inflation" which could burst like a bubble, while serious fissures exist on the socio-political front.

A very powerful "Million March" in Karachi recently, organized by the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a coalition of six religious-political parties that heads the opposition in the country, was the first punch, and yielded instant results. Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz abruptly caved in to a key MMA demand that a person's religion be included in his or her passport.

This had previously been the case - for instance, people were identified as Muslim, Christian, Jew or Qadyani - but new computer-readable passports dropped the religious tag, and Musharraf was adamant it would not be reinstated. The march made him change his mind.

After Karachi, other "Million Marches" in Quetta, Peshawar and Lahore shattered the opposition's political lull. A series of countrywide strikes has already begun, with the climax being a call for a general strike this Wednesday.

The MMA's president, Qazi Hussain Ahmed, has already vowed that after the April 2 strike, the MMA will march on the capital Islamabad and lay siege to it.

This has sent shivers down the spines of those in the corridors of power: Qazi Hussain Ahmed has played this card with devastating results twice before. On the first occasion he mobilized thousands of Jamaat-i-Islami workers against the Nawaz Sharif government in 1993. It fell within a few weeks. He repeated this move in 1996, this time bringing down the administration of Benazir Bhutto. [complete article]

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Panel seeks intelligence culpability
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, April 2, 2005

The co-chairmen of President Bush's commission on intelligence said yesterday that John D. Negroponte, the incoming director of national intelligence, should take action against agencies, and perhaps individuals, who were responsible for the worst of the glaring failures to accurately assess prewar Iraq's weapons programs.

"Wrong calls and failures to correct the record we believe were so serious that the DNI ought to look at those institutions and decide specific remedies," said former senator Charles S. Robb (D-Va.), during a joint interview yesterday with his co-chairman, retired appellate court judge Laurence H. Silberman.

Silberman said that he believed the CIA inspector general was looking into the matter. If any actions are taken, he added, "we would hope it would be by the CIA first," and then "believe the DNI would look at them all." [complete article]

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Doubts on weapons were dismissed
By Dafna Linzer and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, April 1, 2005

As former secretary of state Colin L. Powell worked into the night in a New York hotel room, on the eve of his February 2003 presentation to the U.N. Security Council, CIA officers sent urgent e-mails and cables describing grave doubts about a key charge he was going to make.

On the telephone that night, a senior intelligence officer warned then-CIA Director George J. Tenet that he lacked confidence in the principal source of the assertion that Saddam Hussein's scientists were developing deadly agents in mobile laboratories.

"Mr. Tenet replied with words to the effect of 'yeah, yeah' and that he was 'exhausted,' " according to testimony quoted yesterday in the report of President Bush's commission on the intelligence failures leading up to his decision to invade Iraq in March 2003. [complete article]

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Organizational reforms can't prevent people from being wrong
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 31, 2005

Reading beyond the executive summary reveals that the intelligence failure on Iraq had little to do with management, interagency disputes, or sloppy organizational charts. Rather, the main causes were twofold. First, on many points, well-placed intelligence analysts were simply wrong; it's as plain as that, and it's hard to see how any reshufflings or new directives might have overwhelmed human fallacy. Second, everyone knew President Bush was gearing up for war; he, therefore, wanted, needed, to find Iraq worthy of invasion; and the heads of intelligence, doubling as administration appointees, accommodated that disposition.

The commissioners try to skirt this political dimension of the intelligence analysts' findings. "In no instance," the report states up front, "did political pressure cause them to skew or alter any of their analytical judgment." However, it goes on, "That said, it is hard to deny the conclusion that intelligence agencies worked in an environment that did not encourage skepticism about the conventional wisdom."

Later on, the report elaborates: "Some analysts were affected by this 'conventional wisdom' and the sense that challenges to it -- or even refusals to find its confirmation -- would not be welcome." This "climate" was shaped, the report continues, by a "gathering conviction among analysts that war with Iraq was inevitable." [complete article]

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The Guardian profile: Paul Wolfowitz
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, April 1, 2005

For opponents of America's war on Iraq and fans of Michael Moore, one of the most indelible moments of the film Fahrenheit 9/11 is when Paul Wolfowitz, deputy defence secretary and the intellectual high priest of the Bush administration's hawks, puts a generous dollop of spit on his comb before smoothing his hair for a television appearance.

Iffy grooming habits are the least of Wolfowitz's worries as he takes on the presidency of the World Bank. His coronation yesterday was never seriously in doubt - the US is the bank's largest shareholder. But it remains to be seen whether Wolfowitz can overcome the derision and anger that have been heaped on him as the architect of the Iraq war. And, after a lifetime spent trying to expand America's power, is he capable of functioning in a multilateral environment where the focus will not be Washington's strategic interest, but global poverty?

In the fortnight since his nomination, Wolfowitz has worked strenuously to try to temper his reputation as a raging neo-conservative, deploying his not inconsiderable charm to persuade critics in Europe and the Middle East that he does indeed have experience in finance and development, and that he will be able to divorce Washington's interests from the bank's. [complete article]

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Wolfowitz successor picked
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, April 1, 2005

Navy Secretary Gordon R. England, whose efficient management skills and affable manner have made him a favorite of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's, emerged yesterday as President Bush's nominee to become deputy secretary of defense.

England, 67, a former business executive, would succeed Paul D. Wolfowitz, who was approved yesterday as the next president of the World Bank.

A one-time executive vice president of General Dynamics Corp. with a proven ability to deal with Congress, England has a reputation for being less ideological than Wolfowitz and more attuned to the administrative demands of the Pentagon's second-ranking civilian job. Friends and associates also describe him as a good storyteller. [complete article]

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The Pentagon's secret stash
By Matt Welch, Reason, April, 2005

The images, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Congress, depict "acts that can only be described as blatantly sadistic, cruel, and inhuman." After Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) viewed some of them in a classified briefing, he testified that his "stomach gave out." NBC News reported that they show "American soldiers beating one prisoner almost to death, apparently raping a female prisoner, acting inappropriately with a dead body, and taping Iraqi guards raping young boys." Everyone who saw the photographs and videos seemed to shudder openly when contemplating what the reaction would be when they eventually were made public.

But they never were. After the first batch of Abu Ghraib images shocked the world on April 28, 2004, becoming instantly iconic -- a hooded prisoner standing atop a box with electrodes attatched to his hands, Pfc. Lynndie England dragging a naked prisoner by a leash, England and Spc. Charles Graner giving a grinning thumbs-up behind a stack of human meat -- no substantial second round ever came, either from Abu Ghraib or any of the other locations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay where abuses have been alleged. ABC News broadcast two new photos from the notorious Iraq prison on May 19, The Washington Post printed a half-dozen on May 20 and three more on June 10, and that was it.

"It refutes the glib claim that everything leaks sooner or later," says the Federation of American Scientists' Steven Aftergood, who makes his living finding and publishing little-known government information and fighting against state secrecy. "While there may be classified information in the papers almost every day, there's a lot more classified information that never makes it into the public domain." [complete article]

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Pentagon blamed for lack of postwar planning in Iraq
By Bradley Graham and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, April 1, 2005

A study of U.S. military operations in Iraq, prepared for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, sharply criticizes Pentagon attempts to plan for the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion two years ago, saying stabilization and reconstruction issues "were addressed only very generally" and "no planning was undertaken to ensure the security of the Iraqi people."

The study, done by the Rand Corp., an independent research group that was created by the U.S. government and frequently does analyses for the Pentagon, also says the experience in Iraq has underscored the Pentagon's tendency "not to absorb historical lessons" when battling insurgencies. It notes a lack of political-military coordination and of "actionable intelligence" in the counterinsurgency campaign, and urges creation in the Army of a "dedicated cadre of counterinsurgency specialists." [complete article]

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How Bush learned to love the Bomb
By Leigh Flayton, Salon (via Der Spiegel), March 30, 2005

In a barren stretch of Nevada desert 85 miles northwest of Las Vegas, a large modular tower and a steel crane, once used for testing nuclear bombs, stand in plain view of anyone passing through the area known to the U.S. government as U6c. They are easily detected by satellites orbiting overhead. Later this year, scientists at the Nevada Test Site will use the structures to conduct an experiment called Unicorn, which will help determine whether the site is prepared to resume full-scale nuclear tests if ordered to do so by the president. Unicorn, which works with plutonium and high explosives, will resemble an old-fashioned underground nuclear test from the Cold War era, when bombs were placed in towers aboveground and lowered beneath the surface by custom-built cranes.

In recent weeks, the Bush administration has focused the world's attention on stopping the proliferation of nuclear weapons. During his trip to Europe in February, President Bush spoke with urgency about shutting down Iran's nuclear program and securing Russia's aging post-Soviet stockpile. North Korea's declaration last month that it already possesses a handful of nuclear warheads has raised new concerns about tensions in Asia. And most security experts agree that nonproliferation is now critical to stopping the worst nightmare scenario: A terrorist attack on a major city using radioactive material.

Nuclear watchdogs in U.S., however, warn that the Bush administration is fueling a new arms race. They contend the government is violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the 1970 international agreement that states that countries with nuclear weapons must work toward disarmament. The Bush administration, they charge, is pouring money into new nuclear weapons programs and performing nuclear tests, spurring other nations to do the same. [complete article]

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The Middleman
Introduction by Series Editor Stephen Talbot, Frontline, March 30, 2005

With Mark Schapiro's investigative report, "The Middleman," FRONTLINE/World begins an ongoing series about the frightening world of nuclear smuggling. In a rare moment of agreement during last year's presidential debates, George Bush and John Kerry both declared nuclear proliferation as the single most serious threat facing the United States. Their bipartisan concern followed revelations that the father of Pakistan's nuclear bomb - A. Q. Khan - had sold nuclear secrets to Libya, Iran, and North Korea. U.S. investigators have not been allowed to question Dr. Khan, who is still considered a national hero in Pakistan.

In a joint investigation with the Center for Investigative Reporting and Mother Jones magazine, FRONTLINE/World correspondent Mark Schapiro probes the strange case of a South African businessman, Asher Karni, who attempted to export 200 nuclear bomb triggers from the United States to Pakistan via Cape Town. The importer was Humayun Khan, an Islamabad businessman with close ties to Pakistan's military.

This is our first installment in Schapiro's probe of the Karni case - a report that will appear in the May/June issue of Mother Jones. We also include photos and video clips, which will be part of a Web-exclusive video investigation based on Schapiro and producer Cassandra Herrman's recent trip to South Africa. The full video report will appear on this site beginning April 21. [complete article]

Asher Karni case shows weakness in nuclear export controls
By Jacob Blackford, Institute for Science and International Security, September 8, 2004

Karni's court records offer a rare glimpse into the workings of a company that allegedly transferred items of use in nuclear weapons, and might have done so again, had authorities not been tipped off. This review of court records is an effort to better understand the illicit trafficking of such items and ways to prevent this. [complete article]

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No nations should have nukes, most in USA say
By Will Lester, AP (USA Today), March 31, 2005

Most Americans surveyed in a poll say they do not think any country, including the United States, should have nuclear weapons. That sentiment is at odds with current efforts by some nations that are trying to develop the weapons and by terrorists seeking to add them to their arsenal.

The only use of an atomic bomb -- by the United States against Japan at the end of World War II -- provokes sharply different reactions, depending on the age of those asked. Young adults tend to disapprove, while older Americans tend to approve, an AP-Ipsos poll found. [complete article]

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Syria moves to keep control of Lebanon
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 31, 2005

Syria is working covertly through a network of Lebanese operatives to ensure Damascus can still dominate its smaller neighbor even after it withdraws the last of 15,000 troops, in defiance of a U.N. resolution demanding an end to Syria's 29-year control over Lebanon, according to U.S., European and U.N. officials, and Lebanon's opposition.

Although Syria shut down its notorious intelligence headquarters in downtown Beirut, Damascus is establishing a new hidden presence in the capital's southern suburbs, bringing in officials who will not be recognized, say Lebanese opposition and Western sources. The move would contradict a pledge by President Bashar Assad to withdraw Syria's large intelligence operation from the Lebanese capital as of today. [complete article]

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In Beirut, chaos is building
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 30, 2005

No one is really laughing out loud, quite. The death count is already too high for that, and the clowns have still got guns and bombs, wiretaps and torture rooms. But there is, still, something grimly ludicrous about the disarray of Lebanon's secret police and security services right now. As one of my good friends in Beirut puts it, "We are seeing the collapse of this regime in a very embarrassing, very clumsy, almost comical way -- but it's scary. You're just sitting here watching the whole thing come apart."

The headlines of the last few days and hours are symptomatic of the chaos building beneath the surface. Lebanese Prime Minister Omar Karami, unable to form a new government, will resign again, maybe. Syria has notified the United Nations in a formal letter that after 29 years it will withdraw its troops from Lebanon "before the coming elections." But nobody's sure just when that is. Theoretically the elections will take place before the Lebanese parliament's term expires on May 31, but they could be stalled. Just four days ago, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad told a bunch of Spanish journalists that even if a timetable is announced next week, the final troop withdrawal "requires several months." [complete article]

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Golan elephant and the Lebanese crisis
By Ashraf Fahim, Asia Times, March 31, 2005

At the center of the ongoing crisis surrounding the Syrian presence in Lebanon, a 38-year-old elephant has been loitering almost unnoticed. While the world scrutinizes Syria's promised withdrawal, gawks as the Lebanese opposition and Hezbollah flood the streets of Beirut in their war of demonstrations, and debates whether the Bush administration deserves credit for inspiring the "cedar revolution", little attention has been given to a principal factor binding this Levantine Gordian knot - the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan heights.

Though not as glamorous as the more polarizing Israeli occupations in the West Bank and Gaza, Golan is of immense importance because it is the last tangible redoubt of Syrian-Israeli enmity and the physical embodiment of their 57-year ideological and territorial conflict. With Golan quiet since the armistice agreement of 1974 (established after the 1973 "October" War), Lebanon has long been the proving ground for the Levant's principal antagonists. [complete article]

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Bridging the divide
By Marianne Stigset, Asia Times, March 31, 2005

The political upheaval that has engulfed Lebanon after the assassination of former premier Rafik Hariri has given rise to fears of renewed sectarian bloodshed - and hopes that it can be avoided.

The upheaval has resulted in an ongoing standoff between government loyalists and the opposition movement, a surge in street demonstrations and a recent series of targeted bomb attacks on Christian-populated areas.

A fragile nation still in the process of rebuilding itself after a devastating 15-year civil war, Lebanon is at pains to unite a still-fragmented sectarian society. Members of the country's 18 different religious factions tend to group together in settlement patterns which have changed little since the 7th century, sending their children to their respective private religious schools and still predominantly marrying within their own confessional group. [complete article]

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Palestinian women 'suffer doubly'
BBC News, March 31, 2005

Both Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been told to end the suffering of Palestinian women in a report by Amnesty International.

The human rights organisation says that Israeli military checkpoints, house demolitions and imprisonment have had a severe impact on Palestinian women.

The group also called on the Palestinians to repeal "sexist" laws and fully investigate honour killings. [complete article]

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Abbas crackdown after West Bank HQ attack
Reuters (FT), March 31, 2005

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ordered a crackdown on Thursday on Ramallah militants who defied demands that they lay down their arms under peace moves he had agreed with Israel.

Abbas took a tougher line after half a dozen gunmen from his own ruling Fatah faction fired at his Ramallah compound on Wednesday night while he was inside and then went on a rampage in the West Bank city, damaging several restaurants and shops.

In another sign of lawlessness plaguing the Palestinian territories, an angry crowd burned down tents used as offices by Palestinian police in the West Bank town of Tulkarm early on Thursday after police shot and wounded three suspects. [complete article]

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U.S. helped to prepare the way for Kyrgyzstan's uprising
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, March 30, 2005

Shortly before Kyrgyzstan's recent parliamentary elections, an opposition newspaper ran photographs of a palatial home under construction for the country's deeply unpopular president, Askar Akayev, helping set off widespread outrage and a popular revolt in this poor Central Asian country.

The newspaper was the recipient of United States government grants and was printed on an American government-financed printing press operated by Freedom House, an American organization that describes itself as "a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world."

In addition to the United States, several European countries - Britain, the Netherlands and Norway among them - have helped underwrite programs to develop democracy and civil society in this country. The effort played a crucial role in preparing the ground for the popular uprising that swept opposition politicians to power. [complete article]

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New Arab rallying cry: 'Enough'
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 2005

At a demonstration here Wednesday, kifaya was the mantra. About 500 secular and democracy activists returned again and again to the one-word slogan - the Arabic word that translates to "enough" - at the heart of their invigorated campaign to bring democracy to Egypt.

Kifaya has become the name of a movement and the buzzword of what some Western commentators are calling the "Arab Spring" - the rise of democratic expression around the region. In rallies from tiny Bahrain to Egypt, demonstrators are shouting kifaya to dictators, kifaya to corruptions, and kifaya to the silence of Arabs eager for change.

There's no question that the freedom rhetoric of the US and President Bush has helped crack the door for political activism in the Middle East. A look behind the slogan, however, reveals a complex web of secular and Islamist activists who say they share Bush's zeal for democracy, but expect real political change will lead to a repudiation of the US. [complete article]

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How to win friends in the Mideast
By Rami G. Khouri, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2005

The United States recently appointed Karen Hughes and Liz Cheney to revamp two persistently enigmatic and largely failed policies: global public diplomacy and the promotion of democracy throughout the Middle East.

If these two able officials want to do a better job than their predecessors in grasping why this noble American mission to promote freedom is received with such skepticism, scorn and even resistance around the world, and not just in Arab-Islamic lands, here's what they should ponder:

• Style. As that great British thinker Mick Jagger once said: "It's the singer, not the song." Washington's manner is often aggressive and threatening. It uses sanctions and the military and unilaterally lays down the law that others must follow or else they will be considered enemies and thus liable to regime change.

People don't like to be bullied or threatened, even if change would be for their own good.

• Credibility. The U.S. track record has hurt, angered or offended most people in the Middle East. By primarily backing Arab dictators and autocrats or supporting the Israeli position on key issues of Arab-Israeli peacemaking, credibility has been lost.

The priority issue for most Arabs -- whether Palestinians, Iraqis or others -- is freedom from foreign occupation and subjugation. If Washington uses war and pressure tactics to implement United Nations resolutions in Lebanon and Iraq but does nothing parallel to implement U.N. resolutions calling for the freedom of Palestinians from Israeli occupation, it will continue to be greeted with disdainful guffaws in most of the Middle East. [complete article]

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Behind diplomacy, Iran sees a fight coming
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 2005

From Washington, the rhetoric calls for diplomatic solutions to the nuclear standoff with Iran. But Tehran also hears a growing drumbeat for war that echoes the build-up to US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

In preparation for any strike on its budding nuclear facilities, Iran is making clear that the price will be high - burnishing its military forces, boosting its missile program, and warning of a painful response against US and Israeli targets in the region.

"They see a fight coming, regardless of what they do, so they are getting ready for it," says a European diplomat in Tehran, referring to ideologues who think a US invasion is a "very real prospect." Even moderate conservatives fear the "Iraqization of the Iran dossier," says the diplomat. The result is that Iran is "constantly trying to project strength" and is developing a new doctrine of asymmetric warfare. [complete article]

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Children 'starving' in new Iraq
BBC News, March 30, 2005

Increasing numbers of children in Iraq do not have enough food to eat and more than a quarter are chronically undernourished, a UN report says.

Malnutrition rates in children under five have almost doubled since the US-led invasion - to nearly 8% by the end of last year, it says.

The report was prepared for the annual meeting of the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva. [complete article]

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Tyranny's full tank
By Marina Ottaway, New York Times, March 31, 2005

The skyrocketing price of oil in the last two years has translated into a projected 42 percent increase in net oil export revenue for OPEC countries. While the global economic impact of this jump remains unclear, it also threatens to have a perverse political impact: even as the Bush administration pushes the promotion of democracy in the Middle East and elsewhere, market forces have given oil-rich autocratic regimes new revenue with which to dispense patronage and buy off popular discontent.

Oil and democracy do not mix easily in countries that depend highly on oil revenue. Among the 10 top oil exporters, only two (Mexico and Norway) are truly democratic and only three (Nigeria, Russia and Venezuela), have even limited elements of democracy. Of course, countries that do not export oil can also be undemocratic, but evidence shows that oil revenue flowing freely into government coffers has a particularly pernicious effect, encouraging corruption and lack of accountability and fostering systems based on patronage rather than popular representation. For countries that discover large amounts of oil before their economies become diversified and their regimes democratic, oil can easily become a curse. [complete article]

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An unlikely meeting of the minds
By Greg Schneider, Washington Post, March 31, 2005

Environmentalists aren't the only ones applauding the sales stumble of big SUVs and pickups in the face of high gas prices.

Groups of conservative Republicans see an opportunity to step up a campaign to promote alternative-fuel vehicles and wean the nation from dependence on foreign oil. While skeptical about links between autos and global warming, the conservatives have concluded that cutting gasoline consumption is a matter of national security.

A who's who of right-leaning military hawks -- including former CIA director R. James Woolsey and Iraq war advocate Frank J. Gaffney Jr. -- has joined with environmental advocates such as the Natural Resources Defense Council to lobby Congress to spend $12 billion to cut oil use in half by 2025. The alliance highlights how popular sentiment is turning against the no-worries gas-guzzling culture of the past decade and how alternative technologies such as gas-electric hybrids are finding increasingly widespread support. [complete article]

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The Republicans: Distracted by religion
By John Danforth, New York Times (IHT), March 31, 2005

It is not evident to many of us that cells in a petri dish are equivalent to identifiable people suffering from terrible diseases. I am and have always been pro-life. But the only explanation for legislators comparing cells in a petri dish to babies in the womb is the extension of religious doctrine into statutory law.

I do not fault religious people for political action. Since Moses confronted the pharaoh, faithful people have heard God's call to political involvement. Nor has political action been unique to conservative Christians. Religious liberals have been politically active in support of gay rights and against nuclear weapons and the death penalty. In America, everyone has the right to try to influence political issues, regardless of his religious motivations.

The problem is not with people or churches that are politically active. It is with a party that has gone so far in adopting a sectarian agenda that it has become the political extension of a religious movement. [complete article]

(John C. Danforth, a former U.S. senator from Missouri, resigned in January as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He is an Episcopal minister.)

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Columbia panel reports no proof of anti-Semitism
By Karen W. Arenson, New York Times, March 31, 2005

An ad hoc faculty committee charged with investigating complaints that pro-Israel Jewish students were harassed by pro-Palestinian professors at Columbia University said it had found one instance in which a professor "exceeded commonly accepted bounds" of behavior when he became angry at a student who he believed was defending Israel's conduct toward Palestinians.

But the report, obtained by The New York Times and scheduled for release today, said it had found "no evidence of any statements made by the faculty that could reasonably be construed as anti-Semitic."

It did, however, describe a broader environment of incivility on campus, with pro-Israel students disrupting lectures on Middle Eastern studies and some faculty members feeling that they were being spied on. [complete article]

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Why is Bush selling F-16s to Pakistan?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 30, 2005

With his decision last week to sell F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan, President Bush returns to a dangerous game of self-deception that hasn't been seen at this level of risk since Richard Nixon was in the White House. [complete article]

Pakistan's order lifts Lockheed F-16 plant
By Charles R. Babcock and Renae Merle, Washington Post, March 26, 2005

The Bush administration's decision to sell F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan is likely to be as warmly greeted in Fort Worth as it is in Karachi.

That's because Lockheed Martin Corp. has said it needs new orders for the jet before this fall, or it will have to take action to close the production line there that employs about 5,000 workers. [complete article]

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Deaths spur calls to overhaul Iraqi police
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, March 31, 2005

The Iraqi government's unprecedented admission that its police tortured and killed three Shi'ite Muslim militiamen while they were in custody has set off angry complaints from newly elected Shi'ite legislators who are engaged in a political battle for control of the police.

Shi'ite leaders have beamed gruesome images of the dead men to Iraqi television sets, displaying their bruised, scarred bodies as an argument for radically reshaping the police force, which is crucial to the fight against the country's bloody insurgency.

In a series of steps rarely seen in Iraq, US-backed Prime Minister Iyad Allawi's interim government has acknowledged the men "died under torture by police," arrested six police officers in the case, launched a high-level investigation, and paid the men's families about $2,000 each plus a $500 monthly stipend. [complete article]

General approved extreme interrogation methods
By James Sturcke, The Guardian, March 30, 2005

The highest-ranking US general in Iraq authorised the use of interrogation techniques that included sleep manipulation, stress positions and the use of dogs to "exploit Arab fears" of them, it emerged today. [complete article]

Split seen on interrogation techniques
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, March 31, 2005

A top Navy official whose warnings about ''abusive" interrogation policies at Guantanamo Bay in December 2002 led the Navy to consider pulling its investigators out of the prison operation says his view that coercion does not produce quality information is shared by many specialists in the military and intelligence world. [complete article]

Prisoner count in Iraq doubles in 5 months
AP (CNN), March 30, 2005

The United States is holding about 10,500 prisoners in Iraq, more than double the number held in October, the military says.

About 100 of those prisoners are under age 18, said Army Lt. Col. Guy Rudisill, a spokesman for detention operations in Iraq. [complete article]

See Human Rights First's report, Behind the wire (PDF).

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WMD commission releases scathing report
By Katherin Shrader, Associated Press (WP), March 31, 2005

In a scathing report, a presidential commission said Thursday that America's spy agencies were "dead wrong" in most of their judgments about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction before the war and that the United States knows "disturbingly little" about the threats posed by many of the nation's most dangerous adversaries.

The commission called for dramatic change to prevent future failures. It outlined 74 recommendations and said President Bush could implement most of them without action by Congress. It urged Bush to give broader powers to John Negroponte, the new director of national intelligence, to deal with challenges to his authority from the CIA, Defense Department or other elements of the nation's 15 spy agencies. [complete article]

See the report by the Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.

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Iraqi anger at parliament stalemate
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, March 30, 2005

Iraqis caught a rare glimpse of their new parliament in action yesterday but were left surprised and disgusted as legislators failed to make any progress in naming a government almost two months after January's elections.

American and Iraqi security forces sealed off central Baghdad for the second meeting of the national assembly. MPs were due to name a new president and speaker, two of the most important government positions.

Instead, the proceedings degenerated into farce and chaos before they were eventually aborted altogether.

Kurdish officials, whose party is supposed to become the junior member of a Shia-dominated coalition, said the government was now "in crisis".

Ahmad Chalabi, reviled by many Iraqis because of his once-favoured status in Washington, seemed, for once, to capture public sentiment.

"People feel let down and impotent," he said. "Their disappointment is on the verge of disgust." [complete article]

How rules designed to prevent domination hobble the creation of a new government
By Tony Karon,, March 29, 2005

...the reason for the deadlock is not simply a failure of Iraq's elected leaders to achieve consensus. The rules of Iraqi democracy, as bequeathed by outgoing U.S. administrator J. Paul Bremer, require the support of a two-thirds majority in the Assembly for the creation of a new government, a standard that the U.S. political system might struggle to meet. [complete article]

See also, Two months in and still foundering (WP).

Iraqi impasse delays political progress
By Barbara Slavin, USA Today (via Yahoo), March 30, 2005

The Bush administration's pride in the elections Iraq held two months ago today is giving way to unease about Iraqi politicians' delay in forming a new government.

Iraq's new parliament met Tuesday for only the second time since the Jan. 30 elections and adjourned in chaos after failing to agree on anything except to meet again.

At the Pentagon afterward, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told reporters he was confident that the political situation in Iraq would "get sorted out." But he acknowledged "concerns" about the time Iraqis are taking to form a government. "It would be preferable if they would sort through that in a reasonable time period," he said.

In a speech Tuesday at the White House Rose Garden to celebrate Iraq's successes, President Bush did not mention the parliamentary meltdown that had occurred just hours earlier in Baghdad. "The trend is clear: Freedom is on the march," he said. [complete article]

New constitution may face delay
By Anne Barnard, Boston Globe, March 30, 2005

Two months of political wrangling have slowed the naming of a new Iraqi government so dramatically that legislators will probably miss the long-established goal of drafting a constitution by August, and elections scheduled for December are likely to be put off until mid-2006, leaders of the main political parties said yesterday. [complete article]

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Study highlights global decline
BBC News, March 30, 2005

The most comprehensive survey ever into the state of the planet concludes that human activities threaten the Earth's ability to sustain future generations.

The report says the way society obtains its resources has caused irreversible changes that are degrading the natural processes that support life on Earth.

This will compromise efforts to address hunger, poverty and improve healthcare.

The Millennium Ecosystem Assessment was drawn up by 1,300 researchers from 95 nations over a period of four years. [complete article]

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Plans by U.S. to dominate space raising concerns
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 29, 2005

Arms control advocates in the United States and abroad are expressing concern with the Bush administration's push for military superiority in space.

A series of Pentagon doctrinal papers, released over the past year, have emphasized that the U.S. military is increasingly dependent on space satellites for offensive and defensive operations, and must be able to protect them in times of war.

The Air Force in August put forward a Counterspace Operations Doctrine, which described "ways and means by which the Air Force achieves and maintains space superiority" and has worked to develop weapons to accomplish such missions. [complete article]

U.S. scatters bases to control Eurasia
By Ramtanu Maitra, Asia Times, March 30, 2005

The United States is beefing up its military presence in Afghanistan, at the same time encircling Iran. Washington will set up nine new bases in Afghanistan in the provinces of Helmand, Herat, Nimrouz, Balkh, Khost and Paktia.

Reports also make it clear that the decision to set up new US military bases was made during Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's visit to Kabul last December. Subsequently, Afghan President Hamid Karzai accepted the Pentagon diktat. Not that Karzai had a choice: US intelligence is of the view that he will not be able to hold on to his throne beyond June unless the US Army can speed up training of a large number of Afghan army recruits and protect Kabul. Even today, the inner core of Karzai's security is run by the US State Department with personnel provided by private US contractors. [complete article]

Grand strategy for beginners
By Gwynne Dyer, Trinidad and Tobago Express, March 29, 2005

Assume that the people who run defence and foreign policy in the Bush administration are as ferociously intelligent as they think they are. What would their grand strategy be?

The very phrase "grand strategy" has an antiquated ring; enlightened modern opinion rejects the notion that relations between the great powers are just a zero-sum game. But this is a group of people who are steeped in traditional modes of strategic thought: Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Hadley and Condoleezza Rice would all have worked quite comfortably for Cardinal Richelieu or Count Bismarck. (Whether they would have been hired is, of course, another question.)

They are, in addition, patriotic Americans who are firmly convinced that US power is an instrument for good in the world. And they all know that the days of the United States as the world's sole superpower are numbered. [complete article]

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Case allegedly shows U.S. practice of secret arrests
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2005

He was writing from prison, but at least he was alive. The smuggled letter from Abdel Salem Hila was the first his family had heard from him since he had vanished 19 months earlier.

It was, in a way, good news.

"I am writing this letter from a dark prison," the letter began. "I don't know why I am imprisoned…. I'm imprisoned in Afghanistan by the Americans."

Hila's family had seen him off in September 2002, when he'd left on a business trip to Egypt. Upon landing in Cairo, Hila checked into a downtown hotel, later placed a nervous telephone call to his family in Yemen -- and disappeared.

When Hila turned up again, he was in solitary confinement at the U.S.-run Bagram air base in Afghanistan. The journey was so disorienting, he said, it took him four months to realize what country he was in. He was later moved to the American detention center at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to his letters to family members.

Hila's case is apparently part of a broader pattern of secret "renditions," a process by which U.S. agents covertly force foreign suspects from one country to another outside the bounds of international law. The United States began to use renditions during the Reagan administration, and the practice is believed to have mushroomed after the Sept. 11 attacks. [complete article]

See HRW briefing, Cairo to Kabul to Guantanamo.

Suit by detainee on transfer to Syria finds support in jet's log
By Scott Shane, New York Times, March 30, 2005

Maher Arar, a 35-year-old Canadian engineer, is suing the United States, saying American officials grabbed him in 2002 as he changed planes in New York and transported him to Syria where, he says, he was held for 10 months in a dank, tiny cell and brutally beaten with a metal cable.

Now federal aviation records examined by The New York Times appear to corroborate Mr. Arar's account of his flight, during which, he says, he sat chained on the leather seats of a luxury executive jet as his American guards watched movies and ignored his protests.

The tale of Mr. Arar, the subject of a yearlong inquiry by the Canadian government, is perhaps the best documented of a number of cases since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in which suspects have accused the United States of secretly delivering them to other countries for interrogation under torture. Deportation for interrogation abroad is known as rendition. [complete article]

U.S. orders 38 freed from Guantanamo
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, March 30, 2005

The Pentagon announced yesterday that military tribunals have determined that 38 out of 558 detainees at Guantanamo Bay were not "enemy combatants" and ordered them released from the isolated Navy base in Cuba without compensation.

The military said that the rest of the detainees have now had their chance to make the case that they are innocent, and that it believes it has complied with a landmark 2004 Supreme Court order to give Guantanamo detainees a fair chance to challenge the basis for their indefinite incarceration without trial. [complete article]

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White-haired activist daring to take on Egypt's power brokers
By Patrick Bishop, The Telegraph, March 30, 2005

White-haired, smiling and maternal, Dr Nawal El Saadawi seems far too gentle to be a political activist in one of the world's most female-unfriendly political environments.

Yet the 74-year-old writer has just announced her candidacy in Egypt's first multi-candidate leadership elections since 1950.

Dr Saadawi is a novelist, feminist and political controversialist, a sort of Egyptian equivalent of Doris Lessing. [...]

Conservative Islam and American imperialism she believes complement each other. "Bin Laden and George Bush are twins," she said. "They serve each other's purpose." [complete article]

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Syria confirms full troop withdrawal from Lebanon
By James Sturcke, The Guardian, March 30, 2005

Syria has told the United Nations it will withdraw all its troops from Lebanon, it emerged today.

In a letter to the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, Syria's foreign minister, Farouk al-Sharaa, said his country's troops would leave Lebanon before elections were held.

However, he failed to say whether the pullout would include Syrian intelligence agents, as demanded by the security council. [complete article]

Pro-Syrian premier expected to resign in Lebanon today
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, March 30, 2005

Opposition parties gained ground on Tuesday in their struggle to push aside the country's pro-Syrian government, with both the prime minister and the chief of the country's powerful military intelligence agency signaling their intention to quit.

Prime Minister Omar Karami, who resigned last month and had spent the intervening weeks trying to form a new government, will quit Wednesday, said his spokesman, Osman Majzoub. Mr. Karami, who led a pro-Syrian government until public demonstrations forced him out, lost all hope of persuading the opposition to join him in a new government, Mr. Majzoub said. [complete article]

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Wolfowitz wins European backing
BBC News, March 30, 2005

Paul Wolfowitz looks set to be confirmed as new head of the World Bank at a meeting in New York on Thursday, after tying up Europe's backing.

The US deputy defence secretary's nomination stirred controversy, given his key role in the Iraq war and his lack of development experience.

But after a meeting on Wednesday in Brussels, European leaders said they expected his nomination to succeed. [complete article]

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Dissent on intelligence is critical, report says
By Walter Pincus and Peter Baker, Washington Post, March 30, 2005

A presidential commission assigned to look into the intelligence failures leading up to the Iraq war will recommend a series of changes intended to encourage more dissent within the nation's spy agencies and better organize the government's multi-tentacled fight against terrorism, officials said yesterday.

In a report to be made public tomorrow, the officials said, the panel will propose more competitive analysis and information-sharing by intelligence agencies, improved tradecraft training, more "devil's advocacy" in the formation of national intelligence estimates and the appointment of an intelligence ombudsman to hear from analysts who believe their work has been compromised.

The report will also suggest the creation of a new national nonproliferation center to coordinate the fight against weapons of mass destruction, according to officials who have read the 700-page classified version of the report and declined to be identified because it has not been released. But unlike the trend toward greater centralization enshrined in a new intelligence law signed by President Bush, the report envisions the center as a facilitating body and urges the government to keep its specialists dispersed in various intelligence agencies. [complete article]

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Storage of nuclear spent fuel criticized
By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, March 28, 2005

A classified report by nuclear experts assembled by the National Academy of Sciences has challenged the decision by federal regulators to allow commercial nuclear facilities to store large quantities of radioactive spent fuel in pools of water.

The report concluded that the government does not fully understand the risks that a terrorist attack could pose to the pools and ought to expedite the removal of the fuel to dry storage casks that are more resilient to attack. The Bush administration has long defended the safety of the pools, and the nuclear industry has warned that moving large amounts of fuel to dry storage would be unnecessary and very expensive. [complete article]

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Church of martyrs
By Anthony Browne, The Spectator, March 26, 2005

For most citizens of Iraq, the invasion meant the end of tyranny. For one group, however, it meant a new start: the country's historic Christian community. When the war stopped, persecution by Islamists, held in check by Saddam, started.

At a church in Basra I visited a month after the war ended, the women complained of attacks against them for not wearing the Islamic veil. I saw many Christian-owned shops that had been firebombed, with many of the owners killed for exercising their legal right to sell alcohol. Two years and many church attacks later, Iraq may still be occupied by Christian foreign powers, but the Islamist plan to ethnically cleanse Iraq of its nearly 2,000-year-old Assyrian and Armenian Christian communities is reaching fruition.

There is nothing unusual about the persecution of Iraqi Christians, or the unwillingness of other Christians to help them. Rising nationalism and fundamentalism around the world have meant that Christianity is going back to its roots as the religion of the persecuted. There are now more than 300 million Christians who are either threatened with violence or legally discriminated against simply because of their faith -- more than any other religion. Christians are no longer, as far as I am aware, thrown to the lions. But from China, North Korea and Malaysia, through India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, they are subjected to legalised discrimination, violence, imprisonment, relocation and forced conversion. Even in supposedly Christian Europe, Christianity has become the most mocked religion, its followers treated with public suspicion and derision and sometimes -- such as the would-be EU commissioner Rocco Buttiglione -- hounded out of political office. [complete article]

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What's going on?
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, March 30, 2005

Democratic societies have a hard time dealing with extremists in their midst. The desire to show respect for other people's beliefs all too easily turns into denial: nobody wants to talk about the threat posed by those whose beliefs include contempt for democracy itself.

We can see this failing clearly in other countries. In the Netherlands, for example, a culture of tolerance led the nation to ignore the growing influence of Islamic extremists until they turned murderous.

But it's also true of the United States, where dangerous extremists belong to the majority religion and the majority ethnic group, and wield great political influence. [complete article]

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Liberals hit back at Iraq's new Islamists
By Michael Howard, The Guardian, March 29, 2005

Leading secular and liberal groups have launched a counter-attack against what they say is the undue influence of hardline Shia Islamists and Iran's theocracy on the formation of Iraq's new government.

There was growing opposition to the candidature of Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a conservative Islamist with suspected links to Tehran, for Iraqi prime minister, and the prospect of a damaging rebellion from within the victorious Shia alliance that nominated him yesterday, as Iraq's political gridlock worsened. [complete article]

Leading Sunni drops bid for key Iraqi post
By Caryle Murphy and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 29, 2005

A leading Sunni politician abruptly withdrew his candidacy for speaker of parliament on Monday, according to his aides, endangering the first planned filling of a top government post in a national unity coalition since the elections two months ago.

The withdrawal of Ghazi Yawar, president of the interim government, left the Shiite- and Kurdish-dominated coalition scrambling for another suitable Sunni early Tuesday, hours before a National Assembly session that was supposed to select the speaker. [complete article]

Sunnis hold first full talks with new Iraq coalition
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, March 29, 2005

In an interview with The Telegraph yesterday, Adnan Pachachi, perhaps the most respected secular Sunni Arab politician in the country and Iraq's foreign minister in the 1960s, said many Sunnis were now beginning to regret their refusal to participate in January's election.

A five-man committee representing a new Sunni Arab coalition met its Shia and Kurdish counterparts to outline its proposed participation in the new government. [complete article]

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Sunni leader insists on timetable for U.S. withdrawal
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, March 29, 2005

For several weeks, Iraq's most powerful politicians and foreign diplomats have been streaming like anxious pilgrims to western Baghdad, to the vast blue and gold dome of the Mother of All Battles mosque, which was commissioned by Saddam Hussein.

They are there to visit Sheik Harith al-Dari, a 64-year-old cleric and tribal leader who has become a leading spokesman for Iraq's disaffected Sunni Arabs.

Mr. Dari, a taciturn man with an air of cold authority, greets his guests in a dim office off the mosque's main hall, which is surrounded by a moat and tall minarets designed to look like Kalashnikov rifles. Then the guests get down to business. Will Mr. Dari, they ask, be willing to help bring Iraq's Sunnis into politics?

Much could depend on the answer. No new government will be viewed as legitimate without the participation of the Sunni Arabs, who largely boycotted the election in January and dominate the violent insurgency here.

But in a rare interview, conducted Monday through an interpreter in his office at the mosque, Mr. Dari made clear that he would continue to view the armed resistance as legitimate until the American military offered a clear timetable for its withdrawal - a condition very unlikely to be met. [complete article]

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Panel's report assails CIA for failure on Iraq weapons
By David E. Sanger and Scott Shane, New York Times, March 29, 2005

The final report of a presidential commission studying American intelligence failures regarding illicit weapons includes a searing critique of how the C.I.A. and other agencies never properly assessed Saddam Hussein's political maneuverings or the possibility that he no longer had weapon stockpiles, according to officials who have seen the report's executive summary.

The report also proposes broad changes in the sharing of information among intelligence agencies that go well beyond the legislation passed by Congress late last year that set up a director of national intelligence to coordinate action among all 15 agencies.

Those recommendations are likely to figure prominently in April in the confirmation hearings of John D. Negroponte, whom President Bush has nominated to be national intelligence director and who is about to move to the center of the campaign against terror.

The report particularly singles out the Central Intelligence Agency under its former director, George J. Tenet, but also includes what one senior official called "a hearty condemnation" of the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Security Agency. [complete article]

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Missiles, microbes, sacked weapon sites: Loose ends proliferate in Iraq
By Charles J. Hanley, AP (via Boston Globe), March 26, 2005

Dozens of ballistic missiles are missing in Iraq. Vials of dangerous microbes are unaccounted for. Sensitive sites, once under U.N. seal, stand gutted today, their arms-making gear hauled off by looters, or by arms-makers.

All the world now knows that Iraq had no threatening "WMD" programs. But two years after U.S. teams began their futile hunt for weapons of mass destruction, Iraq has something else: a landscape of ruined military plants and of unanswered questions and loose ends, some potentially lethal, an Associated Press review of official reporting shows.

The chief U.N. arms inspector told AP that outsiders are seeing only a "sliver" of the mess inside Iraq. Demetrius Perricos reports that satellite images indicate at least 90 sites in the old Iraqi military-industrial complex have been pillaged. [complete article]

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A jihadist's tale
By Scott MacLeod, Time Magazine, April 4, 2005

Ra'ed al-Banna loved America. During his nearly two years in the U.S., al-Banna, a lawyer by training, made a living as a factory worker, a shuttle-bus driver and a pizza tosser. He went to the World Trade Center and the Golden Gate Bridge, grew his hair long and listened to Nirvana. He told his family back in Jordan about the honesty and kindness of Americans. "They respect anybody who is sincere," he told his father. He said he had planned to marry an American woman until her parents demanded that the wedding take place in a Christian church. After a visit home in 2003, he set off again for the U.S., hoping to find a wife, have a family, settle down. "He was hoping for a job that earns a lot of money," says Talal Naser, 25, who is engaged to one of Ra'ed's sisters. "He loved life in America, compared to Arab countries. He wanted to stay there."

He never got the chance. After he was denied entry at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport for apparently falsifying details on his visa application, al-Banna's life took a turn that led him down the path of radical Islam and ultimately to join the insurgency against the U.S. in Iraq. His odyssey ended on March 3 when al-Banna's brother Ahmed received a call on his cell phone from a man identifying himself as "one of your brothers from the Arab peninsula"--the term radical Islamists use to signify the core of the Muslim world, centered on the holy city of Mecca. Al-Banna's family says that as far as they knew, Ra'ed was in Saudi Arabia working at a new job. But the voice on the other end sounded Iraqi, Ahmed says. "Congratulations," the caller told him. "Your brother has fallen a martyr." [complete article]

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Gangs in Iraq thriving on threats and profits
By James Glanz, New York Times (IHT), March 29, 2005

While Westerners are transfixed by the occasional kidnapping of one of their own, Iraqis are far more vulnerable. As many as 5,000 Iraqis have been kidnapped in the past year and a half, say Western and Iraqi security officials.

Some kidnappings are of Iraqis who work with Westerners, said Colonel Jabbar Anwar, head of a major crimes unit in Baghdad that works extensively with American intelligence groups on kidnapping cases. But ransom is a far greater motive than intimidation, he said: The threat of death for collaboration is usually just a way to drive up the price of freedom. "The only reason they kidnap people is for money," Jabbar said.

Ransom demands, security officials say, range from a few hundred to half a million dollars. The death rate among hostages is uncertain, but the officials say that many simply disappear even after a ransom is paid. [complete article]

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Activism redraws debate on Islam's role
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 29, 2005

Celia Garabet thought students were roughhousing. Sinan Saeed was sure a fight had erupted. Within a few minutes, on a sunny day at a riverside park, they realized something different was afoot. A group of Shiite Muslim militiamen with rifles, pistols, thick wire cables and sticks had charged into crowds of hundreds at a college picnic. They fired shots, beat students and hauled some of them away in pickup trucks. The transgressions: men dancing and singing, music playing and couples mixing.

That melee on March 15 and its fallout have redrawn the debate that has shadowed Iraq's second-largest city since the U.S. invasion in 2003: What is the role of Islam in daily life? In once-libertine Basra, a battered port in southern Iraq near the Persian Gulf, the question dominates everything these days, from the political parties in power to the style of dress in the streets. [complete article]

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Sharon, Bush and the settlements
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, March 27, 2005

The efforts to expand the "settlement blocs" in the West Bank and to fill sensitive areas between the Green Line and the separation fence with thousands of housing units are intended to expand "the narrow waistline" around Israel's population centers.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon wants to take advantage of international support for his plan to disengage from the Gaza Strip to establish facts on the ground in the West Bank. He has made no secret of his intentions: In the December 2003 Herzliya speech in which he first presented his disengagement plan he declared that Israel would "strengthen its control of other parts of the Land of Israel, which will be an inseparable part of the State of Israel in any future agreement." [complete article]

Sharon: We can't expect explicit U.S. okay to build in settlements
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, March 28, 2005

"We can't expect to receive explicit American agreement to build freely in the settlements," Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said at Sunday's cabinet meeting. The large blocs of settlement in the West Bank "will remain in Israel's hands and will fall within the (separation) fence, and we made this position clear to the Americans. This is our position, even if they express reservations," he said.

The U.S. administration makes a distinction between his position that the blocs will remain in Israeli hands after the final status agreement, and the issues of continuing construction in the settlements at the present phase, Sharon said. [complete article]

Abbas criticizes Israel, U.S. over settlement policy
By Gideon Alon and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, March 27, 2005

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday criticized Israel and indirectly the United States over settlements.

Incensed over a repeat of U.S. support for Israel's retaining main settlement blocs in the West Bank in a peace deal, Abbas did not name the U.S., but his target was clear.

"Any talk of settlements that is not a discussion of stopping them is unacceptable," Abbas said. "Here I'm talking about the discussions of annexing settlement blocs. This is unacceptable because this affects final status issues." The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank. [complete article]

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Settlers warn of civil war over Gaza withdrawal
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, March 29, 2005

Israeli settlers said that Ariel Sharon had missed the last opportunity to prevent a civil war yesterday after he defeated an attempt by dissident MPs to force a referendum on the government's plan to remove all Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli parliament voted down the referendum bill by 72 to 39 as settlers and their supporters rallied outside in protest against Mr Sharon's disengagement plan.

There are now no political or legal obstacles to the government forcibly removing Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip and four small West Bank colonies after a July 20 deadline to leave voluntarily.

But the Council of Jewish Settlements, known as Yesha, said the rejection of the referendum could lead to violence. [complete article]

Palestinians said to bring anti-aircraft missiles into Gaza
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times (IHT), March 29, 2005

Palestinians have smuggled several Strela anti-aircraft missiles into the Gaza Strip with the help of members of the Palestinian Military Intelligence led by Moussa Arafat, according to the Israeli defense minister, Shaul Mofaz.

"This crosses a red line for us," Mofaz said in an interview in his Tel Aviv office Sunday night. He said he had ordered the Israeli commander in Gaza, Major General Dan Harel, to meet with Arafat, a cousin of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, "and demand that they better put their hands on the smugglers and the Strelas and hand them over to us," Mofaz said.

There have been vague reports of Strelas being smuggled through tunnels from Egypt into Gaza before, but rarely with this kind of specificity. [complete article]

New report warns against continued strangulation of Gaza Strip after disengagement
Electronic Intifada, March 29, 2005

Israel has cut off the Gaza Strip from the rest of the world to such an extent that it is easier for Palestinians in Israel or the West Bank to visit relatives in prison than visit a relative in Gaza.

This is one conclusion of the 100-page report that B'Tselem and HaMoked publish today. One Big Prison documents the ongoing violations of human rights and international law resulting from Israel's restrictions on the movement of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank, Israel, and the rest of the world. The report also warns against Israel's attempt to avoid its responsibility toward residents of the Gaza Strip following disengagement. [complete article]

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Militants to attend PLO meeting
BBC News, March 29, 2005

The Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad is due to attend a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation executive committee for the first time.

PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas will chair the Gaza City meeting, with a Jihad representative there as an observer.

Correspondents say Jihad and its larger rival Hamas have recently softened their stance towards PLO-Israeli ties. [complete article]

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U.S. says rights are key to relations
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 29, 2005

The State Department, releasing an annual report on its efforts to promote human rights and democracy, declared yesterday that upholding human rights will be key to assessing relations with other countries. But the report sidestepped mention of U.S. prison abuse scandals in Iraq and Afghanistan, which had prompted a delay in the report last year.

Although the report was critical of U.S. allies such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, the nearly 300-page document also illustrated exceptions to the administration's pledge to make human rights the hallmark of its bilateral relations. Libya, for instance, was harshly condemned as "among the world's worst violators of human rights," but in the past year the administration has lifted economic sanctions and begun to normalize relations with Libya after it gave up its programs to build weapons of mass destruction. [complete article]

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Is no one accountable?
By Bob Herbert, New York Times, March 28, 2005

The Bush administration is desperately trying to keep the full story from emerging. But there is no longer any doubt that prisoners seized by the U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere have been killed, tortured, sexually humiliated and otherwise grotesquely abused.

These atrocities have been carried out in an atmosphere in which administration officials have routinely behaved as though they were above the law, and thus accountable to no one. People have been rounded up, stripped, shackled, beaten, incarcerated and in some cases killed, without being offered even the semblance of due process. No charges. No lawyers. No appeals.

Arkan Mohammed Ali is a 26-year-old Iraqi who was detained by the U.S. military for nearly a year at various locations, including the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. According to a lawsuit filed against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Mr. Ali was at times beaten into unconsciousness during interrogations. He was stabbed, shocked with an electrical device, urinated on and kept locked - hooded and naked - in a wooden, coffinlike box. He said he was told by his captors that soldiers could kill detainees with impunity. [complete article]

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Ex-US diplomats round on Bolton
BBC News, March 29, 2005

Fifty-nine former US diplomats have written to the chairman of a key Senate committee in protest at the nomination of John Bolton as ambassador to the UN.

The diplomats, who served under both Republican and Democrat presidents, described Mr Bolton, a known critic of the UN, as "the wrong man" for the job. [complete article]

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Democracy falls on barren ground
By Elinor Burkett, New York Times, March 29, 2005

The hasty exit of President Askar Akayev of Kyrgyzstan from his capital, Bishkek, last week is being hailed with the same breathless exuberance that greeted Georgia's Rose Revolution in 2003 and the Orange Revolution that brought Viktor Yushchenko to the presidency of Ukraine in November. Democracy is on the march, we are told; yet another despot of the former Soviet world has been cast aside.

It's a good story, but I'm afraid that plugging the political upheaval of this poor Central Asian nation into the paradigm du jour is akin to stuffing an elephant into a gorilla skin.

Look at the facts. In Georgia, President Eduard Shevardnadze was swept out of power when thousands of organized protesters surged into the Parliament and demanded an end to corruption. In Kyrgyzstan, Mr. Akayev's 15-year reign was endedby a motley crowd of 20,000 who began the day in Bishkek's Ala-Too Square chanting "Akayev is dirt," then moved on to loot not only the main government building - called the White House - but also supermarkets, Internet cafes, the wholesale food market, beauty salons and A.T.M.'s. [complete article]

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Fractured Iraq sees a Sunni call to arms
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, March 27, 2005

For the first time, Sunni Muslim sheiks are publicly exhorting followers to strike with force against ethnic Kurds and Shi'ites, an escalation in rhetoric that could exacerbate the communal violence that already is shaking Iraq's ethnic communities.

"The Americans aren't the problem; we're living under an occupation of Kurds and Shi'ites," Sattar Abdulhalik Adburahman, a Sunni leader from the northern city of Kirkuk, told a gathering of tribal leaders last week, to deafening applause. "It's time to fight back."

Such calls for violence are being voiced against the backdrop of an alarming rise in tit-for-tat ethnic and sectarian killings.

According to several Iraqi leaders, Shi'ite death squads routinely kill Sunnis suspected of ties to the Ba'ath Party or insurgency. Bands of Sunnis target Shi'ites in retaliation, Sunni political leaders like Adnan Pachachi said, suggesting that significant organizations, rather than small splintered cells of vigilantes, are driving the killing.

Increasingly, terms like "insurgency" and "anti-Iraqi forces" favored by American officials here fail to fully describe much of the violence. Iraqi politicians say the worst violence is being carried out by Sunni fighters against Shi'ites and Kurds -- both civilians and those who work for security forces backed by the Iraqi government.

Sunnis have now started referring to an almost exclusively Sunni resistance front they call "patriotic Arabs," who are retaliating against the Shi'ite-Kurd coalition that has driven the once dominant Sunni clique to the nation's political margins. [complete article]

See also, Sunnis' exclusion from political process stokes fears of civil war (Knight Ridder).

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In an old mosque, the blunt rhetoric of the new Iraq
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, March 28, 2005

The world according to Jalaledin Saghir, a preacher turned politician, is an uncomplicated place.

There is good and evil. There are martyrs and terrorists. The righteous (those who agree with him) are pitted against the iniquitous (those who don't). The past incarnated in Saddam Hussein is gone. In its place is a promising future in which Iraq's majority Shiite Muslims take their place as the country's deserving rulers.

"Qata'an," Saghir says often, urgent and clipped. Absolutely, it means.

Saghir, the 47-year-old scion of a clerical family, with a generous gray beard and piercing dark eyes under a white turban, is a new kind of politician in an unsure country, and his dramatic ascent illustrates the direction Iraqi politics are increasingly taking. [complete article]

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Iraqi resistance begins to crack after elections
By Jason Burke, The Observer, March 27, 2005

The Iraqi resistance has peaked and is 'turning in on itself', according to recent intelligence reports from Baghdad received by Middle Eastern intelligence agencies.

The reports are the most optimistic for several months and reflect analysts' sense that recent elections in Iraq marked a 'quantum shift'. They will boost the [Blair] government in the run-up to the expected general election [in the UK] in May.

Though the reports predict that violence against coalition troops and local forces is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, at least two Middle Eastern intelligence agencies believe that recent 'backchannel' initiatives aimed at persuading Sunni Muslim tribes in western Iraq to cease their resistance are meeting with some success.

The talks are aimed at driving a wedge between so-called Iraqi nationalist elements of the resistance and radical Islamic militants.

'We know there is a considerable degree of animosity between the various groups that comprise the resistance and that is an opportunity for us,' said one security source. [complete article]

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New Iraqi cabinet stalls over top oil ministry job
AFP (via Daily Star), March 28, 2005

Iraqi politicians fought over the oil ministry and the role of Islam in the next government Sunday, while an Al-Qaeda Web site posted a video of the purported execution of an Iraqi colonel. Shiite negotiators said Parliament will try to put to a vote Tuesday the crucial three-man presidency council that will appoint the prime minister even if political parties cannot agree on the rest of the government, Shiite negotiators said.

The Shiite candidate for prime minister, Ibrahim Jaafari, sought to put an optimistic spin on the talks, despite the apparent deadlock on Cabinet posts.

"I think we are pretty much done and we will see a new government in the next few days," Jaafari told Iraqi state television. [complete article]

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Follow the money
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, April 4, 2005

By many accounts, Custer Battles was a nightmare contractor in Iraq. The company's two principals, Mike Battles and Scott Custer, overcharged occupation authorities by millions of dollars, according to a complaint from two former employees. The firm double-billed for salaries and repainted the Iraqi Airways forklifts they found at Baghdad airport -- which Custer Battles was contracted to secure -- then leased them back to the U.S. government, the complaint says. In the fall of 2004, Deputy General Counsel Steven Shaw of the Air Force asked that the firm be banned from future U.S. contracts, saying Custer Battles had also "created sham companies, whereby [it] fraudulently increased profits by inflating its claimed costs." An Army inspector general, Col. Richard Ballard, concluded as early as November 2003 that the security outfit was incompetent and refused to obey Joint Task Force 7 orders: "What we saw horrified us," Ballard wrote to his superiors in an e-mail obtained by Newsweek.

Yet when the two whistle-blowers sued Custer Battles on behalf of the U.S. government -- under a U.S. law intended to punish war profiteering and fraud -- the Bush administration declined to take part. "The government has not lifted a finger to get back the $50 million Custer Battles defrauded it of," says Alan Grayson, a lawyer for the two whistle-blowers, Pete Baldwin and Robert Isakson. In recent months the judge in the case, T. S. Ellis III of the U.S. District Court in Virginia, has twice invited the Justice Department to join the lawsuit without response. Even an administration ally, Sen. Charles Grassley, demanded to know in a Feb. 17 letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales why the government wasn't backing up the lawsuit. Because this is a "seminal" case -- the first to be unsealed against an Iraq contractor -- "billions of taxpayer dollars are at stake" based on the precedent it could set, the Iowa Republican said. [complete article]

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Hezbollah weapons 'not an issue'
BBC News, March 27, 2005

Lebanon's most prominent anti-Syrian opposition leader has said that Hezbollah should keep its weapons until Israel withdraws from a disputed area.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt made the comments after discussions with the Damascus-backed Shia Muslim group's leader, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah. It was the first meeting between the two since last month's killing of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

There have been growing calls for a dialogue between the two sides. Correspondents say it could signal better relations between the opposition and Hezbollah. [complete article]

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Bomb hits Beirut's Christian area
BBC News, March 27, 2005

A bomb has exploded in a mainly Christian area of the Lebanese capital, Beirut, wounding at least six people. The blast in the city's industrial eastern suburb tore through a number of buildings, starting a blaze that destroyed several workshops.

Lebanon has been in political turmoil since the assassination of ex-PM Rafik Hariri on 14 February. Two blasts in the past week have killed three people in areas opposed to Syria's presence in Lebanon. [complete article]

See also, Lebanese determined to resist confessional strife (Daily Star).

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Can Syria survive the Lebanon debacle?
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, March 26, 2005

Syria still hopes for a deal with the opposition in Lebanon, according to Muhammad Shuqayr, of al-Hayat. Under the title: "The Syrian Loyalists do not see a Solution without Syrian - American Negotiations," Shuqayr explained that Syria's loyalists in Lebanon are insisting on a government of national unity as a pretext for delaying the May elections.

The pro-Syrian camp in Lebanon is trying to consolidate its position and staunch the flow of parliamentary deputies out of its ranks. Syria does not believe that its position in Lebanon is untenable; rather, it sees its present control of the parliament as its first line of defense.

If the opposition refuses to enter into serious negotiations with the present pro-Syrian government, then elections will be delayed. The Syrians insist that the local struggle for control of the Lebanese government is but a mirror of the larger tug of war over Lebanon between Syria and the US. "The US is now of the opinion that Syria should just give up the ghost in Lebanon," claimed one Syrian loyalist. "Washington assumes that Syria will act as a charitable foundation to organize the May elections without demanding anything in return or any price for its good deeds." [complete article]

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Egypt reins in democratic voices
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 2005

President Hosni Mubarak's statement last month that Egypt's next election will involve multiple candidates - instead of being simply a referendum on his rule - unleashed a rush of opposition activity here.

Demonstrations by largely secular and left-wing groups have become commonplace, as have press attacks on the president and his family. But Sunday, with the outlawed but politically powerful Muslim Brotherhood set to join the fray, the regime sent a clear signal on the limits of dissent.

Starting at dawn, the government arrested about 70 members of the Brotherhood in Cairo and three other cities. Among those, Brotherhood officials say, was Abdul Meniem Abu al-Futuh, a senior official who tried to lead protesters to parliament. A few hundred made it within half a mile of parliament, while about 2,000 gathered in Ramses Square in central Cairo.

Egypt's approach to the Brotherhood is likely to put the US in a tight spot. The Bush administration has been pushing hard for more democracy in the Middle East. But while the Brotherhood - like most of Egypt's democracy advocates - would seem to be on board with President Bush's reform agenda, it is also deeply hostile to US policies in the region. The Brotherhood and groups like the Kafaya (Enough) movement - a range of secular organizations with limited grass-roots support - react with hostility when asked if they think the opening is a result of US policy. [complete article]

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Jordan must democratize to be spared U.S. wrath
By Rana Sabbagh-Gargour, Daily Star, March 28, 2005

Jordan must today make a clear choice to initiate bold political reform, or lose face at home and invite interference from abroad. For now it has managed to deflect close foreign scrutiny of its teetering political reform efforts, mostly on the strength of its backing for Washington's policies, the war on terror, and its diplomatic ties with Israel. However, these issues remain deeply unpopular in a country where the majority of the population is anti-American.

But time is no longer on the Jordanian government's side. A breeze of democracy is blowing across the Middle East, whether in Palestine and Iraq, both of which remain under foreign occupation, in autocratic Egypt and Saudi Arabia, or in Lebanon. Jordan realizes it has to move fast, now that U.S. President George W. Bush is waging a fierce battle to spread democracy and economic reform throughout the region. Hesitant policies during the past decade, which have turned Jordan into a "liberalized autocracy" overseeing a corporate economy rather than a constitutional monarchy with elected governments, do not work any longer. [complete article]

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F-16 deal: S. Asia's new arms race?
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 2005

In a move seen as rewarding Pakistan as a key ally in its war on terror, the United States agreed Friday to sell the South Asian nation F-16 fighter jets - reversing a 15-year ban.

Bush administration officials simultaneously announced that India would have the opportunity to buy some of the latest American combat aircraft.

The steps are seen as politically bolstering Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf at home, and indicate a shift in US policy toward a tacit acceptance of Pakistan and India as nuclear powers, analysts say. [complete article]

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Closing a peephole into Iran
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2005

In its scramble to marshal resources for gathering intelligence on Al Qaeda and Iraq, the CIA shut down a spy ring it was operating in South America that was providing a rare glimpse of the activities of Iranian militants and intelligence networks, according to a former agency official involved in the operation.

The program, which had taken five years to assemble, penetrated Iranian intelligence operations in South America and succeeded to the point that several of the CIA's informants were taken to Iran for religious training, the former official said.

But the operation was dismantled by CIA officials who were skeptical of its value, the former official said, and who were under growing pressure to redeploy agency funds and personnel from South America and other regions seen as less crucial than the nation's expanding war fronts.

Iran's intelligence service has been active in South America for decades, officials said. The decision to pull the plug on the CIA-run program came in 2002, after President Bush had declared Iran part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea, but before the administration made confronting Iran over its nuclear program and its support for terrorist activities a top priority.

The agency has struggled to obtain reliable intelligence on Iran. The official who was involved in managing the spy ring said it was among the few successes the CIA had had in recent years. [complete article]

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AIPAC works to preserve clout in U.S.
By Nathan Guttman, Haaretz, March 27, 2005

In the seven months since Pentagon analyst Larry Franklin was accused of passing classified documents to the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the pro-Israel lobby has been struggling in two arenas: First, to extricate itself from the investigation without any indictments being issued, and second, to preserve its political clout in Washington's corridors of power.

The second arena is the more problematic one. "AIPAC has lost a lot of its power," says a Capitol Hill source who follows AIPAC closely. But the fact that the source refused to be identified by name means that AIPAC is still a force to be reckoned with in the capital's political industry.

AIPAC dismissed claims of its supposed enfeeblement, pointing to its extensive activity involving Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Iran and Syria over the past six months as proof. [complete article]

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Iraqi assembly sets new date to choose leaders -- again
By Caryle Murphy, Washington Post, March 27, 2005

Almost two months after historic national elections, Iraqis are still waiting for political leaders to form a new government.

On several occasions, party officials have said that the newly elected National Assembly, which held its symbolic opening session March 16, would reconvene on a certain day to take the first steps in forming a new government. But each time, the day came and went with no meeting.

The latest prediction came Saturday, when party sources said the 275-member assembly would convene Tuesday and, at a minimum, elect a speaker and two deputies. It is possible -- but by no means certain -- that the assembly could also elect a three-person Presidency Council, whose job will be to name a prime minister, the sources added. [complete article]

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Crisis grips Kyrgyzstan; ousted chief is in Russia
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, March 27, 2005

Two days after President Askar Akayev fled Kyrgyzstan, the country was mired in a parliamentary crisis as members from the old and newly elected Parliament vied for power.

Moscow confirmed that Mr. Akayev had been welcomed in Russia, where he went after a groundswell of protests across the country against vote-rigging in legislative elections that ended with a runoff on March 13. But he has not resigned as president and Kyrgyzstan's new authorities are struggling to establish the legal foundation of their rule.

One Westerner praised the new authorities for quickly restoring order to Bishkek, the capital, but cautioned that the world was waiting to see whether the previously fragmented opposition could establish a cohesive hold on power. "Everybody realizes the vulnerability if the replacement of Akayev's regime shows that they can't work together," he said. [complete article]

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Panel ignored evidence on detainee
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, March 27, 2005

A military tribunal determined last fall that Murat Kurnaz, a German national seized in Pakistan in 2001, was a member of al Qaeda and an enemy combatant whom the government could detain indefinitely at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The three military officers on the panel, whose identities are kept secret, said in papers filed in federal court that they reached their conclusion based largely on classified evidence that was too sensitive to release to the public.

In fact, that evidence, recently declassified and obtained by The Washington Post, shows that U.S. military intelligence and German law enforcement authorities had largely concluded there was no information that linked Kurnaz to al Qaeda, any other terrorist organization or terrorist activities. [complete article]

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The God racket, from DeMille to DeLay
By Frank Rich, New York Times, March 27, 2005

As Congress and the president scurried to play God in the lives of Terri Schiavo and her family last weekend, ABC kicked off Holy Week with its perennial ritual: a rebroadcast of the 1956 Hollywood blockbuster, "The Ten Commandments."

Cecil B. DeMille's epic is known for the parting of its Technicolor Red Sea, for the religiosity of its dialogue (Anne Baxter's Nefretiri to Charlton Heston's Moses: "You can worship any God you like as long as I can worship you.") and for a Golden Calf scene that DeMille himself described as "an orgy Sunday-school children can watch." But this year the lovable old war horse has a relevance that transcends camp. At a time when government, culture, science, medicine and the rule of law are all under threat from an emboldened religious minority out to remake America according to its dogma, the half-forgotten show business history of "The Ten Commandments" provides a telling back story. [complete article]

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Bush's U.N. nominee still faces a fight
By Jim Lobe, IPS, March 25, 2005

While Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz now appears assured of a relatively smooth ride to the top of the World Bank, another controversial foreign-policy nominee of U.S. President George W. Bush, U.N. Ambassador-designate John Bolton, faces a far bumpier course in his bid for confirmation by the Senate.

Groups that have been organising a grassroots campaign against Bolton's nomination say they believe that all eight Democratic members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which must approve Bolton he can be confirmed by the entire Senate, are now either lined up or leaning against him.

If only one of the 10 Republican members joins their ranks when the nomination comes to a Committee vote -- probably during the first week of April at the earliest -- the nomination could not go forward under normal Senate rules.

The groups, notably Citizens for Global Solutions (CGS) and the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL) and their local affiliates, are going all out to persuade two key moderate Republicans, Sen. Lincoln Chaffee of Rhode Island and Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, to vote 'no' on the nomination. [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:

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.

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.

'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.

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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."

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

'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.

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."

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