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Bush administration eliminating 19-year-old international terrorism report
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, April 15, 2005

The State Department decided to stop publishing an annual report on international terrorism after the government's top terrorism center concluded that there were more terrorist attacks in 2004 than in any year since 1985, the first year the publication covered.

Several U.S. officials defended the abrupt decision, saying the methodology the National Counterterrorism Center used to generate statistics for the report may have been faulty, such as the inclusion of incidents that may not have been terrorism.

Last year, the number of incidents in 2003 was undercounted, forcing a revision of the report, "Patterns of Global Terrorism."

But other current and former officials charged that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's office ordered "Patterns of Global Terrorism" eliminated several weeks ago because the 2004 statistics raised disturbing questions about the Bush's administration's frequent claims of progress in the war against terrorism. [complete article]

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Preaching the rule of law in a tribal land
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 16, 2005

Mohammed Musabah arrives at work at a different hour every day. Security precautions, the new governor of Basra explained. The political parties in the city that oppose him, some little more than armed gangs, are determined to see him fail. As many as four out of five of his policemen are loyal to his opponents. And in a land blighted by corruption, he wants to be an honest politician.

"In the beginning, for sure, it was too much pressure," he admitted.

Musabah smiled, as is his habit. After a month on the job, he said, he's learning to cope.

As Iraq negotiates the high drama of politics on a national stage, with a parliament preparing to tackle the fundamental questions of a future state -- the role of religion, federalism and women's rights -- Musabah is the point man on the more mundane task of making government actually work. His success in Iraq's second-largest city, scarred by three wars in 25 years and neglected for nearly as long, may go far in ensuring that institutionalized democracy becomes more than a promise in Iraq. His failure could suggest that Iraq's problems are simply greater than his good intentions. [complete article]

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Iraqi cleric hails amnesty idea
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 16, 2005

A prominent Sunni Muslim cleric on Friday welcomed an amnesty offer for Iraq's Sunni-led insurgency and called on President Jalal Talabani to make it a general amnesty that would also apply to those in U.S. detention.

Talabani first aired the idea of forgiveness for guerrillas in his inaugural speech this month. He said Iraq's still-forming new leadership could end the anti-government, anti-U.S. insurgency within months if it reached out to Iraqi members of the resistance while keeping up the fight against foreign insurgents.

Ahmed Abdul Ghafour Samarrae, a moderate cleric in the influential Association of Muslim Scholars, was the first Sunni leader to respond publicly to the amnesty proposal -- and he welcomed it. Calling on the new transitional government to do "something remarkable for the people," Samarrae urged Talabani to expand his proposal to "a general amnesty for all." [complete article]

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Iraq's northern capital stalked by suicide bombers
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 15, 2005

As we got close to the fortified office - once the headquarters of the local Baath party - of Mr Goran, the head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party in Mosul, as well as deputy governor, we saw smoke rising from a suicide bomber's car.

Mr Goran assured us the city was "much more secure than a few months ago and soon it will be better still". The insurgents could no longer establish checkpoints or kidnap so easily. But he admitted there were problems. He thought the 14,000 Iraqi police in Nineveh province, of which Mosul is the capital, were often in league with the insurgents. They were implicated in the assassination of a previous governor, Osama Kashoula, on 14 July.

Mr Goran said that in an uprising on 11 November last year, the police had largely disappeared or changed sides. "I tell my bodyguards not to trust the police and don't tell them our movements." [complete article]

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19 Iraqis killed and 60 hurt by car bombs and gunfire
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, April 15, 2005

A string of suicide attacks and armed assaults in central and northern Iraq on Thursday left at least 19 Iraqis dead and 60 wounded in the second consecutive day of renewed bloodshed.

The attacks, a day after a kidnapped American contractor appeared in a videotape surrounded by masked gunmen, echoed the darker days of the insurgency last year. The violence made it clear that the challenges facing the new Iraqi government - which could assume power as soon as Sunday - have not subsided. For the first time, two militant groups claimed in Internet postings that they had collaborated on attacks.

The worst attacks were in southeastern Baghdad, where two suicide bombers detonated their vehicles in quick succession near a police convoy as it passed an Interior Ministry building just before 10 a.m. The huge explosions, which had all the marks of a coordinated effort, left at least 14 people dead - all but one civilians - and 49 wounded, Interior Ministry officials said. A television report showed cars reduced to blackened rubble and bloodied children being lifted into ambulances. [complete article]

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Turkey kills 21 Kurdish fighters
BBC News, April 15, 2005

Turkish security forces have killed 21 members of the Kurdish paramilitary group, the PKK, in south-eastern Turkey, officials in the area say.

Three members of the Turkish armed forces also died in the three-day operation in Siirt province, they said.

It is reported to be the biggest clash in the area since the PKK declared a unilateral truce in 1999. [complete article]

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Saudi Arabia's struggle against terrorism
By Anthony H. Cordesman, Daily Star, April 15, 2005

The last few weeks have confirmed the fact that Saudi counterterrorism forces are becoming steadily more effective, that many of the leaders of Al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia have been captured, and that Al-Qaeda in Arabia has not emerged as a major threat to the kingdom's stability. In just the last week, Saudi security forces have killed three major Al-Qaeda leaders - Kareem Altohami al-Mojati, a Moroccan, and Saud Homood Obaid al-Otaibi and Abdel-Rahman Mohammed Yazji, both Saudis. At this point in time, the Saudi government has killed or captured 25 out of the 26 leaders of Al-Qaeda that the government identified after Al-Qaeda launched its major offensive in Saudi Arabia in May 2003. [complete article]

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Is Assad's regime long for this world?
By Michael Young, Daily Star, April 15, 2005

As the leftovers of Syria's order in Lebanon struggle to salvage some power by manipulating and delaying an election that, if it were fair, would surely obliterate most of them, one wonders whether their sponsors in Damascus are long for this world. More importantly, how is Syria's fate perceived in Washington, where it may well be written in the coming months?

The mood in the Bush administration is that the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad is not viable, perhaps even in the medium term, and that talk of gradual "reform" along the lines of what Assad and his acolytes have been trying to peddle abroad in the past four years is ridiculous in the current context. Worse for Assad, there seems little American fear that once he leaves or is made to leave office, Syria would be dominated by Islamists. [complete article]

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Iran eases its social strictures
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 15, 2005

Social freedoms have long been a barometer of politics in Iran, and pundits predicted that conservatives would crack down when they regained control of parliament in February 2004.

Hard-liners and undercover morality police have tried to legislate a stricter dress code, and last spring stepped up efforts to crash mixed-sex parties, arrest girls showing too much ankle and wearing make-up, and scold those resting sunglasses on their heads. Mobile flogging units were even reportedly deployed in more laid-back Caspian Coast towns.

Following stiff resistance to the measures, however, the unpopular right wing appears to have shifted tactics. With presidential elections looming in June, hard-liners will take advantage of discontent over the failure of reformist President Mohammed Khatami to deliver fully on promises of freedom, openness, and the rule of law.

But they appear to have made another calculation as well - that social flexibility is a price they must pay for their political survival. [complete article]

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Hamas militant adds ballot box to armoury
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, April 14, 2005

Hamas, the militant Islamic group, will not only challenge Mahmoud Abbas's moderate Fatah movement in the elections in July, but also seek to topple it from leadership of the Palestinian parliament.

Mahmoud Zahar, Hamas's senior leader in Gaza, disclosed the full extent of the group's ambitions in a rare interview. He confirmed that it will contest seats in Palestinian Legislative Council elections in the same month that Israel withdraws from Gaza, and join the Cabinet if it wins.

He made clear that Hamas intends to claim Israel's withdrawal as a retreat under fire and victory for its campaign of violence. This is exactly the image that Ariel Sharon, the Israeli Prime Minister, is determined to avoid, knowing that it will be seized upon by his right-wing critics, who accuse him of handing the Palestinians a "dividend for terror". [complete article]

Departing World Bank president takes job aiding Gaza withdrawal
By George Gedda, AP (via Boston Globe), April 15, 2005

The World Bank's departing president will help coordinate Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and seek ways to revive the area's dormant economy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said yesterday.

James Wolfensohn, 71, will undertake his duties on June 1, the last day of his second five-year term at the World Bank. He will begin preparatory work immediately for his new assignment. [complete article]

U.S. anti-disengagement forces mobilize
By Uriel Heilman, Jerusalem Post, April 14, 2005

As Israeli settlers from Kfar Darom to Shavei Shomron gird up for the fight against disengagement, many like-minded Jews in America are meeting to plan their own campaigns against Israel's withdrawal from Gaza.

The Zionist Organization of America is planning a media blitz in Israel in the coming weeks, US Orthodox synagogues are putting together missions over Passover to visit Gaza's settlements, and a few high-profile opponents of disengagement are traveling around the United States trying to drum up resistance to the prime minister's withdrawal plan among Jewish and Christian audiences. Many more American Jews simply are waiting for some direction about what role they can play to help block the planned withdrawal, said some anti-disengagement activists.

"I think there are a lot of people who want to do something but don't know what they can do," said Rabbi Pesach Lerner, executive vice president of the National Council of Young Israel, an Orthodox synagogue umbrella organization. "These are people that are waiting for someone to come up with an action point. When that happens, I think there will be a groundswell."

Lerner helped organize a recent visit to Gush Katif by several dozen American Jews, including a number of well-known right-wing activists. The trip included US multimillionaire Irving Moskowitz, a staunch supporter of Israeli settlements in Arab-populated areas, including eastern Jerusalem, and Joseph Frager, chairman of the board of American Friends of Ateret Cohanim. [complete article]

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Prohibition of United States military assistance to Pakistan
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 15, 2005

With the recently announced sale of F-16 fighters to Pakistan, the United States lifted a 15-year ban on such sales. A few members of Congress want to see the ban re-imposed and presented a bill in Congress on April 12, stating:
No United States military assistance may be provided to Pakistan and no military equipment or technology may be sold, transferred, or licensed for sale to Pakistan pursuant to the authorities contained in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 (22 U.S.C. 2151 et seq.) or any other Act unless the President first certifies to the appropriate congressional committees that--
(1) the Government of Pakistan has provided the Government of the United States with unrestricted opportunities to interview the Pakistani nuclear scientist, Dr. Abdul Qadeer Khan, regarding the illegal international nuclear proliferation network established and operated by Dr. Khan;
(2) the Government of Pakistan has complied with requests for assistance from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regarding the illegal international nuclear proliferation network, including by providing requested documents, materials, equipment, and access to individuals; and
(3) the Government of the United States--
(A) has determined the full scope of the activities and participants of the illegal international nuclear proliferation network;
(B) has determined the nature and extent of the illegal international nuclear proliferation network's connection to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden; and
(C) in conjunction with the International Atomic Energy Agency, has confirmed that the illegal international nuclear proliferation network has been completely dismantled.

Congressional reporters have been busy this week covering the Bolton and Negroponte hearings, but as far as I can tell, not a single newspaper in America bothered reporting the presentation of HR1553. If it continues to be ignored outside Congress this bill is destined to go nowhere. But does it not merit at least one article in the Washington Post, New York Times or any other major newspaper?

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Bolton faces allegations that he tried to fire analysts
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, April 15, 2005

In 2003, John R. Bolton, President Bush's choice for U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, ordered a young official working closely with then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell removed from duties in the State Department's nonproliferation bureau in what U.S. officials described as a third attempt by Bolton to purge career officials he perceived as impeding his policy goals.

The officials, who would discuss the incident only on the condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to discuss it, said Rexon Ryu, an expert on nonproliferation issues in the Middle East, was transferred to another bureau after he failed to produce a document requested by Bolton's chief of staff. [complete article]

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Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld: Honored as slime-mould beetles
The Guardian, April 15, 2005

They are synonymous with American power, conservatism and the projection of military might.

Now the names of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have gained a second, somewhat less formidable connotation: two scientists have named a species of beetle after America's paramount triumvirate.

Quentin Wheeler and Kelly Miller, who had the task of naming 65 newly discovered species of slime-mould beetles, settled on Agathidium bushi, Agathidium cheneyi, and Agathidium rumsfeldi as names for three of them. [complete article]

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Texas oilman indicted in Iraq oil sale case
By Colum Lynch and Michelle Garcia, Washington Post, April 15, 2005

A Texas oil executive, his two companies and two foreign associates were indicted Thursday on charges that they illegally paid millions of dollars to Iraqi officials in exchange for lucrative deals to buy discounted oil from the government of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

'Koreagate' figure tied to oil-for-food scandal
By Michael Dobbs, Washington Post, April 15, 2005

"An American success story" was how Tongsun Park described himself when he first came to the attention of the media and the FBI, in 1977, with gifts of hundreds of thousands of dollars to prominent politicians in an influence-peddling scandal that came to be known as "Koreagate."

More than a quarter of a century later, the South Korean businessman is back in the news, the subject of a federal arrest warrant that alleges he acted as an intermediary with corrupt U.N. officials in an oil-for-food conspiracy orchestrated by then-Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The criminal complaint charges that Park received at least $2 million from Iraq, much of it in cash delivered by diplomatic pouch from Baghdad. [complete article]

U.S. and U.K. blamed for oil scandal
BBC News, April 15, 2005

The US and Britain are partly to blame for the scandal enveloping the UN oil-for-food programme, Secretary General Kofi Annan has said. [...]

"The bulk of the money that Saddam [Hussein] made came out of smuggling outside the oil-for-food programme, and it was on the American and British watch," Mr Annan said. "Possibly they were the ones who knew exactly what was going on, and that the countries themselves decided to close their eyes to smuggling to Turkey and Jordan because they were allies." [complete article]

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Bolton spied on government officials
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, April 14, 2005

John R. Bolton, nominated to be the next ambassador to the United Nations, used his position as a senior State Department official to obtain details about intercepted communications involving other American officials that were monitored by the National Security Agency, according to Mr. Bolton's own account.

The identities of American officials whose communications are intercepted are usually closely protected by law, and not included even in classified intelligence reports. Access to the names may be authorized by the N.S.A. only in response to special requests, and these are not common, particularly from policy makers.

Testifying Monday to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Mr. Bolton acknowledged that he had made such requests "on a couple of occasions, maybe a few more." Senator Christopher J. Dodd, Democrat of Connecticut, has requested that Mr. Bolton explain each request, Democratic Congressional officials said.

Mr. Bolton told the committee that his only motivation had been "to better understand" a summary of an intercepted conversation, saying that on some occasions, "it's important to find out who is saying what to whom." [complete article]

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Senate committee delays vote on Bolton
By Barry Schweid, AP (via The Guardian), April 14, 2005

President Bush's drive to make John R. Bolton the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations got sidetracked Wednesday as Senate Democrats forced a delay until next week of an important confirmation vote.

In buying time, they hoped to win over a pivotal Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, by amassing evidence that Bolton harassed U.S. officials who challenged his judgment on weapons issues.

Chafee said Wednesday he is leaning toward supporting Bolton, which would all but assure Bolton's confirmation. [complete article]

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John Bolton vs. Democracy
By John Nichols, The Nation, April 13, 2005

"Im with the Bush-Cheney team, and I'm here to stop the count."

Those were the words John Bolton yelled as he burst into a Tallahassee library on Saturday, Dec. 9, 2000, where local election workers were recounting ballots cast in Florida's disputed presidential race between George W. Bush and Al Gore.

Bolton was one of the pack of lawyers for the Republican presidential ticket who repeatedly sought to shut down recounts of the ballots from Florida counties before those counts revealed that Gore had actually won the state's electoral votes and the presidency. [complete article]

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In Fallujah, U.S. envoy greeted by complaints
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, April 14, 2005

Deputy Secretary of State Robert B. Zoellick paid a surprise visit Wednesday to this former insurgent stronghold to view the pace of reconstruction and meet with local officials. He was greeted with an earful of complaints.

Zoellick is the most senior U.S. official to venture inside the city since it was retaken by U.S. and Iraqi forces in November, and his trip appeared intended to demonstrate that normality was returning to what was once a symbol of the Sunni Muslim resistance.

Yet Zoellick, who wore body armor under his suit jacket, was told by military commanders that he could not leave his armored Humvee because of security concerns during the lightning tour of the shattered downtown. His heavily armored motorcade briefly paused so that he and others could gaze at a revived water treatment plant -- within view of the bridge over the Euphrates River where the charred bodies of American civilian contractors were hung after they were ambushed a year ago. The motorcade then moved so quickly past an open-air bakery reopened with a U.S.-provided micro-loan that workers tossing dough could be glanced only in the blink of an eye. [complete article]

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U.S. man held in Iraq seen on video
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 14, 2005

A distraught American hostage appeared on a television videotape with automatic weapons trained on his head Wednesday, a day that recalled the darker periods of Iraq's insurgency as bombs killed at least 14 people and U.S. Marines clashed with insurgents near the Syrian border.

As insurgent attacks have diminished since national elections on Jan. 30, Iraqi and U.S. officials have focused largely on shaping the country's political future and have expressed hope that the insurgency was winding down. But a tape broadcast on al-Jazeera television showed a scene more typical of last summer and fall: a foreigner described as pleading for his life as three gunmen pointed automatic weapons at his head. [complete article]

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Twin car bombings kill 18 in Baghdad
By Edward Harris, AP (via Yahoo), April 14, 2005

A pair of car bombs exploded near government offices in the Iraqi capital on Thursday, killing 18 people and wounding three dozen, while insurgent attacks against the nation's nascent security forces left at least eight others dead, officials said.

Al Qaida in Iraq claimed responsibility for the near-simultaneous explosions outside an Interior Ministry office in a southeastern Baghdad neighborhood. The detonations sent large plumes of smoke rising over the city and threw passers-by to the ground. [complete article]

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Troops to start leaving Iraq next year
By Anton La Guardia and Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, April 14, 2005

British and American troops will be withdrawn steadily from Iraq starting next year and are likely to be completely out of the country within five years, Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, said yesterday.

Setting out for the first time a possible timetable for departure of foreign forces, Mr Straw said the 7,500 British troops deployed in southern Iraq are unlikely to be reduced before December, when elections for a permanent Iraqi government are due to be held.

However, the United Nations mandate for all foreign forces will expire at the start of 2006 and a review of their status is due to begin in two months' time. Mr Straw said the Government was likely to take "decisions" about the future of British forces in the autumn. [complete article]

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Iraqi refugees in mortal fear at home can't get entry into United States
By Gaiutra Bahadur, Knight Ridder, April 13, 2005

Alyaa said she was the first woman in her neighborhood to sign up to work with the U.S. government after Saddam Hussein fell.

She used to stand shoulder to shoulder with an American soldier in front of the U.S. military's Camp Scania in the Rashid section of Baghdad. As a translator, Alyaa, 24, talked to Iraqis who lined up at the entrance seeking compensation for dead relatives and destroyed homes.

Now, because of that work, her life is in danger and in limbo.

Alyaa, who asked that her last name be withheld out of fear for her safety, fled to Jordan with her cousin Shaimaa after insurgents killed an uncle and kidnapped Shaimaa and another cousin. Alyaa hoped to find a haven in the United States but discovered the State Department isn't resettling refugees from Iraq. She's lost her faith in the country she once loved. [complete article]

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U.S. mercenaries spill blood over Afghan opium
By Nick Meo, The Independent, April 13, 2005

It was the first day of Afghanistan's new opium eradication programme and the quiet town of Maiwand in Kandahar province had been chosen for action.

Hundreds of Afghan eradicators under the command of American private security contractors were going to head into the fields around the town and destroy the beautiful red and white blooms days before they could be harvested for their narcotic sap.

But instead of the peaceful, model operation that was promised as an example to demonstrate the Kabul government's serious intentions, Maiwand and its surrounding villages exploded into violence in what could be a foretaste of resistance to Western-backed efforts to bring Afghanistan's opium industry under control.

By the end of yesterday four government soldiers had been wounded by gunfire from farmers, American security contractors were said to be sheltering behind razor wire in a protected camp, and Afghan police and counter-narcotics forces had fought fierce battles which local people said left five dead. Plans to eradicate poppies were temporarily shelved in the area as political bigwigs shuttled to and fro trying to ease tensions and broker some kind of deal with the angry opium farmers. [complete article]

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Afghan leader to propose strategic ties with the U.S.
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, April 14, 2005

President Hamid Karzai said Wednesday that he would send a formal request to President Bush seeking a long-term strategic relationship with the United States, one that could include economic assistance as well as security guarantees and military cooperation.

At a news conference here with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Mr. Karzai said it was only natural to want such ties with the nation that had restored Afghan sovereignty and was at the forefront of helping rebuild its security and economy.

In a country with a storied history of opposition to foreign forces on its soil, Mr. Karzai opened the door to possibly allowing rights to Afghan airspace and moving troops through the country. The talks could even lead to an undetermined number of American soldiers being based here. [complete article]

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Sharon says no plan to strike Iran nuclear sites
By Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, April 13, 2005

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, following talks with U.S. officials on Iran's nuclear program, said Israel was not planning a military strike on Iran to prevent it from getting the bomb.

"Israel is not leading the struggle. Of course we exchange intelligence, we exchange views, we discuss (these) issues, but it's not that we are planning any military attack on Iran," Sharon told CNN in an interview.

"Of course we take all precautions and all the steps to defend ourselves. But it's not that Israel should give the answer to the international problem," Sharon told Fox News in a separate interview.

Widely believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear power, Israel sent jets to bomb the Iraqi reactor at Osiraq in 1981, driving Saddam Hussein's quest for the bomb underground and fueling recent speculation that it might attack Iran. [complete article]

Comment -- Is this news? Not really. If Israel is going to be involved in an attack on Iran, is Ariel Sharon going to go on CNN and anounce the fact? Associated Press pumped this story up with a headline claiming Sharon rules out attacking Iran over nukes and bloggers Mickey Kraus and Bredan Loy seem mildly shocked that AP didn't parse Sharon's words more carefully. But I think we already knew that Sharon isn't Moses. He could just as well have said, "Yada, yada, yada, yada, Iran. Yada, yada, yada, attack. Yada, yada, yada, nuclear." Want to know what Sharon thinks? Pay attention to what he does, not what he says.

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Syria after Lebanon, Lebanon after Syria
ICG Middle East Report, April 12, 2005

Former Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri's tragic assassination capped a series of events that carry the potential of fundamentally altering not only Lebanon's future, but also Syria's and the broader regional landscape as well. For now, most international and Lebanese actors have acted with welcome wisdom; the prospect of Syria's long-overdue withdrawal from Lebanon and of Lebanese elections free from outside interference appears closer than ever. But risks of serious violence remain very real. The Syrian regime, sensing its survival at stake, may lash out using its remaining instruments and allies in Lebanon and beyond; the U.S., feeling its broader regional goals within striking distance, may well over-reach, triggering violent reactions from Syria, Hizbollah or militant Palestinian groups; Lebanon's political class, notoriously fractured, could create fresh opportunities for outside interference and pave the way for domestic chaos. What happens in Lebanon likely will have momentous regional implications -- certainly on Syria and Hizbollah, possibly on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and even Iraq. But dealing with those matters before getting the question of Lebanon right is the surest way to get it all wrong. [complete article]

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Lebanon PM quits, says still time for elections
By Tom Perry, Reuters, April 13, 2005

Lebanon's pro-Syrian prime minister stepped down on Wednesday, abandoning efforts to form a government to lead the country to general elections, but said there was still time to hold the poll as expected in May.

Prime Minister Omar al-Karami's resignation seemed to make timely elections more unlikely and deepened the political crisis triggered by the February assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Karami, who has now quit twice in six weeks, said he had hit a wall in trying to form a cabinet, whose main task would be to supervise the elections which the United States and United Nations say must go ahead on time.

"We have once again reached a dead end," Karami told reporters. "That is why I have invited you today to present my resignation." [complete article]

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Lebanese factions unite
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 2005

Lebanon is using the 30th anniversary of the bloody civil war this week to spawn a fresh spirit of national harmony even as this tiny nation grapples with renewed violence and a protracted political crisis.

Dubbed "national unity week," a series of concerts, exhibitions, sporting events, and children's activities have been organized to bring Lebanese together to mark the civil war as well as help revive the economic fortunes of Beirut's central district, which has suffered from the turmoil brought on by the assassination of Rafik Hariri, a former prime minister, two months ago.

"Today, we declare war against war," said Marwan Hamade, a senior aide to Walid Jumblatt, the Druze and opposition leader, as Wednesday's activities began.

Although the war ended 15 years ago, it is the first time that the Lebanese have held such a broad public commemoration, an attempt to come to terms with its bloody past and bridge the sectarian divide. [complete article]

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Interrogator says U.S. approved handling of detainee who died
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, April 13, 2005

The dispute over the Bush administration's treatment of military detainees is playing out in a North Carolina courtroom, where a CIA contractor has asserted that his rough interrogation in 2003 of an Afghan who subsequently died was indirectly authorized by deliberations in Washington at the highest ranks of the Bush administration.

A lawyer for David A. Passaro, the sole CIA worker to be indicted publicly as the result of a detainee's death in the war on terrorism, stated in court documents unsealed yesterday that he wishes to call the legal counsel to Vice President Cheney, two former senior Justice Department officials, former CIA director George J. Tenet and Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales as witnesses in his defense. [complete article]

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Bolton is described as an intimidator
By Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, April 13, 2005

The former head of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research testified yesterday that John Bolton, President Bush's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, is a "serial abuser" who tried to fire and intimidate one analyst who did not agree with Bolton's view that Cuba is developing biological weapons.

"I've never seen it in my career," Carl Ford Jr., a veteran intelligence analyst, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee yesterday in the second day of Bolton's confirmation hearing. "It's not excellence in government. It's a serial abuser."

Ford, who described himself as a strong Bush supporter and "as conservative as John Bolton," said that Bolton's punishment of the analyst had such a chilling effect in the bureau that then-secretary of state Colin L. Powell visited them specifically to assure them that they should never change their intelligence assessments due to political pressure. Powell mentioned the analyst who had tangled with Bolton by name during that talk, Ford said. [complete article]

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Guantanamo detainee is alleging he was brutalized
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, April 13, 2005

A Guantanamo Bay detainee said a beating by guards at the US military prison left his face partially paralyzed and one of his fingers broken, according to a lawsuit to be filed today in federal court in Boston.

The complaint will ask a judge to order the military to hand over documents about its treatment of six Guantanamo detainees arrested in Bosnia, including medical and psychiatric records. It is the first Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed in connection with detention challenges, marking a new tactic in piercing the veil of secrecy that surrounds "enemy combatants" at the prison. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld warns Iraqi regime not to purge U.S. allies
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 13, 2005

The US has warned against a purge of its allies in the defence and interior ministries - crucial to real power in Iraq - by incoming Shia ministers.

Donald Rumsfeld, the US Defence Secretary, issued a coded warning against the removal of officials from the security ministries which lead the fight against insurgency.

"It's important that the new government be attentive to the competence of the people in the ministries, and that they avoid unnecessary turbulence," he said on his ninth visit to Iraq since the invasion.

The US is increasingly isolated in Iraq, with the announcement yesterday that 1,700 Polish troops in Iraq would leave at the beginning of next year. Poland has been among America's staunchest allies. [complete article]

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In Iraq, a push for political momentum
By Dan Murphy and Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, April 13, 2005

Though any agreement is a major achievement, the country's leaders and its divided communities are now moving to a higher-stakes game over the same core issues that delayed an accord on the government for so long.

While the current agreement could be the beginning of national reconciliation, the negotiations left an atmosphere of distrust that could overshadow efforts to write a constitution and create a plural system of government.

"There is not going to be a draft of the new constitution by mid-August," says Juan Cole, a Middle East historian at the University of Michigan. "Most of the agreements in the negotiations on the government between Shiites and Kurds have been hard won, when they should have been easy and done quickly. The idea that they could write a constitution, a complex and lasting document, in just a little more time seems fanciful."

A closer look at the two months of negotiations - that appointed Shiite Islamist Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister and promised to divvy up cabinet posts along religious and ethnic lines - may provide a blueprint for how Iraq will struggle to forge a political identity in the coming years. The difficult talks, complete with angry accusations, stormy meetings, and apparent breakdowns saved at the last minute by tough compromises, illustrate both the best hopes for a new culture of compromise and the risks that the country could split further along ethnic and sectarian lines. [complete article]

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Construction continues at largest settlement on West Bank
By Alon Bernstein, AP (via Boston Globe), April 13, 2005

Bulldozers cleared rubble and cranes hoisted equipment yesterday in the largest West Bank settlement a day after criticism from President Bush that clouded a Texas summit with Israel's prime minister, Ariel Sharon. Israel says the work is taking place within existing boundaries and does not constitute expansion.

But Israel's distinction is lost on the Palestinians and possibly the Americans, too. The Bush administration has insisted that Israel stick to a Mideast peace plan that bans all settlement construction.

Israel recently confirmed plans to build an additional 3,650 houses between the settlement, Maaleh Adumim, and Jerusalem, 5 miles to the west -- effectively cutting off the Arab section of the city from the rest of the West Bank. Palestinians say it would make it impossible for them to create a state in the West Bank and Gaza with east Jerusalem as its capital. [complete article]

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Israel has few assurances for Gaza settlers
By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, April 13, 2005

Three months before Israel is scheduled to evacuate all 8,200 Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, the government does not know where it will relocate the families, according to Israeli, Palestinian and settlement officials.

It has processed financial compensation papers for just one family, the officials said, and has conducted only one substantive meeting with Jewish settlers on the planned withdrawal.

"This is what is shocking about this whole situation," said Moshe Reuven, 49, a greenhouse farmer who participated in the settlers' first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon last week. "The government has decided to uproot people from their houses but has not given an answer on how, or where, we'll live afterwards." [complete article]

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Sharon asks U.S. to pressure Iran to give up its nuclear program
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, April 13, 2005

Spreading photographs of Iranian nuclear sites over a lunch table at the Bush ranch in Texas on Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel urged President Bush to step up pressure on Iran to give up all elements of its nuclear program, according to senior American and Israeli officials.

Mr. Sharon said Israeli intelligence showed Iran was near "a point of no return" in learning how to develop a weapon, the officials said. However, Mr. Sharon gave no indication that Israel was preparing to act alone to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, a prospect that Vice President Dick Cheney, who was at the lunch, raised publicly three months ago.

In a conversation lasting more than an hour, Mr. Sharon argued that European nations negotiating with Iran were softening their position and may be willing to allow it to hold on to technology to enrich uranium. [complete article]

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Most of Iran's troops in Lebanon are out, Western officials say
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 13, 2005

Iran has pulled out the vast majority of its Revolutionary Guards in Lebanon after two decades as a major player among the country's Shiite population, most notably as the impetus for the creation of Hezbollah, according to U.S. and European officials.

At one point, Iran was estimated to have as many as 2,000 of its elite troops inside Lebanon. But today Tehran is reported to have from 12 to 50 military personnel in the country -- and probably on the lower end of that range, the officials said.

Although the phased drawdown began more than five years ago, senior officials and policymakers at the State Department and the National Security Council, in both the Bush and Clinton administrations, said they were unaware of it -- and were surprised to learn of the moves long after the fact. [complete article]

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A new Lebanon?
By Max Rodenbeck, New York Review of Books, April 28, 2005

Lebanon is smaller than Connecticut and scarcely more populous. Its economy, still struggling to recoup the losses of the 1975–1990 civil war, hardly amounts to the annual turnover at McDonald's. What is so special about the country? The immediate answer is that this statelet, which was subtracted by French imperialists from greater Syria, has suddenly found itself to be the fine point upon which the fate of a much wider region balances.

That sounds an oversized claim, but an extraordinary passion play has been unfolding in Beirut over the last few weeks. It is a drama that happens to pit forces which, in a particularly stark fashion, seem to represent the competing narratives that will ultimately define the Arabs' vision of their recent past and soon-to-be-revealed destiny. These forces are, in many ways, similar to those that have clashed within every Arab society, and continue to do so, in what some historians describe as a struggle between the cosmopolitan Arabs of the coastal cities and those of the inward-looking hinterland. And just now, on the Arab airwaves transmitting scenes from the streets of Beirut, a turning of the tide in this struggle may be fleetingly discerned. [complete article]

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'Talibanization' fears in Pakistan
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, April 13, 2005

More than five years since President Pervez Musharraf's coup, religious extremists are moving to the forefront in challenging Pakistan's political order.

Last week, hundreds of extremist demonstrators armed with bamboo sticks blocked a 10K road race near the finish line to protest the participation of women runners. A gun battle with police ensued, leaving several people wounded.

In a surprise to many here, the incident took place not in the conservative tribal areas, but in the country's Punjab heartland. In reaction, protesters picketed Parliament Monday, calling on the government to "save the society from Talibanization."

Through strikes, protests, and the passage of strict local ordinances, Pakistan's religious parties have grown more brazen in their challenge to the secularization central to President Musharraf's rule. Political analysts are concerned that the sidelining of mainstream parties under may be aiding the radicals in the run-up to local elections in July. [complete article]

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Bin Laden bribed Afghan militias for his freedom, German says
By Richard Bernstein, New York Times, April 13, 2005

The head of the German intelligence agency, in an interview published here Tuesday, said Osama bin Laden had been able to elude capture after the American invasion of Afghanistan by paying bribes to the Afghan militias delegated the task of finding him.

"The principal mistake was made already in 2001, when one wanted bin Laden to be apprehended by the Afghan militias in Tora Bora," the intelligence official, August Hanning, said in an interview with the German business newspaper Handelsblatt.

"There, bin Laden could buy himself free with a lot of money," Mr. Hanning said.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Hanning confirmed the accuracy of the newspaper's account. She said Afghan forces had told Mr. bin Laden they knew his whereabouts and he would be arrested, but they allowed him safe passage in exchange for a bribe.

In the past, other officials - including Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the former American commander in Afghanistan - have acknowledged that Afghan militias who fought on the side of the invasion coalition had allowed leaders of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to get away. But Mr. Hanning is the top intelligence official to say Mr. bin Laden was among them. [complete article]

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It's the wilderness years for militias
By Ellen Barry, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2005

When a pipe bomb exploded at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, authorities immediately started looking for a right-wing extremist, a rural paramilitary group or a gang of skinheads.

It was a year after the Oklahoma City bombing, three years after the federal raid near Waco, Texas, and four years after the standoff at the Weaver home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. The threat posed by antigovernment militants had never seemed more urgent.

Today, when Eric Robert Rudolph pleads guilty to four bombings -- at the Atlanta Olympics, a gay bar and two abortion clinics -- it will be in a very different atmosphere.

Although experts warn that homegrown terrorism is still a danger, the threat has receded from public view. The number of militia groups in the U.S. has dwindled from a high of 858 in the mid-1990s to 152 last year, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. [complete article]

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Dark side of war on terror
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2005

Khaled el-Masri says his strange and violent trip into the void began with a bus ride on New Year's Eve 2003.

When he returned to this city five months later, his friends didn't believe the odyssey he recounted. Masri said he was kidnapped in Macedonia, beaten by masked men, blindfolded, injected with drugs and flown to Afghanistan, where he was imprisoned and interrogated by U.S. intelligence agents. He said he was finally dumped in the mountains of Albania.

"One person told me not to tell this story because it's so unreal, no one would listen," said Masri, a German citizen who was born in Lebanon.

A Munich prosecutor has launched an investigation and is intent on questioning U.S. officials about the unemployed car salesman's claim that he was wrongly targeted as an Islamic militant. Masri's story, if true, would offer a rare firsthand look at one man's disappearance into a hidden dimension of the Bush administration's war on terrorism. [complete article]

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Hezbollah signals it's open to talks with United States
By Eli Lake, New York Sun, April 11, 2005

A Hezbollah political leader told a delegation of former European and American officials last month that the Bush administration approached the organization for talks following September 11, 2001, and that the group would be open to new discussions.

According to a former CIA station chief in Islamabad who attended the meetings in Beirut, Milton Bearden, the representatives of Hezbollah, which has long been implicated in terrorist attacks, said the Bush administration approached them shortly after the Twin Towers were destroyed.

The White House denies having made an approach.

Mr. Bearden recalled that the leader of the Hezbollah delegation said: "The Americans came to us after 9/11 wanting to open a dialogue, at a political level. ... 'It came through the Israeli gate,' meaning the Israelis brokered it." Mr. Bearden added that the representative said his organization would "be open to a direct approach from the Americans."

Another former CIA operations officer who was there, Graham Fuller, told The New York Sun the message was delivered by Hezbollah's chief of international relations and top political adviser, Nawaf Mousawi. [complete article]

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Bush, Sharon clash openly
By Peter Wallsten and Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, april 12, 2005

President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon differed strongly and publicly Monday over the future of West Bank settlements under the U.S.-backed peace plan, underscoring the fragile nature of negotiations to end the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Bush condemned the expansion of Jewish settlements as a violation of the so-called road map plan for a two-state solution. But Sharon, who has proposed expanding a major settlement east of Jerusalem, said the development and others would be protected under any final agreement and remain part of Israel. The two leaders spoke after meeting for an hour and a half at Bush's ranch outside Crawford.

"I told the prime minister of my concern that Israel not undertake any activity that contravenes road map obligations, or prejudice final status negotiations," Bush said after the meeting. "Therefore, Israel should remove unauthorized outposts and meet its road map obligations regarding settlements in the West Bank." [complete article]

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A Palestinian prison-state?
By Jeff Halper, Boston Globe, April 11, 2005

In peace-making, as in law, business, and other areas of life, the devil is in the details. The crux of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is not over a Palestinian state. The "quartet" of the Middle East road map -- Europe, Russia, the United Nations, and the United States -- all agree that a Palestinian state must emerge. Even Ariel Sharon himself, the father of the settlements and a fervent proponent of the Greater Land of Israel ideology, has come to understand the need for a Palestinian state in order to relieve Israel of the 4 million Palestinians living in the occupied territories. No, the problem is not a Palestinian state, but a viable Palestinian state.

Viability, a term found in the road map, is not a secondary issue. After almost four decades of deliberate Israeli de-development of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, the Palestinians are left today with scorched earth. No functioning economy (the Palestinians, 70 percent of whom live on less than $2 a day, are being kept alive by international relief agencies); no agriculture (since 1967 Israel has uprooted or cut down a million olive and fruit trees); no homes for the young generation (Israel has demolished 12,000 Palestinian homes since the occupation began, and refuses to issue permits to build new ones).

Two generations of Palestinians have never known freedom, only military occupation. They have been brutalized, traumatized, undereducated, and left with few skills and little hope of employment. A full 60 percent of the Palestinian population is under the age of 18. [complete article]

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Studying Islam, strengthening the nation
By Peter Berkowitz and Michael McFaul, Washington Post, April 12, 2005

It remains painfully true, more than three years after Sept. 11, that even highly educated Americans know little about the Arab Middle East. And it is embarrassing how little our universities have changed to educate our nation and train experts on the wider Middle East.

For believers in a good liberal arts education, it has long been a source of consternation that faculties in political science, history, economics and sociology lack scholars who know Arabic or Persian and understand Islam. Since Sept. 11 it has become clear that this abdication of responsibility is more than an educational problem: It also poses a threat to our national security. [complete article]

Comment -- I imagine that whoever approved this op-ed for publication thought that few readers would find fault with the argument. That's probably a sound assumption, but there's only one word that I can use to describe Peter Berkowitz and Michael McFaul's contribution: Pathetic! Theirs are the sins of omission and they are glaring. They say nothing about the witch hunt being waged against Middle East studies teachers by the likes of people such as Daniel Pipes and organizations such as Campus Watch. They say:
During the Cold War, universities could draw on a pool of extraordinary European emigres. But in educating scholars of the Muslim Middle East, we must start almost from scratch. We can provide incentives to bring PhD candidates from the region to study at U.S. universities, but we must understand that filling the large gaps in our universities is the work of a generation.
No mention of Tariq Ramadan, the widely respected Islamic professor who would now be teaching at Notre Dame were it not for his obstruction by the Department of Homeland Security. Nor any mention of the fact that the ability of the intelligence services to recruit Middle East experts is severely impeded by these agencies' reluctance to hire people who were born in the Middle East.

While Berkowitz and McFaul liken the need for the promotion of Middle East studies to the need for Soviet studies during the Cold War, it's disingenuous to describe this as a national security need that can somehow be regarded as nonpolitical. What they are calling "nonpolitical" is clearly simply code for Israel-friendly. They suggest that universities "should avoid concentrating resources on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The disproportionate weight it is often given in Middle East studies programs reflects the poisonous political proposition that Israel is the root source of all the ills that beset the Muslim world." Yet, irrespective of which side of the fence you sit on, who can deny that for the last three decades the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been the prism through which Middle Eastern politics is constantly refracted? The fact that that attention has often served as a way of deflecting attention away from domestic political issues in many countries, underlines the need for resolving the conflict rather than, as Berkowitz and McFaul suggest, playing down its significance.

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India, China hoping to 'reshape the world order' together
By John Lancaster, Washington Post, April 12, 2005

India and China announced a new "strategic partnership" Monday, pledging to resolve long-standing border disputes and boost trade and economic cooperation between two rising powers that together account for more than a third of the world's population.

The announcement came after a summit between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, who began a four-day visit to India with a weekend stop in Bangalore, the center of India's booming information-technology sector.

The agreements signed Monday mark an important shift in relations between the Asian giants, which fought a brief border war in 1962 and have long regarded each other with suspicion. The prospect of a more cooperative relationship has significant global implications, given the vast economic potential of India and China and their voracious appetites for energy and other natural resources. [complete article]

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Iran's road to democracy
By Mohsen Sazegara, Open Democracy, April 11, 2005

A quarter-century has passed in Iran since the revolution of February 1979. This can be called the period of "three republics". The first began with the revolution, lasted throughout the 1980-88 war with Iraq, and ended with the death of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989. The second was the era of consolidation of state institutions under the presidency of Hashemi Rafsanjani from 1989-1997. The third was ushered in by the election of President Mohammad Khatami on a reform platform in 1997.

The third republic will end with the election of a new president in June 2005. What will replace it? Where is Iran going? The best way to answer these questions – which are far wider than the mere identity of the new president – is to understand how these twenty-six momentous years have changed Iran as a country and we Iranians ourselves. [complete article]

See also, Iran between revolution and democracy (Open Democracy).

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Auditors questioned $212.3 million in charges from KBR
By Charles R. Babcock, Washington Post, April 12, 2005

Pentagon auditors have questioned $212.3 million -- about 13 percent -- of $1.69 billion that a Halliburton Co. subsidiary charged the government over the past few years, mostly for importing fuel to Iraq under a no-bid contract.

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), a longtime critic of Halliburton's large contracts supporting U.S. troops in Iraq, released summaries yesterday of five audit reports that the Defense Contract Audit Agency did of work performed by Kellogg Brown & Root in 2003 and 2004. Four of the five reports covered contracts to provide fuel. In one case, the auditors challenged 47 percent of the $28.7 million in spending. [complete article]

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Insurgents attack U.S. base in Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 12, 2005

Insurgents claiming links to al Qaeda tried to overrun a U.S. Marine base near the Syrian border Monday using gunmen, suicide car bombs and a firetruck loaded with explosives, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

The assault was the second time in less than two weeks that foreign insurgents have massed an organized, military-style offensive, U.S. officials said. Insurgents typically have staged smaller-scale bombings and attacks. [complete article]

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Poland: Troops should leave Iraq by 2006
By Monika Scislowska, AP (via Yahoo), April 12, 2005

Poland will withdraw its 1,700 soldiers from Iraq after their U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year, the defense minister said Tuesday, giving the first definitive timetable for ending a deployment that was very unpopular with Polish citizens.

Jerzy Szmajdzinski said it would take "a few weeks" for all the troops and equipment to return to Poland after the resolution for the multinational force in Iraq expires. [complete article]

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Absent Allawi may be biding his time
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2005

When Iraq's new government finally emerged last week and the nation's political heavyweights stood before the National Assembly, shaking hands and accepting congratulations, one man was noticeably absent from the stage: Iyad Allawi, who had served as prime minister since last summer.

So far, Allawi has no role in the new administration. Though his slate won 40 seats in the election for the assembly, he has skipped most of the body's meetings and left the country during much of the negotiations to form a government. "Where's Allawi?" has become a common refrain among politicians, journalists and citizens who cast ballots in the Jan. 30 vote. [complete article]

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Talks 'still best way to disarm N Korea'
By Anna Fifield, Financial Times, April 11, 2005

Washington is adamant that six-party talks remain the best way to disarm North Korea, in spite of Pyongyang's increasing antagonism and "convincing" evidence that the country has exported weapons-grade uranium to Libya, according to the new US assistant secretary of state for east Asian affairs.

Although the fourth round of talks is seven months overdue, Christopher Hill said Washington's patience had not yet worn thin. "I'm not quite prepared to pull the plug [on the talks process]," said Mr Hill, the former ambassador to Seoul who starts his new job in Washington on Tuesday. "I still think it is the best mechanism for dealing with this and I hope the North Koreans will come round." Asked when the stand-off will have reached the point of no return, Mr Hill declined to set a deadline, saying: "We'll know it when we see it but we're not there yet." [complete article]

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Senators grill Bolton on intelligence analyst, comments on U.N.
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, April 11, 2005

President Bush's nominee to be United Nations ambassador said Monday that he asked to have a State Department intelligence expert removed from his post, but denied it was because of a dispute over Cuba's biological warfare capabilities.

Undersecretary of State John Bolton, the top U.S. diplomat for arms control, said he'd "lost confidence" in the expert, Christian Westermann, because he proposed changing part of a 2002 speech that Bolton was preparing without telling him.

"I have never done anything in connection with any analyst's views," Bolton said, denying charges by Democratic senators opposed to his nomination that he wanted Westermann punished for not backing his assertion that Cuba had a biological warfare development program. [...]

Much of the hearing focused on the cases of Westermann and a former analyst on Latin America for the National Intelligence Council, or NIC, an advisory body to the CIA director that produces the most important U.S. intelligence analyses. [complete article]

Comment -- Associated Press reports that "Committee Chairman Richard Lugar, R-Ind., and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., both mentioned a name, Fulton Armstrong, that had not previously come up in public accounts of the intelligence flap" and that the Senators may have thereby "blown his cover." AP continues, "It is not clear whether Armstrong is the undercover officer, but an exchange between Kerry and Bolton suggests that he may be." ArmsControlWonk (Jeffrey Lewis) points out, however, that:
Senators Kerry and Lugar said nothing new by mentioning Armstrong's name.

* The Washington Times-owned Insight on the News identified Armstrong as the NIO who was "coordinating" Bolton's speech in September 2002.

* The New York Times published a story about efforts by Otto Reich to pressure Armstrong in January 2003.

* A Wall Street Journal opinion piece accused Armstrong of a "lackadaisical approach to a mounting body of disturbing evidence" about threats to the United States from Cuba and Venezuela in March 2003.

* Salon mentioned Armstrong, again by name, as an analyst who had been smeared as "somehow under the influence of the Cuban government" in January 2004.
The New York Times article referred to above, says:
Mr. Reich, officials said, was among several foreign policy officials who complained to the White House about government intelligence assessments on Cuba, in particular the work of the analyst, Fulton T. Armstrong, the national intelligence officer for Latin America.

According to several officials, Mr. Armstrong has written skeptically about Cuba's importance as a military threat, its intention to develop offensive biological weapons and its continued inclusion on the State Department's annual list of countries that sponsor terrorism. Mr. Armstrong, a career Central Intelligence Agency analyst who now serves on the National Intelligence Council, an advisory body for the director of central intelligence, also worked on the National Security Council in the Clinton administration.

But Mr. Armstrong's supporters respond that he has been targeted by ideologues who would distort the intelligence process to get the kind of analysis they want. These officials said that while Mr. Armstrong had sometimes ruffled feathers with his outspoken style, he was widely respected as an analyst and trusted by George J. Tenet, the director of central intelligence.
A written question that Democratic senators might now consider posing to Bolton is: Do you think that it is possible that Fidel Castro has been involved in spreading West Nile virus in the United States? This is a conspiracy theory popular among Cuban exile groups. Bolton has argued that the Cuban threat has been underplayed. Would he go so far as being willing to entertain the bird theory?

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Bolton's tough style, record face scrutiny
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, April 11, 2005

During a meeting on North Korea in late 2001, John R. Bolton's repeated talk of overthrowing Kim Jong Il frustrated the State Department's specialist on the country. "Regime change" is not President Bush's declared objective in North Korea, Charles L. Pritchard recalled telling Bolton, the undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

"That is exactly what we are all about," Bolton snapped back, curtly reminding Pritchard and a colleague that U.S. troops had just finished overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pritchard said.

The encounter highlights Bolton's combative style as much as it captures his commitment to hard-line foreign policies on various issues he has influenced, including those involving North Korea and Iran. Both have made him perhaps the most controversial figure nominated to serve in Bush's second term.

His record, including allegations that he used unconfirmed intelligence to promote his policy goals, will be the focus of Senate confirmation hearings starting today. Bush has nominated Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, an organization Bolton has described as irrelevant and corrupt. [complete article]

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Sharon's gamble rides on Bush
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, April 11, 2005

A year ago this week Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon arrived in Washington with a bold agenda: to obtain the support of President Bush for a unilateral Israeli solution to his country's conflict with the Palestinians. Abandoning a decade of efforts at negotiations -- not to mention Bush's own "road map" for a two-state solution -- Sharon aimed to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, then impose a border of Israel's choosing in the West Bank, fortified by walls and fences. Rather than seek accord with the Palestinians, whom he knew would never accept his terms, Sharon sought to anchor his initiative in a deal with Bush, whom he asked for an endorsement of Israel's eventual annexation of West Bank territory and its determination never to accept the return of Palestinian refugees. With diplomacy at an impasse and Yasser Arafat still master of his long-suffering people, Bush signed on.

Since then a lot has happened: Arafat died and was replaced by a democratically elected president committed to ending violence and negotiating a settlement. Bloodshed between Israelis and Palestinians ceased for the first time in Bush's presidency. A reelected Bush solemnly recommitted himself to the road map and its two-state negotiated settlement, which he said he wants to achieve by the end of his second term. "The world must not rest," he declared in February, "until there is a just and lasting resolution to this conflict."

Yet, as Sharon today once again huddles with the president -- this time at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. -- the unilateral solution he has pursued so relentlessly for the past 12 months remains unchanged. If all proceeds as planned, he will remove Israeli settlements from Gaza and one small part of the West Bank by the end of this summer. He will complete construction of the West Bank fence by the end of this year. Then, having effectively created a new Israel that includes all of Jerusalem and at least 7 percent of the West Bank, he will freeze the situation indefinitely. Palestinians will be left with Gaza and several West Bank enclaves separated from each other by Israeli roads and settlements; whether that is someday called a state is a secondary concern for the Israeli prime minister. [complete article]

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Iraqi president proposes broader amnesty
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 11, 2005

Iraq's new president called Sunday for extending amnesty to Iraqi insurgents who had killed combatants, possibly including U.S. and Iraqi troops, as part of a drive that he said could help end attacks within months.

Jalal Talabani, speaking on his first day of work in the white and gilt presidential offices after his inauguration Thursday, excluded clemency for al Qaeda and other foreign armed groups operating here.

As for killings by Iraqi insurgents, Talabani said: "There are two kinds of killing: In battle or in action, this could be covered by the amnesty. Those who are involved in killing innocent people, detonation of car bombs, killing people in mosques and in churches, these would not be covered by the amnesty." [complete article]

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Saddam may escape noose in deal to halt insurgency
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, April 11, 2005

Saddam Hussein could avoid the gallows under a secret proposal by insurgent leaders that Iraq's new administration is "seriously considering", a senior government source said yesterday.

A reprieve is understood to be among the central demands of Sunni nationalists and former members of Saddam's Ba'ath party who have reportedly begun negotiations with the government amid the backdrop of a bloody insurgency which claimed 30 lives during the weekend.

Officials say they are looking for a way of joining the political process after January's election, which was boycotted by most of the once-powerful Sunni minority. [complete article]

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Allawi bloc to join Iraq's new government
Daily Star, April 11, 2005

Iraq's outgoing prime minister has agreed that his parliamentary bloc will join the country's new government, and he is in negotiations on what Cabinet posts it will receive, spokesman said on Sunday. "Iyad Allawi decided that his bloc will take part in the new government because he believes in making the political and democratic process in Iraqi successful," spokesman Thaer al-Naqib told Reuters.

Allawi's supporters had previously said they would not join the government, preferring to act as opposition in Parliament.

Allawi's bloc has 40 seats in the 275-member Parliament, behind the Shiite Islamist-led alliance that secured a slim parliamentary majority and a Kurdish coalition that won 75 seats.

Including the bloc in the new Cabinet will mean Iraq's government has more claim to being a national unity administration, with no major parliamentary groups not represented in the Cabinet. [complete article]

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U.S. accused of seizing Iraqi women to force fugitive relatives to give up
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, April 11, 2005

American forces were yesterday accused of violating international law by taking two Iraqi women hostage in a bungled effort to persuade fugitive male relatives to surrender.

US soldiers seized a mother and daughter from their home in Baghdad two weeks ago and allegedly left a note on the gate: "Be a man Muhammad Mukhlif and give yourself up and then we will release your sisters. Otherwise they will spend a long time in detention."

It was signed Bandit 6, apparently a military code, and gave a mobile phone number. When phoned by reporters an American soldier answered but he declined to take questions and hung up. [complete article]

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U.S. commanders see a reduction of G.I.'s in Iraq
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 11, 2005

Two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the American-led military campaign in Iraq is making enough progress in fighting insurgents and training Iraqi security forces to allow the Pentagon to plan for significant troop reductions by early next year, senior commanders and Pentagon officials say.

Senior American officers are wary of declaring success too soon against an insurgency they say still has perhaps 12,000 to 20,000 hard-core fighters, plentiful financing and the ability to change tactics quickly to carry out deadly attacks. But there is a consensus emerging among these top officers and other senior defense officials about several positive developing trends, although each carries a cautionary note.

Attacks on allied forces have dropped to 30 to 40 a day, down from an average daily peak of 140 in the prelude to the Jan. 30 elections but still roughly at the levels of a year ago. Only about half the attacks cause casualties or damage, but on average one or more Americans die in Iraq every day, often from roadside bombs. Thirty-six American troops died there in March, the lowest monthly death toll since 21 died in February 2004. [complete article]

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New blood, ancient wounds
By Owen Matthews, Newsweek, April 18, 2005

Karim and Harith have a strict rule whenever they meet at their parents' north Baghdad house: don't talk politics. No one in the family wants the brawl that would likely erupt between the two brothers. Harith, a passionate Islamist who owns a small butcher shop, belongs to a seven-man cell of insurgents in the capital. He boycotted the January elections and fought against U.S. Marines last year in the streets of the solidly Sunni Al Aadhamiya neighborhood. Karim, a former officer in Saddam's armed forces, serves proudly as a captain in the new Iraqi Army and expresses support for the Baghdad government. The brothers agree on only two things. Both men want an end to the city's electrical outages -- and both want the Americans to go home.

The day of that departure is now starting to look at least a little closer. Last week, after more than two months of backroom brinkmanship, the National Assembly finally delivered the first freely elected government most Iraqis have ever seen. Now Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari, President Jalal Talabani and Iraq's other newly announced leaders are facing an even tougher step toward ending the occupation: they need to win the support of insurgents like Harith. "We have to reach out to them," says Barham Salih, one of the country's most prominent Kurdish politicians. Many Sunni Arabs doubt that the new government will put their rights and interests on a level with those of the Shiites and Kurds who dominated the election. "It will take time," says Salih, "but the political process is impossible without them." Such a failure could be catastrophic, he says: "I don't deny that the dynamic for sectarian conflict exists." Politicians like Salih want to avoid saying "civil war" until they have no choice. [complete article]

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Pakistani diplomat, missing in Iraq, tells embassy he is captive
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, April 11, 2005

A Pakistani diplomat missing in Baghdad has made contact with his embassy to say he was kidnapped, Pakistani officials said Sunday.

In Islamabad, Pakistan's information minister made an appeal on state television for the release of the diplomat, Malik Muhammad Jaweed.

Mr. Jaweed disappeared about 8 p.m. Saturday, police officials in Baghdad said. Pakistani officials said Sunday that Mr. Jaweed had called the embassy to say he had been kidnapped, but had not been harmed, The Associated Press reported. [complete article]

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Two states, one nation
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haarezt, April 11, 2005

The events in the Gaza Strip are liable to deteriorate into an overall violent conflict between two Jewish states with different goals. One is the State of Israel, and the other is the state of the settlers.

Despite the profound ties between them, each of them feels threatened by the other. The major clash is expected when the State of Israel carries out the disengagement from the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. But it would be a mistake to think it will end with that. If the Israeli government really intends to carry out its commitments to the road map, the conflict between the sides will probably intensify.

The State of Israel established the state of the settlers and, in the final analysis, the golem is rebelling against its creator. [complete article]

For a perspective that portrays the settlements as miraculously protected real estate, see, Philanthropist heads mission to West Bank (WorldNetDaily).

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Huge police force bars Israeli Rightist rally at Jerusalem holy site
By Steven Erlanger and Greg Myre, New York Times, April 11, 2005

About 3,000 Israeli police officers moved into positions throughout Jerusalem's Old City on Sunday, foiling a rally called by Israeli rightists at one of Islam's holiest sites.

The police, some of them in helmets and bulletproof vests, arrested at least 31 Israelis to prevent them from entering the Temple Mount, revered as the site of the two Jewish temples. The same spot is revered by Muslims as the Haram al Sharif, which contains Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

The Israeli rightists were from a group that calls itself Revava, which means "10,000," but they numbered only about 50 on Sunday. Still, they tied up thousands of police officers, and the group's leaders were detained. The police later barred entry to four right-wing legislators, Uri Ariel and Aryeh Eldad of the National Union and Yehiel Hazan and Michael Ratzon of the Likud.

Earlier this week, after the group called for the rally, the government said it would be inflammatory and would not be allowed. It barred Jews and Muslims younger than 40 from the site, to avoid a confrontation, but said it would not bar older Muslims, so they could come to pray. The site has long been considered a tinderbox. [complete article]

See also, Police detain Hamas leader who entered Mount (Haaretz).

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How Hamas wins voters
By Kevin Peraino, Newsweek, April 18, 2005

Imad Awad stands toward the back of Bethlehem's Manger Square, where a few hundred supporters of the Islamist group Hamas have gathered in advance of the town's municipal elections next month. Masked boys dressed like suicide bombers strut through the crowd and slice the air with hatchets; others torch Israeli flags. Awad, a 26-year-old unemployed engineer, voted for moderate President Mahmoud Abbas back in January. But he considers himself a swing voter, and he's grown tired of the corruption in Abbas's Fatah party. "It's a beautiful thing," Awad says as he takes in the Hamas pyrotechnics. "We're fed up! We want a change."

Fed up, already? After Yasir Arafat's death last November, conventional wisdom held that Palestinians, exhausted from four years of the intifada, were ready to lay down their weapons and return to the negotiating table. The buttoned-down Abbas opened a dialogue with groups like Hamas, hoping a political role would moderate the militants. And when his fragile ceasefire was broken, most notably by a suicide bombing in February, polls showed that more than two thirds of the Palestinians opposed the attack. So why, then, did Hamas candidates trounce their Fatah rivals in recent local elections? And why do polling experts like Khalil Shikaki now warn that Hamas could win more seats than Fatah in July's legislative elections? [complete article]

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At the center of an academic storm, a lesson in calm
By Robin Finn, New York Times, April 11, 2005

If intimidation, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, Joseph A. Massad, the Columbia University professor implicated last week by a faculty panel investigating charges of intimidation of students by pro-Palestinian professors, is apparently on his best behavior as he sits on his spotless microsuede sofa a stone's throw from the campus where his classroom conduct has been denounced as "inappropriate." And where he has received hate e-mail, including this advice from a fellow faculty member: "Go back to Arab land where Jew hating is condoned. You are a disgrace and a pathetic typical Arab liar."

Not a nice thing to say to a Christian fellow who began holding Seders as an undergraduate in Albuquerque (he had a Jewish roommate).

Who's intimidating whom here? Or, to borrow the title of an article Professor Massad wrote for Al-Ahram Weekly as the campus brouhaha reached a boiling point, spurred by "Columbia Unbecoming," a film produced in Boston by the pro-Israel David Project: "Semites and Anti-Semites, That Is the Question." Sort of.

According to Professor Massad, any self-respecting scholar of Middle East studies knows that "Israel is the party most responsible for the oppression of the Palestinian people." He has issues with the Palestinian national movement, too. [complete article]

See also, The Mideast comes to Columbia (The Nation), Joseph Massad's response to the Ad Hoc Grievance Committee Report (Electronic Intifada), and Can a "patriotic" mob take over the universities? (Dissident Voice).

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North Korea deals a blow to arms talks
By Joseph Kahn, New York Times, April 11, 2005

The North Korean government has disavowed a commitment to negotiate a step-by-step elimination of its nuclear weapons program with the Bush administration but may freeze the production of nuclear bombs under strict conditions, said an American specialist on North Korea who completed a visit there this weekend.

The specialist, Selig S. Harrison of the Center for International Policy in Washington, said in an interview that he had been informed by several top-ranking North Korean leaders that the United States must pledge to respect the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity before any freeze could be discussed. The Bush administration has rejected conditions for resuming negotiations.

"We have lost the opportunity to negotiate a step-by-step agreement that would lead to the eventual dismantling of their nuclear program," Mr. Harrison said in Beijing after returning from Pyongyang, North Korea's capital. "They are no longer willing to discuss that possibility." [complete article]

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China bolsters its forces, U.S. says
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, April 10, 2005

China has substantially beefed up its military in the past few years and will soon have the capacity to block US forces from defending Taiwan, according to Pentagon officials preparing a classified report. The report will warn that China has successfully copied other nations' technology to build modern armed forces.

The document, which will be released within weeks, also will assert that China is on the verge of launching a new fighter jet that closely follows the design of Israel's Lavi warplane. In addition, Beijing has nearly doubled the number of short-range missiles aimed across the Taiwan Straits over the past two years to 725, the Pentagon officials said.

By strengthening its air power and acquiring dozens of new warships and submarines, China is close to having the ability to knock out Taiwan's airfields and ports before the United States could intervene, the sources said.

The conclusions differ greatly from those of a decade ago, when US intelligence officials judged China to be incapable of invading Taiwan or of presenting a serious threat to US forces. [complete article]

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Tens of thousands of Iraqis demand U.S. withdrawal
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 10, 2005

Tens of thousands of Shiite Muslims loyal to the militant cleric Moqtada Sadr on Saturday surged into the Baghdad square where the statue of Saddam Hussein was toppled two years ago, demanding a timetable for the U.S. military's withdrawal from Iraq, release of their leaders jailed by American forces and a speedy trial for Hussein.

The protest, on the second anniversary of Hussein's fall, was one of the largest in Baghdad since the U.S. invasion. It drew Sadr's adherents from the sprawling Baghdad slum of Sadr City as well as from cities in southern Iraq. As much a show of strength as a declaration of grievances, the demonstration made clear that Sadr's followers remain a force even though they have largely boycotted the U.S.-backed political process. Sadr's militia fought American forces twice last year, but it has loosely abided by an informal truce that ended the fighting in August. [complete article]

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Ethnic tensions in Kirkuk dangerously high, raising fears of civil war
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, April 6, 2005

U.S. military officials are concerned that ethnic tensions could turn into widespread violence and, perhaps, civil war in Iraq's northern city of Kirkuk, setting a dangerous pattern for rest of the country.

Kirkuk oil fields hold around 9 million barrels of proven reserves and Kurdish talk of secession is at a fever pitch.

A bloc of Kurdish-led politicians received the majority of seats on the provincial council after January elections and is now threatening to fill most key positions with Kurds. Arab and Turkmen (also known as Turkomen) politicians protested with a series of walkouts and now refuse to show up at council meetings, where Kurdish leaders insist on speaking in their mother language.

The Kurds are also accelerating efforts to bring back families pushed out of Kirkuk and the surrounding province by former dictator Saddam Hussein during his massive resettlement campaigns aimed at weakening Kurdish opposition. The Kurds hope the influx will help make Kirkuk a part of the Iraqi region of Kurdistan and possibly provide an economic engine for an independent Kurdish nation. Breaking away from Iraq, though, would be difficult for the Kurds because of pressure from neighboring countries such as Iran and Turkey, which oppose an independent Kurdistan. [complete article]

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Battle-weary Marine unit awaits 'taste of freedom'
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, April 10, 2005

Two years ago, Cpl. Justin Soule rushed across the Tigris River bridge into Baghdad with the Marines who first entered the city and toppled a statue of President Saddam Hussein. During a bloody uprising that swept Iraq last April, he and his battalion fought their way into insurgent-held Fallujah before commanders ordered a halt.

Today, the infantry squad leader from Itasca, Tex., is back for a third tour in Iraq, living in a bombed-out soda factory, surviving on packaged meals and junk food and admitting that he thinks more about his own liberation than Iraq's. [complete article]

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Iraq: The real election
By Mark Danner, TomDispatch, April 8, 2005

Increasingly during the past year the newspaper reader and especially the television viewer has been looking at the great complicated tableau of occupied Iraq through a highly constricted lens, as if trying to examine an enormous history painting by squinting through a straw. For more than a year insurgents have targeted foreigners for assassination and especially for kidnapping -- at last count, 189 "foreign nationals" had been kidnapped in Iraq, and thirty-three of them had been killed. What began as acts of political terror, complete with televised pleas on the part of the victim and in a few cases televised beheadings, quickly devolved into a cash business, in which criminal gangs, spotting a foreigner, seize him or her as a "target of opportunity" and market their prize to insurgent groups, who televise pictures of their acquisition and can earn, when they like, a substantial amount of cash in exchange for release. ("You must realize," a Jordanian security expert told me in Amman, "that as a foreigner the moment you enter Iraq now, you are transformed from human being into commodity -- a commodity worth half a million to a million dollars.")

As suicide bombers and kidnappers created the new concrete city, they have driven reporters off the streets, away from the restaurants and shops, away from "ordinary Iraqis," forcing them to sheath themselves in flak jackets and helmets, move in armored cars, and finally take refuge behind blast walls and barbed wire and armed guards in fortress-like hotels. Television reporters, politically the most important journalists on the ground-- for they supply information, and above all images, to by far the largest number of people -- are in practical terms the most vulnerable; their large "footprint" -- the cameras and other equipment they carry, the crews they bring to carry it -- makes them most conspicuous, and thus most restricted.

The correspondent you watch signing off his nightly report from the war zone with his name, network, and dateline "Baghdad" is usually speaking from the grounds or the roof of a fully guarded, barricaded hotel -- a virtual high-rise bunker -- and may not have ventured out of that hotel all day, having spent his time telephoning, reading the wires, and scrutinizing footage from Iraqi "stringers" who have been out on the street. When he does leave the hotel it will be in an armored car, surrounded by armed security guards, and very likely the destination will be a news conference or briefing or arranged interview in the vast American-ruled bunker known as "the Green Zone." Sorties beyond Baghdad, or even to "hot" neighborhoods within the capital, can usually be undertaken only by "embedding" with American troops. It is a bizarre, dispiriting way to work, this practice of "hotel journalism," producing not only a highly constrained picture of the country and its politics but, on the part of the journalist, constant fear, anxiety, and ultimately intense frustration. "I am getting out of here, getting out soon," one network correspondent told me. When I asked why -- for American foreign correspondents Iraq is, after all, the most important story going -- he shrugged: "It's no longer honest work." [complete article]

This article appears in The New York Review of Books, April 28, 2005 and appears prior to that, with permission, at Mark Danner's book, Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror, is available here.

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Suspect's death evokes Hussein era
By Salih Saif Aldin and John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, April 9, 2005

After the arrival of the Americans and the fall of Saddam Hussein, Hameed Rasheed Sultan and his family thought they had seen the last of the techniques favored by Iraq's old justice system: torture, disappearances and death-in-custody.

But in January Hameed's younger brother, Zawba, was arrested by Iraqi police officers at the family's home, and two days later he turned up dead at a local hospital. Pictures show he had been brutally beaten.

A senior Tikrit police official, Col. Jasim Hussein Jbara, said in an interview that Zawba died of low blood pressure shortly after he confessed to blowing up a car outside a shopping mall. There will be no investigation of his death, Jbara said.

The American military initially showed interest in the case and collected evidence, but dropped the matter after a few weeks. An Army spokesman said the U.S. military had no jurisdiction and referred all inquiries about Zawba to the Iraqi police -- the people his brother accuses of killing him. [complete article]

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Nominee for U.N. ambassador under investigation
By Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy San Martin, Knight Ridder, April 7, 2005

Congressional investigators are probing a new allegation that President Bush's choice for United Nations ambassador once visited CIA headquarters to demand the removal of a top intelligence analyst who disagreed with him on Cuba's biological warfare capabilities.

Current and former senior U.S. intelligence officials denounced the alleged visit by Under Secretary of State John Bolton. They said it risked undermining the objectivity of intelligence judgments by sending a message that analysts who do not tell policy-makers what they want to hear would be punished.

The impartiality of U.S. intelligence judgments remains a highly charged issue because of assertions by some lawmakers that analysts were pressured to produce assessments on Iraq that supported Bush's case for war but turned out to be wrong. Several top-level inquiries have rejected those claims of political pressure. [complete article]

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Millions said going to waste in Iraq utilities
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2005

Iraqi officials have crippled scores of water, sewage and electrical plants refurbished with U.S. funds by failing to maintain and operate them properly, wasting millions of American taxpayer dollars in the process, according to interviews and documents.

Hardest hit has been the effort to rebuild the country's water and sewage systems, a multibillion-dollar task considered among the most crucial components of the effort to improve daily life for Iraqis. Of more than 40 such plants run by the Iraqis, not one is being operated properly, according to Bechtel Group Inc., the contractor at work on the project. The power grid faces similar problems. U.S. officials said the Iraqis' inability to properly operate overhauled electrical plants contributed to widespread power shortages this winter. None of the 19 electrical facilities that has undergone U.S.-funded repair work is being run correctly, a senior American advisor said.

An internal memo by coalition officials in Iraq obtained by The Times says that throughout the country, renovated plants "deteriorate quickly to an alarming state of disrepair and inoperability."

"There is no reason to believe that these initial experiences will not be repeated for the other water and sanitation projects currently underway throughout Iraq," the memo said. "This is the antithesis of our base strategy and a waste not only of taxpayer funds, but it deprives the most needy of safe drinking water and of streets free from raw sewerage." [complete article]

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Goodbye Mars, hello Earth
By Paul Davies, New York Times, April 10, 2005

When I was a student in the 1960's, anyone who believed that there might be life on other planets was considered a crackpot. Now all that has changed. To claim that life is widespread in the universe is not only respectable, it also underpins NASA's ambitious astrobiology program. Find another Earth-like planet, astrobiologists say, and life should have happened there too.

NASA is spending billions of dollars to search for life on Mars, the most Earth-like of our sister planets. But we may not need to go all the way to Mars to find another sample of life. It could be lurking under our very noses. No planet is more Earth-like than Earth itself, so if life started here once, it could actually have started many times over. [complete article]

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India and China are poised to share defining moment
By Somini Sengupta and Howard W. French, New York Times, April 10, 2005

Wen Jiabao, prime minister of China, began a four-day visit to India on Saturday just as the two countries - a third of humanity - are coming into their own at the same moment, with the potential for a dynamic shift in the world's politics and economy.

The impact on the global balance of power, the competition for resources and the health of the planet is causing many analysts and political leaders to sit up and take notice.

"Both countries have waited 3,000 years for this moment," said Gurcharan Das, the former chief executive of Procter & Gamble India and now an author.

Onetime rivals who went to war in 1962, India and China today find their economies growing at a remarkable clip. Both have a giant appetite for energy. Both are hungry for new markets. And both, it seems, are now gingerly testing the possibilities of doing business together.

It is not an accident that Mr. Wen began his visit not here in the capital but in Bangalore, the southern high-tech hub whose phenomenal rise China has eyed.

Trade is booming between them, especially as seen from the Indian side: after the United States, China is now its second largest trade partner, and it is growing by a giant 30 percent each year to an estimated $14 billion this year.

For the United States and the rest of the world, the effects of the sudden awakening of the Asian giants could be profound. In the years ahead, it may mean more downward pressure on wages, the outsourcing of more jobs, greater competition for investment and higher prices for scarce resources. [complete article]

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The beast that feeds on boxes: Bureaucracy
By Scott Shane, New York Times, April 10, 2005

In the long and dispiriting history of American intelligence failure, from Pearl Harbor to the 2001 attacks to Iraqi weapons, one chronic culprit is that "giant power wielded by pygmies," as Balzac put it: bureaucracy.

Critical discoveries by code breakers, F.B.I. agents and the C.I.A. were lost on the way up the long ladder that separates rank-and-file spies from top decision makers.

But who has ever resisted the impulse to add rungs to the ladder, always with the sturdiest intentions?

"I've been studying bureaucracy for 40 years," said James Q. Wilson, a professor of public policy at Pepperdine University, "and I can't remember a single commission that proposed cutting back."

Little surprise, then, that after two independent commissions and multiple Congressional committees studied the shortcomings of the 15 intelligence agencies, they proposed more bureaucracy.

Much, much more bureaucracy. [complete article]

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U.S. nuclear warhead plan under fire
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, April 9, 2005

Democrats and American arms control groups warned yesterday that a new Bush administration scheme to replace ageing nuclear warheads could be used as a cover for the eventual construction of a "black arsenal" of new weapons.

The plan, known as the reliable replacement warhead programme (RRW), was unveiled this week by Linton Brooks, the head of the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Instead of maintaining the old stockpile by monitoring the warheads and replacing occasional spare parts, RRW would entail the design, production and deployment of a new generation of warheads. These would not require testing, and therefore would not break the US moratorium on nuclear tests. [complete article]

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Revival of the Taliban
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, April 9, 2005

Two types of Taliban have left their leader Mullah Omar to join with Kabul: first, those organized by Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) in Peshawar soon after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, and second, those who were arrested in Afghanistan and subsequently cultivated. Except for a few, all are mullahs.

The vast majority of Taliban commanders retreated to Pakistan or adopted a low-profile private life in Afghan villages pending Mullah Omar finalizing a new guerrilla strategy similar to that adopted by the Iraqi resistance. The results of this are expected to manifest themselves within a few months.

Asia Times Online was the first publication to write about the Taliban's new strategy (see Osama adds weight to Afghan resistance, September 11, 2004), which was the brainchild of a few Taliban who were sent to northern Iraq before the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Oriented with the Ansarul Islam in northern Iraq by al-Qaeda-linked Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, they were taught the guerrilla tactics then being successfully applied in various Iraqi cities - and which still are. The group returned to Afghanistan some time ago. One of the members was Mehmood Haq Yar, an expert in guerrilla and urban warfare. [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:

An old U.S. foe rises again in Iraq
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 8, 2005
Over the loudspeakers set up in this small town in a backwater of southern Iraq, the commands came in staccato bursts. "Forward!" a man clad in black shouted to the militiamen. "March!"

Column after column followed through the dusty, windswept square. Some of the marchers wore the funeral shawls of prospective martyrs. Others were dressed in newly pressed camouflage. Together, their boots beat the pavement like a drum as they goose-stepped or double timed in place.

Over their heads flew the Iraqi flag, banners of Shiite Muslim saints and a portrait of their leader, Moqtada Sadr -- symbols of their militia, the Mahdi Army, twice subdued by the U.S. military last year but now openly displaying its strength in parts of the south.

"At your service, Sadr! At your service, Moqtada!" the men chanted in formation. "We hear a voice calling us!"

"The tanks do not terrify us," others joined in. "We're resisting! We're resisting!"

Iraq may still break apart
By Peter W. Galbraith, Boston Globe (IHT), April 8, 2005
On Wednesday, Iraq's National Assembly chose Jalal Talabani - a lifelong Kurdish rebel - as Iraq's first ever democratically elected head of state.

Talabani's personality could not be more different from Saddam Hussein, whose seat he now holds. While Saddam was insular, paranoid and ignorant, Talabani is gregarious, widely traveled and has an appetite for knowledge as large as his legendary love of food. He is a humanist who opposes the death penalty, perhaps the starkest contrast to a predecessor whose regime murdered well over 500,000 of its own citizens.

President George W. Bush's supporters rightly will trumpet a democratic process that has replaced Saddam with a leader of the very people Saddam once gassed. But democracy can also be inconvenient, especially for an administration that has made the spread of freedom its top foreign policy goal for the Middle East, but which also is deeply committed to preserving the region's existing states.

Democracy is not about to sweep Central Asia
By Ahmed Rashid, International Herald Tribune, April 7, 2005
The overthrow of President Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan has raised the possibility of popular movements erupting elsewhere in the region. But in the other four Central Asian countries, where far more repressive regimes remain in power and no viable democratic opposition has been allowed to function, the resulting instability would be much greater.

Much of the blame for the current state of Central Asia must rest with the United States, Russia and China, which have failed to move the region's regimes closer to democracy.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, Central Asia was a forgotten corner of the world. The leaders and regimes of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan had barely changed since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 and they had refused to carry out desperately needed economic and political reforms.

After Sept. 11, when the United States leased military bases to conduct the war in Afghanistan, the region's peoples and regimes reacted in distinctly divergent ways. Most people embraced the U.S. presence in the hope that it would lead to American pressure on their regimes to carry out democratic reforms. The regimes, however, hoped the U.S. presence would strengthen their dwindling political legitimacy at home and bolster their international credibility.

Send Bolton wandering
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 5, 2005
John Bolton, President George W. Bush's stunningly unsuitable choice to be U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, undergoes Senate confirmation hearings Thursday and, while there's only an outside chance he'll be rejected, that chance is worth promoting one last time.

It's difficult to rally enough votes to shoot down any executive-branch nominee, because most senators believe a president has a right to appoint his own team. This is the argument that a group of hawkish ex-officials made in a letter sent Monday to Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the foreign relations committee. Referring to an earlier letter, sent by a group of retired U.S. ambassadors who urged rejecting Bolton, the hawks wrote:
While the signatories are certainly free to oppose the Administration's positions, their differences seem to be with a man twice elected by the American people to design and execute security policies, rather than with one of his most effective and articulate officials.
Yet when it comes to John Bolton, this argument should not apply. For, in some respects, Bolton's fundamental views are at odds with trends in President Bush's foreign policies.

The Iraq war has only set back Middle East reform
By Shibley Telhami, Daily Star, April 6, 2005
It's true that U.S. advocacy of democracy cannot be ignored by regional governments and that some moves in places like Egypt and Saudi Arabia are in part related to the new American posture. But the effect of the Iraq war itself has been mostly negative.

The war has made the region more repressive, not less, over the past two years. Moreover, had the United States employed its power and international support after the Afghan war to support reformers in the region and push for Arab-Israeli peace, the Middle Eastern reform would be much farther along. Our strategic actions in the Middle East have had more impact on the prospects for reform than our direct advocacy of democracy.

Few in the Middle East directly associate signs of real change with the United States, and they are justifiably skeptical about the chance of real change. Most remain suspicious that the future will parallel the past: Facing internal and external pressure in the late 1980s, governments reacted by providing short-term relief to withstand this pressure, only to freeze and in some instances reverse the moves at the earliest opportunity.

Democracy in the Middle East: Handle with care
By Turi Munthe, RUSI, April, 2005
The blisteringly adverse popular reaction to the Iraq war in the Middle East did not come because the Arab world was particularly in favour of Saddam Hussein, it emanated out of a profound mistrust of US motives. No one believed the Weapons of Mass Destruction line, nor did anyone buy the hastily promoted (though long-considered) Wolfowitzian 'liberation' line. To the Arab world, the war was an energy war. Nobody believed that the US could act on principle, because the history of US-Middle Eastern relations has been dominated by (often cynical) pragmatism.

The US today has two weapons to combat what is now rife and deeply imbedded hostility in the Arab and Muslim world. The first is its leverage on Israel, the second is proving its real commitment to the people of the region by standing firm on the principle of democratic reform as a principle. No ground is more fertile. Recent UN development reports show that over 80 per cent of the Arab world places democracy at the very top of its political wish list.

The Bush Administration looks unlikely to put any serious pressure on the Sharon government (disengagement, let us remember, is an entirely home-grown Israeli policy), so the second option is the only one available. Here, the US Government has one bitter pill to swallow.

Arab report sees little reform, faults U.S. action
By Jonathan Wright, Reuters (via Yahoo), April 5, 2005
In a long-awaited report contested by the United States and Egypt, Arab intellectuals and reformers said they saw no significant advances toward democracy in the Arab world in the year after October 2003.

The third Arab Human Development Report (AHDR), released on Tuesday under U.N. auspices, says most reforms were "embryonic and fragmentary" and did not amount to a serious effort to end repression in the region, which has some of the world's most authoritarian governments.

The United States, which says its policy is to promote democracy in the region, contributed to an international context which hampered progress, through its policy toward Israel, its actions in Iraq and security measures affecting Arabs, it said.
See the Executive Summary (19-page PDF) or purchase the complete Arab Human Development Report 2004.

U.S. yet to accommodate China's rise
By Philip Stephens, Financial Times (via Yale Global), April 1, 2005
Go back two or three years and the issue that most occupied the best foreign policy brains was how America would (or should) deploy its unrivalled power in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001. More recently, brows have furrowed over the strategic implications of President George W. Bush's determination to overturn the authoritarian status quo in the Middle East. Like much else, though, foreign policy is a slave to fashion. So the issue of the moment is no longer how the global system adjusts to the American imperium but rather how the US accommodates the world's rising powers, above all China.

The prosaic reality is that all three of these things will remake the geostrategic landscape in the coming decades. The huge uncertainties inherent in each of them - and in the interactions between them - do much to explain why that terrain is still wrapped in a dense fog. Logic says that a world free of cold war nuclear confrontation should be a safer place. But we have learnt that dangerous certainties can seem more reassuring than unpredictable upheavals.

In this context, it is fair to say that the implications of China's rapid emergence as a global power have been neglected. The war in Iraq, the hunt for al-Qaeda, the promised US drive to democratise the Middle East and the splintering of the transatlantic alliance have all grabbed more headlines. China, and for that matter India, have been there in the background. But only recently have the geostrategic implications of China's economic power gained serious attention beyond the think-tanks.

Israel 'is sealing off Jerusalem Arabs'
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, April 5, 2005
Ariel Sharon told the Israeli parliament yesterday that he would press ahead with the construction of thousands of homes to link one of the largest Jewish settlements with Jerusalem, despite US concern that it would jeopardise the possibility of a viable Palestinian state.

The Palestinian leadership says the plan to build 3,500 homes between Maale Adumim and Jerusalem is another step toward sealing off the city's Arab neighbourhoods from the rest of the West Bank.

Israel has already accelerated the construction of an 8 metre high concrete "security barrier", seized land and expanded other settlements.

Palestinians have accused Mr Sharon of using the political credit gained overseas for his unprecedented plan to remove Jewish settlers from the Gaza strip as a cover to consolidate Israel's grip on Arab East Jerusalem and prevent it from becoming the capital of a Palestinian state. Israel claims the entire city as its capital.

For the advocate of universal democracy, human rights don't begin at home
By Michael C. Desch, The American Conservative, March 28, 2005
For those who became politically aware during the 1970s, no cause added greater moral urgency to the Cold War than the Soviet Union's refusal to allow Jews to emigrate to Israel. And apart from signs demanding "Free Soviet Jews" in front of almost every synagogue or temple in America, nothing symbolized the plight of captive Soviet Jewry better than the tribulations of Anatoli Shcharansky.

In 1973, after being denied permission to emigrate to Israel, he became one of the leading Jewish refuseniks lobbying for greater human rights in Brezhnev's Soviet Union. After four years of waging this campaign, constantly harried and harassed by the KGB, he was arrested in 1977 and tried and convicted of being an American spy in 1978. He served nine years in the gulag, much of it in solitary confinement.

During his incarceration as a prisoner of conscience, Shcharansky's stature in the West grew. As the citation for his Congressional Gold Medal noted, he "became a living symbol of Soviet human-rights abuses in the post-Helsinki era." Released in 1986 as part of a spy exchange with West Germany, he received a hero's welcome in the West where he was rechristened Natan Sharansky by Israel's ambassador to West Germany and whisked to Israel to make aliyah. The New York Times put it succinctly: he had become a "Jewish saint."

Indifferent to death: tragedy of the traumatised children of the intifada
By Sandra Jordan, The Observer, April 3, 2005
'Sawerney! Sawerney!' the children shout as they swarm around ('Take my picture! Take my picture!'). This is Yibna, in Rafah, one of the most desolate sites of destruction in the Gaza strip, where Palestinian children play in the ruins of their demolished homes. Despite the ceasefire - and the danger - they still chase Israeli tanks. This is their playground.

'Money!' they demand. When you tell them you have none, their mood changes. 'Shalom,' they say sullenly - Hebrew for peace.

Some of these youngsters are not responding well to peace. Their latest grievance is with the Palestinian police, newly dispatched to co-ordinate with the Israeli army guarding the border with Egypt. 'We hate the police,' says 11-year-old Ahmed. 'They try to stop us throwing stones. They pull us by the ears. Sometimes, to make an example of you, they'll cut your hair really short.'

He scowls. 'We hate Abu Mazen [Yasser Arafat's successor as President of the Palestinian Authority]. We are not afraid to die for Palestine.'

For all their bravado, these are children who laugh one minute and burst into tears the next. Three-quarters suffer from anxiety and nightmares. Many suffer flashbacks of violent events. According to research by the Gaza Community Centre for Mental Health, 55 per cent of kids in 'hot' areas such as Rafah have acute post-traumatic stress disorder.

Europe's boys of jihad
By Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2005
The case file of the French homeboys who joined the Iraqi jihad contains a startling photo.

It's the mug shot of Salah, the alleged point man in Damascus, Syria, who authorities say arranged for guns and safe passage into Iraq for extremists from Paris. Salah has a serious expression beneath a short Afro-style haircut. He looks as if he's posing, reluctantly, for a middle school yearbook.

When Salah left for Damascus with the jihadis last summer, he was 13 years old.

"He's just a little kid!" exclaimed Ousman Siddibe, a leader of Good Boys of Africa, an African-French community association in Paris' Riquet neighborhood. "We have some husky guys around here, but he's not one of them. And he's got an innocent face."

Salah, the son of African immigrants, remains a fugitive two months after police here broke up the alleged terrorist cell. His odyssey is a drastic example of a trend, investigators say: Not only are Islamic extremists in Western Europe radicalizing faster, they are also younger than ever.

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