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Official pariah Sudan valuable to America's war on terrorism
By Ken Silverstein, Los Angeles Times, April 29, 2005

The Bush administration has forged a close intelligence partnership with the Islamic regime that once welcomed Osama bin Laden here, even though Sudan continues to come under harsh U.S. and international criticism for human rights violations.

The Sudanese government, an unlikely ally in the U.S. fight against terror, remains on the most recent U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. At the same time, however, it has been providing access to terrorism suspects and sharing intelligence data with the United States.

Last week, the CIA sent an executive jet here to ferry the chief of Sudan's intelligence agency to Washington for secret meetings sealing Khartoum's sensitive and previously veiled partnership with the administration, U.S. government officials confirmed. [complete article]

West Africa: The next Afghanistan?
By Chris Hansen, NBC News, April 29, 2005

At a time when the United States has thousands of forces hunting Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq, international investigators say the United States is ignoring another terrorist outlaw -- former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who's hiding in plain sight in West Africa.

This is a place most Americans and their government haven't paid much attention to. It is war-torn, remote and desperately poor. But that might be about to change. War crimes investigators have uncovered evidence that al-Qaida terrorists -- before and after 9/11 -- were using West Africa as a hideout and as a place to launder money.

And they say Charles Taylor has been helping them. Taylor, who is allegedly responsible for the murder, rape and mutilation of 1.2 million people, was indicted more than two years ago for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The charges forced him from power in Liberia. [complete article]

Reputed arms dealer targeted
By Stephen Braun, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2005

The Treasury Department imposed broad financial sanctions Tuesday against the international arms network of Russian air transporter Victor Bout, freezing the assets of 30 companies and four individuals, including an American named as Bout's chief financial officer.

The move is aimed at crippling a global air empire accused of violating weapons embargoes in African civil wars for more than a decade. In addition, U.S. officials for the first time publicly accused Bout's operation of massive arms shipments to the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1990s.

Although freezing assets has been a key weapon for the U.S. in its campaign against Al Qaeda and charities and banks suspected of being terrorist fronts, it has rarely been used against nonaligned international figures like Bout. [complete article]

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Two years after 'end of war', Iraq still crippled by violence
AFP (via Yahoo), April 30, 2005

On May 1, 2003, George W. Bush declared the end of major hostilities in
Iraq. Two years later, security is every Iraqi's dream but the new government faces a huge challenge to make it a reality.

"Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the Battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed," the US president said two years ago from the deck of an aircraft carrier, just weeks after invading Iraq.

According to US figures, 138 American soldiers had died by then.

After two years that saw the rise of a ruthless insurgency and daily car bombings, ambushes, kidnappings and urban fighting, the US military's death toll tops 1,500 while the Iraqi tally is too high to report accurately. [complete article]

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People power rattling politics of Latin America
By Danna Harman, Christian Science Monitor, April 29, 2005

First came the indignation, then the street protests and the disapproving comments from foreign countries. It culminated last Sunday with an estimated 1.2 million Mexicans marching silently through center of the capital. But President Vicente Fox moved to defuse the political crisis Wednesday night by accepting the resignation of his attorney general, who had been leading the criminal case against popular Mexico City Mayor and 2006 presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador.

Chalk up another victory for Latin American people power. In the 1990s, what politicians feared most was apathy. But lately, Latin Americans from Mexico City to Quito, Ecuador - much like the citizens of Ukraine and Lebanon - have been taking to the streets in unprecedented numbers. Civic protest is emerging as an increasingly effective - if controversial - political tool.

The power of the megaphone has been amplified by new organizing technologies: e-mail, Internet chat rooms, and text messages make it easier to contact, inspire, and bring people together quickly. The pro-Lopez Obrador rally in Mexico City Sunday, for example, was coordinated via e-mail, with smaller protests in Los Angeles, Madrid, Rio de Janeiro, and Paris. The ever-larger demonstrations are mostly peaceful, usually self-controlled, always televised - and more often than not successful. [complete article]

Comment -- "People power" -- an expression that was probably dreamed up by someone in public relations and has since become a favorite among headline writers -- is an expression that probably makes George Bush (and for that matter most people in Washington and every other Western capital) slightly uncomfortable. People power's a fine thing for shaking up Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but as it spreads to the America's, it could be coming uncomfortably close to home. What if people power caught on in the United States? What if accountability was being demanded not just from governments in Kiev and Beirut but also those in London and Washington? The bread and circuses approach to democracy has so far been an effective guarantor of political apathy across America, but what if Americans in large numbers were to one day wake up from their political slumber and demand that they too deserve a truly representative government?

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Power failure
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 29, 2005

Two questions prompted by President Bush's press conference Thursday night: Does he believe what he said about Iraq and North Korea, or was he just yakking? And which prospect is more disturbing?

If the president believes what he said, he doesn't comprehend the nature of either crisis. If he doesn't believe it and was just reciting the usual grab bag of cliches, what was his point? To deflect attention from an as-yet-undisclosed policy, or to obscure the lack of any policy at all? [complete article]

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Two detail Bolton's efforts to punish dissent
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, April 29, 2005

A former senior Bush administration official told Senate staff members yesterday that John R. Bolton, the president's nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, sought to punish two State Department officials for disagreeing with him on nonproliferation issues, congressional sources said. And a former CIA chief, disputing Bolton, said the nominee had tried to fire a national intelligence officer who believed Bolton was exaggerating evidence on Cuba, they said.

John S. Wolf, who served as assistant secretary of state for nonproliferation and as President Bush's senior envoy to the Middle East until last year, and Alan Foley, who ran the CIA's weapons of mass destruction office, were two of six people who were interviewed by staff members on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. [complete article]

See also, Official says Bolton flouted travel rules (AP).

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Stirring the ethnic pot
By Iason Athanasiadis, Asia Times, April 29, 2005

Today's Iran is the latest manifestation of a great and endlessly undermined Persian empire that once stretched from Iraq to Afghanistan, embracing a multitude of ethnicities along the way. The Islamic republic that came into being a generation ago is a microcosm of its imperial past, with Arabs, Azeris, Bakhtiaris, Balochis, Kurds, Turkmens and Lurs co-existing alongside the majority Persian population.

But as this month's riots by ethnic Arabs in the southern province of Khuzestan demonstrated, Iran's multicultural milieu could also be its Achilles' heel, an open door for foreign opportunists seeking to infiltrate this fledgling nuclear power.

Iran is particularly vulnerable to foreign penetration in that non-Persian, non-Shi'ite ethnic minorities inhabit its extremities. Aside from Khuzestan's Shi'ite Arabs, there are Sunni Balochis in the southeast, Sunni Kurds and Shi'ite Azeris in the northwest and Sunni Turkmens in the northeast.

All these areas adjoin countries that are either hostile to Iran's ruling clerics or contain US troops. The United States has dramatically expanded its presence in the region post-September 11, 2001, even as it has raised the level of its anti-Tehran rhetoric. US troops and advisers currently reside in Iraq, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Pakistan. At the same time, Tehran maintains ambiguous relations with neighbors Pakistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Iraq, although it is currently on a regional charm offensive and a pro-Iranian government seems poised to come to power in Baghdad. [complete article]

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U.S. and Italy clash over shooting
By Julian Borger and John Hooper, The Guardian, April 30, 2005

Relations between the Bush administration and one of its closest European allies came under renewed strain last night when US and Italian investigators said they had failed to agree on the verdict of an inquiry into the shooting of an Italian intelligence agent by American soldiers in Iraq.

The death last month of Nicola Calipari, a senior officer in military intelligence, has become one of the most controversial of the Iraqi occupation, bringing appalled condemnation in Italy from across the political spectrum. [complete article]

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Blair's dark day as Iraq row erupts
By Michael White, Patrick Wintour and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, April 28, 2005

Labour yesterday suffered its worst day in the 2005 election campaign after Tony Blair finally succumbed to pressure to publish crucial legal advice on the Iraq war, but failed to stem the Conservative-led assault on his battered integrity.

Privately anxious cabinet ministers admitted that the renewed eruption of the Iraq issue - in the shape of the six-paragraph summary revealed on the Guardian Unlimited website on Wednesday night - may prove "a gift to the Tories" a week from polling day, not the "damp squib" of Mr Blair's prediction.

Ministers concede that the latest furore will probably push some demoralised Labour voters towards abstention.

Labour confirmed that Mr Blair and his advisers had decided yesterday to rush out a full version of the attorney general's interim legal advice, given 12 days before the war began, in the hope of proving it was consistent with his final advice that the war was legal.

Lord Goldsmith's legal opinion reveals the full extent of the attorney's concern about the risk of Britain being hauled before international courts which would even scrutinise allegations of war crimes by British troops.

It warns that British troops must use no more force than necessary to get Iraq to disarm. The attorney also makes it plain to Mr Blair that, in law, regime change could not be an objective of military action - a problem which did not concern the Bush administration. [complete article]

See also, A creature of ego and self-righteousness (The Guardian).

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Bush offers plan to bolster refineries and nuclear plants
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, April 28, 2005

President Bush presented a plan on Wednesday to offer federal risk insurance to companies that build nuclear power plants and to encourage the construction of oil refineries on closed military bases in the United States.

Mr. Bush also proposed giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the authority to choose sites for new terminals to receive liquid natural gas from overseas.

Mr. Bush's proposals, which he laid out to a friendly lunchtime audience of small-business owners at the Washington Hilton, would not lower domestic gasoline prices this summer. But they appeared to be a response to continuing criticism from Saudi Arabia that one reason for the high cost of gasoline is a lack of refining capacity in the United States.

"Because of our foreign energy independence, our ability to take actions at home that will lower prices for American families is diminishing," Mr. Bush told the business owners, who were attending a conference organized by the Small Business Administration. "Our dependence on foreign energy is like a foreign tax on the American people." [complete article]

Comment -- Forget about Bush's dyslectic slip (independence/dependence), this is how (under Karl Rove and Frank Luntz's directions) the energy problem has been reframed: It's not about consumption; it's about foreigners. It's all about supply and nothing about demand.

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America to Bush: Get out of Iraq!
By Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, April 28, 2005

The Gallup Poll is out with the results of asking 1,003 real people what advice they would give Bush if they had the chance.

If they could, topic one would be the war in Iraq.

Consider this finding: Among Democrats, the top two things they would say to Bush are "get out of Iraq" and "you're doing a bad job." The top two things independents would say are "get out of Iraq" and "leave Social Security alone." The top two things Republicans would say are "you're doing a good job" -- and "get out of Iraq."

Gallup, fantastically, [documents] the actual responses , along with the respondents' ages and genders.

A selection:

· "Stop the (swear word) war." Male, age 56
· "Keep following the Lord." Female, age 23
· "That he's an idiot because he turned the surplus to the deficit." Female, age 35
· "Get our troops out of Iraq. Use the money being spent in Iraq and work on the awful problems in this country." Female, age 58
· "Let's go hunting!" Male, age 60
· "Keep on plucking away and see where it leads." Male, age 85
· "Lighten up and recognize he is in the wrong place at the wrong time." Male, age 75
· "I'd say that I'm disappointed that he hasn't been indicted for war crimes." Male, age 56
· "He doing a (swear word) of a good job and keep fighting those democrats." Male, age 78
· "I'd probably go to jail for the rest of my life." Female, age 77 [complete article]

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Bombs aimed at Iraqi forces kill 24 people
By Lutfi Abu Oun, Reuters (via Yahoo), April 29, 2005

Car bombs targeting Iraqi security forces killed at least 24 people on Friday, immediately putting the new government under pressure to tackle an insurgency that shows no sign of weakening.

Eighty-nine people, mostly police and National Guardsmen, were also wounded, police said, a day after a cabinet was formed following three months of post-election wrangling. [complete article]

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U.S. aide sees nuclear arms advance by North Korea
By David S. Cloud and David E. Sanger, New York Times, April 29, 2005

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said Thursday that American intelligence agencies believed North Korea had mastered the technology for arming its missiles with nuclear warheads, an assessment that if correct, means the North could build weapons to threaten Japan and perhaps the western United States.

While Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, the Defense Intelligence Agency chief, said in Senate testimony that North Korea had been judged to have the "capability" to put a nuclear weapon atop its missiles, he stopped well short of saying it had done so, or even that it had assembled warheads small enough for the purpose. Nor did he give evidence to back up his view during the public session of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Still, his assessment of North Korea's progress exceeded what officials have publicly declared before. [complete article]

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Ex-official describes dispute with Bolton over intelligence
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, April 29, 2005

A former senior intelligence official, who was responsible for coordinating American intelligence assessments, directed his staff in 2003 to strongly resist assertions that John R. Bolton sought to make about Syria's weapons programs in Congressional testimony, the official, Robert L. Hutchings, said in an interview on Wednesday.

Mr. Hutchings, now assistant dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, was at that time the chairman of the National Intelligence Council, whose members clashed with Mr. Bolton, the under secretary of state for arms control, over what the intelligence officials regarded as his inflated assessment of the Syrian threat. [complete article]

Former Asst. Secretary for Nonproliferation John S. Wolf interviewed by Senate Foreign Relations Committee
By Steven C. Clemons, The Washington Note, April 28, 2005

TWN has just learned from a senior level source that former Assistant Secretary for Nonproliferation John Wolf has been interviewed by Republican and Democrat staff members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and validated that John Bolton demonstrated patterned and frequent vindictive behavior towards numerous subordinates at the State Department.

The staff members also spoke with Ambassador Tom Hubbard, former U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, who was mentioned during the testimony provided by John Bolton at his first day of confirmation hearings.

Transcripts of the interviews that Committee staff had with Wolf and Hubbard will most likely be made available on Monday next week. [complete article]

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Dead Iraqis - why an estimate was ignored
By Lila Guterman, CJR, March/April, 2005

Last fall, a major public-health study appeared in The Lancet, a prestigious British medical journal, only to be missed or dismissed by the American press. To the extent it was covered at all, the reports were short and usually buried far from the front pages of major newspapers. The results of the study could have played an important role in future policy decisions, but the press's near total silence allowed the issue to pass without debate.

The study, though scientifically robust, had several elements working against it. One was its subject matter: Researchers had done a door-to-door survey of nearly 8,000 people in thirty-three locations in Iraq to estimate how many people had died as a consequence of the U.S.-led invasion and occupation. Americans, and their media, were reluctant to accept the study's conclusions -- that the number was likely around 100,000; that violence had become the primary cause of death since the invasion; that more than half of those killed were women and children. [complete article]

Comment -- Like conspiracy theories about government, critiques of the mainstream media often credit news organizations with more power and purpose than they actually possess. The lack of coverage of the Lancet report had, in my opinion, much less to do with its content than Lila Guterman suggests. It was all about timing. The presidential election was a few days away and the Iraq-related story that was obsessing the Democrats and the media was Al-Qaqaa. Whether or not a few hundred tons of explosives had been looted was arguably of much less significance than the civilian death toll in Iraq, but al-Qaqaa was a story that engaged the election campaign and thus the US media. For an American newspaper editor to have shifted his readers' attention away from al-Qaqaa and onto a subject that neither presidential candidate wanted to address would not have required much understanding of statistics, it would have taken courage - a quality that remains in short supply throughout the media.

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Bush and Cheney flee from threatening cloud
By Sara Kehaulani Goo and Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, April 28, 2005

The mysterious flying object first blipped across U.S. security radar 20 miles south of Reagan National Airport at 10:40 a.m. yesterday and appeared headed swiftly toward the District.

About 15 minutes later, President Bush was in an underground bunker at the White House and Vice President Cheney was escorted off the White House grounds to a secure location, officials said.

The "target" -- as Customs and Border Protection officials called it -- showed up on the radar intermittently. It was moving through restricted airspace at about the speed of a helicopter, said agency spokesman Gary Bracken. Customs officials reported the object's approach to the Domestic Events Network, a 24-hour secure communications line connecting all major security-related agencies.

Army officials at Davison Army Airfield in Fort Belvoir, Va., spotted a low-flying helicopter in the area but could not determine whether it was the object that had set off the alert.

After vanishing from radar, the target then reappeared several minutes later -- this time just seven miles from National Airport, stirring serious concern among Customs and Border Protection officials, Bracken said. The agency dispatched a Black Hawk helicopter to the scene. A U.S. Park Police helicopter and another from a local law enforcement agency, which were already airborne, also scanned the area.

But all the search teams saw were clouds.

Turns out, that's all it was. [complete article]

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Iraq's national assembly breaks deadlock, approves partial Cabinet
By Hannah Allam and Huda Ahmed, Knight Ridder, April 28, 2005

Iraqi legislators applauded and exchanged congratulatory kisses after finally approving a partial Cabinet Thursday, even though political haggling left some key spots vacant three months after Iraqis risked their lives to vote in national elections.

The nearly unanimous national assembly vote ended a deadlock that had undermined the credibility of the nation's first elected government since the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime. Even the announcement ceremony was colored by ethnic and religious tension, showing that the new leaders were far from the model of Middle Eastern democracy that the Bush administration envisioned.

The seven still-undecided spots included the defense minister, the post crucial to fighting Iraq's deadly insurgency, and the oil minister. Wrangling over those positions continued Thursday among the dominant Shiite coalition, the powerful Kurdish minority and Sunni Arabs who complained that they were bypassed. Prime Minister-designate Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, said the vacancies would be filled within days, with a formal handover ceremony soon after. [complete article]

See also, Promises of a significant Sunni stake in government foundered on hard politics (AP).

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The good soldier's revenge
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, April 28, 2005

From the redoubt of his retirement, former secretary of state Colin Powell is beginning to exact revenge. His sterling reputation was soiled, having lost most of the important battles within the administration during the first term. While he lamented that he had been "deceived" into presenting false information before the United Nations to justify the Iraq war, he acted as the good soldier to the end, giving every sign of desiring to fade away.

But now he has re-emerged to conduct a campaign to defeat President Bush's nomination of conservative hardliner and former undersecretary of state John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN.

In seeking to prevent the bullying and duplicitous ideologue from representing the US before the international organisation, Powell is engaging in hand-to-hand combat with his successor. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's first true test has not arrived from abroad. Caught by Powell's flanking movement, she is trapped in a crisis of credibility, which she herself is deepening. [complete article]

Bolton failed to clear meetings with leaders
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times (IHT), April 28, 2005

As under secretary of state, John Bolton routinely arranged meetings abroad with Israeli, Russian, British and French officials without first notifying the State Department offices responsible for relations with those countries, according to three former department officials.

The officials described the practice by Bolton, who has been nominated to be ambassador to the United Nations, as unusual and a violation of department procedures. [complete article]

Cut from Cheney's cloth
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, April 28, 2005

The reason the administration nominated Bolton is that his method of operating -- the exaggeration, the bullying -- was commonplace. It was the music by which the Bush administration marched us all to war. More specifically, it was the tune played by Cheney, Bolton's chief champion. The vice president, it is both authoritatively and repeatedly said, is the one who pushed Bolton on a presumably reluctant Secretary of State Rice. (Her predecessor, Powell, refuses to endorse Bolton's nomination.)

Note that it was Cheney who belligerently told the two most important arms inspectors, the United Nations' Hans Blix and the International Atomic Energy Agency's Mohamed ElBaradei, that if the Bush administration found their judgment questionable, "we will not hesitate to discredit you" -- a Boltonesque piece of diplomacy if there ever was one. Note also that it was Cheney who applauded when he got intel he liked and growled when he was told something he didn't like. [complete article]

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Rank and file have taken heat for Abu Ghraib
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, April 28, 2005

With his job on the line over the shocking revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison last year, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told the world to ''watch how democracy deals with wrongdoing and scandal and the pain of acknowledging and correcting our own mistakes and, indeed, our own weaknesses."

Now, exactly one year after the photographs from Abu Ghraib became public, the Defense Department has placed seven low-ranking guards under court-martial. No general -- or colonel, or CIA intelligence officer, or political appointee -- has faced any charges.

Human rights groups yesterday seized on the anniversary to reiterate their dismay over the lack of command responsibility, saying Abu Ghraib will be remembered as much for who wasn't held accountable as who was.

But while investigations into the Iraqi prison case have come to a close, the scandal has led to broader revelations about the mistreatment of prisoners in US military custody around the world. [complete article]

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Leaders in Iraq attempt to engage insurgents
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, April 28, 2005

Some Iraqi officials are hoping that the elected government will give them a credible argument to use against the insurgency: that far from being a puppet of America, it is a sovereign expression of the nation's popular will.

"Many of the insurgents have kept fighting because they look at Iraq as an occupied country," said Hachim Hassani, speaker of the National Assembly, or parliament, and one of Iraq's most prominent Sunni Arabs. Hassani said high-level government officials had met with insurgent leaders since the Jan. 30 election. "Now we have a chance to convince them of Iraqi sovereignty."

Even with a new government, convincing fighters to lay down their arms will be difficult because of the fragmented and brutal nature of the insurgency and the continued presence of about 150,000 U.S. and other foreign troops on Iraqi soil. In addition, there is a sense within Iraq's Sunni minority that they have become marginalized in a nation they dominated, and some influential Sunnis have argued that no real dialogue can take place until the troops leave. [complete article]

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Iraqi legislator slain, underscoring danger
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 28 , 2005

After one attempt on her life, Lamia Abed Khadouri Sakri went underground, moving out of the home she shared with a brother who was crippled in the attack, colleagues say.

On Wednesday, gunmen found Sakri at her new house in a middle-class Baghdad neighborhood. They knocked on her door, she answered and they shot her, according to news accounts.

Sakri, a longtime political activist elected to the National Assembly in January, was the first member of Iraq's three-month-old transitional government to be assassinated. To an insurgency that singles out Iraqis associated with the country's U.S.-backed leadership, the determined, middle-aged Shiite Muslim woman in a head scarf was a prime target, a soft target. [complete article]

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The changing face of Jerusalem
By Matthew Price, BBC News, April 28, 2005

Both Israelis and Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital.

The Palestinians say east Jerusalem including the Old City will be the capital of their future state.

Israel says the city will remain undivided. By that it means both Jewish west Jerusalem and the east - which is mostly inhabited by Palestinians - will be inside the future final borders of Israel.

And to make sure that happens some Israelis are taking things into their own hands.

"We have four families who live here in a small enclave, amongst all these Arabs and Palestinians in east Jerusalem.

"And I really think this is the forefront of Zionism today, realising that there is a land war going on.

"And whoever wins that land war, Jews or Arabs, is going to be able to take control of the eastern side of the city. [complete article]

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Analyst fears global oil crisis in three years
By John Vidal, The Guardian, April 26, 2005

One of the world's leading energy analysts yesterday called for an independent assessment of global oil reserves because he believed that Middle Eastern countries may have far less than officially stated and that oil prices could double to more than $100 a barrel within three years, triggering economic collapse.

Matthew Simmons, an adviser to President George Bush and chairman of the Wall Street energy investment company Simmons, said that "peak oil" - when global oil production rises to its highest point before declining irreversibly - was rapidly approaching even as demand was increasing.

"This is a new era," Mr Simmons told a conference of oil industry analysts, government officials and academics in Edinburgh. "There is a big chance that Saudi Arabia actually peaked production in 1981. We have no reliable data. Our data collection system for oil is rubbish. I suspect that if we had, we would find that we are over-producing in most of our major fields and that we should be throttling back. We may have passed that point." [complete article]

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Diplomatic challenges face Rice on her first Latin American tour
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2005

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday began her first official trip to Latin America, a region that is suddenly posing challenges to American diplomacy.

On the eve of her arrival here for meetings with Brazilian officials, Rice praised South America's "remarkable" progress away from dictatorships, saying it was in some ways leading the trend toward democratic reform that the Bush administration was trying to promote around the world.

Yet in recent months, U.S. officials have found themselves facing an escalating confrontation with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and have discovered that neighboring countries are largely unwilling to join efforts to isolate him. [complete article]

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I never lie, says Blair as new doubt is cast on war
By George Jones, The Telegraph, April 28, 2005

Tony Blair's honesty was thrust back to the centre of the election campaign last night with the leaking of a confidential minute showing he was told less than two weeks before the Iraq war that it could be declared illegal.

As Mr Blair was telling the nation on one television channel that he had "never told a lie" another was broadcasting fresh allegations that he misled the country about the legality of the war.

Legal advice submitted by Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General - which Mr Blair has sought to keep secret - voiced doubts about going to war without a second United Nations resolution.

It is understood that Lord Goldsmith warned that soldiers could be brought before the International Criminal Court. [complete article]

See the Full text: summary of attorney general's legal advice on March 7 2003.

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Iraq's Al-Jaafari submits cabinet plan
By Qassim Abdul-Zahara, AP (via WP), April 27, 2005

Iraq's new prime minister said Wednesday he submitted a complete list of 36 Cabinet members, including seven women, a critical step before the National Assembly votes on a new government drawing in the main ethnic and religious groups and ending a three-month stalemate. [complete article]

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Powell declaring war
By David Frum,, April 27, 2005

...the challenge to Bolton comes not from the opposition party but from dissident factions within the president's own party.

If Bolton loses, George W. Bush will have lost too: lost control of his party, his administration, and his foreign policy. [complete article]

Comment -- To hear it from David Frum, it sounds like if Bolton doesn't get confirmed, Bush might as well throw in the towel. Since Bolton's neocon supporters are kind enough to allow comments, these are my two cents (reproduced here, just in case they get deleted from
So, it turns out that Colin Powell is Darth Vader and only John Bolton can save the world. One small detail that Mr. Frum chooses to ignore: Margaret Cifrino, Powell's spokeswoman, says that Powell "returned calls from senators" and "he has not reached out to senators." I guess it's unforgivable that the senators would have solicited the opinion of Bolton's former boss. Why should he know anything?

As for all this meddling on Powell's part being a demonstration of his ability to wield influence - if he's perceived around Washington as having torpedoed Bush's prize nominee, does that open doors or close them? I suspect he'd risk alienating himself from quite a few Bushies. But never mind, I live outside the beltway - how would I know. Don't listen to me - heed the sagacious Mr Frum!

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Battle on Bolton nomination could wound the president, too
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, April 27, 2005

Administration officials said that Mr. Bolton, who has in the past expressed disdain for the United Nation, was the right man to reform an organization that the hawks in the administration consider virtually irrelevant.

But Republicans close to the administration also said that a powerful motive for the White House was simply showing strength and an unwillingness to back down, particularly after Colin L. Powell, the former secretary of state who often warred with the hawks, expressed private doubts to Republican senators last week about Mr. Bolton.

"It would mean that Colin Powell had influence to block someone," said a Republican close to the White House. "It's a troubling sign if the president can't get him confirmed." [complete article]

GOP pushes Bolton floor vote
By Jim VandeHei and Charles Babington, Washington Post, April 27, 2005

Dan Bartlett, a senior adviser to Bush, said the president is eager for a floor fight over the United Nations and the need to shake it up. "A vote for John Bolton will be a vote for change at the United Nations," he said. "A vote against will be for the status quo. The president believes the status quo is unacceptable and wants a person ... who will be an agent for change." [complete article]

Comment -- So, the White House claims that John Bolton is the essential agent for change at the United Nations. Forget about those of us who think this sounds reminiscent of "we had to destroy the village in order to save it" -- if Bolton is so indispensible at the UN, how come he wasn't nominated to replace Negroponte? How come, less than a year ago, Bush's first pick was not Bolton but instead the mild-mannered John Danforth?

The issue here is now shifting away from Bolton's temperament and on to George Bush's ego. Pursuing a strategy that hinges on a test of wills is obviously intended to provide a demonstration that the president has the power to enforce his will, but it seems like a sign of desperation that this early in his administration he'd stake so much on winning this particular battle. If he loses, the murmurs of "lame duck" will turn into a loud chorus.

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The war for intel independence
By Ray McGovern,, April 26, 2005

President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are framing the trials of John Bolton, their nominee for ambassador to the United Nations, as a partisan political squabble. It is much more than that. It is rather a matter of life and death for the endangered species of intelligence analysts determined to "tell it like it is," no matter what the administration's policies may be. For them, the stakes are very high indeed.

The Bush administration strongly resists the notion that the intelligence on Iraq, for example, was cooked to the White House recipe. And with the president's party controlling both houses of Congress and the president appointing his own "independent" commission to investigate, Bush and Cheney have until now been able to prevent any meaningful look into the issue of politicization of intelligence.

But the Bolton nomination has brought it very much to the fore, and there will be serious repercussions in the intelligence community if, despite his flagrant attempts to intimidate intelligence analysts, Bolton is confirmed by the Senate. [complete article]

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Bolton debate ignores battle over intelligence
By Peter S. Canellos, Boston Globe, April 26, 2005

The decades-long conservative mistrust of the CIA -- the fear that career intelligence analysts are too slow to recognize threats and too cautious in their estimates of enemy strength -- is the elephant in the hearing room as senators battle over John R. Bolton, President Bush's nominee to be US ambassador to the United Nations.

But the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which last week delayed consideration of Bolton's nomination to assess more evidence that he mistreated subordinates, seems reluctant even to acknowledge the elephant's presence, let alone try to hunt it down.

Bolton, who is accused of seeking retribution against two intelligence officers who questioned his assertion that Cuba has a biological weapons program, stands ready to broadcast his interpretations of US intelligence to the world as UN ambassador. But even some Democrats seem more comfortable attacking Bolton for his bullying style than for misusing intelligence to favor his hawkish view of Cuba. [complete article]

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U.S. figures show sharp global rise in terrorism
By Susan B. Glasser, Washington Post, April 27, 2005

The number of serious international terrorist incidents more than tripled last year, according to U.S. government figures, a sharp upswing in deadly attacks that the State Department has decided not to make public in its annual report on terrorism due to Congress this week.

Overall, the number of what the U.S. government considers "significant" attacks grew to about 655 last year, up from the record of around 175 in 2003, according to congressional aides who were briefed on statistics covering incidents including the bloody school seizure in Russia and violence related to the disputed Indian territory of Kashmir.

Terrorist incidents in Iraq also dramatically increased, from 22 attacks to 198, or nine times the previous year's total -- a sensitive subset of the tally, given the Bush administration's assertion that the situation there had stabilized significantly after the U.S. handover of political authority to an interim Iraqi government last summer. [complete article]

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Pentagon plays down new rise in Iraq violence
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, April 27, 2005

...over the past month, the daily total has edged up to about 50 or 60 attacks, about half of which are resulting in significant damage, injuries or deaths, according to Pentagon figures.

Of particular concern for U.S. authorities has been a rise in the number of suicide car-bomb attacks, some of which are now being used in tandem. Myers singled out this trend yesterday.

In the past, U.S. military authorities have attributed the suicide attacks not to Iraqi Sunni militants who dominate the insurgency but to foreign Islamic extremists who have joined the fight in Iraq. But U.S. analysts are still trying to identify the forces behind the rise in the suicide missions and have not ruled out the possibility that it reflects a hardening of Sunni opposition as a political impasse persists over the formation of a new Iraqi government. [complete article]

CIA warns Iraqi insurgents trying to fashion chemical weapons
AFP (via Khaleej Times), April 26, 2005

Insurgents fighting against US forces and the new government in Iraq are making a concerted effort to gain chemical weapons capability and have already used old Iraqi chemical munitions in their attacks, the top US weapons investigator has warned.

Charles Duelfer, head of a CIA-led team of experts who unsuccessfully searched for Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the aftermath of the March 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq, said Monday the danger that rebels could gain the know-how for manufacturing crude chemical devices "remains an important concern." [complete article]

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Once taboo words 'civil war' now spoken in Iraq
By Luke Baker, Reuters, April 26, 2005

Civil war. It's a phrase everyone in Iraq has strenuously avoided for the past two years.

Yet now, with no government formed three months after elections, and tensions deepening between Iraq's Muslim sects and other groups, it's on many people's minds.

Several clashes between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims in events apparently unrelated to the two-year-old anti-U.S. insurgency have highlighted the danger in recent months.

Whereas once politicians were not willing to utter the term for fear of dignifying it, it is no longer taboo.

"I do not want to say civil war, but we are going the Lebanese route, and we know where that led," says Sabah Kadhim, an adviser to the Interior Ministry who spent years in exile before returning to Iraq after Saddam Hussein's overthrow.

"We are going to end up with certain areas that are controlled by certain warlords ... It's Sunni versus Shi'ite, that is the issue that is really in the ascendancy right now, and that wasn't the case right after the elections." [complete article]

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Iraqi leaders give 6 cabinet posts to Sunnis
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Caryle Murphy, Washington Post, April 27, 2005

Iraq's new Kurdish and Shiite Arab political leaders agreed to a cabinet split Tuesday, giving six posts to the holdout Sunni Arab minority, top politicians involved in the negotiations said.

Who those Sunnis would be remained publicly unresolved, as did other final elements of the agreement. [complete article]

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Gallup: 50% of Americans now say Bush deliberately misled them on WMDs
Editor and Publisher, April 26, 2005

Half of all Americans, exactly 50%, now say the Bush administration deliberately misled Americans about whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, the Gallup Organization reported this morning.

"This is the highest percentage that Gallup has found on this measure since the question was first asked in late May 2003," the pollsters observed. "At that time, 31% said the administration deliberately misled Americans. This sentiment has gradually increased over time, to 39% in July 2003, 43% in January/February 2004, and 47% in October 2004."

Also, according to the latest poll, more than half of Americans, 54%, disapprove of the way President Bush is handling the situation in Iraq, while 43% approve. In early February, Americans were more evenly divided on the way Bush was handling the situation in Iraq, with 50% approving and 48% disapproving.

Last week Gallup reported that 53% now believe that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was "not worth it." But Frank Newport, editor in chief at Gallup, recalled today that although a majority of the public began to think the Vietnam war was a mistake in the summer of 1968, the United States did not pull out of Vietnam for more than five years, after thousands of more American lives were lost. [complete article]

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With Syria out, Lebanon clout grows
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2005

Elite Syrian paratroops in pressed camouflage uniforms and red berets marched alongside their Lebanese counterparts at an old airfield here Tuesday in a colorful farewell ceremony that formally ended Syria's 29-year military presence in Lebanon.

The departure of the last batch of Syrian troops was a historic moment for the Lebanese and underlined just how dramatically and quickly Syria's grip on this tiny Mediterranean country has weakened after 15 years of near-total domination.

With the pro-Syrian establishment in Beirut continuing to unravel by the day, any hope that Damascus might have harbored of retaining some level of influence in Lebanon appears to be fading fast. "The question should be what influence will Lebanon have on Syria," says Michael Young, a Lebanese political analyst.

"Syria was stronger militarily but it was never stronger politically, economically, culturally ... in all the domains Syria imposed its order through force," Mr. Young says. "At this point, to my mind, Lebanon is stronger." [complete article]

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U.S. may sell bunker busters to Israel
Reuters (via MSNBC), April 26, 2005

The Pentagon notified Congress on Tuesday of a proposed sale to Israel of 100 guided bunker-busting bombs, a move that analysts said could prompt concerns about a unilateral Israel strike against Iran.

Israel has requested the sale by the Lockheed Martin Corp. of GBU-28s worth as much as $30 million, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said in a notice required by law for government-to-government military sales.

The GBU-28 was developed for penetrating hardened command centers located deep underground and would be used by the Israeli air force on its U.S.-built F-15 aircraft, the agency said.

Israel -- believed to be the Middle East's only nuclear armed state -- has denied speculation that it might make a military strike on Iran to prevent it from producing an atomic bomb. [complete article]

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Foreign policy disputes are subtext in battle over Bolton
By Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 26, 2005

In public, the controversy over John R. Bolton's nomination as United Nations ambassador has focused on his handling of personnel issues and his managerial skills. But the first big battle of President Bush's second term also reflects long-standing tensions among Republicans over the thrust of U.S. foreign policy.

Allegations that Bolton has been abrasive have become a metaphor for the broader problem of the United States' image abroad, with Republicans who favor a less confrontational and unilateral approach seeing an opportunity to press their point of view. It is all the more striking at a time when the Bush administration, led by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, has tried to rebuild relations with allies in Europe and Asia.

Now Bush and Rice must decide how hard they want to press Bolton's case with the bevy of Republican moderates who hold his fate in their hands. The consequences could extend beyond Bolton. [complete article]

Ex-officials say Bolton inflated Syrian danger
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, April 26, 2005

John R. Bolton clashed repeatedly with American intelligence officials in 2002 and 2003 as he sought to deliver warnings about Syrian efforts to acquire unconventional weapons that the Central Intelligence Agency and other experts rejected as exaggerated, according to former intelligence officials.

Ultimately, the former intelligence officials said, most of what Mr. Bolton, then an under secretary of state, said publicly about Syria hewed to the limits on which the C.I.A. and other agencies had insisted. But they said that the prolonged and heated disputes over Mr. Bolton's proposed remarks were unusual within government, and that they reflected what one former senior official called a pattern in which Mr. Bolton sought to push his public assertions beyond the views endorsed by intelligence agencies. [complete article]

Ex-diplomat calls U.N. nominee 'unworthy'
By Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, April 26, 2005

Another former high-ranking State Department official has urged senators not to approve John R. Bolton as United Nations ambas- sador, saying Bolton has "no diplomatic bone in his body" and is "unworthy of your trust."

Frederick Vreeland, a former U.S. ambassador to Burma and Morocco appointed by President George H.W. Bush, joined a growing chorus of ex-officials taking sides on Bolton.

"If it is now U.S. policy not to reform the U.N. but to destroy it, Bolton is our man," Vreeland wrote in a letter to Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The letter was released by Biden's office. [complete article]

Terror in the past and future tense
By Robert Wright, New York Times, April 26, 2005

...there is ultimately no alternative to international arms control. It will have to be arms control of a creatively astringent, even visionary, sort. And achieving it will be a long haul - incremental, halting progress, over many years, through a series of flawed but improving agreements that are at first less than global in scope. But for now the details don't matter, because the Bush administration opposes the basic idea.

Why? Because John Bolton is not just the undersecretary for arms control, but the guiding spirit, so far, of the administration's arms control philosophy. To get other nations to endure intrusive monitoring, America would have to submit to such monitoring. People of Mr. Bolton's ideological persuasion insist that this amounts to a sacrifice of American sovereignty. And they're right; it's just a less objectionable sacrifice of sovereignty than letting terrorists blow up your cities.

Weeks before 9/11, the Bush administration antagonized much of the civilized world by rejecting an arduously negotiated protocol to the Biological Weapons Convention. The protocol would have put teeth in the treaty, making member nations, which forswear the possession of bioweapons, open their soil to inspectors.

Would 9/11 and the ensuing anthrax attacks soften the administration's opposition? Or - since the protocol was no doubt imperfect - might the administration at least suggest an alternative international inspections regime? Two months after 9/11, Mr. Bolton told a gathering of member states that the answers were no and no. (Who needs inspections? Mr. Bolton told the assemblage that the existence of Iraq's bioweapons program was "beyond dispute.") [complete article]

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Report finds no evidence Syria hid Iraqi arms
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, April 26, 2005

U.S. investigators hunting for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq have found no evidence that such material was moved to Syria for safekeeping before the war, according to a final report of the investigation released yesterday.

Although Syria helped Iraq evade U.N.-imposed sanctions by shipping military and other products across its borders, the investigators "found no senior policy, program, or intelligence officials who admitted any direct knowledge of such movement of WMD." Because of the insular nature of Saddam Hussein's government, however, the investigators were "unable to rule out unofficial movement of limited WMD-related materials." [complete article]

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Sunni Arab set to win top defence post in Iraq
By Andrew England and Awadh al-Taee, Financial Times, April 26, 2005

Senior members of the Shia coalition with a majority in Iraq's parliament said on Monday they had agreed to have a Sunni Arab in the key post of defence minister.

The decision follows weeks of political negotiations in which various Kurdish, Shia and Sunni parties which competed in elections in January have fought for representation in the new and much delayed government.

Giving the defence post to a Sunni Arab is thought to satisfy a key demand by Sunni, who dominated the military and the ruling Ba'ath party under the regime of Saddam Hussein and who now make up the bulk of Iraq's insurgents. It may be a step towards a long-sought political solution to the two-year guerrilla war. [complete article]

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Blair: Iraq anger could let in Tories
By Jackie Ashley, The Guardian, April 26, 2005

Under ferocious pressure over how he took Britain to war in Iraq and facing calls for a full inquiry from the Liberal Democrats, Tony Blair has hit back by warning that those trying to "send me a message" will let in scores of Tory MPs in marginal constituencies across Britain.

In an interview with the Guardian, he says: "This election in the end isn't decided on a global set of opinion polls, it's decided in constituencies; and if you look at those constituencies, there are a few hundred or a few thousand votes either way that determine a lot of them.

"The Conservative campaign isn't based on a get-in-by-the- front door strategy, it's based on get-in-by-the-back door, with people thinking that they're sending a message but ending up with the opposite result to what they want." [complete article]

See also, With 10 days to British vote, war emerges as top issue (NYT).

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Unready for combat
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, April 26, 2005

When Dustin W. Peters, an Air Force supply technician, arrived in Kuwait in January 2004, all he and his fellow airmen knew was that they would be supporting US troops in Iraq. But when their unit received its assignment, they recalled, they were stunned: They would be protecting supply convoys traveling along Iraq's violent roadways.

Peters, 25, was killed last summer when his Humvee was struck by a roadside bomb near the town of Bayji, placing him among at least 13 Air Force and Navy members to die in Iraq while on assignments that were different from what they signed up for -- and with far less training than military personnel who usually performed those missions, according to a Globe analysis of Pentagon statistics.

At least 3,000 Navy and Air Force personnel such as Peters -- trained mainly in noncombat specialties such as mechanics and construction -- are serving on the front lines of the Iraqi insurgency. The Iraq war is the first military engagement in which such large numbers of air and naval personnel are serving in combat roles on the ground, facing imminent threat of attack. [complete article]

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Italian hostage outraged at 'clearing' of U.S. soldiers
By Philippe Naughton, The Times, April 26, 2005

An Italian journalist rescued from hostage-takers in Iraq last month has reacted angrily to a US military investigation absolving American soldiers of responsibility for killing the man who rescued her.

Nicola Calipari, a senior Italian intelligence agent, was shot dead on March 4 when US soldiers fired at his car as he took the reporter, Guiliana Sgrena, to Baghdad airport.

A report leaked by an American army official in Washington last night was said to have cleared US troops of any culpability for his death. The official said the soldiers had followed their rules of engagement and should not therefore face charges of dereliction of duty. [complete article]

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Pope Benedict reaches out to Muslims
By Elisabeth Rosenthal, IHT (NYT), April 26, 2005

On his first official full day as pope, Benedict XVI on Monday reached out for the first time to Muslims, saying he was "grateful" for their presence at his investiture ceremony and hoped for a "growth of dialogue between Muslims and Christians" at local and international levels.

There were many such surprises during Benedict's public appearances on Monday, giving the world its first glimpse perhaps of the priorities and style that will define his papacy.

A man who had been widely criticized as a narrow-minded theologian reached out to other religions. A man who previously talked about creating a purer, smaller Roman Catholic Church was talking about offering Catholicism to the world. A man whose previous public face was stern and remote turned funny, personal - physical even.

Comparing being elected pope to being beheaded by a guillotine, he said he had prayed during last week's conclave of cardinals that he would not win the job. [complete article]

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Familiar face emerges in Iran vote
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 26, 2005

From the depths of Iran's political malaise, one name keeps floating to the top as presidential elections slated for June 17 edge closer: Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The former president and chairman of the powerful Expediency Council, who has been the center of political gravity more than any other politician since the 1979 Islamic revolution, has not yet stated that he will run.

Still, as if by default, Mr. Rafsanjani is being hailed by some as a pragmatic conservative who alone can bridge vicious political divides and steer Iran through foreign crises that range from its nuclear program to forging détente with the United States. [complete article]

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Abbas says Hamas should disarm after elections
Daily Star, April 26, 2005

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said Monday he expects Hamas to hand in its weapons after Palestinian elections this summer, but he stopped short of threatening to disarm the Islamic militants by force.

However, the Islamic group's response was swift dismissing the call and saying Abbas should disarm his own Fatah movement first. [complete article]

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Syria's Ba'athists loosen the reins
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, April 26, 2005

A new Ba'ath Party law is to be created in Syria, breaking the socialist parties' monopoly over politics in that country, in place (with the exception of the years 1961-63) since 1958. The move is a calculated gamble on the part of the government, and will also challenge a US bill against Syria calling for "Assistance to Support a Transition to Democracy in Syria". [complete article]

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Troubles mount in White House, Bush agenda bogged down
By William Douglas, James Kuhnhenn and Steven Thomma, Knight Ridder, April 22, 2005

President Bush painted his second-term vision in bold, aggressive strokes: He would reform Social Security, continue to reshape the nation's education system and remodel the nation's judiciary by appointing more conservative judges to the federal bench.

"I've earned capital in this election and I'm going to spend it for what I told the people I'd spend it on: Social Security, tax reform, moving the economy forward, education and winning the war on terrorism," Bush told reporters two days after he won re-election.

Three months into his second term, however, Bush's bold agenda is bogged down by public skepticism about some of his proposals, growing resistance from Democrats, dissension within his party's ranks and what some analysts consider second-term hubris. [complete article]

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Temper, temper, temper ...
By James Carney, Time, May 2, 2005

President Bush's choice of John Bolton to represent the U.S. at the United Nations was meant to roil the diplomatic world. The man is outspoken in his derision of the international organization and famous for his fiery language against countries that oppose American wishes. But there is a saying in Washington that you meet on the way down all the people you stepped over on the way up. And that is what appears to have put Senate approval of the controversial nomination in jeopardy.

In the seven weeks since Bush named him, Bolton has been getting reacquainted with some of those people he offended during a 24-year career in the Federal Government. They are, among others, the two intelligence analysts who claim that as a senior State Department official during Bush's first term, Bolton tried to have them fired or reassigned when they disagreed with him; the foreign-aid worker who says Bolton, then a private attorney, chased her down a Moscow hotel hallway in 1994 in an effort to intimidate her; and the former U.S. ambassador to South Korea who complained that Bolton had misled the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by suggesting that the ambassador had approved an incendiary speech Bolton made about North Korea in 2003. [complete article]

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NSA is in the habit of disclosing the identities of Americans
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2005

The National Security Agency, which eavesdrops on electronic communications around the world, receives thousands of requests each year from U.S. government officials seeking the names of Americans who show up in intercepted calls or e-mails -- and complies in the vast majority of cases without challenging the basis for the requests, current and former intelligence officials said.

The volume of requests and the NSA's almost reflexive practice of disclosing Americans' identities -- which under federal law are shielded unless there is a compelling intelligence reason for releasing a name -- have come as a surprise even to some members of Congress and government officials deeply involved in intelligence matters.

Officials from the NSA and other agencies say that the disclosures are proper and that there are significant protections against abuse. But the practice is coming under new scrutiny because of the recent disclosure that John R. Bolton, President Bush's nominee for ambassador to the U.N., submitted numerous requests for the identities of U.S. officials whose conversations were recorded by the NSA while monitoring overseas targets. [complete article]

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In war's name, public loses information
By Charlie Savage, Boston Globe, April 24, 2005

Federal agencies under the Bush administration are sweeping vast amounts of public information behind a curtain of secrecy in the name of fighting terrorism, using 50 to 60 loosely defined security designations that can be imposed by officials as low-ranking as government clerks.

No one is tracking the amount of unclassified information that is no longer accessible.

For years, a citizen who wanted to know the name and phone number of a Pentagon official could buy a copy of the Defense Department directory at a government printing office. But since 2001, the directory has been stamped ''For Official Use Only," meaning the public may not have access to such basic information about the vast military bureaucracy. [complete article]

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U.N. human rights investigator in Afghanistan ousted under U.S. pressure
Cherif Bassiouni interviewed by Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!, April 28, 2005

This past week, news emerged that the U.S. forced out a top human rights investigator at the United Nations just days after he released a report criticizing the US for committing human rights abuses in Afghanistan.

The Egyptian-born law professor Cherif Bassiouni had spent a year in Afghanistan interviewing Afghans, international agency staff and the Afghan Human Rights Commission. His official title was "independent expert on human rights in Afghanistan."

In his new report, Bassiouni accused US troops of breaking into homes, arbitrarily arresting residents and torturing detainees. He estimated that around 1,000 Afghans had been detained. Bassiouni also indicated that the US-led forces had committed "sexual abuse, beatings, torture and use of force resulting in death." He wrote, "When these forces directly engage in practices that violate... international human rights and international humanitarian law, they undermine the national project of establishing a legal basis for the use of force." [complete article]

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Group says U.S. sent up to 150 to possible torture sites
By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2005

A civil liberties group investigating allegations of prisoner abuse will report today that since the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. agents have secretly transported up to 150 detainees to countries that may practice torture.

Such transporting, known as rendition, is more widespread than the government has reported, according to Human Rights Watch. In a report issued a year after the earliest revelations of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, the group said the renditions, along with abuses of foreign detainees by U.S. forces, were possible violations of international law.

The group also said an Army investigation clearing top U.S. military commanders of wrongdoing in the scandal at Abu Ghraib in Baghdad established the need for an outside inquiry. [complete article]

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Leadership void fuels disarray in Iraq
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2005

The protracted delay in forming an Iraqi government is imperiling the appointment of its prime minister, providing a new impetus for the insurgency and fanning renewed suspicion of the U.S. role here, Iraqi and Western observers say.

Doubts are growing that the government, once formed, will have time to complete the constitution-writing process -- its principal task -- by the mid-August deadline.

Almost three months since lawmakers were chosen in the landmark Jan. 30 election, they have yet to agree on the composition of a government. The transitional National Assembly has held several meetings but, stymied by ethnic, religious and political divides, has yet to set its bylaws or begin discussing the constitution. [complete article]

Allawi's demands said to be sticking point in Iraq
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2005

As haggling over the formation of a new Iraqi government continued Sunday, members of the largest parliamentary bloc blamed the delay on brinksmanship by outgoing interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi and predicted they would form a new administration without him. [...]

"The Iraqi Alliance and the Kurdish slate are the two main winners, and we have agreed on everything. What is delaying us is the participation of others," said Alliance lawmaker Sami Askari. He said Allawi was demanding the deputy prime minister job and control of four ministries, including either Defense or Interior, as well as veto power over government resolutions.

Allawi's party won 40 out of the 275 assembly seats, compared with 140 for the Alliance and 75 for the Kurds. "They are requesting more than they deserve," Askari said. [complete article]

Rice and Cheney are said to push Iraqi politicians on stalemate
By Richard A Oppel Jr. and Joel Brinkley, New York Times, April 25, 2005

Worried about a political deadlock in Iraq and a spike in mayhem from an emboldened insurgency, the Bush administration has pressed Iraqi leaders in recent days to end their stalemate over forming a new government, with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney personally exhorting top Kurdish and Shiite politicians to come together.

The White House pressure, reported by Iraqi officials in Baghdad and an American official in Washington on Sunday, was a change in the administration's hands-off approach to Iraqi politics. The change was disclosed as insurgents unleashed a devastating technique, with twin double bombings at a police academy in Tikrit and an ice cream parlor in a Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad that killed 21 and wounded scores more.

In both attacks, a second bomb detonated within minutes after the first, killing and wounding policemen and bystanders who had rushed to care for victims of the initial blasts.

The explosions hit two of the favored targets of Sunni Arab insurgents: police recruits, whose training is critical to improving security in Iraq and providing the United States an exit strategy; and Shiites, who make up a majority in Iraq but nearly three months after national elections have yet to form a new government - a failure that American officials fear is giving strength and confidence to the insurgents. [complete article]

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Proof Blair was told war could be ruled illegal
By Simon Walters, Mail on Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Iraq war has erupted as a major Election issue after legal advice warning Tony Blair that the conflict breached international law was sensationally leaked.

The Government's refusal to disclose the advice has been one of the most controversial issues since the war ended, but The Mail on Sunday can now reveal for the first time exactly what counsel Mr Blair received. [complete article]

The truth behind Goldsmith's equivocal answer as war machine gathered pace in drive for Iraq
By Colin Brown, The Independent, April 25, 2005

The explosive disclosure that the Attorney General gave Tony Blair six reasons why war on Iraq might be illegal explains why Downing Street has steadfastly resisted the publication of Lord Goldsmith's advice.

The Prime Minister has flatly refused repeated demands for the Attorney General's advice to be published. Demands for it to be released under the Freedom of Information Act were resisted.

One senior Labour figure said last night: "At least now we know why". The document cuts through all the obfuscation in Downing Street and shows that Tony Blair misled his Cabinet and the British public when he said he had received unequivocal advice that the war was legal. [complete article]

Blair faces concerted Iraq attack in election
By Mike Peacock, Reuters, April 25, 2005

Prime Minister Tony Blair faced demands Monday for a new probe into the Iraq war as his rivals launched a concerted attack on him over the U.S.-led invasion for the first time in Britain's election campaign.

The anti-war Liberal Democrat party placed advertisements in newspapers showing a smiling Blair beside President Bush under the headline "Never Again" and called for a public inquiry into Blair's decision to go to war. [complete article]

Politics is no longer Britain's cup of tea
By Mark Rice-Oxley, Christian Science Monitor, April 25, 2005

When it comes to elections, Daniel Kemp doesn't take long to make up his mind.

"I'm not voting," the 20-year-old snorts while waiting for his mom outside a superstore in this gritty south London neighborhood. "Me and my mates, we're more likely to vote for Goal of the Season than in a general election," he says, referring to a popular competition on a TV soccer show.

Kemp is hardly alone. With less than two weeks to the May 5 vote, the big question facing British politicians is not who votes for them, but who votes at all. Experts predict the lowest participation in a century. [complete article]

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Marines from Iraq sound off about want of armor and men
By Michael Moss, New York Times, April 25, 2005

On May 29, 2004, a station wagon that Iraqi insurgents had packed with C-4 explosives blew up on a highway in Ramadi, killing four American marines who died for lack of a few inches of steel.

The four were returning to camp in an unarmored Humvee that their unit had rigged with scrap metal, but the makeshift shields rose only as high as their shoulders, photographs of the Humvee show, and the shrapnel from the bomb shot over the top.

"The steel was not high enough," said Staff Sgt. Jose S. Valerio, their motor transport chief, who along with the unit's commanding officers said the men would have lived had their vehicle been properly armored. "Most of the shrapnel wounds were to their heads."

Among those killed were Rafael Reynosa, a 28-year-old lance corporal from Santa Ana, Calif., whose wife was expecting twins, and Cody S. Calavan, a 19-year-old private first class from Lake Stevens, Wash., who had the Marine Corps motto, Semper Fidelis, tattooed across his back.

They were not the only losses for Company E during its six-month stint last year in Ramadi. In all, more than one-third of the unit's 185 troops were killed or wounded, the highest casualty rate of any company in the war, Marine Corps officials say. [complete article]

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Iran keeps to atomic agenda
AP (IHT), April 25, 2005

Iran will resume uranium enrichment regardless of the outcome of its negotiations with three European powers over its nuclear program, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said Sunday.

Speaking to reporters five days before Iran is to resume nuclear talks with France, Britain and Germany, the spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, said the Europeans appeared to be serious in seeking an agreement with Iran.

But he added that any settlement had to respect Iran's right, as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium. [complete article]

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Iran gives civil war warning to Lebanon opposition
By Mayssam Zaaroura, Daily Star, April 25, 2005

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami warned Sunday Lebanon was susceptible to another civil war and said instability in Syria could lead to chaos in Lebanon.

During a meeting with visiting leading Lebanese opposition member Walid Jumblatt, Khatami said Lebanon was "vulnerable" and risked the return of civil war, the ISNA news agency reported.

"The possibility exists of an aggravation of divisions which could transform into a civil war," Khatami was quoted as telling Jumblatt, a leading figure in the campaign to end Syria's military and political dominance of the country. [complete article]

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Syrian withdrawal enters final phase
By Leila Hatoum, Daily Star, April 25, 2005

Syria completed the final phase of its withdrawal Sunday, with a symbolic presence to remain until Tuesday, when a ceremony will be held to bid farewell to the heads of Syrian intelligence here. On customary condition of anonymity, Lebanese security sources confirmed "the big bulk of the Syrian forces, including heavy weapons and equipment," had left Lebanon by Sunday evening.

The sources added the farewell celebration will be held at the Riyak military base in the Bekaa Valley, a few kilometers from the Syrian border.

The few remaining Syrian troops and officials are then expected to pull back across the border after the ceremony, marking the final chapter of Syria's military and intelligence presence in Lebanon. [complete article]

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Bolton's British problem
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, May 2, 2005

Colin Powell plainly didn't like what he was hearing. At a meeting in London in November 2003, his counterpart, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, was complaining to Powell about John Bolton, according to a former Bush administration official who was there. Straw told the then Secretary of State that Bolton, Powell's under secretary for arms control, was making it impossible to reach allied agreement on Iran's nuclear program. Powell turned to an aide and said, "Get a different view on [the Iranian problem]. Bolton is being too tough."

Unbeknownst to Bolton, the aide then interviewed experts in Bolton's own Nonproliferation Bureau. The issue was resolved, the former official told Newsweek, only after Powell adopted softer language recommended by these experts on how and when Iran might be referred to the U.N. Security Council. But the terrified State experts were "adamant that we not let Bolton know we had talked to them," the official said.

The incident illustrates a key allegation that now bedevils Bolton's nomination to be America's next ambassador to the United Nations. Bolton's critics contend that he has consistently taken an extreme and uncompromising line on issues and that he has bullied subordinates and intel analysts who disagreed with him. President Bush last week stood by his embattled nominee, blaming "politics" for Bolton's difficult confirmation process. But it was members of the president's own party who were holding things up. After GOP Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, unexpectedly blocked a vote last week, it was clear that Bolton's nomination was in trouble. Powell himself, in reported remarks to several senators, expressed worries about Bolton's temperament. Because the eight Democrats on the 18-person committee are solidly against Bolton, a single GOP defector could kill the nomination when it comes to a vote on May 12. The White House still believes that only a hard-liner like Bolton can reform the U.N.. [complete article]

See also, Released e-mail exchanges reveal more Bolton battles (NYT) and The munchkin, not Bolton, had it right (David Ignatius).

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Insurgent violence escalates in Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 24, 2005

Violence is escalating sharply in Iraq after a period of relative calm that followed the January elections. Bombings, ambushes and kidnappings targeting Iraqis and foreigners, both troops and civilians, have surged this month while the new Iraqi government is caught up in power struggles over cabinet positions.

Many attacks have gone unchallenged by Iraqi forces in large areas of the country dominated by insurgents, according to the U.S. military, Iraqi officials and civilians and visits by Washington Post correspondents. Hundreds of Iraqis and foreigners have either been killed or wounded in the last week.

"Definitely, violence is getting worse," said a U.S. official in Baghdad, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "My strong sense is that a lot of the political momentum that was generated out of the successful election, which was sort of like a punch in the gut to the insurgents, has worn off." The political stalemate "has given the insurgents new hope," the official added, repeating a message Americans say they are increasingly giving Iraqi leaders. [complete article]

See also, U.S. military worried over change in Iraq attacks (Boston Globe).

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Just a little longer
By Rod Nordland, Newsweek, May 2, 2005

Hussein Hashimi has a CD-ROM full of pictures of the dead. For the last two months, the young Shiite says, Sunni extremists rampaged through his hometown of Madaen. They torched the local police stations, abducted dozens of members of the local Shiite minority, burned down the mosque and killed not only the imam but his 8-year-old son. Many Shiite families fled; others barricaded themselves in their homes. Last week Iraqi security forces finally came in and restored order. Hashimi has lists of the missing and of the dead who have been identified. He has the names of the alleged perpetrators and a map showing the home of the Sunni he accuses of being responsible for the atrocities.

So is Hashimi fighting back? Not at all. "We just ran away," he says without a trace of embarrassment. "Sistani and the religious authorities in Najaf decided not to use force, so we couldn't do anything." To the Shiites of Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani's word is law. "We must obey."

Their obedience was tested yet again last week -- and again it held firm. In Madaen and villages nearby, corpses bobbed to the surface of the Tigris River until police counted 60. Hashimi and his friends photographed 55 of the bodies and delivered the pictures and lists to Baghdad. Shiite politicians accused the insurgents of ethnic cleansing, and demanded that the caretaker government act. Insurgents in another town near Baghdad, Haditha, responded by kidnapping 19 Shiite fishermen and National Guardsmen, lining them up against a wall in a sports stadium and shooting them dead. Then, during Friday prayers, a suicide car bomber in east Baghdad hit the Shia Al Subeih mosque, killing nine and wounding 20. [complete article]

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In search of the real new Iraq
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, May 2, 2005

Most Americans know that Iraq will soon have its first elected government and that that's a big deal. But in the Middle East, this is seen as a historic and revolutionary moment for a different reason. For the first time since the establishment of the Abbassid Caliphate in A.D. 740, an Arab country will be ruled by Shiites. The minority sect of the Islamic world (a majority only in Iran, Bahrain and Iraq) will move to the front row. For some Arabs, this is a far more unsettling prospect than democracy. How the Shiites will handle power, especially in their first few months, will have an enormous effect on Iraq and the entire Arab world. [complete article]

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Rights groups reject prison abuse findings
By Josh White, Washington Post, April 24, 2005

Human rights groups expressed dismay yesterday over the Army's findings exonerating U.S. generals of prisoner abuse in Iraq, and renewed requests for an independent probe to examine the culpability of senior military and civilian defense officials.

In a report released yesterday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch called on U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the roles of all U.S. officials "who participated in, ordered, or had command responsibility for war crimes or torture." Human Rights Watch also asked Congress to launch an independent and bipartisan probe -- similar to that of the 9/11 commission -- to investigate the roles of senior leaders in abuse, including President Bush, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and former CIA director George J. Tenet.

The group, along with Amnesty International, yesterday also assailed the Army's findings that top generals in Iraq should bear no official responsibility for abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison or for failures that led to widespread problems at detention facilities elsewhere in Iraq. Noting the similarities in alleged abuse at the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, at facilities in Afghanistan and across Iraq, the groups said the military appears incapable of investigating itself. [complete article]

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CIA accused of detaining innocent man
By Lisa Myers and Aram Roston, NBC, April 21, 2005

Last year, the CIA thought it had an important al-Qaida terrorist in custody. CIA agents secretly detained him in Europe and flew him to a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan, in a so-called "rendition." But now senior U.S. officials tell NBC News that CIA realized early on, it had the wrong man -- but kept him in prison anyway. They say he was kept in the primitive prison for more than a month after CIA director George Tenet was informed of the case, while officials tried to figure out a way to fix their mistake.

On New Year's Eve 2003, German citizen Khaled El-Masri says he was kidnapped in Macedonia, and then flown by U.S. officials to Afghanistan where he was held in secret in harsh conditions until May. The mysterious events were seen as a case study in "renditions," or secret CIA operations to move terrorist suspects to third countries, outside U.S. legal authority.

Many of El-Masri's claims have been confirmed, but until now it was not known what had actually gone wrong. Now NBC News has learned key details of the CIA operation, how the mistake was discovered, and how top officials in the US government, including Tenet and Condoleezza Rice were briefed. [complete article]

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Islamic activists sweep Saudi council elections
By Steve Coll, Washington Post, April 24, 2005

Saudi Arabia's limited 10-week experiment with electoral democracy ended here Saturday in a sweeping victory for slates of Islamic activists marketed as the "Golden List," who used grass-roots organizing, digital technology and endorsements from popular religious leaders to defeat their liberal and tribal rivals, even here in Jiddah, for decades Saudi Arabia's most diverse and business-driven city.

The staggered contests for seats on half of the kingdom's 178 municipal councils, the first governmental elections here in more than three decades, offered a rare measure of public opinion and political strength across Saudi Arabia -- or at least the opinions of men, as women were barred from voting or running as candidates, as were active soldiers and police.

While candidates from the kingdom's Shiite Muslim minority showed well in some of their eastern strongholds and a handful of independents were elected along the Red Sea, by far the greatest number of winners countrywide came from the legions of Islamic activists. [complete article]

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An 'agent of America' tests Egyptian reform
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times (IHT), April 25, 2005

Egypt's first presidential election allowing more than one candidate is still months away, but just how the government of President Hosni Mubarak might handle it is perhaps apparent in Bab al-Shariya, a working-class neighborhood packed with grimy workshops and narrow restaurants that sell beans.

New banners fluttering throughout the quarter's vast main square proclaim: "Yes to Mubarak the Leader! No to Every Cowardly Egyptian Agent of America!"

The "agent of America" attack is aimed at Ayman Nour, the lawyer who represents Bab al-Shariya in Parliament and so far the only mainstream candidate to announce an intention to challenge Mubarak.

Nour holds a rally every week in a battered one-story hall that faces the square. Plainclothes police officers immediately materialize next to anyone being interviewed outside, and those attending must first walk through scores of helmeted riot police officers carrying shields and truncheons.

"Political reform is standing outside this hall, standing on two feet wearing black and gripping a metal truncheon!" Nour thundered at one rally. [complete article]

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The state of sectarianism in Pakistan
International Crisis Group Report, April 18, 2005

Sectarian conflict in Pakistan is the direct consequence of state policies of Islamisation and marginalisation of secular democratic forces. Co-option and patronage of religious parties by successive military governments have brought Pakistan to a point where religious extremism threatens to erode the foundations of the state and society. As President Pervez Musharraf is praised by the international community for his role in the war against terrorism, the frequency and viciousness of sectarian terrorism continues to increase in his country.

Instead of empowering liberal, democratic voices, the government has co-opted the religious right and continues to rely on it to counter civilian opposition. By depriving democratic forces of an even playing field and continuing to ignore the need for state policies that would encourage and indeed reflect the country's religious diversity, the government has allowed religious extremist organisations and jihadi groups, and the madrasas that provide them an endless stream of recruits, to flourish. It has failed to protect a vulnerable judiciary and equip its law-enforcement agencies with the tools they need to eliminate sectarian terrorism. [complete article]

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The new McCarthyism
By Juan Cole, Salon, April 22, 2005

A member of the U.S. Congress calls for an assistant professor at a major university to be summarily fired. The right-wing tabloid press runs a series of vicious attacks on him, often misquoting him and perpetuating previous misquotes. Opinion pieces attacking "tenured radicals" and questioning professors' patriotism use him as their centerpiece. All of these attacks are spurred by a propaganda film made by an advocacy group, in which anonymous accusations are made and the professor is not given an opportunity to respond to the allegations.

It is not 1953, the Congress member is not Sen. Joseph McCarthy, and the professor is not being accused of being a communist. No, it is 2005, the Congress member is Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., and the professor is being accused of being anti-Israel.

The lesson for academics, and American society as a whole: McCarthyism is unacceptable except when criticism of Israel is involved. [complete article]

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900,000-year-old ice may destroy U.S. case on Kyoto
By Barbara McMahon and Paul Brown, The Guardian, April 23, 2005

An Italian expedition to the Antarctic has taken a sample of ice which is more than 900,000 years old and could give scientists evidence of past climate changes which would discredit global warming doubters.

The ice core, which is double the age of previous samples, will show how much carbon dioxide there was in the atmosphere during previous warm and cold phases in the climate and whether the current concentrations caused by burning fossil fuels are likely the lead to catastrophic global warming later this century.

The new core could be enough to discredit the fast diminishing band of climate sceptics, who have the ear of the Bush administration and who say that the climate has always fluctuated and man's destruction of forests and use of oil has nothing to do with the current rising temperatures and increased storminess across the world. [complete article]

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Europe's biggest al-Qaida trial starts
By Giles Tremlett, The Guardian, April 22, 2005

Strict security measures were in place around a Madrid court last night ahead of the start today of a mass trial of alleged members of al-Qaida, some of whom are charged with involvement in the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks in the US.

A total of 24 alleged al-Qaida members and collaborators will be tried together during the next few months in a specially adapted building at Madrid's Casa de Campo exhibition centre.

For each of the three men accused of helping to prepare the attacks on New York's World Trade Centre in 2001, prosecutors are demanding prison sentences of at least 62,000 years - or 25 years for every victim. Among the three is the alleged leader of an al-Qaida cell in Madrid, the Syrian-born Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, alias Abu Dahdah. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven plus days:

The neocon revolution and American militarism
By Andrew J. Bacevich, TomDispatch, April 22, 2005
In our own time -- and especially since the ascendancy of George W. Bush to the presidency -- "neoconservative" has become a term of opprobrium, frequently accompanied by ad hominem attacks and charges of arrogance and hubris. But the heat generated by the term also stands as a backhanded tribute, an acknowledgment that the neoconservative impact has been substantial. It is today too soon to offer a comprehensive assessment of that impact. The discussion of neoconservatism offered here has a more modest objective, namely, to suggest that one aspect of the neoconservative legacy has been to foster the intellectual climate necessary for the emergence of the new American militarism.

As a practical matter, the task of reinventing neoconservatism for a post-Communist world -- and of spelling out an "imperial self-definition" of American purpose -- fell to a new generation. To promote that effort, leading members of that new generation created their own institutions.

The normalization of war
By Andrew J. Bacevich, TomDispatch, April 20, 2005
At the end of the Cold War, Americans said yes to military power. The skepticism about arms and armies that pervaded the American experiment from its founding, vanished. Political leaders, liberals and conservatives alike, became enamored with military might.

The ensuing affair had and continues to have a heedless, Gatsby-like aspect, a passion pursued in utter disregard of any consequences that might ensue. Few in power have openly considered whether valuing military power for its own sake or cultivating permanent global military superiority might be at odds with American principles. Indeed, one striking aspect of America's drift toward militarism has been the absence of dissent offered by any political figure of genuine stature.
Andrew J. Bacevich's new book, The New American Militarism, How Americans Are Seduced by War, is available here.

Dangerous democracy
By David Hirst, The Guardian, April 20, 2005
At last month's anti-war conference in Cairo, Egyptian delegate Kamal Khalil excoriated President Mubarak's regime over "torture, poverty, unemployment, corruption, tyranny and despotism" - then added that the "liberation of Jerusalem starts here with the liberation of the people in Cairo". This linkage of domestic reform with the external foe dramatised the quandary lying in wait for President Bush's crusade for "freedom and democracy". God-given rights of all peoples are the panacea that will, among other things, end international terror and induce the Arabs to make their peace with Israel. So what, in this era of American-sponsored diplomacy and reconciliation, could this self-styled democrat possibly have meant by this reversion to the militant rhetoric of yesteryear?

The extent to which Bush is contributing to the winds of change now blowing across the world's last monolithically tyrannical region is passionately debated by the Arabs, perplexingly confronted, as they feel themselves to be, by two Americas, the new missionary one of Bush's second term and the old unrepentant superpower. The US as a promoter of democracy is a far from new idea. But the scope, fervour and lofty expectations Bush has invested in it are new. Yet, at the same time, never has imperial America, with which the missionary one is inextricably intertwined, been as rampant and detested as it is today.

The shadow Iraqi government
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 21, 2005
The ideal White House/Pentagon script for Iraq calls for a pro-American government, total control of at least 12% of the world's known oil reserves and 14 military bases to make it happen. Reality has been churning up other ideas.

Whenever there is a so-called "transfer of power" in Mesopotamia, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, like clockwork, steps on a plane to Baghdad. On his latest trip designed to issue orders for the new, supposedly sovereign Iraqi government, Rumsfeld, in a splendid Freudian slip, let it be known on the record the US "does not have an exit strategy" in Iraq: only a "victory strategy". This is code for "we're not going anywhere".

Reality had intervened two days before Rumsfeld arrived, when about 300,000 Shi'ite nationalists occupied the same Firdaws Square of "liberation day", April 9, 2003, but this time with no Saddam-toppling photo-op intent. Their messages were clear: out with the occupation; and Bush equals Saddam Hussein.

Hamas wants power, Hezbollah has already won
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, April 19, 2005
Ever since he had to bid good-bye to his many acquaintances in Israel and the territories, including the heads of Fatah and Hamas, and senior people in the Israeli defense establishment, Alistair Crooke, former European Union envoy to the Palestinian Authority, has been devoting his considerable energies to promoting coexistence with Islam through education.

A veteran of MI6, Britain's secret security service, he was asked a year and a half ago to return the keys to his boss, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. Crooke founded a modest organization for conflict resolution and is now busy writing articles and taking pains to provide Islamic organizations positive exposure in the West. Critics say he suffers from naivete, and there are those who attribute to him the romanticism of Lawrence of Arabia. No one accuses Crooke of evil intentions.

Naivete, romanticism and evil intentions did not characterize the group of Americans who accompanied Crooke on his latest trip to Lebanon. In late March, with a certain amount of self-effacement, the group came to a hotel in Beirut for a series of meetings with senior people from Islamic organizations in the Middle East and East Asia. According to one participant, most of the Americans present would not have set foot on Lebanese soil without the permission, if not the blessing, from U.S. President George W. Bush's administration.

Lebanon, a house divided
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2005
They catch sight of each other sometimes, at funerals or weddings back in the village, but they haven't had a conversation in years. The two men share the same blood and the same last name, but in today's Lebanon they belong to enemy camps, squaring off against each other as a political crisis shudders through the nation.

Suleiman Franjieh is Lebanon's outgoing interior minister, a dapper 40-year-old who dreamed, they say, of becoming president. He was a teenage war orphan when he knitted his fate with that of the Syrian regime. He did favors. He rose fast. But now the government has fallen, and his name has been cursed by hundreds of thousands of demonstrators in the streets of Beirut.

His cousin Samir Franjieh is a slight man, a leftist intellectual with a mischievous gleam in his eye. Samir, 59, helped found the opposition movement bent on pushing Syria out of his homeland, long under Damascus' control. Now he is riding high as one of the opposition's most visible spokesmen, draped in the flag and heady with the cheers of the crowds.

The story of the Franjieh cousins stands as a reminder of everything that has changed in Lebanon since its civil war ground to an exhausted halt 15 years ago -- and all that hasn't.

U.S. outreach to Islamic world gets slow start, minus leaders
By Robin Wright and Al Kamen, Washington Post, April 18, 2005
The Bush administration's outreach to the Islamic world is in no hurry. And it includes no Muslims.

Karen Hughes, who was appointed a month ago to craft a bold new approach for U.S. public diplomacy, is not expected to take the job until as late as the fall, according to administration and congressional sources. The delay is already undermining U.S. credibility, with a well-placed U.S. official warning about "the gap between rhetoric and reality."

Dina Powell, the new No. 2 official in charge of public diplomacy, is also not expected to take the job for at least two more months, administration sources say.

The delay comes as a Government Accountability Office report released this month criticized the administration for failing to develop a strategy to improve the image of the United States as "recent polling data show that anti-Americanism is spreading and deepening around the world."

Think tank's ideas shifted as Malaysia ties grew
By Thomas B. Edsall, Washington Post, April 17, 2005
For years, the Heritage Foundation sharply criticized the autocratic rule of former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, denouncing his anti-Semitism, his jailing of political opponents and his "anti-free market currency controls."

Then, late in the summer of 2001, the conservative nonprofit Washington think tank began to change its assessment: Heritage financed an Aug. 30-Sept. 4, 2001, trip to Malaysia for three House members and their spouses. Heritage put on briefings for the congressional delegation titled "Malaysia: Standing Up for Democracy" and "U.S. and Malaysia: Ways to Cooperate in Order to Influence Peace and Stability in Southeast Asia."

Heritage's new, pro-Malaysian outlook emerged at the same time a Hong Kong consulting firm co-founded by Edwin J. Feulner, Heritage's president, began representing Malaysian business interests. The for-profit firm, called Belle Haven Consultants, retains Feulner's wife, Linda Feulner, as a "senior adviser." And Belle Haven's chief operating officer, Ken Sheffer, is the former head of Heritage's Asia office and is still on Heritage's payroll as a $75,000-a-year consultant.

Terrorism tempers shift to openness
By Craig Whitlock and Steve Coll, Washington Post, April 18, 2005
They have testified in community centers, schoolhouses and municipal halls, and on live television. They have been withered mothers, grieving grandchildren, scarred old men -- a diverse parade of ordinary Moroccans bound by a common experience of political terror. This year, they have become players in a national spectacle almost unheard of in the Arab world: an official investigation into past government abuses.

"My story is that of thousands of Moroccans," said Jamal Ameziane, 52, who testified that 30 members of his family were harassed or tortured after his father was forced to flee the country in the late 1950s. "I dream of lifting the veil on the dark years."

Between Morocco's independence in 1956 and the early 1980s, known as the "years of lead," the government of King Hassan II locked up thousands of Marxists, rebellious military officers and others opposed to the monarchy without fair trials. Many were tortured and killed; others simply vanished. Now Hassan's son and successor, King Mohammed VI, has encouraged a public exhumation of these events. Morocco's Equity and Reconciliation Commission has so far filed reports of more than 22,000 cases of repression. Its stated purpose is to ensure that such abuses never recur in Morocco.

Yet even as the hearings unfold, a new generation of aggrieved relatives and angry defendants is being born in Morocco. Alarmed by evidence that al Qaeda-inspired cells have taken root here -- a threat made plain by suicide bombings on May 16, 2003, that killed 45 and wounded scores more -- security forces have arrested more than 2,100 people. About 1,000 remain in prison, and some have leveled torture allegations. The government denies them and defends its crackdown as essential to national security.

A new power rises across Mideast
By Scott Wilson and Daniel Williams, Washington Post, April 17, 2005
Early this year, a small group of advertising executives, journalists and political operatives began meeting around the crowded tables of a popular cafe here to plot an opposition media strategy for Lebanon's spring parliamentary elections.

Among them was Said Francis, whose urbane crew cut and black turtleneck sweater suggested his position as the regional creative director of the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi. Employing reams of scratch paper, cigarettes and coffee, the group members argued over color schemes and slogans.

The mission was a long, almost hopeless quest to upend years of Syrian political domination. "Like all Lebanese, we thought we were experts on politics," recalled Francis, who volunteered his time on the politically sensitive campaign. "But progress was slow."

Then a bomb exploded Feb. 14 along Beirut's waterfront, killing former prime minister Rafiq Hariri. The media group immediately put its election strategy into action as tens of thousands of protesters flooded Beirut's central square demanding that Syria pull out of Lebanon. The group's choices -- the red-and-white color scheme and "Independence '05" slogan -- were broadcast across the Middle East.

China-India entente shifts global balance
By Clyde Prestowitz, YaleGlobal, April 15, 2005
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has been in India this week talking peace, free trade, and technology cooperation – but the real message was the end of 600 years of Western dominance. "Together," said Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, "India and China could reshape the world order."

How they might do that was spelled out in the agreements they reached. First, they made peace by moving to settle an old border dispute, and China indicated support for India's bid to become a permanent UN Security Council member. Both parties also initiated discussion of a possible bi-lateral free trade agreement. Last, and by far most important, they called for combining Indian software technology with Chinese hardware technology to achieve world leadership in the global information technology industry. Thus, India and China are inventing a new version of globalization, which is already negating Western hegemony by shifting wealth and power to Asia.

Lights, camera, Armageddon
By Josh Schollmeyer, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist, May/June, 2005
When the filmmakers of Thirteen Days told Graham Allison that they intended to transform President John F. Kennedy's appointments secretary, Kenny O'Donnell, into a major player during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he objected. Immediately.

"That's stupid," Allison, author of Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis, remembers telling them. "I don't relate to it."

"But how many people read your book?" they responded.

So begins the quandary: Experts get it right; Hollywood delivers the crowds. A happy marriage of the two qualifies as an exception. For every Thirteen Days--a film hailed by historians and critics alike--there are countless potboiler thrillers that twist and distort reality, all in the name of popcorn purchases and ticket sales.

Experts like Allison can see past the showbiz gloss--the omissions, distortions, and casual disregard for even the most basic laws of physics. On planet Hollywood, nuclear power plants melt down with the push of a button, and nuclear warheads can be disarmed with the snip of a wire. But what goes through the minds of moviegoers when Ben Affleck struts unharmed along the fringes of a nuclear explosion in The Sum of All Fears? Such scenarios linger in the public's collective consciousness.

'Diplomatic assurances' allowing torture
Human Rights Watch, April 15, 2005
Governments in Europe and North America are increasingly sending suspects to abusive states on the basis of flimsy "diplomatic assurances" that expose the detainees to serious risk of torture and ill-treatment, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today.

The 91-page report, Still at Risk: Diplomatic Assurances No Safeguard against Torture, documents the growing practice among Western governments - including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands - of seeking assurances of humane treatment in order to transfer terrorism suspects to states with well-established records of torture. The report details a dozen cases involving actual or attempted transfers to countries where torture is commonplace.

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