The War in Context
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Muslims condemn Koran abuse, demand punishment
By Lin Noueihed, Reuters, May 27, 2005

Waving copies of the Koran and chanting anti-American slogans, Muslims across the world took to the streets on Friday to protest at abuse of their holy book by interrogators at a U.S. prison camp in Cuba.

In Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, outraged Muslims burned U.S. flags and vowed revenge.

"O America, listen, listen, with my blood I will protect my Koran," shouted thousands of Lebanese at a Hizbollah rally in a Shi'ite suburb of Beirut. "America is the enemy of Muslims." Similar protests swept the country's Palestinian refugee camps, where bearded Islamists hoisted pictures of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States, and his Iraq-based ally Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [complete article]

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Iran lawmakers want nuclear development
AP (via The Guardian), May 28, 2005

Iran's hard-line Guardian Council on Saturday approved a law that puts pressure on the government to develop nuclear technology that could be used to build atomic weapons, state run radio reported.

Parliament had passed the bill on May 15 and sent it to the Guardian Council for approval. The council must vet all bills before they become law.

The passing of the law does not force the government to resume uranium enrichment immediately but encourages it to pursue nuclear goals in spite of international pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program. [complete article]

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Nuclear non-proliferation talks end in failure
By Mark Turner, Financial Times, May 27, 2005

An international conference seeking to shore up the treaty that is the centrepiece of efforts to curb the spread of nuclear weapons ended in failure on Friday, sunk by arguments between Iran, Egypt and the US.

The conference on the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, which meets every five years, was unable to make formal progress on efforts to hinder states from withdrawing from the treaty, control nuclear material and technology, and bolster disarmament.

"We have let the pursuit of short-term parochial interests override the collective long-term interest," said Paul Meyer, the Canadian representative. [complete article]

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McCain urging accord on Bolton and secret documents
By Douglas Jehl and Carl Hulse, New York Times, May 28, 2005

One of John R. Bolton's leading Republican backers, Senator John McCain of Arizona, signaled his support on Friday for a compromise in which the White House might allow Senate leaders access to highly classified documents in return for a final vote early next month on Mr. Bolton's nomination as United Nations ambassador.

The conciliatory signal from Mr. McCain came as Senate leaders traded blame over who was responsible for the miscalculation that led to Mr. Bolton's nomination being blocked Thursday. But the White House showed no sign that the Bush administration might change course.

"The Democrats who are clamoring for this have already voted against John Bolton," Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, said in a telephone interview. "This is about partisan politics, not documents. They have the information they need."

Appearing on the Fox News Channel, Mr. McCain reiterated his support for Mr. Bolton. He also praised an argument made by, among others, Senator Richard G. Lugar, Republican of Indiana, who has urged the administration to provide the Senate with more information related to Mr. Bolton's conduct. Senators calling on the administration to share the documents "have some substance to their argument," Mr. McCain said. [complete article]

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Analysts behind Iraq intelligence were rewarded
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, May 28, 2005

Two Army analysts whose work has been cited as part of a key intelligence failure on Iraq -- the claim that aluminum tubes sought by the Baghdad government were most likely meant for a nuclear weapons program rather than for rockets -- have received job performance awards in each of the past three years, officials said.

The civilian analysts, former military men considered experts on foreign and U.S. weaponry, work at the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC), one of three U.S. agencies singled out for particular criticism by President Bush's commission that investigated U.S. intelligence. [complete article]

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U.S. ponders Iraq fight after Zarqawi
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, May 28, 2005

Cryptic messages posted on Internet sites reporting that militant leader Abu Musab Zarqawi had been wounded raise questions about the future of a factionalized Iraqi insurgency driven in part by the power of his personality and mercurial strategy against U.S.-led forces.

Sometimes pictured as thin and willowy and other times as pudgy and bearded, Zarqawi is the face of the insurgent movement. If website postings are correct in suggesting that Zarqawi has suffered a bullet wound to a lung, the rebels could lose their fiercest voice in attempting to defeat Washington's designs for a new Iraq.

U.S. military officials say that Zarqawi's passing would not break the insurgency but could trigger a leadership struggle between Al Qaeda-backed foreign fighters on one side and Iraqi Sunni Muslims and others loyal to Saddam Hussein on the other. These groups reportedly are suspicious of each other, and uncertainty about a new leader could deepen dissension while U.S. and Iraqi forces increase their raids on militant strongholds in Baghdad and western Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Discussion about a succession struggle following the demise of insurgent leader Zarqawi are I'd say a tad premature. Not only is his state of health a matter being speculated on simply on the basis of web site statements, but his very status as leading insurgent is an attribution coming principally from his opponents. If he dies or is captured there's no doubt this will be hailed as a major counter-insurgency victory. If the insurgency then presses on regardless, his role may turn out to have been no more vital than that of, say, Saddam Hussein.

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Many Iraqis see sectarian roots in new killings
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 27, 2005

No one knows who tortured and killed Hassan al-Nuaimi, a Sunni Arab cleric whose body was found in an empty lot here last week, with a hole drilled in his head and both eyes missing. But the various theories have a distinctly sectarian tinge.

The Shiite police chief investigating the death said he suspected Sunni Arab extremists who have driven much of the insurgency in Iraq, much of it aimed at Shiites. The Sunni family mourning the cleric pointed the finger at the Badr Organization, a Shiite militia. But with Mr. Nuaimi buried, the truth, as so often with killings in Iraq, seems to be lost in rumor and allegations. [complete article]

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Inside the wire: An interview with Erik Saar
By Onnesha Roychoudhuri, Mother Jones, May 24, 2005

Despite the Pentagon's initial insistence that Guantanamo holds the "worst of the worst," it's become common knowledge that most of the detainees held there are innocent of terrorist activities and of limited intelligence value--not least because those suspects deemed to possess critical intelligence have by and large been sent to other countries or bases for interrogation. Even so, thanks to an ineffective vetting system, in many cases it's not entirely clear, even to those working at Guantanamo, who the prisoners in the camp are and how they came to land there.

[According to Erik Saar, who worked for six months as a translator at Guantanamo], the combination of inept management, insufficient training, purposely loose interrogation guidelines, a refusal by the US government to abide by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, and political pressure to wring intelligence, any intelligence, out of the detainees, made abuses inevitable. Saar spoke with Mother Jones about his experience working at Guantanamo and why he thinks the camp is an affront to American values and is undermining the goals of the war on terror. [complete article]

Pentagon confirms Koran incidents
By Josh White and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, May 27, 2005

Pentagon officials said yesterday that investigators have identified five incidents of military guards and an interrogator "mishandling" the Koran at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but characterized the episodes as minor and said most occurred before specific rules on the treatment of Muslim holy items were issued. [complete article]

Assault on the media
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, May 27, 2005

Conservative academics have long attacked "postmodernist" philosophies for questioning whether "truth" exists at all and claiming that what we take as "truths" are merely "narratives" woven around some ideological predisposition. Today's conservative activists have become the new postmodernists. They shift attention away from the truth or falsity of specific facts and allegations -- and move the discussion to the motives of the journalists and media organizations putting them forward. Just a modest number of failures can be used to discredit an entire enterprise. [complete article]

Just shut it down
By Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, May 27, 2005

If you want to appreciate how corrosive Guantanamo has become for America's standing abroad, don't read the Arab press. Don't read the Pakistani press. Don't read the Afghan press. Hop over here to London or go online and just read the British press! See what our closest allies are saying about Gitmo. And when you get done with that, read the Australian press and the Canadian press and the German press. [complete article]

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Bush praises Palestinian; tells Israel of its duties
By Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, May 27, 2005

President Bush on Thursday warmly praised the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, for what he called Mr. Abbas's commitment to democracy, then reiterated that Israel had obligations it must fulfill as both sides work toward a peaceful future for the Middle East.

In a news conference in the White House Rose Garden that provided Palestinians with the powerful imagery of Mr. Bush beside their newly elected president, Mr. Bush repeatedly emphasized the positive, and did not ask Mr. Abbas to move more aggressively to fight terrorist groups, as the administration said Mr. Bush had done in private.

"I know the president is committed to democracy," Mr. Bush said on Mr. Abbas's first visit to the United States since his election four months ago. "After all, he ran on a platform that said, 'Vote for me, I'm for peace, and I believe in democracy.' "

Mr. Bush also implicitly criticized President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, whose supporters attacked the opposition in a nationwide referendum on Wednesday that would pave the way for presidential elections. Two days earlier at the pyramids, Laura Bush praised Mr. Mubarak's steps toward democracy.

"The idea of people expressing themselves in opposition in government, then getting a beating is not our view of how a democracy ought to work," Mr. Bush said. "It's not the way that you have free elections. People ought to be allowed to express themselves, and I'm hopeful that the president will have open elections that everybody can have trust in." [complete article]

Comment -- If President Bush has privately offered President Mubarak any advice on handling political opponents, he may have recommended the use of "free speech areas." As Bush knows, having recently come off a campaign trail where from his vantage point the opposition was conspicuous by its absence, critics don't need to be beaten if they can safely be ignored. The problem is, this vision of democracy - letting the people have their say - has nothing to do with recognizing the will of the people. On the contrary, it is all about sapping the will of the people in order to create sufficient popular political apathy that the ruling elite can exercise its will without constraint.

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Time is short for a deal with Israel, Abbas tells Bush in symbolic meeting
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, May 27, 2005

Even after President Bush announced $50m of direct housing aid for the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority leader, Mahmoud Abbas, delivered a blunt warning yesterday that time was running out for a peace settlement with Israel.

"We must end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict before it is too late," Mr Abbas declared during a symbolic visit to the White House.

"Time is becoming our greatest enemy," he said, condemning Israel's continuing settlement building, and reiterating the goal of a Palestinian state "within the boundaries of 1967". His appearance in the Rose Garden came at a pivotal moment for efforts to reactivate the road map to peace. [complete article]

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Abbas's gamble: Pulling a foe into Palestinian politics
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, May 27, 2005

Ahmad el-Kurd, the new Hamas mayor of this city of 60,000 people, stopped his car, furious. "Who's building here?" he demanded. The owner came from behind a cement truck, sheepish.

"Do you have a permit?" the mayor asked. The man shrugged. "Shall I send the police?" The man said he would get one. Mr. Kurd pulled out his cellphone, which has an Islamic prayer as its ringer, and told his office to follow up.

Retail politics, even by Hamas members, is familiar the world over. Officials elected on promises of reform, honesty and transparency start paving streets, replacing broken streetlights, paying city employees on time, picking up the garbage - at least, more of the garbage.

But Hamas, the radical Islamic group considered a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel, is also about attacks against Israel and its occupation, and has sent rockets, mortars and suicide bombers against civilians. That casts its move into Palestinian politics in a different and, to many, deeply troubling light. [complete article]

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Hezbollah armed for democracy
By Nicolas Rothwell, The Australian, May 27, 2005

As Lebanon begins its four-week election season, the looming feast of democracy seems poised to deliver a strongly enhanced role for the Shia Islamist Hezbollah militia - the one political formation that was openly sceptical about the country's dramatic "cedar revolution".

Hezbollah's clerical leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, buoyed by his supporters and by a cast-iron electoral alliance with the Shia Amal party, proclaimed yesterday that his armed followers held 12,000 rockets and that any talk of disarming them was "madness".

Hezbollah views itself as an anti-Israeli "resistance" army, as well as a political party, and its continuing military character stands out as an anomaly in the Lebanese landscape.

The paradoxical prospect of a strengthened Hezbollah in the wake of elections triggered by the departure of the Syrian occupying army has a typically Lebanese explanation: the pro-democratic opposition coalition that led the street protests of recent months is now badly split, while the Shias have formed a solid voting bloc. [complete article]

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Syria says it nabs 1,200 headed for Iraq
By Edith M. Lederer, AP (via ABC), May 26, 2005

Syria has arrested more than 1,200 people trying to cross the border into Iraq in recent weeks and sent many back to their home countries because of suspicions they were trying to join the insurgency, Syria's U.N. ambassador said.

Fayssal Mekdad also denied rumors that terror mastermind Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may be seeking shelter in Syria.

Mekdad said Syria suspected that those arrested mostly foreigners intended to carry out illegal activities in Iraq. They were sent back to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Libya and other countries, he said. [complete article]

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Iranians are divided over much, but not over the nuclear issue
By Sadegh Zibakalam, Daily Star, May 27, 2005

There is virtually no domestic or foreign policy issue about which there exists a consensus among Iranians. The nuclear issue is, however, an exception. The two main political camps, the conservatives and reformists, both support Iran's overall policy on the nuclear issue. Even those Iranians who are critical of or oppose the Islamic regime support its nuclear program. The nuclear issue has been turned into a national cause, like the war against Iraq, and Iranians tend to perceive the country's nuclear ambitions with a sense of pride and patriotism. Even many Iranians who are not articulate about the details of the country's nuclear program regard it as an achievement.

Part of the reason for this nationalist feeling is the regime's sustained and effective campaign to justify the country's nuclear program. The nuclear issue has been portrayed by the Islamic leaders (both conservatives as well as reformists) as a struggle between Iran and its powerful enemy, the United States. [complete article]

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Creationism: God's gift to the ignorant
By Richard Dawkins, The Times, May 21, 2005

Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it: "Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on." Science mines ignorance. Mystery -- that which we don't yet know; that which we don't yet understand -- is the mother lode that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do.

Admissions of ignorance and mystification are vital to good science. It is therefore galling, to say the least, when enemies of science turn those constructive admissions around and abuse them for political advantage. Worse, it threatens the enterprise of science itself. This is exactly the effect that creationism or "intelligent design theory" (ID) is having, especially because its propagandists are slick, superficially plausible and, above all, well financed. ID, by the way, is not a new form of creationism. It simply is creationism disguised, for political reasons, under a new name. [complete article]

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Democrats force delay of Bolton final vote
By Anne Gearan, AP (via WP), May 26, 2005

Democrats forced a delay Thursday in a confirmation vote for John R. Bolton, yet another setback for President Bush's tough-talking choice as U.N. ambassador and a renewal of intense partisanship in the Senate after a brief respite.

The vote to advance Bolton's nomination to an immediate confirmation vote was 56-42 -- four short of the 60 votes that Bolton's Republican backers needed.

Democratic aides said that despite the vote, Bolton's nomination did not appear to be in jeopardy.

A final vote on Bolton will not take place until at least June, after the Senate returns from a Memorial Day recess. [complete article]

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Protesters attacked in Cairo
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, May 26, 2005

A nationwide referendum on multi-party elections in Egypt turned violent Wednesday as pro-government mobs attacked and beat demonstrators on the streets of the capital.

Officials of President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party, or NDP, led hundreds of young men who attacked anti-government demonstrators. Journalists and witnesses at the scene of several incidents, including this correspondent, saw riot police create corridors for stick-wielding men to freely charge the demonstrators. Women were particular targets, with at least five pulled from the mass of mostly male demonstrators on the steps of the Journalists' Syndicate in central Cairo and subjected to slaps, punches, kicks and groping. The blouses of at least two were ripped.

The attacks, which took place at several locations in Cairo, came against the backdrop of a crackdown on movements trying to end Mubarak's 24-year rule. Opposition parties and the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest anti-government organization, have been testing the limits of free speech and assembly in Egypt, and the government has responded with increasingly tougher measures. [complete article]

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A cheer for Mr. Mubarak
Editorial, Washington Post, May 26, 2005

Laura Bush's tour of the Middle East was cast as a way to earn badly needed goodwill for the United States in a region that her husband seeks to transform. Mrs. Bush duly promoted women's education in Jordan and the peace process in Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Yet when the first lady arrived in Egypt she chose to lavish her own goodwill not on that country's struggling pro-democracy movement but on 77-year-old strongman Hosni Mubarak. Mr. Mubarak plans to extend his 24-year tenure in office through a September election from which most of his opposition is excluded. Hundreds of political activists have been arrested in recent weeks for trying to peacefully protest that plan, and even legal opposition candidates have been forcibly prevented from campaigning.

The Bush administration says that it is committed to supporting such dissidents. But Mrs. Bush sided squarely with Mr. Mubarak, who frequently condemned the U.S. democracy initiative in the Middle East before abruptly announcing elections on his own terms. "President Mubarak has taken a very bold step," Mrs. Bush repeated on numerous occasions. Echoing the dictator's most common refrain, she added, "You know that each step is a small step, that you can't be quick." When reporters told her the Egyptian opposition was dismayed by this endorsement, she went further: "To act like you can just go from here to there overnight is naive ... we know that's not easy and we know that it's, in many cases, not even possible." Really? We wonder if the Iraqis who turned out to vote Jan. 30, or their newly elected leaders, would support that view. [complete article]

See also, First Lady's Sesame Street adventure (WP).

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GOP tilting balance of power to the right
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, May 26, 2005

As Democrats tell it, this week's compromise on judges was about much more than the federal courts. If President Bush and congressional allies had prevailed, they say, the balance of power would have been forever altered.

Yet, amid the partisan rhetoric, a little-noticed fact about modern politics has been lost: Republicans have already changed how the business of government gets done, in ways both profound and lasting.

The campaign to prevent the Senate filibuster of the president's judicial nominations was simply the latest and most public example of similar transformations in Congress and the executive branch stretching back a decade. The common theme is to consolidate influence in a small circle of Republicans and to marginalize dissenting voices that would try to impede a conservative agenda. [complete article]

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Iraqi leaders announce major effort to curb insurgents
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 26, 2005

The new Iraqi government announced sweeping measures today to clamp down on insurgents in Baghdad and the rest of the country, saying it would deploy 40,000 Iraqi troops in the capital over the next week.

In the operation, soldiers and security forces will set up 600 checkpoints around Baghdad, some of them mobile, and will check the identification of Iraqis in neighborhoods and hotels.

The announcement came on a day that saw at least nine more people killed in a suicide bombing and shootings in the capital. [complete article]

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Shia militia takes on the insurgents
By Emad Hasan al-Sharaa, IWPR, May 24, 2005

Leading Shia politicians in Iraq have justified the increasing engagement of the powerful Badr militia in the war against insurgents, as prominent Sunnis look on in alarm.

Mainly active in Shia-dominated southern Iraq, the Badr Organisation, formerly known as the Badr Brigade, is the military arm of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, SCIRI, one of the two main Shia parties that make up the United Iraqi Alliance.

Sunnis, feeling isolated since the Shia-controlled United Iraqi Alliance won the elections, are nervous and unhappy about the organisation's mounting influence.

Sheikh Harith al-Dhary , who heads the Muslim Scholars' Association, last week went so far as to accuse the Badr Organisation of being involved in the murder of Sunni cleric Sheikh Hasan al-Naimi, found dead on May 17. [complete article]

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Kurds still without govt after January poll
By Mohammed Amin Abdulqadir, IPS (via OneWorld), May 26, 2005

The two main Kurdish parties have still not reached agreement on setting up a regional government and parliament after elections held Jan. 30.

In that election Kurds voted for the National Assembly and also for a 111-seat regional parliament. A coalition comprising the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) won 104 seats in the parliament.

Kurds had established their own regional and government under U.S. and British protection after rising against the Saddam Hussein regime in 1991 after the first Gulf War. But a civil war between the different Kurdish factions broke out in 1994.

Following the end of that war in 1997, the two parties set up their separate administrations, with the KDP controlling the Arbil and Dohuk governorates, and the PUK Sulaimaniya and parts of Kirkuk.

The two parties set those differences aside for the purpose of contesting the election early this year. But the two parties failed to come together, despite the intervention of independent leaders. This has led to widespread public anger with both. [complete article]

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Kirkuk disputes centre on oil
By Samah Samad, IWPR, May 24, 2005

Kirkuk is a city that three different ethnic communities claim as their own - and many suspect the disagreement has less to do with historical rights than with the prospect of controlling the oil it sits on.

Arab and Turkoman politicians in the northern city are accusing their Kurdish counterparts of trying to wrest political control here only because it is home to substantial reserves of oil and natural gas.

That's something the Kurds - who won a majority on the provincial council in the January 30 election – deny, saying they are merely reclaiming their rightful place in the city. [complete article]

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Syria's voices of change
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, May 25, 2005

The opposition in Syria remains weak, riven by personality and principle and groping for a voice in a country of 18 million ruled for 42 years by the same party and more than three decades by a family that belongs to a powerful minority.

But emboldened by mounting U.S. pressure, a measure of government tolerance that alternates with capricious crackdowns, and a sense of national crisis as deep as any in a generation, dissidents and reformers have begun debating Syria's destiny on the Internet, in public forums and through frank conversation. The opinions are as diverse as the country itself -- a society no less complicated than those of neighboring Iraq or Lebanon. At issue are the role of the United States, the tactics needed to bring about change and the very nature of legitimacy. [complete article]

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Iran set for WTO talks after U.S. drops opposition
By Frances Williams, Financial Times, May 26, 2005

The World Trade Organisation has given the green light for Iran to begin membership negotiations after the US finally lifted its longstanding veto.

The move followed days of uncertainty over the US position in the run up to crucial talks on Iran's nuclear programme in Geneva on Wednesday between European Union foreign ministers and top Iranian negotiators.

Washington initially decided in March to let Iran's WTO application go ahead as a way of bolstering European diplomatic efforts to persuade Iran to abandon nuclear activities that could be used to make atomic weapons. [complete article]

Comment -- The problem with the Bush administration's all-sticks-no-carrots approach to diplomacy is that when they finally get round to tentatively, grudgingly offering a carrot they have already undercut its value.

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Rafsanjani with big lead in Iran presidential poll
Reuters, May 26, 2005

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an experienced pragmatist portrayed by aides as capable of solving Iran's nuclear standoff with the West, held a big lead in a new opinion poll for June 17 presidential elections, newspapers said on Thursday.

But Rafsanjani, 70, who is bidding to regain the post he held from 1989 to 1997, was still well short of the 50 percent support he needs to avoid facing a run-off vote, the poll showed.

The survey comes a day after the European Union and Iran agreed to a two-month breathing space in their nuclear talks, deferring any possible showdown until well after the election. [complete article]

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Iran offers nuclear deal
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2005

Averting an imminent showdown with Western powers, Iranian negotiators here indicated Wednesday that Tehran would back off threats to restart nuclear processing activities in exchange for a promise that it will receive a comprehensive aid proposal from Britain, France and Germany by the end of July.

The agreement, which is tentative until accepted by Iranian leaders in Tehran, would allow both sides to step back, at least temporarily, from threats that could have resulted in a confrontation in front of the United Nations Security Council.

Now, however, the Europeans, who have the backing of the United States, must come up with a package that goes further than previously floated incentives, which the Iranians have rejected. [complete article]

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Pakistan is aiding in Iran inquiry
By Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, May 26, 2005

The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Pakistan turned over uranium enrichment components Wednesday that could help solve one of the biggest mysteries in the inquiry on Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Centrifuge components and uranium samples were flown from Pakistan to Vienna and handed over to the IAEA at its main laboratory, where they will be compared with suspicious traces of enriched uranium discovered in 2003 in Iran.

The samples were delivered by a team of Pakistani scientists, who will cooperate with IAEA and outside experts to determine whether they match the traces found in Iran, officials with the agency said. [complete article]

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Bush's last chance
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, May 25, 2005

Signs indicate that the North Korean nuclear arms talks are about to grind back into gear. It's risky to make predictions about these talks, which have been in suspension for 11 months and haven't amounted to diddly in four and a half years. The last few times I've pointed to optimistic signs, they've turned out to be optical illusions or they've been torn down by the Bush administration's internecine squabbles, Kim Jong-il's paranoiac obstinacy, or a symbiotic blend of both.

Yet something real is happening. On May 13, two high-ranking U.S. officials -- Jim Foster, the State Department's chief of Korean affairs, and Joseph DiTrani, the special envoy to North Korea -- held a secret meeting in New York with North Korea's ambassador to the United Nations, Park Gil-yon, and his deputy, Han Song-ryol.

The meeting was so secret that, at first, U.S. officials denied it took place and acknowledged it only after the Chinese (who were notified of the session) told the South Koreans (who were not, and, a bit miffed by the exclusion, told the world). [complete article]

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Direct aid to Palestinians considered
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 26, 2005

President Bush is considering making the high-profile gesture of providing direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, but a decision may not be announced in time for today's Oval Office meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas because of resistance on Capitol Hill, U.S. officials said yesterday.

Congressional officials believe the State Department provided assurances that the recently approved $148 million in emergency aid to the Palestinians would not be provided directly to the Palestinian Authority, but through nongovernmental organizations. The White House may instead tap some of the $55 million in Palestinian aid that has not yet been spent from the 2005 budget, officials said. [complete article]

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U.S. PR blitz aimed at Palestinians
By Karin Laub, AP (via SF Chronicle), May 25, 2005

A blitz of billboards and television commercials filled with grinning Palestinian children is trying to chip away at America's negative image, telling Palestinians they have cleaner water and more classrooms thanks to U.S. generosity.

But the U.S. government's campaign is off to a tough start: No Palestinian entertainer or athlete was willing to serve as its goodwill ambassador, reflecting widespread anti-American sentiment. No political leaders were asked to participate.

The prevailing view is that the ad money is being wasted -- and that attitudes won't budge until Washington drops what Palestinians consider its pro-Israel bias and gets serious about Palestinian statehood. [complete article]

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On a wing and a prayer
Editorial, Nature, May 26, 2005

Millions of people killed in highly developed countries within months. Tens of millions worldwide. The global economy in tatters. A Hollywood fantasy? No -- it's now a plausible scenario. The first act, the spread of avian flu to, and probably between, humans, has already started across Asia. Unless the international community now moves decisively to mitigate this pandemic threat, we will in all probability pay heavily within a few years. Then, hard questions will be asked as to why we were not prepared.

Sceptics abound, convinced that talk of a pandemic must be scare-mongering, or scientists crying wolf. Surely with support care, drugs and vaccines, at least the rich world can easily stand up to a flu virus? After all, this is 2005, not 1918, when a flu pandemic killed up to 50 million people worldwide. But while the science and medicine of flu have advanced substantially, our ability to mount an effective public-health response has made remarkably little progress over the decades, and the potential for panic is, if anything, greater given the impact of television and the Internet.

In the 1918 pandemic, no one had immunity to a new subtype of the influenza virus. The maths of epidemiology says that pandemics are like fault lines: they inevitably give. But unlike earthquakes, pandemics tend to give warning signs, and all the alerts from Asia are now flashing red. Will it be the 'big one'? No one can say with certainty, but the H5N1 flu strain now circulating widely in Asia, and several of its cousins, are ones to which we humans have no immunity. Accordingly, the world now needs to develop defences for the worst-case scenario. How prepared are we?

Extinguishing avian flu in poultry and pigs, the melting-pot from which a pandemic strain would probably emerge, is the job of national agriculture and veterinary departments, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization, and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). The public-health aspects are the responsibility of health departments and the World Health Organization (WHO). This international coalition is shaky and far from united or sure in its purpose. Its efforts are grossly underfunded, and undermined at every turn by conflicts between global public health, sovereignty and the stakes of trade and economics. [complete article]

Comment -- With a president more inclined to believe fairy tales about "the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground" having been created for the benefit of humanity than he is inclined to listen to dire warnings from the scientific community about the threat from avian flu, and with a US Congress that regards its greatest responsibility towards the UN being to cut its funding, we should all have good reason to fear a pandemic. Senators can pontificate all they want about standing up for America, but if the day comes when avian flu is more feared across America than al Qaeda, many Americans will wonder why an administration that prides itself on its willingness to engage in pre-emptive attacks, failed to take the leading role in dealing with this emerging threat.

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GOP confident Bolton will get U.N. post
By Anne Gearan, AP (via WP), May 26, 2005

Republicans face another showdown vote but seem confident of muscling John R. Bolton's nomination to be U.N. ambassador through the Senate, giving the post to the man President Bush says will reform the world organization.

Democrats said they might try delaying Thursday's planned vote on Bolton until next month unless they get internal State Department documents and classified intelligence information they have been denied for weeks. [complete article]

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Last-minute letter
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, May 26, 2005

As the Senate began floor debate over the nomination of State Department Under Secretary John Bolton to be the American ambassador to the United Nations, an unusual public disagreement broke out between leaders of the Senate Intelligence Committee over Bolton's handling of sensitive intelligence secrets.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the Intelligence Committee's vice chairman and a presumed Bolton critic, suggested in a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Bolton may have mishandled sensitive National Security Agency material. But Intelligence Committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts insisted that Bolton's actions were totally proper and legitimate and that one of Bolton's most vehement public critics may have been responsible for improper State Department handling of NSA information. [complete article]

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Give Rumsfeld the Pinochet treatment, says US Amnesty chief
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via, May 26, 2005

If the administration of President George W. Bush fails to conduct a truly independent investigation of U.S. abuses against detainees in Iraq and elsewhere, foreign governments should investigate and prosecute those senior officials who bear responsibility for them, the head of the U.S. chapter of Amnesty International said Wednesday.

Speaking at the release of Amnesty's annual report, William Schulz charged that Washington has become "a leading purveyor and practitioner" of torture and ill-treatment and that senior officials should face prosecution by other governments for violations of the Geneva Conventions and the UN Convention Against Torture.

Among those officials, Schulz named Bush, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) director George Tenet, and senior officers at U.S. detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Abu Ghraib, Iraq. [complete article]

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Guantanamo prisoners told FBI of Koran desecration in 2002, new documents reveal
American Civil Liberties Union, May 25, 2005

New documents released by the FBI include previously undisclosed interviews in which prisoners at Guantanamo complain that guards have mistreated the Koran, the American Civil Liberties Union said today. In one 2002 summary, an FBI interrogator notes a prisoner's allegation that guards flushed a Koran down the toilet.

The disclosure comes on the heels of controversy over a Newsweek report saying that government investigators had corroborated an almost identical incident. Newsweek ultimately retracted its story because a confidential government source could not be confirmed.

"The United States government continues to turn a blind eye to mounting evidence of widespread abuse of detainees held in its custody," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "If we are to truly repair America's standing in the world, the Bush Administration must hold accountable high-ranking officials who allow the continuing abuse and torture of detainees." [complete article]

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Amnesty International Report 2005
By Irene Khan, Secretary General, Amnesty International, May 25, 2005

In 1973 Amnesty International published its first report on torture. It found that: "torture thrives on secrecy and impunity. Torture rears its head when the legal barriers against it are barred. Torture feeds on discrimination and fear. Torture gains ground when official condemnation of it is less than absolute." The pictures of detainees in US custody in Abu Ghraib, Iraq, show that what was true 30 years ago remains true today.

Despite the near-universal outrage generated by the photographs coming out of Abu Ghraib, and the evidence suggesting that such practices are being applied to other prisoners held by the USA in Afghanistan, Guantanamo and elsewhere, neither the US administration nor the US Congress has called for a full and independent investigation.

Instead, the US government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Conventions and to "re-define" torture. It has sought to justify the use of coercive interrogation techniques, the practice of holding "ghost detainees" (people in unacknowledged incommunicado detention) and the "rendering" or handing over of prisoners to third countries known to practise torture. The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law. Trials by military commissions have made a mockery of justice and due process.

The USA, as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power, sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide. When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity. From Israel to Uzbekistan, Egypt to Nepal, governments have openly defied human rights and international humanitarian law in the name of national security and "counter-terrorism". [complete article]

See the United States of America section of the Amnesty report.

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14 U.S. soldiers killed in 3 days; 'civil war' in northern city
By Paul Garwood, AP (via ABC), May 25, 2005

A car bomb exploded next to a U.S. Army convoy in Baghdad on Tuesday, killing three soldiers, while another American died in a drive-by shooting a half-hour later. Their deaths pushed the number of U.S. troops killed in three days to 14, part of a surge in attacks that have also killed about 60 Iraqis.

In the northern city of Tal Afar, there were reports that militants were in control and that Shiites and Sunnis were fighting in the streets, a day after two car bombs killed at least 20 people. Police Capt. Ahmed Hashem Taki said Tal Afar was experiencing "civil war." Journalists were blocked from entering the city of 200,000. [complete article]

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Proposal to divide Iraq into semi-autonomous states gains ground
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, May 24, 2005

As Iraq begins writing its new constitution, leaders in the country's southern regions are pushing aggressively to unite their three provinces into an oil-rich, semi-autonomous state, a plan that some worry could solidify Iraq's sectarian tensions, create fights over oil revenues and eventually split the nation.

In the southern Shiite Muslim city of Basra, where the provincial government launched the campaign, signs on the streets encourage residents to support the plan. Local leaders have held several conferences to map out their proposed state and regional government.

Muhammed Musbih al Waely, the governor of Basra province, said Shiites suffered under the last centralized government, Saddam Hussein's, and that they wanted to control the development of their region.

"The next few months are going to witness a big change in the region," al Waely said.

Al Waely's proposal would unite the contiguous southeast Shiite-dominated provinces of Maysan, Basra and Dhiqar into a single state. Basra, the country's second-largest city and the principal port city, would be the new regional government's capital. [complete article]

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Peace in Iraq 'will take at least five years to impose'
By Richard Norton-Taylor and Michael Howard, The Guardian, May 25, 2005

It could take at least five years before Iraqi forces are strong enough to impose law and order on the country, the International Institute of Strategic Studies warned yesterday.

The thinktank's report said that Iraq had become a valuable recruiting ground for al-Qaida, and Iraqi forces were nowhere near close to matching the insurgency.

John Chipman, IISS director, said the Iraqi security forces faced a "huge task" and the continuing ability of the insurgents to inflict mass casualties "must cast doubt on US plans to redeploy American troops and eventually reduce their numbers". [complete article]

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May on target to become one of deadliest months for U.S. troops
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, May 24, 2005

Hostile fire has killed more U.S. soldiers and Marines in Iraq in May than during each of the three previous months.

If the trend continues, May will be one of the deadliest months for U.S. troops during the past year.

So far, insurgents have killed 54 American troops in May, including 14 in the last three days. With a week left, the month will likely eclipse all but two others - November and September 2004 - for deaths by hostile fire since June 2004, based on figures tabulated by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a group that tracks troop deaths from Department of Defense news releases.

The casualty figures appear to end a trend that started soon after national elections in January, when insurgents seemed to shift from targeting U.S. forces to attacking the nascent Iraqi army and police. [complete article]

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Pipelineistan's biggest game begins
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, May 26, 2005

History may judge it as one of the capital moves of the 21st century's New Great Game: May 25, the day high-quality Caspian light crude started flowing through the Caucasus toward the Mediterranean in Turkey. The Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC) - conceived by the US as the ultimate Western escape route from dependence on oil from the Persian Gulf - is finally in business.

This is what Pipelineistan is all about: a supreme law unto itself - untouchable by national sovereignty, serious environmental concerns (expressed both in the Caucasus and in Europe), labor legislation, protests against the World Bank, not to mention mountains 2,700 meters high and 1,500 small rivers. BTC took 10 years of hard work and at least US$4 billion - $3 billion of which is in bank loans. BTC is not merely a pipeline: it is a sovereign state. [complete article]

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Theocracy meets democracy in Iran
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, May 25, 2005

The Iranian reformist newspaper Mardomsalari nailed it: "These June 17 [presidential] elections are the most important since the beginning of the Islamic republic in 1979. Iranians have the choice of handing victory to former president Ali Akbar Heshemi Rafsanjani, vote for a reformist candidate to pursue the reforms, or allow conservative radicals to take power in all branches of government."

The Iranian election campaign started this week amid major turmoil after the unelected, conservative Guardians Council rejected all but six out of more than 1,000 presidential hopefuls.
This week, though, came a bomb - or the system trying to save itself. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sent a decree to Guardians Council leader Ayatollah Ahmad Janati asking him to review the decision to disqualify popular reformist Mostafa Moin, a former higher education minister, and Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh. Moin is in the center of the furor. He is the leading candidate of the reformists, running for the Islamic Iran Participation Front, the largest pro-reform political party, led by Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, who is barred from serving a third term. The Supreme Leader and the conservative ayatollahs around him sensed they might be defeated by a powerful weapon: absenteeism. Americans may consider a president chosen by roughly half the electorate as a legitimate one. Not the Iranians. [complete article]

Iran's ex-leader seeks return in the trappings of a reformer
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, May 25, 2005

It is an election as contradictory as Iran itself: the front-runner is a pillar of the Islamic Revolution now cast as the man who can curb the excesses of hard-line clerics and improve relations with the country's bogeyman, the United States.

Indeed, this politician, Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and self-styled free-marketer, cloaks himself in the trappings of a reformist as carefully as he wears his tailored blue-gray clerical robes.

But in an interview, one of a series he is giving to promote his candidacy, Mr. Rafsanjani sounds less than conciliatory. He says the United States is not a democracy, and demands that it make the first concession before relations improve. Like all senior officials, he steadfastly defends Iran's right to develop nuclear technology.

"There is only a veneer of democracy in the United States, and we have a real democracy," he said, brushing aside suggestions that Iran's election rules unfairly favor the hard-liners who control much of the government. "Election laws are so complicated in your country that people have no choice but to vote for one of the candidates who are with one of the two parties." [complete article]

Iran forward not back
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, May 25, 2005

With their unmistakably Islamic appearance and dress-sense, the three earnest young men working feverishly in a room festooned with charts and graphs did not look like apostles of New Labour.

But as they laid out the polling and campaigning methods aimed at securing the election of Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, a religious hardliner standing in next month's Iranian presidential election, it became clear they had one overriding role model; Tony Blair.

"We have studied Labour's [recent] election manifesto in detail and we have created a combination of that and ours," said Seiyid Amir Hossein Mokaberi, the manager of the planning and control office at Mr Qalibaf's Tehran campaign headquarters.

"We are not trying to copy Blair's political agenda. Our country is too different culturally, but what has been remarkable is that he has audited his plans in a way to make them accountable to people. Blair's proposals are such that, from a quantitative point of view, his success can be evaluated and measured after four years. We are trying to have the same structure and strategy for Mr Qalibaf."

It will no doubt come as a surprise to the prime minister that his enduring electoral success has provided the template for a conservative former revolutionary guard air force commander whose candidacy has the blessing of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The parallels, however, are hard to deny. [complete article]

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U.S. warns European ministers over Iran nuclear talks
By Daniel Dombey, Gareth Smyth and Stephen Fidler, Financial Times, May 25, 2005

The US warned European ministers on Tuesday to stand firm in negotiations with Iran and reject any proposal that could allow the partial resumption of Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.

The warning, given as the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK prepared to meet Iranian negotiators in Geneva on Wednesday, underlines the risk that the talks might break up or lead to increased transatlantic tension. [complete article]

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Pentagon analyst faces new charge
By Kevin Bohn, CNN, May 24, 2005

A Pentagon analyst faces a new charge of knowingly and unlawfully possessing classified U.S. government documents at his home in West Virginia.

Larry Franklin was arrested May 4 on charges that in June 2003 he provided unauthorized persons classified information regarding potential attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq. [complete article]

Hall of mirrors
By Laura Rozen, The Nation, May 20, 2005

For a nondescript, middle-aged former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst, Pentagon Iran desk officer Larry Franklin had the habit of showing up at critical and murky junctures of recent history. He was part of the Pentagon's Office of Special Plans, which provided much-disputed intelligence on Iraq; he courted controversial Iraqi exile politician Ahmad Chalabi, who contributed much of that hyped and misleading Iraq intelligence; and he participated with a Pentagon colleague and former Iran/contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar in a controversial December 2001 meeting in Rome--which, in a clear violation of US government protocol, was kept secret from the CIA and the State Department.

In all these endeavors, Franklin, 58, was hardly acting as a lone wolf. Rather, he was wired into a small network of like-minded Iran and Iraq hawks who lobbied fiercely inside and outside the Bush Administration for their policy positions, often in furious opposition to moderate bureaucrats in the State Department and the CIA. Because of their connections and status, the hawks were often successful in short-circuiting standard bureaucratic procedures and getting the attention of the White House. When the news first broke last summer that the FBI was investigating an alleged "Israeli mole" in the Pentagon--inaccurate, as it turned out--the chief suspect, Franklin, was portrayed as just one of 1,300 employees toiling anonymously under outgoing Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith. In fact, Franklin was the Pentagon's top Iran desk officer. [complete article]

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GOP senator sends letter to colleagues opposing Bolton
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, May 24, 2005

The Ohio Republican whose opposition to John R. Bolton as United Nations ambassador nearly stalled his nomination in committee took a new swipe at him today, circulating a letter urging colleagues to vote against Mr. Bolton when his name reaches the Senate floor, possibly this week.

The letter from Senator George R. Voinovich was sent to all senators, but it was aimed particularly at fellow Republicans in a chamber in which the party holds a 55-44 majority (with one independent). At least five Republicans would have to join Mr. Voinovich in opposing Mr. Bolton if the nomination were to be defeated.

In the letter, Mr. Voinovich said that while he had been "hesitant to push my views on my colleagues" during his years in the Senate, he felt "compelled to share my deep concerns" about Mr. Bolton's nomination.

"In these dangerous times, we cannot afford to put at risk our nation's ability to successfully wage and win the war on terror with a controversial and ineffective ambassador to the United Nations," Mr. Voinovich wrote. He urged colleagues to "put aside our partisan agenda and let our consciences and our shared commitment to our nation's best interests guide us." [complete article]

See the full text of Sen. Voinovich's letter.

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FBI asks wider subpoena use, fueling debate on Patriot Act
By Frank Davies, Philadelphia Inquirer, May , 2005

Debate on the Patriot Act heated up yesterday as the Senate intelligence committee prepared a bill to renew the act's powers and add broader FBI authority to search private and business records without a judge's approval.

Valerie Caproni, general counsel for the FBI, told the committee that administrative subpoenas - often used by regulatory agencies to secure records - should be a tool that terrorism investigators could use "when time is of the essence."
Several Democrats pressed Caproni on whether the lack of administrative subpoenas had hindered any terrorism investigations. She said one probe in Virginia was delayed slightly because a subpoena from a grand jury for hotel records could not be obtained immediately.

"It does hamper us," Caproni said. "Can we show you, because of delays, that a bomb went off? No, but it could happen tomorrow. It could."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D., Calif.) was skeptical: "This is a very broad power, with no check on that power. It's carte blanche for a fishing expedition." [complete article]

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Pakistan: U.S. citizens tortured, held illegally
Human Rights Watch, May 24, 2005

U.S. FBI agents operating in Pakistan repeatedly interrogated and threatened two U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin who were unlawfully detained and subjected to torture by the Pakistani security services, Human Rights Watch said today.

The brothers Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal were abducted from their home in Karachi at about 2 a.m. on August 13, 2004. They were released on April 22, 2005 without having been charged.

During eight months of illegal detention, Zain Afzal and Kashan Afzal were routinely tortured by Pakistani authorities to extract confessions of involvement in terrorist activities. During this period, FBI agents questioned the brothers on at least six occasions. The FBI agents did not intervene to end the torture, insist that the Pakistani government comply with a court order to produce the men in court, or provide consular facilities normally offered to detained U.S. citizens. Instead, they threatened the men with being sent to the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay if they did not confess to involvement in terrorism. [complete article]

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Insurgents flourish in Iraq's wild west
By Mark Mazzetti and Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2005

The U.S. military's plan to pacify Iraq has run into trouble in a place where it urgently needs to succeed.

U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad agree that Al Anbar province -- the vast desert badlands stretching west from the cities of Fallouja and Ramadi to the lawless region abutting the Syrian border -- remains the epicenter of the country's deadly insurgency.

Yet U.S. troops and military officials in the embattled province said in recent interviews that they have neither enough combat power nor enough Iraqi military support to mount an effective counterinsurgency against an increasingly sophisticated enemy.

"You can't get all the Marines and train them on a single objective, because usually the objective is bigger than you are," said Maj. Mark Lister, a senior Marine air officer in Al Anbar province. "Basically, we've got all the toys, but not enough boys."

The Pentagon has made training Iraqi troops its top priority since Iraq's national election in late January. But in Al Anbar province, that objective is overshadowed by the more basic mission of trying to keep much of the region out of insurgent hands. [complete article]

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Syria ending cooperation with U.S., envoy says
By Douglas Jehl and Thom Shanker, New York Times, May 24, 2005

Syria has halted military and intelligence cooperation with the United States, its ambassador to Washington said in an interview, in a sign of growing strains between the two nations over the insurgency in Iraq.

The ambassador, Imad Moustapha, said in the interview on Friday at the Syrian Embassy here that his country had, in the last 10 days, "severed all links" with the United States military and Central Intelligence Agency because of what he called unjust American allegations. The Bush administration has complained bitterly that Syria is not doing enough to halt the flow of men and money to the insurgency in Iraq.

Mr. Moustapha said he believed that the Bush administration had decided "to escalate the situation with Syria" despite steps the Syrians have taken against the insurgents in Iraq, and despite the withdrawal in recent weeks of Syrian troops from Lebanon, in response to international demands.

He said American complaints had been renewed since February, when a half-brother of Saddam Hussein, who was once the widely feared head of Iraq's two most powerful security agencies, was handed over to the Iraqi authorities after being captured in Syria along with several lieutenants. The renewal of complaints caused Syria to abandon the idea of providing further help, he said. [complete article]

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Translators dying by the dozens in Iraq
AP (via USA Today), May 21, 2005

It's one of the most dangerous civilian jobs in one of the world's most dangerous countries: translating Arabic for the U.S. military in Iraq.

One by one, little noticed in the daily mayhem, dozens of interpreters have been killed -- mostly Iraqis but 12 Americans, too. They account for 40% of the 300-plus death claims filed by private contractors with the U.S. Labor Department.

Riding in bomb-blasted Humvees, tagging along on foot patrols in Fallujah or dashing into buildings behind Marines, translators are dying on the job, but also facing danger at home: hunted by insurgents who call them pro-American collaborators. [complete article]

Comment -- The greatest power resides in the ability to communicate and herein lies America's greatest weakness. To command is to direct information, yet this will always be an exercise in blind power if it is not coupled with skill in gathering information. This has always been and continues to be the primary deficit of the Bush administration.

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Down and out with Iraqi forces
By David Axe, Salon, May 23, 2005

On the afternoon of Jan. 27 in the Sunni city of Baquba, north of Baghdad, U.S. and Iraqi forces are hosting what they call a "peace day" at a provincial government building near one of the most dangerous parts of the city. The event is an opportunity for known insurgents to sign a pledge against violence in exchange for amnesty from arrest. Outside, Iraqi police and soldiers patrol the wide, garbage-lined streets on foot and in battered trucks that weave through traffic.

At an intersection just yards from the peace-day proceedings, a compact car pulls up alongside a police truck and explodes, scattering debris and body parts and riddling the police truck with shrapnel. Four policemen are gravely injured. Passersby drag them bleeding into a nearby shop while U.S. and Iraqi forces and ambulances race to the scene. For several minutes after the explosion, Iraqi cops speed up and down the street in their ubiquitous pickup trucks, firing machine guns at God knows what.

Scenes like this have become all too common the last five months, as insurgents have shifted from attacking U.S. troops to targeting Iraq's ill-equipped and in many cases poorly trained new security forces. A wave of suicide bombings since April 28, the date the new Iraqi Cabinet was sworn in, has claimed more than 500 Iraqi lives -- roughly half of them recruits for the security forces, including many police recruits waiting in line to apply for jobs. [complete article]

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Shiite cleric to lead panel drafting Iraqi constitution
By Hannah Allam and Alaa al Baldawy, Knight Ridder, May 23, 2005

Iraqi legislators on Monday chose a Shiite Muslim cleric to lead the drafting of Iraq's permanent constitution, a thorny process that could extend beyond a mid-August deadline because of ethnic and sectarian bickering.

The constitutional committee has three months to hammer out a set of laws acceptable to all of Iraq's diverse religious and ethnic groups. Among the most daunting obstacles are how to incorporate Islamic law and how much autonomy should be given to the country's influential Kurdish minority.

Sheik Homam Hamoodi, a relatively moderate cleric from the dominant Shiite political alliance, was named chairman of the constitutional committee under an agreement that put a prominent Kurd, Fuad Masoum, in the vice chairman slot. Both men vowed Monday to reach out to Sunni Arabs, who have only two representatives on the 55-member committee. They plan a series of conferences to tap the ideas of academics, technocrats and politicians from all backgrounds, they said. [complete article]

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Iraq's handling of oil sales criticized
By Nick Wadhams, AP (via LAT), May 23, 2005

The board monitoring Iraq's oil revenue said Monday that Iraqi leaders mishandled about $100 million in oil money meant for development in the six months after they took power from the U.S. government.

The International Advisory and Monitoring Board said a new audit also found the now-defunct U.S. Coalition Provisional Authority used questionable accounting practices with money from the Development Fund for Iraq. It also singled out the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for refusing to provide files for contracts that were funded with Iraqi oil revenue. [complete article]

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The rising economic cost of the Iraq war
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, May 19, 2005

Fighting in Iraq has been prolonged and remains intense enough that it has pushed the total cost of US military operations since Sept. 11, 2001, close to that of the Korean War.

Despite the yawning federal deficit, Congress hasn't blinked at this price. And while annual defense spending is now as high as it ever was during the Reagan buildup, the US economy as a whole is much larger, making it easier, in economic terms, for the nation to shoulder the bill.

Yet the costs for Pentagon operations are likely to pile up in years ahead. By 2010, war expenses might total $600 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Much depends on when - and how many - US military personnel can be withdrawn from the Iraqi theater of operations. [complete article]

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Venezuela could cut diplomatic ties if U.S. violates extradition treaty
By Sarah Wagner,, May 23, 2005

If Washington refuses to extradite Cuban terrorist Luis Posada Carriles Venezuela could severe diplomatic ties between the two nations, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez yesterday. "We can't rush things, but if the United States does not extradite [Posada] we will be forced to reconsider our diplomatic ties," affirmed Chavez during his weekly Sunday television address Alo Presidente.

Last week Caracas invoked a 1922 US-Venezuela extradition treaty to request that the US deport Posada -- who has dual Cuban-Venezuelan citizenship -- to Venezuela to stand trial for masterminding the 1976 bombing of a civilian Cuban airliner that killed all 73 people on board.

Although Posada, a former CIA agent, illegally entered the US through the Mexican border in mid-March, US officials repeatedly denied that they were able to verify his whereabouts. But Posada, a self-described "freedom fighter," forced Washington's hand last week by holding a press conference outside Miami. Shortly after Posada affirmed that he would "not denounce violence," he was arrested by US immigration officials. Facing charges of illegal entry rather than terrorism, Posada is being detained in a federal detention center in El Paso, Texas without bail until his June 13th trial.

"If they don't extradite him in the time allowed in our agreement," warned Chavez, "we will have to consider whether it's worth having an embassy there, and whether it's worth the United States having an embassy here." [complete article]

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Tillman's parents are critical of Army
By Josh White, Washington Post, May 23, 2005

Former NFL player Pat Tillman's family is lashing out against the Army, saying that the military's investigations into Tillman's friendly-fire death in Afghanistan last year were a sham and that Army efforts to cover up the truth have made it harder for them to deal with their loss.

More than a year after their son was shot several times by his fellow Army Rangers on a craggy hillside near the Pakistani border, Tillman's mother and father said in interviews that they believe the military and the government created a heroic tale about how their son died to foster a patriotic response across the country. They say the Army's "lies" about what happened have made them suspicious, and that they are certain they will never get the full story.

"Pat had high ideals about the country; that's why he did what he did," Mary Tillman said in her first lengthy interview since her son's death. "The military let him down. The administration let him down. It was a sign of disrespect. The fact that he was the ultimate team player and he watched his own men kill him is absolutely heartbreaking and tragic. The fact that they lied about it afterward is disgusting." [complete article]

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Bush deflects Afghan's request for return of prisoners
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 24, 2005

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan spoke Monday with President Bush about the treatment of Afghan prisoners held by the United States. But Mr. Bush made no commitment on when he might be willing to give the Kabul government control over prisoners taken by the military.

Before his arrival in the Oval Office on Monday, Mr. Karzai had denounced the abuse of prisoners and demanded that the United States return to his government all Afghan terrorism suspects currently being held. But during the leaders' joint news conference, Mr. Bush made clear that he was not ready to take that step.

"Part of the issue is to make sure there is a place where the prisoners can be held," Mr. Bush said, adding a promise that Afghan prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, would be sent back "over time."

The two also signed an agreement that American officials say underscores Afghanistan's willingness to give American forces access to Bagram Air Base and freedom to conduct operations after rapid "consultations" with the government. [complete article]

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Female TV host's killing sends chill through Kabul
By Ben Arnoldy, Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2005

Staff at a controversial TV station in Kabul are taking extra security precautions in the wake of a killing last Wednesday of a former colleague who was shot dead in her Kabul home.

Shaima Rezayee had worked for Tolo TV before being dismissed two months ago amid complaints by conservatives over her on-air demeanor. In a departure from the public personae of many Afghan women, Ms. Rezayee adopted Western-style dress and chatted with male counterparts as a veejay for a music-video program named "Hop."

A council of religious scholars criticized Tolo and other broadcasters this spring for airing "programs opposed to Islam and national values."

Police are still investigating Rezayee's death, but they have told reporters that the young woman's brothers may have been involved. In Afghanistan and other conservative societies, women may face violence at the hands of male relatives over perceived affronts to family "honor." [complete article]

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Why intelligent design isn't
By H Allen Orr, The New Yorker, May 23, 2005

If you are in ninth grade and live in Dover, Pennsylvania, you are learning things in your biology class that differ considerably from what your peers just a few miles away are learning. In particular, you are learning that Darwin's theory of evolution provides just one possible explanation of life, and that another is provided by something called intelligent design. You are being taught this not because of a recent breakthrough in some scientist's laboratory but because the Dover Area School District's board mandates it. In October, 2004, the board decreed that "students will be made aware of gaps/problems in Darwin's theory and of other theories of evolution including, but not limited to, intelligent design."

While the events in Dover have received a good deal of attention as a sign of the political times, there has been surprisingly little discussion of the science that's said to underlie the theory of intelligent design, often called I.D. Many scientists avoid discussing I.D. for strategic reasons. If a scientific claim can be loosely defined as one that scientists take seriously enough to debate, then engaging the intelligent-design movement on scientific grounds, they worry, cedes what it most desires: recognition that its claims are legitimate scientific ones.

Meanwhile, proposals hostile to evolution are being considered in more than twenty states; earlier this month, a bill was introduced into the New York State Assembly calling for instruction in intelligent design for all public-school students. The Kansas State Board of Education is weighing new standards, drafted by supporters of intelligent design, that would encourage schoolteachers to challenge Darwinism. Senator Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, has argued that "intelligent design is a legitimate scientific theory that should be taught in science classes." An I.D.-friendly amendment that he sponsored to the No Child Left Behind Act -- requiring public schools to help students understand why evolution "generates so much continuing controversy" -- was overwhelmingly approved in the Senate. (The amendment was not included in the version of the bill that was signed into law, but similar language did appear in a conference report that accompanied it.) In the past few years, college students across the country have formed Intelligent Design and Evolution Awareness chapters. Clearly, a policy of limited scientific engagement has failed. So just what is this movement? [complete article]

Comment -- While dismissing intelligent design as junk science, this article nevertheless capitulates to an enduring cultural pressure that forces prudent American scientists to avoid directly challenging the foundations of religion. Almost fifty years after Joseph McCarthy's death it is still un-American to call oneself an atheist!

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Coming home: An Iraq correspondent living in two worlds
By Dahr Jamail, Tom Dispatch, May 21, 2005

"What were you doing in the Middle East," [the US border agent] asks. I feel a little spurt of anger and glance up at the signs all across this border station [between Canada and the United States] informing non-US citizens that they will have their photos taken upon entry and then place their index fingers on a scanner -- solely for our safety and security, of course. I have that natural human urge to tell him it's none of his damned business where I've been; after all, the United States is, at least in theory, a free country. Instead, of course, I simply say, "I'm a journalist."

He looks at me, hands me my passport, and I come home yet again. As for the anger, it quickly dissipates. Such a small moment amid so many larger catastrophes. Besides, he's just doing his job.

Not too long after, I get an email from a friend in Baghdad who's just spoken with a friend of his, a teacher in Fallujah. She crossed another kind of "border" there, also guarded by Americans -- a border around her own city. She had to undergo a retinal scan mandated by the Americans and had all ten fingers printed in order to obtain the necessary identification badge which, unfortunately, she then lost while shopping in a Baghdad market. When she tried to return to Fallujah without it, Iraqi National Guard soldiers wouldn't let her back in.

"She told them she'd lost her ID in Baghdad at the market, that she wants to go home, that they have to let her in, but they refused," my friend wrote. "A neighbor of hers inside Fallujah was there and told them she was his neighbor, but they refused. She called her husband with her neighbors' mobile and he came to the checkpoint with her papers, showing that she is his wife and he lives in Fallujah but they still refused to let her in."

She was crying, my colleague said, as she related her woes to him. She had lost 9 relatives during the American assault on the city in November, 2004. Then he wrote: "I want you to tell your friends and your audience about this. Please ask them what would happen if they were prevented from getting inside their city although the people inside knew they were a teacher who had to get to their school?"

My friend also wanted me to ask what Americans would do if our country were invaded and the only ID that was worth anything was that given by the invading forces -- even though you had several of your regular forms of identification with you? [complete article]

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Iraq's religious factions make calls for restraint
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 2005

In a bid to stop a spiral of sectarian violence that has brought Iraq closer to civil war than at any time since the 2003 US invasion, Iraqi religious leaders and officials are stepping up calls of unity and restraint.

Even as divisive rhetoric and more bloodshed between Iraq's majority Shiites, who control the new government, and disenfranchised minority Sunnis appeared to magnify the prospect of civil war late last week, condemnations of the violence - and even a bid to mediate a truce - began to emerge.

"They have peered over the edge, and decided that is really where they don't want to go, and now people are pulling back," says a US diplomat in Baghdad. He notes "a lot of communication" between Sunni and Shiite leaders to "see how we put this genie back in the bottle."

With 10 clerics killed in the past two weeks, and Sunni mosques closed in protest for three days over the weekend, tensions have escalated. But even Moqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite cleric whose militia took on American forces during two uprisings last year, began a mediation effort Sunday. [complete article]

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U.S., Iraqi troops detain about 300 people
By Paul Garwood, AP (via Yahoo), May 24, 2005

Iraqi security forces backed by U.S. troops detained almost 300 suspected insurgents overnight in the largest joint U.S.-Iraqi military offensive to date, the military said Monday. Also, a car bomb detonated outside a popular Baghdad restaurant, killing at least three people and injuring more than 70, hospital officials said.

The Baghdad offensive, dubbed Operation Squeeze Play, came as the American military announced that five U.S. soldiers were killed in northern Iraq on Sunday -- four in separate roadside bomb attacks and one in a vehicle accident.

Two carloads of gunmen killed Maj. Gen. Wael al-Rubaei, a top national security official, and his driver in Baghdad's latest drive-by shooting. The killing came a day after another senior government official, Trade Ministry auditing office chief Ali Moussa, was shot dead -- part of an ongoing terror campaign that has killed more than 550 people in less than one month. [complete article]

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Iran's nuclear program
FRONTLINE, PBS, 9PM, May 24, 2005 (check local listings)

PBS's international newsmagazine travels deep into Iran in search of answers to one of the world's most pressing security questions: Are the Iranians pursuing a nuclear bomb? With extraordinary access to a U.N. inspection team on a tour of Iran's most sensitive nuclear sites, FRONTLINE/World and BBC reporter Paul Kenyon sheds new light on the state of Iran's nuclear weapons program, and the complicated diplomacy aimed at stopping it.

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The lost Palestinians
By Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, New York Review of Books, June 9, 2005

Barring an unforeseen development, Palestinians will vote in their second post-Arafat national elections this summer. Unlike the presidential balloting, in which the election of Abu Mazen was entirely predictable, the elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council are clouded in uncertainty. Fatah, the secular, nationalist organization which has thoroughly dominated Palestinian politics for decades, enjoys the advantages of incumbency, the support of state-like institutions, and the unconcealed backing of all major international actors. Hamas, the radical Islamist organization, has never before participated in national elections, lacks governmental experience, and is branded a terrorist group by both the United States and the European Union. Yet it is Fatah that is worried and Hamas that is gaining ground.

The uncertainty has generated odd reactions. With the implicit encouragement of some Israelis and Westerners who usually advocate Palestinian democracy, Fatah is seriously toying with the idea of postponing the ballot to forestall a poor showing. If elections are held several months after their scheduled date in July, it is believed, Fatah will be able to take credit for Israel's disengagement from Gaza, for the Palestinian Authority's economic recovery, and for its restoration of law and order. Meanwhile Hamas, traditionally skeptical of Western-style politics and hostile to foreign intervention, has been calling for international observers to monitor the vote. [complete article]

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Palestinian militants agree to restore truce in Gaza
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, May 22, 2005

Palestinian militants of Hamas have agreed in talks with the Palestinian Authority to stop mortar and rocket attacks on Israeli settlements and towns near the Gaza Strip, apparently restoring a three-month cease-fire, a Palestinian official said Saturday.

The official, Interior Minister Nasser Youssef, has been touring Gaza and negotiating with Hamas for the last two days. "Our brothers in Hamas reaffirmed their commitment to the quiet," said Mr. Youssef's spokesman, Tawfiq Abu Khoussa. On Saturday, Mr. Youssef visited the Khan Yunis and Rafah areas and ordered Palestinian police and security officials to preserve the truce.

Hamas did not comment. But in Cairo on Saturday, the Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, said the three days of Israeli-Palestinian fighting in Gaza was ending and would not affect his first trip as president to Washington, where he will meet President Bush on Thursday. [complete article]

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A Castro ally with oil cash vexes the U.S.
By Danna Harman, Christian Science Monitor, May 20, 2005

Llorente Munoz has a photograph of her sons tucked into the corner of her bathroom mirror. Arnaldo, 7, and Enrique, 13, are back in Cuba while she is at this small Caracas clinic taking care, as she puts it, "of my other children" - Venezuela's poor.

Ms. Munoz, a medic, is one of 20,650 Cuban healthcare workers and 8,600 "sports instructors" who have fanned out across Venezuela in the past two years, offering free checkups, medicines, and stretching classes. President Hugo Chavez, as leader of the world's fifth-largest oil supplier, is footing the bill, sending up to 90,000 barrels a day to Fidel Castro's communist island.

For critics, the relationship is a troubling sign of where Mr. Chavez wants to take his country - and even the region. Unlike Castro, who lacked the funds and support from Latin America's previous right-wing leaders to spread his socialist revolution across the Spanish-speaking world, Chavez is flush with oil money. He is also finding receptivity thanks to a wave of left-of-center presidents who have come to power in recent years. The combination gives the US its first real challenge in the region in decades. [complete article]

Comment -- Those who regard socialism as an intolerable threat to the church of the greenback will no doubt be greatly vexed by this unholy alliance between Castro and Chavez. Even so, who can dispute that exchanging oil for healthcare and fitness training is a smart strategy - smarter than most of the strategic thinking that circulates around Washington! (How can George Bush not envy Chavez's 70% approval rating?)

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Sunnis step off political sidelines
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, May 22, 2005

More than 1,000 Sunni Arab clerics, political leaders and tribal heads ended their two-year boycott of politics in post-Saddam Hussein Iraq on Saturday, uniting in a Sunni bloc that they said would help draft the country's new constitution and compete in elections.

Formation of the group comes during escalating violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that has raised the threat of sectarian war. The bloc represents moderate and hard-line members of the Association of Muslim Scholars, the Iraqi Islamic Party and other main groups of the disgruntled Sunni minority toppled from dominance when U.S.-led troops routed Hussein in April 2003. [complete article]

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Europe sees Bolton choice as a bellwether
By Charles M. Sennott, Boston Globe, May 22, 2005

When Condoleezza Rice made her first trip abroad as secretary of state here in February, she announced: "Now is the time for diplomacy."

More than a few cynics in Europe wondered if that statement wasn't a backhanded confirmation of a widely held perception abroad that President Bush's first administration viewed international diplomacy as irrelevant, especially during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Now, almost six months into Bush's second administration, many former and current diplomats in Europe and in the United States say they believe Washington has come to understand the need to "reach out and listen," as one State Department official put it, to other allies.

But even among those diplomats who hold out hope that the new administration will embrace international diplomacy as the only way to build a functioning democracy in Iraq, the sentiment is widespread that Bush's nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations sends all the wrong signals. [complete article]

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Officers plot exit strategy
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2005

Army Capts. Dave Fulton and Geoff Heiple spent 12 months dodging roadside bombs and rounding up insurgents along Baghdad's "highway of death" -- the six miles of pavement linking downtown Baghdad to the capital city's airport. Two weeks after returning stateside to Ft. Hood, they ventured to a spartan conference room at the local Howard Johnson to find out about changing careers.

Lured by a headhunting firm that places young military officers in private-sector jobs, the pair, both 26, expected anonymity in the crowded room.

Instead, as Fulton and Heiple sipped Budweisers pulled from Styrofoam coolers next to the door, they spotted nearly a dozen familiar faces from their cavalry battalion, which had just ended a yearlong combat tour in Iraq.

The shocks of recognition came as they exchanged quick, awkward glances with others from their unit, each man clearly surprised to see someone else considering a life outside the military.

"This is a real eye-opener," said Fulton, a West Point graduate who saw a handful of cadets from his class. "It seems like everyone in the room is either from my squad or from my class."

More than three years after the Sept. 11 attacks spawned an era of unprecedented strain on the all-volunteer military, it is scenes like this that keep the Army's senior generals awake at night. With thousands of soldiers currently on their second combat deployment in Iraq or Afghanistan and some preparing for their third this fall, evidence is mounting that an exodus of young Army officers may be looming on the horizon. [complete article]

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Commanders plan eventual consolidation of U.S. bases in Iraq
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, May 22, 2005

U.S. military commanders have prepared plans to consolidate American troops in Iraq into four large air bases as they look ahead to giving up more than 100 other bases now occupied by international forces, officers said.

Several officers involved in drafting the consolidation plan said it entailed the construction of longer-lasting facilities at the sites, including barracks and office structures made of concrete block instead of the metal trailers and tin-sheathed buildings that have become the norm at bigger U.S. bases in Iraq. [complete article]

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Head of Iraq reconstruction says unexpected security costs eating into budget
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, May 22, 2005

The head of the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq said Saturday that as much as 16 percent of the $21 billion reconstruction budget would be spent on providing security for its projects and workers -- roughly double the original estimate. [complete article]

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The message from the Sunni heartland
By Patrick Graham, New York Times, May 22, 2005

After spending time with Sunni Arabs, I can understand why some fight against occupation by a foreign army, but it is difficult to understand what they expect to get out of it in the long run. Perhaps, early on, an opportunity was lost. Most Sunni Arabs I met were ambivalent about the insurgency, but the occupation did little to win them over. Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited Baghdad, apparently to force the Shia-led government to make concessions. to bring in some Sunni Arabs and so isolate those who want to fight for all or nothing. But it may be very late in the game.

Feeling threatened, the Sunnis, I learned, will retreat into religion, tribe and old mindsets, skewing their view of the future. I was often astounded by how they interpreted their position in the country. Iraq's population is generally thought to be about 60 percent Shia but a surprising number of Sunni Arabs believe that they, along with the Sunni Kurds, form the majority. Some Sunni Arabs are convinced that they form the majority by themselves and cite a secret Iraqi intelligence agency census from the mid-1990's to back their claims. This is not the conspiracy theory of extremists but of American-educated, wealthy Iraqis who were thrilled by the American invasion. [complete article]

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What do the insurgents want?
By Hiwa Osman, Washington Post, May 8, 2005

In the week since a new cabinet was formed, about 250 Iraqis have been slaughtered in car bombings and other bloody attacks, a pace as relentless and heartless as any since the fall of Saddam Hussein more than two years ago. And while on the ground the attacks seem indiscriminate, there is a strategy behind them.

In fact, there's more than one. That's because the insurgents are actually several groups of people who might share tactics, but possess different motivations and long-term objectives. [complete article]

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The mystery of the insurgency
By James Bennet, New York Times, May 15, 2005

American forces in Iraq have often been accused of being slow to apply hard lessons from Vietnam and elsewhere about how to fight an insurgency. Yet, it seems from the outside, no one has shrugged off the lessons of history more decisively than the insurgents themselves.

The insurgents in Iraq are showing little interest in winning hearts and minds among the majority of Iraqis, in building international legitimacy, or in articulating a governing program or even a unified ideology or cause beyond expelling the Americans. They have put forward no single charismatic leader, developed no alternative government or political wing, displayed no intention of amassing territory to govern now.

Rather than employing the classic rebel tactic of provoking the foreign forces to use clumsy and excessive force and kill civilians, they are cutting out the middleman and killing civilians indiscriminately themselves, in addition to more predictable targets like officials of the new government. [complete article]

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Islam can vote, if we let it
By Saad Eddin Ibrahim, New York Times, May 21, 2005

In last month's Saudi Arabian municipal elections, the nation's first experiment in real democracy, many were worried because Islamic activists dominated their secular rivals. Indeed, we have seen a similar trend in Turkey, Morocco and Iraq in the last few years; and we can expect it in the coming Lebanese, Palestinian and Egyptian elections. Yet, while this Islamic trend can no longer be ignored, neither should it be a source of panic to Western policy makers and pundits.

Based on my 30 years of empirical investigation into these parties - including my observations of fellow inmates during the 14 months I spent in an Egyptian prison - I can testify to a significant evolution on the part of political Islam. In fact, I believe we may be witnessing the emergence of Muslim parties that are truly democratic, akin to the Christian Democrats in Western Europe after World War II.

To understand this evolution, one must look at how the Islamists rose to such prominence. Autocratic regimes in the Middle East have for decades allowed little public space to those who would build civil societies; no freedom of speech, assembly or association. The only space for people to congregate without harassment by the secret police was the mosque. Thus, unwittingly, the autocrats contributed to the growth of the theocrats, who became their mirror images. [complete article]

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Lebanon's election: Free but not fair
By Annia Ciezadlo, Washington Post, May 22, 2005

Every week, my husband and I take a rickety old taxi to Hezbollah country. The emerald city of downtown Beirut, with its glittering luxury towers, drops away behind us; ruined buildings, their shell-shocked hulks festooned with laundry, loom ahead like ghost ships.

We soon leave Beirut proper and reach the dahiya -- the dense and sprawling Shiite crescent, half suburb, half slum, that cradles the city's southern borders. In the dahiya, home to my in-laws and a large swath of Beirut's population, the recent anti-Syrian protests that became known as the Cedar Revolution seem like a fairy tale. "As an area, as dahiya, we're not concerned about what's happening in downtown," one college student told me in March while demonstrations raged in Martyrs' Square. "We regard what's happening as a joke."

Around the world, however, the candy-cane banners and multilingual college kids of the uprising caught the imagination of millions. Holding parliamentary elections on time, free of Syrian influence, became democracy's new rallying cry. President Bush cautioned against delaying the poll, scheduled to run on four consecutive Sundays beginning May 29.

But Bush and other well-meaning Americans are ignoring a fundamental problem: With Syria gone, Lebanon's elections will be free, but they won't be fair. In Lebanon, Muslim votes, especially Shiite votes, count less than those of Christians. Literally. [complete article]

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A global strike plan, with a nuclear option
By William Arkin, Washington Post, May 15, 2005

Early last summer, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld approved a top secret "Interim Global Strike Alert Order" directing the military to assume and maintain readiness to attack hostile countries that are developing weapons of mass destruction, specifically Iran and North Korea.

Two months later, Lt. Gen. Bruce Carlson, commander of the 8th Air Force, told a reporter that his fleet of B-2 and B-52 bombers had changed its way of operating so that it could be ready to carry out such missions. "We're now at the point where we are essentially on alert," Carlson said in an interview with the Shreveport (La.) Times. "We have the capacity to plan and execute global strikes." Carlson said his forces were the U.S. Strategic Command's "focal point for global strike" and could execute an attack "in half a day or less."

In the secret world of military planning, global strike has become the term of art to describe a specific preemptive attack. When military officials refer to global strike, they stress its conventional elements. Surprisingly, however, global strike also includes a nuclear option, which runs counter to traditional U.S. notions about the defensive role of nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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New Swedish documents illuminate CIA action
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, May 21, 2005

The CIA Gulfstream V jet touched down at a small airport west of here just before 9 p.m. on a subfreezing night in December 2001. A half-dozen agents wearing hoods that covered their faces stepped down from the aircraft and hurried across the tarmac to take custody of two prisoners, suspected Islamic radicals from Egypt.

Inside an airport police station, Swedish officers watched as the CIA operatives pulled out scissors and rapidly sliced off the prisoners' clothes, including their underwear, according to newly released Swedish government documents and eyewitness statements. They probed inside the men's mouths and ears and examined their hair before dressing the pair in sweat suits and draping hoods over their heads. The suspects were then marched in chains to the plane, where they were strapped to mattresses on the floor in the back of the cabin.

So began an operation the CIA calls an "extraordinary rendition," the forcible and highly secret transfer of terrorism suspects to their home countries or other nations where they can be interrogated with fewer legal protections. [complete article]

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Karimov escapes regime change as America pursues the 'great game'
By Trevor Royle, Sunday Herald, May 22, 2005

A glance at the map confirms the strategic importance of Uzbekistan, not just in regional terms but also as it is viewed from Washington.

To the south and southwest are Afghanistan and Iran, a fact which inspired President Islam Karimov to push himself into contention as a useful ally in President Bush's war on terror.

The US operates an air base with 1000 ground troops at Khanabad outside the Uzbek capital Tashkent. The former Soviet facility is used for operations in Afghanistan, and to date the US has supplied the country with some $800 million in military and humanitarian aid.

More to the point, Uzbekistan has a key role to play in supporting Washington's wider interests. Khanabad is part of the ring of air force bases, or "lily pads" as defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls them, which are used to project US authority over the surrounding countries and keep a close watch on the oil and gas supply lines running through the Caucasus and old Soviet central Asian republics. [complete article]

Uzbekistan: 'In the narrow lane, the machine guns clattered remorselessly for two hours'
By Peter Boehm and Andrew Osborn, The Independent, May 22, 2005

The number of people murdered on "Bloody Friday" 13 May in the Uzbek town of Andizhan is at least 500, not 169 as the authorities now claim, an investigation by The Independent on Sunday can reveal. It is also highly probable that, separately in other towns at different times, at least a further 200 people were killed.

But our inquiries have also established that the incident which sparked the massacre was initiated by the storming of a prison which led to the "insurgents" themselves also murdering 54 men and women in cold blood.

While some of these "insurgents" that the autocratic government of Islam Karimov was seeking to quell in Andizhan were armed, the majority of those killed were civilians. Most were men but women and children were also murdered and are now buried in unmarked mass graves as part of what witnesses say is "a massive cover-up". This extends to officials lying on death certificates, concealing bodies from public view and blasting the town's blood-stained streets with high-velocity water cannons. [complete article]

Uzbekistan: On the slippery slope
By Ahmed Rashid, Eurasianet, May 17, 2005

In the aftermath of the Andijan massacre, Western leaders may be wondering what to do with Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov. The United States, along with the European Union, should start any policy reevaluation by admitting that they bear a significant share of the blame for enabling Karimov's authoritarian rule. Since the September 11 terrorist tragedy, the United States and EU have preferred to prop up dictatorships in Central Asia, rather than promote democratic values.

The US Defense Department has long been the dominant Western influence in Central Asia -- which comprises Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The Pentagon broadened its security ties with Uzbekistan in the late 1990s, when Islamic militants first became active in the region.

The CIA and MI6 followed suit, training and reorganizing the Uzbek security services. Defense cooperation took a quantum leap forward following September 11, as Uzbekistan suddenly emerged as one of Washington's main strategic allies in the anti-terrorism struggle. Since then, Tashkent retained its status as valued partner, even though human rights groups, and even the US State Department, have condemned the Uzbek government's reliance on repression. During a visit to Tashkent in February 2004, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld praised Uzbekistan as a "key member" of the anti-terrorism coalition, while ignoring the Karimov administration's deplorable human rights record, along with its failure to implement promised reforms. [complete article]

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It's all Newsweek's fault
By Frank Rich, New York Times, May 22, 2005

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Fareed Zakaria wrote a 6,791-word cover story for Newsweek titled "Why Do They Hate Us?" Think how much effort he could have saved if he'd waited a few years. As we learned last week, the question of why they hate us can now be answered in just one word: Newsweek.

"Our United States military personnel go out of their way to make sure that the Holy Koran is treated with care," said the White House press secretary, Scott McClellan, as he eagerly made the magazine the scapegoat for lethal anti-American riots in Afghanistan. Indeed, Mr. McClellan was so fixated on destroying Newsweek - and on mouthing his own phony P.C. pieties about the Koran - that by omission he whitewashed the rioters themselves, Islamic extremists who routinely misuse that holy book as a pretext for murder. [complete article]

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Dozens have alleged Koran's mishandling
By Richard A. Serrano and John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2005

Senior Bush administration officials reacted with outrage to a Newsweek report that U.S. interrogators had desecrated the Koran at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility, and the magazine retracted the story last week. But allegations of disrespectful treatment of Islam's holy book are far from rare.

An examination of hearing transcripts, court records and government documents, as well as interviews with former detainees, their lawyers, civil liberties groups and U.S. military personnel, reveals dozens of accusations involving the Koran, not only at Guantanamo, but also at American-run detention facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq. [complete article]

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Afghan leader to seek control over detainees
By Paul Watson and Halima Kazem, Los Angeles Times, May 22, 2005

Shocked by a U.S. Army report detailing prisoner abuses in Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said Saturday that he would demand control over detainees during an upcoming visit to Washington.

Army investigators cited numerous witness accounts of brutal abuses of Afghan prisoners, including at least two deaths, in a 2,000-page confidential file on their criminal investigation, which was first reported by the New York Times on Friday.


The latest details of harsh treatment at the U.S. military's Bagram air base follow riots in several Afghan cities over the reported desecration of the Koran by an American interrogator at the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba. [complete article]

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