|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
The Middle East's real problem: The mafia
By Ferry Biedermann, Salon, June 11, 2005
From Syria to Egypt, from Lebanon to Iraq, along the length and breadth of the Arab world the presumed drive toward greater democracy and openness is lurching along, often coming to sudden halts. Whether brazenly blocked by a ruling party and an elite determined to preserve their hold on power, as in Syria, or stealthily undermined by the same old political bosses, as in Lebanon, progress is patchy, to say the least. And the causes are remarkably similar across the region: a mixture of deep sectarian, regional and tribal divisions, a lack of neutral central institutions, and a clientele system that creates powerful mafias and capi di tutti capi that look after their own in a winner-take-all environment.
Unfortunately, the Bush administration, undeterred by the bloody chaos in Iraq, still seems intent on spreading its ill-fitting idea of democracy in the region, with Syria its possible next target. A well-informed analyst in Damascus told me that the United States is preparing an "Iraq scenario" for the country, including possibly imposing a no-fly zone in the Kurdish-dominated north. The United States' rumored plans are likely to backfire, slowing down reform or halting it altogether. Worse, they could plunge Syria and Lebanon into violent chaos. [complete article]
Note -- Readers who are not Salon subscribers can follow the "free site pass" link to read the rest of the article.
Losing our country
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, June 10, 2005
Baby boomers like me grew up in a relatively equal society. In the 1960's America was a place in which very few people were extremely wealthy, many blue-collar workers earned wages that placed them comfortably in the middle class, and working families could expect steadily rising living standards and a reasonable degree of economic security.
But as The Times's series on class in America reminds us, that was another country. The middle-class society I grew up in no longer exists. [complete article]
Memo on 9/11 plotters blocked
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2005
A chilling new detail of U.S. intelligence failures emerged Thursday, when the Justice Department disclosed that about 20 months before the Sept. 11 attacks, a CIA official had blocked a memo intended to alert the FBI that two known Al Qaeda operatives had entered the country.
The two men were among the 19 hijackers who crashed airliners into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania.
If the FBI had received the official communique from the CIA's special Osama bin Laden unit when it was ready for transmittal in January 2000, its agents likely could have tracked down the men, according to U.S. intelligence officials familiar with a newly declassified report of the Justice Department's inspector general. [complete article]
Building Iraq's Army: mission improbable
By Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, June 10, 2005
An hour before dawn, the sky still clouded by a dust storm, the soldiers of the Iraqi army's Charlie Company began their mission with a ballad to ousted president Saddam Hussein. "We have lived in humiliation since you left," one sang in Arabic, out of earshot of his U.S. counterparts. "We had hoped to spend our life with you."
But the Iraqi soldiers had no clue where they were going. They shrugged their shoulders when asked what they would do. The U.S. military had billed the mission as pivotal in the Iraqis' progress as a fighting force but had kept the destination and objectives secret out of fear the Iraqis would leak the information to insurgents.
"We can't tell these guys about a lot of this stuff, because we're not really sure who's good and who isn't," said Rick McGovern, a tough-talking 37-year-old platoon sergeant from Hershey, Pa., who heads the military training for Charlie Company.
The reconstruction of Iraq's security forces is the prerequisite for an American withdrawal from Iraq. But as the Bush administration extols the continuing progress of the new Iraqi army, the project in Baiji, a desolate oil town at a strategic crossroads in northern Iraq, demonstrates the immense challenges of building an army from scratch in the middle of a bloody insurgency. [complete article]
See also, Q&A on Iraq's militia groups (Council on Foreign Relations).
Disputed Iraq raids blamed on bad intelligence
By Patrick J. McDonnell and Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2005
Erroneous U.S. raids targeting Sunni Arab political organizations were the result of bad intelligence mistakenly linking the groups to insurgent activity, a senior U.S. military official said Thursday.
Raids on the two Sunni offices last month inflamed sectarian tensions and sullied the U.S. image as the Bush administration and Iraqi officials try to reach out to the disenfranchised Sunni Arab minority, which forms the core of the insurgency.
The raids have also raised questions about the quality of U.S. intelligence in a fast-moving guerrilla war in which U.S. forces are regularly accused of sweeping up innocent Iraqis and acting on questionable or tainted evidence. [complete article]
More Americans dying from roadside bombs in Iraq
By Mark Washburn, Knight Ridder, June 9, 2005
Improvised explosive devices, the roadside bombs that insurgents build from castoff artillery shells and other munitions, have become the No. 1 killer of American troops in Iraq this year, despite a massive U.S. campaign to blunt their effectiveness.
American commanders have dispatched newly armored Humvees, Army engineers have begun a yearlong program to clear vegetation and debris along major transportation routes, and military technicians have equipped vehicles with devices that jam cell phones and garage-door openers, which are used to trigger the explosives.
In spite of those efforts, deaths due to IEDs rose by more than 41 percent in the first five months of this year, compared with the same period last year, and account for nearly 51 percent of the 255 U.S. combat deaths so far this year, according to statistics assembled by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, an Internet site that assembles statistics based on official U.S. casualty reports. [complete article]
Reid: No documents, no Bolton
CNN, June 9, 2005
Senate Democrats will not allow a vote on President Bush's choice for U.N. ambassador unless the White House hands over records of communications intercepts Bolton sought from the secretive National Security Agency, Minority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday.
"You can't ignore the Senate. We've told them what we've wanted. The ball is in his court," Reid, D-Nevada, told CNN. "If they want John Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, give us this information. If they don't, there will be no Bolton." [complete article]
Shut down Guantanamo? U.S. eyes options
MSNBC, June 10, 2005
Are Guantanamo Bay's days numbered as a U.S. military prison camp? Comments from both President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld seemed to point in that direction, with Rumsfeld noting Thursday that he'd rather have detainees imprisoned by their home countries.
Rumsfeld spoke a day after saying he was unaware of anyone in the Bush administration discussing closing the base in Cuba. Hours later, President Bush refused to rule out shutting the facility, saying his administration was exploring alternatives for detaining the prisoners.
"We're exploring all alternatives as to how best to do the main objective, which is to protect America," Bush said on Fox News Channel when asked whether it should be shut down. "What we don't want to do is let somebody out that comes back and harms us." [complete article]
Israel accused of Gaza trickery
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, June 10, 2005
The Palestinian leadership yesterday accused Israel of setting it up to fail by withholding information crucial to a successful transfer of control of the Gaza Strip when Jewish settlers are withdrawn this summer.
Mohammed Dahlan, the chief Palestinian negotiator on the pullout, said the Israeli government was "employing tricks" over the handover.
"I believe the Israelis want to delay all the decisions to the eleventh hour and for disengagement not to be successful and later blame the Palestinians for the failure," he said. [complete article]
No repeat of the Algerian solution
By Yezid Sayigh, The Guardian, June 10, 2005
When Mahmoud Abbas was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January, President Bush offered this as evidence of the march of democracy across the Middle East triggered by the US invasion of Iraq. But Palestinian democracy is about to suffer a serious setback unless Abbas, backed by the US administration and the EU, acts decisively to protect it.
Last weekend Abbas postponed parliamentary elections due on July 17. This was for valid technical reasons, but his failure to set a new date has precipitated a crisis in relations with the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which regards the decision as a breach of the deal it struck with him earlier this year. Hamas agreed to halt attacks on Israel in return for the promise that the elections would be held in July, coinciding with the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and allowing Hamas to present itself as the resistance force that drove the Israelis out. Angered by the prospect of a lengthy delay, Hamas demonstrated its ability to undermine Abbas's diplomacy in response on Tuesday, rocketing an Israeli town across the border and an Israeli settlement in Gaza.
No less worrying is that in such an atmosphere, the planned Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in July could trigger violent competition over evacuated settlement areas between Hamas, Abbas's Fatah movement, and PA security services - leaving it a patchwork of contending zones of control. If the protests by armed Fatah militants and PA security personnel in Gaza a year ago are anything to go by, the PA might declare a state of emergency, making elections impossible. All of this bodes ill for Palestinian democracy, and for any hope of resuming the peace process once Israel has withdrawn from Gaza. [complete article]
Assad finds new strength in adversity
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 10, 2005
Predictions that Syria's Ba'athist regime would follow its Iraqi counterpart into oblivion in the wake of last spring's forced withdrawal from Lebanon are looking like White House wishful thinking.
Viewed from the ringside, this seems surprising. By most conventional political measures, President Bashar al-Assad should be on the canvas and out for the count.
The pan-Arabism championed by his late father, Hafez al-Assad, is a vanquished dream. Even the Arab world standard-bearer, Egypt, has joined neighbours like Jordan and Iraq in pursuit of US-certified neo-democratic nationalism.
Bush administration hostility, though less voluble, is undiminished. Syria's links to Hizbullah and Hamas, its alleged backdoor support for Iraqi insurgents, and renewed, high-profile assassinations in Lebanon are continuing pressure points. [complete article]
Violence linked to Taliban swells in Afghanistan
By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, June 9, 2005
Insurgents linked to the former Taliban regime have set off a wave of violence in Afghanistan, launching a string of almost daily bombings and assassinations that have killed dozens of U.S. and Afghan military personnel and civilians in recent weeks while spreading fear throughout the international aid worker community.
Analysts say the rash of attacks appears calculated to undermine stability in the lead-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for September and has undercut predictions by U.S. and Afghan officials during the winter that the radical Islamic militia was on the verge of collapse.
"The Taliban may be limited in their movements and unable to take territory and hold it," said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a journalist based in Pakistan who has had frequent contact with the Taliban, "but they are very much here and they will be for a long time. . . . They are telling us they have no shortage of volunteers to fight." [complete article]
S. Korea to press Bush on North
By Anthony Faiola and Joohee Cho, Washington Post, June 9, 2005
South Korean President Roh Moo Hyun will press President Bush in a meeting in Washington on Friday to reaffirm the United States' commitment to a diplomatic resolution of the North Korean nuclear standoff, according to South Korean officials familiar with Roh's plans. Roh intends to underscore Seoul's position that any military option is "unacceptable."
In exchange, Roh will offer assurances that South Korea will support sharper U.S. measures to get the North to return to stalled international disarmament talks if "the diplomatic path becomes clearly exhausted."
Such measures could include support for referring North Korea to the U.N. Security Council, a move that South Korea has so far privately opposed. [complete article]
India's BJP in disarray as party chief quits
By Jo Johnson, Financial Times, June 9, 2005
The resignation of Lal Krishna Advani as president of the Bharatiya Janata party on his return from a ground-breaking trip to Pakistan leaves India's main opposition party at a crossroads.
Thrown out of office in May 2004, the BJP now faces a clear choice: reposition itself as an inclusive and moderate right-of-centre party, as Mr Advani has been urging, or return to being the puppet of the Hindu fundamentalist groups that have long supplied both its rank-and-file membership and its ideological beliefs.
The wild celebrations among Hindu activists that greeted Mr Advani's resignation on Tuesday illustrate the danger the BJP leadership runs in attempting a sophisticated political make-over without the backing of its base. In Ahmedabad, supporters of the Vishva Hindu Parishad, the society dedicated to serving the interests of Hinduism worldwide, whose leaders last week branded Mr Advani a “traitor” for praising Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Pakistan's founder, threw brightly coloured paint, “cleansed” a road recently inaugurated by the 77-year-old politician and displayed banners telling him to go back to Pakistan. [complete article]
Leaders of Iraq back militias, widening rift with Sunnis
By Edward Wong, New York Times, June 9, 2005
The rift between the Iraqi government and hostile Sunni Arabs widened further on Wednesday as the country's leaders came out in support of ethnic and sectarian militias that Sunnis fear could be used against them.
Top Sunni Arab leaders also demanded that a 55-member committee that is to begin writing a new constitution add at least 25 Sunni seats with full voting powers. There was no immediate response from the Shiite-led committee, but in recent days its members have proposed adding 12 to 15 nonvoting seats for Sunni Arabs.
The announcement regarding militias was the first time the new government had publicly backed armed ethnic and sectarian groups, and it was an implicit rebuke to American officials, who have repeatedly asked that the government disband all militias in the country. The largest militias are the Kurdish pesh merga and an Iranian-trained Shiite militia that Sunni leaders have blamed for attacks against them. [complete article]
See also, Sunnis given 25 seats on Iraqi committee (AP).
Indirect U.S. talks with Iraq rebels reported
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2005
The U.S. Embassy has held indirect talks with members of violent Iraqi insurgent groups, a U.S. official said Wednesday, edging back from a long-standing position not to negotiate with terrorists or those who have American or Iraqi blood on their hands.
"People stop shooting at us, and we -- and I think the Iraqi government -- are ready to engage," said the U.S. official, who spoke to a group of Western reporters on condition of anonymity. "People willing to condemn the use of violence, particularly against the Iraqi people, we're willing to engage."
The U.S. is hoping to persuade Iraq's insurgents to lay down their weapons and join the political process. But the insurgency is thought to be made up of diverse groups of fighters, and it is unclear how broad a cross-section has been involved in the contacts with the United States. [complete article]
Senate impasse on Bolton persists
By Mary Curtius, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2005
The Senate standoff over John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations continued Tuesday, with the administration rejecting what Democrats said was their latest compromise offer.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) searched for the 60 votes he would need to cut off debate on the nomination, but it was unclear whether he would seek a Senate vote this week or delay the confirmation battle until at least next week. [complete article]
Bush team appears to end effort to oust atomic chief
By David E. Sanger and Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, June 9, 2005
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, confirming news reports that she had summoned Dr. ElBaradei to see her in Washington on Thursday, said that "we have worked well with Dr. ElBaradei in the past." She said she looked forward to discussing with him "his vision for what the I.A.E.A. will be in these next extremely important years."
A senior administration official, parsing Dr. Rice's careful wording, said her comments were intended to indicate that President Bush's aides were prepared to put aside their objections and try to work with Dr. ElBaradei on several issues, particularly the American and European effort to prevent Iran from having nuclear weapons.
Within the administration, and also among Europeans and others involved in trying to influence the atomic energy agency, the end of the effort to oust Dr. ElBaradei was seen as a defeat for John R. Bolton, until recently the under secretary of state for arms control and international security and now the nominee to be United Nations ambassador.
Mr. Bolton had convinced his colleagues at the State Department and the White House that Dr. ElBaradei should be ousted, but administration officials said he had failed to win international backing or to persuade anyone with comparable credentials to step forward to replace him. [complete article]
Comment -- John Bolton's supporters claim that he's the only guy tough enough to stand up to the UN. The thing is, even if you like the way he looks, the way he talks, the way he thinks, and everything he stands for, isn't there still one glaring problem? The guy's incompetant!
Military scapegoats walk a well-worn path
By Jonathan Turley, USA Today, June 6, 2005
In Fort Hood, Texas, the latest grunt will soon face charges of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. As with six other GIs, Pfc. Lynndie England will carry more than her individual responsibility for torture into her trial. She will carry the hopes of one of the world's smallest and most exclusive clubs: the 870 star-studded admirals and generals who command the military services.
It may be the U.S. military's longest unbroken tradition. When scandals occur, scapegoats are gathered from the lower ranks and offered for the sins of their superiors. [complete article]
Bush aide softened greenhouse gas links to global warming
By Andrew C. Revkin, New York Times, June 8, 2005
A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.
In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved. In many cases, the changes appeared in the final reports.
The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase "significant and fundamental" before the word "uncertainties," tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.
Mr. Cooney is chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues.
Before going to the White House in 2001, he was the "climate team leader" and a lobbyist at the American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade group representing the interests of the oil industry. A lawyer with a bachelor's degree in economics, he has no scientific training. [complete article]
Comment -- "Softened"!! Does headline writing for the Times require pre-existing pathological tendencies, or are they acquired through on-the-job training? The Times' sister paper, the International Herald Tribune has no problem providing the same article with a clear, factual headline: "White House official altered climate data". Was that so difficult?
After lowering goal, Army falls short on May recruits
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, June 8, 2005
Even after reducing its recruiting target for May, the Army missed it by about 25 percent, Army officials said on Tuesday. The shortfall would have been even bigger had the Army stuck to its original goal for the month.
On Friday, the Army is expected to announce that it met only 75 percent of its recruiting goal for May, the fourth consecutive monthly shortfall in the number of new recruits sent to basic training. Just over 5,000 new recruits entered boot camp in May.
But the news could have appeared worse. Early last month, the Army, with no public notice, lowered its long-stated May goal to 6,700 recruits from 8,050. Compared with the original target, the Army achieved only 62.6 percent of its goal for the month. [complete article]
"Dissent has to be within the system"
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 9, 2005
The American Foreign Service Association recently announced that John M. Evans, the U.S. ambassador to Armenia, was to receive a prestigious award for "constructive dissent" for characterizing as genocide the deaths of 1.5 million Armenians in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire in 1915. His comments stirred such a diplomatic tempest that Evans not only had to retract his remarks but also had to later clarify his retraction.
Earlier this week, however, the selection committee met again and decided to withdraw the honor, known as the Christian A. Herter Award. They decided not to offer any award in the category, reserved for a senior foreign service officer. Other awards are issued for officers at lower levels.
The timing of the association's decision appeared curious, given it came just before Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan arrived in Washington for a meeting with President Bush to bolster strained U.S.-Turkish relations. John W. Limbert, president of the association, said that no one at the organization can remember an award being withdrawn after it had been announced. [complete article]
Iran preparing for advanced nuclear work, officials say
By Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2005
Iran has plans to install tens of thousands of advanced centrifuges at its huge underground nuclear plant near the central city of Natanz, which eventually would enable the nation to enrich uranium nearly twice as fast as anticipated, Western intelligence officials say.
The officials say there is no hard evidence that Iran is currently manufacturing the updated centrifuges and that the timetable for installation remains unknown. However, preparatory work is underway at the plant, they said in recent interviews, and the decision to rely on the superior type of centrifuge suggests Iran could manufacture fissile material for a possible weapon sooner than expected.
Diplomats with knowledge of Iran's nuclear program said they could not confirm the information, but Tehran said last year that it intended to use the advanced centrifuges at some point. [complete article]
CHANGE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Campaign to change Mideast under fire
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, June 9, 2005
A year after the United States persuaded allies to launch a campaign to spur democratic change in the Islamic world, the Bush administration faces growing criticism for failing to follow through or get tough enough with Arab governments, according to Arab activists, Middle East analysts, human rights experts and even some on its own foreign policy staff.
Some Arab democrats say they are increasingly skeptical about U.S. promises to end six decades of tolerating the political order in the Arab world, including strong alliances with authoritarian governments such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
"There is growing concern among advocates of democracy in the region that the United States may not be serious," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leading democrat who has been jailed by the Egyptian government and is now a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars. The United States is sending "mixed signals" and doing "too little, too late" on key issues, he said. Other activists who initially praised the administration's strong words say they now fear the statements were empty rhetoric. [complete article]
Reformers in Saudi Arabia: Seeking rights, paying a price
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, June 9, 2005
...reformers [in Saudi Arabia] tend to be isolated dissidents, sometimes labeled heretics, much like those persecuted under Soviet totalitarianism.
Even those who pursue the mildest forms of protest are slapped with long prison sentences. The right to assemble does not exist, political parties are banned along with nongovernment organizations, and the ruling princes constantly tell editors what they can print. Local television is almost all clerics, all the time. [complete article]
In Mideast elections, militants gain
By Dan Murphy and Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, June 8, 2005
The electoral successes of Hamas and Hizbullah has the Bush administration contemplating the previously unthinkable: dealing with those it deems terrorists.
The militant Palestinian group Hamas made significant gains in local elections in January. And many suspect they would have won this summer's legislative vote had it not been postponed this week. In Lebanon, Hizbullah flexed its political muscle on Sunday when a slate of candidates it heads swept the polls in the south of the country, making the organization a major force in the new government. [complete article]
Talk to Hamas, the group says it's dying for everyone to listen
By Ghazi Hamed, Daily Star, June 9, 2005
Ever since Hamas' inception in 1987, during the outbreak of the first intifada, it has been seeking to expand its platform in its Arab and international surroundings. As the movement grew increasingly prominent with the escalation of its military operations against Israeli occupation forces, Arab and international interest in the movement also increased. Soon it became the focus of attention for observers and analysts, who viewed its emergence as a turning point in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and an indication of a widespread Islamic renaissance, one increasingly affecting political life. In addition, Hamas' victory in the municipal elections, its willingness to participate in Palestinian Legislative Council elections (which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas postponed last week), and its ever-growing political participation in general, granted Hamas a wider platform to open the door to the West, where many countries consider it a terrorist organization. [complete article]
Egypt keeps Muslim Brotherhood boxed in
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, June 7, 2005
Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazief is explaining to a small group of reporters his government's commitment to democracy. He promises that restrictions on political parties will soon be eased to allow for real political competition.
But when asked if the regime will legalize the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most popular and best-organized opposition group, a bit of steel creeps into his congenial tone. "Never," he says. The Brotherhood "will never be a political party."
Syria's leap - forward, or over the precipice?
By David Hirst, Daily Star, June 7, 2005
Hitherto, America's fluctuating attitudes to Damascus have always been strategic, not idealistic. Its hostility is now clearly growing: it calls the regime a "major disruptive force" in the region. But it is still not clear - even, one senses, to American diplomats in Damascus - whether all the Bush administration wants is unconditional changes in Syrian behavior, or full-scale regime change. "It's certainly the first," commented a European diplomat, "but [the United States] wouldn't mind if, by an inexorable logic, this led to the second."
The Syrian people may be more authentically anti-American than its leadership, believing as many do that the Assad regime's time-honored "anti-imperialist" stance is empty rhetoric contradicted by a patent readiness to collaborate with the U.S. in the interest of its own survival. However, in their day-to-day existence, Syrians dislike their own government even more. [complete article]
Outside Iraq but deep in the fight
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, Washington Post, June 8, 2005
When the Americans led the invasion of Iraq, the men of Abu Ibrahim's family gathered in the courtyard of their shared home in the far north of Syria. Ten slips of paper were folded into a plastic bag, and they drew lots. The five who opened a paper marked with ink would go to Iraq and fight. The other five would stay behind.
Abu Ibrahim drew a blank. But remaining in Syria did not mean staying clear of the war. For more than two years, by his own detailed account, the slightly built, shabbily dressed 32-year-old father of four has worked diligently to shuttle other young Arab men into Iraq, stocking the insurgency that has killed hundreds of U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis.
The stream of fighters -- most of them Syrians, but lately many of them Saudis, favored for the cash they bring -- has sustained and replenished the hardest core of the Iraq insurgency, and supplied many of its suicide bombers. Drawn from a number of Arab countries and nurtured by a militant interpretation of Islam, they insist they are fighting for their vision of their faith. This may put them beyond the reach of political efforts to make Iraq's Sunni Arabs stakeholders in the country's nascent government. [complete article]
Insurgents reportedly ready to talk
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, June 8, 2005
A former minister in Iraq's interim government said Tuesday that the leaders of two insurgent groups were prepared to discuss conditions for ending their campaign of attacks.
Aiham Alsammarae, who was electricity minister under the former government of Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, said the groups, which he identified as the Islamic Army in Iraq and the Mujaheddin Army, were willing to enter negotiations with U.S. and Iraqi officials. [complete article]
U.S. Marines detained 19 contractors in Iraq
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2005
U.S. Marines forcibly detained a team of security guards working for an American engineering firm in Iraq after reportedly witnessing the contractors fire at U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians from an armed convoy, the military said Tuesday.
"I never in my career have treated anybody so inhumane," one of the contractors, Rick Blanchard, a former Florida state trooper, wrote in an e-mail message. "They treated us like insurgents, roughed us up, took photos, hazed us, called us names." [complete article]
Poll finds dimmer view of Iraq war
By Dana Milbank and Claudia Deane, Washington Post, June 8, 2005
For the first time since the war in Iraq began, more than half of the American public believes the fight there has not made the United States safer, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.
While the focus in Washington has shifted from the Iraq conflict to Social Security and other domestic matters, the survey found that Americans continue to rank Iraq second only to the economy in importance -- and that many are losing patience with the enterprise. [complete article]
U.S. drops opposition to IAEA chief
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, June 8, 2005
The Bush administration, having found no alternate candidate or support from any allies, has given up on its attempt to force out Mohamed ElBaradei as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to two U.S. officials.
With ElBaradei's bid for a third term virtually guaranteed when the agency's board meets next week, the White House decided to invite him to Washington for a talk tomorrow with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice about the terms of U.S. support, the officials said.
"We're willing to lift our objections under certain conditions," one of the officials said. "Namely, get tougher on Iran."
The Bush administration's vigorous but solitary campaign -- including a complete halt of intelligence sharing, recruitment of potential replacements and eavesdropping on ElBaradei in search of ammunition against him -- won not a single ally on the IAEA board.
ElBaradei, who repeatedly challenged U.S. assertions about Iraq's weapons programs, does not need Washington's backing to be reappointed. He is supported by the 34 other countries on the IAEA board.
[John] Bolton was the driving force behind efforts to oust ElBaradei -- whose stance on Iraq and cautious approach on Iran put him deeply at odds with the White House. But Bolton's efforts ran into trouble in December after revelations that U.S. officials were culling intercepts of ElBaradei's phone conversations for material to use against him. [complete article]
The Downing Street Memo story won't die
By Jefferson Morley, Washington Post, June 7, 2005
The story attracted some news coverage in the United States, but not much. Last month, the Chicago Tribune concluded that "the Downing Street memo story has proven to be something of a dud in the United States.
"The White House has denied the premise of the memo, the American media have reacted slowly to it and the public generally seems indifferent to the issue or unwilling to rehash the bitter prewar debate over the reasons for the war," wrote reporters Stephen J. Hedges and Mark Silva.
Still the story won't go away, thanks to the attention it gets on the Internet.
"I think it's a ... profoundly important document that raises stunning issues here at home," Sen. John Kerry told a Massachusetts audience last week. "And it's amazing to me the way it escaped major media discussion. It's not being missed on the Internet, I can tell you that."
Kerry promised to raise the issue when he returned to Washington this week. [complete article]
Comment -- In yesterday's White House press conference a reporter asked: On Iraq, the so-called Downing Street Memo from July, 2002, says, "Intelligence and facts remain fixed around the policy of removing Saddam through military actions." Is this an accurate reflection of what happened? It was a lame question. Why give Blair and Bush an opportunity to portray the memo as inaccurate when no one has refuted its authenticity? He could have asked: Mr Blair. According to the so-called Downing Street Memo, the head of your intelligence service, Sir Richard Dearlove, had concluded from his talks in Washington in July 2002 and reported to you that military action against Iraq was now seen as inevitable. What led him to that conclusion?
North Korea: The war game
By Scott Stossel, Atlantic Monthly (via Carnegie), July/August, 2005
On the third weekend in March, while America was transfixed by the most exciting NCAA basketball tournament in years, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was in the Far East, in the midst of a series of meetings with her opposite numbers in six Asian countries. Arriving in Seoul, South Korea, on Saturday, she boarded a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter and flew to Command Post Tango, the underground bunker that would be the nerve center for the U.S. military in the event of a war against North Korea. While not quite on the order of Ariel Sharon's parading around the Temple Mount in Israel, Rice's move was undeniably provocative. No high-ranking American official had ever visited the bunker before -- and the choice of a military site as the secretary of state's first stop seemed to represent a gentle rattling of the sword. What's more, Rice spoke against a backdrop of computers and television screens monitoring the 20,000 South Korean and American soldiers who were at that very moment engaging in one of their regular war-game exercises -- practicing, in effect, to fight a war with North Korea no sane person hopes ever to see. [complete article]
See also In harm's way (PDF) for a report on the possible fallout resulting from the use of nuclear "bunker buster" weapons targeted at North Korea's nuclear facilities.
Security officials said lobbying for 'crushing blow' against Hamas
By Amos Harel, Nir Hasson and Arnon Regular, Haaretz, June 8, 2005
Some IDF and Shin Bet officials believe that Israel will be forced to land a "crushing blow" on Hamas prior to the disengagement, following repeated shelling attacks and other terror-related operations by the militant group, Army Radio reported Wednesday.
The report came a day after three workers - two Palestinians and a Chinese man - were killed when a Qassam rocket hit a packing shed near the hothouses in the Gaza Strip settlement of Ganei Tal. Five other Palestinian workmen were injured. Hamas and Islamic Jihad gunners also shelled Sderot on Tuesday, damaging several homes but causing no casualties.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and the heads of the defense establishment have repeatedly vowed that there would be "no disengagement under fire." Senior officials have added that they believed Hamas - which has claimed the pullout as a victory for its campaign of attacks - would hold its fire in order to assure tht the evacuation took place. [complete article]
Jerusalem park plan imperils Arab homes
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2005
In a valley beneath the towering walls of Jerusalem's Old City, a Palestinian named Hashem Jalajel sat in the shade of a fig tree, holding in his age-palsied hands a document that he feared could herald the destruction of his family home of generations' standing.
"I can't read it," the 76-year-old patriarch said apologetically, passing the Hebrew-language notice to one of his grandsons to read aloud. "But I've memorized everything it says."
Like dozens of other homeowners in this cave-pocked valley that is now a jammed and jostling Palestinian neighborhood, Jalajel has received an eviction order from the municipality of Jerusalem, designating one of the homes in his family compound as an illegal structure that is to be destroyed.
In all, 88 homes in the Silwan district of traditionally Arab East Jerusalem are marked for demolition to make way for what municipal authorities say will be an archeological park devoted to Jewish history and sites associated with the biblical King David.
The battle over this slice of Silwan is emblematic of a larger fight for control of Jerusalem, which lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both sides declare the city their capital, and neither is willing to renounce its claim. [complete article]
Arms fiascoes lead to alarm inside Pentagon
By Tim Weiner, New York Times, June 8, 2005
Nine years ago, the Navy set out to build a new guided missile for its 21st-century ships. Fiascoes followed. In a test firing, the missile melted its on-board guidance system. "Incredibly," an Army review said, "the Navy ruled the test a success."
Recently, the Navy rewrote the contract and put out another one, with little to show for the money it already spent. The bill has come to almost $400 million, five times the original budget.
Such stories may seem old hat. But after years of failing to control cost overruns, the most powerful officials at the Pentagon are becoming increasingly alarmed that the machinery for building weapons is breaking down under its own weight.
"Something's wrong with the system," Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld recently told Congress.
The Pentagon has more than 80 major new weapons systems under development, which is "a lot more programs than we can afford," a senior Air Force official, Blaise J. Durante, said. Their combined cost, already $300 billion over budget, is $1.47 trillion and climbing. [complete article]
The ambiguous arsenal
By Jeffrey Lewis, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June, 2005
If you read the Washington Times, in addition to believing that Iraqi weapons of mass destruction are hidden somewhere in Syria, you might believe that "China's aggressive strategic nuclear-modernization program" was proceeding apace. If munching on freedom fries at a Heritage Foundation luncheon is your thing, you might worry that "even marginal improvements to [China's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)] derived from U.S. technical know-how" threaten the United States.
So, it may come as a shock to learn that China's nuclear arsenal is about the same size it was a decade ago, and that the missile that prompted the Washington Times article has been under development since the mid-1980s. Perhaps your anxiety about "marginal improvements" to China's missile force would recede as you learned that China's 18 ICBMs, sitting unfueled in their silos, their nuclear warheads in storage, are essentially the same as they were the day China began deploying them in 1981. In fact, contrary to reports you might have recently read that Chinese nukes number in the hundreds--if not the thousands--the true size of the country's operationally deployed arsenal is probably about 80 nuclear weapons. [complete article]
Oil: Caveat empty
By Alfred J. Cavallo, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, May/June, 2005
Without any press conferences, grand announcements, or hyperbolic advertising campaigns, the Exxon Mobil Corporation, one of the world's largest publicly owned petroleum companies, has quietly joined the ranks of those who are predicting an impending plateau in non-OPEC oil production. Their report, The Outlook for Energy: A 2030 View, forecasts a peak in just five years.
In the past, many who expressed such concerns were dismissed as eager catastrophists, peddling the latest Malthusian prophecy of the impending collapse of fossil-fueled civilization. Their reliance on private oil-reserve data that is unverifiable by other analysts, and their use of models that ignore political and economic factors, have led to frequent erroneous pronouncements. They were countered by the extreme optimists, who believed that we would never need to think about such problems and that the markets would take care of everything. Up to now, those who worried about limited petroleum supplies have been at best ignored, and at worst openly ridiculed. [complete article]
Uzbekistan: New report documents massacre
Human Rights Watch, June 7, 2005
The killing of unarmed protesters by the Uzbek government in Andijan last month was so extensive and unjustified that it amounted to a massacre, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing the most comprehensive investigation to date of the tragic events in eastern Uzbekistan.
The report, "Bullets Were Falling Like Rain": The Andijan Massacre May 13, 2005, is based on 50 interviews with victims of and witnesses to the May 13 killings. It details the Uzbek government's indiscriminate use of lethal force against unarmed people, describes government efforts to silence witnesses, and places the events against the background of Uzbekistan's worsening human rights record.
Although armed men were present in Bobur Square during the shootings, the Uzbek government's use of force against the crowd in the square was neither proportionate nor appropriate to the danger they posed, Human Rights Watch said. [complete article]
Colonel Sanders finds himself under fiery siege in Pakistan
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times, June 8, 2005
Four times since Pakistan allied itself with the United States campaign against terrorism, a KFC outlet here has been attacked. Each time, the owner, Rafiq Rangoonwala, dutifully cleaned up and reopened for business. This time, with six of his employees dead, he's not so sure.
Last week, as evening prayers began at a Shiite mosque down the street, a suicide bomber believed to belong to a Sunni extremist group linked to Al Qaeda blew himself up inside the mosque compound, splattering his remains across the high courtyard wall.
Minutes later, a mob, believed to be led by outraged Shiites, stormed Mr. Rangoonwala's KFC outlet, dousing its floors with gasoline, setting it ablaze and then blocking the entry of rescue workers. Six hours later, the six bodies were hauled out. Four had been burned. Two had frozen to death in the walk-in freezer; their bodies were found only after a mobile phone belonging to one of the men rang. The dead had all worked at the KFC, and they were all local men in their mid-20's. [complete article]
Car bombs kill at least 20 as attacks roil northern Iraq
By Edward Wong, New York Times, June 7, 2005
At least 20 Iraqis were killed and 30 were wounded today when three suicide car bombs went off at around the same time in the northern town of Hawija, long considered a stronghold of the insurgency, a police chief said.
The simultaneous car bombs pointed to a revival of the relentless spate of suicide car bombs that plagued Baghdad last month, after the appointment of the Shiite-led government.
Though such attacks have decreased in the capital in the last week, perhaps because of an offensive sweep here called Operation Lightning, the insurgents have demonstrated again and again that they can shift their targets to places outside Baghdad, with startling and deadly results. Throughout the war, the insurgency has melted away in those locations where American and Iraqi forces have started major offensives, only to re-emerge with immense ferocity in other embattled areas. [complete article]
Fighting blind in Iraq
By Barry R. Posen, New York Times, June 7, 2005
Insurgencies and counterinsurgencies are, above all, intelligence wars - for both sides. Insurgents are invariably at a disadvantage in terms of troops and firepower. They survive only if they have superior information, which they derive from broad popular support. This support - whether voluntary or coerced - allows them to hit, run and hide; to kill and survive to kill again. Their effort collapses when their opponents possess superior information.
Thus in Iraq, the American and Iraqi counterinsurgents face two key tasks: they must collect intelligence on the insurgents, and they must prevent the insurgents from collecting intelligence on their own troops. Though there have been a few successes, the weight of evidence suggests that the Americans and Iraqis are failing on both counts.
The insurgents have very good information. Many reports suggest that they have operatives within the Iraqi security organizations and bureaucracies. They also have a vast network of observers who simply watch what the security forces do everyday and report what they see to insurgent gunmen. Assassinations of Iraqi government officials, including senior security officials, and ambushes of security forces reveal a formidable intelligence apparatus. Car bombs seem to be regularly directed at American convoys; the insurgents must know their routes and their schedules. [complete article]
Whistle-blower at Los Alamos attacked in Santa Fe parking lot
By Bradley Graham and Griff Witte, Washington Post, June 7, 2005
An employee at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who has alleged fraud at the facility was badly beaten in the parking lot of a Santa Fe bar over the weekend in what his wife and lawyer yesterday said was an attempt to silence him.
The employee, Tommy Hook, had been scheduled to testify before a House committee, elaborating on internal audits that pointed to procurement fraud and financial waste at the lab, which conducts classified work on nuclear weapons, among other research.
At a news conference yesterday, Hook's wife, Susan, said Hook had gone to the Santa Fe bar Cheeks late Saturday evening to meet an individual who claimed to have corroborating information about fraud at Los Alamos. But that person never appeared. When Hook got into his car around midnight to leave, several assailants pulled him out, then kicked and punched him.
"If you know what's good for you, you'll keep your mouth shut," Susan Hook quoted the assailants as telling her husband. [complete article]
PREVIOUSLY: Livermore engineer's mysterious death
By Mike Weiss, San Francisco Chronicle, February 15, 2000
Frustrated Livermore police detectives are accusing Lawrence Livermore Laboratory of stonewalling an investigation into the slaying of a reclusive designer who uncovered a serious flaw in the lab's troubled $1 billion weapons testing program.
Lee Scott Hall, 54, was discovered beaten and repeatedly stabbed in the bedroom of his Livermore home October 20 by two co-workers. Hall was a lead designer on the $1.2 billion National Ignition Facility, which when completed will monitor the nation's nuclear stockpile without the need for underground testing.
For a year, Hall had been trying to bring attention to a miscalculation in a multimillion-dollar installation of super laser beams that is part of the ignition facility. But only in the weeks leading up to his death had the laboratory acknowledged his findings and begun to deal with them. [complete article]
Comment -- As the article about Lee Scott Hall makes clear, this isn't the first time that a University of California-overseen nuclear research facility has become embroiled in scandal. While allegations of fraud and corruption hang over these facilities, what level of security can they be expected to maintain when it seems that they are struggling to keep their own house in order? John Kerry and George Bush both agreed that nuclear terrorism is the greatest threat facing America, but responding to that threat obviously involves much more than protecting the borders. As Noah Shachtman demonstrated in 2003, even after 9/11 it wasn't difficult for him to sneak into Los Alamos.
PUBLIC RELATIONS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
SCO members vow to further cooperation against "three evil forces"
People's Daily Online, June 5, 2005
Foreign ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) reaffirmed their readiness on Saturday to further cooperate on combating "three evil forces", namely, terrorism, extremism and separatism.
SCO -- a regional organization grouping China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan -- released a joint communique after the meeting, noting that the ministers discussed preparations for the upcoming meeting of the heads of the member states, which is slated for July in the Kazakh capital of Astana.
Terrorism, extremism and separatism have posed major threats to security and stability in Central Asia, said the foreign ministers in the joint communique, adding the July summit will further strengthen related cooperation between the member countries. [complete article]
Comment -- If there's one thing that's clear from this communique it's that China, Russian, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan know exactly how to play the public relations game even if they have little appetite for democracy and human rights.
Dodd proposes compromise over information he seeks on Bolton
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, June 7, 2005
A leading Senate opponent of John R. Bolton's nomination as ambassador to the United Nations has signaled that Democrats will drop their objections to a vote on Mr. Bolton's nomination if the White House compromises in a dispute over access to information about his actions.
Senate Republicans are expected to try again this week to push for a vote on Mr. Bolton's nomination. Senate Democrats succeeded last month in blocking such a vote, but they have said they are not certain of succeeding again, even if the administration continues to refuse to hand over the information they have demanded.
The opponent, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut, did not abandon the Democrats' insistence that the administration provide more information about Mr. Bolton's role in two areas, including his success in obtaining highly classified information about American individuals and companies whose names appeared in communications intercepted by the National Security Agency.
But in a letter to John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, Mr. Dodd suggested that Democrats could settle for something less than complete access to those names. As one possibility, Mr. Dodd proposed that Mr. Negroponte might instead assure the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that none of the names obtained by Mr. Bolton were among "names of concern" to be listed by the panel. [complete article]
Dilemma for Washington as ICC begins Darfur probe
By Guy Dinmore and Nikki Tait, Financial Times, June 6, 2005
The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Monday launched an investigation into suspected war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region, a development likely to present problems for the Bush administration as it opposes the court's existence and maintains close intelligence links with the Khartoum government.
The US had no immediate reaction to the ICC statement, and it is not clear whether it will co-operate with requests for help. Sudan has previously refused to co-operate. US legislation blocks co-operation with the court, but a senior State Department official has said that requests could be considered on a case-by-case basis.
The Bush administration, analysts say, has put itself in a delicate situation. On the one hand the US last year was the first big power to accuse the Sudanese government and Janjaweed militia of responsibility for genocide in Darfur. Yet it lobbied against a UN Security Council resolution in March that referred the case to the ICC because of its opposition to the court.
John Bolton, whose confirmation as the next US envoy to the UN has been held up in the Senate, has spearheaded Washington's efforts against the court. [complete article]
Watergate weighs on today's White House
By Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2005
Shortly after a 91-year-old man was revealed last week as the answer to the 30-year-old mystery of the Watergate affair, President Bush cast the scandal as something from the distant past.
"A lot of people wondered … who 'Deep Throat' was, including me," Bush said after news broke that former FBI official W. Mark Felt had been the source leaking Watergate details to the press. "It would kind of fade from my memory, and then all of a sudden, somebody would pop it back in. Some story would reinvigorate that period."
And yet, far more than Bush has publicly acknowledged, Watergate and its aftermath have exerted a strong influence on the policies and attitudes of the president and others now in the White House -- some of whom had front-row seats for the scandal as members of the Nixon and Ford administrations.
Vice President Dick Cheney, who worked in the Nixon White House and served as chief of staff to President Ford, has spoken of using his current position to restore powers of the presidency that he believes were diminished as a result of Watergate and the Vietnam War. By withholding details of his energy task force meetings and advising Bush to aggressively take the reins of power after the contested 2000 election, Cheney has tried to rekindle a broad view of executive authority. [complete article]
Critics: Pentagon in blinders
By Stephen J. Hedges, Chicago Tribune, June 6, 2005
Nearly 16 years ago, a group of four military officers and a civilian predicted the rise of terrorism and anti-American insurgencies with chilling accuracy.
The group said U.S. military technology was so advanced that foreign forces would be unlikely to challenge it directly, and it forecast that future foes would be non-state insurgents and terrorists whose weapons would be suicide car bombs, not precision-guided weapons.
"Today, the United States is spending $500 million apiece for stealth bombers," the group wrote in a 1989 article that appeared in a professional military journal. "A terrorist stealth bomber is a car with a bomb in the trunk--a car that looks like every other car."
The five men dubbed their theory "Fourth Generation Warfare" and warned that the U.S. military had to adapt. In the years since, the original group of officers, joined by a growing number of officers and scholars within the military, has pressed Pentagon leaders to acknowledge this emerging threat.
But rather than adopting a new strategy, the generals and civilian leaders in the Defense Department have continued to support conventional, high-intensity conflict and the expensive weapons that go with it. That is happening, critics say, despite lethal insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan. [complete article]
Iraq's politically savvy insurgency proves its staying power
By John Yaukey, Gannett News (via Army Times), June 6, 2005
The insurgent stronghold of Fallujah fell in November. The parliamentary elections Jan. 30 came and went. Iraq's new elected government took power in April. Each was touted as a major victory against Iraq's insurgents.
And yet Iraqi forces, backed by U.S. troops, are now conducting the largest offensive in Iraq since Baghdad fell two years ago. The mission is to root out what has become an insurgency with proven staying power and evolving sophistication especially capable of exploiting political vulnerabilities.
May saw a bump in U.S. casualties -- the highest since January -- as insurgents ramped up a car bombing campaign largely responsible for killing 79 U.S. troops and hundreds of Iraqis. So far, more than 1,600 U.S. forces have been killed in Iraq, and American taxpayers have spent more than $190 billion - with no end in sight. [complete article]
Cleric to avoid Iraqi politics for now
By Qassam Abdul Zahra, Newsday, June 6, 2005
Scores of supplicants filed slowly past Muqtada al-Sadr, kissing his hands in a show of loyalty to this fiery young anti-American cleric who has created one of the most dynamic religious and political movements in Iraq.
But despite the support he enjoys, al-Sadr told The Associated Press in a rare interview he would steer clear of Iraqi politics as long as U.S. troops remain in the country, and warned the current government legitimizes the occupation instead of preparing for its end.
"As long as the occupier is here, I will not interfere in the political process," he said, adjusting himself on a brown cushion lying on the floor of a long hallway. "I would like to condemn and denounce the last Iraqi government's decision to legalize the occupation. Legalizing the occupation is rejected from any angle." [complete article]
Iran's reform activists banking on candidate Mostafa Moin
By Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, June 6, 2005
The people of this sleepy Iranian town near the Iraqi border flocked to the Grand Mosque on Saturday to hear would-be reformer Mostafa Moin make his case for why he should be the next president of Iran.
Children shouted and waved, and drivers honked in greeting as Moin's orange bus, plastered with posters promising an "Iran for all Iranians," rumbled past. "Peace be on prophet Muhammad, the nation's helper has come!" supporters chanted, playing off Moin's last name, which means "helper" in Arabic.
But as impressed as the ethnically Arab residents of Soosangerd were to see Moin - he's the only one of Iran's eight presidential candidates to campaign here - many said they saw no point in voting for him. That despite the fact that this town overwhelmingly supported another reformer, outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, eight years ago when he was first elected and when he was re-elected four years ago. [complete article]
India upbeat on Iran gas link after Pakistan talks
By Himangshu Watts, Reuters, June 6, 2005
Plans to build a $4-billion pipeline to bring Iranian gas to South Asia may be firmed up by next year, India's oil minister said on Monday, but analysts say security and funding of the project remain formidable hurdles.
Mani Shankar Aiyar, on a visit to Islamabad for bilateral talks energy cooperation, said he was optimistic after discussions with Pakistani leaders including Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
"I am now confident we will be able to get the project off the ground in a significant sense by the beginning of the new year," Mani Shankar Aiyar told reporters in Islamabad. [complete article]
Cultural revival blooms after Lebanese revolt
By Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, June 5, 2005
Last year, during municipal elections in Beirut, posters bearing the shadowy image of a man named Al Murashah started appearing on walls that line the streets of Beirut. He took his place next to the many thousands of images of familiar sectarian leaders that become ubiquitous during Lebanon's political seasons.
But Al Murashah was a fiction, a candidate invented by an underground art group called Heartland. This year, during Lebanon's first elections without the presence of Syrian troops in almost 30 years, Heartland was back, not with Al Murashah, but with a project they call "Propaganda." Instead of a generic face, they've posted blank sheets of paper. [complete article]
Lebanese 'De Gaulle' wages political battle
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, June 4, 2005
When Michel Aoun returned in triumph to Lebanon after nearly 15 years in exile, the former soldier, Christian politician and would-be reformer greeted a noisy crowd at the airport with the words of someone used to being in charge.
"Shut up!" he snapped.
So marked the arrival of a man known to his admirers as "the general." He is a former commander of the Lebanese army who fought fellow Christians as well as Syrians in the 1975-90 civil war and waged a lonely battle from abroad against the Syrian presence in his country. Now, with the nation newly free of those troops, he insists he wants to overhaul Lebanon's precarious political system, which is built on a tangled web of clans, feudal-like lords, tycoons, bosses and enough patronage to somehow lash it all together. [complete article]
AP probe on Bolton finds disturbing links to Iraq war
By Charles J. Hanley, AP (via E&P), June 4, 2005
John R. Bolton flew to Europe in 2002 to confront the head of a global arms-control agency and demand he resign, then orchestrated the firing of the unwilling diplomat in a move a U.N. tribunal has since judged unlawful, according to officials involved.
A former Bolton deputy says the U.S. undersecretary of state felt Jose Bustani "had to go," particularly because the Brazilian was trying to send chemical weapons inspectors to Baghdad. That might have helped defuse the crisis over alleged Iraqi weapons and undermined a U.S. rationale for war.
Bustani, who says he got a "menacing" phone call from Bolton at one point, was removed by a vote of just one-third of member nations at an unusual special session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), at which the United States cited alleged mismanagement in calling for his ouster. [complete article]
Bush's optimism on Iraq debated
By Jim VandeHei and Peter Baker, Washington Post, June 5, 2005
President Bush's portrayal of a wilting insurgency in Iraq at a time of escalating violence and insecurity throughout the country is reviving the debate over the administration's Iraq strategy and the accuracy of its upbeat claims.
While Bush and Vice President Cheney offer optimistic assessments of the situation, a fresh wave of car bombings and other attacks killed 80 U.S. soldiers and more than 700 Iraqis last month alone and prompted Iraqi leaders to appeal to the administration for greater help. Privately, some administration officials have concluded the violence will not subside through this year. [complete article]
Bunkers reveal well-equipped, sophisticated insurgency
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, June 4, 2005
Marines in Iraq discovered a series of underground bunkers used by insurgents in western Iraq that show a sophisticated organization with a vast supply of weapons and enough confidence to operate near a major Marine base.
The well-equipped, air-conditioned bunkers, found Thursday, were just 16 miles from the city of Fallujah where hundreds of Marines are stationed. Measuring 558 feet by 902 feet, the underground system of rooms featured four fully furnished living spaces, showers and a kitchen with fresh food - suggesting insurgents had been present recently, according to the U.S. military. [complete article]
Good intentions gone bad
By Rod Nordland, Newsweek, June 13, 2005
Two years ago I went to Iraq as an unabashed believer in toppling Saddam Hussein. I knew his regime well from previous visits; WMDs or no, ridding the world of Saddam would surely be for the best, and America's good intentions would carry the day. What went wrong? A lot, but the biggest turning point was the Abu Ghraib scandal. Since April 2004 the liberation of Iraq has become a desperate exercise in damage control. The abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib alienated a broad swath of the Iraqi public. On top of that, it didn't work. There is no evidence that all the mistreatment and humiliation saved a single American life or led to the capture of any major terrorist, despite claims by the military that the prison produced "actionable intelligence."
Living and working in Iraq, it's hard not to succumb to despair. At last count America has pumped at least $7 billion into reconstruction projects, with little to show for it but the hostility of ordinary Iraqis, who still have an 18 percent unemployment rate. Most of the cash goes to U.S. contractors who spend much of it on personal security. Basic services like electricity, water and sewers still aren't up to prewar levels. Electricity is especially vital in a country where summer temperatures commonly reach 125 degrees Fahrenheit. Yet only 15 percent of Iraqis have reliable electrical service. In the capital, where it counts most, it's only 4 percent.
The most powerful army in human history can't even protect a two-mile stretch of road. The Airport Highway connects both the international airport and Baghdad's main American military base, Camp Victory, to the city center. At night U.S. troops secure the road for the use of dignitaries; they close it to traffic and shoot at any unauthorized vehicles. More troops and more helicopters could help make the whole country safer. Instead the Pentagon has been drawing down the number of helicopters. And America never deployed nearly enough soldiers. They couldn't stop the orgy of looting that followed Saddam's fall. Now their primary mission is self-defense at any cost -- which only deepens Iraqis' resentment. [complete article]
U.S. doubts Zarqawi went to Syria
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, June 4, 2005
U.S. intelligence now discounts reports that the leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, crossed into Syria earlier this year for a summit with the heads of Iraqi insurgent groups to map out a new strategy of suicide bombings against U.S. and Iraqi forces, administration officials said yesterday.
The intelligence assessment contradicts an assertion last month by a senior U.S. military official in Baghdad that Zarqawi had called the April summit in Syria. After a brief lull in violence following the January election, the pace of suicide bombings has picked up dramatically in Iraq.
U.S. officials now say U.S. intelligence was always skeptical of the military's assertions about Zarqawi, which they said were based largely on questionable information obtained during the interrogation of a detainee in Baghdad. Reports that Zarqawi made the trip to Syria further inflamed tensions between the Bush administration and the government of President Bashar Assad. [complete article]
Kurds meet to pave way for unified self-rule area
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, June 5, 2005
Iraqi Kurdistan's newly elected regional parliament convened for the first time on Saturday in the northern city of Irbil, paving the way for the unification of a Kurdish self-rule area divided between two rival parties.
Many Kurds believe the merger is vital if they are to realise their national aspirations - including regional autonomy and control over the disputed province of Kirkuk. [complete article]
Radical Iraqi cleric moves into mainstream
By Hamza Hendawi, AP (via The Guardian), June 5, 2005
Arguably Iraq's most popular Shiite group, followers of radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have packed away their guns and now speak of "political resistance" rather than martyrdom in battle.
Once dismissed as an upstart, the portly al-Sadr has been transformed into a respectable political figure, commanding the loyalty of key lawmakers and several Cabinet ministers.
"We are growing stronger and our appeal is becoming wider," Ibrahim al-Jaberi, a senior official at al-Sadr's office in Sadr City, said Saturday.
Sadr City is a sprawling Baghdad neighborhood that is home to some 2.5 million Shiites and the largest bastion of support for al-Sadr. It was named for the cleric's father, the late Ayatollah Mohammed Sadiq al-Sadr, who was killed in 1999. The younger al-Sadr's images are everywhere - on walls, shop widows, car windshields and even ice boxes used by street vendors selling sodas or ice cream.
In many ways, today's "Sadrists" have changed since their heavily armed militia battled U.S. troops last fall, but their canny mix of politics, religious fervor and military capability make them the one group in postwar Iraq with the potential for rapid growth. [complete article]
'Combat linguists' battle on two fronts
By John M. Glionna and Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2005
Tarik, a newly minted U.S. Army private first class, recalls his first challenge in Iraq: convincing fellow GIs he wasn't a terrorist.
The 24-year-old Morocco native was among the first graduates of a U.S. military program to provide Arabic-speaking "combat linguists" for American ground troops, one of the most precarious roles in the Iraq conflict.
During basic training at Ft. Jackson, S.C., scores of foreign-born recruits are warned that their backgrounds make them targets for Iraqi extremists who view them as traitors. But nobody warns them about the soldiers they're sent to assist.
In Iraq, some interpreters said, soldiers mocked their Arabic surnames and accused them of being "on the wrong side" of the conflict. Suspicious of his accent and dark features, some soldiers disdainfully labeled Tarik a hajji, a term of respect among Muslims that many American soldiers use with scorn.
The Boston resident felt like he was fighting two wars. [complete article]
TERRORISM AND LAW
From advocacy to terrorism, a line blurs
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, June 5, 2005
Three Israelis had just been killed in a suicide bombing in the Gaza Strip one November day in 1994 when Sami Al-Arian, then a computer engineering professor and Muslim leader here at the University of South Florida, faxed a note to an associate.
The Kuwaiti-born professor conveyed his pride in the attack, according to the federal authorities who were monitoring his communications, and he asked that God bless the Palestinian jihad movement and "accept its martyrs." He closed by urging members of the resistance to "be cautious and alert," the authorities said.
An impassioned advocate for Palestinian independence, Mr. Al-Arian never made any secret of his disdain for the Israeli occupation. But whether his work crossed the line from outspoken advocacy to terrorism is now a central question as he and three co-defendants go on trial in federal court in Tampa on Monday on terrorism and racketeering charges.
The case, a decade in the making, represents one of the government's most significant prosecutions since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And it has served as a flashpoint for debates over the limits of academic freedom, the role of American Muslims in supporting the Palestinian intifada, the government's expanded powers under the law known as the USA Patriot Act, and its strategy in terror investigations before and after the Sept. 11 attacks. [complete article]
Trial to reveal reach of U.S. surveillance
By John Mintz, Washington Post, June 5, 2005
For a decade, FBI agents covertly monitored every telephone call and fax sent and received by Florida university professor Sami al-Arian as he communicated with alleged top leaders of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group about its suicide bombings of Israelis, shaky finances and high-level turf struggles.
Starting tomorrow, many of those 20,000 hours of phone calls and hundreds of faxes will be revealed in a federal courtroom in Tampa, where al-Arian and three other alleged members of the terrorist group will be tried on charges of conspiracy to commit murder through suicide attacks in Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The trial, expected to last at least six months, will provide a rare view of what the government contends are the clandestine operations of a terrorist group. It is the first case in which vast amounts of communications monitored under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) will make up the bulk of the evidence in a criminal prosecution of alleged terrorists -- demonstrating the enormous power the government now wields under that counterterrorism law. [complete article]
Bush's foreign policy shifting
By Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, June 5, 2005
President Bush's ambitious vision of global democratic reform has begun to dominate the administration's foreign affairs agenda, in some cases pushing aside urgent international issues.
So far, the president's plan has been driven mainly by high-level rhetoric, symbolic gestures and a handful of modestly funded development programs. But collectively, this mix has started to shift the focus in relations with key nations.
In the four months since Bush unveiled the approach in his second inaugural address, nearly every meeting with foreign officials and many of the changes taking place within the Bush administration, including several key appointments, has reflected the priority of expanding the boundaries of democracy.
By now, the presidential vision even has its own buzz phrase: "practical idealism," a reference to the policy's underlying premise that in a post-Sept. 11 world, America's national security is tied directly to the spread of free and open societies everywhere, including the Middle East.
Although few foreign policy specialists interviewed for this article questioned the president's personal sincerity, some dismissed his plan as little more than fantasy. Others expressed doubt that the U.S. had the credibility to advance such ambitious reforms — especially in the Islamic world. [complete article]
Crackdown muddies U.S.-Uzbek relations
By Ann Scott Tyson and Robin Wright, Washington Post, June 4, 2005
The United States is negotiating long-term use of a major military base in Uzbekistan to expand the global reach of American forces, despite a brutal government crackdown on protests there last month, Bush administration officials said.
The talks have gone on behind the scenes for several months but have become more awkward for the administration since last month's unrest, which produced the heaviest bloodshed since the Central Asian country left the Soviet Union in 1991. Human rights advocates argue that a new pact would undermine the administration's goal of spreading democracy in the Islamic world. [complete article]
Protesters rally against Azerbaijani government
By Aida Sultanova, AP (via WP), June 5, 2005
About 10,000 protesters chanting "Freedom!" marched across Azerbaijan's capital Saturday, urging the government of this U.S. ally to step down and allow free parliamentary elections this year. Some of them carried portraits of President Bush.
The rally in Baku was the largest opposition demonstration in the former Soviet republic since October 2003, when one person died and nearly 200 were injured in clashes between police and demonstrators protesting vote-rigging in a presidential election.
Tensions have been building in this Caspian Sea nation in the run-up to parliamentary elections set for November. Some observers predict that Azerbaijan could experience a massive uprising similar to those that toppled unpopular governments in three other former Soviet countries -- Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan -- in the past 18 months.
Supporters of several opposition parties chanted "Freedom!" and "Free Elections!" while holding placards with such slogans as "Down with robber government!" Placards with Bush's image included the call, "We want freedom!" [complete article]
Saudis rebuked on forced labor
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 4, 2005
The United States yesterday named Saudi Arabia and three other Persian Gulf Arab allies as having among the world's worst records in halting human trafficking, a rebuke that could subject the countries to sanctions if they do not act quickly to address U.S. concerns.
The finding, in an annual report issued by the State Department, places Kuwait, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in the same category as such countries as Cuba, Burma, North Korea and Sudan. Human rights activists said the inclusion of such close allies in the war on terrorism suggests that the administration is beginning to eliminate from its human rights policy what some have dubbed the "Middle East exception." [complete article]
Un-American by any name
Editorial, New York Times, June 5, 2005
Now that the Bush administration has made clear how offended it is at Amnesty International's word choice in characterizing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp "the gulag of our times," we hope it will soon get around to dealing with the substantive problems that the Amnesty report is only the latest to identify. What Guantánamo exemplifies - harsh, indefinite detention without formal charges or legal recourse - may or may not bring to mind the Soviet Union's sprawling network of Stalinist penal colonies. It certainly has nothing in common with any American notions of justice or the rule of law.
Our colleague Thomas L. Friedman offered just the right solution a few days back. The best thing Washington can now do about this national shame is to shut it down. It is a propaganda gift to America's enemies; an embarrassment to our allies; a damaging repudiation of the American justice system; and a highly effective recruiting tool for Islamic radicals, including future terrorists. [complete article]
Biden: U.S. needs to close Cuba prison
AP (via WP), June 5, 2005
A leading Senate Democrat said Sunday the United States needs to move toward shutting down the military prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
"This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world. And it is unnecessary to be in that position," said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del. [complete article]
Hyperbole and human rights
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, June 3, 2005
Why do President Bush's critics make life so easy for him?
At his news conference this week, Bush was asked about a report by Amnesty International in which Irene Khan, the group's secretary general, referred to the American detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as "the gulag of our times."
Not once but four times did Bush refer to the allegation as "absurd." And he tried to dismiss all questions about the U.S. government's treatment of the detainees as the product of anti-American propaganda. [complete article]
Hizbullah and Amal sweep South Lebanon polls
By Nayla Assaf, Daily Star, June 6, 2005
Two of Lebanon's pro-Syrian parties, Hizbullah, and Amal, claimed victory in South Lebanon in the first parliamentary elections free of Syrian control in three decades last night.
Unofficial results showed the pair had, as widely expected, made a clean sweep of the 23 parliamentary seats up for grabs in the border area next to Israel.
Hizbullah's strong showing in the polls further underlines its determination to ignore pressure from the international community to disarm. [complete article]
Abbas delays elections as Hamas cries foul
By Mohammed Daraghmeh, AP (via WP), June 5, 2005
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday postponed parliamentary elections indefinitely, giving his embattled Fatah party time to halt political infighting and shore up support against a growing challenge from the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas.
Hamas accused Abbas of stonewalling but said it would continue to honor an informal cease-fire with Israel. No new date was announced for the election, which was originally scheduled for July 17. [complete article]
Comment -- Will there be demands from the White House not to postpone these particular Middle East elections? I think not.
Settlers turn hotel into Gaza fortress
By Conal Urquhart, The Observer, June 5, 2005
RIght-wing Israeli extremists are turning a Gaza hotel into a fortress to resist the Israeli army's attempts to expel them forcibly in August when Gaza is cleared of its Jewish settlers. Among them are supporters of Baruch Goldstein, a settler who shot dead 28 Palestinians as they prayed in 1994.
The activists, who have come from Hebron and Gush Etzion in the West Bank and Jerusalem, have taken over the deserted Palm Beach hotel and are stockpiling food. They say 15 families have moved in as they carry out renovations and they expect a hundred more to arrive by 15 August, when Israeli forces are set to begin their withdrawal.
Their takeover comes as increasing numbers of settlers in Gaza are turning their backs on the extremism of their West Bank counterparts and preparing to leave peacefully. That pragmatism, however, is rejected by the activists who took over the hotel last week, declaring it their private property and installing guards with Uzis. [complete article]
Syria: Don't rush the revolution
By Yassin al-Haj Saleh, New York Times (IHT), June 6, 2005
The approach that the United States adopted in Iraq - first dissolving the Iraqi state and then engaging in a "nation-building" social engineering program - is the one thing that all Syrians wish to avoid.
Rather, when it comes to outside pressure, an approach based on multilateral efforts by the global powers and international organizations is preferable: financial penalties directed against the businesses and foreign assets of the Syrian elites who have helped themselves to public money; constant moral demands from the international community for domestic political and economic change; and, most important, progress in negotiations with Israel.
Until the occupied Golan Heights are returned to Syria, there will be a strong tendency toward the militarization of politics here. And America has an unrivaled role in speeding that transfer.
As we have seen in Iraq, "regime change" is easy but ensuring stability afterwards is very difficult. Despite the authoritarian nature of the Syrian leadership, gradual change is preferable to abrupt change. [complete article]
All the bureaucracy's men
By James Mann, Washington Post, June 5, 2005
The unmasking of former FBI official W. Mark Felt as "Deep Throat" has given the country a rare glimpse into the two separate spheres that coexist uneasily within the U.S. government. Let's call one of them Hidden World and the other Talk Show World.
It's impossible to understand how things work in Washington without considering these two contrasting worlds and the inherent, unending struggle between them. Bob Woodward grasped the difference between them more than three decades ago. The many people who guessed wrong about Deep Throat's identity failed to understand it; they usually overestimated the role and power of Talk Show World. [complete article]
Antidote to secrecy
By David S. Broder, Washington Post, June 5, 2005
The great benefit of W. Mark Felt's decision to identify himself as "Deep Throat," the famous Watergate secret source, is that a whole new generation of Americans now has a chance to learn just how perverse were the values that infected the Nixon White House.
Some -- but not all -- of the surviving Nixon loyalists reacted in "shoot-the-messenger" fashion to Vanity Fair's revelation that the former No. 2 man in the FBI was the shadowy figure who helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein unlock the Watergate story in the pages of The Post. [complete article]
The ties that bind China, Russia and Iran
By Jephraim P Gundzik, Asia Times, June 4, 2005
The military implementation of the George W Bush administration's unilateralist foreign policy is creating monumental changes in the world's geostrategic alliances. The most significant of these changes is the formation of a new triangle comprised of China, Iran and Russia.
Growing ties between Moscow and Beijing in the past 18 months is an important geopolitical event that has gone practically unnoticed. China's premier, Wen Jiabao, visited Russia in September 2004. In October 2004, President Vladimir Putin visited China. During the October meeting, both China and Russia declared that Sino-Russian relations had reached "unparalleled heights". In addition to settling long-standing border issues, Moscow and Beijing agreed to hold joint military exercises in 2005. This marks the first large-scale military exercises between Russia and China since 1958. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
See no evil
By Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, June 1, 2005
President Bush's press conference on Tuesday, at which he denounced Amnesty International's annual report containing allegations of torture by the United States as "absurd" and dismissed all such allegations as inspired by terrorists, was the crescendo of a concerted administration campaign to stifle the rising clamor on its torture policy.
Amnesty International released its report on human rights on May 25. Among other findings, it documents that some 500 detainees are being held at the Guantánamo military base. The Supreme Court ruled six months ago in Rasul vs. Bush that they are entitled to legal counsel and due process, but Amnesty noted that the detainees have not been provided with lawyers in secret administrative reviews to determine if they are "enemy combatants." And the more than 50,000 detainees being held in 25 prisons in Afghanistan and 17 prisons in Iraq are "routinely denied access to lawyers and families." An unknown number of people have disappeared into secret prisons -- having been "rendered" to U.S. allies like Uzbekistan, where torture is routine. The Amnesty report called this shrouded network "the gulag of our time," and concluded that the administration's methods are counterproductive: "The 'war on terror' appeared more effective in eroding international human rights principles than in countering international 'terrorism.'"
Samir Kassir, R.I.P.
By Michael Young, Reason, June 2, 2005
Journalists dread the moments they have to write the obituary of a person they know, but when it's a colleague and a close friend the effort becomes a penance. This morning, Samir Kassir, whom I interviewed about a year ago for Reason, was killed by a bomb placed in or under his car. Samir was many good things to his many friends, but he was also, undeniably, the media figure who contributed the most to denouncing the hegemony over Lebanon of the Syrian and Lebanese intelligence services.
Who killed Samir? Perhaps this comment from a municipal worker at the site of the explosion pointed in a general direction: "The army doesn't forgive its critics." However, it would be more accurate to say that Samir had enemies throughout the security and intelligence apparatus, largely because he was so effectively insolent in denouncing their hold on Lebanese political life. Several years ago, the head of the General Security Directorate, Jamil al-Sayyed, once the most powerful man in Lebanon after the Syrian officer tasked to manage the country, had his men tail and harass Samir for weeks because he had written an article critical of Sayyed. At the time, a number of politicians had asked Samir to ride with them as a means of expressing their solidarity. This included former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, though, as Samir later told me, the only ones who pulled out guns and threatened to shoot Sayyed's goons were the bodyguards of Druze leader Walid Jumblatt.
How to make violence inevitable in Saudi Arabia
By Mai Yamani, Daily Star, June 2, 2005
A democratic tide seems to be sweeping across the Arab world. Even the traditional Arab monarchies and emirates are changing in its wake. Kuwait now allows women to vote; Qatar has embraced an ambitious reform program; Bahrain has shown great tolerance of mass demonstrations; and the United Arab Emirates is allowing something like a free press. But Saudi Arabia continues to be deeply wary of any sort of change, and thus remains a huge and seemingly immovable obstacle to region-wide reform.
Although the Saudi ruling family, the Al-Saud, is under enormous pressure to follow the example of its neighbors, internal resistance to doing so remains very strong. So the Al-Saud have become Janus-faced: looking in one direction, the royal family encourages democratic reformers to speak out; looking in the opposite direction, it jails them when they do.
On May 15, in a closed trial without legal representation for the accused, three leading reformers - Ali Al-Dumaini, a well-known journalist and poet, and university professors Abdullah Al-Hamid and Matruk Al-Falih - were condemned and sentenced to prison terms ranging from six to nine years. Their crime was to call for a constitutional monarchy. The official verdict states that they threatened national unity, challenged those in authority, and incited public opinion against the state while using "foreign," that is, Western, terminology.
Suicide attacks emerge as weapon of choice
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, June 1, 2005
Suicide bombings have become the Iraqi insurgency's weapon of choice, with a staggering 90 attacks accounting for most of last month's 750 deaths at the militants' hands, according to tallies by the U.S. military and news agencies.
Suicide attacks outpaced car bombings almost 2-to-1 in May, according to those tallies. In April, there were 69 suicide attacks -- more than in the entire year preceding the June 28, 2004, hand-over of sovereignty.
The frequency of suicide bombings here is unprecedented, exceeding the practice through years of the Palestinian uprising against Israel and other militant insurgencies such as the Chechen rebellion in Russia. Baghdad alone saw five suicide bombings in a six-hour span Sunday.
Writing Lolita in Tehran
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, June 1, 2005
A curious query from Iran: "Has everyone noticed the spooky absence of graffiti in our public toilets since the arrival of web logs?"
I confess, this little detail of modern life in Tehran -- which tells you so much about young people desperately in need of self-expression -- might have slipped right by me if I hadn't been sent a new book called "We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs." Written by Nasrin Alavi (a pseudonym), and due for international publication this fall, it's a survey of the personal diaries that Iranians post online. Five years ago, there were none. Now there are many tens of thousands. And you won't get a better glimpse of the obsessions and frustrations that exist behind the imposed cliche of the black chador; ideas and passions that thrive despite the rule of what Alavi calls "mutant Islamists."
Some of the bloggers' language is very tough: "I s--- on the whole of Hezbollah." Some is deeply evocative: "Have you ever been forced into exile? Has it ever happened that you just can't get the pattern of those tiles in your Mother's kitchen out of your head (for three nights in a row), but you just cannot remember the color? Has it ever come about that you call your Mother up from far away and ask her to describe the color of those tiles -- at which you both uncontrollably sob?" Many Iranian women write with brilliant bitterness from their anonymity, and about it. "In the obituary columns instead of my picture, they place a picture of a rose," writes one. "[Because] the image of a woman can ensnare a man."
Is the War on Terror a bad investment?
By Daniel Gross, Slate, June 1, 2005
If you wanted to invent a bogus-sounding Washington company, the kind of ominous corporation that belongs in a subplot for next year's 24, you couldn't come up with a name -- or a business plan -- better than that of Fortress America Acquisition Corp. Fortress America is a scheme by a bipartisan group of Washington insiders, including a Rhodes scholar turned professional basketball player turned congressman, a former senator, and an offshore investment company with ties to the former head of the Central Intelligence Agency, to capitalize on the nation's fear of terror.
Epithets increase tension over Korea
By Choe Sang-Hun, International Herald Tribune, May 31, 2005
Tensions between the United States and North Korea increased Monday as both sides turned up the rhetoric after a decision in Washington to dispatch 15 Nighthawk stealth fighters to the Korean Peninsula.
Vice President Dick Cheney of the United States described Kim Jong Il, the North Korean head of state, as an "irresponsible leader."
North Korea, in turn, called the deployment of U.S. aircraft a prelude to war. On Monday, the state-run Pyongyang Radio, using a vulgar epithet, compared Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of the United States to a dog "that has no fear of a tiger and barks at it."
Washington's harsh comments and its dispatching of aircraft to South Korea, which followed a brief period of calm and conciliatory gestures, suggested to some analysts in Seoul that the United States may be preparing to take a far tougher position toward the North Korean government.
The dangers of being Uzbekistan's best friend
By Lawrence A. Uzzell, Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2005
The bloody suppression of an uprising in Uzbekistan dramatizes how Islam Karimov's regime is now more of a liability than an asset to Washington's long-term strategic interests. If we want to avoid a "clash of civilizations" with a billion Muslims, the United States can no longer afford to be this anti-Islamic dictator's closest ally.
In 2001, Uzbekistan was an essential staging ground for the war that toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But today it matters more as an example of US hypocrisy about human rights. It seems that a Soviet-style police state can brutalize its own people with impunity as long as it has good relations with the Pentagon.
War by other means
By Laura Secor, Boston Globe, May 29, 2005
A curious thing started happening in the formerly Communist world in the year 2000. One after another, hated, repressive governments gave way to mass movements of nonviolent refusal. First there was Serbia, then Georgia, then Ukraine, and now Kyrgyzstan. It was as if a virus were spreading - one that led long abused populaces to wake up to their own power, which they could withhold from authorities to stunning effect.
But it wasn't a virus. Among other things, it was an 88-page booklet by a Boston scholar named Gene Sharp, which has circulated in local translation at the site of every one of these nonviolent democratic revolutions.
Called "From dictatorship to democracy," [PDF] Sharp's booklet lays out a theory of power that explains the mechanisms of dictatorship and their weaknesses. It also details the nuts and bolts of nonviolent resistance: which tools to use in order to undermine a regime's sources of power, how to sustain discipline in the face of violent response, and the crucial importance of entering such struggle as one would a military campaign, with a strategic plan. Tactics include demonstrations and posters, strikes and sit-ins, boycotts and campaigns of non-cooperation. Some of these techniques work to paralyze the society and thus convince rulers that they cannot govern without budging on the issues at stake - or that they cannot govern at all.
What's going on at Gitmo?
By Daniel Eisenberg and Timothy J. Burger, Time, May 29, 2005
Even as allegations of Koran abuse at the U.S.'s naval base in Cuba were still making headlines, the Pentagon was bracing for a new storm as reporters last week sorted through several thousand pages of transcripts from tribunals in which detainees challenged their designation as enemy combatants. Earlier, as the government prepared to release the transcripts, as required by a Freedom of Information Act filing, military officials reviewed them, looking for "potentially controversial and embarrassing items" about which their superiors should be notified in advance, according to a Pentagon memo that TIME has seen. To make sense of the latest Gitmo controversies, here is a look at Guantanamo during the war on terrorism.
By Paul Harris, The Observer, May 29, 2005
He is an American nightmare, an Islamic mass killer who haunts the national psyche. He has masterminded a bombing campaign in Iraq that has cost hundreds of innocent lives. He has a $25 million bounty on his head and is blamed for terrorist atrocities that span the globe. He is Abu Musab Zarqawi.
No single name emerging from the war on terror, perhaps not even Osama bin Laden himself, now dominates the headlines as much as Zarqawi. Certainly not in the past week. Accounts are confused, but it seems Zarqawi has been injured in Iraq. Perhaps he is even dead. Rumours have been flying across the internet and front pages. There have been hospital sightings, stories of a dying leader being smuggled across the border and the beginnings of a fight for a successor. No one knows what is true. Zarqawi has been pronounced dead before and always come back to the fight. Perhaps this time it will be different. Perhaps not (the latest rumours have him alive and back in control).
Only two things are certain. First, the one-time street thug from a Jordanian slum town is now America's number one target. Second, if he dies, the Iraqi insurgency will carry on without him. For Zarqawi did not create the war in Iraq. Rather, Iraq's war gave him his chance. Zarqawi's story is of a man who seized an opportunity to practise mayhem, honing his dreadful talent on the killing fields of the Sunni Triangle.
Once havens of tolerance, Iraq's universities are becoming battlefields in an escalating civil war
By Aparisim Ghosh, Time, June 6, 2005
On May 3, when the members of Iraq's new government were sworn in, Masar Sarhan al-Rubaiyi, 24, a pharmacy undergraduate at the University of Baghdad, decided to throw a party. As a supporter of a Shi'ite political party, al-Rubaiyi was celebrating the ascent of the country's Shi'ite majority after decades of repression under Saddam Hussein. But the revelry turned sour after officials at the college of pharmacy asked al-Rubaiyi and his friends to break up the event, saying it violated a university policy banning sectarian gatherings on campus. The students refused the request, and al-Rubaiyi scuffled with the bodyguard of the dean of the pharmacy college, Mustafa al-Hiti, before heading home. He never made it. A few hours later, he was shot and killed by unknown assailants on a street near his house.
It's what happened next that has put the school on edge -- and induced worries that al-Rubaiyi's death could spark a wider, bloodier conflagration. In the aftermath of the killing, mobs of Shi'ite students rioted at the college of pharmacy, blaming al-Hiti and his bodyguard -- both of them Sunnis -- for al-Rubaiyi's murder and vowing revenge. Al-Hiti and his bodyguard deny having anything to do with the murder. As the violence spread to a cluster of adjacent colleges, Sunni faculty members had to be evacuated by security guards, colleagues and students. When the rioters showed up, they trashed classrooms and teachers' offices. Then came the reprisals: the next day, a Shi'ite law student who was close to al-Rubaiyi was found dead, fueling suspicions of an organized attempt to silence prominent Shi'ite voices on campus. "The atmosphere is now very tense," says Meitham, a pharmacy student who, along with others, does not want his full name used. "There is a sense that anything can happen, at any time."
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