The War in Context
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Women among U.S. casualties in Fallouja
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2005

A suicide bomber in an explosives-laden vehicle struck a convoy carrying U.S. Marines, most of them women, the military said Friday. At least two Americans were killed.

Three other Marines and a sailor thought to have been in the convoy in the Iraqi city of Fallouja were listed as "duty status whereabouts unknown" pending identification of remains, raising the possibility that the death toll in the attack Thursday evening would rise to six. One of the confirmed dead was a woman.

At least 13 other Marines, 11 of them women, were wounded, the military said. The attack occurred days after American officials had hailed the relative quiet in Fallouja, a onetime insurgent bastion, as a sign of progress in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- This attack occured within hours of Secretary Rumsfeld testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee that, "While the insurgency remains dangerous in parts of Iraq, Coalition and Iraqi operations are disrupting terrorist sanctuaries, such as Fallujah, and keeping them on the run." That was part of his answer to the question posed by Americans: How are we doing in Iraq?

See also, Iraqis fear era of relentless chaos, cruelty (LAT).

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Italy orders arrest of 13 CIA operatives
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2005

An Italian judge has ordered the arrest of a group of CIA operatives who investigators believe kidnapped a radical Egyptian imam from the streets of Milan and bundled him off to Cairo, where he said he was tortured.

As part of the inquiry, Italian police Thursday night raided the Italian home of an American man identified in arrest warrants as the former CIA station chief here and confiscated a computer, disks and documents, judicial sources said.

The warrants name 13 American operatives from a group of 19 men and women who authorities here believe pursued and then snatched Hassan Osama Nasr, a radical cleric better known as Abu Omar, nearly 2 1/2 years ago. Officials, who announced Friday that warrants had been issued, said none of the operatives were in Italy any longer and that no one was taken into custody.

The Abu Omar case appears to be an example of an "extraordinary rendition," a controversial practice employed by U.S. authorities against suspected terrorists with increasing frequency since the Sept. 11 attacks. U.S. counter-terrorism operatives seize and transport a suspect in one foreign country to another without seeking court permission. Human rights organizations say treatment of the suspect in the destination country can be brutal. [complete article]

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U.S. acknowledges torture at Guantanamo and Iraq, Afghanistan: U.N. source
AFP (via Yahoo), June 24, 2005

Washington has for the first time acknowledged to the United Nations that prisoners have been tortured at US detention centres in Guantanamo Bay, as well as Afghanistan and Iraq, a UN source said.

The acknowledgement was made in a report submitted to the UN Committee against Torture, said a member of the ten-person panel, speaking on on condition of anonymity.

The US mission to the UN institutions in Geneva was unavailable for comment on the report late Friday..

"They are no longer trying to duck this, and have respected their obligation to inform the UN," the Committee member told AFP, adding that the US described the incidents as "isolated acts" carried out by low-ranking members of the military who were being punished. [complete article]

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U.S. said to bar Spanish from terror detainee
By Renwick McLean, New York Times, June 25, 2005

The Bush administration has refused to allow the Spanish authorities to interview a man accused of being an operative of Al Qaeda whose testimony could be crucial to the prosecution of two men on trial here charged with helping to plan the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Spanish officials say.

With little more than a month left in the trial, the chief prosecutor in the case said he was still pressing the request to interview the accused man, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who is suspected of playing a central role in organizing the attacks.

The two defendants, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas and Driss Chebli, are charged with arranging a meeting in Spain in July 2001, for Mr. bin al-Shibh and Mohamed Atta, one of the Sept. 11 hijackers, as part of the final preparations for the attacks.

"An interview with bin al-Shibh could change everything," Pedro Rubira, the chief prosecutor in the case, said in a recent interview. "He is very important for knowing what happened at that meeting." [complete article]

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Senator may block successor to Defense policy chief Feith
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, June 23, 2005

The senior Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee has warned the Pentagon that he may block the nomination of a new defense policy chief unless documents involving the departing policy head -- Douglas J. Feith -- are turned over for review.

The action by Sen. Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) threatens to hold up another important presidential appointment as lawmakers remain deadlocked with the Bush administration over the nomination of John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations. That dispute, too, involves Democratic requests for documents the White House has refused to surrender.

In this instance, Levin is trying to press a probe, begun two years ago, into how Feith and his subordinates shaped the administration's view of the relationship between Iraq and al Qaeda before the U.S. invaded Iraq. [complete article]

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The real news in the Downing Street memos
By Michael Smith, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2005

It is now nine months since I obtained the first of the "Downing Street memos," thrust into my hand by someone who asked me to meet him in a quiet watering hole in London for what I imagined would just be a friendly drink.

At the time, I was defense correspondent of the London Daily Telegraph, and a staunch supporter of the decision to oust Saddam Hussein. The source was a friend. He'd given me a few stories before but nothing nearly as interesting as this.

The six leaked documents I took away with me that night were to change completely my opinion of the decision to go to war and the honesty of Prime Minister Tony Blair and President Bush. [complete article]

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U.S. hawks rooting for hardline Iranian candidate
By Guy Dinmore and Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, June 24, 2005

As hardliners and pragmatists battle it out in the final round of Iran's presidential election today, rifts within the Bush administration have exposed a lack of coherent US policy towards the Islamic republic, as well as serious differences with much of Europe.

"The Bush administration is as deeply divided as the Iranian government," commented Ken Pollack, analyst at the Brookings Institution.

US "hawks", he said, had a bizarre preference for Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, a fundamentalist and hardliner, over Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president who sought to establish his more pragmatic credentials in part by making overtures to the US during his election campaign.

For the US hardliners, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, Mr Rafsanjani presents the danger of exacerbating the divisions between the US, which is essentially trying to contain Iran, and Europe which favours the engagement approach. [complete article]

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Hardliner Ahamdinejad wins Iran presidential vote
By Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, June 25, 2005

Ultra-conservative Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad swept to victory in Iran's presidential election on Saturday, an official said, spelling a possible end to fragile social reforms and rapprochement with the West.

Ahmadinejad, 48, received the backing of the religious poor to defeat moderate cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was supported by pro-reform parties and wealthy Iranians fearful of a hardline monopoly on power in the Islamic state. [complete article]

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Iraq insurgents snatch victory from defeat
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, June 24, 2005

Dawn had yet to break and Baghdad's biggest police station, like the rest of the city, was quiet. About 80 officers dozed inside the fortress, leaving just a few sentries guarding the walls, razor wire and concrete barriers.

It started with mortars. A series of whooshes from north and south followed seconds later by explosions inside the perimeter. Figures emerged from the gloom and knelt in the middle of Hi al-Elam and Qatar Nada streets, pointing rocket launchers.

More figures materialised on rooftops overlooking the station to spray gunfire and lob grenades. Dozens of gunmen, guerrilla infantry, swarmed from houses and alleys. It was just after 5.30am and the station was surrounded.

The defenders heard engines rev and guessed what was next: suicide car bombers. Baghdad's biggest battle in months - and possibly the boldest yet by insurgents - had begun. [complete article]

U.S. general's remarks contradict Cheney on strength of insurgency
By Drew Brown and Leila Fadel, Knight Ridder, June 232005

The top U.S. commander in the Persian Gulf told Congress on Thursday that the Iraqi insurgency is undiminished and foreign fighters continue to swell its ranks, an assessment that appeared to conflict with more optimistic comments from the Bush administration.

Gen. John Abizaid, who heads the U.S. Central Command, agreed with his superiors that the operation in Iraq will succeed, but he distanced himself from Vice President Dick Cheney's statement last month that the insurgency was "in its last throes." [complete article]

Cheney still forecasts collapse of insurgency
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2005

Vice President Dick Cheney defended his controversial comment that the Iraqi insurgency is in its "last throes," saying Thursday that the recent spike in violence is a final convulsion before the opposition forces collapse.

In a CNN interview, Cheney compared the recent fighting in Iraq to the Battle of the Bulge and combat on Okinawa in World War II, climactic confrontations that preceded the surrender of Germany and Japan. [complete article]

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Car bombings surge in Iraq
By Patrick Quinn, AP (via Yahoo), June 24, 2005

Car bombers have struck Iraq 480 times in the past year, and a third of the attacks followed the naming of a new Iraqi government two months ago, according to an Associated Press count based on reports from police, military and hospital officials.

The unrelenting attacks, using bombs that can cost as little as a carton of American cigarettes each, have become the most-favored weapon of the government's most-determined enemies -- Islamic extremists.

The toll has been tremendous, according to the AP count: From April 28 through June 23, there were at least 160 vehicle bombings that killed at least 580 people and wounded at least 1,734.

In total, for the year from the handover of sovereignty on June 28, 2004, until June 23, 2005, there were at least 480 car bombs, killing 2,174 people and wounding 5,520. [complete article]

See also, Car bomber slams into U.S. convoy (AP).

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Another year of living misery in Baghdad
By Andy Mosher and Bassam Sebti, Washington Post, June 24, 2005

...with the temperature exceeding 100 degrees, as it has every day for weeks, people voiced anger at the prospect of spending their third summer since the U.S.-led invasion with only intermittent electricity. Those with generators will be able to power air conditioners and other appliances; the rest will simply bake.

"So many problems are happening in the city," said Mohammed Sarhan, 50, a grocer in the southern Baghdad neighborhood of Dora. "Where do I start -- water, electricity, security, unemployment or health?"

"This is not a life," Sarhan added. "This is hell." [complete article]

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Interrogators cite doctors' aid at Guantanamo
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, June 24, 2005

Military doctors at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have aided interrogators in conducting and refining coercive interrogations of detainees, including providing advice on how to increase stress levels and exploit fears, according to new, detailed accounts given by former interrogators.

The accounts, in interviews with The New York Times, come as mental health professionals are debating whether psychiatrists and psychologists at the prison camp have violated professional ethics codes. The Pentagon and mental health professionals have been examining the ethical issues involved.

The former interrogators said the military doctors' role was to advise them and their fellow interrogators on ways of increasing psychological duress on detainees, sometimes by exploiting their fears, in the hopes of making them more cooperative and willing to provide information. In one example, interrogators were told that a detainee's medical files showed he had a severe phobia of the dark and suggested ways in which that could be manipulated to induce him to cooperate.

In addition, the authors of an article published by The New England Journal of Medicine this week said their interviews with doctors who helped devise and supervise the interrogation regimen at Guantanamo showed that the program was explicitly designed to increase fear and distress among detainees as a means to obtaining intelligence. [complete article]

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U.N. cites reliable accounts of U.S. torture
AP (via MSNBC), June 23, 2005

U.N. human rights experts said Thursday they have reliable accounts of detainees being tortured at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The experts also said Washington had not responded to their latest request to check on the conditions of terror suspects at the facility in eastern Cuba. That request was made in April.

U.S. officials so far have allowed only the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit Guantanamo detainees. The U.N. human rights investigators have been trying to visit since 2002. [complete article]

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Tectonic plates moving on Bolton nomination: Republicans lining up to call for document release
By Steven C. Clemons, Washington Note, June 23, 2005

Senators Trent Lott, Susan Collins, Lincoln Chafee, John McCain, George Voinovich and Lamar Alexander have all stated that they believe that the White House should release ALL requested documents on Bolton.

These are:

1. NSA Intercepts and names of U.S. officials redacted in them and requested by Bolton

2. All preparatory and deliberative material and communications on Syria WMD testimony that was to have been presented in 2003

3. The client list of Matthew C. Freedman who continued to work as a lobbyist while he worked as a six-figure "special assistant" in John Bolton's office and being listed in the State Department staff directory

With so many Republicans now joining the Democrats and conceding the point of principle to Senators Biden, Dodd, and Boxer on these document requests, the White House is in a tough position. [complete article]

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Republicans join critics of war in Iraq
By Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, June 24, 2005

Donald Rumsfeld is used to criticism from Democrats when he testifies before Congress. But on Thursday the defence secretary was greeted with increased concerns from Republicans about the situation in Iraq and declining US public support for the war.

In a worrying sign for the White House, which has tended to paint war critics as unpatriotic, Republican senators appear less reluctant to raise concerns about the way the administration is running the campaign in Iraq.

On Thursday, some joined Democrats in warning the administration that the tide of public opinion is changing.

"I'm here to tell you, sir, in the most patriotic state I can imagine, people are beginning to question [the war]," Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, told Mr Rumsfeld, who was testifying before the Senate armed services committee.

"And I don't think it's a blip on the radar screen. I think we have a chronic problem on our hands." [complete article]

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Iraqis tallying range of graft in rebuilding
By James Glanz, New York Times, June 24, 2005

Allegations of widespread corruption have dogged the Iraqi government since the invasion in 2003, when billions of dollars for reconstruction and training began pouring into the country. Many programs had far less impact than expected, but persistent rumors that money was being siphoned by corrupt officials were largely impossible to pin down.

Now, an office originally set up by the American occupation to investigate corruption in Iraq has accumulated the first solid estimates of the problem. The results are likely to fuel the most pessimistic concerns over where the money has gone.

The abuses range from sweetheart deals on leases, to exorbitant contracts for things like garbage hauling, to payments for construction that was never done. [complete article]

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China more popular than U.S. overseas
AP (via MSNBC), June 23, 2005

The United States' image is so tattered overseas two years after the Iraq invasion that China, which is ruled by a communist dictatorship, is viewed more favorably than the U.S. in many countries, an international poll found.

The poor image persists even though the Bush administration has been promoting freedom and democracy throughout the world in recent months and has sent hundreds of millions of dollars in relief aid to Indian Ocean nations hit by the devastating Dec. 26 tsunami.

"It's amazing when you see the European public rating the United States so poorly, especially in comparison with China," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. [complete article]

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China's bold bid for global energy
By Robert Marquand, Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 2005

A bold offer by a state-owned company here to outbid Chevron and take over a major California oil group suggests that China's rising economic clout has hit harder and faster than even many optimists predicted.

The $18 to $20 billion offer by China National Offshore Oil Corp. (CNOOC) to secure Unocal, which has oil and gas reserves in Asia, underscores the magnitude of the energy needs of China as it continues its manufacturing juggernaut on the world stage. The bid is part of China's so-called energy diplomacy, which in recent years has witnessed a host of Chinese leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, making deals worth tens of billions in Australia, Sudan, Iran, Khazakhstan, Venezuela, and Canada.

Yet as the scale of China's push into world markets gets larger, including its willingness to accept far greater risk and exposure than before, there may be a shakeout in the US over how the principle ple of free markets meshes with regulation and political sentiments. This is especially true in the case of huge state-run Chinese corporations that operate with less transparency than do Western corporations, for the most part. [complete article]

See also, China's oil bid riles Congress (WP).

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Why the Middle East is turning to Asia
By Michael Vatikiotis, International Herald Tribune, June 24, 2005

Just as the United States is rethinking its approach to the Middle East, some people in the Middle East are starting to rethink their reliance on the United States - and they are turning to Asia for help.

The day after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a Cairo audience that Washington's pursuit of stability at the expense of democracy for the past 60 years had failed, a senior Egyptian diplomat told an audience in Singapore that a plethora of peace initiatives sponsored by the United States and Europe has left the Middle East "in a state of confusion" and that trying to buy democracy with development assistance was a "cheap, unethical bargain." [complete article]

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Class is pivotal in Iran runoff
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, June 24, 2005

In the 26 years since the Iranian revolution, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has become not only a millionaire but the most conspicuous embodiment of a privileged political class far removed from the struggles of ordinary people.

Class has become a pivotal issue in Friday's vote for Iran's next president. And the gap between the country's political elite and everyone else has been sharpened by the surprise emergence of Rafsanjani's opponent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hard-line mayor of Tehran whose working-class background has endeared him to many Iranians and made the runoff election too close to call. [complete article]

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Remembering Buber and silenced words of wisdom
By Peter Speetjens, Daily Star, June 24, 2005

Forty years ago last week, the Jewish thinker Martin Buber died in Jerusalem. Though he was widely respected as one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, Israeli politicians and state officials were mostly absent from his funeral. In contrast, a delegation of Arab students came to offer flowers.

"I do not know of any political activity more harmful than regarding one's ally or opponent as if he were cast in a fixed mold," Buber wrote in 1929. "When we consider him 'like that,' we fall victim to the irrationality of his existence. Only when we pay attention to the fact that human nature is much the same the world over, will we be able to come to reality. Unfortunately, we have not settled Palestine together with the Arabs, but 'alongside' them."

At the end of his life, the 88-year-old Buber, with his flowing white beard, may have been respected in Israel for his philosophical views. However, as soon as it came to implementing these in everyday life, his ideas were flatly rejected by the powers that be. Unfortunately, Israel is in that sense hardly an anomaly. More often than not in history, political powerbrokers and those trumpeting war have silenced words of wisdom. [complete article]

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Iraq may be prime place for training of militants, CIA report concludes
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, June 22, 2005

A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in Al Qaeda's early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.

The assessment, completed last month and circulated among government agencies, was described in recent days by several Congressional and intelligence officials. The officials said it made clear that the war was likely to produce a dangerous legacy by dispersing to other countries Iraqi and foreign combatants more adept and better organized than they were before the conflict.

Congressional and intelligence officials who described the assessment called it a thorough examination that included extensive discussion of the areas that might be particularly prone to infiltration by combatants from Iraq, either Iraqis or foreigners.

They said the assessment had argued that Iraq, since the American invasion of 2003, had in many ways assumed the role played by Afghanistan during the rise of Al Qaeda during the 1980's and 1990's, as a magnet and a proving ground for Islamic extremists from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries. [complete article]

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Car bombs kill dozens in Baghdad
By Andy Mosher, Washington Post, June 23, 2005

Seven car bombs killed more than three dozen people in Shiite Muslim neighborhoods of Baghdad over a 10-hour span on Wednesday night and Thursday morning in what appeared to be a new attempt to inflame Iraq's sectarian divisions.

The central commercial district of Karrada was rocked by four car bombs that exploded in rapid succession at about 7:10 a.m. Thursday, a Defense Ministry spokesman said. All four were placed within a one-mile stretch of the district's main shopping street -- two of them outside a Shiite mosque. In addition, a mortar shell struck near Karrada Hospital, a private clinic.

The blasts killed 15 persons and wounded 28, according to police officials quoted by the Associated Press. The previous night, three bombs detonated about 9:45 in the Shuala district, a working-class Shiite neighborhood on Baghdad's northern outskirts, witnesses said. News organizations reported that 23 persons were killed and 48 wounded. [complete article]

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Evangelicals building a base in Iraq
By Caryle Murphy, Washington Post, June 23, 2005

With arms outstretched, the congregation at National Evangelical Baptist Church belted out a praise hymn backed up by drums, electric guitar and keyboard. In the corner, slide images of Jesus filled a large screen. A simple white cross of wood adorned the stage, and worshipers sprinkled the pastor's Bible-based sermon with approving shouts of "Ameen!"

National is Iraq's first Baptist congregation and one of at least seven new Christian evangelical churches established in Baghdad in the past two years. Its Sunday afternoon service, in a building behind a house on a quiet street, draws a couple of hundred worshipers who like the lively music and focus on the Bible. [complete article]

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Iraq rebuilding fails to deliver
BBC News, June 22, 2005

On the outskirts of Baghdad, workmen have been toiling frantically to repair a huge broken water main.

It was blown up by insurgents at the weekend. They knew exactly where to place the charge for maximum damage. It has taken out the water supply for more than half of Baghdad.

"We've been affected badly," complained one man in the area. "We don't have any water to drink. What are we supposed to do? Sometimes they cut the power as well. It's all the fault of the Americans."

It is typical of the frustration faced by the Americans and their allies, as they struggle to improve the quality of life in Iraq. [complete article]

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U.S. 'concealing' Saddam's secrets
BBC News, June 21, 2005

Iraq's justice minister has accused the US of concealing information about deposed president Saddam Hussein that could be damaging to "many countries".

Abdel Hussein Shandal said it seemed there were "lots of secrets" that the Americans wanted to hide.

Saddam Hussein is set to go on trial in Iraq over alleged crimes against humanity, but no date has been set. [complete article]

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Mark Danner on smoking signposts to nowhere
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, June 19, 2005

Imagine that the Pentagon Papers or the Watergate scandal had broken out all over the press -- no, not in the New York Times or the Washington Post, but in newspapers in Australia or Canada. And that, facing their own terrible record of reportage, of years of being cowed by the Nixon administration, major American papers had decided that this was not a story worthy of being covered. Imagine that, initially, they dismissed the revelatory documents and information that came out of the heart of administration policy-making; then almost willfully misread them, insisting that evidence of Pentagon planning for escalation in Vietnam or of Nixon administration planning to destroy its opponents was at best ambiguous or even nonexistent; finally, when they found that the documents wouldn't go away, they acknowledged them more formally with a tired ho-hum, a knowing nod on editorial pages or in news stories. Actually, they claimed, these documents didn't add up to much because they had run stories just like this back then themselves. Yawn. [complete article]

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Israel: Failure to probe civilian casualties fuels impunity
Human Rights Watch, June 22, 2005

The Israeli military has fostered a climate of impunity in its ranks by failing to thoroughly investigate whether soldiers have killed and injured Palestinian civilians unlawfully or failed to protect them from harm, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

Since the current Palestinian uprising began in 2000, Israeli forces have killed or seriously injured thousands of Palestinians who were not taking part in the hostilities. However, the Israeli authorities have investigated fewer than five percent of the fatal incidents to determine whether soldiers were responsible for using force unlawfully. The investigations they did conduct fell far short of international standards for independent and impartial inquiries.

The 126-page report, "Promoting Impunity: The Israeli Military's Failure to Investigate Wrongdoing," documents how Israel has failed in its legal obligation to investigate civilian deaths and injuries that result from the use of lethal force in policing and law enforcement contexts, such as controlling demonstrations or enforcing curfews, and in combat situations when there is prima facie evidence or credible allegations that soldiers deliberately harmed civilians or failed to take all feasible precautions to protect them from harm. [complete article]

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Israel resumes targeted killings
BBC News, June 23, 2005

Israel has confirmed it tried to assassinate a militant from the Islamic Jihad group in a targeted air strike.

The attack happened soon after leaders of both sides sat down for talks in Jerusalem on Tuesday, later described as disappointing by the Palestinians.

Targeted killings of Palestinian militants by Israel had been on hold since a truce was agreed in February. [complete article]

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Chinese oil firm bids for Unocal
By James F. Peltz, Elizabeth Douglass and Evelyn Iritani, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2005

A major Chinese oil company made a landmark offer to buy California-based Unocal Corp. for $18.5 billion on Wednesday, topping a bid by rival U.S. oil giant Chevron Corp. and setting the stage for an intense political debate over the future of U.S. energy, security and trade policies.

The unsolicited offer by CNOOC Ltd., an arm of state-owned China National Offshore Oil Corp., was the most dramatic example yet of China's growing influence in global markets and would be China's largest foreign acquisition by far.

The proposed buyout could raise hackles in the United States, which is heavily dependent on foreign oil. China's fast-growing economy is consuming ever-larger amounts of crude, which is helping to drive the price to record heights on world markets, and CNOOC wants to add Unocal's assets to its energy reserves. [complete article]

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Military enlists marketer to get data on students for recruiters
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2005

With the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan making it increasingly hard for the U.S. military to fill its ranks with recruits, the Pentagon has hired an outside marketing firm to help compile an extensive database about teenagers and college students that the military services could use to target potential enlistees.

The initiative, which privacy groups call an unwarranted government intrusion into private life, will compile detailed information about high school students ages 16 to 18, all college students, and Selective Service System registrants. The collected information will include Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, grade-point averages and ethnicities.

The program, run by the Pentagon's Joint Advertising, Market Research and Studies office, is the latest effort to jump-start a recruiting mission hampered by violent images broadcast daily from Iraq. [complete article]

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Rove criticizes liberals on 9/11
By Patrick D. Healy, New York Times, June 23, 2005

Karl Rove came to the heart of Manhattan last night to rhapsodize about the decline of liberalism in politics, saying Democrats responded weakly to Sept. 11 and had placed American troops in greater danger by criticizing their actions.

"Conservatives saw the savagery of 9/11 in the attacks and prepared for war; liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers," Mr. Rove, the senior political adviser to President Bush, said at a fund-raiser in Midtown for the Conservative Party of New York State.

Citing calls by progressive groups to respond carefully to the attacks, Mr. Rove said to the applause of several hundred audience members, "I don't know about you, but moderation and restraint is not what I felt when I watched the twin towers crumble to the ground, a side of the Pentagon destroyed, and almost 3,000 of our fellow citizens perish in flames and rubble." [complete article]

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Report criticizing CIA leaders' efforts on terrorism may stay sealed
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, June 22, 2005

The CIA's inspector general has completed a report harshly criticizing the performance of the agency's leaders in confronting terrorism before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, according to current and former U.S. intelligence officials.

The long-delayed report, which has become a lightening rod for controversy over the Bush administration's pre-Sept. 11 performance, is expected to be sent to CIA Director Porter Goss within a few weeks, then to the congressional intelligence committees.

But it's unclear whether the highly classified document will be made public, as relatives of Sept. 11 victims demand. The report by Inspector General John Helgerson was prepared early this year, but its completion was delayed to incorporate comments from those who are taken to task. [complete article]

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Upstart in Iran election campaigns as champion of poor
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, June 23, 2005

His critics say that if he is elected president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad will put curtains down the middle of elevators to divide the sexes as part of his plan to usher in a Taliban-style government.

But in his speeches as a candidate, Mr. Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Tehran, has attracted a following not with his talk of strict Islamic values but by presenting himself as a sort of Islamic Robin Hood, promising to strip away the power and privileges that have enriched a small segment of society and to distribute the nation's wealth to the poor.

You have so many people who make the equivalent of $150 a month, he said Wednesday night in a television appearance. "Islam is about dignity. How can such a person have dignity in front of his children and wife? How can a family respect him if he cannot even run their lives."

While Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former two-term president, promotes his many years of experience in Iran's government as his credential for election, Mr. Ahmadinejad essentially casts himself as the anti-Rafsanjani: a simple, religious man, the son of an ironworker, who refused to accept his pay as mayor and who, if elected president, will fight for the poor. [complete article]

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Iranian blogger returns from exile for vote
By Nahid Siamdoust, Los Angeles Times, June 23, 2005

In a trip financed by his online fans, Hossein Derakhshan, the godfather of the Iranian blogosphere, returned to his native country last week to cover the presidential election after five years of self-imposed exile.

Derakhshan, 30, had left Iran after authorities shut down the newspaper for which he worked during what he described as the country's worst period of press restrictions. From Toronto, Derakhshan influenced Iran's media culture by creating his Web log titled "Editor: Myself" and by helping other Iranians set up their own blogs. In a country where media censorship is pervasive, blogs have become a key instrument of dissent.

In the heat of the Iranian presidential election, Derakhshan finds himself in a predicament facing many reformists: having no choice but to support former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. [complete article]

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Vote rigging threatens Iran's presidential run-off
AFP (via Daily Star), June 22, 2005

Iran's presidential run-off is at serious risk from vote rigging, the Interior Ministry warned, as an "anti-fascist" front emerged to fight off a total takeover of the country by religious hard-liners. With just days to go before one of the most crucial political battles in recent Iranian history, moderates and leftists reluctantly rallied behind veteran cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani amid a shock challenge from Tehran's ultra-conservative Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"Some people, in order to stay in power, are ready to do anything to deviate the election," said Jahanbakhsh Khanjani, spokesman of the reformist-controlled Interior Ministry.

It was a thinly veiled reference to Iran's powerful right-wingers, who already control most of the country's maze of institutions but fear a threat from the pragmatic and wily Rafsanjani - a regime veteran who favors closer ties with the West. [complete article]

Iran seizes candidate's election material
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, June 22, 2005

Iranian security officials on Tuesday confiscated more than half a million wallet-size cards and posters endorsing Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani for president from a printing house in Tehran, according to employees of the shop.

Employees said the posters and cards contained the words "repression," "terrorizing," "freedom" and "democracy."

"They said, 'The words you are using are offensive,' " said Mahmmoud Reza Bahmanpour, managing director of Nazar Printing House in downtown Tehran. He and other employees said several plainclothes agents, displaying a handwritten letter bearing the seal of Iran's judiciary, carried away 500,000 wallet-size cards and 70,000 posters. The material endorsed Rafsanjani, the former president whom Iran's reformers have rallied around in order to defeat the clerical establishment's apparent favorite in Friday's runoff ballot. [complete article]

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Iraqi rebels refine bomb skills, pushing toll of G.I.'s higher
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, June 22, 2005

American casualties from bomb attacks in Iraq have reached new heights in the last two months as insurgents have begun to deploy devices that leave armored vehicles increasingly vulnerable, according to military records.

Last month there were about 700 attacks against American forces using so-called improvised explosive devices, or I.E.D.'s, the highest number since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, according to the American military command in Iraq and a senior Pentagon military official. Attacks on Iraqis also reached unprecedented levels, Lt. Gen. John Vines, a senior American ground commander in Iraq, told reporters on Tuesday.

The surge in attacks, the officials say, has coincided with the appearance of significant advancements in bomb design, including the use of "shaped" charges that concentrate the blast and give it a better chance of penetrating armored vehicles, causing higher casualties.

Another change, a senior military officer said, has been the detonation of explosives by infrared lasers, an innovation aimed at bypassing electronic jammers used to block radio-wave detonators. [complete article]

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The enemy spies
By Scott Johnson and Melinda Liu, Newsweek, June 27, 2005

No one challenged the bomber as he approached his target. Iraqi sentries waved him through the gate, into a high-security compound that protects some of the most vital government offices in Baghdad. His uniform and badge identified him as a member of the Wolf Brigade, the elite police unit he had joined three months before. His shirt looked strangely baggy -- "billowy," an investigator would say later. It covered a vest packed with explosives. The bomber walked unhindered through the gate and past the Interior Ministry. He passed through another checkpoint at the entrance to Wolf Brigade headquarters, 15 minutes by foot from the compound's gate. In the courtyard, members of the brigade were assembling for their 8:30 a.m. roll call. The young recruit had been AWOL for weeks, but no one asked him where he had been. Then he detonated himself. The only identifiable trace that remained of the bomber was his severed head and feet, according to Iraq's Interior minister, Bayan Jabr.

The explosion on June 11 killed three brigade members, wounded roughly a dozen others and worsened an already deep sense of gloom among U.S. military advisers in Iraq. The Wolf Brigade is supposed to be the cream of Iraq's counterinsurgency forces. The attack showed once again how vulnerable those forces remain. Since the newly elected Shiite-led administration under Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari took office on April 28, nearly 1,100 people, mostly Iraqis, have lost their lives in suicide bombings, shootings, abductions and beheadings. The problem goes far beyond the seemingly limitless pool of suicide bombers. In the long run, the insurgents' most powerful weapon may be one that is practically silent: a vast network of infiltrators, spies and recruiters. [complete article]

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Suicide bomber traced to Britain
By Nigel Bunyan, John Steele and Philip Johnston, The Telegraph, June 22, 2005

The first suspected suicide bomber to travel from Britain to attack coalition troops in Iraq lived in Manchester, police said yesterday, as they raided a red-brick terrace house where he once stayed.

The man, a 41-year-old French national of north African background, had spoken to friends at a mosque in Manchester of his desire to fight jihad, or holy war, in Iraq. He is thought to have blown himself up in an attack four months ago.

The raid by Greater Manchester police was part of an operation, involving MI5 and MI6, which was based on information supplied by Iraqi security services, and intelligence about comments made by, and about, the man in at least one mosque he attended in Britain. [complete article]

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Envoy: Iraqi militants aim for civil war
By Patrick Quinn, AP (via Yahoo), June 21, 2005

America's new ambassador to Iraq expressed horror Tuesday at the violence wracking the country and said Islamic extremists and Saddam Hussein loyalists are trying to start a civil war.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, who arrived from Afghanistan, said militants are using Iraqis as "cannon fodder" in a quest to dominate the Islamic world.

"I will work with Iraqis and others to break the back of the insurgency," Khalilzad promised on a day that saw more than a dozen gunmen launch an assault on a Baghdad police station, wounding two policemen. [complete article]

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Iraqi hospitals ailing under occupation
By Dahr Jamail, Electronic Iraq, June 21, 2005

Although the Iraq Ministry of Health claims its independence and has received promises of over $1 billion of US funding, hospitals in Iraq continue to face ongoing medicine, equipment, and staffing shortages under the US-led occupation.

During the 1990s, medical supplies and equipment were constantly in short supply because of the sanctions against Iraq. And while war and occupation have brought promises of relief, hospitals have had little chance to recover and re-supply: the occupation, since its inception, has closely resembled a lowgrade war, and the allocation of resources by occupation authorities has reflected this reality. Thus, throughout Baghdad there are ongoing shortages of medicine of even the most basic items such as analgesics, antibiotics, anesthetics, and insulin. Surgical items are running out, as well as basic supplies like rubber gloves, gauze, and medical tape.

In April 2004, an International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) report stated that hospitals in Iraq are overwhelmed with new patients, short of medicine and supplies and lack both adequate electricity and water, with ongoing bloodshed stretching the hospitals' already meager resources to the limit. [complete article]

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Choose: More troops in Iraq will (help) (hurt)
By John F. Burns, New York Times, June 19, 2005

If, in time, the attempt to implant a pro-Western, democratic political system in Iraq ends up buried in the desert sands, historians will have no shortage of things that went wrong. Equally, if the problems here ultimately recede, supporters of the enterprise will find vindication in the Bush administration's decision to hold course as others lost faith.

Either way, any reckoning will examine the numbers of American troops committed here: whether they were so thinly stretched that their mission was doomed from the start, or, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said last week, American commanders were given "exactly what they've recommended" in terms of troops.

Mr. Rumsfeld has long taken a "less is more" approach to combat troop levels, and in a BBC interview Monday, he seemed to move toward those now pressing to reduce troop levels soon. "The reason for fewer," he said, "is because ultimately it's going to be the Iraqi people who are going to prevail in this insurgency" - in other words, Iraqi, not American, troops are the ones who will win the war, if it can be won. [complete article]

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The wages of fundamentalism
By Peter Watson, International Herald Tribune, June 22, 2005

For decades, "big science" - indeed any kind of science - has been led by the United States. There are warning signs, however, that American science is losing its edge, and may even have peaked. One reason is that as religious and political fundamentalism tighten their grip, they are beginning to sap America's intellectual vitality.

By contrast, the political turmoil that has broken out on the other side of the Atlantic shows that Europeans grasp how destructive fundamentalism can be.

According to a survey in Physical Review, reported in May 2004, the number of scientific papers published by West European authors had overtaken those by U.S. authors in 2003, whereas in 1983 there were three American authors for every West European. The percentage of patents granted to American scientists has been falling since 1980, from 60.2 percent of the world total to 51.8 percent. In 1989, America trained the same number of science and engineering PhDs as Britain, Germany and France put together; now the United States is 5 percent behind. The number of citations in science journals, hitherto led by American scientists, is now led by Europeans.

As battles have raged in Kansas and elsewhere in America over evolution and Genesis, reputable biologists have spoken up in favor of Darwin's theories, but who knows how many students have already been turned off biology by these skirmishes?

As a result of fundamentalist opposition, America is already falling behind in cloning and stem cell research, now led by South Korean, Italian and British scientists. In February the New Scientist reported a survey in which fully half the scientists working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said they had been pushed to alter or withdraw scientific findings for political reasons. [complete article]

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Fighting a hard, half-forgotten war
By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, June 22, 2005

When Spec. Nick Conlon and the other members of his infantry battalion learned they would be deployed to the Afghan province of Zabol this spring, many expected their worst enemy to be boredom. In preparation, Conlon stocked up on more than 20 DVDs, such as "Alien vs. Predator," "X-Men" and "Daredevil."

But in the three months since the battalion set up camp in this isolated, mountainous region of southeastern Afghanistan, Conlon has not had time to watch a single movie. Instead, the battalion has found itself at the center of a heated though somewhat forgotten war that is still underway 3 1/2 years after the extremist Taliban militia was ousted from power.

The Taliban forces, estimated at anywhere from 2,000 to 10,000 fighters, cannot hold territory against U.S. forces. But the battalion in Zabol has been attacked more than 10 times since March. During one bloody seven-hour clash in Zabol in May and in a series of pitched firefights across the south and east since then, the Taliban has revealed itself to be a hardy, resilient foe equipped with machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. [complete article]

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Goss's 'excellent' idea
By Matthew Clark, Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2005

In an interview published on Time magazine's website Sunday, CIA Director Porter Goss recently said he has an "excellent" idea where Osama bin Laden is hiding, sparking fresh speculation in the media and among analysts as to why the US hasn't yet captured or killed the Al Qaeda leader.
Asked when the US will get Mr. bin Laden, Mr. Goss had this to say:
In the chain that you need to successfully wrap up the war on terror, we have some weak links. And I find that until we strengthen all the links, we're probably not going to be able to bring Mr. bin Laden to justice. ... when you go to the very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states, you're dealing with a problem of our sense of international obligation, fair play.
"Mr. Goss's carefully worded comments again avoid naming any countries, but could ... be interpreted as a suggestion that dealing with Pakistan over [bin Laden] has become a sensitive issue for the US," reports BBC. [complete article]

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Bush wants a new effort for Bolton in the Senate
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, June 22, 2005

President Bush on Tuesday pressed Senate Republican leaders to continue fighting to confirm John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations, even though Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, said his options had been exhausted and some Republicans urged the appointment of Mr. Bolton when Congress recesses.

"The president made it very clear that he expects an up-or-down vote," Dr. Frist told reporters after meeting with the president. Back in the Capitol, he added, "I don't want to close that door yet."

Earlier in the day, Dr. Frist suggested the door had been closed, telling reporters that "me bringing up a vote is not going to change anything."

Some leading Republicans, meanwhile, called on Mr. Bush to bypass the Senate by installing Mr. Bolton at the United Nations while Congress is in recess. [complete article]

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Some Republicans seek prison abuse panel
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, June 22, 2005

Despite opposition from the White House, some Republicans have begun to join Congressional Democrats in calling for an independent commission to review accusations of abuse of prisoners by American forces in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and elsewhere.

The idea's appeal has grown in recent weeks, with Republican endorsements from, among others, Bob Barr, a former congressman from Georgia who now works for the American Conservative Union, and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a former Air Force lawyer and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The Republican leadership in the House succeeded on Tuesday in blocking a vote on an amendment backed by Democrats that would have attached a call for such a panel to the military authorization bill. But Senate Democrats say they intend to seek approval of a similar measure, in which Congress would establish a panel modeled after the Sept. 11 commission, with an independence that critics say has been lacking from the investigations conducted by the Pentagon to date. [complete article]

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Withdrawal is a prelude to annexation
By Avi Shlaim, The Guardian, June 22, 2005

Condoleezza Rice hailed the understanding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the need to destroy the homes of the 8,000 Jewish settlers in Gaza as a historic step on the road to peace. This is a fatuous statement by one of the most vacuous US secretaries of state of the postwar era.

American foreign policy has habitually displayed double standards towards the Middle East: one standard towards Israel and one towards the Arabs. To give just one example, the US effected regime change in Baghdad in three weeks but has failed to dismantle a single Jewish settlement in the occupied territories in 38 years.

The two main items on America's current agenda for the region are democracy for the Arabs and a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. America, however, insists on democracy only for its Arab opponents, not for its friends. As for the peace process, it is essentially a mechanism by which Israel and America try to impose a solution on the Palestinians. American hypocrisy is nothing new. But with Dr Rice it has gone beyond chutzpah. [complete article]

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Mideast summit ends in acrimony
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, June 22, 2005

A rare meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ended bitterly Tuesday after they failed to reach new agreements on issues related to Israel's plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip and on measures to rein in violence by Palestinian radicals.

Less than two months before the scheduled Israeli evacuation, the leaders clashed over Abbas's efforts to confront such militant groups as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, the release of additional Palestinians from Israeli jails and the reopening of the Gaza airport that Palestinians see as key to the future of the local economy after the pullout. Agreement on those issues could have bolstered a four-month-old truce now severely strained by fresh violence. [complete article]

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Memos: U.N. knew Saddam violated sanctions
By Edith M. Lederer, AP (via WP), June 21, 2005

The U.N. Security Council had detailed knowledge of how Saddam Hussein was violating U.N. sanctions, but was so divided that many violations went largely unchecked, according to documents released Tuesday by a congressional panel.

Despite the divisions in the council committee monitoring sanctions, the Security Council managed to institute a pricing policy under U.S. and British pressure to cut lucrative surcharges on oil sales that Saddam was pocketing.

The committee's divisions and Saddam's sanctions violations were widely reported starting in the late 1990s and until the program ended in 2003. But the documents released Tuesday, which include U.S. memos and reports on committee meetings, provide a more comprehensive picture of the political dynamics at play and the difficulty in enforcing sanctions. [complete article]

Comment -- Is this the BIG lesson the US media has drawn from the Downing Street Memo story? Note to headline writers: "Memos" is buzzword of the day. Use it whenever possible. More Google hits, more ad revenue... you get the picture.

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Blast kills Lebanese politician
BBC News, June 21, 2005

George Hawi - former Communist Party leader and an opponent of Syria - died when his car blew up as he drove through the Wata Musaitbi district.

The attack follows the anti-Syrian bloc's victory in elections, the first since Syria ended a 29-year occupation. [complete article]

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Syria foes to control Lebanon's parliament
By Sam F. Ghattas, AP (via WP), June 21, 2005

The anti-Syrian opposition captured control of Lebanon's parliament Monday, breaking Damascus's long domination of its tiny neighbor, and now must turn to healing the sectarian tensions that peaked during the campaign.

Men, women and children waved flags and danced in the streets of the northern city of Tripoli, while here in the capital cheering opposition supporters drove through the city cheering and honking in celebration.

Interior Minister Hassan Sabei declared that opposition candidates had won all 28 seats in northern Lebanon in Sunday's balloting, the fourth and final round of national elections, which were held by region. "The north has decided the character of the new parliament and given the absolute majority to the opposition," the opposition leader Saad Hariri said at a news conference before the official results were released.

Asked whether he would seek to become prime minister, Hariri, 35, a Sunni Muslim and the son of the slain former prime minister Rafiq Hariri, said he would consult his political allies. The Feb. 14 killing of Rafiq Hariri galvanized the movement to oust Syrian troops from the country. [complete article]

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Democracy's advance in Egypt brings dilemma for U.S.
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 21, 2005

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, called yesterday for a more inclusive, democratic process in Egypt, but sidestepped the continuing ban on the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's biggest Islamic opposition group.

Speaking in Cairo, Ms Rice said President Hosni Mubarak's decision to allow an unprecedented, multi-party presidential election in September was an "important first step", but stressed the need for a more open, competitive contest.

"President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change. Now, the Egyptian government must put its faith in its own people," she said. "It must fulfil the promise it has made to its people, and to the entire world, by giving its citizens the freedom to choose."

Her silence on the Muslim Brotherhood's lack of free choices reflected the strong official Egyptian resistance to legalising the organisation. But it also illustrated Washington's larger dilemma in calling for greater Arab democracy while opposing Islamic groups such as Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon with proven electoral appeal. [complete article]

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Parsing the memos
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, June 21, 2005

The roster of journalists who've expressed reservations about the significance of the contents of the Downing Street memos now includes the Washington Post's E.J. Dionne Jr. For him, "one of the most important artifacts of the prewar debate" is the transcript of an interview that Dick Cheney gave with NBC's Tim Russert on March 16, 2003. I don't want to underplay the political impact of the kind of public statements to which Dionne refers, nevertheless, since we already know that Cheney is a man who has attempted to maintain an iron wall between his public and private utterances, what we really want to know about is not what he's said on NBC, but what he says behind closed soundproof doors.

Christian Science Monitor's Peter Grier provides a rather lame analysis of what the 'Downing Street' memos show, but like the New York Times' David Sanger, Grier seems confused about the direction of time. He writes, "This second document appears to contradict somewhat the insistence of the first that military action was 'inevitable.'" This echoes Sanger who wrote, "The publication of the memorandum [the Cabinet Office paper] is significant because a previously leaked document, now known as the Downing Street Memo, appeared to suggest that a decision to go to war may have been made that summer."

I've pointed this out before but I'll say it again: The second memo was written before the first memo. To the author of the July 21 Cabinet Office paper, military action was "possible." According to the record of the July 23 meeting, Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of British intelligence just back from Washington, reported that war was now "inevitable."

Grier also says that the DSM "does not say specifically that Mr. Bush, or indeed any US official, saw war as inevitable." Dearlove was back from Washington. Did he spend his time there sitting in Starbucks reading the Post? Probably not. Did he meet his counterpart George Tenet? Almost certainly! In a secret memo distributed among the most senior officials in the British government, there is not a scintilla of doubt that "Washington" refers to the most senior officials of the Bush administration.

Finally, there appears to be in some people's minds some lingering doubt about how the author of the DSM might have been using the phrase "fixed around." Michael Smith the Times journalist who broke the story says:
There are number of people asking about fixed and its meaning. This is a real joke. I do not know anyone in the UK who took it to mean anything other than fixed as in fixed a race, fixed an election, fixed the intelligence. If you fix something, you make it the way you want it. The intelligence was fixed and as for the reports that said this was one British official. Pleeeaaassee! This was the head of MI6. How much authority do you want the man to have? He has just been to Washington, he has just talked to George Tenet. He said the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. That translates in clearer terms as the intelligence was being cooked to match what the administration wanted it to say to justify invading Iraq. Fixed means the same here as it does there.
But just in case anyone wonders whether Matthew Rycroft, now British Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzergovina, might care to resolve the question, I asked. The embassy's Press and Public Affairs Officer, Emir Salihovic, says that "unfortunately HM Ambassador is not giving interviews on the topic you are interested in." So I guess we should regard Michael Smith's analysis to be as close to definitive as we're going to get.

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Why George went to war
By Russ Baker,, June 20, 2005

The Downing Street memos have brought into focus an essential question: on what basis did President George W. Bush decide to invade Iraq? The memos are a government-level confirmation of what has been long believed by so many: that the administration was hell-bent on invading Iraq and was simply looking for justification, valid or not.

Despite such mounting evidence, Bush resolutely maintains total denial. In fact, when a British reporter asked the president recently about the Downing Street documents, Bush painted himself as a reluctant warrior. "Both of us didn't want to use our military," he said, answering for himself and British Prime Minister Blair. "Nobody wants to commit military into combat. It's the last option."

Yet there's evidence that Bush not only deliberately relied on false intelligence to justify an attack, but that he would have willingly used any excuse at all to invade Iraq. And that he was obsessed with the notion well before 9/11—indeed, even before he became president in early 2001. [complete article]

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Hit by friendly fire
By Kevin Whitelaw, US News and World Report, June 27, 2005

Nebraska Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel is angry. He's upset about the more than 1,700 U.S. soldiers killed and nearly 13,000 wounded in Iraq. He's also aggravated by the continued string of sunny assessments from the Bush administration, such as Vice President Dick Cheney's recent remark that the insurgency is in its "last throes." "Things aren't getting better; they're getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality," Hagel tells U.S. News. "It's like they're just making it up as they go along. The reality is that we're losing in Iraq."

That's strikingly blunt talk from a member of the president's party, even one cast as something of a pariah in the GOP because of his early skepticism about the war. "I got beat up pretty good by my own party and the White House that I was not a loyal Republican," he says. Today, he notes, things are changing: "More and more of my colleagues up here are concerned." [complete article]

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Policy shifts felt after Bolton's departure from State Dept.
By Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, June 20, 2005

For years, a key U.S. program intended to keep Russian nuclear fuel out of terrorist hands has been frozen by an arcane legal dispute. As undersecretary of state, John R. Bolton was charged with fixing the problem, but critics complained he was the roadblock.

Now with Bolton no longer in the job, U.S. negotiators report a breakthrough with the Russians and predict a resolution will be sealed by President Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin at an international summit in Scotland next month, clearing the way to eliminate enough plutonium to fuel 8,000 nuclear bombs.

The prospective revival of the plutonium disposal project underlines a noticeable change since Bolton's departure from his old job as arms control chief. Regardless of whether the Senate confirms him as U.N. ambassador during a scheduled vote today, fellow U.S. officials and independent analysts said his absence has already been felt at the State Department. [complete article]

See also, Bolton's nomination blocked again in the Senate (Knight Ridder).

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U.S. strategy in Iraq: Is it working?
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2005

The US military strategy in Iraq has been consistent for months now: Use aggressive military operations to disrupt the flow of foreign fighters entering the country and the insurgent support lines that run along the Euphrates River west to the Syrian border. Simultaneously, the US is training Iraqi troops to fill the security vacuum that persists in the center and north of the country.

By any metric of tactical military success, it's working, say analysts. US forces have strung together victory after victory. Marine and Army operations from Najaf in the south to Fallujah in the heart of the Sunni triangle and on to Mosul in the north have ended with thousands of insurgents killed and captured and tons of enemy munitions destroyed with minimal US casualties.

This is what Vice President Dick Cheney probably had in mind when he told "Larry King Live" last week that the insurgency is in its "last throes."

But if another measure of success is used - a reduction in the number and lethality of insurgent attacks - the US and the new Iraqi government are failing. In the past two days, for example, US Marines and Army soldiers carried out Operations Spear and Dagger (designed to disrupt insurgent capabilities between Baghdad and Syria). At the same time, separate suicide attacks killed 20 policemen in the Kurdish city of Arbil and 23 people in a Baghdad restaurant popular with policemen, while insurgents overran a police station in southern Baghdad, killing eight officers. [complete article]

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The road to rendition
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, June 17, 2005

Via Guerzoni is a quiet street on the outskirts of Milan in a former industrial neighborhood that is somewhere between decrepitude and redevelopment. High walls line both sides of the road for about 100 yards as it runs between a park and a half-abandoned plant nursery. If you're in the business of making people disappear -- call it kidnapping or maybe counterterrorism or, in the Bushian jargon of the moment, "rendition" -- then Via Guerzoni is a good venue. Few people are around, and many of those are Muslim immigrants who want as little to do with the police as they can.

So whoever snatched an Egyptian-born imam known as Abu Omar off Via Guerzoni in broad daylight on Feb. 17, 2003, had planned well. And if their tradecraft had been a little bit better, the incident could have been kept very quiet and forgotten quickly. But they screwed up, and soon, possibly as early as next week, you can look for the abduction of Abu Omar to emerge as a major embarrassment to President George W. Bush and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The fiercely independent judiciary in Milan, led by investigating magistrate Armando Spataro, has prepared a case and expects to issue warrants alleging that a dozen or more foreign agents, some of them reportedly Americans, were involved in the abduction of Abu Omar. They are supposed to have driven him in the truck to the U.S. airbase at Aviano, Italy, then flown him to Cairo. In Egypt, as the saying goes, "they have ways of making you talk." [complete article]

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Who we are
Editorial, New York Times, June 18, 2005

For more than three and a half years since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Congress has been derelict in its duty to assert control over the prison camps created by President Bush in the shadows beyond the Constitution, the rule of law and a half-century of international laws and treaties. So it was a relief to watch the hearing this week by Senator Arlen Specter's Judiciary Committee on the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and to hear Mr. Specter declare that it was time for Congress to do its job and bring the American chain of prison camps under the law.

While the hearing was too long in coming, its timing was useful - one day after Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who should have been fired for bungling the Iraq war and for the prison abuse scandal, offered the bizarre declaration that "no detention facility in the history of warfare has been more transparent" than Guantanamo.

Mr. Rumsfeld seems to be confusing transparency with invisibility. [complete article]

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Fallout from the war on terror – Part I
By Mark Sidel, YaleGlobal, June 14, 2005

Washington's war on terror may be quietly taking a toll on unsuspecting quarters – its universities. To understand the effects of anti-terror policies on the US academic sector, it helps to spend time on university campuses in Australia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, or other countries. From Melbourne to Edinburgh, those institutions are now filled with foreign students, many of whom would have come to the US, had they not been deterred by restrictive visa policies.

The inconsistent and ham-fisted implementation of a valid goal – preventing terrorists from entering the United States – has hindered or severely delayed many innocents from realizing their dreams of education, research, or teaching in the United States. Thousands who are not terrorists have been denied visas, and many more have been forced to wait – often for months or years – preventing them from continuing their legitimate academic work. Even as policies have eased in the last year or two, the perception remains: US universities are an unfriendly destination for the best foreign students and scholars. And so the United States is increasingly losing a global competition for the finest thinkers and innovators, regardless of their countries of origin. [complete article]

Fallout from the war on terror – Part II
By J Alexander Thier, YaleGlobal, June 16, 2005

The spasm of protest and violence that swept through the Islamic world from Afghanistan to Pakistan, the Palestinian territories, and Indonesia in reaction to the Newsweek Quran abuse piece reveals something critical: the Muslim world is a powder-keg of anti-American sentiment. But rather than improve relations, the Bush administration continues to play with fire.

The real "war on terror" is about culture, ideas, and perceptions as much as bombs and spies. While it is critical to fight the committed terrorists, abhorrent incidents of abuse by members of the US military play directly into the hands of the Islamic extremists who are competing for the hearts and minds of Muslims in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. The US only has so many chances to deliver its message, and in the information-poor and conspiracy-rich environments of the Middle East, actions speak much louder than rhetoric. [complete article]

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FBI failed to hire, promote terror experts
By John Solomon, AP (via SF Chronicle), June 20, 2005

The FBI vowed to build national expertise for fighting terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks, but the supervisors who crafted that war plan now say Middle East and terrorism experience haven't been important for choosing their agents.

"You need leadership. You don't need subject matter expertise," Executive Assistant Director Gary Bald recently testified in a little noticed employment case now catching the eye of Congress. "It is certainly not what I look for in selecting an official for a position in a counterterrorism position."

The lawsuit, brought against the FBI by one of its most accomplished pre-Sept. 11 terror-fighting agents, provides sharp contrasts between the bureau's public promises and the reality of how it has chosen the agents who run its war on terrorism. [complete article]

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U.S. rolls out red carpet for old foe Vietnam
By Francis Harris, The Telegraph, June 21, 2005

America welcomed a Vietnamese communist leader for the first time yesterday at the start of a visit to seal an unparalleled series of military and intelligence deals between the former enemies.

Prime minister Phan Van Khai, once an official in the administration of the Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Minh, will get the red carpet treatment throughout his visit.

Arriving at the head of a 200-strong delegation, the 72-year-old Vietnamese leader will sign a series of deals underlining the extraordinary turnaround in relations.

Vietnam will agree to despatch officers for training in the United States, to swap intelligence information and to exchange intelligence officers at the embassies in Hanoi and Washington to liaise on common threats.

The agreement is all the more notable coming on the 30th anniversary of North Vietnam's defeat of America and its South Vietnamese allies. The war cost America 58,000 lives and Vietnam more than a million. [complete article]

Comment -- Here's a story that the US media seems happy to largely ignore. George Bush rolls out the red carpet for the communist leader of a little country that gave America its most humiliating military defeat. At least when it comes to this corner of Asia, a lack of democracy is apparently no obstacle to warm relations.

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Iran poll challenger accused of ballot fraud
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, June 20, 2005

Iran's presidential election was thrown into uncharted territory yesterday after a hardline candidate who unexpectedly won his way into a run-off vote was accused of ballot-rigging.

The allegations against the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 49, came not only from losing candidates in Friday's first round, but also from aides to the frontrunner, the pragmatic cleric and former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Mr Rafsanjani's suspicions have intensified the controversy surrounding Mr Ahmadinejad's surprise showing. He confounded pollsters to capture nearly 20% of the vote. Mr Rafsanjani polled 21%. The mayor, a former revolutionary guard commander, wants to reinforce Iran's strict Islamic code.

Mr Rafsanjani's aides say Mr Ahmadinejad may have stuffed ballot boxes, bought votes and used improper influence on the guardian council, the religious watchdog overseeing the election.

"We are suspicious. We feel that he was not so popular as to gain this number of votes," said Amir Mohseni, deputy head of Mr Rafsanjani's campaign in Tehran. [complete article]

Iran's Guardian Council moves to quiet debate over election
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, Knight Ridder, June 20, 2005

Iran's all-powerful Guardian Council shut down two pro-reform newspapers and completed a limited recount Monday in a bid to silence the growing debate over vote-rigging and military interference in last week's hotly contested presidential elections.

The moves followed a rare public protest by the third-place candidate, Mahdi Karroubi, who resigned from his government posts while citing what he said was Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's refusal to investigate alleged voting irregularities.

"Just like you banned the military from being involved in the economy, I asked you to prevent a part of the Revolutionary Guard and Basij (civilian militia) from engaging in political activities, which is far more dangerous," wrote Karroubi, a centrist cleric and former parliament speaker, in a Sunday letter to Khamenei. [complete article]

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Israel agrees to demolish its settlers' Gaza homes
By Glenn Kessler and Scott Wilson, Washington Post, June 20, 2005

Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed that Jewish settler homes in the Gaza Strip will be demolished as Israeli citizens and soldiers leave the area this summer, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced Sunday after two days of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian officials.

The accord settles a long-festering issue and is the first significant agreement between the two parties in the complex and potentially violent undertaking, which began as a unilateral step by Israel to separate itself from the Palestinians. In recent months, both sides have complained that the other has failed to coordinate. But Rice emerged from the intensive discussions saying that both sides had agreed to a set of principles, including a pledge to coordinate plans and "ensure that disengagement proceeds smoothly, without violence." [complete article]

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Eviction looming, West Bank settlers are digging in
By Christine Hauser, New York Times, June 19, 2005

The people of this hilltop settlement in the West Bank are preparing for a future as a thriving Jewish community. They are building a larger synagogue, expanding their religious school, planning for the birth of children and erecting tents to take in new residents.

Never mind that the Israeli prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is to send soldiers to evacuate Sanur and three other settlements in the West Bank as part of his "disengagement" plan beginning in mid-August.

Nor do the settlers here discuss the government's offers of money to move, under a package upheld this month by Israel's supreme court. The court also said that the biblical lands of Judea and Samaria - together known as the West Bank - are occupied by the Israeli military, not a part of the State of Israel.

While much of the world's attention has been focused on the Gaza Strip, where Israel is planning a complete withdrawal of the nearly 9,000 settlers, the Israeli military says the strongest internal resistance may be the ensuing withdrawal of the 800 settlers in the West Bank. [complete article]

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Game of golf stirs up criticism of U.S. role in Nepal
By John Lancaster, Washington Post, June 19, 2005

Arrested in a crackdown on civil liberties, politician Ram Mahat was languishing in his jail cell last month when a guard slipped him a daily newspaper. There on the front page, he said, was an article that made his blood boil.

It reported that the U.S. ambassador, James F. Moriarty, had played golf the day before in Katmandu with Crown Prince Paras, whose father, King Gyanendra, was responsible for the jailing of Mahat and hundreds of other perceived opponents of the monarchy. [complete article]

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Iraqi security tactics evoke the Hussein era
By Jeffrey Fleishman and Asmaa Waguih, Los Angeles Times, June 19, 2005

The public war on the Iraqi insurgency has led to an atmosphere of hidden brutalities, including abuse and torture, carried out against detainees by the nation's special security forces, according to defense lawyers, international organizations and Iraq's Ministry of Human Rights.

Up to 60% of the estimated 12,000 detainees in the country's prisons and military compounds face intimidation, beatings or torture that leads to broken bones and sometimes death, said Saad Sultan, head of a board overseeing the treatment of prisoners at the Human Rights Ministry. He added that police and security forces attached to the Interior Ministry are responsible for most abuses.

The units have used tactics reminiscent of Saddam Hussein's secret intelligence squads, according to the ministry and independent human rights groups and lawyers, who have cataloged abuses. [complete article]

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Bush says U.S. is in Iraq because of attacks on U.S.
AFP, June 18, 2005

President George W. Bush defended the war in Iraq, telling Americans the United States was forced into war because of the September 11 terror strikes.

Bush also resisted calls for him to set a timetable for the return of thousands of US troops deployed in Iraq, saying Iraqis must be able to defend their own country before US soldiers can be pulled out.

"We went to war because we were attacked, and we are at war today because there are still people out there who want to harm our country and hurt our citizens," Bush said Saturday in his weekly radio address. [complete article]

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Unease over Iraq becoming an issue for 2006
By Dan Balz, Washington Post, June 19, 2005

President Bush's policy in Iraq faces growing criticism in Congress, and now it is figuring into the early stages of the 2006 midterm elections. Rep. Harold E. Ford Jr. (D-Tenn.) launched his campaign for the Senate last week with a television commercial saying it's time to figure out how to start bringing U.S. troops home from Iraq.

Against a patriotic backdrop of U.S. servicemen and women, Ford praises U.S. military forces and then invokes the Fourth of July to conclude by saying, "Let's work hard to bring them home soon, and with honor, and make them as proud of us as we are of them."

Ford's decision to lead off his campaign in military-friendly Tennessee with a message playing on public impatience with the U.S. mission in Iraq suggests that politicians are sensing a shift in public opinion toward Bush's policy. The Democratic House member said he believes he is on solid ground politically by focusing attention on ending the U.S. mission there. [complete article]

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Bush wounded by anger over war
By Tony Allen-Mills, The Sunday Times, June 19, 2005

Increasing American concern about the conduct of the war in Iraq has forced President George W Bush to sideline some of his domestic priorities in favour of a new public relations drive to bolster confidence in the coalition effort.

Iraq will return to the top of the American political agenda this week when the president delivers the first of several speeches aimed at reversing a damaging slide in his approval ratings.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the Iraqi prime minister, will pay his first visit to the White House as part of a co-ordinated attempt to boost confidence in both Iraq and America.

The president's move follows complaints in his own party that the public has been misled about the coalition's difficulties in Iraq. Almost 100 Americans and several hundred Iraqis have died since the beginning of last month despite a claim by Dick Cheney, the vice-president, that the insurgency was in its "last throes".

There have also been complaints in military circles that the president has recently been more concerned with his proposed reforms to the US pension system -- which is supposedly in danger of collapsing by 2047 -- than in publicly discussing the effort in Iraq.

"He's out in the sticks talking about a social security problem that might occur in 2047, and meanwhile the boys in Iraq are getting killed and injured every day," said one officer. "Don't you find that a little odd?" [complete article]

Comment -- The White House press corps rarely gets credit for putting up a fight, but on Thursday, ABC's Terry Moran was quite tenacious in trying to pin down Scott McClellan on Cheney's bizarre claim:

Q Scott, is the insurgency in Iraq in its last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, you have a desperate group of terrorists in Iraq that are doing everything they can to try to derail the transition to democracy. The Iraqi people have made it clear that they want a free and democratic and peaceful future. And that's why we're doing everything we can, along with other countries, to support the Iraqi people as they move forward. The fact that they are making great progress on the political front is significant because that helps defeat the terrorists, because the terrorists don't want to see democracy take hold. They don't want lasting democratic institutions to be put in place. And that's why we are standing with the Iraqi people as they move forward on the political front.

We're also standing with the Iraqi people as they move forward on -- to address the security situation. We are working side by side with Iraqi forces now to defeat those terrorists and regime elements who want to derail the transition to democracy. And every day we move forward on democracy and training Iraqi security forces is every day closer that we are to succeeding in Iraq.

Q But the insurgency is in its last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN: The Vice President talked about that the other day -- you have a desperate group of terrorists who recognize how high the stakes are in Iraq. A free Iraq will be a significant blow to their ambitions.

Q But they're killing more Americans, they're killing more Iraqis. That's the last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN: Innocent -- I say innocent civilians. And it doesn't take a lot of people to cause mass damage when you're willing to strap a bomb onto yourself, get in a car and go and attack innocent civilians. That's the kind of people that we're dealing with. That's what I say when we're talking about a determined enemy.

Q Right. What is the evidence that the insurgency is in its last throes?

MR. McCLELLAN: I think I just explained to you the desperation of terrorists and their tactics.

Q What's the evidence on the ground that it's being extinguished?

MR. McCLELLAN: Terry, we're making great progress to defeat the terrorist and regime elements. You're seeing Iraqis now playing more of a role in addressing the security threats that they face. They're working side by side with our coalition forces. They're working on their own. There are a lot of special forces in Iraq that are taking the battle to the enemy in Iraq. And so this is a period when they are in a desperate mode.

Q Well, I'm just wondering what the metric is for measuring the defeat of the insurgency.

MR. McCLELLAN: Well, you can go back and look at the Vice President's remarks. I think he talked about it.

Q Yes. Is there any idea how long a last throe lasts for?

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Relatives of some troops killed in Iraq seek hearings on Downing Street memo
By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes, June 17, 2005

Several parents of soldiers killed in Iraq visited Capitol Hill on Wednesday to ask for congressional hearings on the Downing Street memo, which one mother called President Bush's "Watergate."

Critics say the document, which contains minutes from a meeting in July 2002 between British Prime Minister Tony Blair and top aides, shows that Bush was determined to go to war with Iraq and ignored evidence that showed the country had no weapons of mass destruction.

"Military action was now seen as inevitable," the memo reads. "Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy."

The memo was first revealed by the Sunday Times of London in May. Earlier this month, both Bush and Blair dismissed the accusations, saying that the war in Iraq was justified because Saddam Hussein was ignoring international law.

But members of Military Families Speak Out, whose members are relatives of troops killed in Iraq, said Congress must investigate whether the president lied to the country to justify military action. [complete article]

Comment -- Stars and Stripes describes itself as "a Department of Defense-authorized daily newspaper distributed overseas for the U.S. military community. Editorially independent of interference from outside its editorial chain of command, it provides commercially available U.S.and world news and objective staff-produced stories relevant to the military community in a balanced, fair, and accurate manner."

It's curious then, that a DoD-authorized newspaper manages - at least in this instance - to be better attuned to the public mood than a highly respected journalist like the Washington Post's Dana Milbank. In his column, "Washington Sketch," Milbank scoffed at the "theatrics" of a forum on the Downing Street Memo hosted in the Capitol on Friday, by Rep. John Conyers. Milbank writes:
As Conyers and his hearty band of playmates know, subpoena power and other perks of a real committee are but a fantasy unless Democrats can regain the majority in the House. But that's only one of the obstacles they're up against as they try to convince America that the "Downing Street Memo" is important.

A search of the congressional record yesterday found that of the 535 members of Congress, only one -- Conyers -- had mentioned the memo on the floor of either chamber. House Democratic leaders did not join in Conyers's session, and Senate Democrats, who have the power to hold such events in real committee rooms, have not troubled themselves.
The implication: Congress reserves its attention for the most pressing, most important and most serious political issues of the day. If it's not being discussed in Congress, it's obviously not important.

Does Milbank really hold Congressional proceedings in such high esteem? Somehow, I doubt it.

Whereas a number of American journalists are responding to the DSM story with a humble better-late-than-never (to whit, Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball in Newsweek and Associated Press) and some excuse themselves with the feeble claim that they rely on AP to highlight international news, Milbank and others seem more interested in dismissing the newsworthiness of the memos than in reflecting on the implications of the memos' contents. Heaven forbid that anyone might conclude that in this instance the amateur blogosphere was way down the track before Washington's professional news elite had even bothered squeezing their well-polished shoes into the starting blocks! Milbank and his cohorts have responded to the memos with a yawn and a dismissive declaration that the memos are really "old news." Perhaps their long-standing intimate relations with senior administration officials, makes it difficult for them to make a clear distinction between news reports, opinion pieces, official statements and leaked memos.

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British bombing raids were illegal, says Foreign Office
By Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, June 19, 2005

A sharp increase in British and American bombing raids on Iraq in the run-up to war "to put pressure on the regime" was illegal under international law, according to leaked Foreign Office legal advice.

The advice was first provided to senior ministers in March 2002. Two months later RAF and USAF jets began "spikes of activity" designed to goad Saddam Hussein into retaliating and giving the allies a pretext for war.

The Foreign Office advice shows military action to pressurise the regime was "not consistent with" UN law, despite American claims that it was. [complete article]

See the transcript of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office legal advice.

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Iraqis found in torture house tell of brutality of insurgents
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, June 19, 2005

Marines on an operation to eliminate insurgents that began Friday broke through the outside wall of a building in this small rural village to find a torture center equipped with electric wires, a noose, handcuffs, a 574-page jihad manual - and four beaten and shackled Iraqis.

The American military has found torture houses after invading towns heavily populated by insurgents - like Falluja, where the anti-insurgent assault last fall uncovered almost 20 such sites. But rarely have they come across victims who have lived to tell the tale.

The men said they told the marines, from Company K, Third Marines, Second Division, that they had been tortured with shocks and flogged with a strip of rubber for more than two weeks, unseen behind the windows of black glass. One of them, Ahmed Isa Fathil, 19, a former member of the new Iraqi Army, said he had been held and tortured there for 22 days. All the while, he said, his face was almost entirely taped over and his hands were cuffed. [complete article]

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Insurgents trawl Europe for recruits
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, June 19, 2005

Islamic militant networks are on a recruiting drive across Europe for potential suicide bombers in Iraq, according to US and European police and security sources.

The claim comes amid evidence that the high number of recent attacks is forcing terrorist leaders into a drive for new volunteers.

Analysis of recent patterns of activity, based on tracing the identities of suicide bombers killed in Iraq, indicates that Europe is experiencing the sharpest growth in the recruitment of suicide bombers in comparison with North Africa, the Middle East and Asia, although those areas still supply the largest numbers of jihadis. [complete article]

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An insider's troubling account of the U.S. role in Iraq
By Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, June 17, 2005

The failures of the Bush administration to prepare adequately for the postwar period in Iraq are by now well known, underscored by the revelation this week that a briefing paper, prepared for Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain eight months before the invasion, warned that "a postwar occupation of Iraq could lead to a protracted and costly nation-building exercise" and that "little thought" had been given by the United States to "the aftermath and how to shape it."It is a subject explicated in chilling - and often scathing - detail by "Squandered Victory," a new book by Larry Diamond, a former senior adviser to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad and a leading American scholar on democracy and democratic movements. In this book, Mr. Diamond contends that the postwar troubles in Iraq - a bloody and unrelenting insurgency, the creation of a new breeding ground for terrorists and metastasizing ethnic and religious tensions - are the result of "gross negligence" on the part of a Bush administration that rushed to war. He asserts that "mistakes were made at virtually every turn" of the occupation, and that "every mistake the United States made in Iraq narrowed the scope and lengthened the odds for progress."

His book not only provides an unsettling account of the mind-boggling challenges involved in trying to bring democracy to Iraq (ranging from practical matters like setting up an infrastructure for the electoral process to political and philosophical issues dealing with the drafting of a constitution) but also lays out a thoughtful, pull-no-punches analysis of the missteps and misjudgments by the Bush White House and the Pentagon in the months before and after America's toppling of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Magnet for Iraq insurgents is a crucial test of new U.S. strategy
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, June 16, 2005
Nine months ago the American military laid siege to this city in northwestern Iraq and proclaimed it freed from the grip of insurgents. Last month, the Americans returned in force - to reclaim it once again.

After the battle here in September the military left behind fewer than 500 troops to patrol a region twice the size of Connecticut. With so few troops and the local police force in shambles, insurgents came back and turned Tal Afar, a dusty, agrarian city of about 200,000 people, into a way station for the trafficking of arms and insurgent fighters from nearby Syria - and a ghost town of terrorized residents afraid to open their stores, walk the streets or send their children to school.

It is a cycle that has been repeated in rebellious cities throughout Iraq, and particularly those in the Sunni Arab regions west and north of Baghdad, where the insurgency's roots run deepest.

"We have a finite number of troops," said Maj. Chris Kennedy, executive officer of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which arrived in Tal Afar several weeks ago. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country. In the past, the problem has been we haven't been able to leave sufficient forces in towns where we've cleared the insurgents out."

While officials in Washington say the military has all the troops it needs, on-the-ground battle commanders in the most violent parts of Iraq - in cities like Ramadi, Mosul and Mahmudiya - have said privately that they need more manpower to pacify their areas and keep them that way.

Who are the suicide bombers? Pakistan's answer
By Owais Tohid, Christian Science Monitor, June 17, 2005
In four years, 28-year-old Gul Hasan went from laying bricks to recruiting suicide bombers. An antiterrorism court convicted Mr. Hasan this month of planning suicide attacks on Shiite mosques in Karachi that killed dozens of worshipers. Now he faces the gallows.

How people like Hasan get involved with militant Islam, and what they do to recruit others, are questions of increasing urgency in Pakistan, which has seen a spate of suicide bombings in recent weeks.

The attacks were carried out by splinter groups formed in the wake of a Pakistani crackdown on militant Islamic organizations after Sept. 11, 2001. Smaller and more isolated than their parent organizations, these splinter groups receive financial backing from Al Qaeda and draw their recruits from the ranks of the poor and enraged, say Pakistani investigators.

"This is a new breed [of militants], as suicide bombings are a post 9/11 phenomenon here," says Fateh Mohammad Burfat, head of the Criminology Department at the University of Karachi. The bombers are "unemployed, illiterate, and belong to poor social strata. [They also] perceive the US military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan as hostile acts against the Muslim world.... By suicide attacks, they get a sense of victory in the world and hereafter."

Egypt leads drive to curb Hamas poll success
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 15, 2005
Egypt is leading behind-the-scenes efforts to curb further ballotbox successes by the militant Palestinian group Hamas in planned parliamentary elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

The "Stop Hamas" campaign is part of a strategy to secure a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in August, a subsequent large-scale international aid and reconstruction effort, and a victory for Fatah and other "moderate" Palestinian factions in polls tentatively rescheduled for next January.

The Palestinian leader, Mahmoud Abbas, postponed the legislative elections last month, citing administrative reasons. But the delay was widely attributed to fears that Hamas would repeat its successes in municipal polls in Gaza this year.

Egypt's role in persuading Hamas and its allies to honour last February's ceasefire is said to have impressed Israel and the US. Now it is working closely with Washington and Jerusalem on securing a path to final status negotiations next year.

A murder stirs Kurds in Syria
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, June 16, 2005
At a meeting of Syrian political-intelligence officers in late April in the Kurdish northeast, the only item on the agenda was Sheikh Mohammed Mashouq al-Khaznawi.

He was becoming a problem for Syria, says a Western diplomat familiar with the meeting.

A moderate Islamic cleric who once worked with the Syrian government to temper extremism, Sheikh Khaznawi was emerging as one of its most outspoken critics. He advocated Kurdish rights and democracy, galvanizing many of the 1.7 million Kurds against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. At the same time, Kurds were gaining political power in Iraq, Lebanon was casting Syrian troops out, and the US was criticizing Syria's government.

"[Syrian intelligence] wrote a report saying he ... should be stopped. They said he would start a revolution," says Sheikh Murad Khaznawi, the eldest of Sheikh Mohammed's eight sons.

Kurdish officials sanction abductions in Kirkuk
By Steve Fainaru and Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, June 15, 2005
Police and security units, forces led by Kurdish political parties and backed by the U.S. military, have abducted hundreds of minority Arabs and Turkmens in this intensely volatile city and spirited them to prisons in Kurdish-held northern Iraq, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials, government documents and families of the victims.

Seized off the streets of Kirkuk or in joint U.S.-Iraqi raids, the men have been transferred secretly and in violation of Iraqi law to prisons in the Kurdish cities of Irbil and Sulaymaniyah, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. forces. The detainees, including merchants, members of tribal families and soldiers, have often remained missing for months; some have been tortured, according to released prisoners and the Kirkuk police chief.

A confidential State Department cable, obtained by The Washington Post and addressed to the White House, Pentagon and U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, said the "extra-judicial detentions" were part of a "concerted and widespread initiative" by Kurdish political parties "to exercise authority in Kirkuk in an increasingly provocative manner."

For democratic change, deal with moderate Islamists
By Amr Hamzawy, Daily Star, June 15, 2005
It has become common to suggest that the West should reach out to nonviolent Islamist political movements in the Arab world and integrate them into its democracy promotion efforts.

Two major factors have contributed to the apparent shift in American and European perceptions away from the stigmatization of Islamists as irrational fanatics to an operational distinction between violent and nonviolent, radical and moderate actors: First, the problematic path of Arab democratization and, second, the newly discovered pragmatism within the Islamist environment. However, both the United States and Europe have yet to articulate clear policy guidelines that structure their encounter with Islamist movements. Existing doubts about the degree of their commitment to democratic reforms and the real intentions behind their pragmatism hamper attempts to move ahead in the direction of engaging them.
To be sure, there is more than one good reason for the U.S. and Europe to support liberal parties and secular NGOs across the region. Normatively and politically Arab liberals have embraced the Western political value system with its three pillars: universal citizenship, democracy and the rule of law. Their objectives are identical with Western aspirations for tolerant, pluralist Arab societies. They speak a language which is understandable and trustworthy in American and European policy and intellectual communities.

The dilemma of Arab liberals, however, is their marginalization back home. Contrary to their celebrity status in the West, in the "real world" of the Arabs liberal actors remain incapable of reaching out to large constituencies in their societies or of substantially influencing political developments. That's why, faced with ruling elites primarily interested in preserving their power and weak liberal opposition actors, the U.S. and European states have no choice but to try collaborating with other forces on the Arab political scene if they are serious about promoting democracy in the region.

U.S. opposed calls at NATO for probe of Uzbek killings
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 14, 2005
Defense officials from Russia and the United States last week helped block a new demand for an international probe into the Uzbekistan government's shooting of hundreds of protesters last month, according to U.S. and diplomatic officials.

British and other European officials had pushed to include language calling for an independent investigation in a communique issued by defense ministers of NATO countries and Russia after a daylong meeting in Brussels on Thursday. But the joint communique merely stated that "issues of security and stability in Central Asia, including Uzbekistan," had been discussed.

The outcome obscured an internal U.S. dispute over whether NATO ministers should raise the May 13 shootings in Andijan at the risk of provoking Uzbekistan to cut off U.S. access to a military air base on its territory.

The communique's wording was worked out after what several knowledgeable sources called a vigorous debate in Brussels between U.S. defense officials, who emphasized the importance of the base, and others, including State Department representatives at NATO headquarters, who favored language calling for a transparent, independent and international probe into the killings of Uzbekistan civilians by police and soldiers.

U.N.'s nuclear monitor extends his pivotal role
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, June 14, 2005
Mohamed ElBaradei was virtually unknown when the United States engineered his candidacy eight years ago to run the United Nations' nuclear watchdog agency. He was a soft-spoken lawyer then, who left the Middle East of his youth for New York, first as a diplomat, then as an academic and finally as a career U.N. servant.

"What more could we ask for than a smart, respected Egyptian who cares passionately about the New York Knicks and nuclear nonproliferation?" said John Ritch, a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency who was instrumental in ElBaradei's selection.

Though he lacked any experience leading a major institution, U.S. support was enough for him to beat the only other contender -- a South Korean whose own country abstained -- in a 34 to 0 vote that launched ElBaradei's tenure as director general of the IAEA.

Yesterday, the agency's 35-member board unanimously awarded ElBaradei a third term running an agency whose findings and pronouncements could significantly bolster or undermine the Bush administration's push to confront Iran over its nuclear program.

Military action won't end insurgency, growing number of U.S. officers believe
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, June 12, 2005
A growing number of senior American military officers in Iraq have concluded that there is no long-term military solution to an insurgency that has killed thousands of Iraqis and more than 1,300 U.S. troops during the past two years.

Instead, officers say, the only way to end the guerilla war is through Iraqi politics - an arena that so far has been crippled by divisions between Shiite Muslims, whose coalition dominated the January elections, and Sunni Muslims, who are a minority in Iraq but form the base of support for the insurgency.

"I think the more accurate way to approach this right now is to concede that ... this insurgency is not going to be settled, the terrorists and the terrorism in Iraq is not going to be settled, through military options or military operations," Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, the chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said last week, in a comment that echoes what other senior officers say. "It's going to be settled in the political process."

Immigration law as anti-terrorism tool
By Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, June 13, 2005
Whereas terrorism charges can be difficult to prosecute, Homeland Security officials say immigration laws can provide a quick, easy way to detain people who could be planning attacks. Authorities have also used routine charges such as overstaying a visa to deport suspected supporters of terrorist groups.
"The approach is basically to target the Muslim and Arab community with a kind of zero-tolerance immigration policy. No other community in the U.S. is treated to zero-tolerance enforcement," said David Cole, a Georgetown University law professor and critic of the government's anti-terrorism policies.

Before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, immigration agents were minor players in the world of counterterrorism. That changed during the investigation of the hijackings, when 768 suspects were secretly processed on immigration charges. Most were deported after being cleared of connections to terrorism.

U.S. campaign produces few convictions on terrorism charges
By Dan Eggen and Julie Tate, Washington Post, June 12, 2005
On Thursday, President Bush stepped to a lectern at the Ohio State Highway Patrol Academy in Columbus to urge renewal of the USA Patriot Act and to boast of the government's success in prosecuting terrorists.

Flanked by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, Bush said that "federal terrorism investigations have resulted in charges against more than 400 suspects, and more than half of those charged have been convicted."

Those statistics have been used repeatedly by Bush and other administration officials, including Gonzales and his predecessor, John D. Ashcroft, to characterize the government's efforts against terrorism.

But the numbers are misleading at best.

An analysis of the Justice Department's own list of terrorism prosecutions by The Washington Post shows that 39 people -- not 200, as officials have implied -- were convicted of crimes related to terrorism or national security.

Iraq: Don't rush the constitution
International Crisis Group, June 8, 2005
The next stage in Iraq's political transition, the drafting and adoption of a permanent constitution, will be critical to the country's long-term stability. Iraqis face a dilemma: rush the constitutional process and meet the current deadline of 15 August 2005 to prevent the insurgents from scoring further political points, or encourage a process that is inclusive, transparent and participatory in an effort to increase popular buy-in of the final product. While there are downsides to delay, they are far outweighed by the dangers of a hurried job that could lead to either popular rejection of or popular resignation to a text toward which they feel little sense of ownership or pride.

The Transitional Administrative Law (TAL) of March 2004 dictates the pace and process of constitutional drafting and adoption. According to its terms, drafting must be completed no later than 15 August 2005 and the text put up for popular referendum by 15 October, with elections for a full-term assembly to follow by 15 December. If successful, this process may go a long way in drying up support for the insurgents. Conversely, failure to get the constitutional endeavour right risks increasing popular discontent and swelling the ranks of the insurgency.

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