The War in Context
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Iraq at the gates of hell
By Ashraf Fahim, Asia Times, August 20, 2005

In early July, Iraq's former interim prime minister Iyad Allawi told the media that Iraq was "practically in stage one of a civil war". There is no known calculus for determining what level of violence qualifies as the initial stage of a civil war, so we cannot know if Allawi was correct.

There has certainly been a rise in inter-communal killings, particularly between Arab Sunnis and Shi'ites, to go with the deadly battle between occupation and government forces and the insurgents. But we have not yet seen the kind of sustained military engagements, a la Lebanon, the Balkans or Sierra Leone, nor the specter of large-scale ethnic cleansing that would put Allawi's claim beyond doubt.

Two years ago, Arab League secretary general Amr Moussa predicted ominously that an invasion would "open the gates of hell" in the region. At the time, Western ears heard melodrama in that warning, the bombastic rhetoric of an out-of-time Arab nationalist.

In retrospect, of course, it was nothing if not prescient. The invasion unleashed unspeakable horrors - cities bombed to ruin, gritty urban combat, gruesome beheadings, apocalyptic car bombings. Civil war, however, would truly complete Moussa's prophecy. It would be a tragedy to dwarf Iraq's current blood-soaked chaos, ushering in not only a paroxysm of internecine killing, but perhaps a regional conflagration that would send ripples of instability far beyond. [complete article]

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Iraqis march against plans for federal state
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, August 20, 2005

With 72 hours to go until the latest deadline for Iraq's political leaders to agree a new constitution, tension spilled on to the streets yesterday with mass demonstrations and reports of gunfire.

Thousands of supporters of Moqtada al-Sadr, the militant Shia cleric, marched in Baghdad in opposition to plans for a more federal state.

Women in black abaya robes held placards reading "no to division" as the marchers made their way through the impoverished Sadr City neighbourhood, a Shia bastion, chanting "yes to unity".

Crowds of angry Shia gathered in at least six other districts demanding the preservation of "national unity". In the city of Baquba, more than a thousand Sunni protesters attended a rally opposing greater regional autonomy. [complete article]

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3 Sunni election workers seized and killed in Mosul
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, August 20, 2005

Three Sunni election workers tacking up voting posters in the northern city of Mosul were kidnapped in front of a crowded mosque on Friday and then killed, the latest in a series of violent incidents exposing the rift that has opened up among Iraq's Sunnis over whether to take part in the coming elections.

The attack was the second in as many days against Sunnis trying to join in the country's democratic process. That is supposed to culminate in a nationwide referendum on a constitution in October and elections in December. [complete article]

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Former aide: Powell WMD speech 'lowest point in my life'
CNN, August 19, 2005

A former top aide to Colin Powell says his involvement in the former secretary of state's presentation to the United Nations on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction was "the lowest point" in his life.

"I wish I had not been involved in it," says Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, a longtime Powell adviser who served as his chief of staff from 2002 through 2005. "I look back on it, and I still say it was the lowest point in my life."

Wilkerson is one of several insiders interviewed for the CNN Presents documentary "Dead Wrong -- Inside an Intelligence Meltdown." The program, which airs Sunday at 8 p.m. and 11 p.m. ET, pieces together the events leading up to the mistaken WMD intelligence that was presented to the public. A presidential commission that investigated the pre-war WMD intelligence found much of it to be "dead wrong." [complete article]

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'Blood money' and leaks
By Stewart Tendler and Daniel McGrory, The Times, August 20, 2005

After what he describes as the worst week of his professional life, Sir Ian Blair learnt last night that he was also being accused by the parents of Jean Charles de Menezes of trying to buy their silence with a $1 million (£560,000) compensation offer.

Maria, Mr de Menezes's mother, dismissed this as "blood money", saying that no amount of cash would stop her coming to London to ask Sir Ian why he told lies about her son, who was shot when he was mistaken for a terrorist suspect on a Tube train at Stockwell station on July 22.

Discussions with the family about money were supposed to be confidential, but then every move Scotland Yard has made in recent days has only landed Sir Ian and his officers in more controversy. [complete article]

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Speed of Gaza pullout boosts Sharon
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, August 20, 2005

It turns out that Jews do expel Jews after all, and without the descent into anarchy predicted by leaders of Israel's once indulged settlers. Following dire warnings that the forced removal of 8,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank would provoke civil war, bring down the government and open an irreversible rift between the army and the people, opponents of the pullout have been left reeling by its speed and relative ease.

The army originally said it would take six weeks to clear the 21 settlements in the Gaza Strip and four smaller ones in the West Bank. As more families signed up to take the money and leave, the military revised its estimate down to three weeks.

In the end it took less than three days to clear all but a handful of the doomed settlements. Kfar Darom, among the most religious and militant of Israel's Gaza colonies, made a relatively violent stand but it was still emptied in less than a day. [complete article]

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Frist urges 2 teachings on life origin
By David Stout, New York Times, August 20, 2005

Senator Bill Frist of Tennessee, the Republican leader, aligned himself with President Bush on Friday when he said that the theory of intelligent design as well as evolution should be taught in public schools.

Such an approach "doesn't force any particular theory on anyone," Mr. Frist said in Nashville, according to The Associated Press. "I think in a pluralistic society that is the fairest way to go about education and training people for the future." A Washington spokesman for the senator, Nick Smith, said later that the report was accurate. [complete article]

Comment -- Why only have only two "theories" about the origin of life? I have a theory that life began when God let out a wet fart. It's a bit like the Big Bang theory and just as traces of that cosmic event are evident in the even distribution of helium across the universe, the ubiquity of ideas that stink seems - at least to me - to provide compelling evidence that it was one almighty stinker that brought us into existence. My theory might not be widely accepted, but in a pluralistic society I think it should get a fair hearing.

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Global warming: Will you listen now, America?
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, August 19, 2005

On a high-profile and bi-partisan fact-finding tour in Alaska and Canada's Yukon territory, Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic senator for New York, were confronted by melting permafrost and shrinking glaciers and heard from native Inuit that rising sea levels were altering their lives.

"The question is how much damage will be done before we start taking concrete action," Mr McCain said at a press conference in Anchorage. "Go up to places like we just came from. It's a little scary." Mrs Clinton added: "I don't think there's any doubt left for anybody who actually looks at the science. There are still some holdouts, but they're fighting a losing battle. The science is overwhelming."

Their findings directly challenge President George Bush's reluctance to legislate to reduce America's carbon emissions. Although both senators have talked before of the need to tackle global warming, this week's clarion call was perhaps the clearest and most urgent. It also raises the prospect that climate change and other environmental issues could be a factor in the presidential contest in 2008 if Mrs Clinton and Mr McCain enter it. [complete article]

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Iraq security chief says federalism key to peace
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 19, 2005

Iraq's national security adviser warned on Friday the country would gradually descend into civil war if federalism was not firmly entrenched in its constitution.

"Without federalism it means that no community interest has been addressed or fulfilled and therefore different communities will try to find and defend and fight for their rights," Mowaffaq al-Rubaie told Reuters in an interview.

"I am worried about that. Yes. Absolutely. With a civil war you can't say 'today we don't have a civil war, tomorrow a civil war erupted'. Civil war creeps into the country very gradually."

Iraqi politicians are trying to finish a draft constitution to present to parliament before an extended August 22 deadline.

Federalism is a major hurdle to a deal. Kurds want to expand autonomy in their de facto state in the north, some Shi'ites are pushing for their own region in the south and Arab Sunnis insist only a strong central government can keep Iraq together. [complete article]

See also, Failure is an option (Baltimore Sun).

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Sunni leaders attacked in Iraq
By Jonathan Finer and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 19, 2005

Masked gunmen in the western city of Ramadi responded violently Thursday to recent calls for political participation among Iraq's Sunni Arab minority, opening fire on local leaders who had gathered to discuss plans to register voters for a nationwide constitutional referendum.

The midmorning attack wounded three people, including the branch heads of the Sunni Endowment, the government agency responsible for Sunni religious affairs, and the Association of Muslim Scholars, Iraq's most influential Sunni religious group. The hail of machine-gun fire from slow-moving sedans came at the close of the meeting, as tribal leaders and Anbar province's governor, Mamoun Sami Rashid, were answering reporters' questions on the steps of the city's Great Mosque.

The attack came as the U.S. military reported four soldiers killed Wednesday by roadside bombs in the northern city of Samarra.

The violence in Ramadi was the latest skirmish in a high-stakes struggle unfolding in Sunni Arab strongholds such as Anbar and Salahuddin provinces as lawmakers in Baghdad work to complete a draft of Iraq's permanent constitution. [complete article]

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Missile attack narrowly misses U.S. Navy ship, kills Jordanian soldier
AP (via NYT), August 19, 2005

Unknown assailants fired at least three missiles from Jordan early Friday, with one narrowly missing a U.S. Navy ship docked at port, an attack that killed a Jordanian soldier. One missile fell close to an airport in neighboring Israel, officials said.

The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, said two American amphibious ships were docked in Aqaba when a mortar was fired toward them. The vessels later sailed out of port as a result of the attacks, U.S. Navy spokesman Lt. Cdr. Charlie Brown told The Associated Press in Bahrain. [complete article]

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Support growing for Iraq exit plan
AP (via, August 19, 2005

Congressman Walter Jones said Thursday he has about 50 co-sponsors on a joint resolution that calls on President Bush to announce by year's end a plan for withdrawal from Iraq.

The resolution - introduced in June by Jones, another Republican and two Democrats - calls on the president to begin executing the withdrawal by Oct. 1, 2006. It does not set an end date. [complete article]

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Is Sheehan a spark or a flicker?
By Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, August 18, 2005

Is Cindy Sheehan the spark igniting an antiwar movement that threatens the Bush presidency? Or is she just an over-hyped flicker that will be extinguished with the next turn of the news cycle?

The White House is counting on it being the latter. As the Washington Post's Jim VandeHei explained in a Live Online discussion yesterday: "The White House thinks this whole story is a silly obsession of bored reporters with nothing better to do during the slow August."

But with more than a thousand Sheehan-inspired vigils all over the country last night -- and a national conversation unleashed -- there are reasons to think the White House may be wrong. [complete article]

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At war in bomb field, at peace in field of dreams
By Juliet Macur, New York Times, August 19, 2005

After a seven-hour mission inside an armored Humvee so hot its metal would burn exposed skin, Staff Sgt. Dawayne Harterson crawled out the passenger door, exhausted, and walked directly to his tent.

He quickly exchanged his uniform for an Army-issued gray T-shirt and black shorts.

A few minutes later, he was standing on a grassless expanse, ready for the next task of his yearlong deployment in Iraq: softball season.
"We need to trick our minds that we're somewhere else," Sergeant Harterson said. "Otherwise, we wouldn't be able to go on, knowing today might be our last."

The 122 soldiers in the 467th, from places like Tennessee, Mississippi and Puerto Rico, came together this year in Baquba, a city 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. They range in age from 19 to 58, and at home, they have jobs like FedEx package handler, prison guard, Kellogg's waffle inspector and horseshoer. About one-third came from the inactive ready reserve, soldiers who do not have to train but can be called to active duty at a moment's notice.

"The only reason we got this nasty job chasing roadside bombs is because we are expendable," said Staff Sgt. Jeff Rayner from Nashville. "They need bodies, and we provide them. We clear the roads, but we're still treated like dirt here." [complete article]

See also, Insurgents bombs cause US death toll to rise (FT) and A sharing of chaos: 2 soldiers, same Iraq (NYT).

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Oil drives the genocide in Darfur
By David Morse, TomDispatch, August 19, 2005

It is true that ethnic rivalries and racism play a part in today's conflict in Darfur. Seen in the larger context of Sudan's civil war, however, Darfur is not an anomaly; it is an extension of that conflict. The real driving force behind the North-South conflict became clear after Chevron discovered oil in southern Sudan in 1978. The traditional competition for water at the fringes of the Sahara was transformed into quite a different struggle. The Arab-dominated government in Khartoum redrew Sudan's jurisdictional boundaries to exclude the oil reserves from southern jurisdiction. Thus began Sudan's 21-year-old North-South civil war. The conflict then moved south, deep into Sudan, into wetter lands that form the headwaters of the Nile and lie far from the historical competition for water.
[complete article]

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Israel looks to U.S. for new aid after withdrawal
By Sue Pleming, Reuters, August 18, 2005

As Israeli soldiers struggle to force settlers from Gaza and parts of the West Bank, U.S. officials are quietly looking at a $2.2 billion aid request from Israel to develop the country's Galilee and Negev regions.

An Israeli delegation met with U.S. officials last month in Washington to present their plan and the State Department said U.S. assessment teams were in the region this week to look at the viability of funding these projects.

In an interview with Reuters on Thursday, Israel's ambassador in Washington, Daniel Ayalon, said he hoped the United States, as Israel's closest ally, would be generous in helping to transform the underdeveloped, outlying Galilee and Negev regions.

"This would be a strong political message from the United States ... for what we are doing. Israel is a cornerstone for stability in the Middle East," said Ayalon. [complete article]

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The talk in Damascus is of a bitter harvest on the border
By David Hirst, The Guardian, August 18, 2005

Weakening Syria externally weakens it at home. For a despotic regime, regional influence was always a vital adjunct of internal repression. "And now," said a dissident, "the US is becoming the internal as well as the external player in our affairs that, before the Lebanon debacle, it couldn't be."

Faced with this double assault, does Bashar cede ground internally, as he has externally, in the hope, unsuccessful so far, of appeasing both America and a still weak, but growing, domestic opposition? Whatever choice he does make will, for the first time, be very much his own; for he has just wrought changes inside his the ruling apparatus greater than any since his father, Hafez, consolidated his personal power in the 70s.

Reform, cries the opposition, and we shall rally to you against America. For the opposition mistrusts America perhaps more than the regime does. Not that it belittles the impetus that US actions, even the abhorrent invasion of Iraq, have given their cause. "It's not a question of American intentions," said a former communist. "We have a suppressive regime. When it suffers from heavy outside pressure, its reach will be shorter."

But Syrians' yearning for change is tempered by the fear of the way it might come about. So the opposition's dominant orthodoxy is gradualism. They must, they say, reach out to reformists within the system; and, as both gain depth and cohesion, reassure the ultimate, and really maleficent, power-holders, and all their increasingly frightened adherents, that their eventual departure will not be the terrible reckoning that it would otherwise have been.

"If the Americans muscle in," said a human rights activist, "the shock will disrupt this process, unleash all the latent forces of chaos, of sectarian, ethnic and class conflict in our society, even create another Iraq without invading. We must handle this on our own." [complete article]

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Officer says 2 others are source of his Atta claims
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, August 19, 2005

The former intelligence officer who says that a Defense Department program identified Mohamed Atta and three other hijackers before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks said yesterday that many of his allegations are not based on his memory but on the recollections of others.

Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, who has been on paid administrative leave from the Defense Intelligence Agency since his security clearance was suspended in March 2004, said in a telephone interview that a Navy officer and a civilian official affiliated with the Able Danger program told him after the attacks that Atta and other hijackers had been included on a chart more than a year earlier.

But because he was not intimately familiar with the names and photographs of suspected terrorists, he did not realize that hijackers were listed until it was alleged to him after the attacks, Shaffer said. All of the charts that could support his claims have disappeared, he said. [complete article]

See also, The "two Atta" theory (Slate).

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Al-Qaida leader in Saudi Arabia killed
AP (via NYT), August 19, 2005

Police raids touched off fierce gunbattles Thursday that killed six Islamic extremists, and authorities said the dead included al-Qaida's leader in Saudi Arabia, whose hideout was found to hold the head of a murdered American last summer. A police officer was also killed.

Saleh Mohammed al-Aoofi, the kingdom's top fugitive, had led local al-Qaida operations since his predecessor was killed by police a year ago during a crackdown on religious militants in the homeland of Osama bin Laden and most of the Sept. 11 suicide hijackers. [complete article]

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Iran holds big bargaining chips in dispute
By Neil King Jr. and Farnaz Fassihi, Wall Street Journal, August 18, 2005

President Bush says the world is "coalescing around the notion" that Iran must be barred from getting nuclear weapons. But two factors -- soaring oil prices and chaos in Iraq -- are giving Tehran new muscle in its diplomatic standoff with Europe and the U.S.

Iran's role as both an oil producer at a time of record prices and as a player in the politics of neighboring Iraq have made it trickier for the Bush administration to get tough on Tehran in the nuclear showdown. The administration has threatened to seek United Nations sanctions against Iran in the fall if the country refuses to accept international oversight of its nuclear program.

For their part, Iran's leaders seem to sense their advantages. In recent weeks, they have made clear they believe they have plenty of leverage and are less vulnerable to economic pressures from the outside. The country's new, hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, recently said "no economic or political incentive can dissuade us from getting peaceful nuclear energy." [complete article]

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Bush legacy rests on Iraqi constitution
By William Douglas and Richard Chin, Knight Ridder, August 17, 2005

No one has more at stake than President Bush as Iraq tries to draft a constitution.

He has called the writing of the document a milestone in Iraq's drive toward self-reliance, a steppingstone for establishing an Arab democracy in the Middle East and the legal keystone to the stable government that's necessary before U.S. troops can come home.

"As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down," Bush said last week after meeting with his defense and foreign policy teams at his Texas ranch.

The Iraqi government's failure to meet the Aug. 15 deadline for a draft constitution underscores Bush's political risk. If Iraq's Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds can overcome their most important differences and hammer out a meaningful constitution by Monday - the latest deadline they set - that could help stem the steady decline in U.S. public support for Bush's Iraq policy and buy the administration more time to train Iraqi forces and help ensure the nation's future stability.

But if the Iraqis can't agree on the fundamental questions of how they'll govern themselves, Bush's historic gamble in Iraq could be lost, and with it his popularity today and his standing in history tomorrow, according to Middle East and domestic political analysts. [complete article]

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Bad Iraq war news worries some in GOP on '06 vote
By Adam Nagourney and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, August 18, 2005

A stream of bad news out of Iraq, echoed at home by polls that show growing impatience with the war and rising disapproval of President Bush's Iraq policies, is stirring political concern in Republican circles, party officials said Wednesday.

Some said that the perception that the war was faltering was providing a rallying point for dispirited Democrats and could pose problems for Republicans in the Congressional elections next year.

Republicans said a convergence of events - including the protests inspired by the mother of a slain American soldier outside Mr. Bush's ranch in Texas, the missed deadline to draft an Iraqi Constitution and the spike in casualties among reservists - was creating what they said could be a significant and lasting shift in public attitude against the war. [complete article]

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Get real
By Gideon Rose, New York Times, August 18, 2005

Seven months into George W. Bush's second term, it is clear that whatever his expansive second Inaugural Address may have promised, American foreign policy has taken a decidedly pragmatic turn. In practice, the Bush administration has recently begun to pursue interests rather than ideals and conciliation rather than confrontation.

First-term foreign policy hardliners like John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, and Douglas Feith have moved to jobs outside of Washington or left the administration entirely. The State Department has regained the ear of the White House and won support for repairing relations with Europe and negotiating with Iran and North Korea. And the Pentagon, overextended and trapped in a grueling counterinsurgency, has taken to rehashing Kerry campaign rhetoric about the limited utility of military force, lowered its expectations in Iraq and sent up trial balloons about withdrawal. The only people not to have gotten the memorandum, it seems, are the president and vice president, who feebly insist that the "war on terror" remains a useful concept and that everything in Iraq is going just fine.

What explains the shift? Administration supporters either deny it has occurred or argue that it constitutes only a slight change in tactics, appropriate to a world already improved by the administration's earlier pugnacity. Journalists and administration critics, meanwhile, generally attribute it to haphazard changes in politics or personnel, such as declining poll numbers or the brilliant performance of Condoleezza Rice as Secretary of State.

The real story is simpler: the Bush doctrine has collapsed, and the administration has consequently embraced realism, American foreign policy's perennial hangover cure. [complete article]

Comment -- The seesaw of American foreign policy that Rose describes, swinging from grandiose vision to realism and back again, reveals America's lack of interest in an uninvented future. The future is always regarded as something that America will make. There are contesting visions of what this should look like but very little doubt that the future is maleable in the American hand. As a result, we do little more than pay lipservice to the idea that the future will be thrust upon us; that it is something we must attempt to anticipate and prepare for or else blindly stumble into and suffer the consequences of our lack of foresight.

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Prewar memo warned of gaps in Iraq plans
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, August 18, 2005

One month before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, three State Department bureau chiefs warned of "serious planning gaps for post-conflict public security and humanitarian assistance" in a secret memorandum prepared for a superior.

The State Department officials, who had been discussing the issues with top military officers at the Central Command, noted that the military was reluctant "to take on 'policing' roles" in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. The three officials warned that "a failure to address short-term public security and humanitarian assistance concerns could result in serious human rights abuses which would undermine an otherwise successful military campaign, and our reputation internationally."

The Feb. 7, 2003, memo, addressed to Paula J. Dobriansky, undersecretary for democracy and global affairs, came at a time when the Pentagon was increasingly taking over control of post-invasion planning from the State Department. It reflected the growing tensions between State Department and Pentagon officials and their disparate assessments about the challenges looming in post-invasion Iraq. [complete article]

Read the State Department memos.

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U.S. diplomat is named in secrets case
By David Johnston and James Risen, New York Times, August 18, 2005

The second-highest diplomat at the United States Embassy in Baghdad is one of the anonymous government officials cited in an Aug. 4 indictment as having provided classified information to an employee of a pro-Israel lobbying group, people who have been officially briefed on the case said Wednesday.

The diplomat, David M. Satterfield, was identified in the indictment as a United States government official, "USGO-2," the people briefed on the matter said. In early 2002, USGO-2 discussed secret national security matters in two meetings with Steven J. Rosen, who has since been dismissed as a top lobbyist for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac, who has been charged in the case.

The indictment said that Mr. Rosen met USGO-2 on Jan. 18, 2002, and March 12, 2002, but provides few details about the encounters. The indictment does not describe Mr. Satterfield's activities in detail nor does it specify what classified information the diplomat discussed with the lobbyist. The meetings were also confirmed by documents, people who have been briefed said. These people asked not to be identified because many of the matters related to the case are classified.

The indictment does not accuse USGO-2 of any wrongdoing, nor does it indicate whether he might have been authorized to talk with the lobbyist. Mr. Satterfield is not believed to be the subject of a continuing investigation. He is the first higher-ranking government official to be caught up in the criminal inquiry. [complete article]

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700 more troops to be sent to Iraq
By Bradley Graham, Washington Post, August 18, 2005

Responding to an appeal for more forces in Iraq to help manage a rising number of detainees, the Pentagon is dispatching an additional 700 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division, defense officials said yesterday.

The previously unscheduled deployment is intended specifically to bolster prison operations, the officials said. It is not part of a temporary increase in U.S. troop levels in Iraq that commanders have said is likely to enhance security for a planned constitutional referendum in October and governmental elections in December. [complete article]

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The 10 questions that put British police chief's job on the line
By Philip Johnston and Andrew Downie, The Telegraph, August 18, 2005

Family and friends of the Brazilian man shot by police on the London Underground yesterday demanded the resignation of Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, if it turned out that he misled the public about the circumstances of the tragedy.

They said that he was "ultimately responsible" for the officers who gunned down Jean Charles de Menezes, a 27-year-old electrician, thinking he was a suicide bomber, and for the "catalogue of disasters" that led to his death.

Leaked confidential witness statements suggest that Mr de Menezes was already being restrained before he was shot seven times in the head and had not run from police by vaulting over the ticket barrier at Stockwell Underground station as originally stated. He had used his travel card, picked up a free newspaper and made his way slowly to the platform by escalator. [complete article]

See also, Met chief tried to stop shooting inquiry (The Guardian).

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Transplanted Jihadi
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, August 17, 2005

Radical imam Omar Bakri Mohammed, whose pro-Jihad agitation led British authorities last week to ban him from their shores, now is likely to set up a new base in either Lebanon or the United Arab Emirates, according to a close associate.

British officials disclosed last week that Bakri, founder of a controversial and now dissolved militant group known as Al Muhajiroun (The Immigrants) had been sent a letter informing him he would not be allowed to re-enter the U.K., his longtime country of residence. The Syrian-born preacher had left Britain for what initially was described as a vacation to Lebanon shortly after a wave of deadly suicide bombings of London's transport system on July 7 and a second round of attempted attacks on July 21. In the wake of the attacks, Prime Minister Tony Blair's government promised to curb the activities of preachers like Bakri, either by ejecting them from Britain or taking them off the streets through new antiterror legislation or regulations. [complete article]

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War in Afghanistan has intensified
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, August 17, 2005

The Bush administration declared more than two years ago that major combat in Afghanistan was over. Tell that to the 60 young men of Battle Company.

For the past four months, the U.S. paratroopers and other American units have been fighting a war thousands of feet up in the sun-blasted peaks and boulder-strewn defiles of one of history's most grueling battlefields.

They're facing guerrillas who were born here, hardened by poverty and backwardness, and steeped in a centuries-old tradition of resisting foreigners. The guerrillas' aim is to impose another hard-line Islamic regime on Afghanistan, one that might make the country once again a sanctuary for Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida jihadis.

The Taliban have killed more than 40 U.S. soldiers and more than 800 Afghan officials, police, troops, aid workers and civilians since March in a campaign aimed at derailing Sept. 18 parliamentary and provincial elections and eroding confidence in President Hamid Karzai and his American-led backers. [complete article]

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Quiet Bangladesh woken by bombs
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, August 18, 2005

Some 300 small bombs rocked cities across Bangladesh Wednesday, killing one person, wounding at least 100, and raising questions here about whether the government has come down hard enough against a rising tide of Islamic militarism.

The bombs reportedly targeted mainly government offices, bus and train stations, and markets in 63 of the country's 64 districts. Police suspect that the homemade bombs were not designed to kill. However, the breadth of the attack - along with the timing of explosions within a half hour time frame - suggests a high degree of coordination.

No one claimed responsibility for the blasts, but copies of a leaflet found at most of the bomb sites carried a call by an Islamic group, Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen, for Islamic rule in Bangladesh.

Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen and other militant outfits were banned in February for their alleged involvement in criminal activities. But critics here say the government, which includes two Islamist parties, has been reluctant to take a harder line with militant groups. [complete article]

See also, Bangladesh tipping point is feared (IHT).

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Gaza withdrawal 'will not end occupation'
By Sharmila Devi, Financial Times, August 17, 2005

Israel's failure to agree to cede control of Gaza's access to the outside world after four months of talks means its occupation will not end with the evacuation of Jewish settlers, Mohamed Dahlan, Palestinian Authority civil affairs minister, said on Wednesday.

Hamas, the militant group, so said on Wednesday the evacuation of Jewish settlers from Gaza and the northern West Bank did not mean a complete liberation from Israeli rule, and it reserved the right to bear arms.

Although Israel is withdrawing unilaterally, and outside any framework of comprehensive peace talks, it agreed to co-ordinate the move with the Palestinians with the help of James Wolfensohn, former World Bank president. But Mr Dahlan said talks had so far failed to produce agreement.

"What does it mean that Israel wants to get out of Gaza but wants to retain control over Gaza?" said Mr Dahlan, who represented the Palestinians in talks with Israel. "My confidence in the Israelis is almost nil. They still want to control our lives and access to the outside world." [complete article]

See also, Israeli pull-out inflames passions of 'dispossessed' (Financial Times), The world's largest prison camp (The Independent), and Watching the Gazan fiasco (Counterpunch).

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Cindy Sheehan's tragic critics
By John Nichols, The Nation, August 17, 2005

The rapidly dwindling minority of Americans who continue to search for some rationale for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq has been driven to the brink of breakdown by the success of Sheehan's protest. Go to the website of William F. Buckley's National Review magazine and you will find Sheehan described in headlines as "nutty," dismissed by columnists as "the mouthpiece... of howling-at-the-moon, bile-spewing Bush haters" and accused of "sucking up intellectual air" that, presumably, would be better utilized by Condoleezza Rice explaining once more that it would be wrong to read too much into the August 6, 2001, briefing document that declared: "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the U.S." Human Events, the conservative weekly newspaper, dismisses Sheehan as a "professional griever" who "can claim to be in perpetual mourning for her fallen son" -- as if there is some time limit on maternal sorrow over the death of a child. [complete article]

Comment -- If Cindy Sheehan eventually has her face-to-face meeting with President Bush, it may turn out that her protest was worthy of all the attention it has received. After all, such a meeting would be a symbolic expression of accountability demonstrating that a president cannot claim to be the supreme representative of the people in a people's democracy if he tries to hide from a distraught yet harmless citizen. And if Bush isn't swayed by any sense that there is a democratic imperative at stake, then if for no other reason he ought to meet Sheehan just to show that he is not a coward.

That said, the fact that this is no longer a story about a bereaved mother and a president but is being viewed by many as a tipping point in the movement to end the war, is a fact that should cause a little more reflection than it is currently being given. Sheehan is being treated as the embodiment of a national sense that the country was betrayed by its government, yet imagine how much more poignant and convincing the message would be if the ranks of her supporters were not filled by members of MoveOn and other antiwar activists but by the families and friends of other soldiers.

Ultimately, the most depressing thing about the Sheehan phenomenon - at least to my mind - is that it demonstrates that we still live in a nation governed by sentiment. A pro-war sentiment empowered Bush to invade Iraq and eventually an antiwar sentiment may lead to the withdrawal of American troops. How can so many people have such impoverished minds that they would so easily be satisfied with a glib phrase - "stay the course" or "bring the troops home" - and thereafter gladly languish in their mental torpor?

The appeal to bring the troops home parades itself as a promise to end the war, yet the only thing it can be assured of accomplishing is bringing an end to the death of American soldiers in Iraq. Removing the troops will remove one target for the insurgents but it will not remove the reasons for the insurgency. Keeping American troops in Iraq would only make sense if they had already established security, yet it's clear that there never have been nor never will be enough troops to accomplish that mission.

Bringing the troops home won't end the war but it will help small-town America return to its small-town preoccupations. Iraq may not be in peace, but many Americans will be able to contrive a certain peace of mind as they comfortably forget about the Middle East - at least for a while.

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After bombs kill 43 in Baghdad, grief and anger hit the airwaves
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Khalid Saffar, Washington Post, August 18, 2005

In the hours after a triple car bombing in the Iraqi capital Wednesday, state television broadcast a montage of faces of random children -- some appearing solemn, some smiling, some slyly glancing up at the camera. In the background, mournful music swelled, and the faces gave way to the bright flash of a car bomb, shown in slow motion.

"They were young but were turned to pieces of flesh," the singers lamented, as the network then broadcast footage of previous attacks showing limp children, wailing men and distraught women dressed in black abayas pushing through crowds. "Oh, oh Iraq, the land of bloodshed."

The deaths of at least 43 Iraqis in the three car bombings Wednesday brought an outpouring of grief and anger rarely shown on state television, as broadcasts for the first time focused solely on the violence and call-in shows allowed citizens to voice their sorrow and frustration. The attacks targeted a police station, a crowded bus terminal and a hospital where many of the victims had been taken. Most of the victims were civilians. [complete article]

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Secrets of the morgue - Baghdad's body count
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, August 16, 2005

The Baghdad morgue is a fearful place of heat and stench and mourning, the cries of relatives echoing down the narrow, foetid laneway behind the pale-yellow brick medical centre where the authorities keep their computerised records. So many corpses are being brought to the mortuary that human remains are stacked on top of each other. Unidentified bodies must be buried within days for lack of space - but the municipality is so overwhelmed by the number of killings that it can no longer provide the vehicles and personnel to take the remains to cemeteries.

July was the bloodiest month in Baghdad's modern history - in all, 1,100 bodies were brought to the city's mortuary; executed for the most part, eviscerated, stabbed, bludgeoned, tortured to death. The figure is secret.

We are not supposed to know that the Iraqi capital's death toll last month was only 700 short of the total American fatalities in Iraq since April of 2003. Of the dead, 963 were men - many with their hands bound, their eyes taped and bullets in their heads - and 137 women. The statistics are as shameful as they are horrifying. For these are the men and women we supposedly came to "liberate" - and about whose fate we do not care. [complete article]

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New claims emerge over Menezes death
By Rosie Cowan, Duncan Campbell and Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, August 17, 2005

The young Brazilian shot dead by police on a London tube train in mistake for a suicide bomber had already been overpowered by a surveillance officer before he was killed, according to secret documents revealed last night.

It also emerged in the leaked documents that early allegations that he was running away from police at the time of the shooting were untrue and that he appeared unaware that he was being followed.

Relatives and the dead man's legal team expressed shock and outrage at the revelations. Scotland Yard has continued to justify a shoot-to-kill policy.

Jean Charles de Menezes died after being shot on a tube train at Stockwell station in south London on July 22, the morning after the failed bomb attacks in London.

But the evidence given to the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) by police officers and eyewitnesses and leaked to ITV News shows that far from leaping a ticket barrier and fleeing from police, as was initially reported, he was filmed on CCTV calmly entering the station and picking up a free newspaper before boarding the train. [complete article]

See also, Menezes lawyer queries police role in 'false' reports (The Guardian) and Brazilian's death 'murder' says family after leaked report (The Times).

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Troops force Gaza evictions
By Michale Matza, Dion Nissenbaum and Martin Merzer, Knight Ridder, August 17, 2005

Carrying tearful, anguished settlers out of doomed houses and synagogues, pushing ardent outside activists aboard buses, Israeli troops launched the forced eviction Wednesday of all remaining Israelis from the Gaza Strip.

One woman in Neva Dekalim briefly held two knives to her throat, threatening suicide. Many residents and supporters retreated to the synagogue for a last stand. Other protesters tossed eggs and paint at advancing troops and police officers.

Soldiers and police, four in each team, dragged away sobbing residents and screaming, kicking, flailing supporters. At times, the officers could be seen brushing away tears. [complete article]

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Iraq on the brink
By Harold Meyerson, Washington Post, August 17, 2005

It looks increasingly as if President Bush may have been off by 74 years in his assessment of Iraq. By deposing the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, Bush assumed he would bring Iraq to its 1787 moment -- the crafting of a democratic constitution, the birth of a unified republic. Instead, he seems to have brought Iraq to the brink of its own 1861 -- the moment of national dissolution.

No, I don't mean that Iraq is on the verge of all-out civil war, though that's a possibility that can't be dismissed. But the nation does appear on the verge of a catastrophic failure to cohere. The more the National Assembly deliberates on the fundamentals of a new order, the larger the differences that divide the nation's three sub-groups appear to be. [complete article]

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U.S. policy on 'axis of evil' suffers spate of setbacks
By Peter Baker and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, August 17, 2005

President Bush's campaign against what he once termed the "axis of evil" has suffered reverses on all three fronts in recent days that underscore the profound challenges confronting him 3 1/2 years after he vowed to take action.

First, multilateral talks orchestrated by the United States to pressure North Korea to give up nuclear weapons adjourned last week after 13 days without agreement. Then Iran restarted its program to convert uranium, in defiance of the United States and Europe. Finally, negotiators in Iraq failed to draft a new constitution by Monday's deadline amid an unrelenting guerrilla war against U.S. forces.

None of these developments may be fatal to Bush's policy goals, but the quick succession of setbacks has left his national security team privately discouraged and searching for answers. Whereas Bush in his first term vowed to reinvent foreign policy with a new doctrine of military preemption to deal with rogue states, he has largely dropped such talk since the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Instead, he has favored diplomacy with Tehran and Pyongyang and nation-building with Baghdad -- yet the old-fashioned improvisation has yielded similarly murky results. [complete article]

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Left behind
By Thomas Lynch, New York Times, August 17, 2005

...maybe this is the part I find most distancing about my president, not his fanatic heart - the unassailable sense he projects that God is on his side - we all have that. But that he seems to lack anything like real remorse, here in the third August of Iraq, in the fourth August of Afghanistan, in the fifth August of his presidency - for all of the intemperate speech, for the weapons of mass destruction that were not there, the "Mission Accomplished" that really wasn't, for the funerals he will not attend, the mothers of the dead he will not speak to, the bodies of the dead we are not allowed to see and all of the soldiers and civilians whose lives have been irretrievably lost or irreparably changed by his (and our) "Bring it On" bravado in a world made more perilous by such pronouncements. [complete article]

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Officer says military blocked sharing of files on terrorists
By Philip Shenon, New York Times, August 17, 2005

A military intelligence team repeatedly contacted the F.B.I. in 2000 to warn about the existence of an American-based terrorist cell that included the ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks, according to a veteran Army intelligence officer who said he had now decided to risk his career by discussing the information publicly.

The officer, Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer, said military lawyers later blocked the team from sharing any of its information with the bureau.

Colonel Shaffer said in an interview on Monday night that the small, highly classified intelligence program, known as Able Danger, had identified the terrorist ringleader, Mohamed Atta, and three other future hijackers by name by mid-2000, and tried to arrange a meeting that summer with agents of the Washington field office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to share its information.

But he said military lawyers forced members of the intelligence program to cancel three scheduled meetings with the F.B.I. at the last minute, which left the bureau without information that Colonel Shaffer said might have led to Mr. Atta and the other terrorists while the Sept. 11 attacks were still being planned. [complete article]

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Let's talk about nukes
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, August 16, 2005

The nuclear-arms talks with Iran and North Korea -- the two remaining spokes on the axis of evil -- are both stalled. However, a distinction should be drawn. There's a good chance that some kind of an accord can be reached with Pyongyang, while the odds are slim for any success with Tehran. So, what to do about both?

The most important thing about the negotiations with North Korea is that they're taking place at all. Throughout his first term, President George W. Bush strictly forbade any contact. His policy was to wait for Kim Jong-il's dread regime to tumble. To engage in diplomacy would be to acknowledge Kim's legitimacy; to offer him inducements toward a treaty would perpetuate his reign.

If Condoleezza Rice has done nothing else as secretary of state, she has persuaded Bush to revive diplomacy as a tool of foreign policy -- emphatically so, it turns out, on North Korea. Christopher Hill, Rice's assistant secretary of state for East Asian affairs, recently wrapped up 13 sessions of talks with North Korean officials in Beijing, including face-to-face bilateral talks. They didn't result in an accord, but no one expected them to, and the talks will resume next month. [complete article]

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Getting used to a nuclear Iran
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 15, 2005

President Bush may reassure himself that "the world is coalescing around the notion that the Iranians should not have the means and the wherewithal to be able to develop a nuclear weapon," but the more pertinent question is whether the world, or even any significant part of it agrees that military action might be a necessary to prevent Iran going nuclear should diplomacy fail. And frankly, the answer is probably not.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's sharp rebuke of Bush's suggestion that military action remains an option should economic incentives fail is a reminder that while most of the world might agree that Iran shouldn't build nuclear weapons, most -- including, in all probability, even those European countries that joined the U.S. in Iraq -- would also agree that it's not worth going to war in order to stop them.

Schroeder, of course, is electioneering -- his Social Democrats are in trouble, so he's doing what worked last time around: Running against Bush, rather than against Christian Democrat candidate Angela Merkel. But while most of them would lambast him for uttering it in public and emboldening Iran, the position he's articulating is almost certainly the consensus among the three European nations negotiating with Tehran on the nuclear issue: Iran going nuclear is a terrible idea, but the consequences of attacking Iran in order to prevent it doing so may be worse. [complete article]

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Disengagement and ethnic cleansing
By Daphna Baram, The Guardian, August 16, 2005

Israel has been building up to this for a long time. Those of Gaza's 8,000 settlers who have not already moved back into Israel proper face being dragged from the settlements this week. The big fight, between the "oranges", comprising the settlers and their supporters, and the "blues", Israelis who support the withdrawal, is about to reach its climax.

Politically, the two months leading up to disengagement have been more crucial to Israel than the act itself. The settlers' stubborn struggle split Jewish Israelis into two distinct camps: the messianic "oranges", loyal to the land rather than the state, and the middle-of-the-road Zionists, eager to go back to an old dream of "modest" Jewish statehood.

It is no accident that this time around the "left", the supporters of disengagement, reclaimed the national colour, blue, while the radical right wing stayed away from it.

This is an internal Jewish argument. The Palestinians - those in Gaza awaiting the departure of the settlers and the tightening of the prison walls around them; those in the West Bank fearing a backlash of settler violence and land-grabbing; and Palestinian-Israeli citizens - are all excluded from the debate. [complete article]

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By Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, August 15, 2005

How did we -- not just Americans but human beings in general -- come to be? Opinions differ, but for most of recorded history the consensus view was that people were made out of mud. Also, that the mud was originally turned into people by a being or beings who themselves resembled people, only bigger, more powerful, and longer-lived, often immortal. The early Chinese theorized that a lonely goddess, pining for company, used yellow mud to fashion the first humans. According to the ancient Greeks, Prometheus sculpted the first man from mud, after which Athena breathed life into him. Mud is the man-making material in the creation stories of Mesopotamian city-states, African tribes, and American Indian nations.

The mud theory is still dominant in the United States, in the form of the Book of Genesis, whose version of the origin of our species, according to a recent Gallup poll, is deemed true by forty-five per cent of the American public. Chapter 2, in verses 6 and 7, puts it this way:
But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground.

And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Mud is not mentioned by name, but you'd have to be a pretty strict Biblical literalist not to infer that mud is what you get when you add water to dust.

A competing theory is that people, along with the rest of the earth's animals and plants, evolved over billions of years, beginning as extremely simple organisms and, via the accumulation of the tiny fraction of random mutations that turn out to be useful, developing into more complex ones. This view has gained many adherents since it was conceived, a century and a half ago, by Charles Darwin. It commands solid majorities in most of the developed world, and, thanks to the overwhelming evidence for its validity, has the near-unanimous support of scientists everywhere. Here in the United States, according to Gallup, it is subscribed to by about one-third of the populace -- still running second to mud, but too large a market share to ignore altogether, especially in some of the battleground states. [complete article]

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Iraq: Arab champion or cauldron of civil war?
By Rory Carroll, The Guardian, August 16, 2005

From the swirl of political drama in Baghdad last night one stark fact emerged: the new constitution, if and when it is finally agreed, will not settle the question of what is Iraq.

Even if a draft constitution is agreed in seven days' time, the document will mark another stage, not the end, of the answer to that question.

The country is too fluid, and too much is at stake, for the losers to accept the draft as the final word. Even those who think they emerge as winners from the marathon talks are likely to view the constitution as one more round in an ongoing contest.

Is Iraq a strong, centralised state keen to revive its role as an Arab champion? Is it another Yugoslavia, a cauldron of ethnic and religious tensions destined for civil war? Is it a western-oriented democracy heralding reform in the Middle East? Is it a failed experiment on the road to autocracy and theocracy?

The draft constitution will not be able to answer these questions because Iraqis themselves are unable to. What it will give is a snapshot of the current balance of power between Kurds, Shias and Arab Sunnis. [complete article]

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Forcible removal of illegal Iraqis to start soon
By Daniel McGrory, The Times, August 16, 2005

The Home Office has defended its decision to begin forcibly returning failed Iraqi asylum-seekers even though the country is still suffering from insurgency.

Scores of Iraqis have been taken to detention centres in the past week and the first are expected to be sent back within days.

The Home Office acknowledged that the first of the forced repatriations was imminent, and refugee groups believe they could begin today.

Whitehall was accused last night of trying to kick out the detainees in secret to avoid criticism. Ministers had to back down over deporting Zimbabwean asylum-seekers this summer after protests by MPs, church leaders, civil liberties groups and the intervention of the High Court.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees said that Britain had not given notification of the move, and it described the expulsions as wrong. UN officials are hoping to meet Home Office ministers to try to halt the removals. [complete article]

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Deceptive talk about Iraq
By Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe, August 16, 2005

Vice President Dick Cheney's typically intemperate and false remark this summer about the supposedly floundering insurgency in Iraq didn't represent any administration policy I'm aware of when it was uttered. It also didn't represent any official view of the situation, much less a prediction about the course of the conflict over the next several months.

Instead, it wasa lame effort to make a virtue out of the apparent necessity of lowering the number of combat troops stationed there. That cover, however, has been blown away by the murderous reality of Iraq today, which includes upwards of 70 attacks on US forces every day.

What the US military people are telling representatives and senators is that this reality is not likely to change as far as their eyes can see, and that the size of the occupation is not adequate to the task of ending the insurgency.

Commanders are likely to get more troops in the early fall. The additional forces, though, are certain to be removed following national elections on a new constitution and a permanent government. Next spring, the commanders say, is when the real crunch will come.

The dirty secret that President Bush refuses to share with a profoundly ambivalent America is that the US armed forces are stretched so thin in Iraq and around the world that the existing occupying force of roughly 130,000 people cannot be maintained beyond next year. [complete article]

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Indonesia and rebels in Aceh sign accord
By Alan Sipress, Washington Post, August 16, 2005

Indonesia signed a peace agreement Monday with rebels in Aceh province who have fought for nearly 30 years for a separate state, lending a crucial boost to efforts at rebuilding the tsunami-battered region.
Previous deals to end one of the world's longest-running civil wars, including an agreement signed nearly three years ago, collapsed in part because of resistance from members of the Indonesian military, who were determined to end the conflict by force. Up to 15,000 people are estimated to have died as a result of the fighting in Aceh, many of them civilians.

The new accord, however, has unprecedented support from the Indonesian government. Efforts to negotiate a settlement were largely initiated by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a retired general elected last year, and, in particular, the influential vice president, Jusuf Kalla, who secretly initiated contacts with the Aceh rebels shortly after the leaders took office.

Moreover, the separatist movement, known by its Indonesian initials GAM, demonstrated willingness to compromise after government forces battered the rebel ranks during a two-year offensive.

But both sides acknowledged that the turning point was the massive Dec. 26 tsunami, which killed at least 150,000 people in Aceh, on the northwestern tip of Sumatra island. With much of the province in ruins and foreign governments offering hundreds of millions of dollars in aid, Indonesian and rebel leaders decided to set aside the conflict for the sake of reconstruction. [complete article]

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Iraq: Be careful of what you wish for
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, August 15, 2005

Zalmay Khalilzad, the "super-ambassador" sent by Bush to intervene in the process and get a constitution delivered on time was in the hall at the time of the postponement vote, reportedly wearing a broad grin, apparently expecting to see his work completed. Instead, he was forced to brush off the failure with a technocratic shrug, telling AFP that the Iraqis had nearly sealed the deal, but needed another week to put the finishing touches on it. Condi Rice and Bush offered the predictable "great progress has been made, we are seeing democracy at work." Indeed, and sometimes democracy needs another week. Sometimes, of course, it needs more. Not surprisingly, the New York Times quoted an unnamed administration official who was "not allowed to speak publicly" as saying there's a lot of nervousness in the administration over the situation. Indeed, the constitution they couldn't agree on was going to fudge the major points of disagreement anyway, leaving open such questions as federalism, autonomous regions, the status of Islam and the clergy and so on. Even then, agreement proved elusive. [complete article]

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Iraqis fail to meet constitution deadline
AP (via Yahoo), August 15, 2005

Iraqi leaders failed to meet a key deadline Monday to finish a new constitution, stalling over the same fundamental issues of power-sharing -- including federalism, oil wealth and Islam's impact on women -- that have bedeviled the country since Saddam Hussein's ouster.

Just 20 minutes before midnight, parliament voted to give negotiators another seven days, until Aug. 22, to try to draft the charter. The delay was a strong rebuff of the Bush administration's insistence that the deadline be met, even if some issues were unresolved, to maintain political momentum and blunt Iraq's deadly insurgency.

"We should not be hasty regarding the issues and the constitution should not be born crippled," said Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, a Shiite, after the parliament session, which lasted a bare 15 minutes. "We are keen to have an early constitution, but the constitution should be completed in all of its items." [complete article]

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Iraqis consider bypassing Sunnis on constitution
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, August 15, 2005

Iraqi leaders remained deadlocked Sunday over major issues in the country's new constitution, raising the possibility they would fail to meet the Monday deadline and push the country toward a political crisis.

With several questions unresolved, Shiite leaders said Sunday that they were considering asking the National Assembly to approve the document without the agreement of the country's Sunni leaders. Such a move would probably provoke the Sunnis, whose participation in the political process is seen as crucial in the effort to marginalize the Sunni-dominated guerrilla insurgency.

Shiite and Kurdish leaders said they were also considering giving themselves more time to reach a deal, though it was by no means certain that they could without amending the interim constitution, the law currently in force. That would require a three-fourths majority of the 275-member National Assembly.

If the deadline is not met nor the interim constitution successfully amended, the law appears to require dissolving the National Assembly and holding new elections. Shiite and Kurdish leaders said late Sunday that they were discussing that possibility, but said that they hoped to avoid it. [complete article]

See the latest news from the BBC.

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Israel begins Gaza Strip pullout
BBC News, August 15, 2005

Israeli troops have arrived at the biggest settlement in the Gaza Strip to serve eviction notices, as Israel starts implementing its pullout plan.

Protesters have been trying to block the gates of the Neve Dekalim settlement in southern Gaza, vowing fierce but non-violent resistance. [complete article]

Why 'Greater Israel' never came to be
By Ethan Bronner, New York Times, August 14, 2005

For those who long considered it folly to settle a handful of Jews among hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, the decision to remove them starting this week seems an acceptance of the obvious. What possible future could the settlers have had? How could their presence have done the state of Israel any good?

But for those, like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who created and nurtured the settlements, the move to dismantle them is something very different. It is an admission not of error but of failure. Their cherished goal - the resettlement of the full biblical land of Israel by contemporary Jews - is not to be. The reason: not enough of them came.

"We have had to come to terms with certain unanticipated realities," acknowledged Arye Mekel, Israeli consul general in New York. "Ideologically, we are disappointed. A pure Zionist must be disappointed because Zionism meant the Jews of the world would take their baggage and move to Israel. Most did not." [complete article]

Trading places
By Aluf Benn, Washington Post, August 14, 2005

When Israel's war of independence ended in March 1949, the country's prime minister and founding father, David Ben-Gurion, had one final demand from his neighbor, King Abdullah of Jordan. Ben-Gurion asked the king to cede the hills around Wadi Ara, a seasonal riverbed adjacent to the West Bank, to Israel as part of the armistice agreement concluding the war. Otherwise, he said, Israel would take the strategic ridges by force. Abdullah gave in. And Wadi Ara and its Arab population became part of Israel, on the western side of the "Green Line," or armistice line.

Fifty-six years later, a lot of Israelis want to give Wadi Ara away. Its ridges, 15 miles southeast of Haifa, are still strategic, but many Israelis have become more anxious about demography than about topography. To them, invading armies from neighboring countries seem a remote danger compared to the rapidly growing Arab population in Israel's midst. And Wadi Ara is full of Arab communities, including Umm el-Fahm, the second largest Palestinian town inside Israel's pre-1967 borders. [complete article]

After all the threats, it's a muted goodbye to Gaza
By Conal Urquhart and Inigo Gilmore, The Observer, August 14, 2005

Today in Gush Katif the religious Jews will fast, refrain from laughter and sex and avoid banal conversations to mark Tisha B'Av, the day of mourning for the fall of the Jewish temples in 586BC and AD70 and the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492.

The symbolism of Tisha B'Av falling on the eve of the evacuation of 25 Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip and northern West Bank is not lost on the mostly orthodox settlers. Then, the villains were the Babylonians, the Romans and the Inquisition.

Today the settlers blame the prime minister, Ariel Sharon and the Israeli left for what they see as the criminal forsaking of Jewish land rather than the legal policy of a democratic government.

For months the rhetoric of the opposition to Sharon's disengagement has verged on the violent, but now most settlers admit the battle is lost. All that remains is a symbolic show of resistance and last-minute haggling over compensation and resettlement. [complete article]

'No checkpoints. That'll be great'
By Inigo Gilmore, The Observer, August 14, 2005

As he sits outside the front of a relative's house, barely half a kilometre from Gush Khatif's largest Jewish settlement, Iyad al-Laham ponders what might be. He has dreams that life after the evacuation will be so much better.

The Israeli occupation of Gaza has spanned his entire life and, he says, he has a few things he now wants to fulfil. He wants electricity for his area, and to build a house for his wife and three-year old son. 'I was not allowed to build here all this time. It is forbidden for us to build beautiful houses in this area because they would not give us permits.' The Israeli settlers, he says, were always in denial: 'The Israelis never wanted to admit that we were living here.'

For all of his 33 years Iyad, a teacher of English, has lived in Muassi, a 10,000-strong Palestinian community, which is the only Palestinian enclave within the Gush Khatif settlement block, where most of Gaza's settlements are located.

The Israeli settlements were built on their land, and over the years locals have seen more and more of the land confiscated. They have been forced to travel on separate roads and have become isolated from the large Palestinian communities in Rafah and Khan Younis. [complete article]

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A shot in the arm for protesters
By Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, August 14, 2005

"We've had slogans like, 'No Blood for Oil,' and 'Bring the Troops Home Now,' but this is a real flesh-and-blood story," said Jodie Evans, a co-founder of Code Pink: Women for Peace, which has led many of the anti-war movement's guerrilla tactics and organized meetings of Iraqi and American citizens. "What works is that it is focused. It is one person's loss versus another person who caused that loss.

"Geez, she's a mom who's lost a child," said Evans, who teared up at Camp Casey this week as she recalled her own 2-year-old daughter dying 20 years ago. "Who can argue with that?"

The practical political question is whether the momentum gathering behind Sheehan will translate into political power in Washington. Members of Congress are circulating a letter asking Bush to meet with Sheehan, a request Sen. George Allen, R-Va., echoed in a CNN interview. But that effort won't go far unless more Americans -- particularly conservatives and those on the fence -- take up Sheehan's rallying call, "Meet with Cindy."

Glenn Smith, a veteran Texas political consultant who is organizing a counter-event to the evangelical-sponsored Justice Sunday II gathering in Nashville, said it's rare that a voice like Sheehan's emerges. "Probably the best thing the movement can do is get out of her way," said Smith, whose Nashville gathering of liberal faith leaders is called Freedom and Faith. "She doesn't need managing." [complete article]

See also, Cindy Sheehan's war (TomDispatch).

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Don't make hollow threats
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, August 22, 2005

Two things are very expensive in international politics, the game-theorist Thomas Schelling once observed: threats when they fail and promises when they succeed. President Bush appears to be headed on a path that could teach him this lesson. Last week he responded to Iran's decision to resume work on its nuclear program by asserting that "all options are on the table" to stop Iran's nuclear development. He also implied that were Israel to strike at Iran's nuclear facilities, the United States would support it. Unfortunately, these are hollow threats, unlikely to have much effect other than to cheapen America's credibility around the world. (Within hours of Bush's statement, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroder made clear that he would not support any such action against Iran.)

Airstrikes against Iran would be extremely unwise. They would have minimal military effect: the facilities are scattered, are reasonably well hidden and could be repaired within months. With oil at $66 a barrel, the mullahs are swimming in money. (The high price of oil and Iran's boldness are directly related.) More important, a foreign military attack would strengthen local support for the nuclear program and bolster an unpopular regime. Iran is a country with a strong tradition of nationalism -- it is one of the oldest nations in the world. [complete article]

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Inside Iran's secret war for Iraq
By Michael Ware, Time, August 14, 2005

Since the start of the insurgency in Iraq, the most persistent danger to U.S. troops has come from the Sunni Arab insurgents and terrorists who roam the center and west of the country. But some U.S. officials are worried about a potentially greater challenge to order in Iraq and U.S. interests there: the growing influence of Iran. With an elected Shi'ite-dominated government in place in Baghdad and the U.S. preoccupied with quelling the Sunni-led insurgency, the Iranian regime has deepened its imprint on the political and social fabric of Iraq, buying influence in the new Iraqi government, running intelligence-gathering networks and funneling money and guns to Shi'ite militant groups--all with the aim of fostering a Shi'ite-run state friendly to Iran. In parts of southern Iraq, fundamentalist Shi'ite militias--some of them funded and armed by Iran--have imposed restrictions on the daily lives of Iraqis, banning alcohol and curbing the rights of women. Iraq's Shi'ite leaders, including Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, have tried to forge a strategic alliance with Tehran, even seeking to have Iranians recognized as a minority group under Iraq's proposed constitution. "We have to think anything we tell or share with the Iraqi government ends up in Tehran," says a Western diplomat. [complete article]

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Policing on trial
By Tony Thompson and Tom Phillips, The Observer, August 14, 2005

When armed police surrounded the home of Muktar Said-Ibrahim in London's north Kensington earlier this month and ordered him outside, the 27-year-old had only one question: 'How do I know you're not going to shoot me like that guy at Stockwell tube station?' As a suspect in the failed bombings of 21 July, he was perhaps right to be nervous.

A week earlier a Brazilian electrician called Jean Charles de Menezes had been shot and killed by armed police less than 24 hours after the attempted bomb attacks. Everyone was nervous. What would the police do next?

Now an Observer investigation has raised fresh questions about the death of de Menezes, whose killing is being investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Observer has discovered that a key element of the investigation will be scrutiny of a delay in calling an armed team to arrest de Menezes, which meant he had already entered the station by the time the officers arrived.

That delay was crucial. If the police thought de Menezes was dangerous - perhaps a bomber - the fact that he was already in the station would have heightened tension and increased the chances of something going wrong.

Evidence of this hold-up should have been provided by CCTV footage from dozens of cameras covering the Stockwell ticket hall, escalators, platforms and train carriages.

However, police now say most of the cameras were not working. Yet pictures are available of a bombing suspect leaving another station nearby, and after the 7 July attacks tube boses could have been expected to make extra efforts to see that all their cameras were in action.

The questions are mounting. Initial claims that de Menezes was targeted because he was wearing a bulky coat, refused to stop when challenged and then vaulted the ticket barriers have all turned out to be false. He was wearing a denim jacket, used a standard Oyster electronic card to get into the station and simply walked towards the platform unchallenged. [complete article]

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London bomb suspects stood out as radicals
By Jeffrey Fleishman and Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2005

They first became known to the world as blurry images from subway cameras. But the men accused of attempting to bomb London's transit system July 21 had clearly defined their militancy in the months leading up to the failed attacks.

The suspects had sharpened their radicalism in the streets, mosques and housing projects of rough ethnic neighborhoods, investigators, witnesses and friends say. They were brazen voices in an unsuspecting city, marginalized East Africans who lived by their wits, dabbling in street crime and reportedly manipulating the immigration and welfare systems. During workouts at a West London gym, they channeled their private rage into public diatribes.

Brothers Ramzi and Wharbi Mohammed sold Islamic literature and recited religious verses on a gritty North Kensington street of antiques stores and cafes, skirmishing with a shop owner who chased them away. Hamdi Issac, now jailed in Rome, belonged to a gang of extremists who waged a belligerent campaign to take over a mosque in South London. Roommates Muktar Said Ibrahim and Yasin Hassan Omar were loud militants, praising Osama bin Laden to neighbors at the rundown building where Ibrahim is accused of preparing five backpack bombs. [complete article]

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The other army
By Daniel Bergner, New York Times, August 14, 2005

When Matt Mann needed to buy armored vehicles, he phoned his brother-in-law, Ken Rooke. Rooke didn't know the first thing about bullet-resistant windows or grenade-resistant floors, but he wasn't 100 percent unqualified to do the buying. At least he knew something about cars. At a speedway in North Carolina, he once called races for a local radio station. He was the closest Mann could come to an expert.

Mann, a retired U.S. Army Special Operations master sergeant in his late 40's, needed the vehicles quickly. And he needed guns. It was early last year, and the company he and two partners created, Triple Canopy, had just won government contracts to guard 13 Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters throughout Iraq. (The renewable six-month deals were worth, in all, about $90 million.) The C.P.A. was the governing body of the American-led military occupation. Triple Canopy -- not the American military -- would be protecting it. So would other companies. With the insurgency spiking, the job of keeping C.P.A. compounds from being overrun, and of keeping the architects of the occupation from being killed, had been privatized. [complete article]

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Permanent U.S. bases in Iraq? Experts see a political minefield
By Ronald Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, August 15, 2005

President Bush and his top advisors have never said the United States wants to establish permanent military bases in Iraq. But they have never ruled out the possibility either.

Should they?

Larry Diamond, a former consultant to the U.S. occupation authority in Iraq, thinks so. In fact, he considers it a crucial step toward ending the insurgency. [complete article]

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U.S. lowers sights on what can be achieved in Iraq
By Robin Wright and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 14, 2005

The Bush administration is significantly lowering expectations of what can be achieved in Iraq, recognizing that the United States will have to settle for far less progress than originally envisioned during the transition due to end in four months, according to U.S. officials in Washington and Baghdad.

The United States no longer expects to see a model new democracy, a self-supporting oil industry or a society in which the majority of people are free from serious security or economic challenges, U.S. officials say.

"What we expected to achieve was never realistic given the timetable or what unfolded on the ground," said a senior official involved in policy since the 2003 invasion. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning." [complete article]

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Someone tell the president the war is over
By Frank Rich, New York Times, August 14, 2005

Like the Japanese soldier marooned on an island for years after V-J Day, President Bush may be the last person in the country to learn that for Americans, if not Iraqis, the war in Iraq is over. "We will stay the course," he insistently tells us from his Texas ranch. What do you mean we, white man?

A president can't stay the course when his own citizens (let alone his own allies) won't stay with him. The approval rate for Mr. Bush's handling of Iraq plunged to 34 percent in last weekend's Newsweek poll - a match for the 32 percent that approved L.B.J.'s handling of Vietnam in early March 1968. (The two presidents' overall approval ratings have also converged: 41 percent for Johnson then, 42 percent for Bush now.) On March 31, 1968, as L.B.J.'s ratings plummeted further, he announced he wouldn't seek re-election, commencing our long extrication from that quagmire. [complete article]

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U.N. nuclear watchdog rebuts claims that Iran is trying to make A-bomb
By Anne Penketh, The Independent, August 14, 2005

The UN nuclear watchdog is preparing to publish evidence that Iran is not engaged in a nuclear weapons programme, undermining a warning of possible military action from President George Bush.

The US President told Israeli television that "all options are on the table" if Iran fails to comply with international calls to halt its nuclear programme. Both the US and Israel - the Middle East's only nuclear-armed power - were "united in our objective to make sure Iran does not have a weapon", he said.

However, Iran is about to receive a major boost from the results of a scientific analysis that will prove that the country's authorities were telling the truth when they said they were not developing a nuclear weapon. The discovery of traces of weapons-grade uranium in Iran by UN inspectors in August 2003 set off alarm bells in Western capitals where it was feared that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon under cover of a civil programme. The inspectors took the samples from Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz, which had been concealed from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for 18 years. [complete article]

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Coming home
By John Crawford, New York Times, August 14, 2005

It was raining when I stepped off the plane and into a chilly Georgia morning. The line of soldiers, heads down, struggled underneath the weight of their gear across the tarmac and into a long, low building full of Red Cross coffee and doughnuts. Along the way a general stood shaking hands and exchanging salutes with the returning soldiers. Next to him, a young lieutenant shivered as he held an umbrella out at arm's length over the general. Neither had combat patches on their uniforms, and I splashed by without saluting or shaking hands. It gave little satisfaction.

It had been just over a year since I had last been at that airport; that first time there had been banners and flags, family members waving fervently at the departing plane. This time the weather, I guess, had kept them home and the gray sky was the only real witness to our return. Clouds or no, the "freedom bird" had landed and our war was over, we were home.

I left for Iraq on Feb. 12, 2003. The war hadn't started yet. The Florida National Guard in which I was serving as a specialist was partly made up of former active-service infantrymen from the Rangers, the 82nd Airborne, the 10th Mountain and (in my case) the 101st Airborne. The rest were "straight Guard," as we called them: college students, small-business owners, police officers, contractors, painters or unemployed. They had signed up for the fabled "one weekend a month, two weeks a year" and gotten very much more than they bargained for. [complete article]

John Crawford's new book, The Last True Story I'll Ever Tell: An Accidental Soldier's Account of the War in Iraq is available here.

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Bush slaps down top general after he calls for troops to be pulled out of Iraq
By Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, August 14, 2005

The top American commander in Iraq has been privately rebuked by the Bush administration for openly discussing plans to reduce troop levels there next year, The Sunday Telegraph has learned.

President George W Bush personally intervened last week to play down as "speculation" all talk of troop pull-outs because he fears that even discussing options for an "exit strategy" implies weakening resolve.

Gen George Casey, the US ground commander in Iraq, was given his dressing-down after he briefed that troop levels - now 138,000 - could be reduced by 30,000 in the early months of next year as Iraqi security forces take on a greater role. [complete article]

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Guantanamo detainee says beating injured spine
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, August 13, 2005

An Egyptian-born teacher imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the past 3 1/2 years recently convinced the U.S. military that he is not an enemy combatant, but rather what he said he was: a pro-democracy English teacher swept up when the military seized fighters and suspected terrorists from the battlefields of Afghanistan.

In newly declassified records of statements to his attorney, Sami Al-Laithi said that as a result of his detention at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, he is now confined to a wheelchair with two broken vertebrae. He said military personnel and interrogators stomped on his back, dropped him on the floor and repeatedly forced his neck forward soon after his arrival at the prison.

He said he has been denied an operation that could save him from permanent paralysis and is being held at Camp V, a maximum-security wing of isolation cells reserved for the most uncooperative and high-value inmates, while he awaits transfer. [complete article]

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Iraqi Sunnis battle to defend Shiites
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, August 14, 2005

Rising up against insurgent leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Ramadi fought with grenade launchers and automatic weapons Saturday to defend their Shiite neighbors against a bid to drive them from the western city, Sunni leaders and Shiite residents said. The fighting came as the U.S. military announced the deaths of six American soldiers.

Dozens of Sunni members of the Dulaimi tribe established cordons around Shiite homes, and Sunni men battled followers of Zarqawi, a Jordanian, for an hour Saturday morning. The clashes killed five of Zarqawi's guerrillas and two tribal fighters, residents and hospital workers said. Zarqawi loyalists pulled out of two contested neighborhoods in pickup trucks stripped of license plates, witnesses said.

The leaders of four of Iraq's Sunni tribes had rallied their fighters in response to warnings posted in mosques by followers of Zarqawi. The postings ordered Ramadi's roughly 3,000 Shiites to leave the city of more than 200,000 in the area called the Sunni Triangle. The order to leave within 48 hours came in retaliation for alleged expulsions by Shiite militias of Sunnis living in predominantly Shiite southern Iraq. [complete article]

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Life at the front: GIs savor the good life
By Kirk Semple, New York Times (IHT), August 13, 2005

Never in the field of human conflict has so much stuff been acquired by so many in so little time.

One Louisiana National Guardsman stationed on Camp Liberty converted his trailer into a recording studio, and a New York National Guardsman living nearby has spent some of his free time during the past year producing a record by a singer in New York using an electric keyboard, sequencer, laptop computer, sampler, drum machine and mixer in his room. He and the singer use sound files sent via the Internet to exchange musical ideas and recorded tracks.

"I don't know how they managed to acquire so much audiovisual machinery," said an amused Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Slack, 48, commander of the 1st Battalion, 69th Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard, which is garrisoned on Camp Liberty with the Louisianians. "Some of these kids, they'll go out and fight all day and they'll come back and play these goofy space-age electronic war games all night. The furthest thing from my mind is to play war games! You'll walk by and hear them hootin' and hollerin'." [complete article]

Comment -- Call me old-fashioned, but the idea of kids playing shoot-'em-up video games by night and fighting with real guns by day sounds like a recipe for creating sociopaths. Is this why the Pentagon refuses to do body counts?

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U.S. struggling to get soldiers updated armor
By Michael Moss, New York Times, August 14, 2005

For the second time since the Iraq war began, the Pentagon is struggling to replace body armor that is failing to protect American troops from the most lethal attacks by insurgents.

The ceramic plates in vests worn by most personnel cannot withstand certain munitions the insurgents use. But more than a year after military officials initiated an effort to replace the armor with thicker, more resistant plates, tens of thousands of soldiers are still without the stronger protection because of a string of delays in the Pentagon's procurement system. [complete article]

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Terror's greatest recruitment tool
By Naomi Klein, The Nation, August 11, 2005

Hussain Osman, one of the men alleged to have participated in London's failed bombings on July 21, recently told Italian investigators that they prepared for the attacks by watching "films on the war in Iraq," La Repubblica reported. "Especially those where women and children were being killed and exterminated by British and American soldiers...of widows, mothers and daughters that cry."

It has become an article of faith that Britain was vulnerable to terror because of its politically correct antiracism. Yet Osman's comments suggest that what propelled at least some of the bombers was rage at what they saw as extreme racism. And what else can we call the belief--so prevalent we barely notice it--that American and European lives are worth more than the lives of Arabs and Muslims, so much more that their deaths in Iraq are not even counted? [complete article]

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A literary guide to Britain's terrorists
By Helen Rumbelow, Washington Post, August 14, 2005

If there is one question that has been haunting Europe in the weeks since the public transport bombings, it is how these young Muslim men in our midst became so disaffected that they turned themselves into walking time bombs. And how can we stop what happened in London more than a month ago and in Madrid more than a year ago from happening tomorrow in Berlin, Rome or Paris?

At a recent news conference a television reporter put it to Britain's prime minister like this: "In the past two weeks," she said, "have you come up with any understanding as to how people who grew up here, received their education here, enjoyed cricket, enjoyed so much about British life, could have turned on their own people?"

Tony Blair fumbled for some forgettable reply, but the answer should have been lying on his bedside table. For the past 10 years, contemporary British fiction has been sending out warnings -- not coded, but clear -- about what has been happening under our noses here in the West. [complete article]

See also, Radical links of UK's 'moderate' Muslim group (The Guardian).

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What is free speech, and what is terrorism?
By Richard Bernstein, New York Times, August 14, 2005

Radical Muslim preachers have hated the West for decades - at least since the Egyptian writer Sayyid Qutb famously visited the United States in the late 1940's and loathed what he saw. And yet the West is facing something rather new these days as it collectively asks, What should be done with the imams living in London, Paris, Rome and other Western cities who preach the murder of nonbelievers?

Indeed, the late Qutb himself, who remains highly influential in the world of Muslim radicalism, may have hated what he called the "primitiveness" of the West and seen it as a menace to civilization, but he never called for terrorism.

The same cannot be said about many latter-day Qutbs who have come to Western democracies to revile them. There is, for example, the case of Abu Qatada, otherwise known as Omar Mahmoud Abu Omar, who, according to Spanish investigators, is Osama bin Laden's "ambassador to Europe."

Mr. Qatada and at least a few dozen others represent something new and, certainly since the London bombings last month, something extremely scary: Islamic sojourners in the West who have imported the radicalized, self-immolating rage of the Middle East to their adopted countries, preaching violence and hatred, and, according to a number of European governments, at times recruiting soldiers for holy war.

What to do about them? Throughout Europe, governments have become conspicuously tougher with radicals in their midst, far readier than before to deport them. [complete article]

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Former members of the Taliban turn their backs on insurgency
By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, August 14, 2005

A cartoon flickered on a television set in Abdul Samad Khaksar's living room as he took a drag from a cigarette and considered the merits of Afghanistan's former Taliban government.

"The Taliban are like a medicine for Afghanistan that has expired," said Khaksar, 42, a white-bearded religious scholar who is running in parliamentary elections scheduled for September. "They want people to live like in the time of our Holy Prophet. I am in favor of how he lived, too. But it's impossible to bring that time back. The people of Afghanistan need something new."

It was a surprising assessment from a man who was once a senior official of the Taliban government -- an Islamic group so extreme that it outlawed television. Hundreds of Taliban fighters continue to wage a guerrilla war against the Afghan government nearly four years after the group was ousted.

But Khaksar's candidacy also points to a central paradox of the Taliban insurgency. While the extremist militia is mounting an unprecedented wave of attacks, apparently aimed at sabotaging the elections, several hundred former Taliban members have returned from exile in Pakistan to join a government reconciliation program. A handful of well-known Taliban figures have even decided to run for parliament. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Pullout focuses Israel on its future
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, August 13, 2005

London bombings: the truth emerges
By Jason Bennetto and Ian Herbert, The Independent, August 13, 2005

Audit: Fraud drained $1 billion from Iraq's defense efforts
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, August 11, 2005

Shiites call for own state in south
By Saad Sarhan and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 12, 2005

Iraqi constitution must deliver oil to Sunnis, or it won't deliver stability
By Edward P. Joseph and Michael O'Hanlon, Christian Science Monitor, August 11, 2005

U.K.: Proposed anti-terrorism measures threaten fundamental rights
Human Rights Watch, August 10, 2005

The irresistible power: Nuclear Iran

Talking wounded
By Peter Carlson, Washington Post, August 10, 2005

The Web as weapon
By Susan B. Glasser and Steve Coll, Washington Post, August 9, 2005

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