The War in Context
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
The Iraqi constitution: DOA?
By Juan Cole, Salon, August 26, 2005

On Thursday, the third deadline for finishing Iraq's new constitution passed without agreement, as Sunni leaders balked at Shiite and Kurdish demands for federalism and regional control of oil wealth. In response, Shiite leaders threatened -- yet again -- to bypass the Sunnis, use their majority to approve it in Parliament, and take it to the Iraqi people for a national referendum.

Whether the constitution is sent to the Iraqi people without Sunni approval or is once again returned to the election committee for negotiations is almost irrelevant. The divisions are so intractable that the Sunnis are going to be marginalized, and enraged, in any event. The upshot: America's political vision for Iraq lies in tatters, and the Bush administration has largely itself to blame. [complete article]

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Shiites and Kurds halt charter talks with Sunnis
By Dexter Filkins and James Glanz, New York Times, August 26, 2005

Shiite and Kurdish leaders drafting a new Iraqi constitution abandoned negotiations with a group of Sunni representatives on Friday, deciding to take the disputed charter directly to the Iraqi people.

With the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, standing by, Shiite and Kurdish representatives said they had run out of patience with the Sunni negotiators, a group that includes several former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. The Shiites and Kurds said the Sunnis had refused to budge on a pair of crucial issues that were holding up completion of the constitution.

The Shiites and Kurds reached their decision in meetings that ran late into Friday night, disregarding the Sunnis' pleas for more time. [complete article]

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One hundred thousand Shi'ites protest Iraq charter
By Michael Georgy, Reuters, August 26, 2005

A hundred thousand Iraqis across the country marched on Friday in support of a maverick Shi'ite cleric opposed to a draft constitution that U.S.-backed government leaders say will deliver a brighter future.

The protest could reinforce the opposition of Sunni Arabs who dominate the insurgency and are bitterly against the draft.

Supporters of young Shi'ite firebrand Moqtada al-Sadr, who has staged two uprisings against U.S. troops, also protested against poor services during their marches, stepping up the pressure on the government. [complete article]

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The U.S. vs The U.N.
By David Usborne, The Independent, August 26, 2005

America's controversial new ambassador to the United Nations is seeking to shred an agreement on strengthening the world body and fighting poverty intended to be the highlight of a 60th anniversary summit next month. In the extraordinary intervention, John Bolton has sought to roll back proposed UN commitments on aid to developing countries, combating global warming and nuclear disarmament.

Mr Bolton has demanded no fewer than 750 amendments to the blueprint restating the ideals of the international body, which was originally drafted by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan.

The amendments are spelt out in a 32-page US version, first reported by the Washington Post and acquired yesterday by The Independent. The document is littered with deletions and exclusions. Most strikingly, the changes eliminate all specific reference to the so-called Millennium Development Goals, accepted by all countries at the last major UN summit in 2000, including the United States. [complete article]

See also, With Bush's man installed, is this the end of diplomacy? (The Independent).

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Political violence surges in Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, August 26, 2005

Political violence surged Thursday along many of Iraq's ethnic and sectarian fault lines, while Shiite and Sunni Arab political leaders haggled past a third deadline without reaching accord on a draft constitution.

As the two-day death toll around Iraq reached 100, fighting between two powerful Shiite militias in the southern city of Najaf subsided, with 19 reported dead overall. The clashes Wednesday night and Thursday between the Mahdi Army, loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, and fighters allegedly linked to the government-allied Badr Organization were the deadliest between Iraqi militia forces since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. [complete article]

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Shiites offer compromise on constitution
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP (via Yahoo), August 26, 2005

Prodded by President Bush, Shiite negotiators Friday offered what they called their final compromise proposal to Sunnis Arabs to try to break the impasse over Iraq's new constitution, a Shiite official said.

Bush telephoned a key Shiite leader, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, on Thursday to urge consensus over the draft, Abbas al-Bayati told The Associated Press.

The Shiites were awaiting a response from the Sunnis, al-Bayati said.

He said the concessions were on the pivotal issues of federalism and efforts to remove former members of Saddam Hussein's Sunni-dominated Baath Party from public life, adding: "We cannot offer more than that." [complete article]

See also, Bush steps in as charter talks in Iraq reach breaking point (NYT).

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Sadr urges an end to clashes with rival Shiite groups
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, August 26, 2005

The young Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr called on his followers Thursday to end clashes with rival Shiite groups after a night of deadly street battles, and appealed for calm at a time of national political duress.

"I ask the believers to preserve the blood of Muslims and return to their families," Mr. Sadr said at a news conference in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. "Iraq is experiencing a critical phase now during which it needs cooperation."

In a separate development, the Iraqi police on Thursday discovered 36 decomposing bodies in Kut, southeast of Baghdad, an official at the Interior Ministry said. The police said the victims had been handcuffed and executed, but investigators did not suggest a motive. [complete article]

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Washington to be sued over global warming
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, August 26, 2005

In a landmark judgment, a court in California has allowed a coalition of environmental groups to sue the US government over global warming - the first time a court has recognised the potentially disastrous impact of climate change.

A judge in San Francisco gave permission for the two groups, along with four US cities, to sue two federal development agencies that provide billions of dollars in loans to fund projects overseas. Some of the projects are power plants that emit greenhouse gases while others include pipeline projects that allow the transfer of oil.

"This is the first time a US court has given a plaintiff the right to go to court solely on the global warming issue," Geoff Hand, a Vermont-based lawyer in the case, told The Independent. "It's a great advance." [complete article]

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Iraq constitution talks go on, head for referendum
By Mariam Karouny, Reuters, August 25, 2005

Iraqi negotiators failed to agree a final draft of a constitution on Thursday after the government had insisted that they would and the parliament speaker said discussions could go on for some time yet.

However, if compromises could not be found to overcome the opposition of minority Sunni Arab and other groups, the text so far proposed by the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government would simply be put to the people at a mid-October referendum.

"Negotiations are still going on. Everybody was there," speaker Hajim al-Hassani told Reuters. "This is a good sign and we hope we will reach a result tomorrow night."

Asked at a news conference what would happen if there were no consensus after further negotiations, he said: "If we cannot reach an agreement, God forbid, the constitution will be put to the Iraqi people on October 15."

He made clear, however, that after an often confusing series of midnight deadlines over the past 10 days, he was not setting a particular time limit on those discussions. Nor was any parliamentary vote required to adopt the text put to the nation. [complete article]

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U.S., insurgents locked in stalemate
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, August 25, 2005

Insurgents in Anbar province, the center of guerrilla resistance in Iraq, have fought the U.S. military to a stalemate.

After repeated major combat offensives in Fallujah and Ramadi, and after losing hundreds of soldiers and Marines in Anbar during the past two years - including 75 since June 1 - many American officers and enlisted men assigned to Anbar have stopped talking about winning a military victory in Iraq's Sunni Muslim heartland. Instead, they're trying to hold on to a handful of population centers and hit smaller towns in a series of quick-strike operations designed to disrupt insurgent activities temporarily.

"I don't think of this in terms of winning," said Col. Stephen Davis, who commands a task force of about 5,000 Marines in an area of some 24,000 square miles in the western portion of Anbar. Instead, he said, his Marines are fighting a war of attrition. "The frustrating part for the (American) audience, if you will, is they want finality. They want a fight for the town and in the end the guy with the white hat wins."

That's unlikely in Anbar, Davis said. He expects the insurgency to last for years, hitting American and Iraqi forces with quick ambushes, bombs and mines. Roadside bombs have hit vehicles Davis was riding in three times this year already. [complete article]

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Firebrand Iraqi cleric hits centre stage again
Reuters (via Khaleej Times), August 25, 2005

Firebrand cleric Moqtada Al Sadr, whose fighters clashed with rival Shi'ite factions on Wednesday night, has again returned to centre stage in the new Iraq but this time the stakes are much higher.

As Shi'ite and Kurdish government leaders were set to push through a constitution Sadr fiercely opposes, his spokesman warned that his Mehdi Army militia could be quickly mobilised after fighting erupted with administration-linked Shi'ites.

Sadr, scion of a respected Shi'ite clerical dynasty who led two uprisings against US troops last year, has set a pattern of lengthy periods of silence followed by dramatic entrances. [complete article]

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'Le sheriff' warns on globalisation of terrorism
By Martin Arnold, Financial Times, August 25, 2005

After hunting down Islamic terrorists for 20 years, often at great personal risk, Jean-Louis Bruguière is better placed than most people to predict al-Qaeda's next move.

France's best known anti-terrorist judge says he was "unfortunately not very surprised" by the July 7 bombings in London. "Since the Madrid attacks [in March 2004] there has been a strong upsurge in the threat to Europe," says the 62-year-old, nicknamed "le sheriff" for his old habit of carrying a handgun in public.

He says there were signs the UK was likely to be the next target well before July 7. "In my opinion the most interesting attack for analysis is the one in Istanbul [in November 2003]. It is incontestable that the real target was British, with the consulate and HSBC [bank] being hit. It was a direct warning." [complete article]

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The soul of resistance: civil war parallels in US and Iraq
By Ken Shulman, Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 2005

By now it's a familiar and hackneyed war story. A jarring event rouses a dormant people. Diplomacy fails. Conflict erupts. The modern, mechanized nation overpowers the atavistic, feudal regime. The victors send soldiers, consultants, and contractors to free the oppressed, rebuild, secure vital resources and territory, and to put their stamp on the society that will emerge. In the midst of this benevolence, a loosely woven network of terror groups stages dogged acts of sabotage, kidnapping, assassination, and graphic murder that demoralize the occupiers. The victors are gradually forced to compromise those principles in whose name they first fought, or to withdraw.

Sound like Iraq? It is. But it's also the United States of the Civil War. [complete article]

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Pro-war kin take down crosses at Sheehan site
By Joyce Howard Price, Washington Times, August 25, 2005

Military families disturbed by a sea of crosses erected by anti-war protesters near President Bush's ranch in Crawford, Texas, have removed crosses bearing the names of their fallen children and transferred them to another site to show support for American troops in Iraq.

Anti-war protesters "never asked for my permission to put up a cross for my son for their cause," said Gary Qualls, whose son was killed in Iraq. "They are not respecting our sons and daughters."

The rival cross camps are evidence of a growing public backlash against the anti-war campaign of California activist Cindy Sheehan, who blames Mr. Bush for son Casey's death in Iraq and has called for immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. [complete article]

Comment -- The Washington Times isn't the most reliable witness when it comes to measuring the depth of a backlash against the antiwar movement, but no one should underestimate the blinding effect of self-righteousness - the Left is just as susceptible as the Right.

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A CIA cover blown, a White House exposed
By Tom Hamburger and Sonni Efron, Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2005

For the last 20 months, a tough-minded special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has been looking into how the media learned that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, was a CIA operative.

Top administration officials, along with several influential journalists, have been questioned by prosecutors.

Beyond the whodunit, the affair raises questions about the credibility of the Bush White House, the tactics it employs against political opponents and the justification it used for going to war.

What motivated President Bush's political strategist, Karl Rove; Vice President Cheney's top aide, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby; and others to counter Wilson so aggressively? How did their roles remain secret until after the president was reelected? Have they fully cooperated with the investigation?

The answers remain elusive. As Fitzgerald's team has moved ahead, few witnesses have been willing to speak publicly. White House officials declined to comment for this article, citing the ongoing inquiry.

But a close examination of events inside the White House two summers ago, and interviews with administration officials, offer new insights into the White House response, the people who shaped it, the deep disdain Cheney and other administration officials felt for the CIA, and the far-reaching consequences of the effort to manage the crisis. [complete article]

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Two fingers to America
By Richard Gott, The Guardian, August 25, 2005

Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, is a genial fellow with a good sense of humour and a steely political purpose. As a former military officer, he is accustomed to the language of battle and he thrives under attack. He will laugh off this week's suggestion by Pat Robertson, the US televangelist, that he should be assassinated, but he will also seize on it to ratchet up the verbal conflict with the United States that has lasted throughout his presidency.

Chavez, now 51, is the same age as Tony Blair, and after nearly seven years as president he has been in power for almost as long. But there the similarities end. Chavez is a man of the left and, like most Latin Americans with a sense of history, he is distrustful of the United States. Free elections in Latin America have often thrown up radical governments that Washington would like to see overthrown, and the Chavez government is no exception to this rule.

Chavez is a genuinely revolutionary figure, one of those larger-than-life characters who surface regularly in the history of Latin America - and achieve power perhaps twice in a hundred years. He wants to change the history of the continent. His close friend and role model is Fidel Castro, Cuba's long-serving leader. The two men meet regularly, talk constantly on the telephone, and have formed a close political and military alliance. Venezuela has deployed more than 20,000 Cuban doctors in its shanty-towns, and Cuba is the grateful recipient of cheap Venezuelan oil, replacing the subsidised oil it once used to receive from the Soviet Union. This, in the eyes of the US government, would itself be a heinous crime that would put Chavez at the top of its list for removal. The US has been at war with Cuba for nearly half a century, mostly conducted by economic means, and it only abandoned plans for Castro's direct overthrow after subscribing to a tacit agreement not to do so with the Soviet Union after the missile crisis of 1962.

The Americans would have dealt with Chavez long ago had they not been faced by two crucial obstacles. First, they have been notably preoccupied in recent years in other parts of the world, and have hardly had the time, the personnel, or the attention span to deal with the charismatic colonel. Second, Venezuela is one of the principal suppliers of oil to the US market (literally so in that 13,000 US petrol stations are owned by Citgo, an extension of Venezuela's state oil company). Any hasty attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government would undoubtedly threaten this oil lifeline, and Chavez himself has long warned that his assassination would close down the pumps. With his popularity topping 70% in the polls, he would be a difficult figure to dislodge. [complete article]

Note -- Translated from the Queen's English, "two fingers to America" means "giving the finger to America."

Chavez seeks influence with oil diplomacy
By Danna Harman, Christian Science Monitor, August 25, 2005

When protesters in Ecuador started dynamiting pipelines and vandalizing pumping machinery last week, crippling oil exports - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez sprang to the rescue.

"We are going to help Ecuador," Mr. Chavez announced from Cuba, where he was making his 13th visit since coming to power in 1999. "Venezuela will cover the [oil export] commitments that the Ecuadorean government has not been able to fulfill these days. They will not have to pay a cent." [complete article]

Robertson apologizes for calling for assassination
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, August 25, 2005

The Rev. Pat Robertson apologized yesterday for calling for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, saying he spoke "in frustration" over the U.S. government's inaction toward a man who has "found common cause with terrorists."

The religious broadcaster's comments Monday on his television show "The 700 Club" unleashed a flood of criticism, not only from the State Department and Venezuela's ambassador but also from some evangelical Christian leaders in the United States. [complete article]

Comment -- Pat Robertson was flattering himself by citing Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in defense of his call for assassinating President Chavez. If he wanted to use a more apt analogy it might have been that of a strung-out junkie who fanticizes about killing his dealer. Though Bonhoeffer's example provides a compelling argument against a rigid ethic of non-violence, in the bellicose rhetoric of Robertson and his like, the bold acts they advocate always require that someone else does the dirty work.

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Shias risk civil war in Iraq over refusal to negotiate on future
By Catherine Philp, The Times, August 24, 2005

Iraq's ruling Shias brushed aside warnings of civil war and announced yesterday that they would brook no change to their draft constitution.

Yesterday should have been the first of three days of consensus-building after Parliament delayed a vote on the draft submitted by the Shias in the face of vociferous opposition from the Sunnis, who argued that it could ignite a civil war.

But instead of resuming talks, Shia leaders turned to the media to send their uncompromising message to Sunni negotiators that they should let the Iraqi people vote for or against the document in a referendum. [complete article]

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Fighting breaks out between Iraqi Shiite militias
By Luke Baker, Reuters (via WP), August 24, 2005

Fighting broke out in Baghdad and the holy city of Najaf on Wednesday between rival Shi'ite militias, raising fears of a renewed uprising by radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi army against the U.S.-backed government.

At least eight people were killed and dozens wounded, health officials said, in street battles in Najaf involving pro-government Badr Organization fighters and supporters of Sadr, who has joined Sunni Arabs in denouncing a constitution the Shi'ite-led government is preparing to force through parliament.

The head of the Badr Organization denied it was involved.

The interior minister dispatched police commandos to Najaf and announced a curfew in the city on state television.

A spokesman for Sadr warned of a "general call to arms" unless rival groups apologized for what he called attacks on Sadr's office in Najaf. His Mehdi Army was banned after U.S. troops crushed two uprisings last year, but it has not disarmed. [complete article]

See also, Al-Sadr followers to boycott cabinet (Aljazeera).

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Who will say 'no more'?
By Gary Hart, Washington Post, August 24, 2005

History will deal with George W. Bush and the neoconservatives who misled a mighty nation into a flawed war that is draining the finest military in the world, diverting Guard and reserve forces that should be on the front line of homeland defense, shredding international alliances that prevailed in two world wars and the Cold War, accumulating staggering deficits, misdirecting revenue from education to rebuilding Iraqi buildings we've blown up, and weakening America's national security.

But what will history say about an opposition party that stands silent while all this goes on? My generation of Democrats jumped on the hot stove of Vietnam and now, with its members in positions of responsibility, it is afraid of jumping on any political stove. In their leaders, the American people look for strength, determination and self-confidence, but they also look for courage, wisdom, judgment and, in times of moral crisis, the willingness to say: "I was wrong." [complete article]

It's all about-face for the Democrats
By Kevin Drum, Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2005

The summer's polls show that one-third of Americans favor an immediate withdrawal from Iraq and nearly two-thirds support withdrawal within the next year. In the face of such numbers, the conventional wisdom predicts disaster at the polls for Republicans in the 2006 midterm elections. As conservative insider Grover Norquist put it recently: "If Iraq is in the rearview mirror in the '06 elections, the Republicans will do fine. But if it's still in the windshield, there are problems."

Is this good news for Democrats? Maybe, but a growing disconnect between the party's establishment hawks and an increasingly antiwar base could foretell an even bigger crackup on the Democratic than the Republican side. So far, none of the best known faces of the Democratic Party -- Hillary Clinton, say, or Joe Biden, or John Kerry, all of whom supported the war -- have joined those clamoring for an end to the fighting. In fact, the foreign policy establishment of the Democratic Party is lined up with President Bush in favor of "staying the course." [complete article]

Military families may once again lead us out of war
By Christian Appy, TomDispatch, August 24, 2005

Soldiers, veterans, and their families have, as they did in the early 1970s, once again moved to the forefront of a growing, grass roots struggle to end an unpopular war. Cindy Sheehan's impassioned opposition to the war has not only gained extraordinary media attention but seems to have ignited a genuine outpouring of public support. Many who may have feared that public opposition to the war could be taken as unpatriotic or unsupportive of American troops, have been emboldened by Sheehan's example to demand that her son's death, and all the others, not be used to justify further bloodshed in a war that cannot be convincingly justified by an administration distant from their lives and their suffering. [complete article]

Comment -- Is the appeal to bring the troops home being driven by an honest and realistic expectation that this will end the war in Iraq? If not, we shouldn't call this an antiwar movement - simply a withdrawal movement.

There's nothing wrong with admitting that a war launched by a deceitful and deluded administration that took advantage of fear and ignorance prevalent across America has resulted in failure. If there's a growing consensus that George Bush's Iraq venture is a failure and that the Pentagon can do little to stitch together a country that is now being ripped apart, it makes sense to withdraw American troops.

The trouble is, while it's easy to recognize what may go down in history as America's greatest foreign policy blunder, the way out will not come simply from having an exit strategy. While Vietnam haunted the American psyche long after the troops came home, failure in Iraq has already left its mark on the American economy and bringing the troops home will do little if anything to remedy the damage.

A credible opposition does not simply oppose; it presents an alternative. What Democrats need to craft and then campaign with is a new approach to the Middle East: a comprehensive vision in which America's divisive role in the region over the past half century is acknowledged; in which it is acknowledged that America can no longer afford to place the interests of Israel above those of everyone else in the region; in which America accepts full responsibility for its unique role in fostering peaceful relations between Jews and Arabs; and above which an internationally agreed upon, global energy policy operates enabling the world (not just America) to wean itself from its dependence on oil. A long-sighted US foreign policy must rest on the understanding that America's interests cannot ultimately be served at the expense of the rest of the world.

Does that sound a shade too ambitious? Perhaps, but surely a lot more realistic than attempting to eradicate evil.

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Iraq vote may rest on swing provinces
By Edmund Sanders and Noam N. Levey, Los Angeles Times, August 24, 2005

Sunni Arab politicians, many of whom boycotted the January parliamentary election, have been urging supporters to register to vote in recent weeks. Some Sunni clerics have ordered worshipers to election centers. According to Iraq's election commission, some of the most active registration centers are in Sunni-dominated areas.

Even before negotiations broke down among drafters of the constitution, representatives for Sunni parties and a coalition of Sadr followers were meeting privately to map out a strategy for rallying a "no" vote in three provinces. Sunnis and Sadr loyalists, who forged ties last year when each battled U.S. troops, share concerns about federalism in the draft constitution.

"Together we are confident we can deliver three provinces," said Fatah Sheik, head of a coalition loyal to Sadr. "It's already done. We could deliver three provinces by ourselves, if we wanted, including Baghdad." [complete article]

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Iraq is not a state anymore
By Shlomo Avineri, Jerusalem Post, August 22, 2005

When the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia were on the verge of collapse along their ethnic lines, the Bush Sr. administration urged the maintenance of the existing structures: It failed dismally. Iraq may now be going the way of Yugoslavia, yet the US government does not wish to recognize this obvious fact. What is failing in Iraq is not only the attempt to build democracy, but the very attempt to keep the country together.

There is no way of putting Humpty-Dumpty together again. The Kurds and the Shi'ites will go their separate ways, and both entities have the paramilitary capability to do so. There is no Iraqi army capable of maintaining the unity of the country. And, just as in the former Yugoslavia, the separate countries -- Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia -- have a better chance of creating coherent and democratic systems than the old coercive Yugoslavia, the same may apply to Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Shlomo Avineri may be correct in seeing the break up of Iraq as inevitable, though since its component parts are so deeply interwoven at the center, it's hard to see how this country can break up without also breaking down. Though colonial fabrications are inherently flawed, it doesn't follow that as they fracture, what remains will naturally evolve into a stable condition sustained by deeper historical roots.

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Glee and anger greet Iraq's draft charter
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Bassam Sebti, Washington Post, August 24, 2005

A new draft constitution that would transform Iraq into a loose federal union sparked celebrations Tuesday in the streets of the Shiite south and an angry rally in the Sunni Arab heartland, where some chanted for the return of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

Why Iraq's Sunnis fear constitution
By Dan Murphy and Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2005 root of the Sunni rejection of the constitutional process is fear itself. The psyche of this community, from which Saddam Hussein's most fervent supporters were drawn and who enjoyed privileged positions until his regime was toppled, has been badly damaged in the past few years.

Many fears about the new Iraq are expressed throughout Baghdad's Sunni neighborhoods. They fear that Iraq's new masters will punish them for supporting Mr. Hussein's regime; they fear they don't have leaders or social cohesion; and they fear their former status will never be regained.

It's this fear and doubt that feeds their distrust of Iraq's other communities and their desire to see the writing of the constitution delayed.

"We are all afraid. There are reasons for revenge. Anyone can call the Interior Ministry and get someone killed" by calling someone a terrorist, says Souda Mustafa Ali, a Sunni. [complete article]

Vision of Iraq's future shows a nation divided
By Bronwen Maddox, The Times, August 24, 2005

It is hard to say that the draft constitution of Iraq, which emerged at three minutes to midnight on Monday, is good news.

It is an incomplete, ambiguous and contentious document. It allows -- even encourages -- Iraq to split. Never mind the vision of Iraq dividing into three sections, Shia, Kurdish and Sunni, now the commonplace perception of how the country might come unglued.

That was always misleadingly neat. This constitution could prompt a more profound disintegration into smaller fiefdoms.

To take only one potentially devastating example: the text surfaces from its careful vagueness to an ominous clarity in Article 129. This says that each region would be allowed to run its own security and police (and keep others out). That clause, on its own, is a shocker. [complete article]

Articles of consternation
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, August 23, 2005

Judging from the two translations of the text released so far, it's hard to see how Iraq's constitution could serve either as a document that unifies the new Iraqi nation or as a clear guide to governance.

The charter is vague to the point of vacuousness in its most basic proclamations. [complete article]

Text of Proposed Iraq Constitution (translation by Associated Press)

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U.S. to send 2 battalions to Iraq to help to protect vote
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, August 24, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld announced plans on Tuesday to send up to 2,000 more American soldiers to Iraq to raise troop levels before a referendum on the Iraqi constitution in October.

Pentagon officials said later that the troops, two battalions of the 82nd Airborne Division, were requested by senior commanders in Iraq who were concerned that insurgents might step up attacks to disrupt the referendum and national elections in December, the officials said.

The extra soldiers will be part of a temporary increase in American troop strength for the referendum, to about 160,000 from about 138,000 now. The overall increase will be accomplished mostly by delaying the departure of some units already there and arranging an earlier arrival for units that are due to go, the officials said. [complete article]

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Confidence in military news wanes
By Josh White, Washington Post, August 24, 2005 , 2005

The U.S. public's confidence that the military and the media keep them informed about national security issues has eroded significantly over the past six years, according to a new poll that shows 60 percent of Americans believe they do not get enough information about military matters to make educated decisions.

According to a McCormick Tribune Foundation/Gallup poll scheduled for release today, Americans are more interested in national security than they were in the past. But only 54 percent of Americans say they feel the military keeps them well informed, down from 77 percent in 1999 -- before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Similarly, the public grew increasingly skeptical of the news media's efforts, with 61 percent of Americans saying that the media keep them well informed on military and national security issues, down from 79 percent in 1999. More than three-quarters of Americans also believe that the military occasionally provides false or inaccurate information to the media, according to the poll, which surveyed 1,016 adults during the first two weeks of June. [complete article]

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Suicide bombs breakthrough gives police vital clues
By Vikram Dodd and Rosie Cowan, The Guardian, August 24, 2005

The four terrorists who killed 56 people in London on July 7 triggered the bombs themselves by pressing a device similar to a button, senior police sources have told the Guardian.

The discovery scotches the theory that the four British-born men may have been duped into carrying the rucksack bombs on to three crowded tube trains and one bus, unaware they were going to explode.

Initially it was thought the bombs might have been attached to devices on mobile phones, a method used in the Madrid bombings to devastating effect.

This breakthrough - more than six weeks since the attacks - provides police with potentially important clues about the bombers' planning and technical knowhow. [complete article]

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Palestinians can play the Israeli game
By Ahmad Samih Khalidi, The Guardian, August 24, 2005

Two profound assumptions underlie Ariel Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza. The first is that Israel's overriding value is the preservation of its Jewish character and majority. The second is that the conflict with the Palestinians is not amenable to a final agreed resolution, now or in the foreseeable future.

The net product is that Israel should unilaterally "disengage" from areas of Palestinian population density and retrench behind a demographic barrier (the wall). Withdrawal from Gaza represents a retreat from no more than 6% of the territories occupied in 1967, but it reduces the Palestinian "demographic threat" by about a third. Gaza will now be enclosed in a triple fence, and with the completion of the "separation wall" in the West Bank in mid-2006, Israel's 5 million or so Jews will be insulated from the 3.8 million Palestinians in the occupied territories - with tens of thousands of Arabs in East Jerusalem suspended in a politico-legal limbo.

No Palestinian patriot can fail to be moved by the Gazans' joy at deliverance from 38 years of ugly occupation. But the withdrawal highlights two vital characteristics of the coming phase in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. First, unilateralism has replaced negotiation; second, conflict management has replaced conflict resolution. [complete article]

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Chinese detainees are men without a country
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 24, 2005

In late 2003, the Pentagon quietly decided that 15 Chinese Muslims detained at the military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, could be released. Five were people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, some of them picked up by Pakistani bounty hunters for U.S. payoffs. The other 10 were deemed low-risk detainees whose enemy was China's communist government -- not the United States, according to senior U.S. officials.

More than 20 months later, the 15 still languish at Guantanamo Bay, imprisoned and sometimes shackled, with most of their families unaware whether they are even alive.

They are men without a country. The Bush administration has chosen not to send them home for fear China will imprison, persecute or torture them, as the United States charges has happened to other members of China's Muslim minority. But the State Department has also been unable to find another country to take them in, according to U.S. officials and recently filed court documents. [complete article]

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Robertson calls for Chavez assassination
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, August 24, 2005

Pat Robertson, the television evangelist and Christian Coalition founder, has set off a diplomatic fracas with Venezuela by calling for the assassination of its populist president, Hugo Chavez.

"We have the ability to take him out, and I think the time has come that we exercise that ability," Robertson said Monday on his Christian Broadcasting Network. "We don't need another $200 billion war to get rid of one, you know, strong-arm dictator. It's a whole lot easier to have some of the covert operatives do the job and then get it over with."

Venezuelan officials responded yesterday by demanding that the U.S. government condemn Robertson and guarantee Chavez's safety during a scheduled visit to the United Nations next month.

"The ball is in the U.S. court after this criminal statement by a citizen of that country," Venezuelan Vice President Jose Vicente Rangel told reporters, according to the Associated Press. "It's huge hypocrisy to maintain this discourse against terrorism and, at the same time, in the heart of that country, there are entirely terrorist statements like those." [complete article]

Why Pat Robertson's statements help Hugo Chavez
By Tim Padgett, Time, August 23, 2005

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has a new best friend this morning: television evangelist Pat Robertson. With his astonishing call for the left-wing leader's assassination last night -- "I think that we really ought to go ahead and do it...We have the ability to take him out" -- Robertson will have surely made Chavez an even more popular anti-yanqui icon in Venezuela, Latin America and around the world. Like his mentor Fidel Castro, Chavez thrives on threats from the U.S., real or perceived. He has long insisted that his foes are plotting to kill him, and this summer had armed civilians training with the Venezuelan military to prepare for what he says is an imminent U.S. invasion. A public effort to whack him, offered from the right-wing Christian establishment so closely aligned with President Bush, is just what Chavez needs to keep his approval ratings soaring as high as the price of the Venezuelan oil he controls, the largest crude reserves in the hemisphere. [complete article]

A Christian fatwa?
Pat Robertson on the 700 Club, August 19, 2004 (via The Wild Things of God)

"Al-Sadr is a rebel whose breaking the law. He's a murderer, there's a warrant out for his arrest. He should be killed, it's just that simple. They should execute him and they should take care of those people. He's holding up the most powerful army on Earth and he's thumbing his nose at the authority of the new government, and it's time the forces took action against him and stop the play. I hope this news says they're going after him. The news yesterday said, well, he'd agreed to some kind of a deal, but he's a liar, he's not going to do a deal and it's time we move in and do it swiftly and get this sore out of the way." [complete article]

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Incomplete draft of Iraqi constitution delivered; key issues unsolved
By Richard Chin and Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, August 22, 2005

Iraqi political leaders delivered an incomplete draft of a new constitution to the National Assembly moments before a midnight deadline Monday and gave the parliament three more days to resolve the remaining disagreements before voting on the document.

Shiite Muslim and Kurdish leaders, fed up with the weeks of haggling over key issues such as the powers of the central government and the role of Islam, pushed the draft forward over the objections of Sunni Arab politicians.

The move was a gamble for the Shiites and Kurds, who risk further isolating the disaffected Sunni minority, which forms the backbone of an insurgency that has killed thousands.

Sunni leaders, who participated in negotiations despite death threats from the insurgents, already have warned the government that their constituents would mobilize to vote against the draft this fall unless their concerns are addressed. Under the nation's interim law, if two-thirds of voters in three provinces vote against the constitution the national assembly will be dissolved and the process will begin anew.

Sunnis are banking on being able to find those votes in the Sunni heartland of Anbar, Salah ad Din and Ninevah provinces. [complete article]

Comment -- According to Juan Cole "Anbar and Salah al-Din are in the bag for a no vote at the moment. Since Ninevah, Diyala Baghdad, and Babil are mixed, though, it isn't clear whether the Sunni Arabs can muster a 2/3s "no" vote elsewhere. Maybe if the Turkmen and Chaldeans/Assyrians join them in Ninevah. Or if the Sadrists join them in Baghdad Province. In insisting on this veto privilege, which Grand Ayatollah Sistani always rejected, the Kurds may have hoisted themselves on their own petard-- giving the Sunni Arabs a means of rejecting the loose federalism they advocate."

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Grooming politicians for Christ
By Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times, August 23, 2005

In the blue and gold elegance of the House speaker's private dining room, Jeremy Bouma bowed his head before eight young men and women who hope to one day lead the nation. He prayed that they might find wisdom in the Bible — and govern by its word.

"Holy Father, we thank you for providing us with guidance," said Bouma, who works for an influential televangelist. "Thank you, Lord, for these students. Build them up as your warriors and your ambassadors on Capitol Hill."

"Amen," the students murmured. Then they picked up their pens expectantly.

Nearly every Monday for six months, as many as a dozen congressional aides -- many of them aspiring politicians -- have gathered over takeout dinners to mine the Bible for ancient wisdom on modern policy debates about tax rates, foreign aid, education, cloning and the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Through seminars taught by conservative college professors and devout members of Congress, the students learn that serving country means first and always serving Christ. [complete article]

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The real goals of Islamist terrorism
By Olivier Roy, Le Monde diplomatique, August, 2005

...the war in Iraq is not the prime cause of the radicalisation of terrorists. But, for the same reasons, it is not a means of fighting terrorism. To claim, as Tony Blair does, that there is no link between the London bombings and the presence of British troops in Iraq, is simply to pose the question of the ultimate purpose of the war.

There may have been good reasons for getting rid of Saddam Hussein, and the issue of democracy in the Middle East cannot be ignored by the nationalist left, moderate Islamists or European opponents of the war. But to justify the war in Iraq as part of the fight against terrorism is just as nonsensical as to justify terrorism by the war in Iraq. The issues in the Iraq war are the structure of the Iraqi state, the respect of Iraqi nationalism, the constitutional and legal status of Islam, and the meaning of democracy.

The terrorists have no interest in any of these issues, all of which are becoming increasingly confused in the context of a US policy devoid of overall vision. [complete article]

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Money, morals and Islam
By Timur Kuran, Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2005

Mistrust among Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds is only partly to blame for last week's delay in drafting a new Iraqi constitution. Tangled up in the tension between sects and ethnicities is a fundamental ideological conflict between secularists and Islamists. To understand the constitutional battles, observers must grasp not only the principles of Islamic law, or Sharia, but also Islamic economics -- an esoteric modern doctrine that would befuddle Karl Marx, Adam Smith and even the Muslim jurists who, a millennium ago, developed the principles on which it claims to be based.

Secularist Iraqis believe that Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari's Dawa Party, Iraq's largest and best-organized Shiite Islamist organization, aims to establish a theocracy in which Islam serves as an overriding, supra-constitutional source of authority. Overwhelmingly Arab, it leads the United Iraqi Alliance -- the "clerics' coalition" that captured a majority of the seats in the post-Hussein National Assembly. Growing out of a diffuse movement of opposition to secularist forces -- the British in the 1920s, Arab nationalism and international communism from the 1930s onward -- it was formally founded in 1957 under the spiritual leadership of the late Mohammed Baqir Sadr, whose opinions remain a source of authority. [complete article]

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No proof found of Iran arms program
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, August 23, 2005

Traces of bomb-grade uranium found two years ago in Iran came from contaminated Pakistani equipment and are not evidence of a clandestine nuclear weapons program, a group of U.S. government experts and other international scientists has determined.

"The biggest smoking gun that everyone was waving is now eliminated with these conclusions," said a senior official who discussed the still-confidential findings on the condition of anonymity.

Scientists from the United States, France, Japan, Britain and Russia met in secret during the past nine months to pore over data collected by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to U.S. and foreign officials. Recently, the group, whose existence had not been previously reported, definitively matched samples of the highly enriched uranium -- a key ingredient for a nuclear weapon -- with centrifuge equipment turned over by the government of Pakistan.

Iran has long contended that the uranium traces were the result of contaminated equipment bought years ago from Pakistan. But the Bush administration had pointed to the material as evidence that Iran was making bomb-grade ingredients. [complete article]

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Many evicted Gaza settlers go to West Bank, at least at first
By Greg Myre, New York Times, August 23, 2005

Israel on Monday wrapped up its withdrawal of the nearly 9,000 settlers from the Gaza Strip. Despite the pullout, there will almost certainly be more Jewish settlers at the end of this year than at the beginning, said Yariv Oppenheimer, the leader of Peace Now, an Israeli group that opposes settlement building.

The West Bank settler population is about 240,000. With the number increasing by more than 10,000 a year, the growth will offset those who have been removed, even if none of the evacuees resettle in the West Bank. The figures do not include Israelis in East Jerusalem.

Palestinians, as well as Israeli critics of the settlements, say the Gaza evacuation was welcomed, but they note that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon says he plans to continue strengthening the much larger West Bank settlements. [complete article]

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China ups the ante in its bid for oil
By Keith Bradsher and Christopher Pala, New York Times, August 23, 2005

One of China's state-owned oil companies may still be smarting from its failure to acquire Unocal this summer. But another Chinese oil giant showed on Monday that this country is still snapping up assets to satisfy its hunger for energy.

China's biggest state-owned oil company, the China National Petroleum Corporation, announced on Monday that it would pay $4.18 billion for a Canadian oil company with shares traded in New York and substantial reserves in Kazakhstan.

It is China's largest foreign acquisition yet, and more than twice what a Chinese computer company paid for I.B.M.'s personal computer business.

China National Petroleum outbid India's state-owned Oil and Natural Gas Corporation in reaching a deal to acquire PetroKazakhstan, and it is not clear whether the Indian company will step up with a counterbid. Still, the process underlines the growing competition for oil resources by the world's two most populous countries, each of which is rapidly increasing oil imports. [complete article]

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Birth of a new Iraq, or blueprint for civil war?
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, August 23, 2005

Iraq's new constitution, supposedly the blueprint for a democratic future, was threatening to drag the country into civil war last night.

As Shia and Kurdish factions presented the document to the National Assembly, minutes before a midnight deadline, Sunni Muslims strongly opposed to its federal structure made accusations of "betrayal" and warned of a violent sectarian backlash. A vote on the draft was later delayed for three days in the hope that the sides could come to an agreement on its wording. [complete article]

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Killers in the neighborhood
By Tim McGirk, Time, August 21, 2005

A murder spree has erupted in Washash, as in countless neighborhoods across Baghdad. Death squads, which tend to move in Opel sedans, are entering what once were tight-knit communities and killing ordinary citizens, apparently to stir up sectarian hatred. The goal: to incite a civil war that each side hopes will give its sect dominance over the other. In Baghdad, a city of more than 5 million, there were at least 880 violent deaths last month, according to Faiq Amin Bakr, director of the Baghdad central morgue. (In New York City, with a population of more than 8 million, the total number of homicides for all of 2004 was 571.) And the figure for Baghdad excludes those killed by car bombings and suicide attacks, which, if included, would add nearly 100 to the total. Most of the victims were felled by gunshots. Some were beheaded. Few of the murderers have been captured. "Nobody knows who is doing this killing," says Bakr. "It seems they're trying to destroy our society." [complete article]

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Trap won't fool extremists
By Gwynne Dyer, New Zealand Herald, August 23, 2005

Asher Weisgan, the Israeli settler who murdered three Palestinians at random in the West Bank settlement of Shiloh last week, was clearly very upset by the forced evacuation of the Jewish settlements in the Gaza Strip.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called him a "Jewish terrorist", which was true enough - but like all terrorists, he was seeking to create a political effect. He wanted to goad the Palestinians into some act of retaliatory terror so monstrous that it would force Sharon to halt the evacuations.

So far, the major Palestinian militant organisations haven't fallen into his trap - but then they are terrorists themselves and would understand exactly what Weisgan was up to. [complete article]

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Under U.S. noses, brutal insurgents rule Sunni citadel
By Omer Mahdi and Rory Carroll, The Guardian, August 22, 2005

A three-day visit by a reporter working for the Guardian last week established what neither the Iraqi government nor the US military has admitted: Haditha, a farming town of 90,000 people by the Euphrates river, is an insurgent citadel.

That Islamist guerrillas were active in the area was no secret but only now has the extent of their control been revealed. They are the sole authority, running the town's security, administration and communications.

A three-hour drive north from Baghdad, under the nose of an American base, it is a miniature Taliban-like state. Insurgents decide who lives and dies, which salaries get paid, what people wear, what they watch and listen to.

Haditha exposes the limitations of the Iraqi state and US power on the day when the political process is supposed to make a great leap - a draft constitution finalised and approved by midnight tonight.

For politicians and diplomats in Baghdad's fortified green zone the constitution is a means to stabilise Iraq and woo Sunni Arabs away from the rebellion. For Haditha, 140 miles north-west of the capital, whether a draft is agreed is irrelevant. Residents already have a set of laws and rules promulgated by insurgents. [complete article]

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Does it matter if you call it a civil war?
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, August 22, 2005

Finding a way to head off civil war is at the heart of all the major initiatives - including the talks over a new constitution - in Iraq. But by most common political-science definitions of the term, "civil war" is already here.

"It's not a threat. It's not a potential. Civil war is a fact of life there now," says Pavel Baev, head of the Center for the Study of Civil War at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway. He argues that until the nature of the conflict is accurately seen, good solutions cannot be found. "What's happening in Iraq is a multidimensional conflict. There's international terrorism, banditry, the major foreign military presence. But the civil war is the central part of it - the violent contestation for power inside the country." [complete article]

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Sunnis offer an exit plan
By Robert Collier, San Francisco Chronicle, August 21, 2005

For increasing numbers of Americans, Plan B is to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Although most Democratic Party leaders have opposed a troop pullout, saying it would leave Iraq in chaos, public support for a withdrawal has grown -- and has received a special boost from Cindy Sheehan's vigil outside President Bush's ranch in Texas.

In recent weeks, Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., a possible candidate for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, has called for a pullout from Iraq within one year, and 52 members of the House supported a resolution co- sponsored by Democratic Reps. Barbara Lee of Oakland and Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma that calls for a withdrawal by Oct. 1, 2006.

Surprisingly, however, the Iraqis who might be expected to support such a pullout -- those close to the Sunni Arab militants themselves -- say the focus on a quick exit is misplaced. [complete article]

Republican Senator says U.S. needs Iraq exit strategy now
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2005

As President Bush prepared to hit the road this week to bolster public support for his policies in Iraq, a senior Republican senator said Sunday that the United States needed to craft an exit strategy because its continued presence had created a potential Vietnam.

"We should start figuring out how we get out of there," Sen. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska said on ABC's "This Week." "I think our involvement there has destabilized the Middle East. And the longer we stay there, I think the further destabilization will occur." [complete article]

Political leaders' silence on Iraq war is a dereliction of duty
By Ronald Brownstein, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2005

Serious debate about the war has practically vanished in Washington. It's difficult to find many people outside the administration who are satisfied with either the costs (in American lives) or the benefits (the progress toward establishing a secure, pro-Western Iraqi state) of current policies. It is even more difficult to find any major figure willing to publicly offer a significant alternative.

This amounts to a political dereliction of duty.

When casualties in Iraq are rising even as stability recedes, political leaders are obligated to ask every possible question about the strategy, tactics and goals that have placed our forces in harm's way.

The response might be to withdraw troops, or to temporarily add more, or to change our expectations of what might be achieved in Iraq. Maybe Bush's approach of maintaining a large U.S. presence while training Iraqis and working to sustain as much national unity as possible will prove the best of imperfect alternatives.

But most Democrats and Republicans are abandoning their responsibilities by leaving the problem solely to Bush without addressing any of these issues. [complete article]

Democrats split over position on Iraq war
By Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post, August 22, 2005

Democrats say a long-standing rift in the party over the Iraq war has grown increasingly raw in recent days, as stay-the-course elected leaders who voted for the war three years ago confront rising impatience from activists and strategists who want to challenge President Bush aggressively to withdraw troops.

Amid rising casualties and falling public support for the war, Democrats of all stripes have grown more vocal this summer in criticizing Bush's handling of the war. A growing chorus of Democrats, however, has said this criticism should be harnessed to a consistent message and alternative policy -- something most Democratic lawmakers have refused to offer.

The wariness, congressional aides and outside strategists said in interviews last week, reflects a belief among some in the opposition that proposals to force troop drawdowns or otherwise limit Bush's options would be perceived by many voters as defeatist. Some operatives fear such moves would exacerbate the party's traditional vulnerability on national security issues. [complete article]

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Kurds and Shia near deal over Iraq draft
By Steve Negus, Caroline Daniel and Stephanie Kirchgaessner, Financial Times, August 21, 2005

Iraqi Kurdish and Shia politicians said on Sunday that they were close to resolving differences over the country's draft constitution but at the cost of isolating the Sunni Arab minority.

The disclosure that, on the eve of their extended deadline for producing the document, they had yet to reach agreement with Iraq's third main ethnic and sectarian group, raises the prospect that Sunnis might block the new constitution in a later referendum. [complete article]

Sunnis call for delay in charter
By Edmund Sanders and Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2005

Political groups representing Iraq's minority Sunni Arabs called Sunday for new delays in approving a national constitution, complaining that they had been cut out of final-hour negotiations between Shiites and Kurds and appealing to U.S. and U.N. officials to intervene. [complete article]

Sunnis pledge to vote down constitution 'conspiracy'
By Catherine Philp and Ali Hamdani, The Times, August 22, 2005

It took Ahmed Samaraai seven hours to journey the 30 miles from Baghdad back to his home in Fallujah, through the snaking queues at the American checkpoints.

But the journey was worth it. He registered his whole family to vote in October’s referendum on a constitution. "It's a religious obligation to vote against the constitution because it's the work of the occupiers," he said. Whether there is a constitution to vote on remains to be seen. Iraq's leaders are still wrangling ahead of tonight's revised deadline. But even if there is, Sunni Arabs are determined to vote it down.

They boycotted January's elections, but are now registering in their thousands as part of a concerted "no" campaign by local leaders, clerics and sheikhs. [complete article]

U.S. relents on Islamic law to reach Iraq deal
By Rory Carroll and Julian Borger, The Guardian, August 22, 2005

The United States has eased its opposition to an Islamic Iraqi state to help clinch a deal on a draft constitution before tonight's deadline.

American diplomats backed religious conservatives who threatened to torpedo talks over the shape of the new Iraq unless Islam was a primary source of law. Secular and liberal groups were dismayed at the move, branding it a betrayal of Washington's promise to advocate equal rights in a free and tolerant society.

Stalemate over the role of Islam, among other issues, meant last week's deadline was extended for a week. Outstanding disputes could produce another cliffhanger tonight, triggering a further extension. [complete article]

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Militias on the rise across Iraq
By Anthony Shadid and Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, August 21, 2005

Shiite and Kurdish militias, often operating as part of Iraqi government security forces, have carried out a wave of abductions, assassinations and other acts of intimidation, consolidating their control over territory across northern and southern Iraq and deepening the country's divide along ethnic and sectarian lines, according to political leaders, families of the victims, human rights activists and Iraqi officials.

While Iraqi representatives wrangle over the drafting of a constitution in Baghdad, the militias, and the Shiite and Kurdish parties that control them, are creating their own institutions of authority, unaccountable to elected governments, the activists and officials said. In Basra in the south, dominated by the Shiites, and Mosul in the north, ruled by the Kurds, as well as cities and villages around them, many residents have said they are powerless before the growing sway of the militias, which instill a climate of fear that many see as redolent of the era of former president Saddam Hussein.

The parties and their armed wings sometimes operate independently, and other times as part of Iraqi army and police units trained and equipped by the United States and Britain and controlled by the central government. Their growing authority has enabled them to control territory, confront their perceived enemies and provide patronage to their followers. Their ascendance has come about because of a power vacuum in Baghdad and their own success in the January parliamentary elections. [complete article]

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Sufis under attack as Sunni rifts widen
By Edward Wong, New York Times, August 22, 2005

Sufism, generally considered a branch of Sunni Islam, is divided into orders, the most famous being that of the Mevlevi, or whirling dervishes. Sufis seek, through dance, music, chanting and other intensely physical rituals, to transcend worldly existence and perceive the face of the divine. Their mysticism has contributed to their pacific reputation.

But in Iraq, no one is ever far removed from war. In a sign of the widening and increasingly complex rifts in Iraqi society, Sufis have suddenly found themselves the targets of attacks. Many Iraqis believe those responsible are probably fundamentalist Sunnis who view the Sufis as apostates, just one step removed from the Shiites. [complete article]

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'I will go to do jihad again and again'
By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, August 21, 2005

The prisoner perched on a metal chair, hugging his knees to his chest and rocking slightly, like a nervous child.

But his expression relaxed into a blissful smile as he described what he would do if released from his cell in the headquarters of the national intelligence service.

"When I get the chance, I will stick to my promise," said Sher Ali, 28, a Pakistani man with cropped black hair and a long beard. "I will go to do jihad again and again." [complete article]

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G.I. death toll in Afghanistan worst since '01
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, August 22, 2005

This year is already the deadliest for American soldiers in Afghanistan since the war of 2001, and the violence is likely to intensify before the nation's legislative elections on Sept. 18.

Four soldiers were killed Sunday, meaning that 13 have been killed in August alone. Sixty-five Americans have been killed this year.

The latest four were killed when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle in the south. Three others were wounded in that bombing, the American military said. And two United States Embassy employees were wounded when their convoy was hit by an explosion close to Kabul, the capital, the military said.

While some fighters want to disrupt the elections, one Afghan general said others are coming in to help the ousted Taliban or Al Qaeda with the long-term aim of dislodging American troops from Afghanistan. [complete article]

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Iraq deadline looms without deal
BBC News, August 21, 2005

Iraq's deadlocked communities appear no closer to agreeing a new constitution with fewer than 36 hours remaining until the deadline for its completion. [complete article]

Iraq's Sunnis appeal to U.S. and U.N. to block constitution draft
AP (via NYT), August 21, 2005

One day before the deadline for Iraq's new constitution, Sunni Arab negotiators appealed Sunday to the United States and the international community to prevent Shiites and Kurds from pushing a draft charter through parliament without Sunni consent. [complete article]

Iraq rebels 'will kill anyone linked to constitution'
By Jon Swain and Hala Jaber, The Times, August 21, 2005

Iraq's insurgents have threatened to kill all the secular politicians involved in writing the country’s new constitution in an apparent attempt to push the the rival Sunni and Shi’ite communities towards civil war. [complete article]

Kurds fault U.S. on Iraqi charter
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 21, 2005

Kurdish politicians negotiating a draft constitution criticized the U.S. ambassador to Iraq on Saturday for allegedly pushing them to accept too great a role for Islamic law in his drive to complete the charter on time. [complete article]

Sunnis see Iran's hand in call for federalism
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, August 21, 2005

Sunnis may yet come together with Shiites and ethnic Kurds to approve an Iraqi constitution that enshrines federalism by Monday's deadline. But their perception that Iran was behind the call for autonomy for Iraq's south has hampered efforts to ease worries that federalism would be used to dismember Iraq. [complete article]

Next time, Sunnis intend to be heard
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, August 20, 2005

In stark contrast to the Jan. 30 parliamentary election, when Sunni Arab turnout was as low as 2% in some areas, Iraq's once-ruling ethnic minority is mobilizing for a much stronger showing this time around. [complete article]

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In Iraq, U.S. may maintain high troop level for years
AP (via WP), August 21, 2005

The Army is planning for the possibility of keeping the current number of soldiers in Iraq -- well over 100,000 -- for four more years, the Army chief of staff said yesterday.

In an interview, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker said the service is prepared for the "worst case" in terms of the required level of troops in Iraq. He said the number could be adjusted lower if called for by slowing the force rotation or by shortening tours of duty. [complete article]

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Call it a day
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Post, August 21, 2005

Stability -- defined as preserving a unified Iraq and reducing the insurgency -- cannot be imposed. It can only be negotiated by the various factions constituting the Iraqi polity. The issues dividing those factions are by no means trivial. But their common interest in maintaining the integrity of the state is also great. Announcing the U.S. departure will concentrate the minds of Iraqi leaders of all stripes. It will clear away any misconceptions regarding the consequences of secession.

In addition to assuming that Iraqis require American supervision, the Bush administration's insistence on staying the course also implicitly assumes that a U.S. withdrawal would leave a dangerous political vacuum in the region. But this assumption too is suspect. More likely, the American departure would foster a political dynamic in which Iraq's neighbors would exert themselves to keep Iraq from spinning out of control -- not out of any concern for the well-being of the Iraqi peoplebut out of sheer self-interest.

Among the autocrats holding sway in the Persian Gulf, Saddam Hussein was the last remaining quasi-revolutionary. The regimes that control Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and even Iran are not maneuvering to overturn the political order in the region. This is not to say that they are benign. But they do share one overriding interest, namely preserving their own hold on power -- an objective not at all served by allowing Iraq to wallow in perpetual turmoil. Iraq's neighbors have a compelling interest in facilitating a political process that just might bring a semblance of order to that country. For religious, cultural and historical reasons, they are also far better positioned than the United States to offer assistance that might actually prove helpful. [complete article]

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The breaking point
By Peter Maas, New York Times, August 21, 2005

In the past several years, the gap between demand and supply, once considerable, has steadily narrowed, and today is almost negligible. The consequences of an actual shortfall of supply would be immense. If consumption begins to exceed production by even a small amount, the price of a barrel of oil could soar to triple-digit levels. This, in turn, could bring on a global recession, a result of exorbitant prices for transport fuels and for products that rely on petrochemicals -- which is to say, almost every product on the market. The impact on the American way of life would be profound: cars cannot be propelled by roof-borne windmills. The suburban and exurban lifestyles, hinged to two-car families and constant trips to work, school and Wal-Mart, might become unaffordable or, if gas rationing is imposed, impossible. Carpools would be the least imposing of many inconveniences; the cost of home heating would soar -- assuming, of course, that climate-controlled habitats do not become just a fond memory. [complete article]

How to escape the oil trap
By Fareed Zacharia, Newsweek, August 29, 2005

If I could change one thing about American foreign policy, what would it be? The answer is easy, but it's not something most of us think of as foreign policy. I would adopt a serious national program geared toward energy efficiency and independence. Reducing our dependence on oil would be the single greatest multiplier of American power in the world. I leave it to economists to sort out what expensive oil does to America's growth and inflation prospects. What is less often noticed is how crippling this situation is for American foreign policy. [complete article]

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The Swift Boating of Cindy Sheehan
By Frank Rich, New York Times (IHT), August 21, 2005

Cindy Sheehan couldn't have picked a more apt date to begin the vigil that ambushed a president: Aug. 6 was the fourth anniversary of that fateful 2001 vacation day in Crawford, Texas, when George W. Bush responded to an intelligence briefing titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside the United States" by going fishing.

On this Aug. 6, the president was no less determined to shrug off bad news. Though 14 Marine reservists had been killed days earlier by a roadside bomb in Haditha, his national radio address that morning made no mention of Iraq. Once again Bush was in his bubble, ensuring that he wouldn't see Sheehan coming. So it goes with a president who hasn't foreseen any of the setbacks in the war he fabricated against an enemy who did not attack inside the United States in 2001.

When these setbacks happen in Iraq itself, the administration punts. But when they happen at home, there's a game plan. Once Sheehan could no longer be ignored, the Swift Boating began. Character assassination is the Karl Rove tactic of choice, eagerly mimicked by his media surrogates, whenever the White House is confronted by a critic who challenges it on matters of war. The Swift Boating is especially vicious if the critic has more battle scars than a president who connived to serve stateside and a vice president who had "other priorities" during Vietnam. [complete article]

See also, A solider's story (interview with Kayla Williams, author of Love My Rifle More Than You).

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Executed: Anatomy of a police killing
By Jonathan Ungoed-Thomas, The Times, August 21, 2005

The day after Jean Charles de Menezes was shot dead by police at Stockwell Underground station, his grieving relatives and one of his closest friends filed into a mortuary to identify his body. They found him covered in a thin sheet and his face, unmarked, was ghostly white.

Gesio de Avila, a friend and fellow worker, looked carefully over the body, confused by de Menezes's peaceful repose. Where were the wounds from the seven bullets to the head that killed him?

"Every bit of colour had left his face, but apart from that it was normal," de Avila said last week. "There was a bandage on his head behind his ear and when I looked closer, I realised what had happened. He had been shot several times in the back of the head. It was like he had been killed by bandits."

De Menezes's cousins, Alex and Alessandro Pereira, who were also at Greenwich mortuary in southeast London, were outraged by what they saw.

In their view, seven bullets into the back of the head, almost certainly at close range, did not seem like an appalling accident; it seemed like an execution. [complete article]

See also, Police knew Brazilian was 'not bomb risk' (The Observer).

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The new occupation: Trying to govern Gaza
By James Bennet, New York Times, August 21, 2005

Palestinians are now post-Oslo, post-Arafat, and soon they may be post-occupation in Gaza. "This is a test," said Basil Eleiwa, a Gaza businessman who sees this anvil of the Arab-Israeli conflict as a potential tourist paradise. "Either we prove to the entire world that we deserve to have an independent state in Gaza, the West Bank and part of Jerusalem, or we prove the exact opposite."

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, faces a daunting set of interlocking challenges: preventing Palestinian terrorism, ending the chaos in Palestinian cities, reviving the Palestinian economy and persuading Israel to return to the bargaining table and to consider the far more painful step of removing tens of thousands of settlers from the West Bank. As his base for achieving all this Mr. Abbas must use battered Gaza, which is poorer and more politically and religiously radical than the West Bank.

Many Palestinians suspect an Israeli trap, intended to divide Gazans from West Bank Palestinians, turn Gazans into wards of the world, and doom the national movement. [complete article]

Hamas pushing for lead role in a new Gaza
By James Bennet, New York Times, August 21, 2005

Aides to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, invited reporters on Friday to record him at prayer. The imam outside his office in Gaza City celebrated Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and envisioned universities, schools, parks and mosques being built on settlement land.

At the same time, a few miles away in the Jabaliya refugee camp, hundreds of men and boys, unable to crowd into the Caliph Mosque, sat on nearby sidewalks and in alleyways. In a humid stench of sewage and fried fish, with expressions alert and thoughtful, they listened as their imam called the Israeli withdrawal an "achievement of resistance," celebrated prominent "martyrs of Hamas" and declared, "Allah knows that when we offer up our children, it is much better than choosing the road of humiliation and negotiation." [complete article]

The settlers' retreat was the theatre of the cynical
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, August 19, 2005

Contrast the world's overwhelming coverage, especially on television, of the departure of Israeli settlers from Gaza with the minimal reporting of larger and more brutal evictions in previous months.

There was no "sensitivity training" for Israeli troops, no buses to drive the expellees away, no generous deadlines to get ready, no compensation packages for their homes, and no promise of government-subsidised alternative housing when the bulldozers went into Rafah.

Within sight of the Gush Katif settlements that have been handled with such kid gloves this week, families in Rafah were usually given a maximum of five minutes' warning before their houses, and life savings, were crushed. Many people did not even have time to go upstairs to collect belongings when the barking of loudspeakers ordered them out, sometimes before dawn. Fleeing with their children in the night, they risked being shot if they turned round or delayed.

As many as 13,350 Palestinians were made homeless in the Gaza Strip in the first 10 months of last year by Israel's giant armour-plated Caterpillar bulldozers - a total that easily exceeds the 8,500 leaving Israeli settlements this week. In Rafah alone, according to figures from the UN relief agency Unrwa, the rate of house demolitions rose from 15 per month in 2002 to 77 per month between January and October 2004. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Iraq at the gates of hell
By Ashraf Fahim, Asia Times, August 20, 2005

The killing of Jean Charles de Menezes
By Stewart Tendler and Daniel McGrory, The Times, August 20, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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