The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Not the Sun King after all
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Boston Globe (IHT), September 16, 2005

On three occasions in the past four years the United States has suffered catastrophic failure. Since each of these disasters - 9/11, the Iraq quagmire and now Hurricane Katrina - occurred on George W. Bush's watch, many Americans hold the president personally responsible.

But hammering Bush amounts to an exercise in scapegoating that lets others - starting with ourselves - off the hook. In fact, the underlying explanation for these calamities lies in the delusions to which Americans in recent years have readily subscribed. The defining "truths" of the age have turned out to be anything but true. [complete article]

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FEMA, slow to the rescue, now stumbles in aid effort
By Jennifer Steinhauer and Eric Lipton, New York Times, September 17, 2005

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Katrina cut its devastating path, FEMA - the same federal agency that botched the rescue mission - is faltering in its effort to aid hundreds of thousands of storm victims, local officials, evacuees and top federal relief officials say. The federal aid hot line mentioned by President Bush in his address to the nation on Thursday cannot handle the flood of calls, leaving thousands of people unable to get through for help, day after day.

Federal officials are often unable to give local governments permission to proceed with fundamental tasks to get their towns running again. Most areas in the region still lack federal help centers, the one-stop shopping sites for residents in need of aid for their homes or families. Officials say that they are uncertain whether they can meet the president's goal of providing housing for 100,000 people who are now in shelters by the middle of next month. [complete article]

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Baghdad bombings raise anew questions about U.S. strategy in Iraq
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, September 17, 2005

The rash of car bombings in Baghdad this week has once again thrown into debate whether the American and Iraqi counterinsurgency strategy is working.

The explosions underscored how the loosely knit and elusive networks of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, former Baathists and other extremists still can recruit discontented Iraqis and foreign fighters to launch well-coordinated attacks, even as American and Iraqi forces stage offensives intended to root out the insurgents.

Before the latest round of bombings, one senior officer at the United States Central Command conceded that Mr. Zarqawi's organization remained "a very robust network" despite the heavily touted capture and killings of numerous underlings in Mosul, Tal Afar and other communities where the insurgents found refuge and even safe haven. One Marine officer in Anbar Province, a stronghold of the insurgency, described the military effort against the insurgency as "punching a balloon in the fog." [complete article]

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Iraq's costs worry Americans, poll indicates
By Raymond Hernandez and Megan Thee, New York Times, September 17, 2005

With Hurricane Katrina already costing the federal government tens of billions of dollars, more than 8 in 10 Americans are very or somewhat concerned that the $5 billion being spent each month on the war in Iraq is draining away money that could be used in the United States, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

The poll also shows that nearly half of Americans say that the war is distracting President Bush from addressing problems at home, though an equal number do not share that concern.

Support for the war in Iraq has fallen to an all-time low, according to the poll. Only 44 percent now say the United States made the right decision in taking military action against Iraq, the lowest rating since the question was first asked by this poll more than two years ago. [complete article]

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Don't push Syria away
By Joshua Landis, New York Times, September 17, 2005

Bashar al-Assad would have been the first Syrian president in 40 years to visit the United States had he attended the United Nations summit meeting in New York this week as planned. And it could have been an opportunity for two countries that have notably tense relations to talk. Instead, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice delayed his visa, excluded him from a meeting of foreign ministers to discuss Lebanon and Syria, and had a United Nations investigator arrive in Damascus at the time of his departure. Boxed in, Mr. Assad canceled his plans.

Ms. Rice's actions were in keeping with what Bush administration officials say their goal is toward Syria, to "continue trying to isolate it." Many in Washington argue that Syria is the "low-hanging fruit" in the Middle East, and that the United States should send it down the path to "creative instability," resulting in more democracy in the region and greater stability in Iraq. But this is a dangerous fantasy that will end up hurting American goals.

Mr. Assad's regime is certainly no paragon of democracy, but even its most hard-bitten enemies here do not want to see it collapse. Why? Because authoritarian culture extends into the deepest corners of Syrian life, into families, classrooms and mosques. Damascus's small liberal opposition groups readily confess that they are not prepared to govern. Though they welcome American pressure, like most Syrians, they fear the deep religious animosities and ethnic hatreds that could so easily tear the country apart if the government falls. [complete article]

See also, Truth and consequences in Syria (David Hirst).

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Solving terrorism cases with a detective's flair
By Hassan M. Fattah and Souad Mekhennett, New York Times, September 17, 2005

When Detlev Mehlis faced reporters earlier this month with a progress report on his investigation into the Feb. 14 assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, he had a clear message: we're winning.

In coy hints and seeming evasions, Mr. Mehlis, a German prosecutor and head of the United Nations team investigating the killing of Mr. Hariri and 20 others, emphasized the significance of the arrests of four top Lebanese generals and a legislator days earlier and asked others to come forward.

"The investigation is not over yet, but we feel we took a very important step," Mr. Mehlis said matter-of-factly. "But these five suspects we have arrested, in our assessment, are only part of the picture."

It was, by all accounts, a classic performance from a man who has spent the last two decades getting into the minds of terrorists, investigating and prosecuting some of Europe's most complex cases. Mr. Mehlis knew very well the psychological impact, on both the public and potential suspects, of arresting four generals once thought untouchable. [complete article]

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Israel to disrupt Palestinian vote if Hamas runs
By Joel Brinkley, New York Times, September 17, 2005

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon vowed Friday to withhold Israeli cooperation from Palestinian legislative elections in January if candidates from the militant group Hamas take part.

"We will make every effort not to help them," he said at a meeting with journalists in New York. "I don't think they can have elections without our help."

Mr. Sharon said Israel could choose not to remove roadblocks and checkpoints that would block Palestinians from the polls and make it hard for Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote, among other steps, if Hamas, which calls for Israel's destruction, takes part.

His remarks stunned Palestinian leaders. Hamas is taking part in municipal elections now under way and has made clear its intention to field candidates in January. [complete article]

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China will soon be world's biggest exporter
By Larry Elliott and Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, September 17, 2005

China's explosive rise to economic superpower status was confirmed yesterday by the west's leading thinktank in a new report predicting that it would leapfrog the United States and Germany within five years to become the world's biggest exporter.

Despite growing social strains and international concerns, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development said there would be no let-up in China's breakneck growth.

China is not a member of the OECD - a group of the world's richest developed nations - but the Paris-based organisation published its first report yesterday on a country that has been transformed within a quarter of a century from struggling peasant economy to industrial titan. [complete article]

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The hollow man
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, September 16, 2005

President Bush's national address from New Orleans last night was billed by commentators as his belated attempt to conjure up another "bullhorn moment." But the contrast in imagery said it all. After 9/11 Bush found his way up a mound of rubble and with an arm around "a fellow American" provided the nation with an expression of sympathy and solidarity along with a kick-ass declaration. The spirit of defiance proved useless as the foundation upon which a viable foreign policy and counterterrorism strategy could be constructed, but at least in his tone Bush succeeded in striking a chord with most Americans.

Four years later and Bush makes another clarion call, but this time there isn't another fellow American in sight - his companion is darkness - and instead of a backdrop of devastation we see the pristine facade of St. Louis Cathedral whose only flaw is an unmoving clock. The clock might have reflected Bush's hope that on some level time has stood still. He tried to present himself as a credible leader, but the fact is, the sense of conviction that he was able to muster and express four years ago was, last night, completely absent. What we witnessed was a hollow man.

Memorable presidential declarations have rarely been unscripted and Bush's failing is not simply that he mouths other people's words; it is his incapacity to claim those words as his own; to invigorate them with the power of his own convictions. The man so often described as a man of conviction is really just a ham actor. And the fact that so many Americans are still willing to give him the benefit of the doubt says perhaps less about him and more about the risk of exposing the crumbling foundations of a country that still feels driven to parade an image of greatness.

For inside analysis of Bush's unhistoric speech see, A bid to repair a presidency (Dan Balz), President seeks to revive a region - and his image (Doyle McManus), and Not the New Deal (Paul Krugman).

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What went wrong
By Gary Kamiya, Salon, September 13, 2005

The U.S. government, its military, its press and its people have operated in ignorance of Iraq from the beginning. The United States invaded Iraq blindly, occupied it blindly and is now blindly trying to find a way to escape. In this darkness, the publication of Anthony Shadid's "Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War" is an important event, a ray of light. This is the first book about the Iraq war to tell the Iraqi side of the story. It is painful and necessary reading.

Shadid, a reporter for the Washington Post, takes readers into the homes, and minds, of Iraqis of every stripe -- from a Baghdad doctor who loves America but has no idea why America wants to invade his "pathetic" country to an impoverished single mother trying to feed her eight children; from a government minder who ends up becoming Shadid's best Iraqi fixer -- and friend -- to a devoutly religious young peasant who resolves to die fighting the occupiers. Informed, scrupulously observed, elegantly written and deeply compassionate, "Night Draws Near" is a classic not just of war reporting but of what we might call frontline anthropology. Although it takes no sides and expresses no partisan opinions, Shadid's book may be the most damning indictment yet of the Iraq war. [complete article]

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Global meltdown
By Steve Connor, The Independent, September 16, 2005

A record loss of sea ice in the Arctic this summer has convinced scientists that the northern hemisphere may have crossed a critical threshold beyond which the climate may never recover. Scientists fear that the Arctic has now entered an irreversible phase of warming which will accelerate the loss of the polar sea ice that has helped to keep the climate stable for thousands of years.

They believe global warming is melting Arctic ice so rapidly that the region is beginning to absorb more heat from the sun, causing the ice to melt still further and so reinforcing a vicious cycle of melting and heating.

The greatest fear is that the Arctic has reached a "tipping point" beyond which nothing can reverse the continual loss of sea ice and with it the massive land glaciers of Greenland, which will raise sea levels dramatically. [complete article]

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Severe hurricanes increasing, study finds
By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, September 16, 2005

A new study concludes that warming sea temperatures have been accompanied by a significant global increase in the most destructive hurricanes, adding fuel to an international debate over whether global warming contributed to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina.

The study, published today in the journal Science, is the second in six weeks to draw this conclusion, but other climatologists dispute the findings and argue that a recent spate of severe storms reflects nothing more than normal weather variability.

Katrina's destructiveness has given a sharp new edge to the ongoing debate over whether the United States should do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions linked to global warming. Domestic and European critics have pointed to Katrina as a reason to take action, while skeptics say climate activists are capitalizing on a national disaster to further their own agenda. [complete article]

See also, Is Katrina a harbinger of still more powerful hurricanes? (Science Magazine).

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The petulant president
By Sidney Blumenthal, The Guardian, September 16, 2005

Bush's America is gone with the wind. It lasted just short of four years, from 9/11 to 8/29. The devastation of New Orleans was the watery equivalent of a dirty bomb - but Hurricane Katrina approached with advance warnings, scientific anticipation and, before it struck, a personal briefing of the president by the director of the National Hurricane Centre, who warned of breached levees. No terrorist attack could be as completely foreseen as was Katrina.

Bush's presidency and re-election campaign was organised around one master idea: he stood as the protector and saviour of the American people under siege. On this he built his persona as a man of conviction and action. In the 2004 election a critical mass believed that, because of his unabashed patriotism and unembarrassed religiosity, he would do more to protect the country.

The deepest wound is not that he was incapable of defending the country but that he has shown he lacked the will to do so. In Bush's own evangelical language, he revealed his heart. The press disclosed a petulant, vacillating president they had not noticed before. Time magazine described a "rigid and top-down" White House where aides are petrified to deliver bad news to a "yelling" president. Newsweek reported that, two days after the hurricane, top aides, who "cringe" before Bush, met to decide which of them would be assigned the miserable task of telling him he would have to cut short his vacation. [complete article]

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A military lesson America must grasp
By Peter Spiegel, Financial Times (via Gulf News), September 14, 2005

In the weeks before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, I made a call to a retired general who had served in the first Gulf war seeking information about General Tommy Franks, the head of US Central Command who would run the upcoming campaign.

The retired officer was still well connected with his former colleagues and I asked what the uniforms were saying about General Franks. "A lot of senior military in the Pentagon don't have a lot of confidence in him," he harrumphed. "If you look at Tora Bora and Anaconda, you have the same leaders making the decisions now [who] did in that debacle."

The comment surprised me. Tora Bora, the mountain complex in eastern Afghanistan that served as a redoubt for Al Qaida fighters, was emerging in the public mind as the battle where US forces, overly relying on their Afghan allies, let hundreds of Al Qaida operators slip away, perhaps including Osama Bin Laden himself. But Operation Anaconda, a large-scale battle in the nearby Shahikot Valley, three months later, was supposed to be just the opposite: a successful engagement in which US troops killed hundreds of enemy fighters.

Sean Naylor's impeccably reported new book on the battle, Not a Good Day to Die, will lie to rest any residual belief that Anaconda was anything but a horribly planned mess of an operation in which commanders sent US troops into a battle they had not been prepared for, against enemies they did not know existed, without the weapons they needed. [complete article]

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Iraq mosque struck by car bomber
BBC News, September 16, 2005

At least 10 people have been killed and more than 20 wounded in a suicide bomb attack outside a Shia mosque in central Iraq, say reports.

A suicide car bomber blew himself up as worshippers were leaving Friday prayers in the town of Tuz Khurmatu. [complete article]

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More Iraqis lured to Al Qaeda group
By Greg Miller and Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2005

Al Qaeda's top operative in Iraq is drawing growing numbers of Iraqi nationals to his organization, increasing the reach and threat of an insurgent group that has been behind many of the most devastating attacks in the country, U.S. officials and Iraqi government leaders say.

The group, headed by Jordanian-born radical Abu Musab Zarqawi, previously was composed almost exclusively of militants from other Arab nations, and has symbolized the foreign dimension of a stubborn insurgency fighting to oust U.S. forces.

But Zarqawi "is bringing more and more Iraqi fighters into his fold," a U.S. official said, adding that Iraqis accounted for "more than half his organization." [complete article]

See also, U.S. wages war of words in Iraq (AP), Al-Zarqawi's dark forces riding high on a tide of blood (The Times), and 'Who said there is no civil war? It has started' (The Times).

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U.S. tempers its view of victory in Iraq
By Mark Sappenfield, Christian Science Monitor, September 16, 2005

Since the day in May 2003 when President Bush stood beneath a banner proclaiming "Mission Accomplished," the course of the conflict in Iraq has been one of optimism followed by revision.

From the earliest battle plans, which called for the quick return home of tens of thousands of troops, to the campaign in Fallujah and national elections that followed, the Pentagon had hoped it could largely eliminate lingering unrest before turning security over to Iraqis.

The increasingly bracing tone from the White House and Pentagon, however, points to a new calculus. The persistence of the attacks, as well as their undiminished capacity - witnessed by Wednesday's bombings in Baghdad, which killed more than 150 Iraqis - seems to have confirmed that the insurgency will probably outlast the American occupation.

Indeed, the inability of American forces to defeat the insurgency through strikes such as the current offensive in Tal Afar raises doubts about the possibility of any clear victory for the administration. And it could leave the Iraqis with a years-long task that many planners had not anticipated. [complete article]

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Last chance for Iraq
By Peter W. Galbraith, New York Review of Books, September 7, 2005

Hours before the second deadline for Iraq's new constitution on August 22, Shiite and Sunni Arab leaders met in a conference room at the Baghdad headquarters of Kurdistan's President Massoud Barzani. The Shiites wanted the constitution's preamble to mention Saddam Hussein's atrocities and the Sunni negotiators were objecting. Guests sipping tea in the adjacent reception room heard voices rise in anger, and then Nabeel Musawi, a Shiite parliamentarian with a long record as a human rights campaigner, came out of the meeting. "The Sunnis," he said, claim that "Saddam only killed five farmers in the south and some Kurds." Nabeel's father disappeared after being arrested by Saddam's security services in 1981, one of 300,000 Shiites murdered by the Baath regime during its thirty-five years in power. Another deadline was missed.

Three days later, President Bush telephoned Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite cleric who leads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Iraq's largest and most pro-Iranian political party, to ask for concessions on behalf of the Sunni Arab negotiators on the controversial issues of federalism and de-Baathification. Hakim politely thanked the President who, not being well versed in the intricacies of Iraqi politics (or even its broad outlines), was reduced to pleading that his requests be taken seriously. The President then said something about protecting women's rights and Hakim assured him they were sacred. [complete article]

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Records detail treatment of Iraqi captives
By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, September 16, 2005

Army officers in Iraq told their superiors last year that soldiers often lacked the training to handle detainees, did not always understand what constituted abuse and sometimes used techniques against prisoners that they "remembered from movies," according to military records made public Thursday.

In two incidents described in the reports, bound detainees were shot and killed by soldiers. Although the circumstances were unclear, officers or Army lawyers said afterward that the killings could have been prevented with better training, facilities and understanding by soldiers of the rules of engagement. [complete article]

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Katrina erodes support in U.S. for Iraq war
By John Harwood, Wall Street Journal, September 15, 2005

Hurricane Katrina has accelerated the erosion in public support for the Iraq war as President Bush's core of supporters dwindles and economic pessimism turns Americans' attention inward.

A new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll shows that cutting spending on Iraq is Americans' top choice for financing the recovery from Katrina. Shaken by high gas prices and bracing for further jolts, Americans have turned negative about Mr. Bush across the board -- on handling the economy, foreign policy, and even the war on terrorism. [complete article]

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Voting may be life-and-death choice for Afghans
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times, September 16, 2005

Who's afraid of democracy in Afghanistan?

In the southern city of Kandahar one morning last week, a candidate for Parliament opened her front gate to find one of her campaign posters scribbled with terrifying threats. "Your children salute me every morning," said one. "Soon, I will salute them back."

Here in the capital of neighboring Zabul Province, suspected Taliban fighters offered the driver for another parliamentary candidate a huge sum of money in exchange for delivering the candidate to them. The candidate said she no longer dared to campaign outside the provincial capital.

And in Shajoy, a market town two hours up the road, some men wondered aloud how many townspeople would have the courage to travel a couple of miles through Taliban redoubts to cast their votes in Sunday's election. Never mind the women; the men said they did not expect any polling places to be open for women anyway. [complete article]

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Iran's leader critical in first U.S. visit
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, September 16, 2005

Newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, making his first trip to the United States, introduced himself to the U.S. media Thursday morning, displaying a dash of defiance at U.S. charges over Iran's nuclear program and a warning that the era of big-power dominance in international relations has ended.

Meeting over breakfast with about a dozen journalists in a Midtown Manhattan hotel conference room, Ahmadinejad blamed the Bush administration's policies for instability in Iraq. A veteran of Iran's war against Iraq, the president described the removal of Saddam Hussein as "necessary" but said the task should have been left to Iraqis.

"It is the occupiers who have responsibility for stability in Iraq," he said, adding later, "The root of the problem is the presence of foreign troops." [complete article]

See also, U.S. agenda on Iran lacking key support (WP).

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North Koreans insist on demand for new reactor in nuclear talks
By Joseph Kahn, New York Times, September 16, 2005

North Korea on Thursday refused to drop a new demand that the outside world build it a nuclear reactor before it dismantles its nuclear weapons, leaving six-nation negotiations here on the verge of collapse.

The United States and North Korea identified its demand for a light-water nuclear reactor as the main sticking point in the talks, which have continued fitfully over two years and failed to produce even a joint statement of principles. While this round will continue for at least another day, Christopher Hill, the chief American negotiator, made it clear on Thursday that the gap had widened over three days of talks. "The only thing North Korea is interested in discussing is a light-water reactor," Mr. Hill said. "No country is going to provide North Korea with a light-water reactor. So we have reached a bit of a standoff."

That leaves the Bush administration with an unhappy choice - go on indefinitely with talks that have produced no result, or seek a consensus to impose international penalties on North Korea against the wishes of most countries in the region. [complete article]

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Welcome to civil war
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, September 16, 2005

Undeclared civil war in Iraq has been raging for months. Now it's "official": using the customary audio clip on a website, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi - who may or may not be a cipher, but is certainly the leader of Monotheism and Holy War, or al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers - has declared "all-out war" on Iraqi Shi'ites.

To prove it, he unleashed Black Wednesday - including a horrendous attack in the Kadhimiyah neighborhood in Baghdad, with at least 112 dead and more than 200 wounded, all of them poor, helpless Shi'ite construction workers, many of them enticed toward the killer with promises of jobs before he detonated his lethal load. Baghdad was paralyzed on Wednesday, trying to cope with more than 150 dead and more than 500 wounded in a string of coordinated attacks marking the bloodiest day in the country since the end of major combat two years ago.

According to the Zarqawi audio, "The al-Qaeda Organization in the Land of Two Rivers [Iraq] is declaring all-out war on the Rafidha, wherever they are in Iraq". Rafidha is the pejorative Arabic term referring to Shi'ites as apostates. "As for the government, servants of the crusaders headed by [Prime Minister] Ibrahim al-Jaafari, they have declared a war on Sunnis in Tal Afar." So, following Zarqawi's logic, the civil war against Shi'ites is a response to what happened in Tal Afar. [complete article]

See also, Terrorists unite to plot Iraqi civil war (The Times).

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Baghdad reels from new bombings
BBC News, September 15, 2005

Iraq's capital Baghdad has been hit by a series of deadly blasts for a second day running, killing more than 26. In the first attack, at least 16 police commandos were killed when their patrol was struck in southern Doura district. Hours later, 10 more policemen died in the same area following two more bomb attacks and ensuing gun battles between police and insurgents.

The blast follows Wednesday's violence, Iraq's deadliest since the 2003 US-led invasion. More than 182 people died. The BBC's Caroline Hawley in Baghdad says the militants are making good on their threats of more bloodshed following the attacks on Wednesday. [complete article]

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'It was as if all of us were already pronounced dead'
By Wil Haygood and Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, September 15, 2005

For five eternal-seeming days, as many as 20,000 people, most of them black, waited to be rescued, not just from the floodwaters of Hurricane Katrina but from the nightmarish place where they had sought refuge.

During that time, the moon that hovered over the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center seemed closer than anyone who could provide those inside the center with any help.

On the fourth day, after TV had been filled with live reports from the center describing sexual assaults, robberies and gunfire, single mothers desperately seeking help for their children and fathers doing their best to protect them, the federal official charged with leading the hurricane response, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, responded to an interviewer's question by saying it was the first he had heard that people "don't have food and water in there."

"It was as if all of us were already pronounced dead," said Tony Cash, 25, who endured three nights of hunger, violence and darkness at the convention center. "As if somebody already had the body bags. Wasn't nobody coming to get us." [complete article]

See also, Sick and abandoned (Bob Herbert).

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Bush to request more aid funding
By Jonathan Weisman and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, September 15, 2005

President Bush will call tonight for an unprecedented federal commitment to rebuild New Orleans and other areas obliterated by Hurricane Katrina, putting the United States on pace to spend more in the next year on the storm's aftermath than it has over three years on the Iraq war, according to White House and congressional officials.

With the federal tab for Katrina already nearly quadruple the cost of the country's previous most expensive natural disaster cleanup, Bush plans to offer federal assistance to help flood victims find jobs, get housing and health care, and attend school, according to White House aides.

In a speech from the flood zone, Bush will commit the federal government to what many predict will become the largest reconstruction effort ever on U.S. soil. [complete article]

See also, Environmental, fiscal challenges coming into focus (Knight Ridder).

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Confessions of a Humvee liberal
By Michael Hirsh, Washington Monthly, September, 2005

The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq is the closest thing we have seen to a full history of the Iraq war, from its murky conceptual beginnings through the Bush administration's still-unexplained failures of planning, up to Iraq's present status as a quasi-quagmire with an unknowable future. Much of Packer's reporting in this book has appeared previously in his long articles in The New Yorker, some of it word for word. But we are lucky to have it back in book form: Packer's tales of Kurdish grievances over Kirkuk, and of his life among occupied Iraqis as their hopes are dashed, are among the most brilliant and evocative accounts of the Iraq war. Packer avoids the pitfalls of the usual reporter's book -- which are typically collections of stories or notebook dumps -- in part because of his skill as a narrator but also because The Assassins' Gate has a timeless theme: the often heart-wrenching and deadly difference between "abstract terms and concrete realities." "Between them," Packer writes, "lies a distance even greater than the eight thousand miles from Washington to Baghdad."
...moral skittishness over the biggest strategic issue of all -- whether the war should have been fought -- is the greatest disappointment of The Assassins' Gate. With all of his visceral experience, Packer cannot free himself, finally, of the romance of this "war of choice" for democracy. [complete article]

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Calling U.S. troops 'occupation forces,' Iraqis seek timetable for exit
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, September 13, 2005

In an attempt to lay the legal groundwork for asking the United States to withdraw its troops, an Iraqi National Assembly committee released a report Tuesday that said the presence of the American military prevents Iraq from becoming fully sovereign.

The 18-member National Sovereignty Committee, made up of legislators chosen in national elections in January, said the only way Iraq could achieve sovereignty was for multinational forces to leave. The report called for setting a timetable for the troops to go home and referred to them as "occupation forces," a first.

The report is the second time in four months that National Assembly members have expressed frustration with the continued American military presence. In June, one-third of the 275 assembly members signed a petition asking the United States to set a timetable for withdrawal.

It wasn't clear what impact the new report would have. Iraqi government officials have said they oppose a U.S. withdrawal or setting a timetable, a position that President Jalal Talabani repeated Tuesday in Washington. [complete article]

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Israel court urges barrier review
BBC News, September 15, 2005

Israel's Supreme Court has ruled that the government must consider re-routing part of the controversial West Bank barrier it is building.

It follows complaints from Palestinian villagers near the northern town of Qalqilya that the barrier cuts them off from the rest of the West Bank.

The court has ordered the government to consider other options for the route.

But it also rejected last year's world court ruling that the barrier was illegal and should be dismantled. [complete article]

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Bush to Sharon: I'm sure you'll win election
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, September 15, 2005

"All over the world, people want strong leaders. That's how I won the last elections despite the media's belief that I would lose. And I'm sure that you will also win," President George W. Bush told Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at a meeting yesterday at United Nations headquarters in New York.

"I'm not interfering [in Israeli politics], but I'm sure that if Gaza is quiet, it will help you," Bush said.

Sharon is scheduled to address the UN General Assembly today. Senior officials said the prime minister would emphasize that it was now up to the Palestinians to take steps toward peace, mainly through cracking down on militant groups - another requirement of the road map. [complete article]

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Efforts to pursue Iran sanctions stall
By Guy Dinmore, Daniel Dombey in Brussels and Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, September 14, 2005

President George W. Bush and his allies on Wednesday appeared stalled in their efforts to start the diplomatic process of sanctioning Iran for pursuing what western governments suspect is a clandestine nuclear weapons programme.

China, Russia and India were among the major powers in the process of developing closer economic ties with Iran that were reluctant to take the country to the United Nations Security Council. The impasse over Iran reflected the broader failure among governments negotiating at the UN to agree on a text covering the whole issue of disarmament and nuclear proliferation -- an omission Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, branded a "real disgrace".

"Iran is miscalculating if they think that the pressure will lessen. It will increase. None of its neighbours wants Iran to pursue nuclear weapons," Nicholas Burns, US undersecretary of state for political affairs, told the FT. He said the US was waiting for a signal from Iran that it was willing to return to talks with the "EU3" of Britian, France and Germany.

But western diplomats acknowledged that the EU3 might decide at next week's International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting in Vienna to put off attempts to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. While the US and EU could muster a simple majority on the 35-member board to pass a resolution it would not be of sufficient weight to lead to effective action on the Council. [complete article]

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First federal conspiracy trial of antiwar protesters since Vietnam
Press Release, Saint Patrick's Four, September 13, 2005

Four peace activists face up to eight years in federal prison and $275,000 fines each for their non-violent protest of the Iraq war if convicted of the federal charges filed against them in U.S. District Court. The trial, which begins September 19 in Binghamton NY, is the first time the Federal government has pressed conspiracy charges against civilian Iraq war protesters.

"Federal intervention in this case represents a blatant act of government intimidation and will have a chilling effect on expression of the first amendment rights of any citizen to protest or speak out against their government," said Bill Quigley, acclaimed public interest lawyer and law professor at Loyola University School of Law, who is acting as legal advisor to the defendants.

The St. Patrick's Four have been charged with "conspiracy to impede an officer of the United States by threat, intimidation and force" and other lesser charges for their actions at their local military recruiting station on St. Patrick's Day, March 17, 2003, two days before the US military invasion of Iraq began. [complete article]

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Bombs, gunmen kill over 150 in Baghdad
By Mohammed Ramahi and Faris Mehdawi, Reuters, September 14, 2005

A suicide bomber lured a crowd of Shi'ite day labourers to his minivan and blew it up in Baghdad on Wednesday, killing 114 people and wounding more than 156 in Iraq's second deadliest bombing since the war began.

The bomber drew the men to his vehicle with promises of work before detonating the bomb, which contained up to 500 pounds (220 kg) of explosives, an Interior Ministry source said. [complete article]

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Chertoff delayed federal response, memo shows
By Jonathan S. Landay, Alison Young and Shannon McCaffrey, Knight Ridder, September 13, 2005

The federal official with the power to mobilize a massive federal response to Hurricane Katrina was Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, not the former FEMA chief who was relieved of his duties and resigned earlier this week, federal documents reviewed by Knight Ridder show.

Even before the storm struck the Gulf Coast, Chertoff could have ordered federal agencies into action without any request from state or local officials. Federal Emergency Management Agency chief Michael Brown had only limited authority to do so until about 36 hours after the storm hit, when Chertoff designated him as the "principal federal official" in charge of the storm.

As thousands of hurricane victims went without food, water and shelter in the days after Katrina's early morning Aug. 29 landfall, critics assailed Brown for being responsible for delays that might have cost hundreds of lives.

But Chertoff - not Brown - was in charge of managing the national response to a catastrophic disaster, according to the National Response Plan, the federal government's blueprint for how agencies will handle major natural disasters or terrorist incidents. An order issued by President Bush in 2003 also assigned that responsibility to the homeland security director.

But according to a memo obtained by Knight Ridder, Chertoff didn't shift that power to Brown until late afternoon or evening on Aug. 30, about 36 hours after Katrina hit Louisiana and Mississippi. That same memo suggests that Chertoff may have been confused about his lead role in disaster response and that of his department. [complete article]

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Bush takes responsibility for failures of response
By Jim VandeHei and Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, September 14, 2005

President Bush yesterday said he takes personal responsibility for the federal government's stumbling response to Hurricane Katrina, as his White House worked on several fronts to move beyond the improvisation of the first days of the crisis and set a long-term course on a problem that aides now believe will shadow the balance of Bush's second term.

"Katrina exposed serious problems in our response capability at all levels of government," Bush said at a White House news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. "And to the extent that the federal government didn't fully do its job right, I take responsibility. I want to know what went right and what went wrong."

The first major public event in the White House effort to take control of the post-Katrina political and policy agenda will occur tomorrow night in a prime-time speech to the nation. The president will deliver it from the flood region on his fourth trip there since the hurricane struck. [complete article]

Comment -- If taking responsibility means more than saying the words "I take responsibility," assuming that President Bush isn't planning to resign he needs - for once - to make his own officials accountable. For starters, he needs to fire Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. Will he? Almost certainly not. Loyalty is a two-way street and if Bush stops showing his top officials the kind of loyalty he expects from them, his administration will quickly implode.

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Michael Brown was set up: it's all in the numbers
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, September 14, 2005

It's so easy to blame Michael Brown, but he got his marching orders from someone else. Weapons of mass destruction, not waves of mass destruction, are the president's priorities. Want to get on the White House Varsity team. Get with the program.

The same obsession that led the Bush administration to see weapons of mass destruction and terrorism in every tea leaf and go to war in Iraq now guides the entire federal government disaster response effort.

How do I prove the point? I've got the goods. [complete article]

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FAA alerted on Qaeda in '98, 9/11 panel said
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, September 14, 2005

American aviation officials were warned as early as 1998 that Al Qaeda could "seek to hijack a commercial jet and slam it into a U.S. landmark," according to previously secret portions of a report prepared last year by the Sept. 11 commission. The officials also realized months before the Sept. 11 attacks that two of the three airports used in the hijackings had suffered repeated security lapses.

Federal Aviation Administration officials were also warned in 2001 in a report prepared for the agency that airport screeners' ability to detect possible weapons had "declined significantly" in recent years, but little was done to remedy the problem, the Sept. 11 commission found.

The White House and many members of the commission, which has completed its official work, have been battling for more than a year over the release of the commission's report on aviation failures, which was completed in August 2004.

A heavily redacted version was released by the Bush administration in January, but commission members complained that the deleted material contained information critical to the public's understanding of what went wrong on Sept. 11. In response, the administration prepared a new public version of the report, which was posted Tuesday on the National Archives Web site. [complete article]

See the new version of the report, Staff Monograph on the "Four Flights and Civil Aviation Security" (121 page PDF).

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U.S. deploys slide show to press case against Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, September 14, 2005

With an hour-long slide show that blends satellite imagery with disquieting assumptions about Iran's nuclear energy program, Bush administration officials have been trying to convince allies that Tehran is on a fast track toward nuclear weapons.

The PowerPoint briefing, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries. Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts.

The presenters argue that the evidence leads solidly to a conclusion that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons, according to diplomats who have attended the briefings and U.S. officials who helped to assemble the slide show. But even U.S. intelligence estimates acknowledge that other possibilities are plausible, though unverified. [complete article]

Comment -- PowerPoint is naturally the Bush administration's communications weapon of choice. As Edward Tufte writes, "PowerPoint's pushy style seeks to set up a speaker's dominance over the audience. The speaker, after all, is making power points with bullets to followers. Could any metaphor be worse?"

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Shi'ite supremacists emerge from Iran's shadows
Asia Times, September 9, 2005

When mild-mannered former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami lashed out in a post-election sermon at the "powerful organization" behind the "shallow-thinking traditionalists with their Stone-Age backwardness" currently running the country, it became clear that Iran's political establishment is worried by the ideology propelling the government of new hardline President Mahmud Ahmadinejad.

Khatami's attack coincides with mounting evidence that a radically anti-Bahai and anti-Sunni semi-clandestine society, called the Hojjatieh, is reemerging in the corridors of power in Tehran. The group flourished during the 1979 revolution that ousted the Shah and installed an Islamic government in his place, and was banned in 1983 by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of the revolution.

Khomeini objected to the Hojjatieh's rejection of his doctrine of velayat-e faqih (Guardianship of the Jurist) and its conviction that chaos must be created to hasten the coming of the Mahdi, the 12th Shi'ite imam. Only then, they argue, can a genuine Islamic republic be established. [complete article]

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For success in Iraq, change course
By Joseph R. Biden Jr., Washington Post, September 14, 2005

The Bush administration's mishandling of Iraq has brought us to the brink of a national security debacle. To salvage the situation, the administration must fundamentally change course inside Iraq, in the region and at the international level.

Stabilizing Iraq is a political as well as a military challenge. The administration is taking a huge gamble by going forward with a referendum for a constitution that is more likely to divide Iraq than to unite it.

A majority of Sunni Arabs are likely to vote against the constitution, but not the two-thirds needed to defeat it. That will further embitter them.

The consequences for U.S. interests could be devastating. Sectarian violence might escalate into a full-blown civil war, drawing in Syria, Iran and Turkey and turning Iraq into a new Lebanon. Even worse, Iraqi Sunnis could forge stronger alliances with foreign jihadists, turning a swath of Iraq into a pre-Sept. 11 Afghanistan for a new generation of terrorists. [complete article]

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Talabani: If U.S. troops withdraw, Turkish army will enter Iraq
Cihan News Agency, September 13, 2005

If US troops withdraw from Iraq, the Turkish army will soon enter the country Iraqi President Jalal Talabani claimed Monday.

Speaking to the Russian news agency Interfax, Talabani said: "Who will prevent Turkey from entering Northern Iraq claiming to defend Turkmen? Who will prevent Syria's occupation?"

Responding to questions from the news agency, Talabani told, "Russia has been opposed to the presence of US troops in Iraq since the beginning. If the US troops withdraw from Iraq today, Turkey will enter Kerkuk (Kirkuk) under the pretense of defending Turkmen. Who can guarantee that countries like Iran and Syria will not occupy Iraq? Henceforth, the US troops are in Iraq for our benefit." [complete article]

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18 detainees force-fed at Guantanamo
By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2005

A hunger strike at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has grown to 128 prisoners who are demanding that they be immediately released or granted access to a legal process to defend themselves against blanket allegations that they are terrorists.

The strike, begun more than five weeks ago, has forced military authorities to hospitalize 18 of the prisoners and to take extraordinary measures to force-feed them.

Some detainees have vowed to die if necessary, but the Pentagon insists that it will not let anyone starve to death. [complete article]

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Israeli renouncement of Gaza not enough for Palestinians
By Harvey Morris, Financical Times, September 13, 2005

Carefully avoiding the word occupation, Ariel Sharon, Israel's prime minister, will on Thursday tell the United Nations that his country’s responsibility for and military presence in the Gaza Strip is over.

Senior Israeli officials said Mr Sharon, in a rare appearance at the General Assembly in New York by an Israeli leader, wants to avoid sparking a dispute with the international community or the Palestinians over the issue of whether the 38-year-old occupation of the territory had formally ended.

The Palestinian Authority says that as long as Israel retains control of Gaza air space, territorial waters and land borders the occupation continues – a view that is supported from an international legal perspective by many UN members. [complete article]

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Israeli evades arrest at Heathrow over army war crime allegations
By Vikram Dodd and Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, September 12, 2005

Scotland Yard was thwarted yesterday in its attempt to seize a former senior Israeli army officer at Heathrow airport for alleged war crimes in occupied Palestinian lands after a British judge had issued a warrant for his arrest.

British detectives were waiting for retired Major General Doron Almog who was aboard an El Al flight which arrived from Israel yesterday. It is believed he was tipped off about his impending arrest while in the air and stayed on the plane to avoid capture until it flew back to Israel. Scotland Yard detectives were armed with a warrant naming Mr Almog as a war crimes suspect for offences that breached the Geneva conventions.

The Guardian understands police would have arrested him if he had set foot on British soil. The arrest warrant was issued on Saturday at Bow Street magistrates court, central London. It is believed to be the first warrant for war crimes of its kind issued in Britain against an Israeli national over conduct in the conflict with Palestinians. [complete article]

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End of the Bush era
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, September 13, 2005

The Bush Era is over. The sooner politicians in both parties realize that, the better for them -- and the country.

Recent months, and especially the past two weeks, have brought home to a steadily growing majority of Americans the truth that President Bush's government doesn't work. His policies are failing, his approach to leadership is detached and self-indulgent, his way of politics has produced a divided, angry and dysfunctional public square. We dare not go on like this. [complete article]

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How Bush blew it
By Evan Thomas, Newsweek, September 19, 2005

It's a standing joke among the president's top aides: who gets to deliver the bad news? Warm and hearty in public, Bush can be cold and snappish in private, and aides sometimes cringe before the displeasure of the president of the United States, or, as he is known in West Wing jargon, POTUS. The bad news on this early morning, Tuesday, Aug. 30, some 24 hours after Hurricane Katrina had ripped through New Orleans, was that the president would have to cut short his five-week vacation by a couple of days and return to Washington. The president's chief of staff, Andrew Card; his deputy chief of staff, Joe Hagin; his counselor, Dan Bartlett, and his spokesman, Scott McClellan, held a conference call to discuss the question of the president's early return and the delicate task of telling him. Hagin, it was decided, as senior aide on the ground, would do the deed. [complete article]

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Living too much in the bubble?
By Mike Allen, Time, September 11, 2005

President Bush was seated in the White House Situation Room, watching military and disaster officials beaming in from the Gulf Coast on the giant screen of his secure video- teleconferencing system. It had been nearly a week since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, ripping gashes in the Superdome and swamping homes up to their eaves. Bush, more fidgety than usual, was hearing a jumble of conflicting reports about the number of refugees in the Convention Center and the whereabouts of two trucks and trailers loaded with water and food. Furious, he interrupted and glared at the camera transmitting his image back to Mississippi. "I know y'all are trying as hard as you can, but it ain't cuttin' it," the Commander in Chief barked. "I wanna know why. We gotta do better."

This was not so much a moment of executive command as one that betrayed Bush's growing sense that his presidency was taking a beating too. A TIME poll conducted last week shows how badly it has been wounded: his overall approval rating has dropped to 42%, his lowest mark since taking office. And while 36% of respondents said they were satisfied with his explanation of why the government was not able to provide relief to hurricane victims sooner, 57% said they were dissatisfied--an ominous result for a politician who banks on his image as a straight shooter. [complete article]

Comment -- A telltale sign of how badly Bush feels cornered is evident in his references to "work." In the first presidential debate he said eleven times how much hard work it is being president. Yesterday, when he was asked to comment about Mike Brown's resignation from FEMA we witnessed this bizarre exchange:
Q Can you tell us, have you accepted the resignation of Michael Brown, or have you heard about it?

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't -- no, I have not talked to Michael Brown -- or Mike Chertoff; that's who I'd talk to. As you know, I've been working. And when I get on Air Force One, I will call back to Washington. But I've been on the move.

Q Our understanding is he has resigned, he's made a statement. Would that be appropriate --

THE PRESIDENT: I haven't talked to Mike Chertoff yet, and that's what I intend to do when I get on the plane. You know, I -- you probably -- maybe you know something I don't know, but as you know, we've been working, and I haven't had a chance to get on the phone.
Clearly, neither George Bush nor any other president would want to portray themselves as being too busy to know what's happening, yet this is exactly what Bush does in retreat. He may actually believe that his affairs are too lofty for others to comprehend - like a busy parent who shoos away a clamoring child - but if he's fooling himself, by this point he's fooling hardly anyone else.

What's really hard work is holding up a facade. George Bush has been faking it for years and if the frat boy ever truly gets off the leash he might one day blurt out the truth: "I had you guys fooled for a while!" Yeah - but nowhere near as long as you think.

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Reaction to Katrina split on racial lines
CNN, September 13, 2005

White and black Americans view Hurricane Katrina's aftermath in starkly different ways, with more blacks viewing race as a factor in problems with the federal response, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Monday.

The poll found that six in 10 blacks interviewed said the federal government was slow in rescuing those stranded in New Orleans after Katrina because many of the people in the Louisiana city were black. But only about one in eight white respondents shared that view. [complete article]

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Arctic folly
By Jimmy Carter, Washington Post, September 13, 2005

We cannot drill our way to energy security or lower gasoline prices as long as our nation sits on just 3 percent of world oil reserves yet accounts for 25 percent of all oil consumption. An obvious answer is to increase the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles, at least to the level we set more than a quarter-century ago.
I have been to the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to study the wilderness wildlife. Far from being the frozen "desert" some suggest, this is a rich, Serengeti-like haven of life: nursery for caribou, polar bears, walruses and millions of shorebirds and waterfowl that migrate annually to the Lower 48. To sit, as Rosalynn and I did, watching a herd of musk oxen circle-up to defend their young and then to find yourself literally in the midst of thousands of caribou streaming by is to touch in a fundamental way God's glorious ark of teeming wildlife.

We Americans use a lot of energy, and millions of us want to do so in a more efficient way that also allows us to cherish our disappearing wilderness heritage. In the Arctic refuge we cannot have it both ways. In the next few months Americans could lose this special and amazing place through a backdoor legislative maneuver. [complete article]

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Talabani says Iraqis could replace many U.S. troops
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, September 13, 2005

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in an interview yesterday that the United States could withdraw as many as 50,000 troops by the end of the year, declaring there are enough Iraqi forces trained and ready to begin assuming control in cities throughout the country.

After the White House and Pentagon were contacted for comment, however, a senior adviser to Talabani called The Washington Post to say Talabani did not intend to suggest a specific timeline for withdrawal. "He is afraid ... this might put the notion of a timetable on this thing," the adviser said. "The exact figure of what would be required will undeniably depend on the level of insurgency [and] the level of Iraqi capability."

In the interview, Talabani said he planned to discuss reductions in U.S. forces during a private meeting with President Bush today, and said he believed the United States could begin pulling out some troops immediately.

"We think that America has the full right to move some forces from Iraq to their country because I think we can replace them [with] our forces," Talabani said. "In my opinion, at least from 40,000 to 50,000 American troops can be [withdrawn] by the end of this year." [complete article]

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Iraq: Planning for pullout
Newsweek, September 19, 2005

Analysts at the Defense Intelligence Agency have begun war-gaming scenarios for what might happen in Iraq if U.S. force levels were cut back or eliminated, say counterterrorism and defense sources. The officials, who asked not to be named because of the sensitive subject matter, declined to discuss specifics of the DIA analyses, which they indicate are in the preliminary stages. Some officials say that people in the intelligence community are leery about engaging in speculative exercises for fear of being accused by conservatives of undermining George W. Bush's administration policy. However, others say that this analysis could support staying the course in Iraq if a U.S. pullout would result in greater insurgent violence or a religious civil war. [complete article]

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Informants decide fate of Iraqi detainees
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, September 13 , 2005

A masked teenager in an Iraqi army uniform walked slowly through a crowd of 400 detainees captured Monday, studying each face and rendering his verdict with a simple hand gesture, like a Roman emperor deciding the fate of gladiators.

A thumb pointed down meant the suspect was not thought to be an insurgent and would be released by U.S. soldiers. A thumb pointed up meant a man would be removed from the concertina wire-encased pen, handcuffed with tape or plastic ties and taken by truck to a military base to be interrogated.

"Another bad guy right here," an American interpreter shouted when the masked Iraqi singled out a man in a yellow dishdasha , or traditional gown, who shook his head and protested in Turkish. A captive who was spared exhaled with relief and placed his hand on his heart.

This is how the 10-day-old invasion of Tall Afar unfolded Monday. After two days of relatively uneventful patrols in the abandoned neighborhood of Sarai, where commanders had expected insurgents to be massed for a fight, U.S. and Iraqi forces turned north in the morning, to neighborhoods they had already cleared, and found hundreds of men who appeared to be of military age and fighters believed to have slipped through their cordons. [complete article]

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American envoy says Syria assists training of terrorists
By Joel Brinkley, New York Times, September 13, 2005

The United States ambassador to Iraq lashed out at Syria on Monday, saying that its government continued to allow terrorists to operate training camps within Syria that have sent hundreds of insurgents into Iraq.

"Our patience is running out," said the ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad.

While other administration officials made similar accusations early this year, the focus of American attention to Syria in recent months has been its occupation of Lebanon. Over the summer, Syria said that it had cracked down on insurgents operating within its territory.

But Mr. Khalilzad, in remarks to reporters in Washington, made it clear that the United States believed that Syria was providing assistance to insurgents operating in Iraq and that such help might have increased. [complete article]

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The role of U.S. nuclear weapons: new doctrine falls short of Bush pledge
By Hans M. Kristensen, Arms Control Today, September, 2005

Although there has been extensive public debate on whether to build new or modified nuclear weapons, there has been essentially no debate about the doctrine that guides the use of nuclear weapons and influences future requirements. This is ironic given the considerable interest in the Bush administration’s policy on pre-emption. As a result, the rewriting of the nuclear doctrine has occurred with essentially no public debate.

Still, the doctrine and editing documents reveal a significant contradiction between the Bush administration’s public rhetoric about reducing the role of nuclear weapons and the guidance issued to the nuclear planners. Although the overall number of warheads is being reduced, the new doctrine guiding planning for the remaining arsenal reaffirms an aggressive posture with nuclear forces on high alert, ready to be used in an increasing number of limited-strike scenarios against adversaries anywhere, even pre-emptively. The new doctrine appears to be precipitated by anticipation among military planners that deterrence will fail and U.S. nuclear weapons will be used in a conflict sooner or later. [complete article]

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Karzai urges terror fight rethink
By Andrew North, BBC News, September 13, 2005

Afghan President Hamid Karzai says the US and other international forces need to reconsider their approach to bringing peace to Afghanistan.

Violence largely blamed on the Taleban has claimed at least 1,000 lives this year - the worst toll since 2001.

He said there had to be a focus on "the sources of terrorism" where extremists get their training and inspiration. [complete article]

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Israel still calls the shots after pull-out
By Richard Beeston, The Times, September 13, 2005

The tanks have gone, the watchtowers are no longer manned and for the first time in nearly 40 years Gazans can travel freely the length and breadth of their coastal strip.

But as inhabitants celebrated the end of Israeli military occupation, there were fears that Palestinians have traded one form of control for another. While there may no longer be any visible signs of an Israeli presence, Gaza's economy, security, transport and basic utilities like water and electricity, will remain in Israeli hands for the foreseeable future, leaving some Palestinians to complain that they are now inmates of a "giant prison".

Gaza has an international airport, but it has not functioned since the Palestinian intifada erupted five years ago, and the airspace remains the preserve of Israeli military aircraft. There are plans to build a seaport, but for now the sea lanes are controlled by Israeli navy gunboats, which patrol off-shore searching all vessels leaving or entering Gazan waters. [complete article]

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More join Guantanamo hunger strike
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, September 13, 2005

A month-old hunger strike at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has grown to include at least 128 detainees, 18 of whom are forcibly receiving intravenous fluids or nutrition in the prison hospital, military officials and detainee lawyers said yesterday.

The captives are protesting their indefinite imprisonment and what they describe as beatings administered by the prison's Immediate Response Force (IRF)-- squads of military personnel who are dispatched to put down disturbances in detainees' cells. Some have said they will refuse to eat until the military gives them a fair hearing or they die, according to their attorneys.

Military officials first acknowledged the hunger strike, the second of the summer, on Aug. 25. Since then, the number of people hospitalized and in serious physical danger has grown to 18, according to Maj. Jeffrey J. Weir, a Guantanamo Bay spokesman. He said that step was taken to prevent any of the approximately 520 prisoners at the U.S. Navy base prison from engaging in a "form of suicide." [complete article]

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Saving America's soul kitchen
By Wynton Marsalis, Time, September 11, 2005

The job of turning our national disaster into sound-bite-size commercials with somber string music will be left to TV. The story will be sanitized as our nation's politicians congratulate themselves on a job well done. Americans of all stripes will demonstrate saintly concern for one another. It's what we do in a crisis.

This tragedy, however, should make us take an account of ourselves. We should not allow the mythic significance of this moment to pass without proper consideration. Let us assess the size of this cataclysm in cultural terms, not in dollars and cents or politics. Americans are far less successful at doing that because we have never understood how our core beliefs are manifest in culture--and how culture should guide political and economic realities. That's what the city of New Orleans can now teach the nation again as we are all forced by circumstance to literally come closer to one another. I say teach us again, because New Orleans is a true American melting pot: the soul of America. A place freer than the rest of the country, where elegance met an indefinable wildness to encourage the flowering of creative intelligence. Whites, Creoles and Negroes were strained, steamed and stewed in a thick, sticky, below-sea-level bowl of musky gumbo. These people produced an original cuisine, an original architecture, vibrant communal ceremonies and an original art form: jazz.

Their music exploded irrepressibly from the forced integration of these castes to sweep the world as the definitive American art form. New Orleans, the Crescent City, the Big Easy--home of Mardi Gras, the second-line parade, the po' boy sandwich, the shotgun house--is so many people's favorite city. But not favorite enough to embrace the integrated superiority of its culture as a national objective. Not favorite enough to digest the gift of supersized soul internationally embodied by the great Louis Armstrong. Over time, New Orleans became known as the national center for frat-party-type decadence and (yeah, boy) great food. The genuine greatness of Armstrong is reduced to his good nature; his artistic triumphs are unknown to all but a handful. So it's time to consider, as we rebuild this great American city, exactly what this bayou metropolis symbolizes for the U.S. [complete article]

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The great Katrina migration
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, September 122005

Two weeks after it blew through the US Gulf Coast, it's clear that hurricane Katrina has resulted in the largest displacement of Americans in 150 years - if not the largest ever. The scale is monumental. It's as if the entire Dust Bowl migration occurred in 14 days, or the dislocations caused by the Civil War took place on fast-forward.

Many evacuees are putting down roots in new areas and say they'll never return. Others face months of a temporary existence before they can go home. Whatever they do, the nation may never be the same, as a smaller New Orleans rises up from its ruins, and bits of Creole culture are seeded from East coast to West. [complete article]

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The other America
By Jonathan Alter, Newsweek, September 19, 2005

It takes a hurricane. it takes a catastrophe like Katrina to strip away the old evasions, hypocrisies and not-so-benign neglect. It takes the sight of the United States with a big black eye -- visible around the world -- to help the rest of us begin to see again. For the moment, at least, Americans are ready to fix their restless gaze on enduring problems of poverty, race and class that have escaped their attention. Does this mean a new war on poverty? No, especially with Katrina's gargantuan price tag. But this disaster may offer a chance to start a skirmish, or at least make Washington think harder about why part of the richest country on earth looks like the Third World. [complete article]

See also, Let Katrina revive the war on poverty (CSM).

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All the president's friends
By Paul Krugman, New York Times, September 12, 2005

The lethally inept response to Hurricane Katrina revealed to everyone that the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which earned universal praise during the Clinton years, is a shell of its former self. The hapless Michael Brown - who is no longer overseeing relief efforts but still heads the agency - has become a symbol of cronyism.

But what we really should be asking is whether FEMA's decline and fall is unique, or part of a larger pattern. What other government functions have been crippled by politicization, cronyism and/or the departure of experienced professionals? How many FEMA's are there?

Unfortunately, it's easy to find other agencies suffering from some version of the FEMA syndrome.

The first example won't surprise you: the Environmental Protection Agency, which has a key role to play in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath, but which has seen a major exodus of experienced officials over the past few years. In particular, senior officials have left in protest over what they say is the Bush administration's unwillingness to enforce environmental law.

Yesterday The Independent, the British newspaper, published an interview about the environmental aftermath of Katrina with Hugh Kaufman, a senior policy analyst in the agency's Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response, whom one suspects is planning to join the exodus. "The budget has been cut," he said, "and inept political hacks have been put in key positions." That sounds familiar, and given what we've learned over the last two weeks there's no reason to doubt that characterization - or to disregard his warning of an environmental cover-up in progress. [complete article]

See also, Cleanup cash goes to familiar faces (WP).

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Pentagon revises nuclear strike plan
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, September 11, 2005

The Pentagon has drafted a revised doctrine for the use of nuclear weapons that envisions commanders requesting presidential approval to use them to preempt an attack by a nation or a terrorist group using weapons of mass destruction. The draft also includes the option of using nuclear arms to destroy known enemy stockpiles of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

The document, written by the Pentagon's Joint Chiefs staff but not yet finally approved by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, would update rules and procedures governing use of nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy first announced by the Bush White House in December 2002. The strategy was outlined in more detail at the time in classified national security directives.

At a White House briefing that year, a spokesman said the United States would "respond with overwhelming force" to the use of weapons of mass destruction against the United States, its forces or allies, and said "all options" would be available to the president. [complete article]

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Palestinian flags fly over former Jewish settlements
By Harvey Morris in Gaza and Sharmila Devi, Financial Times, September 11, 2005

Palestinians flooded into what remained of Israel’s Gaza settlements on Monday after the Israeli army left the territory, ending a 38-year military presence.

Youths carted metal scraps and copper piping from settlements in the north of the territory, all that was left after Israel destroyed the homes of some 8,000 settlers evacuated last month.

In some areas Palestinians set fire to a number of synagogues which the Israeli government ruled on Sunday would be left standing after the army pulled out.

Hours earlier the Palestinian authorities said that the buildings, from which all religious artefacts had been removed, would be demolished. [complete article]

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Taking stock of the forever war
By Mark Danner, New York Times, September 11, 2005

Today marks four years of war. Four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, U.S. troops ruled unchallenged in Japan and Germany. During those 48 months, Americans created an unmatched machine of war and decisively defeated two great enemies.

How are we to judge the global war on terror four years on? In this war, the president had warned, "Americans should not expect one battle but a lengthy campaign." We could expect no "surrender ceremony on a deck of a battleship," and indeed, apart from the president's abortive attempt on the U.S.S. Lincoln to declare victory in Iraq, there has been none. Failing such rituals of capitulation, by what "metric" - as the generals say - can we measure the progress of the global war on terror?

Four years after the collapse of the towers, evil is still with us and so is terrorism. Terrorists have staged spectacular attacks, killing thousands, in Tunisia, Bali, Mombasa, Riyadh, Istanbul, Casablanca, Jakarta, Madrid, Sharm el Sheik and London, to name only the best known. Last year, they mounted 651 "significant terrorist attacks," triple the year before and the highest since the State Department started gathering figures two decades ago. One hundred ninety-eight of these came in Iraq, Bush's "central front of the war on terror" - nine times the year before. And this does not include the hundreds of attacks on U.S. troops. It is in Iraq, which was to serve as the first step in the "democratization of the Middle East," that insurgents have taken terrorism to a new level, killing well over 4,000 people since April in Baghdad alone; in May, Iraq suffered 90 suicide-bombings. Perhaps the "shining example of democracy" that the administration promised will someday come, but for now Iraq has become a grotesque advertisement for the power and efficacy of terror. [complete article]

See also, 9/11 -- and counting (Michael Hirsh).

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Lost at Tora Bora
By Mary Anne Weaver, New York Times, September 11, 2005

Well past midnight one morning in early December 2001, according to American intelligence officials, Osama bin Laden sat with a group of top aides - including members of his elite international 055 Brigade - in the mountainous redoubt of Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan. Outside, it was blustery and bitterly cold; many of the passes of the White Mountains, of which Tora Bora forms a part, were already blocked by snow. But inside the cave complex, where bin Laden had sought his final refuge from the American war in Afghanistan - a war in which Washington, that October, had struck back for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - bin Laden munched on olives and sipped sugary mint tea. He was dressed in his signature camouflage jacket, and a Kalashnikov rested by his side. Captured Qaeda fighters, interviewed separately, told American interrogators that they recalled an address that bin Laden had made to his followers shortly before dawn. It concerned martyrdom. American bombs, including a 15,000-pound "daisy cutter," were raining from the sky and pulverizing a number of the Tora Bora caves. And yet, one American intelligence official told me recently, if any one thing distinguished Osama bin Laden on that cold December day, it was the fact that the 44-year-old Saudi multimillionaire appeared to be supremely confident. [complete article]

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Katrina may cost U.S. as much as two wars
By Donna Cassata, AP (via WP), September 11, 2005

One storm could end up costing almost as much as two wars. Although estimates of Hurricane Katrina's staggering toll on the treasury are highly imprecise, costs are certain to climb to $200 billion in the coming weeks. The final accounting could approach the more than $300 billion spent in four years to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Analysts inside and outside government agree that the $62 billion that Washington has spent so far was merely the first installment of perhaps an unparalleled sum. [complete article]

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Exiles from a city and from a nation
By Cornel West, The Observer, September 11, 2005

It takes something as big as Hurricane Katrina and the misery we saw among the poor black people of New Orleans to get America to focus on race and poverty. It happens about once every 30 or 40 years.

What we saw unfold in the days after the hurricane was the most naked manifestation of conservative social policy towards the poor, where the message for decades has been: 'You are on your own'. Well, they really were on their own for five days in that Superdome, and it was Darwinism in action - the survival of the fittest. People said: 'It looks like something out of the Third World.' Well, New Orleans was Third World long before the hurricane. [complete article]

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The storm next time
By Nicholas D. Kristof, New York Times, September 11, 2005

If the White House wants to move the debate about Hurricane Katrina beyond what it calls the "blame game" for bodies decomposing in the streets of New Orleans, then here's a constructive step that President Bush could take to protect people in the future: Tackle global warming.

True, we don't know whether Katrina was linked to global warming. But there are indications that global warming will produce more Category 5 hurricanes. Now that we've all seen what a Katrina can do - and Katrina was only Category 4 when it hit Louisiana - it would be crazy for President Bush to continue to refuse to develop a national policy on greenhouse gases. [complete article]

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The great unknowns
By Willie Drye, Washington Post, September 11, 2005

Of all the countless questions that will have to be asked when investigations into the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina get underway, perhaps the first should be this: "How many local, state and federal administrators in charge of disaster management have actually been through a hurricane?"

When a Category 4 hurricane like Katrina reaches full roar, its energy can be expressed only in terms of the explosions of multiple atomic bombs. Unless you've experienced a major hurricane, it's all too easy to underestimate its awful power. Grasping its real danger requires something that so many of us find hard to do -- acknowledging that there's a force in this world that's powerful beyond our comprehension and against which we are helpless.

Politicians seem to find this kind of self-effacement especially difficult, and their unwillingness to acknowledge how little they know has led to disaster more than once. Katrina may be only the latest example of clueless leaders mishandling a crisis because they didn't realize the deadly consequences of ignorance. [complete article]

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Katrina: Failure at every turn
Knight Ridder, September 11, 2005

Two weeks after Hurricane Katrina crashed into the Gulf coast, there is little argument that the response was botched. But an extensive Knight Ridder review of official actions in the days just before and after Katrina's landfall Monday, Aug. 29, reveals a depth of government hesitancy and a not-my-job attitude that may have cost scores of people their lives.

The Department of Homeland Security, facing its first major catastrophe since it was created, failed to issue a critical disaster declaration until more than a day after the storm. The White House never appointed a coordinator to monitor disaster developments.

Though several government agencies were certain by 6 p.m. on Monday that New Orleans' levee system had given way, no official screamed for urgent help when daylight hours might still have permitted a rescue effort. [complete article]

See also, Confusion reigned at every level of government (WP).

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Terrorism could hurl D.C. area into turmoil
By Sari Horwitz and Christian Davenport, Washington Post, September 11, 2005

The U.S. Capitol and the White House have been fortified, police forces strengthened, high-tech security equipment purchased, vulnerable streets closed and checkpoints and barriers erected. In all, federal, state and local governments have spent more than $2 billion to protect the Washington area since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Despite these efforts, security officials in the region concede that they fear another major terrorist strike would result in the kind of chaos and confusion seen along the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. [complete article]

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Scores denied leave time to aid displaced families
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, September 11, 2005

Scores of Mississippi National Guard troops in Iraq who lost their homes to Hurricane Katrina have been refused even 15-day leaves to aid their displaced families, told by commanders there were too few U.S. troops in Iraq to spare them, according to members of the Mississippi Guard.

About 600 members of the Mississippi Guard's 155th Brigade Combat Team, posted south of Baghdad in the area known as the "Triangle of Death" for the frequency of insurgent attacks there, live in the parts of southern Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana hit hardest by Katrina, Maj. Neil F. Murphy Jr., a spokesman with the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force, said by e-mail Saturday. The brigade is attached to the Expeditionary Force.

Guard members and relatives said in e-mails or telephone interviews that virtually all of the roughly 300 soldiers of 155th Brigade's B and C companies had their homes destroyed or severely damaged in the hurricane. [complete article]

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Revenge killings fuel fear of escalation in Iraq
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, September 11, 2005

Hassan Lami was herding some sheep to a garbage-strewn city lot to graze when six masked men, using guns with silencers, shot him more than 30 times.

As far as anyone can determine, the just-married 20-year-old was killed that July morning because he was a Shiite Muslim.

One week later, another 20-year-old was gunned down, this time by men who didn't bother to wear masks. In his neighborhood, the only reason anyone can think of that Ahmed Dhirgham was killed is that he was a Sunni whose father had worked for the Iraqi intelligence service under Saddam Hussein.

In the last six weeks in the Ghazaliya neighborhood on Baghdad's western edge, where both young men lived, more than 30 people have been killed in what appear to be purely sectarian attacks. Although other forms of violence, such as suicide bombings, have destabilized Iraq, many fear that the Shiite-Sunni targeted killings that have escalated in Baghdad and beyond are tipping the nation toward civil war. [complete article]

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Terrorist had plans for London attacks
By Pam Hess, UPI (via Washington Times), September 7, 2005

A terrorist captured near the Syrian border last month had a computer "thumb drive" that contained planning information about the July 7 suicide bombings in London, according to a U.S. military officer.

Col. Robert Brown, commander of the 1st Brigade 25th Infantry Division in Mosul, said that the man was captured north of Qaim in western Iraq and that authorities had connected him to the al Qaeda terrorist network.

It is the first evidence of a link between the London bombs and terrorists in Iraq, but fits with other evidence of a growing presence in Iraq by al Qaeda, which has taken responsibility for the British attacks. [complete article]

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U.S. troops sweep into empty insurgent haven in Iraq
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, September 11, 2005

The moment the Iraqi troops launched their attack just after 7 a.m. Saturday, the bullets began to fly. Gunfire echoed off centuries-old stone buildings in the insurgent-controlled neighborhood of Sarai: machine-gun bursts, booming tank rounds and an incessant crackle of AK-47s that lasted for most of an hour.

But the shooting spree was only going in one direction.

"So far, Iraqi army reporting no enemy contact," came the word over the radio, 45 minutes after the first shots were fired, to U.S. troops waiting to join the assault.

By the time the Americans entered Sarai -- in a rare supporting role to an Iraqi battalion comprising mostly the Kurdish pesh merga militiamen, who led the charge -- the labyrinthine warren of close-packed structures and streets too narrow for armored vehicles was eerily deserted. [complete article]

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The man who would set Shiite against Shiite
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, September 11, 2005

In a ramshackle residential corner of Najaf, Iraq's holiest city for Shiites, dozens of followers of Moktada al-Sadr line up each day for a brief audience with the cleric at his family home. Fellow clerics are let in first: simple clergy in white turbans and those claiming descent from the Prophet Muhammad in black. Inside, at one end of a narrow whitewashed room with brown cushions laid out along its brown carpet, sits a portly man in his 30's, dressed in a swath of black broadcloth. His beard reaches up his cheeks and a dark widow's peak points down from beneath his own black turban. He glowers, projecting mistrust, even when he briefly smiles.

And with his every piece of advice, this leader of Shiite slum dwellers in Baghdad and Basra is re-establishing himself in the historical Shiite heartland of southern Iraq, rekindling a challenge to the clerical establishment there that briefly ignited armed clashes last month.

In the last year, the so-called quietists of the clerical establishment banded together in a coalition blessed by Iraq's most influential ayatollah, Ali al-Sistani, and used electoral politics to vault Iraq's Shiite faithful into a commanding position. Followers of Mr. Sadr worked alongside them, but now he is pushing a distinctly different brand of politics. Rather than an autonomous Shiite region in the south, he wants a far more centralized Iraq; rather than face down the Sunni-led insurrection, he suggests making common cause with resentful Sunnis against the American presence. [complete article]

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As Israelis pull out, the question lingers: Who'll control Gaza?
By Greg Myre, New York Times, September 11, 2005

When the last Israeli soldiers roll out of the Gaza Strip any day now, will Israel's 38-year occupation of the territory be over?

Israel says yes, the Palestinians say no, and the two sides are still wrangling with several important issues linked to this question.

The Israeli troop pullout and last month's evacuation of the Jewish settlers means no Israelis will be left in Gaza, and Israel's control has effectively ended, Israel says.

"The withdrawal has created a new legal reality in Gaza," said Daniel Taub, deputy legal adviser in Israel's Foreign Ministry. "The dismantling of the Israeli military government brings to an end Israeli authority over the area and transfers its responsibility to the Palestinians."

Israel has long argued that Gaza and the West Bank are "disputed" territories, rather than occupied, and says its departure removes any basis for claiming that Gaza is under occupation.

But Palestinians are adamant that the occupation is continuing, just in revised form. They say Israel will still have the final word on people and goods flowing in and out of Gaza, controlling the coastal territory from the borders rather than from inside Gaza. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Disarray marked the path from hurricane to anarchy
By Eric Lipton, Christopher Drew, Scott Shane and David Rohde, New York Times, September 10, 2005

Before the flood - lessons from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake
By Simon Winchester, New York Times, September 8, 2005

What happens when a nice girl from Minnesota goes to war
By Richard Chin, Knight Ridder, September 7, 2005

Some Iraq projects running out of money, U.S. says
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, September 8, 2005

Why FEMA was missing in action
By Peter G. Gosselin and Alan C. Miller, Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2005

We came, we saw, we ruined Iraq - to stay will wound it more
By Simon Jenkins, The Sunday Times, September 4, 2005

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EMAIL UPDATES -- Click here to sign up for weekly email updates -- a digest of key articles from the last seven days. (Please include your name in the message and put "subscribe" in the subject line.)

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