The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Sorry, Mr President, homilies won't stop the hurricanes
By Jeremy Rifkin, The Guardian, September 23, 2005

Katrina and Rita ... are not just bad luck, nature's occasional surprises thrust on unsuspecting humanity. Make no mistake about it. We Americans created these monster storms. We've known about the potentially devastating impact of global warming for nearly a generation. Yet we turned up the throttle, as if to say: "We just don't give a damn." What did anyone expect? SUVs make up 52% of all the vehicles owned in America, each a death engine, spewing record amounts of CO2 into the earth's atmosphere.

How do we explain to our children that Americans represent less than 5% of the population of the world but devour more than a quarter of the fossil-fuel energy produced each year? How do we say to the grieving relatives of the victims of the hurricane that we were too selfish to allow even a modest five-cent tax increase on a gallon of petrol in order to encourage energy conservation? And when our neighbours in Europe and around the world ask why the American public was so unwilling to make global warming a priority by signing up to the Kyoto treaty on climate change, what do we tell them?

In the coming weeks and months, millions of Americans will reach out to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina with offerings of food, shelter and financial assistance. Natural calamities tend to bring out the best in the American character. We pride ourselves on being there for our fellow human beings when they cry out for help. Why can't we muster up the same passionate response when the Earth itself is crying out for help? [complete article]

See also, This is global warming, says environmental chief (The Independent).

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Antiwar rally will be a first for many
By Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, September 23, 2005

The seasoned protesters who organized tomorrow's antiwar demonstration are well-versed in many other causes. They have marched and rallied against police brutality, racism, colonialism and the policies of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

But their message on the Mall tomorrow will be singular: "End the war in Iraq." [complete article]

Comment -- I won't be in Washington tomorrow and I don't have a schedule conflict. The reason I won't be there is because I regard some of the assumptions behind the rally cry, "End the war - bring the troops home," as no more grounded in reality than the expectations of the neoconservatives who dreamed about the consequences of toppling Saddam. Consider, for example, Michael Schwartz's claim that "the U.S. military is already killing more civilian Iraqis than would likely die in any threatened civil war." This kind of assertion might soothe the doubts of anyone not sure about what might happen if American troops immediately withdraw, but Americans of all people should have no illusions about the devasting loss of life that can result from a civil war. When America had a population of only 34 million (Iraq's current population is about 25 million) civil war resulted in 558,000 deaths with twice as many civilians as combatants dying. (And bear in mind that back then the instruments of death were far less efficient than they have now become.) Civil war in Bosnia from 1992-95 resulted in 250,000 deaths. A corresponding toll in Iraq would add up to 1.9 million!

Ending the war and bringing the troops home are separate but related issues. The most predictable consequence of bringing the troops home will be that American television will be able to give its full attention (at least for a while) to the domestic preoccupations of the nation. But let's not pretend that if Iraq ceases to be news here then the war must be over.

As a physical presence, it's obvious that 140,000 American soldiers cannot prevent the eruption of a full-scale civil war. After all, they can't even secure the road to Baghdad's airport. It's also clear that a rapid withdrawal of troops would amount to a vote of no confidence in Iraq's frail government. The doors would then be thrown wide open for the domestic and regional power groups to attempt to carve up Iraq. In the absense of any kind of political process to arrive at a compromise, war would almost certainly escalate.

Lacking of planning, lack of knowledge and an excessive amount of wishful thinking may by this point have guaranteed that America's Iraq adventure is a failed enterprise. But let's not perpetuate the fantasy by pretending that bringing the troops home will effectively pave the road to peace.

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Poll: Fewer than half think U.S. will win in Iraq
CNN, September 23, 2005

A CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll released Thursday indicated fewer than half of Americans believe the United States will win the Iraq war, and 55 percent of those surveyed said it should speed up withdrawal plans.

Only 21 percent said the United States definitely would win the war in Iraq, which began when a U.S.-led coalition invaded in 2003 to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Another 22 percent said they thought the United States probably would win.

Twenty percent of respondents said the United States was capable of winning in Iraq -- but probably would not. And 34 percent said they considered the war unwinnable. [complete article]

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The U.S. and that man Muqtada again
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, September 24, 2005

The one person to stand up and criticize proposed Shi'ite autonomy, ironically, is Muqtada al-Sadr, one of the younger leaders of the Shi'ite resistance. In 2003-2004 he led his own war against the Americans, before the Sunni insurgency increased its war against the US military.

Initially, many wrote him off as a wild young man who was a product of the hour and who would fade away once the Americans crushed his military movement. That has not been the case, to the surprise of many, and Muqtada waited, joining the political process in January this year only because Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the powerful Shi'ite cleric, said that voting was a religious duty for every Iraqi.

Another reason, naturally, is Sadr's desire to be part of the political process and not be left out in the cold as other parties and politicians assemble to create the political order in the post-Saddam era. Today, he emerges as one of the loudest opponents of Shi'ite autonomy, arguing that there is no need for a Shi'ite region since Shi'ites are bound by religion rather than race, region or ethnicity. He states that they are part of the Arab world and the Islamic world and should not, under any circumstance, be given a mini-state of their own in Iraq. [complete article]

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Top Shiite cleric is planning to urge Iraqis to back charter
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, September 23, 2005

Iraq's most influential Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, will issue a religious ruling instructing Shiites to vote in favor of the country's draft constitution in a referendum planned for Oct. 15, one of his aides said Thursday.

The aide, who works in Ayatollah Sistani's office in the Shiite holy city of Najaf, said the ayatollah told him on Thursday that he would issue the order, a fatwa, within the next several days. Ayatollah Sistani's support of the constitution, which was written largely by Shiite lawmakers, is not surprising, but the wording described for the fatwa is more direct than was anticipated and suggests he could have concerns that it will not pass on its own. The aide spoke on the condition of anonymity because he said the announcement should come from Ayatollah Sistani.

The ayatollah's commands are followed by millions of Iraq's Shiites, and a fatwa would increase chances of the constitution's approval. Still, an order from Ayatollah Sistani would not guarantee passage of the document, which was hammered out by a drafting committee in the National Assembly at the end of August. [complete article]

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Housing the displaced is rife with delays
By Spencer S. Hsu and Ceci Connolly, Washington Post, September 23, 2005

Nearly four weeks after Hurricane Katrina displaced more Americans from their homes than any event in at least 60 years, efforts to find housing for 200,000 families from the devastated Gulf Coast are getting bogged down, according to federal, state and private sector officials.

Federal Emergency Management Agency officials complain of a drastic shortage of sites suitable to state and local officials for the huge trailer parks that FEMA hopes to establish for evacuees. Local and parish leaders say FEMA's plans to supply the trailer parks with water, sewer, electricity and other services are haphazard or nonexistent, and the encampments -- some of which could include 15,000 units -- are bigger than any the agency has ever established.

Builders of manufactured housing say red tape has bottlenecked contract orders, which may take as long as 12 months to fill. Congress is considering a new program to offer housing vouchers to the displaced. Meanwhile, planners from Baton Rouge, La., to Washington fear there is no government-wide housing strategy, and no one is certain how many displaced families will return to the Gulf Coast.

In the confusion, White House planners are weighing in, according to agencies involved in the talks. But delays are compounding what some housing advocates call a slow-motion replay of the bureaucratic divisions that crippled the emergency response for days after Katrina hit. [complete article]

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The ghost city
By George Friedman, New York Review of Books, October 6, 2005

The American political system was founded in Philadelphia, but the American nation was built on the vast farmlands that stretch from the Alleghenies to the Rockies. That farmland produced the wealth that funded American industrialization: it permitted the formation of a class of small landholders who, amazingly, could produce more than they could consume. They could sell their excess crops in the East and in Europe and save that money, which eventually became the founding capital of American industry.

But it was not the extraordinary land or the farmers and ranchers who alone set the process in motion. Rather, it was geography -- the extraordinary system of rivers that flowed through the Midwest and allowed them to ship their surplus to the rest of the world. All of the rivers flowed into one -- the Mississippi -- and the Mississippi flowed to the ports in and around one city: New Orleans. It was in New Orleans that the barges from upstream were unloaded and their cargos stored, sold, and reloaded on oceangoing vessels. Until last Sunday, New Orleans was, in many ways, the pivot of the American economy. [complete article]

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Iran knocks Europe out - again
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, September 24, 2005

The EU-3 (France, Britain and Germany) should underestimate Ali Larijani, the head of the Supreme National Security Council and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, at their peril. He's extremely close to the all-powerful Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Larijani's comments this week - comparing the nuclear row with the fight to nationalize Iran's oil industry in the early 1950s, then controlled by the British - struck a powerful chord not only internally but with an array of developing countries.

Larijani said, "The Europeans have been trying to humiliate the Iranians. Do not doubt that enrichment is a national desire." Popular reaction in Iran at the mosque, at the bazaar and at the teashop attests that it is. But Larijani went one step further. "Those countries that have economic transactions with Iran, especially in the field of oil, have not defended Iran's rights so far." The conclusion was loud and clear. "Based on how much they defend Iran's national right will facilitate their participation in Iran's economic field." So a logical possibility is that under pressure, Iran may resort to an oil embargo, just like the one imposed in the aftermath of 1973 Arab-Israeli Yom Kippur war. [complete article]

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From patriot to proliferator
By Douglas Frantz, Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2005

In spring 2000, Lt. Gen. Syed Mohammad Amjad was in his office at Pakistan's National Accountability Bureau when one of his senior investigators delivered the report he was dreading.

The bureau had been created six months earlier to root out corruption among bureaucrats, politicians and the business elite. Amjad, a career army officer known for his integrity, was given authority to arrest anyone.

The investigator had been quietly verifying the contents of a 700-page dossier on Abdul Qadeer Khan, the scientist whose reputation as the father of Pakistan's atomic bomb made him the country's most revered figure. [complete article]

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Hurricanes decrease war support
AP (via, September 22, 2005

Hurricane Katrina and its wrenching aftermath have turned public attention and already-dwindling support away from President Bush's Iraq policy. And that was before Hurricane Rita took aim at Texas.

The devastating storms are increasing pressure around the country and in Congress for an Iraq exit strategy and prompting calls for reining in spending on an increasingly unpopular war, one which could bedevil Republicans in the 2006 midterm congressional elections.

"It's a tangled picture" that will get even more complicated as those elections near, said Stephen Cimbala, a political scientist at Pennsylvania State University. "It's like Osama bin Laden's running the weather," he added, referring to the fugitive al-Qaida terror leader. [complete article]

See also, Rita could deal blow to oil industry (LAT).

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Lofty ambitions reduced to one: Iraq must not be seen as a failure
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, September 22, 2005

Diplomats in the Foreign Office are working frantically in private on what they refer to as the "exit ticket" from Iraq.

In contrast to the official line that British forces will remain until the job is done, the Foreign Office wants to engineer a set of circumstances in which both Britain and the US can begin to reduce troops next year. But the speed with which unrest and violence is growing is making this harder.

Ambitions for Iraq are being drastically scaled down in private. A Foreign Office source said the goal of the US administration to turn Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East had long ago been shelved. "We will settle for leaving behind an Iraqi democracy that is creaking along," the source said. [complete article]

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Iraq's democracy dilemma
By Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 2005

The Transitional National Assembly was to be a starting point for Iraq's fledgling democracy, fostering political debate and consensus building.

But in the past nine months since the parliament was elected, decisionmaking has largely taken place not on the assembly floor but behind closed doors, say lawmakers.

The country's most vital decisions - naming a president, picking ministers, and writing the draft constitution - were taken out their hands and given to only a few powerful leaders, say several members from different parties who were interviewed by the Monitor. [complete article]

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American mother has Iraqi audience
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2005

Khalda Khalaf feels Cindy Sheehan's pain. She's been there, too.

Her 28-year-old son, Majid Khalid Kabi, died in 2004 fighting on the opposite side in the same months-long stretch of clashes between Shiite militiamen and U.S. soldiers in which Spc. Casey Sheehan perished.

"Of course, she's a mother and just like our people are hurting, she's hurting too," says Khalaf, a 52-year-old resident of Sadr City, the east Baghdad slum where Sheehan's son died in April 2004. "Just as she wants America out of Iraq, so do we." [complete article]

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Peace by pieces
By David Montgomery, Washington Post, September 22, 2005

Critics cannot easily dismiss this incarnation of antiwar enthusiasm as a fringe passion of anarchists, communists and freaks (though an author still tried to make that case last month at a Heritage Foundation forum). Recent polls say a majority of Americans -- as many as 59 percent -- think the war in Iraq is a "mistake" and the troops should be brought home. (Brought home when? That's another question.)

The news is almost too much to handle. Demonstrators walk around saying, We are the majority, trying it on like unfamiliar clothes.

It has been half a lifetime since the peaceniks felt so ... mainstream. The last time a majority became disenchanted with a conflict as shots were still being fired -- including the Gulf War, Yugoslavia and Afghanistan -- was August 1968, when Gallup first detected that most Americans considered the Vietnam War a "mistake." [complete article]

Comment -- As the tide in public opinion has shifted against the war, let's not get carried away by a wave of antiwar nostagia. This time around if the troops start heading home there's little reason to hope that it means the war will be over. If John Lennon was still alive he might be telling his record company to hold off on planning a re-release of "Happy Christmas (War is Over)" -- just in case it ended up becoming the antiwar equivalent of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech.

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Bush's words on Iraq echo LBJ in 1967
By Douglass K. Daniel, AP (via Yahoo), September 21, 2005

Bush officials bristle at the suggestion the war in Iraq might look anything like Vietnam. Yet just as today's anti-war protests recall memories of yesteryear, President Bush's own words echo those of President Johnson in 1967, a pivotal year for the U.S. in Vietnam.

"America is committed to the defense of South Vietnam until an honorable peace can be negotiated," Johnson told the Tennessee Legislature on March 15, 1967. Despite the obstacles to victory, the president said, "We shall stay the course."

After 14 Marines died in a roadside bombing on Aug. 3, Bush declared: "We will stay the course, we will complete the job in Iraq. And the job is this: We'll help the Iraqis develop a democracy." [complete article]

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Choose: guns or butter
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, September 22, 2005

On Aug. 3, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent a message to Congress in which he said that the United States could not continue to fight a war in Vietnam and at the same time continue his Great Society programs without, among other things, raising taxes. George Bush ought to read that message. It was titled "The Hard and Inescapable Facts."

For Bush, facts are neither hard nor inescapable. He believes in "magical math" -- a firm understanding that somehow, in some way, something will happen to make everything come out right in the end. This is the economics practiced by the dreamy who think that today's credit card purchase will never come due. This, in a nutshell, is the financial blueprint for the United States of America. [complete article]

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Basra governor demands U.K. apology
BBC News, September 22, 2005

The authorities in Basra will not co-operate with British troops until they get an apology for a raid to free two UK soldiers, its governor has said. Mohammed al-Waili has also demanded compensation for damage caused by the raid on Monday and a "guarantee that it does not happen again". Britain has defended its action, saying the soldiers were handed to militiamen by rogue elements in the police.

British troops have reduced their presence on the Iraqi city's streets. For the second consecutive day British forces were not seen accompanying Iraqi police on patrols around the city, as they routinely had in the past. [complete article]

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Radical roots take hold in southern Iraq
By Timothy M. Phelps, Newsday, September 21, 2005

While the United States battles Sunni extremists in northern Iraq, different but potentially more enduring Islamic radicals - many with close ties to Iran - have been allowed to take root in the South.

This was painfully evident Monday, when the British Army attacked the Iraqi police force they had trained for two years, only to find the police had handed two British soldiers over to the most hardline Shia militia.

Shia radicals have imposed their intolerant views on what used to be the Persian Gulf's freest city, where Kuwaitis were known to flock on the weekends to escape their puritanical society just 100 miles away. Instead, Basra has become like Tehran, where morals are enforced not by family but by religious militias.

This is no aberration, but quite possibly the future of Iraq. [complete article]

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Saudi says U.S. policy handing Iraq over to Iran
By Robert Gibbons, Reuters, September 21, 2005

U.S. policy in Iraq is widening sectarian divisions to the point of effectively handing the country to Iran, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said on Tuesday.

"(Iraq's) people have been separated from each other," Faisal told the Council of Foreign Relations in New York. "You talk now about Sunnis as if they were separate entity from the Shi'ite."

He urged the United States, which is battling a Sunni Arab insurgency against occupying U.S. forces and backs the Kurdish- and Shi'ite-led Iraqi government, to work "to bring these people together."

Saudi Arabia has voiced fears that an Iraqi constitution, due to be put to a referendum in four weeks, could split the country apart and disenfranchise a Sunni minority that lost power when a U.S.-led invasion ousted Saddam Hussein in 2003.

"If you allow civil war, Iraq is finished forever," Faisal said. [complete article]

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Iran makes North Korea look easy
By Tyler Marshall and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2005

In the wake of this week's shaky international agreement on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, diplomats and armscontrol specialists agreed on one central point: Achieving similar progress with Iran will be even tougher.

North Korea is considered a hermit state whose nuclear threat represents its only leverage on the outside world. But Iran can influence an array of issues central to the Bush administration's Middle East policy, and by cultivating influential partners such as Russia, China and India, it has managed to build a buffer against U.S. pressure.

Tehran's influence over well-organized militant groups in the Middle East such as Islamic Jihad gives it the potential to disrupt the U.S.-backed IsraeliPalestinian peace process at an especially sensitive stage. And Iraqi Shiite militants, many of whom are believed to be funded by Iran, already have demonstrated an ability to challenge the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad. [complete article]

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Europe drops attempt to report Iran to the U.N.
By Dan Dombey, Financial Times, September 22, 2005

The European Union is pulling back from plans to report Iran to the United Nations security council this week, diplomats said on Thursday.

Britain, France and Germany, the three EU countries that have spearheaded negotiations with Iran over its nuclear programme had tried to win support in the UN nuclear watchdog for reporting Tehran to the securing council over past concealments.

However, after warnings from Russia and China that they would not support such a push and resistance fron non-aligned countries as well the EU-3 are now considering an alternative approach. [complete article]

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E.U. stance jeopardising energy deals, warns Tehran
By Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, September 22, 2005

European pressure over Iran's nuclear programme is putting at risk multi-billion dollar energy deals with oil majors, including Total and Royal Dutch Shell, Iranian officials have warned.

Faced with mounting opposition on Thursday from both Russia and China, the European Union's three big powers must decide whether to report Iran to the United Nations over its nuclear programme or consider backing down.

Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), this week explicitly linked oil and gas contracts to the fate of deadlocked nuclear talks with the EU-3 Britain, France and Germany. He warned Europe against supporting the US in trying to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council. [complete article]

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N. Korea accuses U.S. of plotting attack
By Kelly Olsen, AP (via The Guardian), September 21, 2005

In a second day of bluster after its disarmament accord, North Korea accused the United States on Wednesday of planning a nuclear attack and warned it could retaliate.

North Korea "is fully ready to decisively control a pre-emptive nuclear attack with a strong retaliatory blow," the communist nation's Rodong Sinmun newspaper said in an English-language commentary carried by the state Korean Central News Agency.

At six-nation talks in Beijing on Monday, North Korea promised to give up its nuclear weapons program in return for economic aid and security assurances.

Since then, however, the North's rhetoric has underscored its unpredictability and cast doubt on its commitment to the accord hammered out with China, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States after four rounds of contentious negotiations stretching over two years. [complete article]

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Battle lines behind the battle lines
By Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, September 21, 2005

In military communities across the United States, a debate over the Iraq war is being waged by reluctant, neophyte activists. Their microphones chirp and squeak, or don't pick up their quiet voices at all. Their signs are too small. They forget the banners.

"This is my community. I don't want to offend people here. But my husband is a soldier; he can't say anything. So it's my duty as a citizen to speak up," Kara Hollingsworth, a D.C. native and Army wife at Fort Bragg whose husband served two tours in Iraq, said as she took a seat on a panel of antiwar activists last week.

A few hours earlier, another Army spouse stood in the red-brick village square near the base and held up a handmade sign supporting the war. She threw it together after she heard that an antiwar caravan was coming to town.

"I've never done this before. I'm usually a quiet military wife. But I can't take this anymore," said Marlene Lowrey, whose husband also served in Iraq. "This isn't right, coming into a town like this with that antiwar stuff. Those people don't realize this brings down morale."

Military families, stoic and tight-lipped during most of the nation's wars, have become a powerful voice on both sides of the bitter argument over U.S. involvement in Iraq. And their growing prominence will add a poignant note to Saturday's antiwar march and rally near the White House. [complete article]

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Pentagon finds new source of cannon fodder: high school dropouts
By Joseph R. Chenelly, Army Times, September 21, 2005

Army recruiters now have a wider pool to find future soldiers in. The Army is reaching out to a slice of America's youth long ineligible to serve: non-high school graduates who don't have a General Equivalency Diploma

Recruiters can now go after that demographic through the "Army Educations Plus" option, the Army announced Tuesday. [complete article]

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A 'new' New Deal
By William Greider, The Nation, September 15, 2005

The catastrophe, as many seem to grasp, is one of those big moments that jolt public consciousness and alter the course of national history. I would go further and describe it as an exclamation point that marks a dramatic breakdown for the reigning right-wing orthodoxy, the beginning of its retreat and eventual demise. This by no means insures the restoration of progressive alternatives, but events have at least reopened the argument conservatives thought they had won.

A profound political question is suddenly on the table: Must the country continue to give precedence to private financial gain and market determinism over human lives and broad public values? Or shall we now undertake a radical restoration on behalf of society and people? New Orleans, strange exception though it seems, is actually an extreme microcosm of the nation's general afflictions and social inequities. It's the place where reform politics can launch its long-deferred counteroffensive. [complete article]

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More blood, less oil
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, September 21, 2005

It has long been an article of faith among America's senior policymakers -- Democrats and Republicans alike -- that military force is an effective tool for ensuring control over foreign sources of oil. Franklin D. Roosevelt was the first president to embrace this view, in February 1945, when he promised King Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia that the United States would establish a military protectorate over his country in return for privileged access to Saudi oil -- a promise that continues to govern U.S. policy today. Every president since Roosevelt has endorsed this basic proposition, and has contributed in one way or another to the buildup of American military power in the greater Persian Gulf region.

American presidents have never hesitated to use this power when deemed necessary to protect U.S. oil interests in the Gulf. When, following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the first President Bush sent hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia in August 1990, he did so with absolute confidence that the application of American military power would eventually result in the safe delivery of ever-increasing quantities of Middle Eastern oil to the United States. This presumption was clearly a critical factor in the younger Bush's decision to invade Iraq in March 2003.

Now, more than two years after that invasion, the growing Iraqi quagmire has demonstrated that the application of military force can have the very opposite effect: It can diminish -- rather than enhance -- America's access to foreign oil. [complete article]

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An easily threatened oil industry
By Justin Blum, Washington Post, September 21, 2005

First, Hurricane Katrina battered oil platforms and refineries, shuttering production and causing gasoline prices to soar. Yesterday, Hurricane Rita was bearing down on the Gulf Coast, threatening more damage to the country's strained oil operations.

A decade ago, such hurricanes may not have rattled the oil industry or pushed prices sharply higher at the pump.

But in the past few years, as global oil demand has increased, the industry has become increasingly vulnerable. A powerful storm or terrorist attack threatens to turn the oil industry inside out and send gasoline prices to record highs.

"When the market is running tight, anything -- whether it's a hurricane, or war, or revolution, or terrorism -- can precipitate a crisis," said Robert J. Lieber, a professor of government and international affairs at Georgetown University and author of "The Oil Decade." [complete article]

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To say we must stay in Iraq to save it from chaos is a lie
By Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, September 21, 2005

Don't be fooled a second time. They told you Britain must invade Iraq because of its weapons of mass destruction. They were wrong. Now they say British troops must stay in Iraq because otherwise it will collapse into chaos.

This second lie is infecting everyone. It is spouted by Labour and Tory opponents of the war and even by the Liberal Democrat spokesman, Sir Menzies Campbell. Its axiom is that western soldiers are so competent that, wherever they go, only good can result. It is their duty not to leave Iraq until order is established, infrastructure rebuilt and democracy entrenched.

Note the word "until". It hides a bloodstained half century of western self-delusion and arrogance. The white man's burden is still alive and well in the skies over Baghdad (the streets are now too dangerous). Soldiers and civilians may die by the hundred. Money may be squandered by the million. But Tony Blair tells us that only western values enforced by the barrel of a gun can save the hapless Mussulman from his own worst enemy, himself. [complete article]

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British forces are powerless as Basra descends into anarchy
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, September 21, 2005

They wear police uniforms and drive official vehicles, but the main priority of the rival militias that have usurped Basra's police force is not to maintain law and order.

Instead they have turned Iraq's second city into a patchwork of rival fiefdoms, where competing militias run corruption scams and murder their rivals, dumping the bodies into a rubbish tip known as The Lot on the outskirts of the city. There was a sense of inevitability about the chaotic scenes in Basra on Monday.

British officials have been keen to emphasise the relative tranquillity of the city in comparison with Baghdad and other towns to the north.

But behind the scenes there has been growing unease at Basra's descent into lawlessness and the increasing influence of Iran on the city's main political factions. [complete article]

See also, Signposting the exit (The Guardian).

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Insurgents 'inside Iraqi police'
BBC News, September 21, 2005

Insurgents have infiltrated Iraq's security services, National Security Adviser Muwafaq al-Rubaie has admitted.

Speaking on the BBC's Newsnight programme, he said he had no idea how far the services had been undermined, with problems "in many parts of Iraq".

It comes after the British Army said it was forced to take action to free two UK soldiers after learning Iraqi police had handed them to a militia group. [complete article]

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Iran warns against referral of nuclear issue to the U.N.
By Nazila Fathi and David E. Sanger, New York Times, September 21, 2005

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator warned Tuesday that the country would resume enriching uranium and restrict United Nations inspectors from critical information if the United States and its allies used the "language of threat" by referring Iran to the Security Council.

The negotiator's threat, which appeared to be backed by Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, came as a confidential draft resolution circulating at the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency included a call for the Security Council to take up "Iran's many failures and breaches of its obligations." But the draft makes no specific reference to sanctions, which are still opposed by China and Russia, both of which hold veto power in the Council. A copy of the resolution was provided to The New York Times by an official involved in the behind-the-scenes diplomacy over how the board should deal with Iran at its meeting this week.

The comments by the Iranian negotiator, Ali Larijani, in a news conference here on Tuesday were the first time that Iran had explicitly threatened to cut off inspections and resume enriching uranium - which it insists will be used for civilian reactor fuel, not nuclear weapons - if the atomic agency's board acts. [complete article]

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Hamas could one day change vow to destroy Israel
By Wafa Amr, Reuters (via WP), September 21, 2005

Hamas could one day amend a charter calling for the destruction of Israel and hold negotiations with the Jewish state, a political leader of the Islamic militant group in the West Bank said.

"The charter is not the Koran," Mohammed Ghazal told Reuters in an interview in Nablus on Tuesday.

"Historically, we believe all Palestine belongs to Palestinians, but we're talking now about reality, about political solutions ... The realities are different."

The unprecedented comments by Mohammed Ghazal clashed with recent pronouncements of more senior Hamas officials in Gaza. [complete article]

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Pentagon bars military officers and analysts from testifying
By Philip Shenon, New York Times, September 21, 2005

The Pentagon said Tuesday that it had blocked several military officers and intelligence analysts from testifying at an open Congressional hearing about a highly classified intelligence program that, the officers have said, identified a ringleader of the Sept. 11 attacks as a potential terrorist a year before the attacks.

The officers and intelligence analysts had been scheduled to testify on Wednesday about the program, known as Able Danger, at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Bryan Whitman, a Defense Department spokesman, said in a statement that open testimony "would not be appropriate."

"We have expressed our security concerns and believe it is simply not possible to discuss Able Danger in any great detail in an open public forum," Mr. Whitman said.

He offered no other explanation of the Pentagon's reasoning. [complete article]

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'People here see the Iraq government has no authority'
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 21, 2005

It was not a good day for the Iraqi government. It wanted to publicise the capture of the northern city of Tal Afar by the Iraqi army backed by US forces at the weekend. Instead it had to answer question after question about why Iraqi sovereignty had been treated with such contempt at the other end of the country [as British troops stormed a police station in Basra].

At the weekend an Iraqi minister said to me in frustration: "We must try to eliminate the grey areas where our authority conflicts with the coalition. We must try to reach some understanding about what to do when our jurisdictions clash."

Ordinary Iraqis were drawing their own conclusion about what had happened in Basra. Abdul Hamid, a goldsmith, said over the phone from the city: "People here have seen that our government has no authority in Iraq. The British did not respect them when they smashed into the jail, so why should we respect our own leaders?" [complete article]

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No alternative
By John B. Judis, The New Republic, September 13, 2005

While the Bush administration contends with a natural disaster in New Orleans, a greater man-made disaster continues in Baghdad--with no end in sight. Among the electorate, there is growing support for setting a timetable for withdrawal--a demand voiced recently by Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold and by 128 House Democrats and Republicans. Yet within Washington's moderate foreign policy establishment, opposition to the war remains strangely muted. Some call on the Bush administration, in the words of former presidential candidate Wesley Clark, to make "a better effort," while others propose no alternative to the Bush policies, contenting themselves with denouncing what the administration has done to date.

Early this summer, some of these Washington policy heavies--veterans of the Carter and Clinton administrations--convened privately at the Center for American Progress to discuss what position to take on the war. The discussion lasted several hours, but the only conclusion, echoing other similar discussions, was that there were "no good solutions." That position reflected uncertainty about what to do beyond what the Bush administration was attempting. But it also reflected a concern that by advocating withdrawal, the Democrats could potentially harm themselves politically. It would be better, some participants argued, to let Bush twist in the wind.

The reluctance by prominent Democrats to stake out an alternative to the administration's foreign policy was reflected in a "Memo to President Bush on Iraq" that the Center's director, John Podesta, put out several weeks after the meeting. It recounted all the things that had gone wrong in Iraq (for instance, "weakened and overstretched ground forces" and "a deteriorating security situation") without offering any alternative policy whatsoever. Its enumeration of administration's failures was perfectly consistent with either Feingold's call for withdrawal or The Weekly Standard's plea for more troops. As a statement of foreign policy, it was completely useless. [complete article]

Comment -- The policy vacuum seems to be a product - in large part - of an insistence on framing the Iraq issue in terms of the withdrawal (or reinforcement) of American troops. But a solution, if it is to be found, will surely require the involvement of all the stakeholders not just inside Iraq but across its borders - Iran, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The notion that Iraq's future could (or should) be shaped by America's desires (or fears) should have been abandoned long ago.

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World has slim chance to stop flu pandemic
By Michael Perry, Reuters, September 20, 2005

The initial outbreak of what could explode into a bird flu pandemic may affect only a few people, but the world will have just weeks to contain the deadly virus before it spreads and kills millions.

Chances of containment are limited because the potentially catastrophic infection may not be detected until it has already spread to several countries, like the SARS virus in 2003. Avian flu vaccines developed in advance will have little impact on the pandemic virus.

It will take scientists four to six months to develop a vaccine that protects against the pandemic virus, by which time thousands could have died. There is little likelihood a vaccine will even reach the country where the pandemic starts.

That is the scenario outlined on Tuesday by Dr Hitoshi Oshitani, the man who was on the frontline in the battle against SARS and now leads the fight against avian flu in Asia. [complete article]

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Edwards got it right about poverty
By Thomas Oliphant, Boston Globe, September 20, 2005

In any collection of Americans who have earned the right to say I told you so, John Edwards should make every short list.

But, in character, last year's Democratic vice presidential nominee passed up a nice chance to do that yesterday.

Instead, the person who insisted on pressing the country's diseased political culture to confront the moral issue of poverty long before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast used some nice spotlight time to continue pressing.

Edwards was right in saying at the Center for American Progress that Katrina not only exposed America's dirty secret but presented a "historic moment" when it is clear the country is ready to support action but is short on the leadership that can prompt it. [complete article]

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Five soldiers killed in three separate Iraq incidents
By Jonathan Finer and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, September 20, 2005

The military announced the deaths Tuesday of five U.S. soldiers in three separate roadside bomb explosions, pushing the number of U.S. fatalities since March 2003 past the 1,900 mark.

Four of the soldiers were assigned to the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Ramadi, 60 miles west of Baghdad. They were "conducting combat operations" and died in two separate incidents, said the military, declining to provide further details.

A fifth soldier belonged to the 18th Military Police Brigade and was killed 75 miles north of Baghdad when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device, according to an official press release.

According to the Associated Press, the number of U.S combat deaths in Iraq stands at 1,904.

Separately, an American diplomat and three private security contractors died Monday in the northern city of Mosul when their armored SUV was attacked by a suicide car bomber, a Western official in Baghdad confirmed Tuesday morning. [complete article]

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Reporter working for Times abducted and slain in Iraq
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, September 20, 2005

An Iraqi journalist and photographer working for The New York Times in Basra was found dead early Monday after being abducted from his home by a group of armed men wearing masks and claiming to be police officers, relatives and witnesses said.

The journalist, Fakher Haider, 38, was found with his hands bound and a bag over his head in a deserted area on the outskirts of Basra, in southern Iraq, hours after being taken from his house in that city. A relative who viewed his body in the city morgue said he had at least one bullet hole in his head and bruises on his back as if he had been beaten.

Mr. Haider had worked for The Times since April 2003 and had recently reported on the growing friction and violence among Basra's rival Shiite militias, which are widely believed to have infiltrated the police. [complete article]

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British tanks storm Basra jail to free undercover soldiers
By Richard Norton-Taylor and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, September 20, 2005

British troops used tanks last night to break down the walls of a prison in the southern Iraqi city of Basra and free two undercover British soldiers who were seized earlier in the day by local police.

An official from the Iraqi interior ministry said half a dozen tanks had broken down the walls of the jail and troops had then stormed it to free the two British soldiers. The governor of Basra last night condemned the "barbaric aggression" of British forces in storming the jail.

Aquil Jabbar, an Iraqi television cameraman who lives across the street from the jail, said dozens of Iraqi prisoners also fled in the confusion. [complete article]

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Karzai wants end to U.S.-led operations
By Daniel Cooney, AP (via Yahoo), September 20, 2005

President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday challenged the need for major foreign military operations in Afghanistan, saying air strikes are no longer effective and that U.S.-led coalition forces should focus on rooting out terror bases and support networks.

Karzai also demanded an immediate end to foreign troops searching people's homes without his government's authorization.

"I don't think there is a big need for military activity in Afghanistan anymore," he told reporters in Kabul. "The nature of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan has changed now.

"No coalition forces should go to Afghan homes without the authorization of the Afghan government. ... The use of air power is something that may not be very effective now." [complete article]

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Uzbekistan: Where journalism is branded terrorism
By Galima Bukharbaeva International Herald Tribune, September 20, 2005

I stand accused of terrorism. My crime? Doing only what I am doing now: reporting in the international media. The authorities in Uzbekistan make no distinction between journalism and terrorism.

As a journalist, I witnessed first hand the massacre in the eastern Uzbek city of Andijon on May 13, 2005, when government troops fired from armored personnel carriers at crowds of unarmed demonstrators on Bobur Square, murdering hundreds, if not thousands of people. After I reported and commented on these bloody events for CNN, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting and The Wall Street Journal Europe, the Uzbek state accused me of abetting terrorism.

On Tuesday, Uzbekistan's Supreme Court began hearings in the first Andijon trial, and the authorities will present a meticulously scripted set of lies and forced confessions to make their case. In the grand tradition of Stalinist show trials, there are, of course, numerous defendants. Announcing his entirely fabricated initial conclusions last week, the general prosecutor named 15 people in a grand conspiracy to bring down the Uzbek state. [complete article]

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The secret history of U.S. mistakes, misjudgments and intelligence failures that let the Iraqi dictator and his allies launch an insurgency now ripping Iraq apart
By Joe Klein, Time, September 18, 2005

Five men met in an automobile in a baghdad park a few weeks after the fall of Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime in April 2003, according to U.S. intelligence sources. One of the five was Saddam. The other four were among his closest advisers. The agenda: how to fight back against the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq. A representative of Saddam's former No. 2, Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, was there. But the most intriguing man in the car may have been a retired general named Muhammad Yunis al-Ahmed, who had been a senior member of the Military Bureau, a secret Baath Party spy service. The bureau's job had been to keep an eye on the Iraqi military -- and to organize Baathist resistance in the event of a coup. Now a U.S. coup had taken place, and Saddam turned to al-Ahmed and the others and told them to start "rebuilding your networks."

The 45-minute meeting was pieced together months later by U.S. military intelligence. It represents a rare moment of clarity in the dust storm of violence that swirls through central Iraq. The insurgency has grown well beyond its initial Baathist core to include religious extremist and Iraqi nationalist organizations, and plain old civilians who are angry at the American occupation. But Saddam's message of "rebuilding your networks" remains the central organizing principle.

More than two years into the war, U.S. intelligence sources concede that they still don't know enough about the nearly impenetrable web of what Iraqis call ahl al-thiqa (trust networks), which are at the heart of the insurgency. [complete article]

See also, U.S. claims success in Iraq despite onslaught (WP).

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What has happened to Iraq's missing $1bn?
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 19, 2005

One billion dollars has been plundered from Iraq's defence ministry in one of the largest thefts in history, The Independent can reveal, leaving the country's army to fight a savage insurgency with museum-piece weapons.

The money, intended to train and equip an Iraqi army capable of bringing security to a country shattered by the US-led invasion and prolonged rebellion, was instead siphoned abroad in cash and has disappeared.

"It is possibly one of the largest thefts in history," Ali Allawi, Iraq's Finance Minister, told The Independent. [complete article]

Note -- These claims come from Ali Allawi - not to be confused with Iyad Allawi, Iraq's former interim prime minister.

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Relentless rebel attacks test Shiite endurance
By Sabrina Taverise and Robert F. Worth, New York Times, September 19, 2005

The rooms of the dead are mostly empty now. Their meager belongings are all that remain: A small pile of pickles wrapped in plastic. A bag of salt. Pairs of old shoes. Work shirts and towels draped on a coat rack in the corner.

The items, left in a hostel in the Kadhimiya neighborhood of Baghdad, belonged to poor Shiite day laborers who were killed Wednesday in a suicide bombing. The attacker lured them to his van with promises of work, then blew himself up, killing 114 people. It was this city's deadliest bombing since the American invasion and, it seemed to many, one of the cruelest.

That attack, and a string of others that have followed, all aimed at Shiites, have brought new vulnerability and dysfunction to the streets of Baghdad, the capital. For days, three of the four main roads leading in and out of Kadhimiya have been closed. Neighborhoods have been unusually quiet, as Shiites stay home, afraid to venture out. The violence has also reinforced a new reality of the war here: That Shiites are now paying the highest price in blood of any group in Iraq. [complete article]

See also, Kurdish politician assassinated as constitution is finalised (The Independent) and British arrest two affiliated with Sadr (WP).

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The Guard is back in its element
By Rone Tempest and Ryan Lillis, Los Angeles Times, September 19, 2005

In Iraq, Capt. Paul Peterlin commanded a California National Guard transportation team that logged 400,000 miles, frequently under attack by roadside insurgents.

Here in post-hurricane New Orleans, the 35-year-old father of three from the Sierra foothills city of Grass Valley, Calif., heads a military police company at Louis Armstrong International Airport processing thousands of evacuees and dispatching patrols into the city to look for survivors and victims.

"This is a case of the National Guard doing what we were set up to do," said Peterlin, a stocky UC Davis graduate with a degree in history. "We are helping our own country here. In Iraq, it was harder to understand what was going on or whether we were helping or not." [complete article]

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Iranian defiance reveals weakness in West's lobbying
By Guy Dinmore and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, September 19, 2005

Rarely have Europe and the US seemed so weak onthe world stage as in the last few days.

The attempt by Brussels and Washington to censure Iran's nuclear programme has run into trouble due to a combination of stalled diplomacy, changing power politics and the divisions wrought by the Iraq war. "The lobbying effort is not producing the result we had wanted," said a European diplomat.

Things are coming to a crunch after Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, delivered a speech full of defiance at the United Nations at the weekend, and as the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, begins deliberations today on Iran's nuclear activities. Some European diplomats still hold out hope of winning a "modest majority" on the IAEA board in favour of referring the issue to the UN Security Council - particularly in light of the aggressive tone of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad's speech. But international opposition to their plans seems likely to scupper any attempt at passing a resolution in the Security Council itself. "The IAEA should be given a chance to win a consensus," said Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, said after meeting President George W. Bush of the US. "The potential of diplomatic solutions to all these issues is far from exhausted," said Russia's President Vladimir Putin. China also opposes taking the issue to the UN. [complete article]

See also, Britain rules out war over Teheran's nuclear plan (The Telegraph).

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As coalitions shift, Bush is confounded
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, September 19, 2005

At the opening of the United Nations General Assembly session last week, President George W. Bush said the United States could get much more done building coalitions than acting as the world's Lone Ranger.

Behind the scenes, though, his aides were scrambling to put out a fire: Countries that Bush considers partners - China, Russia and India - were banding together to stymie a U.S. and European effort to bring sanctions against Iran for its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Washington backed down, at least for now. But what may be more important is the unusual configuration of countries that broke with Bush and that may prove troublesome to the United States in the future.

What Bush faced from the well of the United Nations on Wednesday morning was a strange new geopolitical world, in which your allies on one issue are ganging up on you in the next room.

When Bush started coalition-building after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, he expected the United States to be the linchpin. But now, post-Iraq, the president is increasingly facing what might be called coalitions of the unwilling, pursuing their own interests or pushing back U.S. goals around the world, issue by issue. [complete article]

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North Korea says it will abandon nuclear efforts
By Joseph Kahn, New York Times, September 19, 2005

North Korea agreed to end its nuclear weapons program this morning in return for security, economic and energy benefits, potentially easing tensions with the United States after a three-year standoff over the country's efforts to build atomic bombs.

The United States, North Korea and four other nations participating in nuclear negotiations in Beijing signed a draft accord in which Pyongyang promised to abandon efforts to produce nuclear weapons and re-admit international inspectors to its nuclear facilities. Foreign powers said they would provide aid, diplomatic assurances and security guarantees and consider North Korea's demands for a light-water nuclear reactor.

The agreement is a preliminary one that would require future rounds of negotiations to flesh out, as it does not address a number of issues, like timing and implementation, that are likely to prove highly contentious. China announced that the six nations participating in the talks would reconvene in November to continue ironing out the details. [complete article]

See also, N.Korea back from brink, but real work lies ahead (Reuters).

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Pentagon may have doubts on preemptive nuclear moves
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, September 19, 2005

The Pentagon may be having second thoughts about proposed revisions to its nuclear weapons doctrine that would allow commanders to seek presidential approval for using atomic arms against nations or terrorists who intend to use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons against the United States, its troops or allies.

The draft document, disclosure of which has caused a stir among some members of Congress and arms control advocates, would update rules and procedures for using nuclear weapons to reflect a preemption strategy announced by the Bush administration in 2002. Previous versions of the unclassified doctrine have not included scenarios for using nuclear weapons preemptively or specifically against WMD threats.

On Sept. 9, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Joint Staff said the draft document was undergoing final clearance from the military services and the office of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, and was expected to be signed "in a few weeks" by the Joint Staff director, Lt. Gen. Walter L. Sharp.

But last week, after an article about the draft appeared in The Washington Post, a senior Pentagon official said the doctrine "is a long way from being done. It has a lot of reviews to go through and several changes have already taken place." The official would speak only on the condition of anonymity. [complete article]

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Ballots transported under tight security after Afghan elections
AP (via IHT), September 19, 2005

Trucks, helicopters and donkeys carried ballots to counting centers across Afghanistan on Monday, while celebrations of the historic election as a key step toward democracy were tempered by indications of low voter turnout.

Afghan and international officials hailed Sunday's legislative elections as a major success, but chief electoral officer Peter Erben said reports from about one-third of the polling stations suggested only about 6 million people cast ballots.

"With these early indications, I can say turnout appears just over 50 percent," he said.

The projection appeared to confirm suggestions by electoral officials and independent monitors that turnout was lower than hoped for due to security fears and frustrations over the inclusion of warlords on the ballot. Turnout was 70 percent in the October 2004 presidential election, officials said. [complete article]

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Envoy: U.S. to back Israeli settlements
AP (via The State), September 18, 2005

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Israel said in an interview broadcast Sunday that President George W. Bush will back a request by Israel to keep larger West Bank settlement areas under its control in a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Palestinians reacted with anger to the comments, saying they would only encourage Israel to pre-empt final status negotiations.

Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer, who completed his term Friday, cited an April 2004 letter from Bush to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, setting out the U.S. position on settlements.

"The policy is exactly what the president said," Kurtzer said in the prerecorded interview. "In the context of a final status agreement, the United States will support the retention by Israel of areas with a high concentration of Israeli population." [complete article]

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Message: I care about the black folks
By Frank Rich, New York Times, September 18, 2005

Once Toto parts the curtain, the Wizard of Oz can never be the wizard again. He is forever Professor Marvel, blowhard and snake-oil salesman. Hurricane Katrina, which is likely to endure in the American psyche as long as L. Frank Baum's mythic tornado, has similarly unmasked George W. Bush.

The worst storm in our history proved perfect for exposing this president because in one big blast it illuminated all his failings: the rampant cronyism, the empty sloganeering of "compassionate conservatism," the lack of concern for the "underprivileged" his mother condescended to at the Astrodome, the reckless lack of planning for all government operations except tax cuts, the use of spin and photo-ops to camouflage failure and to substitute for action.

In the chaos unleashed by Katrina, these plot strands coalesced into a single tragic epic played out in real time on television. The narrative is just too powerful to be undone now by the administration's desperate recycling of its greatest hits: a return Sunshine Boys tour by the surrogate empathizers Clinton and Bush I, another round of prayers at the Washington National Cathedral, another ludicrously overhyped prime-time address flecked with speechwriters' "poetry" and framed by a picturesque backdrop. Reruns never eclipse a riveting new show. [complete article]

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Key military help for victims of Hurricane Katrina was delayed
By Drew Brown, Seth Borenstein and Alison Young, Knight Ridder, September 16, 2005

Two days after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, President Bush went on national television to announce a massive federal rescue and relief effort.

But orders to move didn't reach key active military units for another three days.

Once they received them, it took just eight hours for 3,600 troops from the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi with vital search-and-rescue helicopters. Another 2,500 soon followed from the 1st Cavalry Division at Fort Hood, Texas.

"If the 1st Cav and 82nd Airborne had gotten there on time, I think we would have saved some lives," said Gen. Julius Becton Jr., who was the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under President Reagan from 1985 to 1989. "We recognized we had to get people out, and they had helicopters to do that." [complete article]

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Leaders who won't choose
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, September 26, 2005

Adversity builds character," goes the old adage. Except that in America today we seem to be following the opposite principle. The worse things get, the more frivolous our response. President Bush explains that he will spend hundreds of billions of dollars rebuilding the Gulf Coast without raising any new revenues. Republican leader Tom DeLay declines any spending cuts because "there is no fat left to cut in the federal budget."

This would be funny if it weren't so depressing. What is happening in Washington today is business as usual in the face of a national catastrophe. The scariest part is that we've been here before. After 9/11 we have created a new government agency, massively increased domestic spending and fought two wars. And the president did all this without rolling back any of his tax cuts -- in fact, he expanded them -- and refused to veto a single congressional spending bill. This was possible because Bush inherited a huge budget surplus in 2000. But that's all gone. The cupboard is now bare. [complete article]

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FEMA's woes were merely the beginning
By Nicole Gaouette, Alan Miller and Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2005

The federal government's efforts to help victims of Hurricane Katrina have been hobbled by inadequate planning and coordination, troubled computer systems and confusion over who will pay the costs.

Interviews with federal officials indicate that recovery difficulties have gone beyond the Federal Emergency Management Agency and span key agencies in Washington, where top officials are trying to respond to a huge reconstruction problem for which they had no policies or plans. Large contracts are pouring out of agencies, but the task ahead involves issues Washington hasn't thought seriously about since the 1960s. [complete article]

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This is a mess of our own making
By Tim Collins, The Observer, September 18, 2005

When I led my men of the 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment across the border into Iraq we believed we were going to do some good. Goodwill and optimism abounded; it was to be a liberation, I had told my men, not a conquest.

In Iraq I sought to surround myself with advisers - Iraqis - who could help me understand what needed to be done. One of the first things they taught me was that the Baath party had been a fact of life for 35 years. Like the Nazi party, they said, it needed to be decapitated, harnessed and dismantled, each function replaced with the new regime. Many of these advisers were Baathists, yet were eager to co-operate, fired with the enthusiasm of the liberation. How must it look to them now?

What I had not realised was that there was no real plan at the higher levels to replace anything, indeed a simplistic and unimaginative overreliance in some senior quarters on the power of destruction and crude military might. We were to beat the Iraqis. That simple. Everything would come together after that.

The Iraqi army was defeated - it walked away from most fights - but was then dismissed without pay to join the ranks of the looters smashing the little infrastructure left, and to rail against their treatment. The Baath party was left undisturbed. The careful records it kept were destroyed with precision munitions by the coalition; the evidence erased, they were left with a free rein to agitate and organise the insurrection. A vacuum was created in which the coalition floundered, the Iraqis suffered and terrorists thrived. [complete article]

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Al-Qaeda's slaughter has one aim: civil war
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, September 18, 2005

As officials of Iraq's Shia-dominated government, including those at the overworked Institute of Forensic Medicine, study the aftermath of the latest bombings, it is with a new fear: that they will find the bomber was not a Syrian, Yemeni, Saudi or even a Briton, but a brother Iraqi recruited by al-Qaeda.

A year ago analysis of the identities of suicide bombers deployed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's al-Qaeda in Iraq suggested the vast majority of suicide volunteers were foreign fighters smuggled across the Syrian border.

That was then. A year on, the government, and its multinational allies, are confronting a shocking new reality: an emboldened and reinvigorated al-Qaeda that for the first time is attracting increasingly large numbers of young Iraqi Sunnis to its cause - and to die in suicide operations. [complete article]

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Plan to cut number of UK troops in Iraq is scrapped
By Sean Rayment, The Sunday Telegraph, September 18, 2005

Secret plans by the Government to reduce troop numbers in Iraq have been shelved - and there is now no official date for the withdrawal of British soldiers, The Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

The decision comes as ministers prepare to announce an unexpected redeployment of up to 6,000 members of the 7th Armoured Brigade - the renowned Desert Rats - in the conflict zone next month. This follows growing concerns that Iraq is heading into full-scale civil war. [complete article]

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Widespread hunger strike at Guantanamo
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, September 18, 2005

A hunger strike at the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, has unsettled senior commanders there and produced the most serious challenge yet to the military's effort to manage the detention of hundreds of terrorism suspects, lawyers and officials say.

As many as 200 prisoners - more than a third of the camp - have refused food in recent weeks to protest conditions and prolonged confinement without trial, according to the accounts of lawyers who represent them. While military officials put the number of those participating at 105, they acknowledge that 20 of them, whose health and survival are being threatened, are being kept at the camp's hospital and fed through nasal tubes and sometimes given fluids intravenously.

The military authorities were so concerned about ending a previous strike this summer that they allowed the establishment of a six-member prisoners' grievance committee, lawyers said. The committee, a sharp departure from past practice in which camp authorities refused to cede any control or role to the detainees, was quickly ended, the lawyers say. [complete article]

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Judith Miller's visitors list revealed--Bolton's name 'raises eyebrows'
Editor & Publisher, September 17, 2005

Increasingly overlooked or forgotten by the media in recent weeks, jailed New York Times reporter Judith Miler has still received plenty of upclose and personal support. According to a document, exactly 99 friends or supporters (or former sources) visited her between her July 6 detention and Labor Day. Among them, confirming earlier rumors, was John R. Bolton, the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Not the Sun King after all
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Boston Globe (IHT), September 16, 2005

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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