The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Sunnis wary as turning-point vote nears
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, October 8, 2005

On a narrow street in Adhamiya, the Sunni Arab heart of the capital, an elderly sheik sits in a darkened room pondering his country's future.

At 64, he has seen the withdrawal of the British decades ago, the demise of a monarchy and the rise and fall of Saddam Hussein. Now changes are looming that could be just as profound.

In a week, Iraqis will vote on a constitution that, if approved, would set the stage for full independence from the American-led occupation. But for many Sunni Arabs, the constitution seems to signify the birth of a new nation, in which they have been relegated to the distant sidelines.

"We are paying for the mistakes of Saddam," said the sheik, Abu Omar al-Adhami, leaning forward and speaking intensely, his bare feet planted squarely on the tile floor. "It's the end of the road, a done deal."

This week, Sunni Arabs were further angered when Shiite and Kurdish leaders tried to change the rules of the referendum in a way that would have made it virtually impossible for the constitution to fail.

The sentiment among Sunnis was perhaps best summed up by Riyad al-Adhadh, a physician who represents Adhamiya on Baghdad's city council: "We have disappeared from the process." [complete article]

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Iraq: no SOFA to rest on
By Christopher Dickey, The Shadowland Journal, October 6, 2005

What's the status of American forces in Iraq? They're targets, they're peacemakers, they're nation builders -- or at least they're trying to be. But are they legal? We do not have now, and never have had, a "status of forces agreement" with any Iraqi government. The United Nations resolution that legitimizes the Coalition's presence expires at the end of this year. (Now there's a timetable for withdrawal...) As I was reading back through transcripts of remarks by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during his visit to Baghdad in July, this passage kind of hit me over the head... [complete article]

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Scope of plots Bush says were foiled is questioned
By Josh Meyer and Warren Vieth, Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2005

In the spring of 2003, Los Angeles police officials were summoned to a briefing with the FBI-led Joint Terrorism Task Force and told that the 73-story Library Tower might have been the target of a terrorist plot similar to that of the Sept. 11 suicide hijackings.

When the plot was disclosed last year, authorities said publicly that they had viewed the claims by captured Al Qaeda chieftain Khalid Shaikh Mohammed with skepticism. They said that, at best, the alleged plot was something that had been discussed but never put into action.

By the time anybody knew about it, the threat -- if there had been one -- had passed, federal counter-terrorism officials said Friday.

Still, the broader idea for attacks on West Coast buildings that included the Library Tower was one of the cases President Bush was referring to when he said that three potential terrorist plots within the United States had been "disrupted" since Sept. 11, 2001. In his policy address Thursday, Bush spoke at length about terrorists and their organizations, saying that at least 10 plots had been foiled worldwide by the U.S. and its allies, including plots in the U.S. [complete article]

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N.Y. threat tip came from source in Iraq
By Bradley Graham and Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, October 8, 2005

The information that led Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg to raise a public alert about a "specific threat" against New York City's subway system originated in Baghdad from an Iraqi informant who approached U.S. authorities in the past two weeks, U.S. officials said yesterday.

While officials in New York and Washington played down the credibility of the threat to varying degrees, the incident appears to be the first reported time that authorities in the United States have openly responded to information gathered in Iraq concerning an alleged domestic terrorist attack since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

According to a senior U.S. military officer, the report originated with an Iraqi informant who voluntarily approached U.S. authorities. Information was developed over the past two weeks, said a Bush administration official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because analysis is ongoing. [complete article]

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Reporter turns over notes in CIA leak case
By Adam Entous, Reuters (via Yahoo), October 7, 2005

A New York Times reporter has given investigators notes from a conversation she had with a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney weeks earlier than was previously known, suggesting White House involvement started well before the outing of a CIA operative, legal sources said.

Times reporter Judith Miller discovered the notes -- about a June 2003 conversation she had with Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- after her testimony before the grand jury last week, the sources said on Friday. She turned the notes over to federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and is expected to meet him again next Tuesday, the sources said.

Miller's notes could help Fitzgerald establish that Libby had started talking to reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame and her diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, weeks before Wilson publicly criticized the administration's Iraq policy in a Times opinion piece, the sources said. [complete article]

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MI5 unmasks covert arms programmes
By Ian Cobain and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, October 8, 2005

The determination of countries across the Middle East and Asia to develop nuclear arsenals and other weapons of mass destruction is laid bare by a secret British intelligence document which has been seen by the Guardian.

More than 360 private companies, university departments and government organisations in eight countries, including the Pakistan high commission in London, are identified as having procured goods or technology for use in weapons programmes.

The length of the list, compiled by MI5, suggests that the arms trade supermarket is bigger than has so far been publicly realised. MI5 warns against exports to organisations in Iran, Pakistan, India, Israel, Syria and Egypt and to beware of front companies in the United Arab Emirates, which appears to be a hub for the trade. [complete article]

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Afghan warlords retain power despite democracy
By Justin Huggler, The Independent, October 8, 2005

The warlords who have haunted the political landscape in Afghanistan since the fall of the Soviet-backed regime are set to cling to power once again, after provisional results of the first parliamentary election were declared yesterday.

In the all-important province of Kabul, which has 33 seats in parliament, with 65 per cent of votes counted the Hazara warlord Mohammed Mohaqiq emerged as a clear front-runner, with the former Northern Alliance official Younis Qanooni close behind.

A rare bright spot was provided by Malalai Joya, a female candidate who made her name by denouncing the warlords, and won a seat on a big popular vote in one of the first provinces to declare. But her success was overshadowed by the candidate running fourth in Kabul and almost certain to claim a seat, the notorious warlord Abd al-Rab Al-Rasual Sayyaf, a former ally of Osama bin Laden and alleged war criminal. [complete article]

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Al Qaeda tells ally in Iraq to strive for global goals
By Douglas Jehl and Thom Shanker, New York Times, October 7, 2005

The second-ranking leader of Al Qaeda has warned the top militant in Iraq that attacks on civilians and videotaped executions committed by his followers threaten to jeopardize the broader extremist cause, a senior United States official said Thursday.

The warning, from Ayman al-Zawahiri to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was spelled out in a 6,000-word letter, dated early in July, that was obtained by American forces conducting counterterrorism operations in Iraq, the official said in a briefing.

Mr. Zawahiri said that Iraq had become "the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era," but that Mr. Zarqawi's forces should keep in mind that it was only a stepping stone toward a broader victory for militant Islam across the Middle East.

"The mujahedeen must not have their mission end with the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq, and then lay down their weapons, and silence the fighting zeal," Mr. Zawahiri said in the letter, according to a partial translation provided by the official, who declined to provide verbatim translations of anything more than three sentences from the document. Under the ground rules for the briefing, the official cannot be identified. [complete article]

Comment -- Do al Qaeda and the Bush administration now have a coordinated communications strategy? I'd have to say that it was a stunning stroke of luck that the Zawahiri treatise came to light the same day that President Bush gave his "major" address on the war on terror. But no! The NYT's stalwart reporters inform us that "the official said the decision to disclose the letter was made independently of the speech." Who could doubt his word?

Supposedly we're only being told about the letter's existence because the story had already been leaked to CBS and NBC - this, during the same week that we learned that a suspected spy was working in Dick Cheney's office. Of course in this case the fact that the story was "leaked" is not meant to imply that al Qaeda might have a mole in the White House. It does however beg the question as to how any responsible reporters would blithely repeat the assertion that the release of this news had nothing to do with Bush's speech.

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Al-Qaeda's next generation: less visible and more lethal
By Michael Scheuer, Jamestown Foundation, October 4, 2005

...what threat will the next generation of al-Qaeda-inspired mujahideen pose? Based on the admittedly imprecise information available, the answer seems to lie in three discernible trends: a) the next generation will be at least as devout but more professional and less operationally visible; b) it will be larger, with more adherents and potential recruits; and c) it will be better educated and more adept at using the tools of modernity, particularly communications and weapons.

The next mujahideen generation's piety will equal or exceed that of bin Laden's generation. The new mujahideen, having grown up in an internet and satellite television-dominated world, will be more aware of Muslim struggles around the world, more comfortable with a common Muslim identity, more certain that the U.S.-led West is "oppressing" Muslims, and more inspired by the example bin Laden has set -- bin Laden's generation had no bin Laden.

While leaders more pious than bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are hard to imagine, Western analysts tend to forget that many of bin Laden's first-generation lieutenants did not mirror his intense religiosity. Wali Khan, Abu Zubaidah, Abu Hajir al-Iraqi, Khalid Sheikh Muhammed, Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, and Ramzi Yousef were first generation fighters who were both swashbuckling and Islamist. Unlike bin Laden and Zawahiri, they were flamboyant, multilingual, well-traveled, and eager for personal notoriety. Their operating styles were tinged with arrogance -- as if no bullet or jail cell had been made for them -- and each was captured, at least in part, because they paid insufficient attention to personal security. Now al-Qaeda is teaching young mujahideen to learn from the security failures that led to the capture of first-generation fighters. [complete article]

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Bush likens war on terror to Cold War
By Warren Vieth and Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, October 7, 2005

President Bush on Thursday compared the war on terrorism to the struggle against communism and said a network of Islamic extremists was determined to use Iraq as a staging ground to topple moderate governments in the region and to "establish a radical Islamic empire that spans from Spain to Indonesia."

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush said, the United States and its allies have disrupted at least 10 Al Qaeda terrorist plots against the West, including three planned attacks on U.S. soil, and stopped at least five additional attempts to scout out potential targets in this country.

The White House later issued a list of the foiled plots, citing potential Sept. 11-style airliner attacks on both coasts, a plan to blow up apartment buildings and surveillance of gas stations, bridges and tourist sites nationwide. But several senior law enforcement officials interviewed later questioned whether many of the incidents on the list constituted an imminent threat to public safety and said that authorities had not disrupted any operational terrorist plot within the United States since the 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. [complete article]

See also, Arguing with Bush and the GWOT (Juan Cole).

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Intelligence gathered in Iraq prompts warning of terrorist plot
By Jonathan S. Landay and Shannon McCaffrey, Knight Ridder, October 6, 2005

A recent U.S. military raid on a terrorist group's hideout south of Baghdad, Iraq, netted intelligence that prompted New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to warn Thursday that the metropolis' sprawling subway system faced an explicit threat of terrorist attacks.

U.S intelligence and law enforcement officials in Washington, however, cautioned that the information that triggered Bloomberg's warning was shaky.

"The intelligence community believes that, although the information is specific, it is of doubtful credibility," said Russ Knocke, the spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security.

Knocke said U.S. experts were continuing to evaluate the information but had passed it on to New York and New Jersey officials early on out of an "abundance of caution." [complete article]

See also, Informant: NY subway plotter may be in U.S. (ABC).

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The conquest of Southwest Asia
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, October 7, 2005

Just one day after the London July bombings, one remarkably named Aseem Jihad, a spokesman for the Iraqi Oil Ministry, told Iraqi media that 11 southern Iraqi oil fields, capable of producing at least 3 million barrels a day, were being put up for tender to international investors, to the tune of US$25 billion.

With oil prices possibly going to $100 a barrel in the not-too-distant future, there could hardly be better news for the oil industry. There is always the possibility that all those billions will never end up at Iraq's Oil Ministry, to the benefit of the Iraqi people - but will fill the pockets of oil barons, militias operating at Iraq's Interior Ministry and Bush administration-supported middlemen ("Western contractors", "couriers", "intelligence assets", brokers, even tribal leaders) in Baghdad.

That's exactly what happened to $8.8 billion of Iraqi money which simply "disappeared" between October 2003 and July 2004 under the watch of former US proconsul L Paul Bremer.

Moreover, the powerful oil plutocracy also does not have to worry about any Iraqi legal matters, as President George W Bush's Executive Order 13303 - which guarantees that any "judicial process" against any American corporate interests involved in any way with Iraq's oil "shall be deemed null and void" - was recently renewed. For global cynics, this is in fact the whole point of the "war on terror". [complete article]

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Rove ordered to talk again in leak inquiry
By avid Johnston, New York Times, October 7, 2005

Mr. Fitzgerald has focused on whether there was a deliberate effort to retaliate against Mr. Wilson for his column and its criticism of the Bush administration's Iraq policy. Recently lawyers said that they believed the prosecutor may be applying new legal theories to bring charges in the case.

One new approach appears to involve the possible use of Chapter 37 of the federal espionage and censorship law, which makes it a crime for anyone who "willfully communicates, delivers, transfers or causes to be communicated" to someone "not entitled to receive it" classified information relating the national defense matters.

Under this broad statute, a government official or a private citizen who passed classified information to anyone else in or outside the government could potentially be charged with a felony, if they transferred the information to someone without a security clearance to receive it. [complete article]

Comment -- Meanwhile, for those observers (like me) who are not legal experts, it's hard to avoid thinking that the more often Rove appears before the grand jury, the more likely he is to perjure himself.

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Bush repeats threat to veto torture curb
By Brian Knowlton, International Herald Tribune, October 6, 2005

The White House repeated an earlier veto threat Thursday after the Senate voted by an overwhelming bipartisan margin for a measure to prevent mistreatment of prisoners held by the U.S. military.

The 90-to-9 vote to ban "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of anyone in U.S. government custody was one of the sharpest political rebukes in Washington of a system under which abuses occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan and at the Guantanamo naval base in Cuba.

The abuses, documented in photographs of the humiliation of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by their U.S. jailers, provoked furious reactions in the Muslim world, brought angry condemnations around the world and reportedly fueled acts of violence in Iraq. [complete article]

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Right sees Miers as threat to a dream
By Dan Balz, Washington Post, October 7, 2005

If there has been a unifying cause in American conservatism over the past three decades, it has been a passionate desire to change the Supreme Court. When there were arguments over tax cuts and deficits, when libertarians clashed with religious conservatives, when disputes over foreign policy erupted, reshaping the judiciary bound the movement together.

Until Monday, that is. Now conservatives are in a roiling fight with the White House over President Bush's nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the high court. They fear that the president may have jeopardized their dream of fundamentally shifting the court by nominating someone with no known experience in constitutional issues rather than any one of a number of better-known jurists with unquestioned records. [complete article]

See also, Faith-based hypocrisy (E. J. Dionne Jr).

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Has the age of chaos begun?
By Mike Davis, TomDispatch, October 7, 2005

The genesis of two category-five hurricanes (Katrina and Rita) in a row over the Gulf of Mexico is an unprecedented and troubling occurrence. But for most tropical meteorologists the truly astonishing "storm of the decade" took place in March 2004. Hurricane Catarina -- so named because it made landfall in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina -- was the first recorded south Atlantic hurricane in history.

Textbook orthodoxy had long excluded the possibility of such an event; sea temperatures, experts claimed, were too low and wind shear too powerful to allow tropical depressions to evolve into cyclones south of the Atlantic Equator. Indeed, forecasters rubbed their eyes in disbelief as weather satellites down-linked the first images of a classical whirling disc with a well-formed eye in these forbidden latitudes.

In a series of recent meetings and publications, researchers have debated the origin and significance of Catarina. A crucial question is this: Was Catarina simply a rare event at the outlying edge of the normal bell curve of South Atlantic weather -- just as, for example, Joe DiMaggio's incredible 56-game hitting streak in 1941 represented an extreme probability in baseball (an analogy made famous by Stephen Jay Gould) -- or was Catarina a "threshold" event, signaling some fundamental and abrupt change of state in the planet's climate system? [complete article]

See also, Global denial (Ross Gelbspan).

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U.S. general in Iraq: growing disconnect with Washington
By Pamela Hess, UPI, October 5, 2005

"I don't know if I have the moral authority to send troops into combat anymore," a senior American general recently told United Press International.

He knows what his power means -- that on his word hundreds or thousands of young men would step into danger.

"I'm no longer sure I can look (a soldier or a Marine) in the eye and say: 'This is something worth dying for.'" [complete article]

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Where charter is least of worries
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, October 7, 2005

The first copies of the draft constitution that would remake Iraq arrived in this sandy provincial capital in U.S. military helicopters, offloaded with a phalanx of neatly pressed and jacketed Iraqi officials keen to explain the charter.

U.S., Australian and British soldiers carted about half a dozen boxes filled with copies of the charter into the dilapidated, sparely furnished government offices for tribal, religious and political leaders of Muthanna province to peruse late Wednesday afternoon.

Gov. Mohammed Hassani, deep in dialogue with the rare visitors from the central government in far-off Baghdad, idly leafed through a proffered copy. Turning back to his visitors, he let the document fall into the crack of his armchair seat cushion. In a meeting that, because of daily power cuts, had to be illuminated by the headlights of police trucks pulled up to the windows of the governor's office, Hassani had more pressing concerns. [complete article]

See also, Iraqis get copies of draft constitution (AP).

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Blair says Iran may have given bombs to insurgents
By Kevin Sullivan and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, October 7, 2005

Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that British officials were investigating evidence that Iran may have supplied sophisticated bombs to insurgents in Iraq. He warned Iran that "we're not going to be intimidated."

At a joint news conference with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, Blair stressed that "we cannot be sure" Iran provided the devices, but that the British government had "certain pieces of information that lead us back to Iran" or to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed militia in Lebanon.

Iranian officials denied the allegations, which were first made Wednesday by an anonymous British official who told British reporters that the bombs had killed eight British soldiers since May. [complete article]

See also, Hardball diplomacy goes public (BBC).

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Afghanistan straddles stability and chaos
By Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, October 7, 2005

This is Afghanistan today: Luxury Hummers among horse carts. Great hospitality amid the ruins of civil war. And dust. Everything is the color of dust -- the people, the houses, even the trees.

Four years after the United States launched the war to topple the Taliban regime that harbored Osama bin Laden, the country hangs between stability and chaos, progress and stagnation, intermittent war and sputtering peace. Even signs of optimism are not always what they seem.

At first blush, the Chinese restaurants that have sprung up around the capital give the city a new cosmopolitan feel. But a second look reveals that most double as brothels.

The glittering mansions rising around the city appear to be signs of impressive economic progress. But many are the homes of traffickers of opium -- Afghanistan's largest industry -- who have amassed fortunes and whose power rivals that of the fledgling central government in some areas. [complete article]

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ElBaradei wins Nobel peace prize
Reuters (via FT), October 7, 2005

Mohamed ElBaradei and his U.N. nuclear watchdog grabbed the world spotlight in the run-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq by challenging Washington’s argument that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

By locking horns with the U.S. administration, ElBaradei, a 63-year-old Egyptian lawyer, made powerful enemies but this did not prevent him winning a third term as head of the Vienna-based International Atomic Agency (IAEA).

By awarding the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize to ElBaradei and the IAEA 60 years after two nuclear bombs were dropped on Japan, the Nobel committee gives them a much-needed boost in their efforts to fight the spread of nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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Plamegate: the next step
By Lawrence O'Donnell, Huffington Post, October 6, 2005

This just in from the AP:
Federal prosecutors have accepted an offer from presidential adviser Karl Rove to give 11th-hour testimony in the case of a CIA officer's leaked identity but have warned they cannot guarantee he won't be indicted, according to people directly familiar with the investigation.
What this means is Rove's lawyer, Bob Luskin, believes his client is defintely going to be indicted.

So, Luskin is sending Rove back into the grand jury to try to get around the prosecutor and sell his innocence directly to the grand jurors. Legal defense work doesn't get more desperate than this. The prosecutor is happy to let Rove go under oath again--without his lawyer in the room--and try to wiggle out of the case. The prosecutor has every right to expect that Rove's final under-oath grilling will either add a count or two to the indictment or force Rove to flip and testify against someone else. [complete article]

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Domestic defense
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, October 5, 2005

The Pentagon would be granted new powers to conduct undercover intelligence gathering inside the United States -- and then withhold any information about it from the public -- under a series of little noticed provisions now winding their way through Congress.

Citing in part the need for "greater latitude" in the war on terror, the Senate Intelligence Committee recently approved broad-ranging legislation that gives the Defense Department a long sought and potentially crucial waiver: it would permit its intelligence agents, such as those working for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), to covertly approach and cultivate "U.S. persons" and even recruit them as informants -- without disclosing they are doing so on behalf of the U.S. government. The Senate committee's action comes as President George W. Bush has talked of expanding military involvement in civil affairs, such as efforts to control pandemic disease outbreaks.

The provision was included in last year's version of the same bill, but was knocked out after its details were reported by Newsweek and critics charged it could lead to "spying" on U.S. citizens. But late last month, with no public hearings or debate, a similar amendment was put back into the same authorization bill -- an annual measure governing U.S. intelligence agencies -- at the request of the Pentagon. A copy of the 104-page committee bill, which has yet to be voted on by the full Senate, did not become public until last week. [complete article]

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Conservatives confront Bush aides
By Peter Baker and Dan Balz, Washington Post, October 6, 2005

The conservative uprising against President Bush escalated yesterday as Republican activists angry over his nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court confronted the president's envoys during a pair of tense closed-door meetings.

A day after Bush publicly beseeched skeptical supporters to trust his judgment on Miers, a succession of prominent conservative leaders told his representatives that they did not. Over the course of several hours of sometimes testy exchanges, the dissenters complained that Miers was an unknown quantity with a thin resume and that her selection -- Bush called her "the best person I could find" -- was a betrayal of years of struggle to move the court to the right. [complete article]

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No CIA officials to be disciplined for alleged missteps before 9-11
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, October 5, 2005

CIA director Porter Goss said Wednesday that he will not discipline current and former top agency officials for alleged missteps before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Goss rejected the recommendation of a recently completed and highly classified report by the CIA's inspector general, which harshly criticizes the performance of top agency officials before Sept. 11.

"After great consideration of this report and its conclusions, I will not convene an accountability board to judge the performances of any individual CIA officers," Goss said in a statement.

"Risk is a critical part of the intelligence business. Singling out these individuals would send the wrong message to our junior officers about taking risks," he said. [complete article]

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Defense analyst guilty in Israeli espionage case
By Jerry Markon, Washington Post, October 6, 2005

A Defense Department analyst pleaded guilty yesterday to passing government secrets to two employees of a pro-Israel lobbying group and revealed for the first time that he also gave classified information directly to an Israeli government official in Washington.

Lawrence A. Franklin told a judge in U.S. District Court in Alexandria that he met at least eight times with Naor Gilon, who was the political officer at the Israeli Embassy before being recalled last summer.

The guilty plea and Franklin's account appeared to cast doubt on long-standing denials by Israeli officials that they engage in any intelligence activities in the United States. The possibility of continued Israeli spying in Washington has been a sensitive subject between the two governments since Jonathan J. Pollard, a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, admitted to spying for Israel in 1987 and was sentenced to life in prison. [complete article]

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Spy probe widens to years suspect was at White House
By Dan Eggen and Alan Sipress, Washington Post, October 6, 2005

The Justice Department is investigating whether a naturalized U.S. citizen from the Philippines stole classified documents while he worked in the office of Vice President Cheney and provided the information to opposition politicians in Manila, Bush administration officials said yesterday.

The possibility that Leandro Aragoncillo was passing the material while stationed as a U.S. Marine security official at the White House marks a dramatic expansion of the case against him and a former Philippine police official, Michael Ray Aquino. Both were arrested and charged in federal court in Newark last month with sending classified information obtained this year to the Philippines -- more than two years after Aragoncillo left the White House and went to work as an FBI intelligence analyst. [complete article]

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Iraq slips away
Editorial, Washington Post, October 6, 2005

Iraq stands less than 10 days away from a momentous vote on a new constitution, the first of a series of events that in the next several months will make or break the U.S.-backed attempt to unite the country under a new political system. A successful exit for U.S. troops, or a deepening military quagmire, hangs in the balance. Yet serious discussion of the Iraqi political process in Washington seems to have faded to a whisper. President Bush answered only one question about Iraq during a 55-minute news conference Tuesday; in doing so, he again wrongly described the principal U.S. challenges as defeating Islamic terrorists and training Iraqi forces. Many administration critics, too, largely ignore the issues surrounding the constitutional referendum. Since they insist on portraying Iraq as an irretrievable disaster and a replay of Vietnam, they have little incentive to focus on the actual situation.

Yet there are urgent decisions to be made about the political process and the American role in it. Senior U.S. military officers understand this; in the past week, the top commander in Iraq, Gen. George W. Casey, was among several who said that a political accord among Iraq's various ethnic and religious communities is critical in determining whether the war winds down or grows far worse. Moreover, the generals are willing to say what the civilians in Washington have not: that right now the process is headed in the wrong direction. "We've looked for the constitution to be a national compact," Gen. Casey said, "and the perception now is that it's not." [complete article]

Comment -- If you view America's involvement in Iraq as simply being that the US is part of the problem, not the solution, then it's hard to advocate any course of action other than withdrawing the troops. Yet as the UN just demonstrated by threatening to withdraw supervision of the referendum on the constitution, the political process in Iraq is far from being impervious to outside influence.

The proponents of self-determination would argue that Iraqis are the only ones who have a legitimate right to shape their own future, but the reality is that a country on the verge of breaking apart is one in which the foundations for self-determination are rapidly dissolving.

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Iraqis reverse disputed rules on referendum
By Robert F. Worth and Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, October 6, 2005

Under strong pressure from the United Nations, the National Assembly voted Wednesday to cancel a last-minute rule change that would have made it almost impossible for Iraq's new constitution to fail in the coming referendum.

The reversal came a day after United Nations officials in Baghdad had warned Shiite and Kurdish leaders that the rule, passed on Sunday, was a violation of international election standards, and could prompt the organization to withdraw from supervising the vote. Sunni Arab leaders who oppose the constitution had also criticized the rule change, saying it amounted to rigging the referendum.

The Shiite and Kurdish leaders capitulated Wednesday, with 119 of 147 lawmakers present voting to cancel the rule change. But Shiite leaders said they were still deeply concerned about whether the vote would be fair, and they reserved the right to challenge the results if the constitution failed in the vote, on Oct. 15. [complete article]

Comment -- The Los Angeles Times reports that "U.S. officials have been urging Sunni-led governments to use their influence to persuade Iraq's Sunnis to take part in the democratic process," yet that appeal might have a bit more credibility if supporting the democratic process wasn't equated with supporting the draft constitution. If Sunnis vote in large enough numbers to prevent the constitution's approval will there be anyone in the Bush administration who hales this as a victory for democracy?

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Talabani rejects call for al-Jaafari to step down
By Bruce I. Konviser, Washington Times, October 6, 2005

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani distanced himself yesterday from a call for the resignation of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, saying the last thing his country needs at this time is more political instability.

"No, I don't believe that he must resign," Mr. Talabani said during a press briefing in the Czech capital. With a continuing insurgency and a referendum on the constitution this month, "we don't think it's the time for asking for the resignation of the government."

But Mr. Talabani, head of one of Iraq's two main Kurdish factions, made clear that he is not happy with the way the prime minister is running the government. [complete article]

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The sights, sounds and threat of violence are a constant in Baghdad
By Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder, October 4, 2005

12:10 p.m. - Get inside National Assembly building. Someone steals my watch at the final security check.

12:30 p.m. - Talking to Saddam Hussein's old translator. He explains that democracy in the new Iraq is a fiasco. Bush's fault, and Bush will have to face the judgment of history for his mistakes. (All times from here are approximate; see above.)

12:50 p.m. - The major [who Schofield has arranged to meet to discuss how to make the entrance to the Green Zone safer for journalists] is late so I decide to head down to the checkpoint and wait for him. Mohammed says, "No, you're not. You're waiting for his call."

1 p.m. - On phone with the major, who's apologizing for being late when a car bomb explodes at Checkpoint 3 entrance. Gunfire ensues.

1-3 p.m. - Locked down in National Assembly building with legislators while bomb debris and bodies are cleared from the street. [complete article]

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Senate adds amendment banning torture to defense spending bill
By Joseph L. Galloway and James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder, October 5, 2005

The Senate delivered a stern rebuke to the Bush administration Wednesday night, adding language banning U.S. torture of military prisoners to a $440 billion military spending bill in defiance of a White House threat to veto the whole bill if the anti-torture language was attached.

The Republican-majority Senate followed the lead of maverick Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., voting 90-9 to add the anti-torture language to the legislation.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a retired Army general, joined 28 other retired senior military officers in endorsing the McCain-Graham amendment. [complete article]

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Don't know how to exit Iraq? Ask the Sunnis
By Robert Collier, Foreign Policy, October, 2005

As Bush administration officials and the media focus on Iraq's scheduled October 15 vote on the proposed constitution, the questions bandied about seem deceptively urgent: Will the proposed constitution win the electorate's approval? Is the Iraqi army growing stronger, and if so, at what rate? Can U.S. troops begin to withdraw next year, or will the current troop strength of about 150,000 be needed for years to come?

Yet at the same time, nearly everyone -- including U.S. generals in charge of the Iraq war effort -- admits that the insurgency will continue unabated no matter what, keeping Iraq trapped in the same anarchy and bloodshed as in the past two years. Almost entirely missing from this debate are those who presumably might know how best to stop the violence -- the Sunni hard-liners and other nationalists who are closest to the insurgency. Largely unnoticed by Americans, these Iraqis have reached tacit consensus over the broad outline of an interim program to end the fighting, stabilize the country, and thus enable the U.S.-led coalition troops to begin a gradual withdrawal.

In telephone interviews from Baghdad, the most prominent hard-liners show more nuanced and realistic positions than might be expected. They admit that any U.S. withdrawal will necessarily be long and slow. At the same time, they insist on a series of preliminary concessions that would be highly controversial in both Iraq and the United States. [complete article]

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U.S. launches another major assault in western Iraq
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, October 4, 2005

The U.S. military Tuesday launched a second major assault in less than a week on cities in western Iraq in a hunt for foreign fighters whose attacks have increased in the weeks leading up to the Oct. 15 national referendum on a new Iraqi constitution.

About 2,500 U.S. troops and hundreds of Iraqi soldiers took part in the operation, codenamed River Gate, the military said in statements. The offensive centered on Haditha, Haqlaniyah and Barwana, Sunni cities located in the Euphrates River valley in western Anbar province. Meanwhile, Operation Iron Fist, another assault launched four days ago in the Qaimregion of Anbar province near the Iraqi-Syrian border continued, as troops searched for fighters connected to al Qaeda in Iraq who freely roamed the streets of Sadah and surrounding towns.

The U.S. military said three soldiers and a Marine died in combat actions on Monday. Three soldiers assigned to a Marine combat team were killed by an improvised explosive device (IED) in two separate attacks in Haqlaniyah. A Marine died from an IED in Karabilah in the operation near the Syrian border, according to the military. [complete article]

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U.N. condemns Iraq charter change
BBC News, October 4, 2005

The United Nations has criticised changes to Iraq's electoral law that make it harder for Iraqis to reject the draft constitution.

The two-thirds majority needed in three provinces to defeat the constitution will now be counted from all registered - as opposed to actual - voters. [complete article]

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How not to win the war on terror
By Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2005

"Iraqi and coalition forces tracked down and killed Abu Azzam, the second-most-wanted Al Qaeda leader in Iraq. This guy is a brutal killer. He was one of Zarqawi's top lieutenants. He was reported to be the top operational commander of Al Qaeda in Baghdad."

Those who heard President Bush make this claim in the Rose Garden on Wednesday could be forgiven for feeling that they were suffering from a case of deja vu.

It was just over two months ago that Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard B. Myers announced the capture of Abu Abd Aziz, whom he described as Abu Musab Zarqawi's "main leader in Baghdad."

And it was only three months ago that Pentagon officials announced the arrest of Mohammed Khalif Shaiker, a.k.a. Abu Talha, of Mosul, which they described as "a major defeat for the Al Qaeda organization in Iraq."

In May, Amar Zubaydi, a Zarqawi lieutenant responsible for an assault on Abu Ghraib prison and a series of car bombings in Baghdad, was arrested. In January, Abu Umar Kurdi, who was said to be the architect of three-quarters of the car bombings in Baghdad, was captured.

A very quick LexisNexis search shows that at least a dozen top Zarqawi lieutenants have been apprehended or killed since early last year. The "Groundhog Day" quality of this routine might not matter if our opponents' litany of accomplishments during the exact same period were not so awful. [complete article]

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How the world was duped: The race to invade Iraq
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, October 4, 2005

The 5th of February 2003 was a snow-blasted day in New York, the steam whirling out of the road covers, the US secret servicemen - helpfully wearing jackets with "Secret Service" printed on them - hugging themselves outside the fustian, asbestos-packed UN headquarters on the East River. Exhausted though I was after travelling thousands of miles around the United States, the idea of watching Secretary of State Colin Powell - or General Powell, as he was now being reverently redubbed in some American newspapers - make his last pitch for war before the Security Council was an experience not to be missed.

In a few days, I would be in Baghdad to watch the start of this frivolous, demented conflict. Powell's appearance at the Security Council was the essential prologue to the tragedy - or tragicomedy if one could contain one's anger - the appearance of the Attendant Lord who would explain the story of the drama, the Horatio to the increasingly unstable Hamlet in the White House. There was an almost macabre opening to the play when General Powell arrived at the Security Council, cheek-kissing the delegates and winding his great arms around them. CIA director George Tenet stood behind Powell, chunky, aggressive but obedient, just a little bit lip-biting, an Edward G Robinson who must have convinced himself that the more dubious of his information was buried beneath an adequate depth of moral fury and fear to be safely concealed. Just like Bush's appearance at the General Assembly the previous September, you needed to be in the Security Council to see what the television cameras missed. There was a wonderful moment when the little British home secretary Jack Straw entered the chamber through the far right-hand door in a massive power suit, his double-breasted jacket apparently wrapping itself twice around Britain's most famous ex-Trot. He stood for a moment with a kind of semi-benign smile on his uplifted face, his nose in the air as if sniffing for power. Then he saw Powell and his smile opened like an umbrella as his small feet, scuttling beneath him, propelled him across the stage and into the arms of Powell for his big American hug. [complete article]

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Can Hamas change course?
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, October 4, 2005

With his beardless face brightened by a trendy orange shirt and matching tie, Saadeh Shalabi does not look like the typical up-and-coming leader of Hamas, the Islamic fundamentalist movement committed to Israel's destruction.

But Mr. Shalabi, an electrical engineer who works at East Jerusalem's Al Quads University, is Hamas' top politician in this middle-class suburb of Ramallah, the West Bank's Palestinian power center. And, even though his party won less than half of the available seats here in last week's municipal polls, he appears set to become mayor, aided by a coalition with independents who also won seats in the election.

"Hamas did very well," says Mr. Shalabi, in a meeting at the local Hamas campaign office. According to official results announced Sunday, Hamas won five of the 13 available seats here. "It's good that the people will see that the Islamic parties can participate in democracy and can work to develop their societies."

Hamas, he says, recruited him because of his reputation for being honest. And if he was going to go into politics, he wanted to work only with "qualified professional people," he says. "I found those qualities in Hamas." [complete article]

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A boom without bombs
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, October 3, 2005

A burly American contractor and a sleek young Jordanian lawyer dig into steaming plates of Chinese noodles as Ukrainian hostesses freshen their drinks. Across town, exiled Baathist millionaires toss money at belly dancers and dedicate songs to Saddam Hussein. And outside the Bristol Hotel, tattooed private security contractors exercise their bomb-sniffing dogs.

This is the new Amman. More than two years of relentless conflict to the east has turned this once-sleepy capital into the increasingly bizarre nerve center for Iraq. It seems like something out of the movie "Casablanca" or, maybe more aptly, the cantina scene from "Star Wars."

It's the Middle East's newest boomtown. Property values are up as much as 200% in the last two years, traffic jams are worsening, and hotels are packed with the strangest of war-zone bedfellows: Iraqi politicians and businessmen, international aid workers, foreign contractors and mercenaries. [complete article]

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Preventing a nuclear Katrina
By Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, October, 2005

Surveying the devastation the day after Hurricane Katrina struck Gulf Coast towns and cities, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour (R) likened the storm force to a nuclear attack. "I can only imagine this is what Hiroshima looked like 60 years ago," he told reporters. Not quite, Governor.

The blast, fire, and radiation effects of the 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima killed some 140,000 people by the end of 1945 and injured still more. A similar weapon used today against a major city would wreak similar or even more extensive death and damage.

The nation must and will help the greater New Orleans region recover from the worst U.S. natural disaster in decades, but there is no evacuation or post-disaster triage plan sufficient to deal with a terrorist attack with even a "small" nuclear weapon, let alone a conflict between states involving nuclear weapons. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich put it mildly when he asked, "[I]f we can't respond faster to an event we saw coming across the Gulf [of Mexico] for days, then why do we think we're prepared to respond to a nuclear or biological attack?" [complete article]

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Election move seems to ensure Iraqis' charter
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, October 4, 2005

Iraq's Shiite and Kurdish leaders quietly adopted new rules over the weekend that will make it virtually impossible for the constitution to fail in the coming national referendum.

The move prompted Sunni Arabs and a range of independent political figures to complain that the vote was being fixed.

Some Sunni leaders who have been organizing a campaign to vote down the proposed constitution said they might now boycott the referendum on Oct. 15. Other political leaders also reacted angrily, saying the change would seriously damage the vote's credibility.

Under the new rules, the constitution will fail only if two-thirds of all registered voters - rather than two-thirds of all those actually casting ballots - reject it in at least three of the 18 provinces.

The change, adopted during an unannounced vote in Parliament on Sunday afternoon, effectively raises the bar for those who oppose the constitution. Given that fewer than 60 percent of registered Iraqis voted in the January elections, the chances that two-thirds will both show up at the polls and vote against the document in three provinces would appear to be close to nil. [complete article]

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Wrangling not yet over on Iraqi charter
By Omar Fekeiki and Robin Wright, Washington Post, October 4, 2005

Two weeks before Iraqis vote on a new constitution, with millions of copies already circulating for voters to study, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad is leading a drive for major changes in the charter to try to win crucial Sunni Arab support, according to Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds involved in the last-ditch negotiations.

Khalilzad in recent days agreed to take six Sunni demands to Shiite and Kurdish leaders for intensified negotiations. The demands for changes included some that Sunnis hope would keep political power and natural resources under the control of Iraq's traditionally strong central government, Nasser Janabi, a lead Sunni negotiator, said Monday.

"The six demands are our last suggestions," Janabi said. "We cannot give up any more rights. If they agree on these demands, the marginalized group will take another, positive position on the constitution." [complete article]

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DeLay faces another indictment
By Scott Gold, Los Angeles Times, October 4, 2005

Six days after an indictment of Rep. Tom DeLay, R-Texas, on conspiracy charges roiled the political establishment, a new grand jury issued a second indictment Monday charging him with the far more serious crime of money laundering -- a first-degree felony that could bring a lengthy prison term.

Under the internal rules of the Republican Party, the conspiracy indictment forced DeLay to step down from his position as House majority leader. That charge, a fourth-degree felony punishable by a state prison term of two years, came after a wide-ranging probe into allegations that DeLay and his lieutenants had hijacked Texas elections by illegally funneling corporate money into the bank accounts of Republican state candidates.

DeLay has been defiant ever since, saying the charge was the result of a political vendetta and vowing that he would soon be vindicated and reassume his position as a premier power-broker on Capitol Hill.

But Monday, a second grand jury issued an indictment charging DeLay with conspiracy to commit money laundering, a second-degree felony, and money laundering, a first-degree felony.

Combined, the charges could bring a life prison term. Although such stiff punishment is virtually unheard of in cases of political wrongdoing, "This is serious stuff," said University of Texas law professor George E. Dix. "They have obviously upped the ante." [complete article]

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Weak responses led to 9/11, Cheney asserts
By Sam Coates, Washington Post, October 4, 2005

The Bush administration will aggressively pursue terrorism in Iraq and on "every other front," Vice President Cheney said Monday, asserting that the United States is now paying the price for two decades of weak responses to terrorist attacks.

Addressing Marines who have just returned from Iraq, Cheney said the failure of both Republican and Democratic administrations to retaliate decisively after terrorism incidents during the 1980s and 1990s led directly to the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001.

"The terrorists came to believe that they could strike America without paying any price. And so they continued to wage those attacks, making the world less safe and eventually striking the United States on 9/11," Cheney said. [complete article]

Comment -- Cheney has been pushing this line relentlessly for four years now but it's still worth challenging. Take it apart and it reveals how the vice president is driven by the same impulse that lies behind the violence of every wife-beater and other weak man whose only experience of strength comes from the ability to make someone else suffer. If your persecutors are invulnerable then you opt for a mock retaliation by hitting a substitute target. The vice president's deceit is of course to use the word "back" because, as we all know, when America "hits back" it invariably misses its real target. Thus America, under Bush and Cheney's leadership, has demonstrated how it is most often fear and weakness that precipitate the most dramatic displays of violence. The man who spends most of his life in hiding would do well to reflect on the meaning of courage.

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Generation jihad
By Bill Powell, Time, October 3, 2005

The last time Myriam Cherif saw her son Peter, 23, was in May 2004, when the two of them stood at the elevator on the fifth floor of the gritty public-housing project where they lived, just north of Paris. Myriam, 48, was born in Tunisia, moved to France when she was 8 and became a French citizen. Peter's father, who died when the boy was 14, was a Catholic from the French Antilles in the Caribbean. But Peter took a different path. In 2003 he converted to Islam and became a devout Muslim. He took to wearing loose trousers and a long tunic instead of blue jeans and repeatedly told Myriam that she should wear the traditional Muslim head scarf. And then one day last spring, Peter told his mother he was heading off to Syria to study Arabic and the Koran.

At first, Peter e-mailed his mother every couple of days, sending her snapshots and news of his studies in Damascus. Last July he told her he was headed for a "spiritual retreat" and would be out of touch for a while. She heard nothing until December, when she received a brief phone call from a French government official who told her that Peter had been captured by U.S. soldiers in the Iraqi city of Fallujah.

Today Peter, one of five French citizens captured by U.S. forces in Iraq, is being held at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, family members say. More than a year since she last heard from her son, Myriam Cherif is still trying to understand how, in the streets and cafés of Paris, Peter and other young Muslims like him were lured into giving up their lives in the West and pursuing jihad. "They saw aggressive, violent images on the Internet and asked questions about why Muslims were suffering abroad while European countries were doing nothing," she says. "It's like they set off a bomb in their heads." [complete article]

See also, In a prison's halls, the call to Islam (LAT).

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War in the shadows
By Tim McGirk, Time, October 3, 2005

Dusk has set in on the road out of Kandahar, and Captain Jeremy Turner of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division is explaining why he prefers Afghanistan to Iraq. "The Iraqis will plant explosives and run away," he says. "But the Afghans will go toe-to-toe with you." Just as Turner, 29, starts to expand on the point, a huge explosion interrupts him. One of the humvees in his 16-vehicle convoy has been hit by a roadside bomb and explodes in a flaming whoosh. Turner and his men have driven straight into a Taliban ambush.

A car screeches toward the front of the convoy, and gunmen inside open fire on the U.S. soldiers. Through his night-vision goggles, Turner spots three men carrying rocket-propelled-grenade launchers racing toward the stalled convoy. Bullets are zinging in from fields. The gunners atop the humvees open up with their .50-cal. machine guns, and red tracer bullets carve across the darkness. "Call me a friggin' detective, but I'd say they knew we were coming!" yells Turner while radioing for a medevac helicopter. The five soldiers inside the flaming humvee, although burned and slashed by flying shrapnel, have survived. But the vehicle is still rolling straight toward a field of mines. The soldiers haul themselves out of the burning vehicle and stagger to the nearest humvee. Sergeant Jeremy Gates, 25, grabs a fire extinguisher to try dousing the flames before the 900 rounds of ammunition inside the humvee start cooking. It's of little use. Within seconds, lethal fireworks are rocketing everywhere like miniature suns, and Turner and his men run for cover. [complete article]

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A step ahead, but Erdogan faces wary home public
By Vincent Boland, Financial Times, October 4, 2005

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, came a step closer yesterday to going down in history as the man who achieved one of modern Turkey's oldest and most coveted foreign policy goals: joining the European Union.

But despite securing the start of the accession process yesterday, Mr Erdogan may find it hard to sell EU membership to a public increasingly wary of Brussels' influence over Turkish affairs.

Tolga Ediz, an economist at Lehman Brothers, said the momentum for reform that the push for the EU accession process had generated inside Turkey had been damaged by the weekend's brinkmanship. "Whatever happens, the EU project has taken a massive blow," he said. "Now that the EU carrot is mouldy, it is going to be impossible for the government to do anything difficult [in terms of further reforms]." [complete article]

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Shia-Kurdish pact at risk over Kirkuk
By Neil MacDonald, Financial Times, October 3, 2005

The Shia-Kurdish pact at the heart of Iraq's transitional government is threatening to split amid accusations by Iraq's president, a Kurd, that the Shia prime minister's parliamentary bloc broke a deal over oil-rich Kirkuk, which the Kurds claim as their historic capital.

President Jalal Talabani wanted Ibrahim al-Jaafari, prime minister, to resign so that Iraq's political process could move ahead, Mr Talabani's spokesman, Azad Jundiyani, said yesterday. Following repeated stop-gap trade-offs, the un-resolved rift over the ethnically mixed northern city has again re-emerged at a critical juncture this time in the run-up to the October 15 referendum on a contentious draft constitution. [complete article]

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No more illusions
By Scott Johnson, Babak Dehghanpisheh and Michael Hastings, October 10, 2005

Across the country many Iraqis have begun to fear the worst: that their society is breaking apart from within. "The vast majority of the population is resisting calls to take up arms against other ethnic and religious groups," said a senior Bush administration official whose portfolio includes Iraq but who is not authorized to speak on the record. Yet he also said there "is a settling of accounts and a splitting apart of communities that [once] did business together." Sunni insurgents, trying to prevent political dominance by the Shiite majority, are killing them in great numbers. Shiite militia and death squads are resisting. Now many ordinary citizens who are caught in the middle aren't waiting to become victims. They're moving to safer areas, creating trickles of internal refugees. "There is an undeclared civil war," Hussein Ali Kamal, head of intelligence at the Ministry of Interior, told Newsweek.

The outcome of these conflicts -- and Iraq's future as a unified state -- may well be riding on a critical nationwide vote planned for next week. Iraqis will decide, in a U.S.-orchestrated referendum on Oct. 15, whether to accept a permanent constitution drafted by the transitional National Assembly. Yet many worry that even if the constitution passes as Washington hopes, it will only worsen the disintegration underway. Key provisions allow for separate regions to control water and new oil wells, dictate tax policy and oversee "internal security forces" -- to become autonomous, in effect. A confidential United Nations report, dated Sept. 15 and obtained by Newsweek, cautions that the new constitution is a "model for the territorial division of the State." And in congressional testimony last week, Gen. George Casey, commander of Coalition forces in Iraq, said the U.S. occupation may have to continue longer because the draft constitution "didn't come out as the national compact that we thought it was going to be." [complete article]

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Iraq war delayed Katrina relief effort, inquiry finds
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, October 3, 2005

Relief efforts to combat Hurricane Katrina suffered near catastrophic failures due to endemic corruption, divisions within the military and troop shortages caused by the Iraq war, an official American inquiry into the disaster has revealed.

The confidential report, which has been seen by The Independent, details how funds for flood control were diverted to other projects, desperately needed National Guards were stuck in Iraq and how military personnel had to "sneak off post" to help with relief efforts because their commander had refused permission.

The shortcomings in dealing with Katrina have rocked George Bush's administration. Michael Brown, director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has resigned from his post and polls show that a majority of Americans feel the President showed inadequate leadership.

The report was commissioned by the Office of Secretary of Defence as an "independent and critical review" of what went so wrong. In a hard-hitting analysis, it says: "The US military has long planned for war on two fronts. This is as close as we have come to [that] reality since the Second World War; the results have been disastrous." [complete article]

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Insurgent groups responsible for war crimes
Human Rights Watch, October 3, 2005

The various rationales offered by insurgent groups in Iraq for their attacks on civilians are not justified in international law, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 140-page report, A Face and a Name: Civilian Victims of Insurgent Groups in Iraq, is the most detailed study to date of abuses by insurgent groups. It systematically presents and debunks the arguments that some insurgent groups and their supporters use to justify unlawful attacks on civilians. [complete article]

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Iraq town yields arms, not men
By Jackie Spinner, Washington Post, October 3, 2005

For a second day, U.S. and Iraqi troops combed the city of Sadah near the Syrian border for insurgents loyal to al Qaeda, witnesses and the U.S. and Iraqi militaries said Sunday.

An Iraqi army captain said security forces had conducted house-to-house searches in about 80 percent of Sadah by Sunday evening before taking control of most of the city. He said the searches yielded weapons but few foreign fighters from al Qaeda in Iraq, an insurgent network led by Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian.

"We think Zarqawi's group escaped before the assault, because the U.S. forces were not engaged in heavy clashes," said the captain, who declined to give his name, citing threats against Iraqi forces. [complete article]

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Shooting of reporter in Iraq was justified, U.S. report says
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, October 1, 2005

A U.S. military investigation of the June 24 shooting death of Yasser Salihee, a Knight Ridder Iraqi correspondent, confirmed that he was killed by an American soldier and then left dead in his car, splattered with blood and shattered glass in the middle of the street.

The 3rd Infantry Division's report concluded the shooting was justified because the soldiers thought Salihee could have been a suicide bomber or attempting to run them over as he approached an intersection in western Baghdad.
There are no reliable numbers of Iraqi civilians killed by U.S. forces in Iraq since the war began in March 2003. The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a release last month that American troops had killed at least 13 journalists in Iraq, and in most cases the military has either not investigated or not made its reports public.

In Salihee's case, there were no disciplinary measures meted out. The only action taken was to send an unspecified number of soldiers to "remedial training on consequence management." Vige noted that the troops' decision to leave Salihee's body "in plain view and leaving the area ... could not have had a positive impact on the local populace." [complete article]

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Key Palestinian militant declares strikes on Israel will continue
By Dion Nissenbaum, Knight Ridder, October 2, 2005

Jamal Abu Samhadana hardly looks like a man with a target on his back.

Sitting at a safe house eating fresh guava and figs, one of Israel's most wanted Palestinian militants says his group has no plans to stop its attacks, even though the Jewish nation has ended its 38 years of military rule in the Gaza Strip.

"All of Israel is a military base," Samhadana said in a rare interview with Knight Ridder Newspapers. "All the Israeli people are soldiers in the Israeli army."

Samhadana's vow to continue striking Israel suggests that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas still faces a difficult challenge in fulfilling his pledge to bring order to the Gaza Strip by reining in armed groups like Samhadana's Popular Resistance Committees. [complete article]

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E.U. without Turkey 'will be just a Christian club'
By Vincent Boland and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, October 3, 2005

Turkey's prime minister warned the European Union yesterday that it faced a choice between becoming a global power or a "Christian club" as it struggled to overcome a last-minute hurdle to the opening today of membership negotiations with his overwhelmingly Muslim country.

As thousands of nationalists demonstrated in Ankara against both the EU and his government, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Europe would squander the chance to overcome longstanding Christian-Muslim suspicions if it stepped back from its commitment to full membership for Turkey.

Austria is insisting that the EU offer less than full membership for Turkey as an option. [complete article]

See also, Turkey E.U. talks deadlocked as Austria digs in (The Guardian).

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Monitors find significant fraud in Afghan elections
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, October 3, 2005

Election officials and observers said Sunday that with 80 percent of the ballots counted in Afghanistan's national and provincial elections, they had found significant incidents of fraud.

Whole districts have come under suspicion for ballot box stuffing and proxy voting, said Peter Erben, the chief of the United Nations-assisted Joint Election Management Board. He said ballot boxes from 4 percent of the 26,000 polling places - about 1,000 stations - had been set aside for investigation on suspicion of fraud and other irregularities.

The European Union observer mission said the reports of fraud and possible voter intimidation in places were "worrying." In a statement, the mission said, "While these phenomena do not appear to be nationwide, they are a cause for concern." [complete article]

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Role of Rove, Libby in CIA leak case clearer
By Jim VandeHei and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 2, 2005

Many lawyers in the case have been skeptical that [special prosecutor Patrick J.] Fitzgerald has the evidence to prove a violation of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act, which is the complicated crime he first set out to investigate, and which requires showing that government officials knew an operative had covert status and intentionally leaked the operative's identity.

But a new theory about Fitzgerald's aim has emerged in recent weeks from two lawyers who have had extensive conversations with the prosecutor while representing witnesses in the case. They surmise that Fitzgerald is considering whether he can bring charges of a criminal conspiracy perpetrated by a group of senior Bush administration officials. Under this legal tactic, Fitzgerald would attempt to establish that at least two or more officials agreed to take affirmative steps to discredit and retaliate against Wilson and leak sensitive government information about his wife. To prove a criminal conspiracy, the actions need not have been criminal, but conspirators must have had a criminal purpose. [complete article]

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U.S. generals now see virtues of a smaller troop presence in Iraq
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2005

The U.S. generals running the war in Iraq presented a new assessment of the military situation in public comments and sworn testimony this week: The 149,000 U.S. troops currently in Iraq are increasingly part of the problem.

During a trip to Washington, the generals said the presence of U.S. forces was fueling the insurgency, fostering an undesirable dependency on American troops among the nascent Iraqi armed forces and energizing terrorists across the Middle East.

For all these reasons, they said, a gradual withdrawal of U.S. troops was imperative.

American officials backtracked on their expectations of what the U.S. military can achieve in Iraq months ago. But this week's comments showed that commanders believe a large U.S. force in Iraq might in fact be creating problems as well as solutions. [complete article]

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Sunni death cult is pushing Iraq towards civil war
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, October 1, 2005

The suicide bombing campaign is now more than ever directed at killing Shia civilians in as large numbers as possible when they gather to seek jobs or throng open-air food markets. The campaign is intensifying as the Shia-Kurdish government strengthens its grip on government in Baghdad ending the age-long Sunni dominance.

For the so-called "neo-Salafi" movement civil war is a central aim, not a by-product of their bombing campaign. Anthony Cordesman of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, says: "What makes the most extreme Sunni insurgents, who are largely neo-Salafi, different is that many see a civil war as an end in itself."

The Salafi, a long-established puritanical Sunni trend in Islam, have no tolerance for alternative interpretations. The "neo-Salafi" are different less in ideology than in their commitment to violent struggle and their cult of death. [complete article]

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Sectarian strife reshaping Baghdad's neighborhoods
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2005

The merchants were silent, their shops closed. A hush had fallen on the Jamiyat Shurta market. Earlier that morning, three bakers had been slain, shot silently as they prepared khubz, the popular pancake-like bread.

A few hours later, two gunmen crept up on a fishmonger at another market nearby, felling him with bullets before disappearing into the crowd.

Around the corner, assailants had gunned down a bicycle dealer and a university teacher in separate attacks earlier this week.

All the victims were Shiites living or working in Baghdad's Dora neighborhood.

On the streets of the capital, posters proclaim: "The constitution: Unity is from it, and hope is in it."

But, as Iraqis prepare to vote on a new constitution Oct. 15, hope and unity are in short supply, with gunmen redrawing the map of this age-old city in blood. [complete article]

See also, Middle-class family life in Iraq withers amid the chaos of war (NYT).

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The last thing Iraq needs now is the passing of its draft constitution
By Scott Ritter, The Independent, October 2, 2005

Regardless of the result of the Iraqi people's vote on the constitution on 15 October, the reality is that it is a failed document, reflective of a failed process. A rejection would, in fact, represent a liberating moment for the decision-makers in Washington and London, enabling them to chart a new course free from the past.

Many observers, including some senior US and British military officers, concede that the presence of American and British troops is having a negative effect on Iraq's domestic situation, and the sooner they are withdrawn, the better. The issue is how to manage such a withdrawal without setting off a chain of events leading to even more chaos. Many feel that the adoption of the draft constitution represents such a circumstance, but this is a false hope. There are forces at play in Iraq that cannot be ignored and which, if the draft constitution passes, will be outside the control of either the US or Britain. [complete article]

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Bombers didn't need al-Qaeda
By Jason Burke, The Observer, October 2, 2005

It is tempting to see the bombs in Bali yesterday as part of the wave of attacks launched by the supposedly still omnipresent al-Qaeda. But Islamic militancy in Indonesia, and in the Far East generally, is not new. It certanly far pre-dates Osama bin Laden.

Islam was a rallying flag for resistance to Dutch colonisation in the 17th century. Frequent suicide attacks involved young men charging headlong into the enemy ranks to kill as many as possible before being 'martyred'.

After the Second World War, cells of radical Indonesian Muslims again fought to free their nation from Dutch control. Their aim was to create a Dar ul Islam, or Land of Islam, where strict Islamic orthodoxy would be enforced. Over the next 30 years Indonesian militants struck against central governments and were used by it to combat communists. [complete article]

See also, Horror returns to Bali (The Indpendent).

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A proud Turkey hesitates at the E.U. crossroads
By Jason Burke, The Observer, October 2, 2005

Tomorrow, assuming last-minute negotiations overcome all hitches, Turkey will formally start negotiations to bring its 70 million-plus citizens into the EU some time between 2015 and 2020.

Yet in Europe and in Turkey there are signs that a backlash might have started. Polls show that support for EU accession has slumped from 75 per cent in December last year, when the EU set the date for the start of negotiations, to just over 60 per cent now, and the opposition is becoming increasingly vocal. The major reason, say analysts, is the conservative reaction in many EU nations against Turkish entry which has led to increasingly tough entry tests and statements that imply, or even explicitly declare, the 'Christian' roots of Europe and fears of being 'swamped' by immigrants. This weekend the Austrian government is still insisting that Turkey should be offered 'privileged partnership' instead of full membership of the EU.

Such demands are keenly resented in Turkey. 'It's like telling someone you love them and being asked to go away and come back when you've lost some weight,' said one analyst. 'It's insulting and humiliating. Eventually you just lose interest altogether and look elsewhere.' [complete article]

See also, We must not turn our back on our best Muslim ally (Stephen Twigg).

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Bush administration to examine new measures against Syria
By Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, September 30, 2005

President Bush and his top aides are weighing new steps against Syria, according to U.S. officials involved in Middle East policy.

Bush's national security team is due to meet Saturday to review policy toward Syria, the officials said. Options range from tougher economic sanctions to limited military action. One official involved in the deliberations said military action is unlikely for now.

The meeting comes as a United Nations investigator nears completion of a report that's expected to provide evidence that Syrian security agencies were involved in the February assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. [complete article]

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The dark side of faith
By Rosa Brooks, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2005

Too much religion may be a dangerous thing.

This is the implication of a study reported in the current issue of the Journal of Religion and Society, a publication of Creighton University's Center for the Study of Religion. The study, by evolutionary scientist Gregory S. Paul, looks at the correlation between levels of "popular religiosity" and various "quantifiable societal health" indicators in 18 prosperous democracies, including the United States.

Paul ranked societies based on the percentage of their population expressing absolute belief in God, the frequency of prayer reported by their citizens and their frequency of attendance at religious services. He then correlated this with data on rates of homicide, sexually transmitted disease, teen pregnancy, abortion and child mortality.

He found that the most religious democracies exhibited substantially higher degrees of social dysfunction than societies with larger percentages of atheists and agnostics. Of the nations studied, the U.S. -- which has by far the largest percentage of people who take the Bible literally and express absolute belief in God (and the lowest percentage of atheists and agnostics) -- also has by far the highest levels of homicide, abortion, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. [complete article]

Comment -- Though it's tempting for every good atheist to take from this study a solemn warning about the dangers of religion, it's worth remembering a line from Marx: "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature." To see societal ills where religion thrives says perhaps not so much about what engendered those problems as much as about the conditions of poverty in which religion thrives. Religion offers the illusion of a way out of suffering when few others appear to be available. That crime is less in the rich North-East than it is in the poor South tells us less about religion per se than it tells about the connection between poverty and crime.

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No Israelis in Gaza. No jobs, either
By Abdallah Al Salmi, Washington Post, October 2, 2005

"The border is open?" I cried in surprise and disbelief. "Won't they shoot at us?"

For as long as I could remember, it had been dangerous, even lethal, to approach the heavily guarded, shoot-to-kill border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. But on Sept. 12, Israel had pulled its last troops out of Gaza. Now, a few days later, my brother Ahmed was telling me that some militant Palestinians had managed to break through the 25-foot-tall border wall, and a flood of eager Gazans were heading south to visit the Sinai. Ahmed wanted to go, too.

These were exciting days. Desperate and frustrated by years of occupation, we Gazans saw the Israeli withdrawal as a historic moment, and listened eagerly to minute-by-minute radio reports of the evacuation and its aftermath. In our highly factionalized news media, every party attributed "victory" and "liberation" to its own heroic militants.

Amid the fanfare and hurrahs, Ahmed and I made up our minds: We would temporarily escape five years of entrapment in this narrow strip of land. We would make this fantastic trip to Egypt and see what the taste of freedom is like.

We knew the trip would be brief. We should also have realized how short-lived our excited optimism would be. When we got home, "liberated" Gaza would still be overcrowded and poor, and there would still be no jobs for most of its people. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Iraqis should reject the constitution
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, September 27, 2005

The myth of the Shi'ite crescent
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, September 30, 2005

U.S.-Iran: Here we go again
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, September 28, 2005

A mixture of excitement and fear stalks the land in Syria
By David Hirst, The Guardian, September 28, 2005

A matter of honor
By Capt. Ian Fishback, Washington Post, September 28, 2005

Unmaking Iraq: A constitutional process gone awry
International Crisis Group, September 26, 2005

Societies worse off 'when they have God on their side'
By Ruth Gledhill, The Times, September 27, 2005

Musharraf's balancing act
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, September 21, 2005

Saudi storms: Al Qaeda draws lessons from hurricanes
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, October 3, 2005

Leadership failure: Firsthand accounts of torture of Iraqi detainees by the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division
Human Rights Watch, September, 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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