The War in Context  
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Al-Sistani said to weigh pullout demand
By Hamza Hendawi, AP (via The Guardian), October 28, 2005

Iraq's top Shiite cleric is considering demanding a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. and foreign troops after a democratically elected government takes office next year, according to associates of the Iranian-born cleric.

If the Americans and their coalition partners do not comply, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani would use peaceful means such as mass street protests to step up pressure for a pullout schedule, according to two associates of the cleric. [complete article]

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U.S. is ceding more control to the Iraqis
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, October 29, 2005

Seeking to lower the visibility of U.S. troops and grant more authority to Iraqi government forces, the American military has now ceded control of 27 of the nation's 109 bases, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

Thousands of U.S. troops have been redeployed in recent months from bases in Najaf, Karbala, Tikrit and other cities, and Iraqis are now in charge of patrol areas that include four districts of Baghdad and the town of Taiji, northeast of the capital.

On Friday, American officials announced that the next major military installation expected to be transferred to Iraqi control was former President Saddam Hussein's palace complex in Tikrit. The site has been renamed Forward Operating Base Danger and currently houses more than 6,000 U.S. troops. [complete article]

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With vice president, he shaped Iraq policy
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, October 29, 2005

The indictment and resignation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby ends the partnership between two men -- Libby and Vice President Cheney -- who have shaped and often dominated policymaking throughout the Bush presidency, especially toward Iraq.

Libby was both Cheney's chief of staff and assistant to the president -- a title that gave him the same rank as the president's national security adviser. Cheney is arguably the most powerful vice president in U.S. history. Behind the scenes, working with allies in the Defense Department and other parts of the government, the two were early advocates of removing Saddam Hussein and highly effective in thwarting any opposition from the State Department and other bureaucratic rivals.

Both put the same high value on secrecy, and so their role in setting policy has been hard to trace. Cheney is famously guarded, his precise influence one of Washington's great mysteries. Libby, as the indictment issued yesterday by a federal grand jury here suggests, was in many ways Cheney's eyes and ears in the bureaucracy -- and the media. [complete article]

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Indictment doesn't clear up mystery at heart of CIA leak probe
By Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, October 28, 2005

At the heart of Friday's indictment of a top White House aide remain two unsolved mysteries.

Who forged the documents that claimed Saddam Hussein was seeking uranium for nuclear weapons in the African country of Niger?

How did a version of the tale get into President Bush's 2003 State of the Union address, even though U.S. intelligence agencies never confirmed it and some intelligence analysts doubted it? [complete article]

See also, F.B.I. is still seeking source of forged uranium reports (NYT).

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Libby's resignation: No spin here
By William Arkin, Washington Post, October 28, 2005

In numerous media appearances BEFORE the Iraq war, [Joseph Wilson] the former Ambassador and Washington insider and consultant never was completely candid about what he really knew. "There is nothing that suggests that Saddam is any further along on the production of nuclear weapons than he was four or five years ago, when the inspectors left," Wilson said on ABC's Nightline on Mar. 4, 2003, a couple of weeks before shock and awe. But Wilson gave no further elaboration, no context for us to believe him, he was seemingly saying nothing that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wasn't already saying.

On Mar. 8, eleven days before the first U.S. bomb landed, IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei revealed that his organization determined that documents showing that Iraq had engaged in a uranium deal with Niger were forgeries. Wilson appeared on CNN that day saying: "We know a lot about the uranium business in Niger, and for something like this to go unchallenged by … the U.S. government is just simply stupid. It would have taken a couple of phone calls. We have had an embassy there since the early '60s. All this stuff is open. It's a restricted market of buyers and sellers. The Nigeriens have always been very open with us." Again, there is no mention of his CIA mission or special knowledge, no suggestion of any special inside information.

And then on MSNBC on Mar. 10, nine days before the war began, Wilson said he thought it was important for the Bush administration to "come out with some very strong language making it clear to Saddam Hussein that he is not going to get out of this unless he literally drives all of his weapons of mass destruction up to the inspectors." On the eve of the war, Wilson was essentially suggesting that he basically agreed that Saddam had WMD.

I'm not trying to blame the victim here -- some victim -- but like virtually all of the other cogs in the Washington wheel, Wilson came up with "policy" reasons for opposing military action: he didn't like the Bush's timetable, he wasn't convinced of the evidence, he was uncomfortable with the U.S. thumbing its nose at the United Nations. But he wasn't against war or even the war per se. Wilson's public utterances, and his safeguarding of inside information, were all conducted within the boundaries of sanctioned allowable behavior and argument.

So Joe Wilson, like so many other Washington operatives, seemed happy to be a part of some factional infighting as a consultant to the U.S. government. In a case of life and death, he wasn't willing to really speak up to jeopardize those relationships (and ultimately expose his wife, which probably would have happened sooner or later without Libby and company's help). What changed is that in 2003 -- four months after the war began, two months after the fall of Baghdad, well into the occupation and "peace" not going so well -- is that Wilson essentially saw visions of being some figure in the next administration. Joe Wilson made the personal political calculation in July 2003 to finally speak up. [complete article]

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DSM's sequel: Roots of a scandal
By Jefferson Morley, Washington Post, October 28, 2005

As Washington awaited news of possible indictment of Bush administration officials in connection with the leaking of a CIA operative's name, a sensational series in an Italian newspaper was laying bare the roots of the scandal.

Three stories published by the left-leaning La Repubblica (in Italian) suggest why the Bush White House was so determined to discredit the operative's husband, Joseph Wilson, a former-diplomat-turned-war-critic. Wilson was attacking the administration on a point where it was vulnerable: the origins of its allegations about Iraq's nuclear activities in Africa. [complete article]

The Repubblica series, part one: Double-Crossers and Dilettantes--the Men Behind Nigergate Were All Italians; part two: Pollari travels to Washington to present his version of "the truth"; and part three: Nigergate: The Great Nuclear Centrifuge Scam (translated by Nur al-Cubicle).

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Big rise in profit puts oil giants on defensive
By Jad Mouawad and Simon Romero, New York Times, October 28, 2005

A sudden interruption in oil supplies sent prices and profits skyrocketing, prompting Exxon's chief executive to call a news conference right after his company announced that it had chalked up record earnings.

"I am not embarrassed," he said. "This is no windfall."

That was January 1974, a few months after Arab oil producers cut back on supplies and imposed their short-lived embargo on exports to the United States. Oil executives, including J. K. Jamieson, Exxon's chief executive at the time, were put on the defensive, forced to justify their soaring profits while the nation was facing its first energy crisis.

Three decades later, their successors are again facing contentions that oil companies are making too much money and have failed to expand production. [complete article]

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Inner circle in Syria holds power, and perhaps peril
By Anthony Shadid and Robin Wright, Washington Post, October 28, 2005

The brother is an impetuous officer, who wields control over the praetorian Republican Guard. The sister is nicknamed "the Iron Lady." Her husband is a burly general who rose methodically through the ranks of Syria's feared intelligence services. Presiding over them is Bashar Assad, the Syrian president who runs what some have called "a dictatorship without a dictator."

Diplomats and analysts say that together, the four represent the corporate leadership of Syria, a country facing its greatest crisis in decades following the release of a U.N. investigation that implicates senior officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. In this crisis, they say, the Assad family circle is a source of the president's strength. It may also be his weakness. If his relatives are directly linked to the killing, the scandal could bring down his government. [complete article]

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Iran on course for a showdown
By Safa Haeri, Asia Times, October 28, 2005

[Iranian President Mahmud] Ahmadinejad's performance on Wednesday puts Iran firmly on the path of confrontation.

"The danger of such a radical statesman [Ahmadinejad] is that by knotting religious beliefs with the nuclear issue, it makes for an explosive issue that will explode in the face of all Iranians," an Iranian analyst told Asia Times Online, adding that Ahmadinejad's statement would certainly strengthen the international consensus against Iran.

"It is exactly for this reason that Khamenei, realizing his mistake in promoting Ahmadinejad, placed the pragmatic and experienced Hashemi Rafsanjani above him in order to repair the damage the new, inexperienced but zealot Muslim might cause to the regime," the analyst said.

The analyst was referring to the recent decision by Khamenei to transfer some of his immense and unlimited power to the Assembly of Discerning the Interests of the State (ADIS, or Expediency Council), which is headed by Rafsanjani.

According to a new regulation, the ADIS will have the power to supervise the regime's macro-policies and long-term plans and projects, a power that had belonged to the Supreme Leader. This means that all the theocratic regime's three powers - legislative, judicial and executive - must submit their planning and policies to the 32-member, leader-controlled ADIS for approval before implementation. [complete article]

Comment -- If there's one thing that any political leader can be sure of it's that the wilder his rhetoric the bigger the play he'll get in the media. (Contrast the present reaction to President Ahmadinejad's comments about Israel with the earlier level of interest shown in former president Mohammad Khatami's appeals for a "dialogue among civilizations".) As for whether Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was merely performing for the crowd in front of him or really intended to have his words echo around the world, there seems to be a consensus among most observers that he scored "a spectacular own goal." And while world leaders predictably issue grave responses and Tony Blair events hints at military action, it's obvious that a clear distinction needs to be made between Iranian rhetoric and Iranian actions. After all, as Zvi Barel notes in Haaretz, "Iran wishes to establish full diplomatic ties with Egypt, which was named in Ahmadinejad's speech as one of the states to be burned in the fire of hell for recognizing Israel. It also signed deals with China, Germany and Russia, all of whom have close ties with Israel." In The Guardian, Simon Tisdall reflects on whether "Iran's greenhorn president" is becoming "a liability to his turbaned tutelars" while former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani steps in with a few conciliatory words.

As for there being any precedent for a leading political figure using such extreme language, wasn't there someone in high office in Washington who only four years ago talked about "ending states"?

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A new Sunni strategy in Iraq
By Jill Carroll, Christian Science Monitor, October 28, 2005

The engine that drives Iraq's insurgency, this country's politically marginalized Sunni Arab minority, is getting ready for a fight - but this time it's at the ballot box.

Energized by the adoption of a new constitution, which passed over Sunni objections, key Sunni political parties said this week that they are forming a coalition to ensure they have a voice in Iraq's new parliament, to be elected in December.

This vigorous new effort to participate is a complete reversal from the Sunni position last year that voters should boycott polls to select the transitional national assembly. But if the coalition has decided to join in a process it once rejected, it is also beginning to articulate a Sunni political agenda that is Islamist, vehemently anti-American, opposed to foreign troops, and discreetly pro-insurgency. [complete article]

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3 Iraqi Shiite groups form election alliance
By Jonathan Finer and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, October 28, 2005

Three of Iraq's most powerful Shiite Muslim religious parties on Thursday formed a reshuffled alliance to field a slate in December's legislative elections, raising the prospect that balloting will once more break along ethnic and sectarian lines.

The agreement was reached after the Shiite alliance reportedly had been on the verge of splintering in recent days. The two parties that control Iraq's transitional government -- Dawa, led by Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari, and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- will now work with political affiliates of Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr. Sadr has a strong following among young, poor Shiites, but until recently he had rejected politics and referred to the last elections as illegitimate because of the U.S. occupation.

Vying against the Shiite coalition will be a second ticket, comprising the two main Kurdish parties, and a third bloc announced Wednesday by three Sunni Arab groups, which decided to participate in the elections after boycotting balloting for the transitional legislature last January. [complete article]

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Assad's dilemma
By Michael Young, International Herald Tribune, October 28, 2005

The release last week of a United Nations report on the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri of Lebanon threatens to create a perfect storm of adversity for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria. By satisfying the international community's call that Syria cooperate with the inquiry of the UN prosecutor, Detlev Mehlis, Assad would undermine his domestic hold on power; by avoiding this, Assad would ensure Syria's almost total isolation and perhaps the imposition of international sanctions.

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council began discussing the Mehlis report. This came after Assad wrote a letter to the council, dated Sunday, in which he affirmed that while Syria was "innocent" of Hariri's Feb. 14 assassination, he was "ready to follow up action to bring to trial any Syrian who could be proved by concrete evidence to have had connection with this crime." The question now is how will Assad interpret his pledge. [complete article]

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Rove unmasked
By Jonathan Chait, Los Angeles Times, October 28, 2005

Now that the Harriet E. Miers nomination has officially gone down in flames, it's time to admit what many of us have always known: Karl Rove really is George W. Bush's Svengali.

For years, conservatives have treated the notion that Rove is the mastermind behind Bush as some sort of loopy conspiracy theory concocted by Bush-hating liberals. Andrew Ferguson's take in the Weekly Standard last year is typical: "[Bush's] Democratic adversaries have obsessed over piecing together odd, paranoid caricatures of the man who's driving them nuts -- Bush as the agent of Halliburton, Bush as the idiot son of robber baron privilege, Bush the religious crank, the right-wing ideologue, the draft dodger, the front man for Enron or Rove or the Saudi royals or J.R. Ewing."

Got that? Those of us who think Bush is an agent of Rove rank right along with those who think that he's the agent of a fictional character from a television series.

The reason conservatives have been so invested in downplaying Rove's influence, of course, is that the notion of an all-powerful advisor speaks poorly of the president. One book-turned-documentary labeled Rove "Bush's Brain." If Rove is Bush's brain, then Bush doesn't have much of a brain of his own, and Republicans don't like that idea one bit. [complete article]

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Libby appears likely to be indicted; Rove under scrutiny
By David Johnston and Richard W. Stevenson, New York Times, October 28, 2005

Lawyers in the C.I.A. leak case said Thursday that they expected I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, to be indicted on Friday, charged with making false statements to the grand jury.

Karl Rove, President Bush's senior adviser and deputy chief of staff, will not be charged on Friday, but will remain under investigation, people briefed officially about the case said. As a result, they said, the special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, was likely to extend the term of the federal grand jury beyond its scheduled expiration on Friday. [complete article]

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Cheney, Libby blocked papers to Senate intelligence panel
By Murray Waas, National Journal, October 27, 2005

Vice President Cheney and his chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, overruling advice from some White House political staffers and lawyers, decided to withhold crucial documents from the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2004 when the panel was investigating the use of pre-war intelligence that erroneously concluded Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, according to Bush administration and congressional sources.

Among the White House materials withheld from the committee were Libby-authored passages in drafts of a speech that then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell delivered to the United Nations in February 2003 to argue the Bush administration's case for war with Iraq, according to congressional and administration sources. The withheld documents also included intelligence data that Cheney's office -- and Libby in particular -- pushed to be included in Powell's speech, the sources said.

The new information that Cheney and Libby blocked information to the Senate Intelligence Committee further underscores the central role played by the vice president's office in trying to blunt criticism that the Bush administration exaggerated intelligence data to make the case to go to war. [complete article]

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Rove, Libby assemble team to handle possible CIA leak indictments
By Jim VandeHei and Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, October 28, 2005

The White House, district court officials and two possible targets of the CIA leak investigation were making preparations yesterday for the possible announcement of indictments by special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald today, according to several sources familiar with the investigation.

Two sources said I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, was shopping for a white-collar criminal lawyer and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove began assembling a public relations team in the event they are indicted. [complete article]

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Sunni ambush kills 14 al-Sadr militiamen
By Robert H.Reid, AP (via Yahoo), October 27, 2005

Sunni Arab militants killed 14 Shiite militiamen and a policeman Thursday in a clash southeast of Baghdad — another sign of rising tensions among Iraq's rival ethnic and religious communities. The U.S. military reported three more American soldiers died in combat.

The Shiite-Sunni fighting occurred after police and militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr raided a house in Nahrawan, 15 miles southeast of the capital, to free a militiaman taken hostage by Sunni militants, according to Amer al-Husseini, an aide to al-Sadr.

After freeing the hostage and capturing two militants, the Shiite militiamen were ambushed by the Sunnis on their way out of the religiously mixed town, al-Husseini said. Police Lt. Thair Mahmoud said 14 others — 12 militiamen and two policemen — were wounded.

The incident underscores tensions among hard-line elements in Iraq's rival religious and ethnic communities at a time when the United States is struggling to promote a political process seen as key to calming the insurgency so that U.S. and other foreign troops can go home. [complete article]

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'We don't need al-Qaida'
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, October 27, 2005

Abu Theeb is a tall, handsome, well-built man with a thin beard and thick eyebrows. His name is a nom de guerre: it means Father of the Wolf. He is a farmer during daylight and a commander of a mujahideen cell, a group of holy warriors, at night. He and his men roam the farmland north of Baghdad in search of prey - a US armoured Humvee, perhaps, or an Iraqi army unit. On the eve of last week's constitutional referendum, Abu Theeb, the leader of a group of Sunni insurgents, was to be found in the middle of a schoolyard in a village north of Baghdad. The school was to be a polling centre the next day. He stood flanked by 10 bearded fighters in white robes and chequered headscarves.

There were a few posters on the walls, and plastic ribbons marking out lanes where voters would queue, but other than Abu Theeb and his men, the building was deserted. The security guards hired by the referendum committee in Baghdad had failed to show up - not all that surprising an event in one of the most dangerous areas in Iraq. The local tribe, ie Abu Theeb and co, are notorious for kidnappings and executions.

Abu Theeb looked around him, a commander inspecting the field before battle. He moved with his men around the school, inspecting the adjacent streets and the back gate, looking for weak points, looking for easy access for a car bomb or an armed onslaught. The school guard sheepishly followed the entourage around, a Kalashnikov on one shoulder.

At one point, Abu Theeb grabbed a piece of paper and drew a sketch of the school, marking out where his men should be posted the next day. He turned to a short, chubby ginger-haired guy in his 30s with a big jihadi beard. "You will be the commander tomorrow," he said. "Distribute some of our weapons to the men."

The stakes were high for Abu Theeb and his men. Al-Qaida forces in Iraq - forces that are, at least on paper, allies of the Sunni insurgents - had vowed to kill anyone who took part in the referendum. But in the Sunni areas of Iraq, the people and the local Iraqi insurgents among them had a different view: they were eager to vote. There was a widespread sense of regret about the boycotting of the last elections, which left the parliament in Baghdad dominated by Shia and Kurdish parties - and left the Sunnis, who held the power in Saddam's Iraq, out in the cold. The Sunnis wanted to take part in last week's referendum; they wanted a "no" vote on the draft constitution.

This left Abu Theeb, a man who has devoted himself and his resources to fighting the Americans, in a curious position. His battle on polling day would be to secure a safe and smooth voting for his people - in a referendum organised by the enemy. In doing so he would be going up against the al-Qaida forces, and risking a split in the insurgency in Iraq. [complete article]

Note: A shorter version of this article appears in today's Washington Post under the headline, The New Sunni Jihad: 'A Time for Politics.'

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Grand jury hears summary of case on CIA leak probe
By Carol D. Leonnig and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, October 27, 2005

The prosecutor in the CIA leak investigation presented a summary of his case to a federal grand jury yesterday and is expected to announce a final decision on charges in the two-year-long probe tomorrow, according to people familiar with the case.

Even as Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald wrapped up his case, the legal team of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has been engaged in a furious effort to convince the prosecutor that Rove did not commit perjury during the course of the investigation, according to people close to the aide. The sources, who indicated that the effort intensified in recent weeks, said Rove still did not know last night whether he would be indicted. [complete article]

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Iraq's top cleric won't back al-Jaafari
By Hamza Hendawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP (via Yahoo), October 26, 2005

Iraq's top Shiite cleric has decided to withhold his endorsement of a Shiite coalition that swept last January's general election, rejecting repeated pleas by senior politicians for him to reconsider, associates on both sides said Wednesday.

The move by the Iranian-born Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani reflected the cleric's disappointment with the performance of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari's Shiite-led government, according to three associates of the cleric who are in regular contact with him. They spoke on condition of anonymity because al-Sistani's closest allies are not permitted to talk to media on the ayatollah's positions.

Their comments represent the first known rift between the prominent ayatollah and the Shiite political parties he has supported since the ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003. [complete article]

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Analysts warn of effects of Iraq civil war
By Charles J Hanley, AP (via Newsday), October 26, 2005

Any all-out civil war in Iraq could shake the political foundations of places beyond that stricken land, sending streams of refugees across Iraqi borders, tempting neighbors to intervene, and renewing the half-buried old conflict of Sunni and Shiite in the Muslim world, Middle East analysts say.

"If it's a war between Sunni and Shiite, this war might be extended from Lebanon to Afghanistan," says Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on Islamic militancy.

In a series of Associated Press interviews, other regional specialists didn't foresee such falling dominoes -- open war between Islam's two branches spreading elsewhere from Iraq. But they believe regional tensions have already sharpened because of the rise of Iraqi Shiites to power under U.S. military occupation. [complete article]

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Sharon vows 'broad and nonstop' offensive until terror ends
By Ze'ev Schiff, David Ratner, and Nir Hasson, Haaretz, October 27, 2005

A day after a Palestinian suicide bomber killed five Israelis, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Thursday pledged that Israel's new offensive in the West Bank and Gaza Strip would continue until terrorism ends.

"Unfortunately the Palestinian Authority has not taken any serious action to battle terrorism," Sharon said at the start of a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. "We will not accept under any circumstances a continuation of terrorism. Therefore our activities will be broad and nonstop until they halt terrorism."

The first wave of the offensive began in the early hours of Thursday morning, when Israel Air Force planes launched aerial strikes in the Gaza Strip, targeting sites used to fire Qassam rockets into Israel. [complete article]

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We don't want a Hanoi Hilton
By Richard Cohen, Washington Post, October 27, 2005

Five years ago I went to Vietnam with Sen. John McCain. We went to the so-called Hanoi Hilton, the jail where American POWs were kept and where McCain spent much of his 5 1/2 years in captivity, most of the time being brutalized, some of the time being tortured. It was a dark, fetid place where waves of claustrophobia washed over me, and I wanted to flee, as McCain could not have done. "Nice place, huh?" he said to me as we left. For the stoical McCain, that amounted to a primordial scream.

I watched McCain closely that day. I know only a few people who were tortured, and never had I accompanied any of them back to where they were put through so much pain. McCain is not a let-it-all-hang-out sort of guy. He does not weep on cue or choke for the cameras. But he does resolve. Somewhere along the way, he apparently resolved that what happened to him should not happen to anyone else -- especially at the hands of Americans.

So McCain's amendment, added to a $440 billion military spending bill, would ban the U.S. military and other government agencies -- the CIA, for instance -- from engaging in "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" of detainees. The Senate approved the amendment 90 to 9. Whatever it meant to 89 of the senators, to McCain it was simply a matter of doing to others what he would have wanted done unto him. It is, in that sense, a very old idea.

Stunningly, George W. Bush has threatened to veto this measure. Bush has vetoed not one bill in all of his presidency but would, he says, veto this one. The threat borders on the preposterous, or maybe the idiotic, because it is hard to imagine any president vetoing a measure that forbids torture, given the black eye that the United States has received over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad. After that, Bush would have to issue his veto in the middle of the night and have it recorded in invisible ink. I'd leave it to Karen Hughes to explain it to the Islamic world. [complete article]

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Will the Bush administration implode?
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, October 26, 2005

Presidential advisers and friends say Bush is a mass of contradictions: cheerful and serene, peevish and melancholy, occasionally lapsing into what he once derided as the 'blame game.'" Frankly, the description already has a touch of Richard Nixon (as his presidency delaminated after Watergate finally hit).

If you want to understand the present moment, however, it's important to grasp one major difference between the Nixon years and today. In the early 1970s, Richard Nixon had to compete, elbows flying, for face and space time in what we now call the mainstream media. There wasn't any other game in town. (For instance, I suspect that if the secret history of the first op-ed page, which made its appearance in the New York Times in 1970, was ever written, its purpose would turn out to have been to give the hard-charging Nixon administration a space in the liberal paper of record where Vice President Spiro Agnew and other administration supporters could sound off from time to time.)

George Bush arrived at a very different media moment. From Rush Limbaugh and Sinclair Broadcasting to Fox News, the Washington Times, and the Weekly Standard, he had his own media already in place -- a full spectrum of outlets including TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, and publishing houses. As for the rest of the media, his task, unlike Nixon's, wasn't to compete for space, but to pacify, sideline, and, if need be, punish. In this sense, no administration has been less giving of actual news or more obviously tried to pay less attention to major media outlets. The President was proud to say that he didn't even read or watch such outlets. His was a shock-and-awe policy and, from September 12, 2001 to last spring, it was remarkably successful. [complete article]

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Kerry calls for Bush to begin withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq
By James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder, October 26, 2005

Sen. John Kerry called Wednesday for President Bush to withdraw 20,000 U.S. troops from Iraq over the Christmas holidays.

Ultimately, Kerry said, as certain benchmarks of progress are attained in coming months, the United States should be able to bring all troops home by the end of next year.

He made it clear that he thinks the U.S. troop presence is inflaming the violence. [complete article]

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Vice President for Torture
Editorial, Washington Post, October 26, 2005

Vice President Cheney is aggressively pursuing an initiative that may be unprecedented for an elected official of the executive branch: He is proposing that Congress legally authorize human rights abuses by Americans. "Cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners is banned by an international treaty negotiated by the Reagan administration and ratified by the United States. The State Department annually issues a report criticizing other governments for violating it. Now Mr. Cheney is asking Congress to approve legal language that would allow the CIA to commit such abuses against foreign prisoners it is holding abroad. In other words, this vice president has become an open advocate of torture.

His position is not just some abstract defense of presidential power. The CIA is holding an unknown number of prisoners in secret detention centers abroad. In violation of the Geneva Conventions, it has refused to register those detainees with the International Red Cross or to allow visits by its inspectors. Its prisoners have "disappeared," like the victims of some dictatorships. The Justice Department and the White House are known to have approved harsh interrogation techniques for some of these people, including "waterboarding," or simulated drowning; mock execution; and the deliberate withholding of pain medication. CIA personnel have been implicated in the deaths during interrogation of at least four Afghan and Iraqi detainees. Official investigations have indicated that some aberrant practices by Army personnel in Iraq originated with the CIA. Yet no CIA personnel have been held accountable for this record, and there has never been a public report on the agency's performance. [complete article]

U.S. operatives killed detainees during interrogations in Afghanistan and Iraq
ACLU, October 24, 2005

The American Civil Liberties Union today made public an analysis of new and previously released autopsy and death reports of detainees held in U.S. facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, many of whom died while being interrogated. The documents show that detainees were hooded, gagged, strangled, beaten with blunt objects, subjected to sleep deprivation and to hot and cold environmental conditions.

"There is no question that U.S. interrogations have resulted in deaths," said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. "High-ranking officials who knew about the torture and sat on their hands and those who created and endorsed these policies must be held accountable. America must stop putting its head in the sand and deal with the torture scandal that has rocked our military."

The documents released today include 44 autopsies and death reports as well as a summary of autopsy reports of individuals apprehended in Iraq and Afghanistan. The documents show that detainees died during or after interrogations by Navy Seals, Military Intelligence and "OGA" (Other Governmental Agency) -- a term, according to the ACLU, that is commonly used to refer to the CIA. [complete article]

Comment -- People like Dick Cheney who defend the use of torture claim that "harsh" methods of interrogation are required on prisoners who have no respect for civilized values. Setting aside the gross hypocracy in this position, an issue that rarely enters the debate is the fact that what is done in the name of interrogation often ends up as a method of extrajudicial punishment and a means of vengeance.

If a prisoner dies during "interrogation", are we supposed to conclude that the interrogators accidently went too far? Or that the carefully measured use of violence wasn't adequately calibrated to adjust for an individual's frailties?

In either case we would be ignoring the extent to which the free use of violence will inevitably corrupt the mind and the moral judgement of the perpetrator. By calling them interrogators we allow them to shed the full weight of their own actions. They become mere functionaries in a messy business that everyone involved would gladly avoid. But to call these deeds by their real name is to acknowledge that people are molded by their actions; that anyone who engages in torture thereby becomes a torturer. He may tell himself that he is merely following orders and that he is serving his country, yet he has become the very thing that he was supposed to destroy.

As for the man who can sanction torture without rising from his desk or spoiling the crease in his pants, his particular depravity is that of the man whose mind is untroubled simply because long ago his conscience quietly withered away.

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The real meaning of the Plame scandal
By Joan Walsh, Salon, October 25, 2005

As the days dwindle down to a precious few for the grand jury investigating who leaked Valerie Plame's undercover CIA status to journalists in mid-2003, most news stories about the controversy feel like filler and speculation right now: Who will Fitzgerald charge, and with what? How will Democratic and Republican leaders spin whatever Fitzgerald decides? What kind of a guy is the special prosecutor, anyway: crime fighter or nitpicker? And what if he brings no charges at all?

But two news items Tuesday managed to stand out from what President Bush last week called "the chatter." (Funny how he used the term associated with intercepted information from al-Qaida, subtly linking terrorists and journalists. "Subliminable"? You decide.) One was the amazing New York Times report that lawyers close to Fitzgerald say the prosecutor has notes showing that I. Lewis Libby learned Plame's identity from his boss, Vice President Dick Cheney, not from journalists, as Libby apparently claimed. The other is the sad but predictable fact that the 2,000th American soldier died in Iraq today. If you miss those two pieces of news while playing Fitzgerald guessing games, you'll miss the bigger point of Plamegate. [complete article]

La Repubblica's scoop, confirmed
By Laura Rozen, The American Prospect, October 25, 2005

With Patrick Fitzgerald widely expected to announce indictments in the CIA leak investigation, questions are again being raised about the intelligence scandal that led to the appointment of the special counsel: namely, how the Bush White House obtained false Italian intelligence reports claiming that Iraq had tried to buy uranium "yellowcake" from Niger.

The key documents supposedly proving the Iraqi attempt later turned out to be crude forgeries, created on official stationery stolen from the African nation's Rome embassy. Among the most tantalizing aspects of the debate over the Iraq War is the origin of those fake documents -- and the role of the Italian intelligence services in disseminating them.

In an explosive series of articles appearing this week in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, investigative reporters Carlo Bonini and Giuseppe d'Avanzo report that Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy's military intelligence service, known as Sismi, brought the Niger yellowcake story directly to the White House after his insistent overtures had been rejected by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2001 and 2002. Sismi had reported to the CIA on October 15, 2001, that Iraq had sought yellowcake in Niger, a report it also plied on British intelligence, creating an echo that the Niger forgeries themselves purported to amplify before they were exposed as a hoax.

Today's exclusive report in La Repubblica reveals that Pollari met secretly in Washington on September 9, 2002, with then–Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. Their secret meeting came at a critical moment in the White House campaign to convince Congress and the American public that war in Iraq was necessary to prevent Saddam Hussein from developing nuclear weapons. National Security Council spokesman Frederick Jones confirmed the meeting to the Prospect on Tuesday. [complete article]

Italian faces pre-war intelligence probe
By Ariel David, AP (via Yahoo), October 26, 2005

The head of Italy's military secret services will be questioned by a parliamentary commission next week over allegations that his organization gave the United States and Britain disputed documents suggesting that Saddam Hussein had been seeking uranium in Africa, officials said Tuesday.

Nicolo Pollari, director of the SISMI intelligence agency, will be questioned on Nov. 3 by members of the commission overseeing secret services, said Micaela Panella, a commission spokeswoman.

She said Pollari asked to be questioned after reports Monday and Tuesday in the Rome daily La Repubblica claiming SISMI passed on to the CIA, U.S. government officials and Britain's MI6 intelligence services a dossier it knew was forged. [complete article]

CIA leak illustrates selective use of intelligence on Iraq
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, October 25, 2005

The grand jury probe into the leak of a covert CIA officer's name has opened a new window into how the Bush administration used intelligence from dubious sources to make a case for a pre-emptive war and discarded information that undercut its rationale for attacking Iraq.

CIA officer Valerie Plame was outed in an apparent attempt to discredit her husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, after he challenged President Bush's allegation in his 2003 State of the Union speech that Iraq had tried to buy uranium for nuclear weapons from the African nation of Niger.

A Knight Ridder review of the administration's arguments, its own reporting at the time and the Senate Intelligence Committee's 2004 report shows that the White House followed a pattern of using questionable intelligence, even documents that turned out to be forgeries, to support its case - often leaking classified information to receptive journalists - and dismissing information that undermined the case for war. [complete article]

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U.S. warned on long stay in Iraq as death toll rises
By Daniel Dombey, James Boxell and Steve Negus, Financial Times, October 25, 2005

The US will likely have to retain a sizeable military force in Iraq even after President George W. Bush has left the White House, a leading London-based defence think-tank said on Tuesday.
The IISS report came as Iraq approved its new constitution by a slim margin in a referendum, with strong votes against the charter in Sunni provinces. "The next US administration will have forces in Iraq, and a fairly large number for some years to come," said Patrick Cronin, director of studies at the institute. He said that US troop withdrawals next year were likely only to be small scale and that it would take "five years at least" for Iraq to generate the 300,000-strong army it needed to fight the insurgency on its own. [complete article]

A deadly surge
By Doug Smith and P.J. Huffstutter, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2005

A year and a half ago, at the first anniversary of the U.S. occupation of Iraq, the death rate for American troops accelerated. Since then, none of the political milestones or military strategies proclaimed by U.S. officials have succeeded in slowing the toll.

This is among the most striking conclusions of a Times analysis of the fatalities, which have reached 2,000, U.S. officials announced Tuesday. [complete article]

Rising civilian toll is the Iraq war's silent, sinister pulse
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, October 26, 2005

The scene was grimly familiar. Three car bombs exploding in rapid succession sent plumes of smoke into the evening sky. The targets were foreign reporters and contractors inside two hotels here. But the victims, as is often the case, were Iraqis.

The war here has claimed about 2,000 American service members, but in the cold calculus of the killing, far more Iraqis have been left dead. The figures vary widely, with Iraqi and American officials reluctant to release even the most incomplete of tallies.

In one count, compiled by Iraq Body Count, a United States-based nonprofit group that tracks the civilian deaths using news media reports, the total of Iraqi dead since the American-led invasion is 26,690 to 30,051. [complete article]

Casualties of a war a world away
By Jamie Wilson, The Guardian, October 26, 2005

Elaina Morton is not listed as one of the 2,000 Americans now confirmed killed in Iraq since the start of the war, but she might as well be. In US military parlance the 23-year-old lab technician from Kansas would have been referred to as a "surviving spouse". But three months after her husband, Staff Sergeant Benjamin Morton, was killed by insurgents in Mosul, Elaina picked up a gun and shot herself.

The fact that the military did not issue a press release to announce the death of the former college student who loved her cat, Stinky, and enjoyed hiking, photography and camping, does not make her any less a casualty of the war. Hers is thought to be the first confirmed case of a war widow committing suicide, and as the US toll in Iraq yesterday hit the grim 2,000 landmark her death is proof of the immeasurable emotional toll that the conflict has put on families of servicemen and women.

George Bush yesterday spoke to wives of servicemen at Bollings air force base in Washington, as part of a strategy to confront the death toll head on by portraying the sacrifice in the Iraq war as the best way to keep terrorists from striking the US again. But for many bereaved families the bigger picture the president highlighted has been consumed by the day-to-day struggle of coping with their grief. [complete article]

What the US death toll in Iraq reveals
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 2005

"There's nothing magic about any given number of casualties, but what virtually any serious study of this shows is that Americans will tolerate casualties if they believe the conflict is needed, well managed, and there's a real purpose in continuing it," [Anthony Cordesman, a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington and a former US Defense Department official] says. "It seems obvious from public opinion polls that fewer and fewer Americans believe that." [complete article]

Bigger, stronger homemade bombs now to blame for half of U.S. deaths
By John Ward Anderson, Steve Fainaru and Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, October 26, 2005

After 31 months of fighting in Iraq, more than half of all American fatalities are now being caused by powerful roadside bombs that blast fiery, lethal shrapnel into the cabins of armored vehicles, confronting every patrol with an unseen, menacing adversary that is accelerating the U.S. death toll.

U.S. military officials, analysts and militants themselves say insurgents have learned to adapt to U.S. defensive measures by using bigger, more sophisticated and better-concealed bombs known officially as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs. They are sometimes made with multiple artillery shells and Iranian TNT, sometimes disguised as bricks, boosted with rocket propellant, and detonated by a cell phone or a garage door opener. [complete article]

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Fears Yes vote could divide Iraq further
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, October 25, 2005

Iraq's constitution has passed but only by a slim margin, which some observers say may leave the country even more divided than it was before.

In final results for the October 15 referendum released on Tuesday, some 78.6 per cent of voters cast 'Yes' ballots and 21.4 per cent voted against – but voting appears to have split along ethnic and sectarian lines.

In the overwhelmingly Sunni Arab governorates of Anbar and the predominantly Sunni Arab Salaheddin, 97 and 82 per cent of voters rejected the document, while in the swing governorate of Ninawah, about 55 per cent of ballots rejected it. [complete article]

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3 Sunni groups form coalition for December elections
By Edward Wong, New York Times, October 26, 2005

Three prominent Sunni political groups announced today that they had banded together to form a coalition to run in the upcoming elections, a move that signals an intent by Sunni Arabs to seriously engage in the political process.

The three groups - the Iraqi People's Gathering, the Iraqi Islamic Party and the National Dialogue Council - hold strong anti-American views and are expected to attract right-wing Sunni Arab voters. Despite boycotting elections last January, Sunni Arabs made a strong showing during the constitutional referendum, turning out in large numbers in northern and eastern Iraq to try to vote down the document. [complete article]

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U.S. and allies seek action against Syria
By Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, October 26, 2005

International pressure on Syria mounted Tuesday as the U.S., France and Britain introduced a Security Council resolution threatening to consider sanctions if the country didn't cooperate with an inquiry into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. And President Bush said he had not ruled out military action if Syria didn't comply.

Bush told Al Arabiya television channel, based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, that he preferred a diplomatic solution to what he viewed as Syria's persistent efforts to destabilize the Middle East, including possible involvement in Hariri's killing.

But when asked what the U.S. would do if Syria did not change its policies, he said: "We're going to use our military. It is the last, very last option. No commander in chief likes to commit the military, and I don't. But on the other hand, you know, I have worked hard for diplomacy, and I will continue to work the diplomatic angle on this issue." [complete article]

Assad says accused Syrians may face trial
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, October 26, 2005

Under mounting international pressure, Syrian President Bashar Assad has promised that any Syrian accused will face trial if "proved by concrete evidence" to have had a role in the killing of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri, according to a copy of a letter obtained Tuesday and sent to the United States, Britain and France. [complete article]

In Syria, doubt about leaders' version of Lebanon killing
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, October 26, 2005

Political analysts, academics and students all said in interviews that they had believed, or at least wanted to believe, their government's initial insistence on Syria's innocence.

Now, with the prosecutor pointing a finger at President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle - his brother-in-law, Asef Shawkat, the head of military intelligence, and his brother, Maher Assad, commander of the presidential guard - many people here are not buying the government efforts to paint the report as a political smear orchestrated by the West. [complete article]

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Iran leader calls for Israel's destruction
By Nasser Karimi, AP (via Seattle P-I), October 26, 2005

Iran's hard-line president called for Israel to be "wiped off the map" and said a new wave of Palestinian attacks will destroy the Jewish state, state-run media reported Wednesday.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also denounced attempts to recognize Israel or normalize relations with it.

"There is no doubt that the new wave (of attacks) in Palestine will wipe off this stigma (Israel) from the face of the Islamic world," Ahmadinejad told students Wednesday during a Tehran conference called "The World without Zionism." [complete article]

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Islamic Jihad vows to avenge killing of West Bank leader
By Nir Hasson, Arnon Regular and Jonathan Lis, Haaretz, October 26, 2005

Islamic Jihad yesterday threatened to avenge Monday's killing of senior West Bank leader Luay Sa'adi as tens of thousands of Palestinian mourners buried him yesterday morning in Tul Karm.

Sa'adi was killed during a shootout with Israel Defense Forces troops, sparking a new round of violence. [complete article]

Suicide bomber kills 4 in Israel
By Matt Spetalnick, Reuters, October 26, 2005

A Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up in a market in the Israeli coastal city of Hadera on Wednesday, killing at least four people and wounding dozens, officials said.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants claimed responsibility for the suicide bombing and said the attack was to avenge Israel's killing of a senior leader in the West Bank on Monday, Israel's Channel 10 television said. [complete article]

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The White House cabal
By Lawrence B. Wilkerson, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2005

In President Bush's first term, some of the most important decisions about U.S. national security -- including vital decisions about postwar Iraq -- were made by a secretive, little-known cabal. It was made up of a very small group of people led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

When I first discussed this group in a speech last week at the New America Foundation in Washington, my comments caused a significant stir because I had been chief of staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell between 2002 and 2005.

But it's absolutely true. I believe that the decisions of this cabal were sometimes made with the full and witting support of the president and sometimes with something less. More often than not, then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice was simply steamrolled by this cabal.

Its insular and secret workings were efficient and swift -- not unlike the decision-making one would associate more with a dictatorship than a democracy. This furtive process was camouflaged neatly by the dysfunction and inefficiency of the formal decision-making process, where decisions, if they were reached at all, had to wend their way through the bureaucracy, with its dissenters, obstructionists and "guardians of the turf." [complete article]

INDICTMENT UPDATE! Steve Clemons cites an "uber-insider source" who says that 1-5 indictments are being issued (the source feels that it will be towards the higher end); the targets of indictment have already received their letters; the indictments will be sealed indictments and "filed" tomorrow; a press conference is being scheduled for Thursday.

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Cheney plan exempts CIA from bill barring abuse of detainees
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Josh White, Washington Post, October 25, 2005

The Bush administration has proposed exempting employees of the Central Intelligence Agency from a legislative measure endorsed earlier this month by 90 members of the Senate that would bar cruel and degrading treatment of any prisoners in U.S. custody.

The proposal, which two sources said Vice President Cheney handed last Thursday to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the company of CIA Director Porter J. Goss, states that the measure barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted abroad or to operations conducted by "an element of the United States government" other than the Defense Department.

Although most detainees in U.S. custody in the war on terrorism are held by the U.S. military, the CIA is said by former intelligence officials and others to be holding several dozen detainees of particular intelligence interest at locations overseas -- including senior al Qaeda figures Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Abu Zubaida. [complete article]

Comment -- In spite of the fact that Cheney doesn't seem to be available to answer any questions these days, it would be interesting to know his thoughts on this: If, as the administration clearly hopes, the days of the Assad regime in Syria are numbered, would the vice president be hoping that a new regime in Syria will be as obliging as the present one has been in accepting terrorist suspects for "extraordinary rendition"? Or is Cheney seeking CIA exemption on the prohibition of inhumane treatment of prisoners specifically so that the CIA can engage in in-house torture and dispense with its current need to outsource to countries such as Syria?

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For Syrians, a siege mentality sets in
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, October 25, 2005

In markets [of Damascus] suffused with the scent of spices, in homes struggling to make ends meet and in cafes crowded at the end of the daily dawn-to-dusk fast of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the plight of Syria's neighbor casts a long, menacing shadow. It is bolstering the legitimacy of Assad's isolated government, dictating the strategy of its still-feeble opposition and molding opinion toward the United States' hinted aim, the end of 35 years of rule by Assad's Baath Party, many people here say.

"The scenario of Iraq is in the back of the minds of the majority of Syrians," said Yassin Hajj Saleh, a 44-year-old opposition activist. "The regime has greatly benefited from the disastrous situation there. It points its finger: 'Look at Iraq, look at Iraq. Occupation, terrorism, death, daily killings and civil war.' That scenario is terrifying to Syrians." [complete article]

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Bush says military action 'last resort' against Syria
By Philippe Naughton, The Times, October 25, 2005

President Bush said today that military action was a "last resort" in dealing with Syria if Damascus refused to co-operate with a United Nations investigation into the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

The UN Security Council is due to be briefed tonight by Detlev Mehlis, the German prosecutor whose report last week found evidence of high-level Syrian involvement in the bombing that killed Mr Hariri and 20 others in Beirut in February.

US and French diplomats in New York are leading the drive to have a strongly worded resolution passed by the council next week calling on Syria to co-operate fully with the Mehlis probe. [complete article]

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Where chaos is king
By Mark LeVine, TomDispatch, October 25, 2005

Within twenty-four hours, on October 16-17, the New York Times ran three stories about the threat increasing chaos posed to emerging, still fragile political orders in Iraq, Palestine, and the Sudan. In all three cases, the chaos afflicting these societies was described as an unintentional and negative consequence of ill-conceived policies put in place by the various governments involved: the U.S. in Iraq, Israel as it withdrew from Gaza, and the Sudanese Government as it finally tried to restrain marauding Janjaweed militias in Darfur. In no case was the chaos viewed as intentional or beneficial to one or more of the forces competing for control of these countries.

The U.S. occupation of Iraq in particular has been judged a failure by its critics almost from the start because of the chaos it has generated. Even with the approval of the constitution, "experts" are arguing that, as long as American and other foreign troops remain in Iraq, the situation "will become more chaotic," or in the words of Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel, will continue to "destabilize the Middle East." [complete article]

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Quartet envoy: Israel acting as if disengagement never happened
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, October 24, 2005

James Wolfensohn, the Quartet's special envoy for the disengagement, has criticized Israel for holding up agreements on opening Gaza Strip border crossings to the passage of people and goods and on improving Palestinian mobility in the West Bank.

In a letter sent last week to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the foreign ministries of Britain, Russia and the United States, Wolfensohn wrote: "The Government of Israel, with its important security concerns, is loath to relinquish control, almost acting as though there has been no withdrawal, delaying making difficult decisions and preferring to take difficult matters back into slow-moving subcommittees."

Accompanying the letter, which was dated October 16, was a report written on October 17 regarding Wolfensohn's latest visit, from October 7-12. The introduction to the report stated: "The Special Envoy was disappointed that none of the key movement issues has been resolved. Without a dramatic improvement in Palestinian movement and access, within appropriate security arrangements for Israel, the economic revival essential to a resolution of the conflict will not be possible." [complete article]

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Israel drops Hamas vote ban call
BBC News, October 25, 2005

Israel has pulled back from a policy opposing the participation of Hamas in January's Palestinian elections.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said it was not in Israel's interest to oppose Hamas' participation. [complete article]

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Palestinians mourn Jihad leader
BBC News, October 25, 2005

Thousands of Palestinians have attended the burial of a senior Islamic Jihad leader killed by Israeli forces amid escalating violence.

Luay Saadi's death in a shootout in Tulkarm on Sunday sparked clashes between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip. Islamic Jihad sought to avenge their loss by firing rockets into Israel. [complete article]

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Iraq referendum: Milestone not destination
By Paul Reynolds, BBC News, October 25, 2005

The majority vote approving Iraq's constitution looks impressive - 78.59% to 21.41% - but the results hide a strong vote against by the Sunni population which was not far from derailing it.

In the end, the Sunnis got a two-thirds negative vote in two provinces - Salahuddin and Anbar - but a majority of just 55% in a third, Nineveh.

They needed the two-thirds in three provinces to block the constitution. [complete article]

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Hotel attacks kill at least 17
By Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder, October 24, 2005

Insurgents launched a coordinated car-bomb attack Monday on the Palestine and Sheraton hotel complex - one of Baghdad's most famous landmarks - less than two hours after it became clear that Iraq's Sunni Muslim Arab minority had overwhelmingly rejected a proposed national constitution. Final nationwide results will be announced Tuesday.

At least 17 people died in the bomb attacks, and two dozen wounded were treated in the shredded remains of the Palestine Hotel lobby.

The bomb attack at about 5:40 p.m. targeted the hotel complex in the city center known as the site of most international news broadcasts from the city and for its view of Fardos Square, where celebrating Iraqis tore down a statue of Saddam Hussein in April 2003. [complete article]

Comment -- Yesterday's attack on the Palestine Hotel stands out as one of the major strikes in an insurgency that has periodically sent out a strong strategic message. Bombings at the Jordanian Embassy, the UN headquarters, the assasination of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, the Mosul base suicide bombing, have all demonstrated an intentionality that extended much further than the carnage resulting from the attacks themselves. For the insurgents, yesterday's assault must be counted as a failure, yet its purpose surely went further than ensuring the maximum level of media coverage. This time it looks like the message was aimed at the whole foreign press corps: get out of Iraq!

To the extent that the press gives more coverage to political events - the recent constitutional referendum and next the upcoming December elections - insurgency leaders may have come to the conclusion that their purposes would be better served by letting Iraq fall off the front pages. Since the tide of American opinion has already turned against the war, the insurgents may be calculating that the less news there is coming out of Iraq, the sooner American troops will be brought home. A war forgotten can more easily be portrayed as a war that has fizzled out.

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Cheney told Libby of CIA officer, notes show
By David Johnston, Richard W. Stevenson and Douglas Jehl, New York Times, October 24, 2005

I. Lewis Libby Jr., Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, first learned about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the leak investigation in a conversation with Mr. Cheney weeks before her identity became public in 2003, lawyers involved in the case said Monday.

Notes of the previously undisclosed conversation between Mr. Libby and Mr. Cheney on June 12, 2003, appear to differ from Mr. Libby's testimony to a federal grand jury that he initially learned about the C.I.A. officer, Valerie Wilson, from journalists, the lawyers said.

The notes, taken by Mr. Libby during the conversation, for the first time place Mr. Cheney in the middle of an effort by the White House to learn about Ms. Wilson's husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, who was questioning the administration's handling of intelligence about Iraq's nuclear program to justify the war. [complete article]

See also, Cheney aide passed Plame's name to Libby, Hadley, those close to leak investigation say (Raw Story).

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Why didn't Bush's foreign-policy critics speak out a year ago?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, October 24, 2005

Two erstwhile loyalists have come out roaring against President George W. Bush this past week, attacking not just his conduct of the war in Iraq but the foundations of his foreign policy generally.

The critics are retired Lt. Gen. Brent Scowcroft, a longtime friend and former national security adviser of Bush's father, who attacks his targets in a profile by Jeffrey Goldberg in the latest issue of The New Yorker, and retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, another admirer of Bush Sr. and Colin Powell's former chief of staff, who launched his artillery in an Oct. 19 speech at the New America Foundation.

Scowcroft, besides voicing dismay over the invasion of Baghdad, slashes the administration -- especially his old friend Dick Cheney and his own former underling Condoleezza Rice -- for their "evangelical" notion that they can export democracy at the point of a gun.

Wilkerson goes further, charging Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with running foreign policy like a "cabal" -- worse still, an "incompetent" cabal that has "courted disaster in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran." He says they've gotten away with it because the president is "not versed in international relations and not much interested in them either." [complete article]

Comment -- Wilkerson's description of the Cheney "cabal" has been widely quoted. But further on in his speech he made another remark that has received far less (if any) attention:
I would submit to you that if we leave [Iraq] precipitously or we leave in a way that doesn't leave something there we can trust, if we do that, we will mobilize the nation, put 5 million men and women under arms and go back and take the Middle East within a decade. That's what we'll have to do.

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World for many Baghdad residents has shrunk to inner sanctum of home
By Matthew Schofield and Mohammed Alawsy, Knight Ridder, October 24, 2005

Samira Kubba wakes early each day, though she's not sure why. A year ago, she would have been busy helping her husband prepare for work, shopping for her family, meeting friends, planning the celebration for breaking the daily fast after sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Today, she knows she won't leave the house, except in case of emergency: a child in danger, the food supply running low. Even then, the excursion will be carried out with military precision: a timed route, covered by machine guns. She won't stop to chat with friends, she won't look in the eyes of anyone she passes, she won't stop for tea at a favorite cafe - all parts of daily life for her as little as months ago.

"We do not think about how we live our days in Baghdad these days. We wonder whether we will survive them," she said. "No place outside this house is safe."

Two and a half years after the city fell during the U.S.-led invasion, the world is shrinking for many residents, if not most of them. First they felt confined to their region, then their city, then their neighborhoods, then their blocks. Now, it's down to their houses, and, once inside, rich and poor are quick to point out the safest rooms, the places where their entire families now sleep at night. [complete article]

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CIA to avoid charges in most prisoner deaths
By Douglas Jehl and Tim Golden, New York Times, October 23, 2005

Despite indications of C.I.A. involvement in the deaths of at least four prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan, C.I.A. employees now appear likely to escape criminal charges in all but one of those incidents, according to current and former intelligence and law enforcement officials.

Federal prosecutors reviewing cases of possible misconduct by C.I.A. employees have recently notified lawyers that they do not intend to bring criminal charges in several cases involving the handling of terrorism suspects and Iraqi insurgents, the officials said.

Some of the cases are still technically under review by the Justice Department, but the intelligence and law enforcement officials said they had been told that the department was not preparing to bring charges against C.I.A. employees in those cases. [complete article]

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Son of slain Lebanese seeks special tribunal
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, October 24, 2005

The son of Lebanon's slain former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, and the leader of the country's Druse minority called over the weekend for an international tribunal to try people suspected of having a connection with the assassination, as the United States and Britain stepped up a campaign to place international sanctions on Syria.

In a televised address from Jidda, Saudi Arabia, on Saturday, Mr. Hariri's son, Saad Hariri, made a forceful call for a tribunal to oversee the issue, asking the international community "to support the international commission into the assassination of Mr. Hariri to bring out the full truth and bring the perpetrators to justice in an international court."

On Sunday, the country's Druse leader, Walid Jumblatt, flanked by members of his parliamentary block, echoed the call for an international court. "If necessary, we will support an international tribunal," Mr. Jumblatt told reporters from his home in the mountains about 20 miles from Beirut, while insisting that the report was based on "suspicions," not accusations against Syria. [complete article]

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Regime change for Syria
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, October 23, 2005

If there's one lesson learned in Iraq that the Bush administration wants to apply to Syria it's that it's much easier to bring about regime change than it is to deal with the consequences. Better - so the thinking goes - to bring down the regime then let those who are caught in the middle of the ensuing mess deal with the results.

Although the Washington Post's Robin Wright reports that the administration's aim is to "unravel the regime in Syria but not oust the government of President Bashar Assad," Joshua Landis in Damascus says that he has it on good authority that National Security Advisor, Steven Hadley, "called the President of the Italian senate to ask if he had a candidate to replace Bashar al-Asad as President of Syria. The Italians were horrified. Italy is one of Syria's biggest trading partners so it seemed a reasonable place to ask!"

The US is now turning up the heat on Syria after the release of the UN's damning report on the assassination of Rafik Hariri. But Christopher Dickey points out that the "top Syrian figures in the report are implicated by only one anonymous witness, and [the report's author, Detlev] Mehlis tried to get those names taken out of the copy released to the press. This has been depicted as an effort to protect the presumption of innocence. Perhaps. But it would also be protect Mehlis and the credibility of his report. If the testimony of that one witness cannot be substantiated and investigators have to dial back, then the whole inquiry could be discredited even though the documentary evidence makes the case against the Syrian intelligence services, as such, very clear indeed."

The Lebanese Daily Star's opinion editor, Michael Young concludes that "Mr. Assad is being offered several ways to impale himself; his only leeway is choosing which is the most painless." Meanwhile, in spite of events triggered by Hariri's assasination and the subsequent withdrawal of Syrian troops, according to The Guardian, many people in Lebanon are now wondering what their "cedar revolution" actually achieved.

Although it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Bush administration is itching to witness (or engineer) regime change in Syria, US intelligence agencies are warning that this would undermine "America's efforts to prevent terrorists from slipping across the border with Iraq." According to Joshua Landis:
For over a year Syria has been trying to cooperate with the West on the Iraq border, on the issue of terrorism finance, on the issue of stopping Jihadists from getting into Syria, on intelligence sharing, and on stabilizing Iraq.

Washington has consistently refused to take "Yes" as an answer. Why? The only credible reason is because Washington wants regime change in Syria. The US administration is sacrificing American soldiers in Iraq in order to carry out its program of "reforming the Greater Middle East." Two US policies are clashing head to head - the one is stabilizing Iraq and the other is the reform of the greater Middle East.
And for an administration that has perfected it's own perverse way of seizing the day, wouldn't the collapse of another regime in the Middle East provide a convenient distraction from the storm that is currently raging inside the beltway?

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U.S. troops fighting losing battle for Sunni triangle
By Adrian Blomfield, The Telegraph, October 23, 2005

The mob grew more frenzied as the gunmen dragged the two surviving Americans from the cab of their bullet-ridden lorry and forced them to kneel on the street.

Killing one of the men with a rifle round fired into the back of his head, they doused the other with petrol and set him alight. Barefoot children, yelping in delight, piled straw on to the screaming man's body to stoke the flames.

It had taken just one wrong turn for disaster to unfold. Less than a mile from the base it was heading to, the convoy turned left instead of right and lumbered down one of the most anti-American streets in Iraq, a narrow bottleneck in Duluiya town, on a peninsular jutting into the Tigris river named after the Jibouri tribe that lives there.

As the lorries desperately tried to reverse out, dozens of Sunni Arab insurgents wielding rocket launchers and automatic rifles emerged from their homes.

The gunmen were almost certainly emboldened by the fact that the American soldiers escorting the convoy would not have been able to respond quickly enough.

"The hatches of the humvees were closed," said Capt Andrew Staples, a member of the Task Force Liberty 1-15 battalion that patrols Duluiya and other small towns on the eastern bank of the Tigris, who spoke to soldiers involved.

Within minutes, four American contractors, all employees of the Halliburton subsidiary Kellog, Brown & Root, were dead. The jubilant crowd dragged their corpses through the street, chanting anti-US slogans. An investigation has been launched into why the contractors were not better protected.

Perhaps fearful of public reaction in America, where support for the war is falling, US officials suppressed details of the Sept 20 attack, which bore a striking resemblance to the murder of four other contractors in Fallujah last year. [complete article]

See also, U.S. confirms killing of contractors in Iraq (WP) and Unseen enemy is at its fiercest in Ramadi (NYT).

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Secret Ministry of Defence poll: Iraqis support attacks on British troops
By Sean Rayment, The Telegraph, October 23, 2005

Millions of Iraqis believe that suicide attacks against British troops are justified, a secret military poll commissioned by senior officers has revealed.

The poll, undertaken for the Ministry of Defence and seen by The Sunday Telegraph, shows that up to 65 per cent of Iraqi citizens support attacks and fewer than one per cent think Allied military involvement is helping to improve security in their country.

It demonstrates for the first time the true strength of anti-Western feeling in Iraq after more than two and a half years of bloody occupation.

The nationwide survey also suggests that the coalition has lost the battle to win the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, which Tony Blair and George W Bush believed was fundamental to creating a safe and secure country. [complete article]

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Leak case renews questions on war's rationale
By Richard W. Stevenson and Douglas Jehl, New York Times, October 23, 2005

The legal and political stakes are of the highest order, but the investigation into the disclosure of a covert C.I.A. officer's identity is also just one skirmish in the continuing battle over the Bush administration's justification for the war in Iraq.

That fight has preoccupied the White House for more than three years, repeatedly threatening President Bush's credibility and political standing, and has again put the spotlight on Vice President Dick Cheney, who assumed a critical role in assembling and analyzing the evidence about Iraq's weapons programs. [complete article]

Meanwhile, in an undisclosed location ...
By Michael Wolff, Vanity Fair, October 17, 2005

The true helmsman of the Bush administration, its philosophical architect, its psychic heart, its blood and guts, is missing in action. He's become a media vacancy, a hole where the normal huffing and puffing of a politician's demand for attention should be.

According to his office, he's at work in Washington, or fly-fishing at his Wyoming ranch, or out giving good-cause speeches which the press hasn't been covering. But as to the vice president's performance of his specific role as the administration's strength, authority, gravitas -- just as the administration most needs strength, authority, and gravitas -- he's slipped out the back, dematerialized. [complete article]

Scooter Libby, backstage no more
By Mark Leibovich, Washington Post, October 23, 2005

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby is known for his sarcastic, world-weary and at times dark sense of humor. He once quipped to an aide that he planned to stay as Vice President Cheney's top adviser until "I get indicted or something."

That was during President Bush's first term, brighter days for the administration and, more to the point, before a special prosecutor was investigating Libby's possible role in disclosing the identity of a covert CIA officer, Valerie Plame. [complete article]

Letter shows authority to expand CIA leak probe was given in '04
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, October 23, 2005

Weeks after he took over the investigation 22 months ago into the unauthorized disclosure of a CIA operative's identity, special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald got authority from the Justice Department to expand his inquiry to include any criminal attempts to interfere with his probe, according to a letter posted Friday on Fitzgerald's new Web site.

Fitzgerald is nearing a decision on whether he will prosecute anyone when the federal grand jury term ends Friday. The letter specified that he could investigate and prosecute "perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence and intimidation of witnesses." [complete article]

The Washington secret often isn't
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, October 23, 2005

There are still lots of real secrets in Washington. But the most secretive White House in modern history has learned the hard way - even while its spokesman reflexively utter the caution, "We don't talk about intelligence," or, "Sorry, that's classified" - that it must reveal a pretty steady stream of secrets all the time.

That is one reason journalists and some government officials are so wary of what might happen next in the C.I.A. leak case, which could conclude with indictments within a week. What began as a narrow case on a specific leak, many fear, has morphed into a broader threat to the way business is done here, a system that often benefits both sides. [complete article]

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Troubling times
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, October 23, 2005

Strangely, the New York Times still retains some loyal defenders. Tim Rutten
The Times is a great news organization with a newfound capacity for self-criticism and a demonstrated capacity to renew itself. Miller, the reporter, represents something far more persistent and pernicious in American journalism. She's virtually an exemplar of an all-too-common variety of Washington reporter: ambitious, self-interested, unscrupulous and intoxicated by proximity to power.
Ritten isn't too convincing when it comes to explaining how such a bad reporter could do so well in such a great news organization.

The "newfound capacity for self-criticism" that The Times is supposedly demonstrating came in executive editor Bill Keller's email to employees which The Times reported yet missed out the best line: "I feared the WMD issue could become a crippling distraction."

I realize that an executive editor has more concerns than keeping abreast of the news, but how exactly does Keller envision his mission (or that of the paper) if it was possible that the WMD issue could become a "crippling distraction." Distraction from what? Improving the paper's bottom line? Keeping the shareholders happy?

As for the guy they call the "public editor" - Byron Calame. He's called "the reader's representative." Wouldn't a real reader's representative need to be chosen by the readers?

In the midst of so much hand-wringing and concern over the paper duty to its readers, I think the best thing the New York Times could do is acknowledge that it has only one duty: to engage in honest journalism. That means setting aside a desire to please anyone - confidential sources, shareholders, publishers, administrations, advertisers, demographic sectors - you name it!

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Hughes misreports Iraqi history
By Alan Sipress, Washington Post, October 22, 2005

Bush administration envoy Karen Hughes visited Indonesia on Friday as part of her campaign to repair U.S. standing with the world's Muslims and defended the invasion of Iraq by telling skeptical students that deposed president Saddam Hussein had gassed hundreds of thousands of his own people.

Her remark was an impassioned answer to familiar criticisms of U.S. policy raised by her audience at one of Indonesia's leading Islamic universities. But it was also wrong.

State Department officials later acknowledged that Hughes, tapped by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to set the record straight on U.S. policies in the Muslim world, had misreported history. [complete article]

Comment -- When Karen Hughes recently described her mission, she said: "President Bush has charged me with developing a long-term strategy to ensure that our ideals prevail." In a curious way she is fusing together what stand out as two distinctively American impulses for travelling overseas: to evangelise and to fight wars.

At the same time, Hughes asserts that "people everywhere want to be heard." Quite so, but she does not seem to recognize the contradiction between being on a mission and being able to listen. Too often, the Bush administration has made it plain that its vision of democracy has more to do with giving people the right to speak out than it has with paying attention to what they say.

And if the adminstration is really serious about seeing its ideals prevail, how about trying to improve America's low ranking in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index. As the country that regards itself as the "victor" in the Cold War, victory is apparently being savored more sweetly in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, and Lithuania - all of which currently rank higher than the United States in press freedom.

Perhaps Hughes would accomplish more by travelling around this country and encouraging more Americans to venture abroad. If America wants to dispel its reputation as a threat to the world it would help if fewer Americans felt threatened by the world.

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Money for nothing
By Philip Giraldi, The American Conservative, October 24, 2005

The United States invaded Iraq with a high-minded mission: destroy dangerous weapons, bring democracy, and trigger a wave of reform across the Middle East. None of these have happened.

When the final page is written on America's catastrophic imperial venture, one word will dominate the explanation of U.S. failure -- corruption. Large-scale and pervasive corruption meant that available resources could not be used to stabilize and secure Iraq in the early days of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA), when it was still possible to do so. Continuing corruption meant that the reconstruction of infrastructure never got underway, giving the Iraqi people little incentive to co-operate with the occupation. Ongoing corruption in arms procurement and defense spending means that Baghdad will never control a viable army while the Shi'ite and Kurdish militias will grow stronger and produce a divided Iraq in which constitutional guarantees will be irrelevant.

The American-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority could well prove to be the most corrupt administration in history, almost certainly surpassing the widespread fraud of the much-maligned UN Oil for Food Program. At least $20 billion that belonged to the Iraqi people has been wasted, together with hundreds of millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. Exactly how many billions of additional dollars were squandered, stolen, given away, or simply lost will never be known because the deliberate decision by the CPA not to meter oil exports means that no one will ever know how much revenue was generated during 2003 and 2004. [complete article]

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U.S.: Zarqawi's terror network growing
By Katherine Shrader, AP (via SF Chronicle), October 22, 2005

U.S. intelligence officials say Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has expanded his terrorism campaign in Iraq to extremists in two dozen terror groups scattered across almost 40 countries, creating a network that rivals Osama bin Laden's.

In interviews, U.S. government officials said the threat to U.S. interests from al-Zarqawi compared with that from bin Laden, whom al-Zarqawi pledged his loyalty to one year ago. [complete article]

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Rebellion creeping through Caucasus
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2005

A dripping and cavernous tunnel, three miles through the belly of the mountain and lighted only by a spindly strand of dim bulbs, marks the entrance to the land of deep gorges and outlaw villages of the Caucasus range.

Emerging in the bright daylight on the other side is like entering another world, a Russia that is not Russia. Road signs every few feet are bright green with Arabic script: "There is no god but God, and Muhammad is his prophet." Several dozen signs bear the words of a legendary Caucasian warrior: "He who thinks about consequences is not a hero."

Since the 19th century, Russia has tried to tame the 650 miles of snowy peaks and fertile lowland slopes between the Caspian and Black seas. Today, the Caucasus wars seeping out of Chechnya through the surrounding, predominantly Muslim republics are increasingly being waged under a banner of militant Islam. [complete article]

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Pakistanis unite to aid victims of quake
By David Rohde, New York Times, October 22, 2005

All around this leveled town, thousands of pieces of clothing sit in great heaps, creating bright pockets of color amid fields of gray rubble. A checkered maroon sweater. A pair of bluejeans. A pink shirt. At first glance, the clothing appears to be a sad vestige of the thousands who perished in this mountain town. Instead, it is a testament to the living.

In what some Pakistanis are calling the greatest display of national unity in their country's 58-year-history, thousands of volunteers from across the country spontaneously collected vast amounts of food, clothing and medicine and rushed it to northern Pakistan after the severe earthquake of Oct. 8. The piles are the product of an impromptu grass-roots relief effort that Pakistanis say they have never seen before. [complete article]

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