The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Americans are tuning out the world
By Alkman Granitsas, YaleGlobal, November 24, 2005

For all the talk about a global village, there are actually two communities in the world today: Americans and everyone else. The average Frenchman, Brazilian, or Pakistani is becoming more attuned to the American way of life, but Americans themselves are increasingly tuning out the rest of the globe. At a time when US power, benefiting from globalization, is unchallenged in the world, a disinterested electorate could be a recipe for trouble.

Foreigners have long bemoaned the "isolationist" attitude of Americans – safely protected by two oceans and their tabula rasa history. But over the last several decades, that isolation has deepened. Americans now pay less attention to international affairs, and read less foreign news than at any time in the last two generations. Relative to the global boom in international travel, tourism, and business, fewer Americans go overseas or study a foreign language at university. The truth is that Americans are becoming relatively less – not more – engaged with the world in general. [complete article]

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Bomber bloodies U.S. toy giveaway
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, November 25, 2005

A suicide attacker steered a car packed with explosives toward U.S. soldiers giving away toys to children outside a hospital in central Iraq on Thursday, killing at least 31 people. Almost all of the victims were women and children, police said.

In all, 53 people were killed in bombings and gunfire across the country, including two American soldiers who died in a roadside bombing near Baghdad. The U.S. military also reported the deaths of four American troops on Wednesday. [complete article]

Comment -- In what appears to be one of the most ill-conceived attempts to win hearts and minds, yet again American soldiers have enticed children into a situation that provides an irresistible target to bombers. The scene described above is reminiscent of a similar tragedy in July where 26 Iraqis - mostly children - died as soldiers handed out candy.

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Debate heats up about the U.S. presence in Iraq
By William Douglas and James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder, November 23, 2005

"I would list all the arguments that you hear against pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, the horrible things that people say would happen, and then ask: Aren't they happening already? Would a pullout really make things worse? Maybe it would make things better," wrote William E. Odom, a retired Army lieutenant general and former Reagan-era National Security Agency director, for a Harvard University Web site.

Odom, now a senior fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute, has called America's invasion of Iraq "the greatest strategic disaster in U.S. history."

What to do in Iraq is a conundrum best summed up by a recent Army War College report.

"The long-term dilemma of the U.S. position in Iraq can perhaps best be summarized as `We can't stay, we can't leave, we can't fail,'" said the report by scholars W. Andrew Terrill and Conrad C. Crane.

Nevertheless, national sentiment is shifting toward getting out - but how? More and more options are being debated in Washington, but no single plan prevails. Here's a look at some of the ideas: [complete article]

See also, Bush faces dual challenges on Iraq (WP) and The about-face of a hawkish Democrat (WP).

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In Baghdad, capital vistas gradually shrink with insecurity
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, November 25, 2005

Five months after the fall of Baghdad, I went to Iraq with Colin Powell. It was the first visit by a secretary of state in half a century, and although he moved under heavy security, there was an optimistic, forward-looking feel to the trip.

Much has changed about Iraq in the intervening two years. And visits by America's secretary of state -- first Powell, then Condoleezza Rice -- have proved to be a microcosm of America's intervention here.

On our first trip, in mid-September 2003, the State Department entourage and diplomatic press corps stayed for two full nights at the legendary al Rashid Hotel, the high-rise once heavily bugged by Saddam Hussein's security goons. Iraqi vendors in the hotel arcade sold military paraphernalia and souvenirs from the old regime. Medals that Hussein once bestowed on his troops went for 10 bucks -- or less, if you bargained enough.

Back then, we could tool around the Iraqi capital. With a New York Times colleague, I walked through the concrete barriers down the lonely lane that linked the protected Green Zone to the rest of Baghdad. U.S. troops stationed along the route didn't stop us.
On this latest trip to Baghdad, the bubble shrank even more. No roaming the Green Zone. Not even a stop at the convention center. The press corps, including veteran war correspondents, was sequestered in Hussein's old palace for most of the seven-hour stay. We were discouraged from wandering the palace and were provided escorts to go to the bathroom. [complete article]

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Lost amid the rising tide of detainees in Iraq
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, November 25, 2005

Early this month, Iraq Abbas received a phone call from a man she did not know.

"Your husband is still alive," Ms. Abbas recalled the man saying, as she sat in a Shiite mosque in central Baghdad. "Don't give up. Meet anyone who can help."

The stranger told her he had shared a cell with her husband in an underground bunker. It was the first that Ms. Abbas had heard of her husband, Ibrahim Fayadh Abdul Hamid al-Timimi, since police commandos came into their home and arrested him on May 26, just hours after a bombing in their neighborhood.

One week after she got the phone call, American forces raided a bunker that fit the description the man gave, uncovering 169 inmates, many of them starving and abused, and tools of torture hidden in the ceiling. Iraqi officials say that all of the men in the bunker had links to the insurgency.

As the Iraqi government begins to take over from the American military, it has stepped up its hunt for insurgents, acting on tips from hot lines and rounding up suspects in neighborhoods near bombings. But the influx of new prisoners - the population of the four American-run prisons here has doubled over the past year, and Iraqi jails are packed - has overwhelmed the Iraqi authorities, rights groups say. And while the scandal in Abu Ghraib prison ushered in new reforms in American-run jails, the mushrooming Iraqi detention facilities operate virtually unchecked. [complete article]

See also, Prisoner is released despite evidence of role in bombing (NYT).

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Sunni tribal leader is slain
By Ashraf Khalil and Caesar Ahmed, Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2005

Dozens of gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms killed a prominent Sunni Arab tribal leader and three of his sons in their beds early Wednesday in Baghdad, witnesses and government officials said.

The predawn slayings underscore the perilous security situation as the country heads toward its third national vote in less than a year. Unsolved killings and the discovery of bound, mutilated bodies have become commonplace as speculation grows that at least some of the killers are operating from inside the Iraqi security forces. [complete article]

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For many Iraqis, homecoming is short-lived
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2005

Walking through the Saudi Arabian desert, the six Iraqis finally reached the border. An official welcoming committee from the southern Iraqi city of Samawah waited on the other side.

But the homecoming celebrations were short.

After conferring briefly with an Iraqi army colonel, five of the six men turned around and headed back into Saudi Arabia, having decided that living in a refugee camp there was more attractive than resettling in Iraq.

For two decades, war, persecution and poverty resulted in millions of Iraqis moving abroad. Living among strangers, in unfamiliar surroundings, many of them had longed for their place of birth.

After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, more than 250,000 emigres decided to return from refugee camps in neighboring countries and comfortable homes farther away.

But for many, coming back to rebuild Iraq turned out to be even harder than leaving. [complete article]

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Jihadist Iraq just won't happen
By Daniel Benjamin, Los Angeles Times, November 24, 2005

From the people who brought you Saddam Hussein's mushroom cloud and the secret Iraqi-Al Qaeda alliance comes a new specter to trouble our sleep: jihadist Iraq.

In a speech this week at the American Enterprise Institute, Vice President Dick Cheney used this nightmare vision to lash those, such as Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.), who have argued that it is time to begin withdrawing U.S. forces. "Iraq is part of a larger plan of imposing Islamic radicalism across the broader Middle East, making Iraq a terrorist haven and a staging ground for attacks against other nations," Cheney said. "In light of the commitments our country has made, and given the stated intentions of the enemy, those who advocate a sudden withdrawal from Iraq should answer a few simple questions: Would the United States and other free nations be better off or worse off with [Abu Musab] Zarqawi, [Osama] bin Laden and [Ayman] Zawahiri in control of Iraq? Would we be safer or less safe with Iraq ruled by men intent on the destruction of our country?"

The suggestion that a jihadist takeover in Iraq would follow a U.S. withdrawal verges on preposterous. It is the latest in a parade of straw men dispatched to scare up support for wrongheaded and failed policies. [complete article]

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Iraq report: It's about the oil
By James Ridgeway, Village Voice, November 23, 2005

The bottom-line issue in the Iraq war is not establishing democracy or assuring state security, but rather controlling the country's oil reserves.

A new report called Crude Designs: The Rip-Off of Iraq's Oil Wealth, prepared by a British consortium, reports that oil deals involving Iraq will be a bonanza for American and other Western companies. Iraq is expected to retain ownership of only 17 out of some 80 known oil fields, and these fields probably will end up under regional -- not national -- control. [complete article]

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Al-Jazeera demands answers after claim that Bush wanted to bomb headquarters
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, November 25, 2005

A senior executive of the Arabic news channel, al-Jazeera, is seeking an urgent meeting with Tony Blair over a report that George Bush discussed bombing the satellite channel's headquarters in Qatar.

Wadah Khanfar, al-Jazeera's director general, is flying to Britain this weekend after newspaper reports that President Bush made the comments during a face-to-face meeting with Mr Blair at the White House on April 16 last year.

Mr Bush's alleged comments about bombing al-Jazeera's building in Doha are reported to be contained in a note of the meeting. The attorney general, Lord Goldsmith, has warned newspapers they could be charged under the Official Secrets Act if they publish further material from the note. In the Commons yesterday, the Liberal Democrat MP David Heath said Lord Goldsmith had threatened editors with the Official Secrets Act to prevent government embarrassment rather than protect national security. The attorney general's warning was "not on the grounds of national security but on the grounds of potential embarrassment to the prime minister or to any presidents he happens to have conversations with", he said. [complete article]

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Core evidence that humans affect climate change
By Usha Lee McFarling, Los Angeles Times, November 25, 2005

An ice core about two miles long -- the oldest frozen sample ever drilled from the underbelly of Antarctica -- shows that at no time in the last 650,000 years have levels of the greenhouse gases carbon dioxide and methane been as high as they are today.

The research, published in today's issue of the journal Science, describes the content of the greenhouse gases within the core and shows that carbon dioxide levels today are 27% higher than they have been in the last 650,000 years and levels of methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas, are 130% higher, said Thomas Stocker, a climate researcher at the University of Bern and senior member of the European team that wrote two papers based on the core.

The work provides more evidence that human activity since the Industrial Revolution has significantly altered the planet's climate system, scientists said. "This is saying, 'Yeah, we had it right.' We can pound on the table harder and say, 'This is real,' " said Richard Alley, a Penn State University geophysicist and expert on ice cores who was not involved with the analysis. [complete article]

See also, Accelerated rise in sea levels blamed on global warming (The Independent).

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Secret British document accuses Israel
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, November 25, 2005

A confidential Foreign Office document accuses Israel of rushing to annex the Arab area of Jerusalem, using illegal Jewish settlement construction and the vast West Bank barrier, in a move to prevent it becoming a Palestinian capital.

In an unusually frank insight into British assessments of Israeli intentions, the document says that Ariel Sharon's government is jeopardising the prospect of a peace agreement by trying to put the future of Arab East Jerusalem beyond negotiation and risks driving Palestinians living in the city into radical groups. The document, obtained by the Guardian, was presented to an EU council of ministers meeting chaired by the foreign secretary, Jack Straw, on Monday with recommendations to counter the Israeli policy, including recognition of Palestinian political activities in East Jerusalem. [complete article]

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Hebron emerges as a test of Israel's pledge on settlers
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, November 24, 2005

In a stall where Palestinian merchants once sold vegetables in this ancient city, Gershon Bar-Kochva made a home.

A few years ago, the mustachioed army reserve officer and a group of fellow Israeli settlers pushed into two rows of empty stalls that were once a market, expanding the perimeter of the Jewish enclave at the heart of largely Palestinian Hebron. Now the presence of the settlers has emerged as a test of the Israeli government's pledge to evacuate dozens of unauthorized settlements, as well as offshoot neighbors of government-sanctioned settlements, on land envisioned for a future Palestinian state. [complete article]

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Romania base focus of secret prison probe
By William J. Kole, AP (via The Guardian), November 24, 2005

In a weedy field on this wind-swept military base, Romanians in greasy combat fatigues tinker with unmanned drone aircraft near a ragged lineup of rusting MiG-29 fighter jets.

There's not an American in sight, but the sprawling Soviet-era facility has become a key focus of a European investigation into allegations the CIA operated secret prisons where suspected terrorists were interrogated.

Top Romanian leaders and the Pentagon vehemently deny that the Mihail Kogalniceanu base in the country's southeast ever hosted a covert detention center, and the Romanians insist the United States never used it as a transit point for al-Qaida captives.

"It's impossible for something like that to have happened on this base," Lt. Cmdr. Florin Putanu, the base's No. 2 officer, angrily told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

But the compound, heavily used by American forces in 2001-2003 to transport troops and equipment to Afghanistan and Iraq, and scheduled to be handed over to the U.S. military early next year, is under increasing scrutiny. [complete article]

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IFJ accuses U.S. over killing of Al-Jazeera journalist in Baghdad: "It could be murder."
International Federation of Journalists, November 23, 2005

Reports that President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair discussed a plan to bomb the Arab TV station Al-Jazeera add to concerns among journalists world-wide that the United States attack on the station's Baghdad office on 8 April 2003 in which a reporter was killed was deliberate targeting of media.

"If that is the case, then the US is guilty of the murder of an innocent journalist," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. "It is time for the United States to tell the truth about this attack and to take responsibility for its actions which appear to be gross violation of international humanitarian law."

According to the IFJ, which has been campaigning for justice in some 16 cases where journalists and media staff have died at the hands of US troops in the Iraq conflict, there was no US investigation or proper report of why the attack in which journalist Tareq Ayyoub was killed took place. [complete article]

See also, Qatar shock at al-Jazeera bombing report (FT).

Comment -- Hardcore Washington media insiders such as Howard Kurtz remain skeptical about the idea that Bush could seriously have considered bombing Al-Jazeera. Kurtz writes:
I'm sorry, it just doesn't add up. (Yes, I know the U.S. bombed al-Jazeera's Kabul office during the 2001 war, but I have no reason to disbelieve the explanation that it was an accident.)
From Kurtz's vantage point it might seem inconceivable that the administration would display murderous intent - but perhaps that's simply because he keeps company with a press corps that is so willingly manipulated.

A matter of weeks after Al-Jazeera had incensed the Bush administration by broadcasting Osama bin Laden's post-9/11 statements, most people who don't spend their days schmoozing with administration officials would say it's much harder to believe that the Kabul bombing was accidental than that it was intentional. The military's explanation was that they thought the location of Al-Jazeera's office was an Al-Qaeda hideout. Maybe the real mistake - if there was any - was that the military misinterpreted administration officials' descriptions of Al-Jazeera to also mean that the network was a legitimate target. On October 28, 2001, Donald Rumsfeld said, "the Al Jazeera television network has a pattern of putting out al-Qaeda propaganda." Two weeks later their office in Kabul is bombed. Is it really that hard to see a connection Mr. Kurtz?

George Bush and Tony Blair could in an instant put an end to the current speculation by releasing the minutes of their April 2004 meeting. In the meantime it seems that we're in for more spineless American journalism as the likes of Howard Kurtz draw on an apparently endless supply of faith in the credibility of official statements. Heaven forbid that anyone might take the unthinkable risk of appearing to align themselves with fellow journalists in Doha!

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Paper says Bush talked of bombing Arab TV network
By Kevin Sullivan and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, November 23, 2005

President Bush expressed interest in bombing the headquarters of the Arabic television network al-Jazeera during a White House conversation with Prime Minister Tony Blair in April 2004, a British newspaper reported Tuesday.

The Daily Mirror report was attributed to two anonymous sources describing a classified document they said contained a transcript of the two leaders' talk. One source is quoted as saying Bush's alleged remark concerning the network's headquarters in Qatar was "humorous, not serious," while the other said, "Bush was deadly serious."

In Washington, a senior diplomat said the Bush remark as recounted in the newspaper "sounds like one of the president's one-liners that is meant as a joke." But, the diplomat said, "it was foolish for someone to write it down, and now it will be a story for days." [complete article]

Comment -- So now the Washington Post picks up the story - a little less timidly than the New York Times. Even so, I'd say timidity is the watchword of the day. Kevin Drum muses:
So take your pick. Either Bush seriously tossed out the idea of bombing a TV station in a friendly country because he didn't like their coverage of the war, or else this was his equivalent of Ronald Reagan's "The bombing will begin in five minutes." There's no way to know which unless someone leaks the transcript itself. I'd sure like to see whether Tony Blair treated it like a joke when Bush proposed it.
And Josh Marshall is bemused:
I'm really not quite sure what to make of this. Reading over the stories in the Daily Mirror, the Post, the BBC and other news outlets, there doesn't seem much question that there is a memo/transcript and that it does have Mr. Bush discussing bombing Al Jazeera HQ. What's unclear is whether he was serious or not. That of course makes all the difference in the world. And there's just no way to judge without seeing just what it said.
So, why so much judicious caution?

Anyone familiar with the British press knows that the Mirror comes from the tacky end of Fleet Street - it belongs to what we like to call the gutter press. So there's one good reason for caution. But then HM goverment comes along and threatens every news editor in the UK that they'll be charged under the Official Secrets Act if they publish the memo. A tad heavy, I'd say, if all that the memo reveals is George Bush's bad taste in humor. And don't forget, The Times was not prosecuted for publishing the now famous Downing Street Memos. A clue about why the British government is now being so heavy-handed comes here, in NBC's report on the charges being made against the original leaker of the bombing memo:
According to the Crown Prosecution Service, [Cabinet Office civil servant David] Keogh was charged with an offense under Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act relating to "a damaging disclosure" by a servant of the Crown of information relating to international relations or information obtained from a state other than the United Kingdom.
The other state is, presumably, the United States. Could that mean that in spite of the fact that the White House says, "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response," they already applied pressure on Blair to make sure he use the full extent of his legal powers to prevent Bush's words being made public?

Then there's the other part of this story that no one seems particularly interested in talking about. Al-Jazeera got bombed in Kabul and then had one of its journalists killed in Baghdad - in both cases the US claimed that it was not purposefully targeting the TV network. Now we have further evidence that the Bush administration is serious about its desire to put Al-Jazeera out of business. Yes, that would be an unparalleled act of sheer lunacy, and yes, it would mean bombing the capital of a US ally. But much as many Americans despise this Arab news organization, the fact that it fuels some anti-American sentiment does not make a civilian organization in any country - friend or foe - a legitimate military target.

As Marc Lynch wrote recently in Wilson Quarterly:
Denunciation of al-Jazeera is impressively bipartisan and a starting point for many of the post-9/11 debates over public diplomacy and the war of ideas in the Middle East. This consensus is all the more remarkable given how few of the critics speak Arabic or have ever actually watched al-Jazeera.
If the bombing memo becomes public and it turns out that Bush was absolutely serious, I think he should consider how he'd justify obliterating the organization and its employees to one of its most recents hires -- someone who has probably a better understanding of Al-Jazeera that anyone in the Bush administration -- former US Marine captain, Josh Rushing.

See also, Bush claim revives al-Jazeera bombing fears and Frank Gaffney: Bomb the bad media... if the shoe fits, bomb Al-Jazeera (Steven Clemons).

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Iraq conflict 'still in its early stages'
By Fiona Symon, Financial Times, November 23, 2005

The war in Iraq is still in its early stages and US and British troops are likely to be bogged down in the conflict for decades, a report by the Oxford Research Group said on Wednesday.

The independent think tank's report will make unwelcome reading for the British and US governments, both of which have indicated that they hope to begin reducing the number of troops in Iraq after the next Iraqi parliamentary elections in December.

Ensuring a friendly government in Baghdad is an essential part of US security policy, even if this requires a permanent US military presence, because long-term access to oil from the region is essential to the US, given its increasing dependence on imported oil, says the report. [complete article]

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3 brigades may be cut in Iraq early in 2006
By Bradley Graham and Robin Wright, Washington Post, November 23, 2005

Barring any major surprises in Iraq, the Pentagon tentatively plans to reduce the number of U.S. forces there early next year by as many as three combat brigades, from 18 now, but to keep at least one brigade "on call" in Kuwait in case more troops are needed quickly, several senior military officers said.

Pentagon authorities also have set a series of "decision points" during 2006 to consider further force cuts that, under a "moderately optimistic" scenario, would drop the total number of troops from more than 150,000 now to fewer than 100,000, including 10 combat brigades, by the end of the year, the officers said.

Despite an intensified congressional debate about a withdrawal timetable after last week's call by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) for a quick pullout, administration officials say that military and political factors heavily constrain how fast U.S. forces should leave. They cite a continuing need to assist Iraq's fledgling security forces, ensure establishment of a permanent government, suppress the insurgency and reduce the potential for civil war. [complete article]

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New Iraq strategy: Stay in hot spots
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, November 23, 2005

As US Marines battle insurgents in a string of towns in Iraq's western Anbar Province, they are applying lessons learned from their experience in Fallujah: Flush out insurgents, then stay there.

Some of those farming towns, along the Euphrates River, have been cleared and cleared again up to three times during the past year, as militants reestablish their grip when US and Iraqi forces depart.

Now marines are setting up temporary camp in these remote outposts - just as they did here in Fallujah a year ago, when marines cleared the city of Al Qaeda and nationalist insurgents, who had turned the city into a haven for kidnapping gangs and a launching pad for suicide attacks on Baghdad.

The key lesson from the Fallujah battle? "Go and stay," says Col. Dave Berger, commander of Regimental Combat Team 8. "The worst thing you can do is go and then leave. If you go, get something done and leave, each time you leave you lose [the Iraqis'] trust." [complete article]

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Bare-knuckle democracy in Iraq rebel territory
By Edward Wong, New York Times, November 23, 2005

In a burst of flame and smoke, a roadside bomb exploded Tuesday next to an American military convoy carrying a top Baghdad electoral official, Izzadin al-Muhammadi, as he rode through Baquba to a meeting with local politicians. The blast wounded no one, but it shook up Mr. Muhammadi.

Then things got bad.

At the fortified government center in this provincial capital in insurgent country, local leaders assailed Mr. Muhammadi with complaints. Why aren't there more polling centers? What will you do about all the people who cheat? Can you set up a fairer system for selecting observers?

The low point came when Sajah Qadouri, a provincial council member, accused the commission of being infiltrated by insurgents.

"A lot of people agree that the electoral commission is part of the problem," she said, shaking her head. "We know that terrorists exist even in the commission."

When the meeting broke up, Mr. Muhammadi wiped his brow with a tissue.

Such is the state of Iraqi politics just three weeks before the Dec. 15 elections for a full, four-year government. With officials like Mr. Muhammadi unable to travel anywhere unless accompanied by enough firepower to level a village, and with even the politicians expressing distrust of the electoral system, this vote is fraught with as much peril as the last one, in January. [complete article]

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Senior Sunni leader killed in Iraq
By Chris Tomlinson, AP (via WP), November 23, 2005

Gunmen wearing Iraqi army uniforms broke into the home of a senior Sunni leader on Wednesday and killed him, his three sons and his son-in-law on the outskirts of Baghdad, his brother and an interior ministry official said.

Khadim Sarhid al-Hemaiyem was the leader of the Sunni Batta tribe and the brother of a parliamentary candidate in the Dec. 15 election, the official, Maj. Falah al-Mohammedawi said. Another of the slain man's brothers said the family has been attacked before. [complete article]

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Administration heads off legal showdown over executive powers
By Frank Davies, Knight Ridder, November 22, 2005

The Justice Department's decision to indict Jose Padilla is the latest example of how the Bush administration short-circuits any legal review of the expansive powers it has claimed in the war on terror, legal experts said Tuesday.

In the Padilla case, the administration wanted to prevent a showdown in the Supreme Court over whether the president legally can hold a U.S. citizen indefinitely without criminal charges by declaring him an enemy combatant.

The Justice Department faced a Monday deadline for filing an argument urging the Supreme Court not to review the Padilla case. Many legal experts expected the court to take the case and resolve the issue of presidential authority.

One staunch defender of the administration said the dramatic shift suggested that the Justice Department may have lost confidence in its legal arguments in the enemy combatant case. [complete article]

See also, Padilla is indicted on terrorism charges (WP), Still searching for a strategy four years after Sept. 11 attacks (NYT), and Jose Padilla's dirty secret (William M. Arkin).

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Director for torture
Editorial, Washington Post, November 23, 2005

CIA Director Porter J. Goss insists that his agency is innocent of torturing the prisoners it is holding in secret detention centers around the world. "This agency does not torture," he said in an interview this week with USA Today. "We use lawful capabilities to collect vital information, and we do it in a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal and none of which are torture." Mr. Goss didn't describe any of those "innovative" interrogation techniques, nor has his agency allowed its secret prisons to be visited by the International Red Cross or any other monitor. But some of the people who work for him provided a description of six "enhanced interrogation techniques" to ABC News, because they believe "the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen," the network reported. Thanks to that disclosure, it's possible to compare Mr. Goss's words with reality. [complete article]

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Va. man convicted in plot to kill Bush
By Jerry Markon, Washington Post, November 23, 2005

A federal jury convicted a Falls Church man yesterday of plotting to kill President Bush, concluding that Ahmed Omar Abu Ali joined an al Qaeda conspiracy to mount a series of Sept. 11-style attacks and assassinations in the United States.

The trial in U.S. District Court in Alexandria was the first in an American criminal courtroom to rely so heavily on evidence gathered by a foreign intelligence service. Security officers from Saudi Arabia, where Abu Ali was jailed for 20 months, provided the bulk of the government's case, testifying via video from the kingdom.

The successful prosecution could smooth cooperation in terrorism investigations between U.S. and other intelligence services, which normally are reluctant to allow their officers to testify in a U.S. criminal case. [complete article]

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Bush plot to bomb his Arab ally
By Kevin Maguire And Andy Lines, Daily Mirror, November 22, 2005

President Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a "Top Secret" No 10 memo reveals.

But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.

A source said: "There's no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it." Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency.

The attack would have led to a massacre of innocents on the territory of a key ally, enraged the Middle East and almost certainly have sparked bloody retaliation. [complete article]

Comment -- Although the White House says "We are not going to dignify something so outlandish with a response", and the New York Times makes sure that the source of this report is clearly identified in its headline as a "British tabloid", the British government is now threatening newspaper editors with the Official Secrets Act. Do we need clearer evidence that Bush's threat was no joke?

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Why it's time to bring American troops home
By H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe, November 22, 2005

Having come recently from Iraq, I find myself reluctantly agreeing with Representative John Murtha of Pennsylvania. American troops have become "a catalyst for violence," and therefore more part of the problem than the solution.

I used to believe that, no matter what one thought of the war, Americans had to stay to keep Iraq from disintegration and civil war. If I thought the United States could prevent either, I would say stay the course. But I believe now that we no longer control events in Iraq and that in the end we cannot hold the country together.

Nor can we prevent civil war, which is already gathering in the shadows, as evidenced by bombed mosques, secret torture chambers, and the victims of death squads found in the desert. Only the Iraqis themselves can come up with the necessary compromises and accommodations to keep Iraq whole.

I now believe, as former defense secretary Melvin Laird recently wrote: "Our presence is what feeds the insurgency, and our gradual withdrawal would feed the confidence and the ability of average Iraqis to stand up to the insurgency." [complete article]

Comment -- There's undoubtedly something reassuring to the liberal heart in the notion that Iraqis must be allowed to be the masters of their own fate. Isn't this the essence of self-determination? But if you lived in Baghdad and you were afraid of leaving your home, the prospect of self-determination would probably look just as elusive as the American promise of liberation. It's easy from afar to speak about "the Iraqis" and say that it's now up to "them" to shape their future, but the reality is clearly far more complex when the very notion of what it means to be Iraqi is in flux.

Over here, now that the tide has turned so strongly in favor of withdrawing American troops, it's interesting to see that the desire to end the war appears to be mixed in with a large measure of wishful thinking. While according to the latest Harris poll, 63% of Americans favor bringing most of the troops home in the next year, 68% believe that overall life for Iraqis is getting better. If straight after Iraq's December general election George Bush was to declare "victory" (and thence start pulling the troops out), it sounds like most Americans would be willing to accept the validity of this vain claim.

For a constituent of Rep. John Murtha, however, the picture is less sanguine. Dick Cobaugh accepts Murtha's assertion that Iraq has become a quagmire but argues that if the troops are pulled out, "the message is, we're weak."

So, as the debate now pushes back and forth between staying or leaving, our concern about 160,000 soldiers and the image of America, seems to be eclipsing our interest in the people of Mesopotamia. Supposedly, it was concern about the welfare of these people (either as victims of Saddam or American imperialism) that animated both proponents and opponents of the war. Now it appears that the common ground emerging between these converging factions is our willingness to turn away.

Nevertheless, just because America's presence in Iraq is without doubt part of the problem, let's not delude ourselves about the extent to which the withdrawal of troops will constitute part of the solution. There is a vast middle ground between all-powerful and powerless - this is what we must explore.

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The Bush presidency may have three more years, but the 9-11 presidency is over
By Laura Rozen, The American Prospect, December 20, 2005

Things change fast, when they finally do. For more than two years, the daily reports of American casualties and car bombs in Iraq, questions about how the White House had led the country into the Iraq War, and the torture memos and "extraordinary renditions" -- with their subterranean narrative of an almost wholly undebated U.S. policy to commit torture -- had bounced off the Teflon presidency of George W. Bush. The media had decided after September 11 that Bush was America's Churchill. That was the story line -- and for endless and maddening months, there was no dislodging it.

But then, ushered in by a hurricane, all of these events -- individually almost weightless -- accrued into something with political heft, critical mass. And they did so suddenly: When future historians chronicle the fall of the Bush presidency, they'll point to a single week in late October and early November when the Bush White House's reputation for competence in national-security matters was punctured, its chokehold on Congress was brought to a crashing low, and a torrent of questions about the means by which the White House took the country into war in Iraq gained new urgency. [complete article]

See also, No way out for Bush and Co. (Eugene Robinson).

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Biden criticizes Bush policy on Iraq but opposes a pullout deadline
By Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, November 22, 2005

Biden, who is perhaps the Democratic Party's most visible spokesman on foreign policy matters, said that President Bush "has to abandon his grandiose goals" for transforming Iraq and the Middle East and define a more realistic mission.

Rather than attempting to transform Iraq into a "model democracy," Biden suggested that Bush spend the next six months accomplishing three goals: creating a "political settlement" that draws support from the rival Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds who make up Iraq; bolstering the ability of the Iraqi government to "deliver basic services"; and accelerating the training of Iraqi troops in order to facilitate a handover of full military authority to them.

Should Bush follow that blueprint, Biden held out hope that "we can start climbing out of the hole he has dug with most of our interest intact."

On the question of troop withdrawal, which is rapidly becoming a litmus test for aspiring national politicians among the Democratic Party's liberal wing, Biden sought a middle ground.

Once an advocate for increased troop levels, Biden said he no longer supports that idea but maintained that "the hard truth is that our large military presence in Iraq is necessary." A quick withdrawal or a must-meet deadline "divorced from progress . . . would doom us," he added. [complete article]

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Iraqi minister brushes off allegations of torture center
By John F. Burns, New York Times, November 22, 2005

For a man at the center of a furor over allegations of torture of Sunni Arab detainees, Bayan Jabr, the 59-year-old interior minister in a government dominated by Shiite religious parties, cuts an improbably nonchalant and stylish figure.

He has a close-cropped designer beard and well-groomed gray hair that could be at home on Madison Avenue, and wears steel-rimmed spectacles, a well-tailored dark blue suit, a crisp blue shirt and a fashionably knotted yellow polka-dot tie. And he laughs a lot, particularly when reminded that his political enemies have identified him as a prime instigator of the evils that the transitional government is accused of unleashing on the Sunni minority.

In an hourlong interview on Monday arranged at Mr. Jabr's initiative, the allegations washed right over him: Did he send Sunni detainees to be tortured in a secret Baghdad bunker that was originally built as a bomb shelter for Saddam Hussein's youngest daughter, Hala?

"It's nonsense," he said. "Only a few detainees were punched and hit, and it wasn't a secret bunker," he said, but rather a complex officially designated, with American knowledge, to hold the "worst of the worst" of the detainees held for involvement in the insurgency here. [complete article]

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Terror tactics turning away former al-Qaida supporters
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, November 21, 2005

Mohammed Hikmet and Talal Badran grew up together among the ancient olive groves and hardy fig trees of their village in northern Jordan. They were like brothers, down to their fuzzy beards and stocky builds. In 2003, the best of friends, at age 25, set off side by side to fight American troops in Iraq.

Only one of them returned, however, and now both of their families are wracked by doubts about the war they once believed in so fervently.

Today's insurgency in neighboring Iraq is unfamiliar to Jordanian villagers who said they simply wanted to defend fellow Muslims from foreign invaders. Now they're trying to figure out how blowing up innocent Arabs at a hotel wedding reception - as suspected Iraqi bombers did in Amman, the Jordanian capital, earlier this month - became an accepted means of resistance. The pride they took in sending two of their own to Iraq is mixed with confusion over whether their holy warriors may have become terrorists. [complete article]

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Another day in Baghdad A&E
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, November 22, 2005

Inside the compound of Yarmouk hospital, the mud-coloured buildings are filthy and falling apart. Smashed windows provide the only lighting along the corridors. Children touting sweets or cigarettes thread their way through piles of rubbish. Hundreds of people, some pushing wheelchairs, others supporting crouched figures - all clutching files of papers and x-rays - squeeze through narrow metal gates between the different sections of the compound.

There are the usual sort of hospital patients here: those with intestinal pains or broken limbs. But there are also Baghdad specialities: patients with car-bomb damage or mortar-shrapnel injuries or gunshot wounds.

Yarmouk, one of Baghdad's biggest hospitals, was built in the late 1970s when the oil-rich Iraqi government launched a five-year school, factory and hospital-building programme. That ambitious undertaking left Iraq with a modern and respected health-care system. But three wars and two decades later, it is in a shambles. [complete article]

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Dread takes a toll on GIs in Iraq
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2005

A handful of Delta Company soldiers leaned against a barracks wall the other night, smoking. The subject of conversation: what limb they would rather part with, if they had a choice. On the door of a portable toilet a few feet away, someone was keeping the company death toll amid a scribble of obscenities: five KIA.

"When I first got here, I felt like I could actually do some good for the Iraqi people," Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Barker said. But the last six months had hardened him, he said. "We're not going to change the Iraqis. I don't care how many halal meals we give out," he added, referring to food prepared according to Islamic dietary laws.

Of the 160,000 U.S. troops now in Iraq, some have been deployed to the country for the first time. Others are returning for their second or third tours of duty. Those returning find a country that has become even more dangerous. Since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, attacks on American troops using roadside bombs have steadily risen, as have military casualties.

In conversations with troops in the tense cities of Baghdad, Mosul and Tikrit during the last four weeks, morale seemed a fragile thing, especially among those in the line of fire, shot through with a sense of dread. [complete article]

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Sharon 'eyeing final borders'; Netanyahu: he's a dictator
Haaretz, November 22, 2005

Ariel Sharon wants to draw Israel's borders in talks with the Palestinians, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday, adding that he had just met with a very senior Palestinian officials in hopes of creating "momentum, a better understanding."

Benjamin Netanyahu, the favorite among six candidates to succeed Sharon at the helm of the Likud, Tuesday branded the prime minister as a "dictator" who was leading Israel into tyranny and was endangering its security.

"Why's it important if the dictator has this kind of smile or that kind of sense of humor if he'd bringing you to tyranny and he's bringing you to corruption and he's endangering your security?" Netanyahu said. [complete article]

See also, Cheers for Sharon, on one condition... (Gideon Samet), Sharon alters political landscape by leaving Likud (The Guardian), Israel's new middle way (CSM) and Peres, Ramon believed soon to join Sharon's new party (Haaretz).

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Hezbollah, Israeli forces clash on Lebanese border
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, November 22, 2005

Israeli forces fought with members of the Islamic group Hezbollah for hours Monday along the Israel-Lebanon border, Israeli military officials said, in the most sustained combat on the northern frontier in five months.

The officials said four Hezbollah gunmen were killed in the fighting, which included Israeli airstrikes on targets in southern Lebanon, while eight Israeli soldiers and three civilians were wounded by rifle and mortar fire.

Israeli forces in the region have been on alert for weeks based on reports that Hezbollah, the Shiite Muslim militia funded in part by Iran and assisted by Syria, planned to kidnap soldiers inside a disputed area known as Shebaa Farms. Israeli forces took the border strip from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, although Hezbollah and the Lebanese government claim the land as part of Lebanon. The United Nations says the Israeli-occupied area is Syrian. [complete article]

See also, IDF on Hezbollah: 'Basket' of options is at the ready (Haaretz).

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Chronology of Bush administration claim that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Niger (2001-2003)
Arms Control Association, November 21, 2005

Contrary to White House assertions that the "intelligence was all wrong," as early as a year before the invasion U.S. intelligence assessments and senior U.S. officials disagreed about the reliability of the information supporting the main nuclear weapons-related assertions. Furthermore, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors working on the ground in Iraq found no evidence that Baghdad had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program.

The chronology of events involving the internal intelligence assessments and international inspections clearly demonstrates that senior Bush officials overlooked intelligence assessments that cast doubt on the claim that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program.

The chronology also highlights that senior Bush administration officials also failed to take into consideration the findings and assessments of the IAEA inspectors working in Iraq from November 2002 to March 2003 that repudiated the nuclear program reconstitution allegation. The administration also gave short shrift to proposals from other UN Security Council members based on the inspectors' finding that called for a the continuation of the inspections, as well as the UN-mandated sanctions regime to contain and dismantle any remaining prohibited weapons activities in Iraq. [complete article]

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The mother of all constitutional crises
By Judith Coburn, TomDispatch, November 22, 2005

There are many myths about Watergate -- among them that Woodward and Bernstein rode into Dodge and rescued the republic all by themselves, that the impeachment of Richard Nixon saved American constitutional democracy from destruction, and that the grounds on which Nixon was impeached were a fair reflection of what he and "all the President's men" had actually done. In American mythology, "the system worked."

To most Americans, the slaughter of millions of Cambodians, Vietnamese, and Lao, as well as the destruction of their countries, seem unrelated to "Watergate." Henry Kissinger, one of the architects of the secret bombing of Cambodia, who had ordered his own dissenting staffers and several journalists illegally wiretapped to stop leaks, escaped indictment and would soon be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Few now remember that it was Indochina, not the burglary of Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Complex that really set Watergate, the scandal, in motion and led to a pattern of Presidential conduct which seems eerily familiar today. [complete article]

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CIA veterans condemn torture
By Jason Vest, National Journal, November 19, 2005

Writing in Studies in Intelligence, the CIA's in-house journal, [Merle L.] Pribbenow[ ,a 27-year veteran of the agency's clandestine Directorate of Operations,] recalled that an old college friend had recently expressed his belief that "the terrorist threat to America was so grave that any methods, including torture, should be used to obtain the information we need." The friend was vexed that Pribbenow's former colleagues "had not been able to 'crack' these prisoners."

Pribbenow sought an answer by revisiting the arcane case of Nguyen Van Tai, the highest-ranking Vietcong prisoner captured and interrogated by both South Vietnamese and American forces during the Vietnam War. Re-examining in detail the techniques used by the South Vietnamese (protracted torture that included electric shocks; beatings; various forms of water torture; stress positions; food, water, and sleep deprivation) and by the Americans (rapport-building and no violence), Pribbenow reached a stark conclusion: "While the South Vietnamese use of torture did result (eventually) in Tai's admission of his true identity, it did not provide any other usable information," he wrote. In the end, he said, "it was the skillful questions and psychological ploys of the Americans, and not any physical infliction of pain, that produced the only useful (albeit limited) information that Tai ever provided."

But perhaps most noteworthy was Pribbenow's conclusion: "This brings me back to my college classmate's question. The answer I gave him -- one in which I firmly believe -- is that we, as Americans, must not let our methods betray our goals," he said. "There is nothing wrong with a little psychological intimidation, verbal threats, bright lights and tight handcuffs, and not giving a prisoner a soft drink and a Big Mac every time he asks for them. There are limits, however, beyond which we cannot and should not go if we are to continue to call ourselves Americans. America is as much an ideal as a place, and physical torture of the kind used by the Vietnamese (North as well as South) has no place in it." [complete article]

Comment -- The problem with thinking about America as an ideal is that it all too easily gets conflated with the actual place and the living people. Every rationale that presents as its justification, "... because we're Americans", elevates Americans above everyone else. And if the argument is supposed to be one against torture it is flawed right in its conception since it reinforces a division that places Americans on one side and the rest of humanity on the other.

If we object to torture we should do so because it is an afront to our human values; not because it conflicts with a sense of our own moral superiority.

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Guantanamo: the United States's torture
By Isabel Hilton, Open Democracy, November 18, 2005

As prisoners in Guantanamo Bay reached the hundredth day of a mass hunger-strike, two United Nations special rapporteurs, who have been denied private access to prisoners in the United States prison camp, spoke out in London against the US's failure to "meet the minimum international standards of independent fact-finding".

Manfred Nowak, UN special rapporteur on torture and Paul Hunt, UN rapporteur on the right to health, are among a group of UN representatives who have requested access to Guantanamo Bay and other places of detention. Over a year of negotiation, the group made several concessions to US government conditions, including accepting a one-day visit – scheduled for 6 December – in lieu of three days, and the exclusion of Paul Hunt from the group.

But on 17 November, the UN representatives announced that they had cancelled the trip, because the US refused to permit access to the detainees. "We were not going to be allowed direct access, much less private access," said Manfred Nowak. "It would have been a breach of our most basic guidelines."

Paul Hunt told openDemocracy that he made four requests to visit Guantanamo in the past two years, because of consistent and credible reports of worrying deterioration in the physical and mental health of prisoners in Guantanamo and the frequency of reported suicide attempts. [complete article]

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CIA's harsh interrogation techniques described
By Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, ABC News, November 18, 2005

Harsh interrogation techniques authorized by top officials of the CIA have led to questionable confessions and the death of a detainee since the techniques were first authorized in mid-March 2002, ABC News has been told by former and current intelligence officers and supervisors.

They say they are revealing specific details of the techniques, and their impact on confessions, because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen. All gave their accounts on the condition that their names and identities not be revealed. Portions of their accounts are corrobrated by public statements of former CIA officers and by reports recently published that cite a classified CIA Inspector General's report. [complete article]

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A rebuilding plan full of cracks
By Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway, Washington Post, November 20, 2005

In September 2002, nearly a year after an American-led coalition deposed the Taliban, the United States launched what would become an aggressive effort to build or refurbish as many as 1,000 schools and clinics by the end of 2004, documents show. However, design flaws and construction errors caused the initiative to fall far short.

By September 2004, congressional figures show that the effort's centerpiece -- a $73 million U.S. Agency for International Development program -- had produced only 100 finished projects, most of them refurbishments of existing buildings. As of the beginning of this month, only about 40 more had been finished and turned over to the Afghan government.

Internal documents and more than 100 interviews in Washington and Kabul revealed a chain of mistakes and misjudgments: The U.S. effort was poorly conceived in a rush to show results before the Afghan presidential election in late 2004. The drive to construct earthquake-resistant, American-quality buildings in rustic villages led to culture clashes, delays and what a USAID official called "extraordinary costs." Afghans complained that the initial design for roofs made them too heavy to build in rural areas without a crane, and the corrected design made them too light to bear Afghan snows. Local workmen unfamiliar with U.S. construction methods sometimes produced shoddy work. [complete article]

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After the Pakistan earthquake, some strange new alliances
By Steve Coll, The New Yorker, November 14, 2005

For the past fifteen years, the Pakistani Army has supported rebellion on India's side of the Line of Control by aiding violent Islamic groups, some of them with ties to Al Qaeda, that are seeking to unify all of Kashmir with Pakistan. One of the most prominent of these groups has been Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous), which, in December, 2001, the Bush Administration designated a foreign terrorist organization. Lashkar-e-Taiba was—and still is, depending on whom you ask—a radical jihad and proselytizing organization that has carried out persistent and sometimes spectacular attacks against Indian targets, both military and civilian, in Kashmir and elsewhere. Under American pressure, President Musharraf formally banned Lashkar-e-Taiba in early 2002, but he allowed it to create a domestic charity under a new name, Jamaat ud-Dawa (the Preaching Society), but with the same leader. The new group runs conservative madrasahs and promotes an austere vision of Islam through preaching and social work, and, according to a spokesman, it has hundreds of thousands of members throughout Pakistan. Azad Kashmir had been an important base for Lashkar-e-Taiba, because the region offered sanctuary and a convenient launching ground for anti-India operations.

In Muzaffarabad, I found the main Jamaat ud-Dawa camp on the west bank of the Neelum River, in a part of the city that had been severely damaged. Mohammed Khalid, the youthful chief of the group's regional media committee, welcomed me into a tent strewn with carpets and cushions. He had a soft beard that fell far below his chin. Unlike the Army, the group had mobilized quickly after the quake, and I asked how it had done so. "We had a seminary here, with two hundred students, and a hospital," he said. "The hospital crumbled. We then dug out medicines, and doctors started working within thirty minutes." The students handed out food and set up a generator. "It was all darkness and dust," he said. "People saw the light and they started coming, and that was where our work really began." By now, Khalid said, Jamaat ud-Dawa had about three thousand volunteers throughout the area struck by the earthquake.

The camp in Muzaffarabad covered about ten acres. In one tent, doctors set broken bones, and in a metal shipping container with power delivered by a generator, surgeons from Karachi and Lahore had assembled an operating theatre with an oxygen machine and medical monitoring equipment. Altogether, Khalid said, his group had brought dozens of doctors to Azad Kashmir, and they were seeing between seven hundred and eight hundred patients a day. When I asked if it bothered him that the American government had branded his group, or its predecessor, a terrorist organization, he said, "If you accuse someone, that doesn't mean it's true. I would invite the American doctors and medical staff to come and join us. Our doors are open.... Any American kid or boy can come work with us. They are most welcome." [complete article]

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Iraqi factions call for timetable for U.S. withdrawal
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, November 21, 2005

For the first time, Iraq's political factions collectively called today for a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign forces, in a moment of consensus that comes as the Bush administration battles pressure at home to commit to a pullout schedule.

The announcement, made at the conclusion of a reconciliation conference here backed by the Arab League, was a public reaching out by Shiites, who now dominate Iraq's government, to Sunni Arabs on the eve of parliamentary elections that have been put on shaky ground by weeks of sectarian violence.

About 100 Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish leaders, many of whom will run in the election in December, signed a closing memorandum on today that "demands a withdrawal of foreign troops on a specified timetable, together with an immediate national program for rebuilding the security forces," the statement said. "The Iraqi people are looking forward to the day when foreign forces will leave Iraq, when its armed and security forces will be rebuilt and when they can enjoy peace and stability and an end to terrorism."

Shiite leaders have long maintained that a pullout should be done according to milestones, and not before Iraqi security forces are fully operational. The closing statement upheld the Sunni demand, but did not specify when a withdrawal should begin, making it more of a symbolic gesture than a concrete demand that would be followed up by the Iraqi government. [complete article]

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Bush tries to tone down high-pitched debate on Iraq
By Peter Baker and David Brown, Washington Post, November 21, 2005

Perhaps the most striking moment came after Murtha's proposal [to immediately start withdrawing US troops from Iraq]. The White House assailed Murtha, likening him to liberal maverick filmmaker Michael Moore, characterizing him as a newfound ally of the "extreme liberal wing" of his party and accusing him of wanting to "surrender to the terrorists."

Such a direct attack on a member of Congress is more typically delivered by the Republican National Committee, not on White House stationery, and the tone only grew angrier the next day on the House floor when a freshman Republican suggested Murtha was a coward.

Bush appeared to be trying to ratchet back the dialogue to a more civil plane Sunday. "This is a debate worthy of our country," he said. "It's an important debate. It does not have to be a partisan issue. Fine Democrats like Senator Joe Lieberman share the view that we must prevail in Iraq." [complete article]

See also, Staying is not the answer (John Murtha).

Comment -- If Bush seriously believes that the current debate does not have to be partisan, here's a suggestion on how to make that happen: Shift the focus away from America's success (ie. ditch the phrase "we must prevail") and start talking about Iraq's success - a lofty goal that is realistic only if it becomes an international cause. But instead of engaging in this much more challenging debate, the subtext to the current debate is really just a contest between conflicting views on what America needs to do to extricate itself from a mess.

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New study details Iraq insurgency
BBC News, November 21, 2005

Up to 3,000 foreign insurgents may be fighting in Iraq, but they remain a small part of the overall rebellion, a US military analyst has suggested.

Algerians, Syrians and Yemenis are most numerous among foreign insurgents, said ex-White House aide Anthony Cordesman. Mr Cordesman, a veteran analyst, used Saudi and other regional security studies to collate data on insurgents.
[complete article]

See also, Iraq and foreign volunteers (Anthony Cordesman) (PDF).

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Israel's Sharon quits Likud party
BBC News, November 21, 2005

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has told the governing Likud party he is leaving to form a new political group ahead of early elections next year.

Mr Sharon, a founding member of the right-wing party, announced his move in a letter to its chairman. Earlier, the veteran leader asked President Moshe Katsav to dissolve parliament and call a snap election.

Aides to Mr Sharon say he wants to break with party hardliners who opposed the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Mr Sharon's move redraws the political map of the country, according to analysts. [complete article]

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The man who sold the war
By James Bamford, Rolling Stone, November 17, 2005

The road to war in Iraq led through many unlikely places. One of them was a chic hotel nestled among the strip bars and brothels that cater to foreigners in the town of Pattaya, on the Gulf of Thailand.

On December 17th, 2001, in a small room within the sound of the crashing tide, a CIA officer attached metal electrodes to the ring and index fingers of a man sitting pensively in a padded chair. The officer then stretched a black rubber tube, pleated like an accordion, around the man's chest and another across his abdomen. Finally, he slipped a thick cuff over the man's brachial artery, on the inside of his upper arm.

Strapped to the polygraph machine was Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, a forty-three-year-old Iraqi who had fled his homeland in Kurdistan and was now determined to bring down Saddam Hussein. For hours, as thin mechanical styluses traced black lines on rolling graph paper, al-Haideri laid out an explosive tale. Answering yes and no to a series of questions, he insisted repeatedly that he was a civil engineer who had helped Saddam's men to secretly bury tons of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons. The illegal arms, according to al-Haideri, were buried in subterranean wells, hidden in private villas, even stashed beneath the Saddam Hussein Hospital, the largest medical facility in Baghdad.

It was damning stuff -- just the kind of evidence the Bush administration was looking for. If the charges were true, they would offer the White House a compelling reason to invade Iraq and depose Saddam. That's why the Pentagon had flown a CIA polygraph expert to Pattaya: to question al-Haideri and confirm, once and for all, that Saddam was secretly stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.

There was only one problem: It was all a lie. After a review of the sharp peaks and deep valleys on the polygraph chart, the intelligence officer concluded that al-Haideri had made up the entire story, apparently in the hopes of securing a visa. [complete article]

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Frontline police of new Iraq are waging secret war of vengeance
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, November 20, 2005

Baghdad's Medical Forensic Institute - the mortuary - is a low, modern building reached via a narrow street. Most days it is filled with families of the dead. They come here for two reasons. One group, animated and noisy in grief, comes to collect its dead. The other, however, returns day after day to poke through the new cargoes of corpses ferried in by ambulance, looking for a face or clothes they might recognise. They are the relatives and friends of the 'disappeared', searching for their men.

And when the disappeared are finally found, on the streets or in the city's massive rubbish dumps, or in the river, their bodies bear the all-too-telling signs of a savage beating, often with electrical cables, followed by the inevitable bullet to the head.

In a new twist in the ongoing brutality of this country, Iraqi-on-Iraqi violence is escalating dramatically. [complete article]

See also, The Dirty War: Torture and mutilation used on Iraqi 'insurgents' (The Independent), British-trained police in Iraq 'killed prisoners with drills' (The Independent), and Britain launches purge of Iraq police (The Times).

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Quitting: as bad as invading
By Toby Dodge, The Independent, November 20, 2005

The US occupation of Iraq is clearly very unpopular. The only possible vindication for the calamitous invasion is the delivery of a better, more stable and prosperous future. Calling for speedy troop withdrawal in the vain hope that things will somehow miraculously get better once British and American troops have gone cannot deliver this.

An honest and sustainable approach to the unfolding tragedy would be, first, to admit that the situation is very bad and getting worse. Second, it would admit that the rebuilding of the Iraqi state and reconciliation of its population is beyond the resources or capacity of any one state, even the world's sole remaining super power.

Once these two things have been recognised, the only possible way out of the Iraqi nightmare is not a dishonourable abdication of responsibility, but the creation of a new truly international coalition to share the burden of helping the Iraqis move towards a brighter future. This would involve a multinational effort, organised through the United Nations, and an honest declaration to both the Iraqis and the wider world that this will take many years and a great deal of money to achieve. [complete article]

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It's still a mystery
By John F. Burns, New York Times, November 20, 2005

At a lunch with a senior American commander here last week, the raid that uncovered a secret Interior Ministry torture center in Baghdad prompted a question: Why had the Americans waited so long to act, when Iraq had been swept for months by stories of state-sponsored terror?

The accounts have hinted at the beginning of a march back toward the horrors of Saddam Hussein: police death squads and shadowy militias, masked men and middle-of-the-night raids, bodies dumped by roadsides, and an archipelago of makeshift prisons like the one that was raided, just a mile from the main American command center in the capital. There, last Sunday, troops found 173 starving inmates, pervasive evidence of torture, and signs that pointed to a ruthless Shiite religious militia group that has infiltrated the police, the Badr Organization, as responsible.

It was a discovery that helped inflame an intensifying debate in Washington over whether the time had come for the United States to set a timetable for withdrawing.

In Baghdad, Maj. Gen. William G. Webster Jr., commander of the Third Infantry Division, whose troops conducted the raid, had an answer to the query on the raid, and it was one that pointed to the shadowlands America fell into when it led the invasion of Iraq more than 30 months ago - shadows that still obscure an understanding of the landscape.

American forces, he said, had heard the stories of secret prisons and torture, many of them telephoned to hotlines set up last year for tips in the hunt for insurgents. The center, in Jadriya, he said, was "notorious" before the raid was triggered by a mother's appeal for help in finding her 15-year-old son. So why wasn't it raided sooner? Because, the general said in so many words, Iraq is so washed by rumor, and fact is so elusive, that the 153,000 American troops here have simply been overwhelmed. [complete article]

Comment -- Does John Burns really believe General Webster's explanation as to why American forces waited so long before raiding the Interior Ministry?

Baghdad is no doubt awash in rumor, but aside from the challenge of sifting fact from fiction there is a much more compelling reason why any American commander must be reluctant to probe the workings of Iraqi authorities that are still in the process of "standing up." Anything that challenges the perception (tenuous as it already is) that Iraq is on a trajectory towards self-governance casts a shadow over an American withdrawal.

The dilemma facing US commanders is this: Should they risk undermining their own exit strategy by exposing the signs that - as one US official said - Baghdad "is getting more and more like Mogadishu every day"? Or, should they make every effort to conceal that prospect in the hope that under the cover of an illusion of "success", troops can be withdrawn before most Americans know (or the Bush administration is forced to acknowledge) that Iraq has become a failed state?

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Sectarian hatred pulls apart Iraq's mixed towns
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, November 20, 2005

Abu Noor's town had become so hostile to Shiites that his wife had not left the house in a month, his family could no longer go to the medical clinic and mortar shells had been lobbed at the houses of two of his religious leaders.

"I couldn't open the door and stand in my yard," he said.

So when Abu Noor, a Shiite from Tarmiya, a heavily Sunni Arab town north of here, ran into an old friend, a Sunni who faced his own problems in a Shiite district in Baghdad, the two decided to switch houses. They even shared a moving van.

Two and a half years after the American invasion, deep divides that have long split Iraqi society have violently burst into full view. As the hatred between Sunni Arabs and Shiites hardens and the relentless toll of bombings and assassinations grows, families are leaving their mixed towns and cities for safer areas where they will not automatically be targets. In doing so, they are creating increasingly polarized enclaves and redrawing the sectarian map of Iraq, especially in Baghdad and the belt of cities around it. [complete article]

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Iraqi leaders quarrel in Cairo along usual factional lines
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, November 20, 2005

Iraqi leaders gathered in Cairo on Saturday for an Arab League-sponsored reconciliation summit meeting and began by calling for unity while also airing some of the same longstanding grievances that underlie the country's growing divisions.

About 100 leaders of Iraqi Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish factions, flanked by Arab diplomats and dignitaries, met in the gilded meeting hall of the Arab League's general assembly to open a dialogue aimed at easing ethnic tensions and bringing an end to the wave of violence in Iraq.

With no specific agenda and a broad set of issues to discuss, the meeting became an open debate about the insurgency in Iraq and its causes. [complete article]

See also, The right to rule ourselves (Haifa Zangana).

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How U.S. fell under the spell of 'Curveball'
By Bob Drogin and John Goetz, Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2005

The German intelligence officials responsible for one of the most important informants on Saddam Hussein's suspected weapons of mass destruction say that the Bush administration and the CIA repeatedly exaggerated his claims during the run-up to the war in Iraq.

Five senior officials from Germany's Federal Intelligence Service, or BND, said in interviews with The Times that they warned U.S. intelligence authorities that the source, an Iraqi defector code-named Curveball, never claimed to produce germ weapons and never saw anyone else do so.

According to the Germans, President Bush mischaracterized Curveball's information when he warned before the war that Iraq had at least seven mobile factories brewing biological poisons. Then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell also misstated Curveball's accounts in his prewar presentation to the United Nations on Feb. 5, 2003, the Germans said.

Curveball's German handlers for the last six years said his information was often vague, mostly secondhand and impossible to confirm. [complete article]

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Woodward joins a decadent dance
By Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2005

There is something singularly appropriate about the fact that the Plame affair should involve Woodward, whose skillful and courageous use of the ur-voice among confidential sources virtually created a whole genre of Washington reporting. It's a journalistic strategy style dependent on the cultivation of access to well-placed officials greased by promises of "confidentiality." It's a way of doing journalism that still serves its practitioners' career interests, but less and less often their readers or viewers because it's a game the powerful and well-connected have learned to play to their own advantage.

Whatever its self-righteous pretensions, it's a style of journalism whose signature sound is less the blowing of whistles than it is the spinning of tops.

That's why the Washington press corps, whose ranks include so many alleged commentators that you can't spit without hitting one, steadfastly refuses to put the Plame affair and its participants in the context that explains the event. That context is the Bush administration's unprecedented -- and largely successful -- effort to bend Washington-based news coverage to its ends. The Washington press corps doesn't want to talk about this because it basically puts some of its most admired members in a line of venal patsies. [complete article]

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Iraq war debate eclipses all other issues
By Jonathan Weisman and Charles Babington, Washington Post, November 20, 2005

After largely avoiding the subject since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, lawmakers are suddenly confronting the issue of President Bush's handling of the war. The start hasn't been pretty.

Political stunts by both parties have created an air of acrimony that is infecting the parties' entire agendas. The bitterness reached a new high -- or low -- on Friday when House Republicans forced a late-night vote on a resolution for immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces.

The resolution failed, 403 to 3, but only after members nearly came to blows when a GOP newcomer suggested a veteran Democratic military hawk was a coward. [complete article]

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'End the war' chorus that Bush can't control
By Andrew Sullivan, The Times, November 20, 2005

The Republican base is cracking over the war. It's cracking simply because the president has so far been unable to persuade his own supporters that he is winning it. Fully two-thirds of Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction. But the real news is that, in one poll last week, 41% of Republicans agreed with that proposition, a 12-point jump from the month before.

The anxiety on his own side, allied to the hostility of the opposition, means the results are not pretty. Bush's approval ratings are now in the mid to upper thirties. The Wall Street Journal's poll last week put him at 34% approval. At the same time in his second term, Richard Nixon had 37%.

Worse, Bush's disapproval ratings are high and have lasted longer than any recent two-term president. As the blogger Chris Bowers notes, no other two-term president with Bush's persistent disapproval rating has recovered.

The silver lining is that the public doesn't like the Democrats in Congress either. They have a 25% approval rating. This truly is a winter of American discontent. [complete article]

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Bush at the tipping point
By Howard Fineman, Newsweek, November 28, 2005

As friends describe it, Rep. Jack Murtha of Pennsylvania had been searching his soul for months, seeking guidance on what to do in Congress about Iraq. "I think he was going through what we Catholics call a 'long night of the soul'," said Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut. In 1974, Democrat Murtha had become the first Vietnam veteran elected to the House. A decorated Marine from the mountainous "Deer Hunter" country east of Pittsburgh, he had always been a down-the-line hawk and a favorite of the Pentagon generals. Now, at 73, he was the dean of the House on defense spending: a gruff, taciturn pasha receiving supplicants from his perch in the "Pennsylvania corner" of the floor -- last row, aisle seat, surrounded by equally beefy cronies. "I like to do things behind the scenes," Murtha explained to Newsweek. [complete article]

See also, Many constituents side with Murtha in opposition to war (Knight Ridder).

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Nearly 50 Iraqis killed in suicide attacks
By Naseer Nouri and Dlovan Brwari, Washington Post, November 20, 2005

Suicide bombers killed at least 49 people Saturday in attacks targeting a Shiite Muslim funeral in eastern Iraq and an outdoor market in Baghdad, while a disagreement among the country's faction leaders nearly ended a national reconciliation conference on its first day.

In Baiji, about 125 miles northwest of Baghdad, two homemade bombs killed five soldiers from the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, the military said in a statement. Those deaths, along with that of a member of the 101st Airborne who died in Germany from injuries suffered this week in Baiji, unofficially brought the number of American service members killed in action in Iraq to at least 2,090. The official tally is slightly lower pending the notification of relatives of those killed. [complete article]

See also, Six feet from death on the day Iraq descends further into Hell (The Independent) and Reporter survives Baghdad blasts, but they kill her feeling of safety (Knight Ridder).

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Who will be blamed for Iraq?
By Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, November/December, 2005

We still don't have a plan
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, November 16, 2005

Iraqi torture practices could be more widespread
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, November 17, 2005

Among insurgents in Iraq, few foreigners are found
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, November 17, 2005

In a battle of wits, Iraq's insurgency mastermind stays a step ahead of U.S.
By Josh Meyer and Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2005

Yellowcake to 'Plamegate'
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, November 15, 2005

Lines of control shift like sands in the desert
By Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, November 13, 2005

Iran in turmoil as president's purge deepens
By Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, November 18, 2005

U.S. backs role for Iran in nuclear fuel cycle
Financial Times, November 18, 2005

Climate shift tied to 150,000 fatalities
By Juliet Eilperin, Washington Post, November 17, 2005

Doubt is their co-pilot
By Stephanie Simon, Los Angeles Times, November 16, 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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