|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Rice to take hard line on CIA prisons claim
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, December 2, 2005
Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, is expected to begin her trip to Europe next week with a forceful rejection of requests for information regarding alleged secret CIA prisons in Europe and clandestine transiting of war-on-terror suspects. Diplomats said that Ms Rice, who arrives in Germany on Monday and meets Chancellor Angela Merkel the next day, is not expected to reveal information – as formally requested by the European Union last week – but to defend the US need to obtain intelligence. [complete article]
Bush adopts British colonial model for Iraq
By Alec Russell, The Telegraph, December 3, 2005
The success of British colonial forces against the Malay rebellion in the 1950s is being commended in the United States as a template for victory in Iraq. Col Andrew Krepinevich, a Vietnam veteran, has been touring congressional offices, the Pentagon and newspapers since autumn espousing an "oil spot strategy". [complete article]
Secretive Iraqi cleric launches campaign
By Hamza Henadawi and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP (via Yahoo), December 3, 2005
Iraq's most powerful politician, a secretive cleric who once led a militia based in Iran, launched the campaign Saturday of a Shiite alliance set to win the biggest number of seats in this month's parliamentary vote. Two years after appearing on Iraq's murky political scene, Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim remains difficult to read -- a soft-spoken man with a reputation for ruthlessness and a preference for pulling strings behind the scenes. [complete article]
Iraqi mosques flex election muscle
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2005
In a deeply religious country where sectarian identity trumps most other considerations, mosques are expected to play a pivotal role in politics. Shiite Muslim politicians, who rode their religious credentials to victory 11 months ago, find themselves competing against a newly engaged and active Sunni Muslim bloc with its own network of influential mosques. [complete article]
Will the Pentagon ever value nation-building as much as war-fighting?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, December 2, 2005
A Pentagon directive issued this week might herald the most dramatic upheaval of the U.S. armed forces in 20 years—or it might dissolve upon first contact with reality, like so many reform plans and nostrums before it. We'll know in the next few months, or maybe weeks, whether the order gets taken seriously or waved off as empty rhetoric. [complete article]
FBI Is taking another look at forged prewar intelligence
By Peter Wallsten, Tom Hamburger and Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, December 3, 2005
Federal officials familiar with the case say investigators might examine whether the forgeries were instigated by U.S. citizens who advocated an invasion of Iraq or by members of the Iraqi National Congress — the group led by Ahmad Chalabi that worked closely with Bush administration officials in the buildup to the war. [complete article]
If America left Iraq
By Nir Rosen, The Atlantic Monthly, December, 2005
At some point -- whether sooner or later -- U.S. troops will leave Iraq. I have spent much of the occupation reporting from Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Fallujah, and elsewhere in the country, and I can tell you that a growing majority of Iraqis would like it to be sooner. As the occupation wears on, more and more Iraqis chafe at its failure to provide stability or even electricity, and they have grown to hate the explosions, gunfire, and constant war, and also the daily annoyances: having to wait hours in traffic because the Americans have closed off half the city; having to sit in that traffic behind a U.S. military vehicle pointing its weapons at them; having to endure constant searches and arrests. Before the January 30 elections this year the Association of Muslim Scholars -- Iraq's most important Sunni Arab body, and one closely tied to the indigenous majority of the insurgency -- called for a commitment to a timely U.S. withdrawal as a condition for its participation in the vote. (In exchange the association promised to rein in the resistance.) It's not just Sunnis who have demanded a withdrawal: the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who is immensely popular among the young and the poor, has made a similar demand. So has the mainstream leader of the Shiites' Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, who made his first call for U.S. withdrawal as early as April 23, 2003.
If the people the U.S. military is ostensibly protecting want it to go, why do the soldiers stay? The most common answer is that it would be irresponsible for the United States to depart before some measure of peace has been assured. The American presence, this argument goes, is the only thing keeping Iraq from an all-out civil war that could take millions of lives and would profoundly destabilize the region. But is that really the case? Let's consider the key questions surrounding the prospect of an imminent American withdrawal. [complete article]
See also, How (not) to withdraw from Iraq (Tom Engelhardt).
Profusion of rebel groups helps them survive in Iraq
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, December 2, 2005
While on Wednesday President Bush promised nothing less than "complete victory" over the Iraqi insurgency, the apparent proliferation of militant groups offers perhaps the best explanation as to why the insurgency has been so hard to destroy.
The Bush administration has long maintained, and Mr. Bush reiterated in his speech Wednesday, that the insurgency comprises three elements: disaffected Sunni Arabs, or "rejectionists"; former Hussein government loyalists; and foreign-born terrorists affiliated with Al Qaeda.
Iraqi and American officials in Iraq say the single most important fact about the insurgency is that it consists not of a few groups but of dozens, possibly as many as 100. And it is not, as often depicted, a coherent organization whose members dutifully carry out orders from above but a far-flung collection of smaller groups that often act on their own or come together for a single attack, the officials say. Each is believed to have its own leader and is free to act on its own. [complete article]
See also, Ramadi insurgents flaunt threat (Washington Post).
Israelis trained Kurds in Iraq
By Anat Tal-Shir, Ynet, December 1, 2005
Dozens of Israelis with a background in elite military combat training have been working for private Israeli companies in northern Iraq where they helped the Kurds establish elite anti-terror units, Israel's leading newspaper Yedioth Ahronot revealed Thursday.
According to the report, the Kurdish government contracted Israeli security and communications companies to train Kurdish security forces and provide them with advanced equipment.
Motorola Inc. and Magalcom Communications and Computers won contracts with the Kurdish government to the tune of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars.
The flagship of the contracts is the construction of an international airport in the northern Kurdish city of Ibril, a stepping stone towards the fulfillment of Kurdish national aspirations for independence. [complete article]
U.S. allies leaving Iraq
AP (via Military.com), December 2, 2005
Two of America's allies in Iraq are withdrawing forces this month and a half-dozen others are debating possible pullouts or reductions, increasing pressure on Washington as calls mount to bring home U.S. troops.
Bulgaria and Ukraine will begin withdrawing their combined 1,250 troops by mid-December. If Australia, Britain, Italy, Japan, Poland and South Korea reduce or recall their personnel, more than half of the non-American forces in Iraq could be gone by next summer.
Japan and South Korea help with reconstruction, but Britain and Australia provide substantial support forces and Italy and Poland train Iraqi troops and police. Their exodus would deal a blow to American efforts to prepare Iraqis to take over the most dangerous peacekeeping tasks and craft an eventual U.S. exit strategy. [complete article]
Official removed amid detainee torture scandal
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, December 2, 2005
The Iraqi official responsible for investigating human rights abuse and corruption among Interior Ministry police said Thursday that he had been removed from his post in the aftermath of a scandal at a detention center where some of the 169 prisoners had been tortured.
Nori Nori, the ministry's inspector general, is the first senior Interior official to lose his job since U.S. forces entered the bunker-like facility Nov. 13 and discovered the abused detainees. The ministry, awaiting the results of a joint Iraqi-American inquiry, has reported no action against the jailers.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr ordered Nori reassigned Monday, a ministry official said. Nori confirmed the order in a telephone interview but would not elaborate.
U.S. officials considered Nori an ally who had tried to reform a ministry heavily influenced by Shiite Muslim militias. His authority gave him access to the ministry's records and the power to call its officials to account, but human rights groups criticized his work as ineffective. [complete article]
Iraqi Sunnis, Shiites protest police raids
AP (via NYT), December 2, 2005
A thousand Shiite and Sunni Muslims prayed together Friday in a demonstration of unity in central Baghdad ahead of potentially divisive parliamentary elections and following years of sectarian violence.
After midday prayers, the two groups held a demonstration whey they were united in their denunciation of military and police raids and widespread arrests of people suspected of participating in the insurgency.
Men waved Iraqi flags and women dressed in black robes carried posters of their missing sons. Some protesters held up portraits of Sunni clerics that have been in killed since the U.S. invasion in 2003. [complete article]
Iraqi rebels again seizing foreigners
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, December 2, 2005
The abduction of four Christian peace activists at gunpoint here is just one part of a spike in the kidnapping and targeting of foreign civilians in Iraq over the past week.
More than a dozen civilians have been victims of this new wave of attacks that is adding twists to an already tense preelection period in Iraq.
In addition to the Western peace activists, the victims include both British and Iranian pilgrims in Iraq to visit Muslim holy sites, a Jordanian businessman, and a German specialist in Mesopotamian archaeology and longtime Iraq resident.
Last month, car bombs exploded outside a Baghdad hotel that houses foreign journalists, echoing the bombing of another media compound weeks earlier.
These attacks are reminiscent of an earlier wave of kidnappings and killings last year during which more than 200 foreigners, including journalists and aid workers, were seized. More than three dozen foreigners were killed. [complete article]
Army officer charged in Iraq investigation
By James Glanz, New York Times, December 2, 2005
A United States Army officer was charged yesterday with smuggling hundreds of thousands of dollars in stolen cash from Iraq and using some of it to buy machine guns, grenade launchers and other illegal arms that were later found in a garage in North Carolina. He is the third person to be arrested in a widening investigation by a special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction.
The officer, Lt. Col. Michael Brian Wheeler, 47, of Amherst Junction, Wis., was a reservist called to active duty in Iraq, where he helped supervise millions of dollars in reconstruction projects from September 2003 until July 2004, according to a United States Army official and the affidavit describing the charges, unsealed in the Federal District Court of the District of Columbia. The money that was said to have been stolen and smuggled was intended for those reconstruction projects, including a library, a police academy and a center to promote democracy.
The affidavit hinted that others were likely to be charged in what officials say was an extensive bribery, kickback and smuggling scheme based in an office of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Hilla, south of Baghdad. The authority was the American administrative apparatus that ran Iraq after the 2003 invasion. [complete article]
The war on al Jazeera
By Jeremey Scahill, The Nation, December 1, 2005
Nothing puts the lie to the Bush Administration's absurd claim that it invaded Iraq to spread democracy throughout the Middle East more decisively than its ceaseless attacks on Al Jazeera, the institution that has done more than any other to break the stranglehold over information previously held by authoritarian forces, whether monarchs, military strongmen, occupiers or ayatollahs. The United States bombed its offices in Afghanistan in 2001, shelled the Basra hotel where Al Jazeera journalists were the only guests in April 2003, killed Iraq correspondent Tareq Ayoub a few days later in Baghdad and imprisoned several Al Jazeera reporters (including at Guantanamo), some of whom say they were tortured. In addition to the military attacks, the US-backed Iraqi government banned the network from reporting in Iraq. [complete article]
The girl who went from baker's assistant to Baghdad bomber
By Anthony Browne and Rory Watson, The Times, December 2, 2005
She came from an ordinary family in an industrial Belgian town. She used to sell baguettes in a bakery, and worked as a waitress in a cafe. She showed the rebelliousness of a typical teenager, but even in their worst dreams her parents never imagined that Muriel Degauque would end her life by blowing herself up in a suicide bomb attack against American troops in Iraq.
The story of the 38-year-old Belgian's journey from baker's assistant to Baghdad bomber, making her the first Western woman suicide bomber, emerged in shocking detail yesterday as her parents tried to make sense of her life.
Jean and Liliane Degauque, a former crane operator and a medical secretary, said that they had watched their daughter's gradual transition from Christian to Islamic zealot, and feared the worst when they saw the TV news on Tuesday. [complete article]
Democratic lawmakers splinter on Iraq
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, December 2, 2005
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's embrace Wednesday of a rapid withdrawal from Iraq highlighted the Democratic Party's fissures on war policy, putting the House's top Democrat at odds with her second in command while upsetting a consensus developing in the Senate.
For months now, Democratic leaders have grown increasingly aggressive in their critiques of President Bush's policies in Iraq but have been largely content to keep their own war strategies vague or under wraps. That ended Wednesday when Pelosi (D-Calif.) aggressively endorsed a proposal by Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) to pull U.S. troops out of Iraq as soon as possible, leaving only a much smaller rapid-reaction force in the region. [complete article]
In CIA leak, more talks with journalists
By Richard W. Stevenson and Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 2, 2005
A conversation between Karl Rove's lawyer and a journalist for Time magazine led Mr. Rove to change his testimony last year to the grand jury in the C.I.A. leak case, people knowledgeable about the sequence of events said Thursday.
Mr. Rove's lawyer, Robert D. Luskin, spoke in the summer or early fall of 2004 with Viveca Novak, a reporter for Time. In that conversation, Mr. Luskin heard from Ms. Novak that a colleague at the magazine, Matthew Cooper, might have interviewed Mr. Rove about the C.I.A. officer at the heart of the case, the people said.
Time reported this week that the prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has summoned Ms. Novak to testify about a conversation she had with Mr. Luskin, but provided no explanation of what Mr. Fitzgerald might be looking for. The account provided Thursday by people with knowledge of the discussions between Ms. Novak and Mr. Luskin suggests that Mr. Fitzgerald is still trying to determine whether Mr. Rove was fully forthcoming with investigators and whether he altered his grand jury testimony about his dealings with reporters only after learning that one, Mr. Cooper, might identify him as a source. [complete article]
A dig into Jerusalem's past fuels present-day debates
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, December 2, 2005
Some archaeologists believe Jerusalem was no more than a tiny hilltop village when it served as David's capital. The discovery of a palace or other large public building from David's time would strengthen the opposing view that he and his son, Solomon, presided over a civilization grander than the collection of rural clans some historians say made up the Jewish kingdom.
Whether David was a tribal chieftain or visionary monarch matters deeply to the Jewish historical narrative -- the story of a single people, once ruled by kings, and later dispossessed of its homeland until the modern state of Israel was created nearly 2,000 years later following the horrors of the Holocaust.
Palestinian leaders, who also claim Jerusalem as their capital, dismiss the ancient story as politically useful fiction. But given the palace's location on land Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war, its discovery could be used to bolster the Israeli claim to the East Jerusalem neighborhood and increase Jewish settlement in the area.
The excavation, on land owned by a private organization that has been moving Jewish settlers into the Arab neighborhood, is being funded by a Jerusalem research institute that promotes policy to strengthen Israel's Jewish character and by a wealthy American Jewish investor. [complete article]
Decadent America must give up imperial ambitions
By Anatol Lieven, Financial Times (via RealClearPolitics), December 1, 2005
U.S. global power, as presently conceived by the overwhelming majority of the U.S. establishment, is unsustainable. To place American power on a firmer footing requires putting it on a more limited footing. Despite the lessons of Iraq, this is something that American policymakers - Democrat and Republican, civilian and military - still find extremely difficult to think about.
The basic reasons why the American empire is bust are familiar from other imperial histories. The empire can no longer raise enough taxes or soldiers, it is increasingly indebted and key vassal states are no longer reliable. In an equally classical fashion, central to what is happening is the greed and decadence of the imperial elites. Like so many of their predecessors, the U.S. wealthy classes have gained a grip over the state that allows them to escape taxation. Mass acquiescence in this has to be bought with much smaller - but fiscally equally damaging - cuts to taxes on the middle classes.
The result is that the empire can no longer pay for enough of the professional troops it needs to fulfil its self-assumed imperial tasks. It cannot introduce conscription because of the general demilitarisation of society and also because elite youths are no longer prepared to set an example of leadership and sacrifice by serving themselves. The result is that the U.S. is incapable of waging more wars of occupation, such as in Iraq. It can defeat other states in battle easily enough but it cannot turn them into loyal or stable allies. War therefore means simply creating more and more areas of anarchy and breeding grounds for terrorism. [complete article]
To learn more about "offshore balancing" (referred to near the end of Lieven's commentary), see Stephen Walt's In the national interest: A new grand strategy for American foreign policy.
U.S. military pays Iraqis for positive news stories on war
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, November 30, 2005
The Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday that the U.S. military has been paying Iraqi newspapers to print pro-American stories written by U.S. information operations troops.
A Knight Ridder investigation has found that the American military's information operations have been far more extensive.
In addition to the Army's secret payments to Iraqi newspaper, radio and television journalists for positive stories, U.S. psychological-warfare officers have been involved in writing news releases and drafting media strategies for top commanders, two defense officials said.
On at least one occasion, psychological warfare specialists have taken a group of international journalists on a tour of Iraq's border with Syria, a route used by Islamic terrorists and arms smugglers, one of the officials said.
Usually, these duties are the responsibility of military public-affairs officers.
In Iraq, public affairs staff at the American-run multinational headquarters in Baghdad have been combined with information operations experts in an organization known as the Information Operations Task Force.
The unit's public affairs officers are subservient to the information operations experts, military and defense officials said.
The result is a "fuzzing up" of what's supposed to be a strict division between public affairs, which provides factual information about U.S. military operations, and information operations, which can use propaganda and doctored or false information to influence enemy actions, perceptions and behavior. [complete article]
Probe sought into stories planted in Iraqi media
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2005
The White House said today it has demanded information from the Pentagon about a secret U.S. military offensive to plant stories in the Iraqi media, and senators are planning to meet privately Friday to hear details about the information operations campaign underway in Iraq.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House was "very concerned" about reports that a defense contractor in Iraq, working with U.S. troops, was paying newspapers in Baghdad to run positive stories written by U.S. soldiers.
"We are seeking more information from the Pentagon," McClellan told reporters.
Pentagon officials said they were scrambling to get information from commanders in Baghdad about the arrangement between the U.S. military and Lincoln Group, a Washington-based contractor that specializes in "strategic communications" in combat zones. [complete article]
See also, What's Lincoln Group? (Jason Vest).
Comment -- Anyone interested in learning more about the Lincoln Group should explore their web site, though its contents may be just as deceptive as the propaganda they are circulating in Iraq. For instance, their list of "advisors" includes Dr. Michael Vlahos from John Hopkins University. When I asked him to comment on his association, he told me, "someone I know put my name on a Lincoln Group proposal as an "advisor" without my knowledge or consent. I have the email from him, apologizing after the fact. I assumed that that was that, and promptly forgot the whole thing."
Advisory boards are one of the essential elements through which small companies attempt to give an otherwise unknown entity sufficient credibility for them to garner attention. The name of an expert such as Vlahos - well known at the State Department and the Pentagon - would have been a valuable asset to the Lincoln Group as it negotiated its $100 million dollar contract. Which of their other "advisors" are unaware about how their names are being used?
In Baghdad, reality counters rhetoric
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, December 1, 2005
Through the smoke of car bombs on the streets of Baghdad, Ali Kathem has trouble seeing the progress that President Bush described Wednesday in a speech in Annapolis.
"At least we didn't have terrorism under Saddam Hussein. Now, we have explosions, kidnapping, stealing," said Kathem, 24, a stocky man who has sold cigarettes on a busy roadside in the Iraqi capital for nearly a decade.
In an electronics store nearby, Haider Falleh, 32, said his opinion of the new Iraq crystallized when a half-dozen men in police uniforms, driving police cars, robbed his shop of 45 cell phones. He ran for help to police at a checkpoint across the street. They shrugged.
For Ghassan Abdul Haider, 26, a Shiite police officer in the capital, the religious lines dividing the country have kept him from his home in northern Baghdad for three months. The last time he was there, little children brought notes from his Sunni neighbors saying he would be killed.
Bush, in his speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, spoke of progress toward independence, of land restored to Iraqi control, of gains in stability and democracy, and of the "skill and courage" of newly trained Iraqi security forces.
But on the streets of Baghdad, such optimistic rhetoric contrasts sharply with the thunder of suicide bombs, the scream of ambulance sirens, the roar of racing police cars bearing men with masks and machine guns, and the grim daily reports of assassinations, murders and hostage-taking. [complete article]
Iraqi rebels attack in Ramadi, seize some streets
Reuters, December 1, 2005
Masked militants attacked a U.S. base and a local government building with mortars and rockets in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi on Thursday, before holding ground on central streets, residents said.
Scores of heavily armed men set up roadblocks at major entrance and exit points to the city, a heartland of the insurgency in Iraq, and patrolled the main thoroughfares, residents said.
In some areas they dispersed after a few hours, but guerrillas remained in other parts. [complete article]
Bush is now in step with his generals
By Tyler Marshall and Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2005
Much of the rhetoric was familiar. But in his U.S. Naval Academy speech Wednesday, President Bush seemed to accept the hard realities both on the ground in Iraq and politically in the United States by pledging a smaller American force.
After months of a lingering disconnect between the White House and senior military commanders, Bush's comments at the academy in Annapolis, Md., seemed to bring him into line not just with America's military but with much of his administration.
Repeatedly, military commanders have made the case that only a drawdown of U.S. troops would make Iraqi forces take control of their nation's security.
On Wednesday, Bush finally seemed to buy into the argument. The revised mission would reduce the exposure of U.S. troops to enemy attack and the potential for U.S. casualties. [complete article]
See also, Gaps in Bush's plan (Jim Hoagland).
Kurdish oil deal shocks Iraq's political leaders
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2005
A controversial oil exploration deal between Iraq's autonomy-minded Kurds and a Norwegian company got underway this week without the approval of the central government here, raising a potentially explosive issue at a time of heightened ethnic and sectarian tensions.
The Kurdistan Democratic Party, which controls a portion of the semiautonomous Kurdish enclave in northern Iraq, last year quietly signed a deal with Norway's DNO to drill for oil near the border city of Zakho. Iraqi and company officials describe the agreement as the first involving new exploration in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
Drilling began after a ceremony Tuesday, during which Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the Kurdish northern region, vowed "there is no way Kurdistan would accept that the central government will control our resources," according to news agency reports.
In Baghdad, political leaders on Wednesday reacted to the deal with astonishment. [complete article]
Human rights inspector in Iraq's interior ministry dismissed in torture case
AP (via CBC), December 1, 2005
Iraq's interior minister dismissed the senior inspector in charge of human rights on Thursday in connection with a scandal involving the torture of dozens of prisoners at a Baghdad prison, an official close to the minister said.
Nouri al-Nouri, the ministry's chief inspector for corruption cases and human rights violations, was sacked on the order of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr said last month that the reports have been exaggerated and insisted only five people in the Baghdad facility appeared to have been maltreated. [complete article]
Militiaman denies tie to secret Iraq prison
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, December 1, 2005
The headquarters of the Badr Organization, Iraq's most feared Shiite Muslim militia, sits behind blast walls and armed checkpoints in a cluster of large homes near a highway overpass in the Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriyah.
Less than a mile away in the same wealthy district stands the Interior Ministry prison where two weeks ago U.S. soldiers found 173 inmates, many of them malnourished and showing signs of torture; most of them were Sunni Arabs.
Sunni Arab leaders immediately blamed the Badr Organization, many of whose members have joined the Iraqi security forces. The militia's claim to have abandoned arms for politics is widely disputed by U.S. officials and Iraqis outside Shiite leadership.
But in an interview conducted over tea in a spartan home with a verdant garden, Haidi Amery, head of the militia -- an affiliate of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the dominant party in Iraq's government -- denied that the group was involved with the prison. At the same time, Amery, wearing a suit with no tie, dismissed criticism of the methods used there as hypocritical, citing the mistreatment of detainees by Americans and Iraqis at other facilities. [complete article]
Mixed message on abuse - Pace says troops must intervene; Rumsfeld says otherwise
By William C. Mann, AP (via WP), November 30, 2005
The nation's top military man, Marine Gen. Peter Pace, said American troops in Iraq have a duty to intercede and stop abuse of prisoners by Iraqi security personnel.
When Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld contradicted Pace, the general stood firm.
Rumsfeld told the general he believed Pace meant to say the U.S. soldiers had to report the abuse, not stop it.
Pace stuck to his original statement.
"If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it," Pace told his civilian boss. [complete article]
The truth about WP
By John Pike, Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2005
Despite efforts to improve its image abroad, the United States has just suffered a damaging global propaganda defeat. And unfortunately, some of the wounds were self-inflicted.
Three weeks ago, the world's news media erupted into a feeding frenzy over new charges that the Americans were up to their evil old tricks. The story was all too familiar: Once again, it seemed, the United States had committed unspeakable atrocities, then lied about its illegal activities and been exposed. Every day there were fresh revelations and allegations. There is just one problem. It isn't true.
WP. Willy Pete. White phosphorus. For nearly a century, militaries around the world have used cascading showers of burning WP particles on the battlefield. It makes smoke to mark targets or hide friendly troops. It is also an incendiary weapon, used to burn enemy materiel and enemy combatants. [complete article]
Western white woman a suicide bomber
By Anthony Browne, The Times, December 1, 2005
Mireille, who was born in Belgium to a white, middle-class Christian family, blew herself to pieces last month in a suicide attack against American troops near Baghdad.
In one of the most extraordinary tales of Islamic radicalisation, she is thought to be the first white Western woman to carry out a suicide bombing.
Belgian investigators, who arrested 14 people associated with her, are keeping the 38-year-old woman's true identity secret, but details have started to emerge. She was from the southern Belgian town of Charleroi, married to a Moroccan and converted to an extreme form of Islam. [complete article]
Va. man foresaw dangers in Iraq
By Timothy Dwyer and Michael Laris, Washington Post, December 1, 2005
As Tom Fox headed toward the end of his first week in captivity in Iraq, friends said the 54-year-old musician and peace activist was well aware of the dangers he faced in the war-ravaged country.
He was so realistic, in fact, that he devised a written plan he distributed to friends and co-workers that they should follow if he were taken hostage. Don't pay ransom for his return, he wrote in an October 2004 e-mail, and reject the use of violence in trying to win his freedom. Don't "vilify" the abductors, he said, but instead "try to understand the motives of their actions."
Fox was kidnapped Saturday as he and three colleagues with a North America-based peace group were on their way to a meeting with a Muslim leader in which they planned to represent the families of imprisoned Iraqis, according to a former teacher in close touch with Fox. [complete article]
E.U. seeks details on secret CIA jails
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, December 1, 2005
The European Union cited possible "violations of international law" by the United States in requesting that the Bush administration clarify media reports and "allay parliamentary and public concerns" about secret CIA prisons and the transporting of al Qaeda suspects in Europe, according to a letter from British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
The brief letter, written by Straw because the United Kingdom currently holds the E.U. presidency, makes no accusations and carefully refers only to media characterizations. It does not mention the myriad investigations launched by governments and European institutions since The Washington Post disclosed last month a secret CIA prison system operating in Eastern European and other countries. The British government has not released the letter, but it was provided by diplomatic sources.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, who has declined to confirm or deny existence of the CIA detention centers, said the administration would respond "to the best of our ability." He set no timetable for a response, but European officials said they hope Rice makes public her reply before she departs next week on a five-day swing through Europe. [complete article]
Ex-CIA officer's appeal hints at agency's role in cleric's abduction
By John Crewdson and Alessandra Maggiorani, Chicago Tribuen, November 30, 2005
Brushing aside claims by a retired CIA officer that his actions were protected from prosecution by diplomatic immunity and shielded from view by national security, an Italian judge has opened the door to what could become a public exposition of one of the least-known and most controversial facets of the Bush administration's clandestine war on terror.
The retired officer's appeal, filed last week before the Tribunale Ordinario in Milan and obtained and translated by the Chicago Tribune, refers six times in 21 pages to the CIA, which has refused to acknowledge any role in the forcible abduction of a radical Muslim preacher here nearly three years ago and his subsequent transportation to Egypt.
The appeal contains tantalizing hints that the former officer's lawyer may try to prove that CIA higher-ups and senior officials of the Italian intelligence services approved in advance the abduction of Abu Omar. [complete article]
Why did you want to bomb me, Mr Bush and Mr Blair?
By Wadah Khanfar, The Guardian, December 1, 2005
I have lost count of the number of accusations levelled against al-Jazeera and the incidents of harassment to which it has been subjected since it was founded in 1996. It was rumoured to have been set up by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency with the purpose of improving Israel's standing in the Arab world. It has also been accused of being a CIA mouthpiece designed to disseminate western culture among the Arabs. Some have suggested that it is part of an international conspiracy to break up the Arab world by means of stirring up discord and creating problems for the Arab regimes. Others decided it was a front for Osama bin Laden and the Taliban; or funded by Saddam Hussein. And, at the same time, it has been condemned by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and bitterly criticised by Donald Rumsfeld.
We know that the intelligence services of some Arab regimes have resorted to spreading rumours about al-Jazeera in an effort to deter Arab viewers from watching it. These are the same regimes that recalled ambassadors from Qatar in protest at its hosting al-Jazeera, and the same regimes that closed the station's offices in their countries and detained its correspondents.
Until 2001, al-Jazeera was perceived in a positive way in the west as a whole and the US in particular. It was seen as the single most important force for reform and democracy across the Arab region. Harassment by Arab regimes was considered proof of its professionalism and testimony to its objectivity. Indeed, al-Jazeera had from its foundation the slogan of "the opinion and the other opinion" and refused to favour one side over another at the expense of truth. As a result, in record time al-Jazeera became the Arabs' number one channel, and last year it was voted the fifth most influential brand name in the world, after Starbucks, Ikea, Apple and Google. [complete article]
See also, Researcher in Blair-Bush memo row 'shocked' at Official Secrets charge (The Guardian), Blair refuses to meet Jazeera chief, terms report on memo a conspiracy (Agencies), and Did Bush plan to bomb al-Jazeera? (Juan Cole).
Terror trial hits obstacle, unexpectedly
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, December 1, 2005
A federal appeals court threw up a surprise obstacle on Wednesday to the Bush administration's plan to transfer Jose Padilla from military custody to face terrorism charges in a civilian court.
A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., issued a brief order suggesting it might withdraw an earlier opinion that gave President Bush sweeping powers to detain Mr. Padilla, an American, indefinitely without trial.
Despite being armed with that earlier court ruling, the administration shifted course last week and said it would no longer hold Mr. Padilla as an enemy combatant but instead try him on criminal charges in a federal court. To do so, the Justice Department sought permission from the appeals court to transfer Mr. Padilla, a former gang member from Chicago, from a Navy brig in South Carolina to the federal prison system.
To the apparent surprise of lawyers on both sides, the appeals court did not agree to give its permission. Instead, it issued an order requiring both the government and Mr. Padilla's lawyers to submit briefs on whether the court should withdraw its earlier ruling. [complete article]
The strange case of Chaplain Yee
By Joseph Lelyveld, New York Review of Books, December 15, 2005
James Yee couldn't easily ignore the fact that Muslim servicemen [at Guantanamo] were becoming objects of hostility and suspicion; he was a little slow to recognize that he himself was now regarded as a suspicious case. (Perhaps he derived a false sense of security from his obvious usefulness, for he was still being trotted out for visiting congressmen and journalists to give a rosy picture of all that was being done to attend to the spiritual needs of the detainees.) He'd heard that Muslim servicemen had been collectively nicknamed "Hamas" by members of the Joint Task Force responsible for interrogations. And once General Miller himself, on a visit to Camp Delta, took the chaplain for a stroll on the gravel path inside the fence; the general said friends of his had died in the attack on the Pentagon and confided that he'd sought counseling from a chaplain to deal with the anger he felt against "those Muslims" responsible for the attack. "I appreciated his candor," Yee says, "but sensed ...there was a subtle warning behind his words."
At about the same time, he noticed plainclothesmen on the periphery of services he conducted and wondered if they were FBI agents. Several Muslim enlisted men, he heard, had been detained on their return to the mainland. Finally, on September 10, 2003, a day before the second anniversary of the September 11 attacks, Yee found himself taken into custody by agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, shortly after landing in Jacksonville on leave. After five days in solitary confinement, he was shown a memo signed by General Miller charging him with espionage. "Chaplain Yee is known to have associated with known terrorist sympathizers," it said. He was also said to have classified documents hidden away in his quarters at Guantanamo, along with a ticket to London, suggesting that he'd been preparing to flee. None of this turned out to be true.
But before the military prosecutors started to backtrack, they put Captain Yee through many of the experiences his fellow Muslims had endured at Camp Delta. Not only was he shackled and held in solitary confinement, he was strip-searched and made to wear blackened goggles and earmuffs as he was shifted from the naval brig in Jacksonville to the one in Charleston, South Carolina. This was where the authorities stashed terrorist suspects who could advance some slight claim to ordinary legal rights, where Yasser Hamdi and Jose Padilla -- two "enemy combatants" with US citizenship, whose right to due process was now being contested by the government -- were held. "Was I in fact being considered an enemy combatant?" Captain Yee wondered. The obvious answer was yes, even if no such formal classification had been made. [complete article]
Why Iraq has no army
By James Fallows, Atlantic Monthly, December, 2005
...as the training and numbers are getting somewhat better, the problems created by the insurgency are getting worse - and getting worse faster than the Iraqi forces are improving. Measured against what it would take to leave Iraqis fully in charge of their own security, the United States and the Iraqi government are losing ground. Absent a dramatic change - in the insurgency, in American efforts, in resolving political differences in Iraq - America's options will grow worse, not better, as time goes on.
Here is a sampling of worried voices:
"The current situation will NEVER allow for an effective ISF [Iraqi Security Force] to be created," a young Marine officer who will not let me use his name wrote in an e-mail after he returned from Iraq this summer. "We simply do not have enough people to train forces. If we shift personnel from security duties to training, we release newly trained ISF into ever-worsening environs."
"A growing number of U.S. military officers in Iraq and those who have returned from the region are voicing concern that the nascent Iraqi army will fall apart if American forces are drawn down in the foreseeable future," Elaine Grossman, of the well-connected newsletter Inside the Pentagon, reported in September.
"U.S. trainers have made a heroic effort and have achieved some success with some units," Ahmed Hashim, of the Naval War College, told me in an e-mail. "But the Iraqi Security Forces are almost like a black hole. You put a lot in and little comes back out."
"I have to tell you that corruption is eating the guts of this counter-insurgency effort," a civilian wrote in an e-mail from Baghdad. Money meant to train new troops was leaking out to terrorists, he said. He empathized with "Iraqi officers here who see and yet are powerless to stop it because of the corrupt ministers and their aides."
"On the current course we will have two options," I was told by a Marine lieutenant colonel who had recently served in Iraq and who prefers to remain anonymous. "We can lose in Iraq and destroy our army, or we can just lose." [complete article]
Bush's shrinking safety zone
By Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, November 29, 2005
What does it say about the president of the United States that he won't go anywhere near ordinary citizens any more? And that he'll only speak to captive audiences?
President Bush's safety zone these days doesn't appear to extend very far beyond military bases, other federal installations and Republican fundraisers. [complete article]
Comment -- As President Bush today promoted a Strategy for Victory in Iraq that refers to "progress" a mere 28 times, he appealed to the courage of the young men in front of him by quoting from a letter written by Corporal Jeffrey B. Starr. Conservatives were recently irate that the New York Times quoted Starr while leaving out what he wrote about dying for freedom. Now Bush does a bit of his own selective quoting and misses out the lines, "I kind of predicted this [- dying in Iraq], that is why I'm writing this in November. A third time just seemed like I'm pushing my chances." Starr might have been willing to die for freedom but declined a $24,000 bonus to re-enlist and wanted instead to go to junior college. How many dreams did Bush kill today as he told his impressionable young audience, "Our freedom and our way of life are in your hands"?
U.S. debate on pullout resonates as troops engage Sunnis in talks
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Jonathan Finer and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, November 30, 2005
Nowhere is support for a U.S. military exit stronger than in Anbar province in western Iraq, heart of the Sunni insurgency, where fighters control whole communities along the Euphrates River, and where money and materiel flow in from neighboring Syria. Elsewhere in Iraq, many people who resent the U.S. presence say they fear factional struggles and upheaval if the U.S. troops leave too quickly. But in Anbar cities such as Ramadi and Fallujah, the calls for a pullout are enthusiastically applauded.
"The people of Fallujah love Cindy Sheehan," declared Farouk Abd-Muhammed, a candidate for National Assembly in Dec. 15 elections, referring to the mother of a slain Marine who became a U.S. antiwar activist. He spoke Tuesday at a pre-election meeting of local leaders in Fallujah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, scene of the largest U.S. offensive of the war in November 2004.
Abd-Muhammed described watching recent television reports with his family showing Americans waving banners that read "Stop the war in Iraq."
"I salute the American people because we know after watching them on satellite that they are ready to leave," Abd-Muhammed said.
"We know that there are now voices, even in the Congress, that want America to leave Iraq as soon as possible," said Fawzi Muhammed, an engineer who is the deputy chairman of Fallujah's reconstruction committee. "It makes us feel very happy and comfortable because it is the only solution to the problems in Iraq." [complete article]
First European female suicide bomber in Iraq
By Philippe Siuberski, AFP (via Middle East Online), November 30, 2005
Belgian police arrested 14 people in a series of raids Wednesday as part of a probe into a woman thought to be the first European female suicide bomber in Iraq, the authorities said.
A man was also arrested in the Paris region in connection with the inquiry.
The woman is suspected of killing up to six people in a suicide attack in the Baghdad region on November 9. She had "a Belgian name", and converted to Islam shortly after marrying a religious extremist, prosecutors said. [complete article]
Rumsfeld's war on 'insurgents'
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, November 30, 2005
Last weekend, while other Americans were watching football and eating leftover turkey, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld ended the Iraqi insurgency.
It was easy, really: He declared that the insurgents would, henceforth, no longer be called insurgents.
"Over the weekend, I thought to myself, 'You know, that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit,' " Rumsfeld, at a Pentagon briefing yesterday, said of his ban on the I-word. "It was an epiphany," he added, throwing his hands in the air. [complete article]
Analysts see bleak road ahead
AP (via Military.com), November 30, 2005
Two senior Army analysts who in 2003 accurately foretold the turmoil that would be unleashed by the U.S. invasion of Iraq offer a bleak assessment in a new study of what now lies ahead in that bloodied land.
They advise, however, against setting a timetable for U.S. troop withdrawal - unless Washington finds the situation "irredeemable."
A timetable "is an excuse for allowing the system to collapse," the Army War College's W. Andrew Terrill and Conrad C. Crane write. [complete article]
Kidnapping in Iraq challenges German leader to take a stand
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, November 30, 2005
Angela Merkel, the new German chancellor, promised repeatedly on the campaign trail that she would keep her country far away from the political and military minefields of Iraq. Just one week after taking office, however, Germany finds itself being pulled in anyway.
Merkel said Tuesday that her nascent administration would do everything possible to win the freedom of a prominent German archaeologist and her Iraqi driver, held by kidnappers in Iraq who threatened to kill them if Germany does not end its few tangible measures of support for the Iraqi government. [complete article]
Rice defends prisoner tactics
By Barbara Slavin, USA Today, November 28, 2005
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday defended the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects as part of an unprecedented war to prevent massive attacks on civilians.
In an interview with USA Today, Rice neither confirmed nor disavowed the existence of secret CIA prisons abroad that The Washington Post reported this month. She said the Bush administration's policy of making arrests before crimes are committed benefits other nations as well as the United States.
"We have never fought a war like this before where ... you can't allow somebody to commit the crime before you detain them," she said. "Because if they commit the crime, thousands of innocent people die."
The European Union is investigating the prisons. Justice and Home Affairs Commissioner Franco Frattino [sic] said Monday that any EU member that operated one of the prisons could be ousted from the 25-member organization. [complete article]
See also, U.S. to respond to inquiries over detentions in Europe (NYT) and Europe demands answers on CIA and the secret terror jails (The Times).
Comment -- I don't think USA Today is correct is reporting that EU countries could be ousted. The Guardian quotes Frattini saying that such countries would be at risk of "suspension of voting rights in the council [of EU minister]."
How Europe is choking itself - and the world
By Stephen Castle, The Independent, November 30, 2005
Europe's claim to the moral high ground over the environment has been comprehensively challenged in a devastating report on its failings in the battle against global warming and pollution. It says Europe is devouring the world's natural resources at twice the global rate.
Climate change on a scale unseen on the European continent for 5,000 years is now under way, according to the report, which warned yesterday that at current rates three quarters of Switzerland's glaciers will have melted by 2050.
Urban areas of Europe will double in size in just over a century, as life expectancy rises and more live alone. Increasing urban sprawl means that in 10 years, an open space in Europe three times the size of Luxembourg has been built on. Air travel is likely to double by 2030 and marine ecosystems, water resources and air quality are all threatened. [complete article]
U.S. military covertly pays to run stories in Iraqi press
By Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2005
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.
The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country.
Though the articles are basically factual, they present only one side of events and omit information that might reflect poorly on the U.S. or Iraqi governments, officials said. Records and interviews indicate that the U.S. has paid Iraqi newspapers to run dozens of such articles, with headlines such as "Iraqis Insist on Living Despite Terrorism," since the effort began this year.
The operation is designed to mask any connection with the U.S. military. The Pentagon has a contract with a small Washington-based firm called Lincoln Group, which helps translate and place the stories. The Lincoln Group's Iraqi staff, or its subcontractors, sometimes pose as freelance reporters or advertising executives when they deliver the stories to Baghdad media outlets.
The military's effort to disseminate propaganda in the Iraqi media is taking place even as U.S. officials are pledging to promote democratic principles, political transparency and freedom of speech in a country emerging from decades of dictatorship and corruption.
It comes as the State Department is training Iraqi reporters in basic journalism skills and Western media ethics, including one workshop titled "The Role of Press in a Democratic Society." Standards vary widely at Iraqi newspapers, many of which are shoestring operations.
Underscoring the importance U.S. officials place on development of a Western-style media, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday cited the proliferation of news organizations in Iraq as one of the country's great successes since the ouster of President Saddam Hussein. The hundreds of newspapers, television stations and other "free media" offer a "relief valve" for the Iraqi public to debate the issues of their burgeoning democracy, Rumsfeld said. [complete article]
Comment -- When the Lincoln Group received a $100 million contract from the Pentagon this June, Col. James A. Treadwell, director of the Joint Psychological Operations Support Element, said, "I have never approved a product that was a lie, [or] that was intended to deceive." This suggests what the Pentagon's MO would be for this kind of operation: Make sure that none of the "news" items contain clear factual errors and then anything goes.
But here's the problem. The truthfulness of the words cannot be separated from truthfulness about the identity of the source. Yet again, the Pentagon has been successful in sending out a message that will be heard loud and clear all around the world: America cannot be trusted.
Bush's can't-lose reversal
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, November 28, 2005
Brace yourself for a mind-bog of sheer cynicism. The discombobulation begins Wednesday, when President George W. Bush is expected to proclaim, in a major speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, that the Iraqi security forces -- which only a few months ago were said to have just one battalion capable of fighting on its own -- have suddenly made uncanny progress in combat readiness. Expect soon after (if not during the speech itself) the thing that Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have, just this month, denounced as near-treason -- a timetable for withdrawal of American troops.
And so it appears (assuming the forecasts about the speech are true) that the White House is as cynical about this war as its cynical critics have charged it with being. For several months now, many of these critics have predicted that, once the Iraqis passed their constitution and elected a new government, President Bush would declare his mission complete and begin to pull out -- this, despite his public pledge to "stay the course" until the insurgents were defeated.
This theory explains Bush's insistence that the Iraqis draft and ratify the constitution on schedule -- even though the rush resulted in a seriously flawed document that's more likely to fracture the country than to unite it. For if the pullout can get under way in the opening weeks of 2006, then the war might be nullified as an issue by the time of our own elections.
The political beauty of this scenario is that, even if Iraq remains mired in chaos or seems to be hurtling toward civil war, nobody in Congress is going to call for a halt, much less a reversal, of the withdrawal. The Republicans will fall in line; many of them have been nervous that the war's perpetuation, with its rising toll and dim horizons, might cost them their seats. And who among the Democrats will choose to outflank Bush on his right wing and advocate -- as some were doing not so long ago -- keeping the troops in Iraq for another five or 10 years or even boosting their numbers. (The question is so rhetorical, it doesn't warrant a question mark.) [complete article]
Comment -- As anyone who's been through the experience knows, there's a big difference between realizing that it's time to get divorced and being able to see the right way to go about it. Most Americans are ready to get divorced from Iraq, but whether they're willing to pay alimony or are more likely to end up as deadbeat parents* is far from clear. The goal is much easier to discern than the way. Convictions focus on the end point - withdrawal - while dancing over the details. How to go about leaving - that's a task for the experts - all we know is that it's time to leave. Yet should we not admit the vacuity of the conviction if we are honest enough to acknowledge that we aren't clear about the means by which it can be accomplished nor have any certainty about what will follow if and when it happens?
*I imagine that quite a few readers will recoil from my metaphor of deadbeat parents. Doesn't that belittle the Iraqis or at least reinforce a parental image of government?
In its most basic sense, government - whether democratic or not - is the mechanism through which a citizenry can receive the services on which normal life (in a modern state) depends. Regime change in Iraq, brought about with the tacit or explicit consent of most Americans, meant that we took away the government. Provisional government, interim government, constitutional referendum, notwithstanding, Iraq has yet to acquire a government capable of providing its citizens with the basic security and services they require. The withdrawal of American troops will undoubtedly be part of the process through which Iraq regains its functional sovereignty, yet withdrawal alone will not be the only mechanism that brings this about.
We can ritualistically wash our hands of this mess but we cannot thereby absolve ourselves of responsibility for what has happened.
Cheney accused on prisoner abuse
BBC News, November 29, 2005
A top aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell has launched a stinging attack on US Vice-President Dick Cheney over abuse of prisoners by US troops.
Col Lawrence Wilkerson accused Mr Cheney of ignoring a decision by President Bush on the treatment of prisoners in the war on terror. Asked by the BBC's Today if Mr Cheney could be accused of war crimes, he said: "It's an interesting question."
"Certainly it is a domestic crime to advocate terror," he added. "And I would suspect, for whatever it's worth, it's an international crime as well." [complete article]
See also, Ex-Powell aide criticizes Bush on Iraq (AP).
U.S. lacks plan to curb terror funds, agency says
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, November 29, 2005
The government's efforts to help foreign nations cut off the supply of money to terrorists, a critical goal for the Bush administration, have been stymied by infighting among American agencies, leadership problems and insufficient financing, a new Congressional report says.
More than four years after the Sept. 11 attacks, "the U.S. government lacks an integrated strategy" to train foreign countries and provide them with technical assistance to shore up their financial and law enforcement systems against terrorist financing, according to the report prepared by the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of Congress. [complete article]
Killings linked to Shiite squads in Iraqi police force
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2005
Shiite Muslim militia members have infiltrated Iraq's police force and are carrying out sectarian killings under the color of law, according to documents and scores of interviews.
The abuses raise the specter of organized retaliation to attacks by Sunni-led insurgents that have killed thousands of Shiites, who endured decades of subjugation under Saddam Hussein.
And they undermine the U.S. effort to stabilize the nation, and train and equip Iraq's security forces -- the Bush administration's key prerequisites for the eventual withdrawal of American troops.
In recent months, hundreds of bodies have been discovered in rivers, garbage dumps, sewage treatment facilities and alongside roads and in desert ravines. Many of them are thought to be victims of Sunni insurgents, who are known to target Shiite civilians and Iraqi security forces, and even Sunni Arabs believed to be collaborating with U.S. forces or the Iraqi government. But increasingly, the Shiite militias operating within the national police force are also suspected of committing atrocities. [complete article]
Sunni politicians killed; 4 abductions confirmed
By Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, November 29, 2005
Two prominent Sunni Arab politicians were shot dead in Baghdad on Monday, and diplomatic officials confirmed that four Western aid workers had been abducted by gunmen one day earlier. An American was believed to be among those kidnapped.
Ayad Alizi and Ali Hussein, members of the Iraqi Islamic Party, one of Iraq's leading Sunni organizations, were attacked and killed, along with a bodyguard, while traveling by car in a predominantly Sunni region west of Baghdad, said Naseer Ani, the party's political head. Alizi was to be a candidate in legislative elections slated for Dec. 15.
The Iraqi Islamic Party is one of several Sunni Arab groups that boycotted the country's last elections in January but will compete for seats on a unified Sunni ticket this time. Fakhri Qaisi, a spokesman for one of the other parties on the Sunni slate, was seriously wounded in a similar attack in Baghdad this month. [complete article]
See also, Sunni Kurd cleric found dead in Baghdad (AP).
Video shows four Iraq captives
Aljazeera, November 29, 2005
Aljazeera has aired a videotape showing four peace activists who were captured in Iraq by a previously unknown group. The group, calling itself the Swords of Righteousness Brigade. said the four were spies working undercover as Christian peace activists. Aljazeera could not verify any of the information on the tape. The tape, which aired on Tuesday, showed four men and a British passport belonging to Norman Kember. [complete article]
Jordan: Caught between Iraq and a hard place
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, November 29, 2005
Jordan's 9/11 - the al-Qaida suicide bomb attacks on three Amman hotels on November 9 that killed 63 people - is still sending shockwaves across the kingdom. A new cabinet charged with waging "all-out war" against terrorism was appointed at the weekend. But Jordan's pro-western King Abdullah also insisted that his controversial reform programme, known as the "national agenda", must go forward.
This is a tall order for a country struggling to keep its head above water in a sea of instability. Jordan is caught between Iraq and a hard place - Israel-Palestine. Autocratic neighbours Syria and Saudi Arabia are poor paradigms for democratic change. In addition to its large population of Palestinian origin, up to 400,000 Iraqis have flooded in since 2003. And its close alliance with the US is domestically divisive. [complete article]
Al-Jazeera consults lawyers over Bush memo
By Owen Gibson, The Guardian, November 29, 2005
Arab news channel al-Jazeera is to consult its lawyers in an attempt to pursue George Bush through the courts over the US president's alleged threat to bomb the broadcaster's headquarters.
The satellite broadcaster's managing director, Wadah Khanfar, who is in London to petition No 10 for a meeting with Tony Blair to discuss the leaked memo, said the incident had hardened attitudes against the US among its viewers.
"Al-Jazeera is not just a TV station. It has become something people are very attached to. People are angry," he said, adding that the broadcaster would consult lawyers to see what further action could be taken. [complete article]
See also, Text of Al-Jazeera letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair regarding "Bush bombing memo" (The Washington Note).
Iran president had 'religious vision' during U.N. speech
By Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, November 28, 2005
A leading website in Iran has published a transcript and video recording of President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad claiming to have felt "a light" while addressing world leaders at the United Nations in New York in September. Baztab.com – a website linked to Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the Revolutionary Guards – said the recording was made in a meeting between the president and Ayatollah Abdollah Javadi-Amoli, one of Iran's leading Shia Muslim clerics.
According to the transcript, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said someone present at the UN, possibly from his entourage, subsequently told him: "When you began with the words 'In the name of God'... I saw a light coming, surrounding you and protecting you to the end [of the speech]." Mr Ahmadi-Nejad said he sensed a similar presence. [complete article]
Comment -- Maybe if this light descends on Ahmadi-Nejad again he'll be able (after failing three times) to come up with a nominee for oil minister that's acceptable to the Majlis.
Syrian witness in U.N. inquiry on Beirut killing reports bribes
By Kathrine Zoepf, New York Times, November 29, 2005
A man claiming to be a former Syrian intelligence agent in Lebanon has said on Syrian state television that Lebanese officials tortured him and offered bribes to persuade him to present false testimony against Syria to a United Nations commission investigating the assassination of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.
The man, Hussam Taher Hussam, said he had been held in Lebanon by supporters of Saad Hariri, the son of the former prime minister, and subjected to torture and drug injections to force him to testify. Saad Hariri, he said, offered him $1.3 million if he would lie about senior Syrian officials. Mr. Hussam did not say whether he had accepted any money. [complete article]
See also, Hussam Taher Hussam, the 'masked witness' (Joshua Landis).
Shabaa Farms to become officially Lebanese
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, November 29, 2005
Shabaa Farms is to be officially ceded to Lebanon, Syria's foreign minister said. This is indeed important. It means Israel can now withdraw from the territory, which will take the issue away from Hizbullah, undermining its rational for maintaining an independent militia. Whether Israel will do this without a formal peace treaty with Lebanon remains to be seen. There was talk within Israel of doing this earlier in the year. It also means that a major issue that has kept Syria and Lebanon from developing normal relations has been resolved. [complete article]
Peres: The real change is in Likud, not in Labor
By Mazal Mualem, Haaretz, November 29, 2005
As Israel's major politicians awaited word from Shimon Peres over whether he would leave the Labor Party for Ariel Sharon's new Kadima faction, the elder statemen had warm words for the prime minister - and none for Labor.
"The real change is not in the Labor Party. The real change is in the Likud Party," Peres said Tuesday in Barcelona. "Mr. Sharon took a different direction for a Palestinian state. He wants to continue the peace process." [complete article]
Fatah primaries thrown into chaos
BBC News, November 29, 2005
The main Palestinian political grouping, Fatah, has halted its primaries because of allegations of widespread fraud. Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas has pledged that existing West Bank results would stand but not that voting would resume.
On Monday, Fatah primaries in Gaza were cancelled after gunmen disrupted voting at several polling stations, amid allegations of irregularities. Primaries were seen as Fatah's best means to tackle the challenge of Hamas. [complete article]
See also, Young guard rises in Palestinian politics (CSM).
Sunnis accuse Iraqi military of kidnappings and slayings
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, November 29, 2005
As the American military pushes the largely Shiite Iraqi security services into a larger role in combating the insurgency, evidence has begun to mount suggesting that the Iraqi forces are carrying out executions in predominantly Sunni neighborhoods.
Hundreds of accounts of killings and abductions have emerged in recent weeks, most of them brought forward by Sunni civilians, who claim that their relatives have been taken away by Iraqi men in uniform without warrant or explanation.
Some Sunni males have been found dead in ditches and fields, with bullet holes in their temples, acid burns on their skin, and holes in their bodies apparently made by electric drills. Many have simply vanished. [complete article]
Abuse of prisoners in Iraq widespread, officials say
By Leila Fadel, Knight Ridder, November 28, 2005
Iraqi authorities have been torturing and abusing prisoners in jails across the country, current and former Iraqi officials charged.
Deputy Human Rights Minister Aida Ussayran and Gen. Muntadhar Muhi al-Samaraee, a former head of special forces at the Ministry of the Interior, made the allegations two weeks after 169 men who apparently had been tortured were discovered in a south-central Baghdad building run by the Interior Ministry. The men reportedly had been beaten with leather belts and steel rods, crammed into tiny rooms with tens of others and forced to sit in their own excrement. [complete article]
Talabani delays launch of crackdown to negotiate with insurgents
Daily Star, November 28, 2005
Iraq said Sunday it has delayed a major anti-insurgent offensive ahead of December's elections, as President Jalal Talabani confirmed he had been contacted by rebels wanting to join the political process.
The announcement came as the leader of the country's most powerful political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, criticized U.S. forces for preventing Iraqi troops tackling the insurgency head-on amid allegations of a return to Saddam-era abuses.
Interior Minister Bayan Jabr announced the suspension of the large-scale offensive against "hotbeds of terrorism" following an appeal by Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa. [complete article]
Saving face and how to say farewell
By James Glanz, New York Times, November 27, 2005
In the old popular song about the rout by Americans at New Orleans during the War of 1812, the British "ran so fast the hounds couldn't catch 'em." Even allowing for patriotic hyperbole, it can hardly be argued that the British extricated themselves with a great deal of dignity, particularly given that another battle in the same war inspired the American national anthem.
The impact of that defeat on the British national psyche is now obscure, but nearly two centuries later, as the Americans and their British allies seek to extricate themselves from Iraq, the story of how a superpower looks for a dignified way out of a messy and often unpopular foreign conflict has become a historical genre of sorts. As the pressure to leave Iraq increases, that genre is receiving new and urgent attention. [complete article]
2nd Time reporter to testify in leak case
By David Johnston, New York Times, November 28, 2005
A second reporter for Time magazine has been asked to testify under oath in the C.I.A. leak case, about conversations she had in 2004 with a lawyer for Karl Rove, the senior White House adviser, the magazine reported on Sunday.
The reporter, Viveca Novak [no relation to columnist Robert Novak], who has written about the leak investigation, has been asked to testify by the special counsel in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, about her conversations with Robert D. Luskin, a lawyer for Mr. Rove, the magazine said.
The request for Ms. Novak's testimony is the first tangible sign in weeks that Mr. Fitzgerald has not completed his inquiry into Mr. Rove's actions and may still be considering charges against him. Mr. Rove has long been under scrutiny in the case but has not been accused of any wrongdoing. [complete article]
Kidnapped Briton was quiet pacifist who felt drawn to war zone
By Cahal Milmo and Oliver Duff, The Independent, November 29, 2005
Like hundreds of thousands of others, Norman Kember took to the streets of London nearly two years ago to march against the war in Iraq. The 74-year-old retired professor and life-long pacifist even made it to the door of No 10 before the 2003 invasion to present a petition warning of disastrous consequences for Iraq and its people.
But in the aftermath of the war he ultimately could not stop, the dedicated churchgoer and pillar of his community in north-west London had been troubled by a desire to become more closely involved with the conflict. Six months ago, he wrote: "Personally it has always worried me that I am a 'cheap' peacemaker. Being in Britain talking, writing, demonstrating about peace is in no way taking risks like young servicemen in Iraq. I look for excuses why I should not become involved."
On Saturday, Mr Kember, a self-effacing man who declined social engagements to concentrate on his peace campaigning, paid a grim price for running out of excuses not to witness the suffering of Iraqis for himself. [complete article]
Britain opposes Bolton tactic on U.N. reform
By Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, November 27, 2005
Britain has rejected a proposal by John Bolton, America's combative ambassador to the United Nations, to block the upcoming UN budget as a tactic to push throughdisputed reforms.
The rare public disagreement between the two close allies comes as the showdown over reforms at the UN's New York headquarters becomes increasingly acrimonious.
Britain has rebuffed a Bolton move to join him in refusing to pass the organisation's 2006 budget until member states approve wide-ranging management reforms.
To the irritation of Mr Bolton, many developing nations are bitterly opposed to changes that they claim are driven by American political pressure. He suggested last week that talks on the 2006 and 2007 budgets could be postponed as a means to overcome the trenchant resistance from the "G77" bloc of developing countries. He also threatened that the United States could seek an alternative to the UN for solving international problems in future. [complete article]
America is caught in a conflict between science and God
By Martin Kettle, The Guardian, November 26, 2005
Reflect on this. Only one out of four Americans believes life on earth today has evolved through natural selection. Three-quarters of Americans, in other words, still do not accept what Darwin established 150 years ago. Just under half of all Americans believe the natural world was created in its present form by God in six days as described in Genesis. They believe, incredibly, that the earth is only a few thousand years old.
But these people are not content to disagree with Darwin and the scientists. They are up for a fresh fight with them. The notion that the scientists had won the argument in America after the reaction to the Scopes trial 80 years ago, when a Tennessee teacher was convicted of breaching a state ban on the teaching of evolution, has faced many reality checks in recent years. School boards and education authorities in several parts of America have mounted a series of anti-evolution challenges. These have often come under the guise of putting "intelligent design" - the conceit that the complexity of the natural world can only be explained by the intercession of a supreme being - on a par with evolutionary theory. This claim, advanced on spurious grounds of fairness to different theories, is utterly without any scientific validity, yet a Pennsylvania court will rule on the matter early in the new year. [complete article]
See also, Charles Darwin: Evolution of a scientist (Newsweek).
Do not forsake us
By Jim Amoss, Washington Post, November 27, 2005
President Bush flew into New Orleans shortly after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city. His staff had to fire up giant generators to bathe St. Louis Cathedral and Jackson Square in floodlights, as a backdrop for his promise that he would "do what it takes" to rebuild New Orleans.
"There is no way to imagine America without New Orleans," he said, "and this great city will rise again."
Then the lights went out, and the president left. Vast swaths of the city have been in darkness ever since.
It would be unprecedented and indefensible for the federal government to leave an American city to fend for itself in recovery. But when we talk of the federal government's role in rebuilding New Orleans, it's important to understand its direct culpability in the destruction. [complete article]
Rain forest nations seek incentive to conserve
By Miguel Bustillo, Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2005
Until recently, Michael Somare, the prime minister of Papua New Guinea, felt that global economic forces were pressuring him to cut down his country's lush tropical rain forest, the third-largest left in the world.
But Somare believes he has found a financial incentive to save his nation's forests, one that should be far more valuable to the world than hardwood timber or coffee plantations. Forests serve as natural air filters that suck up the greenhouse gases that are causing global warming.
Arguing that the rest of the world is benefiting from this natural wealth without sharing the cost, a bloc of developing countries led by Papua New Guinea and Costa Rica plans to make a novel proposition this week at a United Nations conference in Montreal on climate change: Pay us, and we will preserve our rain forests.
"In the rural areas of my nation, where 80% of the people live, the only real options for economic growth often require the destruction of natural forests … in order to trade low-value commodities with the industrial powers. I call this eco-colonialism," Somare said in an interview last week. [complete article]
EU offers to restart nuclear talks with Tehran
By Gareth Smyth, Financial Times, November 27, 2005
European Union ambassadors on Sunday delivered a letter in Tehran agreeing to renewed talks over Iran's nuclear programme.
The move - in response to a request sent earlier this month by Ali Larijani, Iran's top security official - came after the EU and US stepped back from pressing last week's meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Tehran to the UN security council.
The semi-official Mehr news agency reported talks would begin around December 10.
But Iranian officials and politicians have publicly hardened opposition to a Russian proposal that EU diplomats believe could offer a compromise guaranteeing Iran would not divert enriched uranium into nuclear weapons. [complete article]
Afghans confront surge in violence
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, November 28, 2005
An onslaught of grisly and sophisticated attacks since parliamentary elections in September has left Afghan and international officials concerned that Taliban guerrillas are obtaining support from abroad to carry out strikes that increasingly mimic insurgent tactics in Iraq.
The recent attacks -- including at least nine suicide bombings -- have shown unusual levels of coordination, technological knowledge and blood lust, according to officials. Although military forces and facilities have been the most common targets, religious leaders, judges, police officers and foreign reconstruction workers have also fallen prey to the violence.
The success of the September vote, which was relatively peaceful despite Taliban threats of sabotage, initially raised hopes that the insurgency was losing strength. But after two of the bloodiest months since U.S. forces entered Kabul in 2001, officials now say the Taliban might have been using that time to marshal foreign support and plot new ways to undermine the Western-backed government. [complete article]
Islamists prosper in Egyptian elections
By William Wallis, Financial Times, November 27, 2005
Egypt's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood continued an unprecedented run of success in month-long legislative elections, in spite of what independent monitors described as determined efforts by the government to staunch its momentum.
Preliminary results announced on Sunday gave Islamist candidates – running as nominally independent because the Brotherhood is banned – 29 more seats in run-off voting in the city of Alexandria and other areas on Saturday.
This gives them a tally of 76 seats overall, more than five times the number of seats in the current parliament and with a third of 444 seats still to play for in a final round of voting due in early December. [complete article]
Where is the Iraq war headed next?
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, November , 2005
A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.
"We're not planning to diminish the war," Patrick Clawson, the deputy director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told me. Clawson's views often mirror the thinking of the men and women around Vice-President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. "We just want to change the mix of the forces doing the fighting -- Iraqi infantry with American support and greater use of airpower. The rule now is to commit Iraqi forces into combat only in places where they are sure to win. The pace of commitment, and withdrawal, depends on their success in the battlefield."
He continued, "We want to draw down our forces, but the President is prepared to tough this one out. There is a very deep feeling on his part that the issue of Iraq was settled by the American people at the polling places in 2004." The war against the insurgency "may end up being a nasty and murderous civil war in Iraq, but we and our allies would still win," he said. "As long as the Kurds and the Shiites stay on our side, we're set to go. There's no sense that the world is caving in. We're in the middle of a seven-year slog in Iraq, and eighty per cent of the Iraqis are receptive to our message."
The American air war inside Iraq today is perhaps the most significant -- and underreported -- aspect of the fight against the insurgency. The military authorities in Baghdad and Washington do not provide the press with a daily accounting of missions that Air Force, Navy, and Marine units fly or of the tonnage they drop, as was routinely done during the Vietnam War. One insight into the scope of the bombing in Iraq was supplied by the Marine Corps during the height of the siege of Falluja in the fall of 2004. "With a massive Marine air and ground offensive under way," a Marine press release said, "Marine close air support continues to put high-tech steel on target.... Flying missions day and night for weeks, the fixed wing aircraft of the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing are ensuring battlefield success on the front line." Since the beginning of the war, the press release said, the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing alone had dropped more than five hundred thousand tons of ordnance. "This number is likely to be much higher by the end of operations," Major Mike Sexton said. In the battle for the city, more than seven hundred Americans were killed or wounded; U.S. officials did not release estimates of civilian dead, but press reports at the time told of women and children killed in the bombardments.
In recent months, the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased. Most of the targets appear to be in the hostile, predominantly Sunni provinces that surround Baghdad and along the Syrian border. As yet, neither Congress nor the public has engaged in a significant discussion or debate about the air war.
The insurgency operates mainly in crowded urban areas, and Air Force warplanes rely on sophisticated, laser-guided bombs to avoid civilian casualties. These bombs home in on targets that must be "painted," or illuminated, by laser beams directed by ground units. "The pilot doesn't identify the target as seen in the pre-brief" -- the instructions provided before takeoff—a former high-level intelligence official told me. "The guy with the laser is the targeteer. Not the pilot. Often you get a 'hot-read' " -- from a military unit on the ground -- "and you drop your bombs with no communication with the guys on the ground. You don't want to break radio silence. The people on the ground are calling in targets that the pilots can't verify." He added, "And we're going to turn this process over to the Iraqis?" [complete article]
Comment -- I have little doubt that the Bush administration understands that where the Iraq war is heading next and where domestic opinion is heading next are two quite separate issues. In other words, I suspect - and I think the administration suspects - that the key to stemming the public loss of faith in the war is to significantly reduce the numbers of troops on the ground and to significantly reduce the number of US casualties. If both these goals can be accomplished, then in terms of public awareness, the war in Iraq will become a "low-level" conflict in which the casualties buried under rubble will garner as much attention as, say, the victims of the earthquake in Pakistan. Politically, a war that is forgotten will be hard to distinguish from a war that's over. Afghanistan provides a case in point.
(A noteable exception in paying attention to the subject of the air war has been TomDispatch.)
The new way out
By Michael Hirsh, Scott Johnson and Kevin Peraino, Newsweek, December 5, 2005
Under the Pentagon's plans, U.S. numbers are to be reduced back to about 138,000 by the new year (troop totals are now edging up to 160,000 leading into the December election). Then, under what the Pentagon calls a "moderately optimistic" scenario -- but the one it considers most likely -- 20,000 to 30,000 more troops would come out by mid-2006, with a further goal of phasing down the U.S. presence to 80,000 to 100,000 by "late next year." As additional evidence of its intentions, the Defense Department quietly announced on Nov. 7 the major units scheduled to deploy to Iraq in the next big rotation, starting in late summer next year. Those units add up to 92,000 U.S. troops in 2007.
To secure the country with so few troops, Khalilzad and Casey have had to swallow their pride. They are making compromises with Sunni supporters of the insurgency that would have been unthinkable a year ago. President Bush is also doing what he has been loath to do: asking neighboring countries for help, even the rabid anti-American Islamists in Tehran. Khalilzad revealed to Newsweek that he has received explicit permission from Bush to begin a diplomatic dialogue with Iran, which has meddled politically in Iraq. "I've been authorized by the president to engage the Iranians as I engaged them in Afghanistan directly," says Khalilzad. "There will be meetings, and that's also a departure and an adjustment." [complete article]
See also, As calls for an Iraq pullout rise, 2 political calendars loom large (NYT).
Abuse worse than under Saddam, says Iraqi leader
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, November 27, 2005
Human rights abuses in Iraq are now as bad as they were under Saddam Hussein and are even in danger of eclipsing his record, according to the country's first Prime Minister after the fall of Saddam's regime.
'People are doing the same as [in] Saddam's time and worse,' Ayad Allawi told The Observer. 'It is an appropriate comparison. People are remembering the days of Saddam. These were the precise reasons that we fought Saddam and now we are seeing the same things.'
In a damning and wide-ranging indictment of Iraq's escalating human rights catastrophe, Allawi accused fellow Shias in the government of being responsible for death squads and secret torture centres. The brutality of elements in the new security forces rivals that of Saddam's secret police, he said. [complete article]
From wounds, inner strength
By Michael E. Ruane, Washington Post, November 26, 2005
As Hilbert Caesar told his harrowing war story one night recently in the living room of his apartment, he patted the artificial limb sticking from a leg of his business suit. "This, right here," he said, "this is a minor setback."
Eighteen months after Caesar's right leg was mangled by a roadside bomb near Baghdad, and after weeks of coming to terms with what he thought was the end of his life, the former Army staff sergeant believes he has emerged a richer person -- wiser, more compassionate and more appreciative of life.
Asked whether he would endure it all again, he replied: "The guys I served with were awesome guys.... I would go through it again -- for the guys that I served with. Yes. Absolutely. I wouldn't change it for the world."
Although the shattering psychological impact of war is well known, experts have become increasingly interested in those who emerge from combat feeling enhanced. Some psychiatrists and psychologists believe that those soldiers have experienced a phenomenon known as "post-traumatic growth," or "adversarial" growth. [complete article]
Comment -- Here's a piece of journalism that epitomizes what I would call the contrived neutrality of reporting. Michael Ruane is hiding behind the conceit that as a simple (and perhaps simple-minded) messenger his words could not be intended or have the effect of twisting the minds of his readers. Nevertheless, an honest and ethical treatment of a subject such as so-called post-traumatic growth demands a level of analysis that is glaringly absent from this report.
Legless former Army staff sergeant, Hilbert Caesar, tells us when asked whether he'd endure his Iraq wartime experience again, "Yes. Absolutely. I wouldn't change it for the world." So what? This tells me nothing about whether there really is such a phenomena as post-traumatic growth or, if there is, what implications we should draw from the existence of the phenomenon.
For instance, is there a relationship between someone's ability to grow after such a trauma and their ability to ascribe a positive meaning to the context in which it occured? In other words, do you stand a better chance of experiencing post-traumatic growth after losing a leg in Iraq if you did so while believing and continuing to believe that you were helping defend your country, versus if you lost your leg and then concluded that you'd been duped into going to war?
Then let's move out a layer. Is post-traumatic growth simply another manifestation of a phenomenon that has no particular relationship to war, namely, that psychological strength is commensurate with our ability to face, meet and move through the suffering that is intrinsic to human existence? If so, we're talking about the power of the lessons of life - not simply those of war.
And now let's move up a layer. War stories find a niche in almost every culture. Where is a culture heading when it idealizes the experience of the dismembered warrior and starts to suggest that the trauma of war can become a rite of passage?
Michael Ruane might have thought that all he was doing was filling in for a vacationing staff writer but is he not here engaged in something of much greater consequence: the myth-making through which a warrior caste can be raised? In everyday language he constructs images of individual souls transfigured in a cauldron of violence. The message? Hey, maybe war's not such a terrible thing after all - at least, that is, if you can get a taste of that goodtime post-traumatic growth and not end up dead!
Shiite cleric increases his power in Iraq
By Edward Wong, New York Times, November 27, 2005
Men loyal to Moktada al-Sadr piled out of their cars at a plantation near Baghdad on a recent morning, bristling with Kalashnikov rifles and eager to exact vengeance on the Sunni Arab fighters who had butchered one of their Shiite militia brothers.
When the smoke cleared after the fight, at least 21 bodies lay scattered among the weeds, making it the deadliest militia battle in months. The black-clad Shiites swaggered away, boasting about the carnage.
Even as that battle raged on Oct. 27, Mr. Sadr's aides in Baghdad were quietly closing a deal that would signal his official debut as a kingmaker in Iraqi politics, placing his handpicked candidates on the same slate - and on equal footing - with the Shiite governing parties in the December parliamentary elections. The country's rulers had come courting him, and he had forced them to meet his terms.
Wielding violence and political popularity as tools of his authority, Mr. Sadr, the Shiite cleric who has defied the American authorities here since the fall of Saddam Hussein, is cementing his role as one of Iraq's most powerful figures. [complete article]
U.S. presses allies to delay Iraq pullouts
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, November 26, 2005
US and Iraqi leaders are pressing their military allies in Iraq to postpone withdrawing troops, warning against a pullout until the new government is capable of securing the country on its own.
Iraq's foreign minister, on a visit to Tokyo yesterday, urged Japan to delay its plan to withdraw in December 600 military engineers working on water and other reconstruction projects. US and Iraqi officials are urging Poland to postpone the scheduled departure in January of its 1,400 troops, who are overseeing security south of Baghdad.
US and Iraqi officials also are hoping to persuade other nations in the 27-member international coalition to extend their commitments to Iraq. The Bush administration, under pressure at home to outline its exit strategy more clearly, has held up the coalition as a symbol of foreign support for a mission that initially was opposed by the United Nations. [complete article]
U.S. starts laying groundwork for significant troop pullout from Iraq
By Paul Richter and Tyler Marshall, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2005
Even as debate over the Iraq war continues to rage, signs are emerging of a convergence of opinion on how the Bush administration might begin to exit the conflict.
In a departure from previous statements, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this week that the training of Iraqi soldiers had advanced so far that the current number of U.S. troops in the country probably would not be needed much longer.
President Bush will give a major speech Wednesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md., in which aides say he is expected to herald the improved readiness of Iraqi troops, which he has identified as the key condition for pulling out U.S. forces. [complete article]
U.S. reveals blueprint for Iraq pullout
AFP (via Aljazeera), November 27, 2005
The White House has announced its plans to withdraw from Iraq, saying that a blueprint advocated last week by a Democratic senator was "remarkably similar" to its own.
It also signalled its acceptance of a recent US Senate amendment designed to pave the way for a phased US military withdrawal from the country.
The statement by Scott McClellan, the White House spokesman, came in response to a commentary published in The Washington Post by Joseph Biden, the top Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in which he said US forces will begin leaving Iraq next year "in large numbers". [complete article]
Shiite urges U.S. to give Iraqis leeway in rebel fight
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, November 27, 2005
The leader of Iraq's most powerful political party has called on the United States to let Iraqi fighters take a more aggressive role against insurgents, saying his country will only be able to defeat the insurgency when the United States lets Iraqis get tough.
"The more freedom given to Iraqis, the more chance for further progress there would be, particularly in fighting terror," said Abdul Aziz Hakim, head of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the Shiite Muslim religious party that leads the transitional government and whose armed wing is the most feared of Iraq's many factional forces.
Instead, Hakim asserted in a rare interview late last week, the United States is tying Iraq's hands in the fight against insurgents. One of Iraq's "biggest problems is the mistaken or wrong policies practiced by the Americans," he said. [complete article]
Iraqi aide says rebel groups offer feelers
By Edward Wong, New York Times, November 26, 2005
A senior aide to Iraq's president said Friday that some insurgent groups had contacted him to ask about their joining in the American-backed political process.
The aide, Lt. Gen. Wafiq al- Samarraie, the security adviser to President Jalal Talabani, said he had received some calls over the past few days from people claiming to represent bands of insurgents. The general declined to name the groups or say exactly how many people had called. He also declined to discuss any demands the groups might be making.
"I received phone calls from different movements, different groups, some claiming they represent the resistance," he said. "They said they're ready to participate in the political process." [complete article]
See also, Resistance not terrorism, says Iraqi Sunni leader (AFP).
Time for an Iraq timetable
By Joseph R. Biden Jr., Washington Post, November 26, 2005
There is a broad consensus on what must be done to preserve our interests. Recently, 79 Democratic and Republican senators told President Bush we need a detailed, public plan for Iraq, with specific goals and a timetable for achieving each one.
Over the next six months, we must forge a sustainable political compromise between Iraqi factions, strengthen the Iraqi government and bolster reconstruction efforts, and accelerate the training of Iraqi forces.
First, we need to build political consensus, starting with the constitution. Sunnis must accept that they no longer rule Iraq. But unless Shiites and Kurds give them a stake in the new deal, they will continue to resist. We must help produce a constitution that will unite Iraq, not divide it. [complete article]
Even supporters doubt president as issues pile up
By Kate Zernike, New York Times, November 26, 2005
Many people who voted for Mr. Bush a year ago had trouble pinning their current discontent on any one thing. Many mentioned the hurricane and the indictment of a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, which some said raised doubts about the president's candor and his judgment. But there was a sense that something had veered off course in the last few months, and the war was the one constant. Over and over, even some of Mr. Bush's supporters raised comparisons with Vietnam.
"We keep hearing about suicide bombers and casualties and never hear about any progress being made," said Dave Panici, 45, a railroad conductor from Bradley, Ill. "I don't see an end to it; it just seems relentless. I feel like our country is just staying afloat, just treading water instead of swimming toward somewhere."
Mr. Panici voted for President Bush in 2004, calling it "a vote for security." "Now that a year has passed, I haven't seen any improvement in Iraq," he said. "I don't feel that the world is a safer place." [complete article]
By Neil Mackay, Sunday Herald, November 27, 2005
When civil servant David Keogh and former researcher Leo O'Connor step into the dock this week they will find themselves in the odd position of being accused of involve ment in the leak of a document whose very existence has yet to be officially confirmed.
Its contents – details of a conversation between Tony Blair and George Bush in April 2004, in which the US President suggested bombing the Arabic television station Al-Jazeera – have already proved explosive.
The UK government refused to confirm the conversation, or the document – but immediately warned newspaper editors that anyone who printed details from it would be charged under the Official Secrets Act.
That same legislation was used to charge Keogh, a Cabinet Office civil servant, and O'Connor, who once worked for former Northampton MP Tony Clarke – an anti-war campaigner who was passed the mystery document and handed it over to Downing Street.
Despite the government's warning, every newspaper has been desperately trying to get its hands on the document, which also included information on the movement of troops. [complete article]
See also, Rumsfeld's Al-Jazeera outburst (The Times), The leak that revealed Bush's deep obsession with al-Jazeera (The Observer) and Publish 'bomb al-Jazeera' memo, demands MP (The Telegraph).
The author of liberty religion and U.S. foreign policy
By John B. Judis, Dissent Magazine, Fall, 2005
There are a host of reasons why the administration went to war. Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld appear to have been determined even before September 11 to oust Saddam Hussein in order to assert American power in the oil-rich Middle East. But an apocalyptic mentality certainly played a role in giving strategic urgency to what had formerly been a secondary concern. Administration members continually referred to Saddam Hussein as "evil." This was not simply a way of condemning his inhumanity toward his own citizens, but of endowing him with attributes that threatened global havoc. Bush saw Saddam as a "madman." That meant that Saddam might unleash destruction on the United States even if he and his regime were destroyed in the process. "I acted," Bush would later say, "because I was not about to leave the security of the American people in the hands of a madman. I was not about to stand by and wait and trust in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein."
Many members of the policy elite, including former Clinton administration officials, shared some version of this outlook. In The Threatening Storm, Kenneth Pollack rejected the idea of deterring Saddam without an invasion. He conjured up an image of a deranged Saddam at the end of his life using nuclear weapons to revenge himself on the United States or Israel. "What bizarre notions would run through his mind as he confronted his own mortality without having achieved any of his grandiose visions?" Pollack's book had the imprimatur of the Council on Foreign Relations and was written in the style of the dispassionate expert, but its conclusions were informed by an apocalyptic view.
A millennialist mentality was also evident in the administration's belief that invading Iraq would set off a chain reaction that would transform the entire Middle East. It would lead, administration officials maintained, to democratic regimes in Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia; the marginalization of Palestinian militants; and the end of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. At a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, in August 2002, Cheney claimed that as a result of Saddam's ouster "extremists in the region would have to rethink their strategy of jihad. Moderates throughout the region would take heart." That could eventually happen, but it was certainly not an immediate result of the invasion.
Similarly, in an interview with the New York Times Magazine in September 2002, Deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz, a key administration ideologue, predicted that after Iraq became "the first Arab democracy," it would "cast a very large shadow, starting with Syria and Iran, but across the whole Arab world." Clearly, the invasion cast a shadow, but not one that encouraged democracy in those two countries. These statements by Bush administration officials were, of course, for public consumption, but administration officials made similar statements privately to academics and journalists.
Certainly, one can attribute these errors of judgment to factors other than America's millennial heritage. Government officials make mistakes all the time for perfectly mundane reasons. Still, the Bush administration's mistakes echo a pattern that runs through American history. From the Indian wars to the Mexican War of 1846 to the Philippine War of 1899 to Vietnam in the 1960s, Americans erroneously believed, just as they did before the Iraq War, that they would be welcomed as agents of political transformation. These beliefs reflected error and ignorance as well as the blindness that a millennial mentality encourages. In 1899, McKinley ignored reports from military men in the field in deciding to spurn the Filipino independence movement. In 2003, the Bush administration ignored its own military experts, intelligence services, and allied experts in planning for the invasion and occupation of Iraq. [complete article]
In terror cases, administration sets own rules
By Adam Liptak, New York Times, November 27, 2005
When Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced last week that Jose Padilla would be transferred to the federal justice system from military detention, he said almost nothing about the standards the administration used in deciding whether to charge terrorism suspects like Mr. Padilla with crimes or to hold them in military facilities as enemy combatants.
"We take each individual, each case, case by case," Mr. Gonzales said.
The upshot of that approach, underscored by the decision in Mr. Padilla's case, is that no one outside the administration knows just how the determination is made whether to handle a terror suspect as an enemy combatant or as a common criminal, to hold him indefinitely without charges in a military facility or to charge him in court.
Indeed, citing the need to combat terrorism, the administration has argued, with varying degrees of success, that judges should have essentially no role in reviewing its decisions. The change in Mr. Padilla's status, just days before the government's legal papers were due in his appeal to the Supreme Court, suggested to many legal observers that the administration wanted to keep the court out of the case. [complete article]
By David Luban, Washington Post, November 27, 2005
The real torture debate... isn't about whether to throw out the rulebook in the exceptional emergencies. Rather, it's about what the rulebook says about the ordinary interrogation -- about whether you can shoot up Qatani with saline solution to make him urinate on himself, or threaten him with dogs in order to find out whether he ever met Osama bin Laden. And the trouble is that this second debate is so wrapped up in legalisms, jargon and half-truths that it is truly hard to unravel. [complete article]
Comment -- There is in fact one part of the torture debate that is quite easy to unravel: Pay attention to whether an argument hinges on its conception of America or Americans. Unless you believe that there are two types of human being - American humans and non-American humans - then an argument for or against the use of torture ought to make as much sense in Helsinki as it makes at Fort Bragg.
Europe in uproar over CIA operations
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2005
From Scandinavia to the tropical Canary Islands, the CIA's clandestine use of European soil and airspace for counter-terrorism missions is triggering outrage, parliamentary inquiries and a handful of criminal prosecutions.
In the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, Europe was either silent about or unaware of the ways in which American agents operated within its borders. But in recent weeks several European governments have become much more vocal about alleged CIA activity in their jurisdictions.
Among the complaints: CIA operatives, without formal permission, have seized suspects in European cities and transported them to third countries for interrogation; CIA flights that have transported suspected terrorists around the world purportedly have used European airports for layovers; and the CIA may be operating clandestine prisons in Europe.
Officially, Europe, with its long history of respect for civil rights, has been lukewarm to U.S. counter-terrorism measures. To find itself the territory on which some of Washington's most controversial tactics are being played out has become a matter of much debate and soul-searching. [complete article]
See also, US faces fresh prison accusation (AFP).
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, November 23, 2005
The Justice Department's abrupt decision to indict alleged "dirty bomber" Jose Padilla-after keeping him in legal limbo for three-and-a-half years-is the best evidence yet that the cracks inside the Bush administration over detainee treatment are growing into serious chasms. And Vice President Dick Cheney may have just fallen into one of them.
While the administration is fighting with itself on a number of issues, including anti-torture legislation proposed by Sen. John McCain, nowhere is Cheney more isolated than on the issue of rights for detainees suspected of terror.
Newsweek has learned that only Cheney's office rejected language clarifying the rules for military tribunals at Guantanamo Bay. Those regulations were hashed out last week by Sen. Lindsey Graham, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and White House Counsel Harriet Miers, with crucial support from arch-conservative Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona and Democrat Carl Levin of Michigan. "Gonzales wanted to fix it, the White House was friendly to the idea, the Defense Department was on the fence and the vice president's office was off in a ditch," said a Republican official on Capitol Hill who was involved in the negotiations. [complete article]
Pentagon expanding its domestic surveillance activity
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, November 27, 2005
The Defense Department has expanded its programs aimed at gathering and analyzing intelligence within the United States, creating new agencies, adding personnel and seeking additional legal authority for domestic security activities in the post-9/11 world.
The moves have taken place on several fronts. The White House is considering expanding the power of a little-known Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, which was created three years ago. The proposal, made by a presidential commission, would transform CIFA from an office that coordinates Pentagon security efforts -- including protecting military facilities from attack -- to one that also has authority to investigate crimes within the United States such as treason, foreign or terrorist sabotage or even economic espionage.
The Pentagon has pushed legislation on Capitol Hill that would create an intelligence exception to the Privacy Act, allowing the FBI and others to share information gathered about U.S. citizens with the Pentagon, CIA and other intelligence agencies, as long as the data is deemed to be related to foreign intelligence. Backers say the measure is needed to strengthen investigations into terrorism or weapons of mass destruction. [complete article]
How reality cut Likud's vision down to size
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, November 27, 2005
Eyal Arad joined Likud 30 years ago, at the age of 17.
"We had a dream - Jewish sovereignty in the biblical Land of Israel, on both banks of the Jordan River, and Palestinians could have self-rule and not independence," he said. "I believe it was a beautiful and just dream, but it crashed against the walls of reality."
There were many such walls, not least of them a rapidly growing Arab population, a falling rate of Jewish immigration and the Palestinian demand for a sovereign state. The experience was painful, said Mr. Arad, now an adviser to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. "But we're grown-ups, and we had to wake up from the dream," he said.
It was Mr. Sharon who shook dreamers like Mr. Arad awake, and who last week threw a grenade into Likud itself, quitting the party to form his own and to pursue his own approach to what he sees as Israel's new realities. [complete article]
Barghouti wins Fatah primary poll
BBC News, November 26, 2005
Jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti has emerged as one of the most popular candidates ahead of parliamentary elections in January. Barghouti came top in a primary poll for the ruling Fatah movement in the West Bank district of Ramallah.
He is serving five life terms in an Israeli jail for the killing of four Israelis and a Greek monk. Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said there was no chance of Barghouti getting an early release.
Barghouti, 46, won 34,000 out of 40,000 votes - affirming his status as one of Fatah's most popular politicians, say correspondents. [complete article]
Doubts grow over U.S. Afghan strategy
By Andrew North, BBC News, November 23, 2005
It is four years since the fall of the Taleban regime. The United States has spent billions of dollars on its operations in Afghanistan - but what does it have to show for it?
With no end in sight to the insurgency led by remnants of that regime and insecurity still holding back development in large parts of the country, it is a question that many more people are asking. [complete article]
Syria will let U.N. question 5 officials
By Rhonda Roumani, Washington Post, November 26, 2005
Syria said Friday it would allow five officials to be questioned at U.N. offices in Vienna about the February assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri. The deal ends a month-long stalemate in which Syria faced possible U.N. sanctions.
The date for the interviews will be determined in consultation with chief U.N. investigator Detlev Mehlis, Syria's deputy foreign minister, Walid Mouallem, told reporters in the capital, Damascus. The agreement "aborts any justification for economic sanctions against Syria," Mouallem said.
The five will include Syria's chief of military intelligence, Brig. Gen. Asef Shawkat, brother-in-law of President Bashar Assad, according to a U.N. official who spoke on condition of anonymity. Mehlis is scheduled to meet with Syria's top legal adviser over the weekend to prepare for the interviews.
John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, welcomed the Syrian move and attributed it to pressure from the Security Council. "We hope this Syrian cooperation continues and grows," Bolton said in a statement. [complete article]
Keep track of the latest news
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Frontline police of new Iraq are waging secret war of vengeance
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, November 20, 2005
Quitting: as bad as invading
By Toby Dodge, The Independent, November 20, 2005
Sectarian hatred pulls apart Iraq's mixed towns
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, November 20, 2005
Crude designs: The rip-off of Iraq's oil wealth
By Greg Muttitt, Global Policy Forum, November, 2005
New study details Iraq insurgency
BBC News, November 21, 2005
Jose Padilla's dirty secret
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, November 23, 2005
Administration heads off legal showdown over executive powers
By Frank Davies, Knight Ridder, November 22, 2005
Chronology of Bush administration claim that Iraq attempted to obtain uranium from Niger (2001-2003)
Arms Control Association, November 21, 2005
CIA's harsh interrogation techniques described
By Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, ABC News, November 18, 2005
Afghanistan: A rebuilding plan full of cracks
By Joe Stephens and David B. Ottaway, Washington Post, November 20, 2005
The man who sold the war
By James Bamford, Rolling Stone, November 17, 2005
How U.S. fell under the spell of 'Curveball'
By Bob Drogin and John Goetz, Los Angeles Times, November 20, 2005
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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