The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     

Joe Republican?
By John Dickerson, Slate, December 9, 2005

George Bush can't stop talking about Sen. Joe Lieberman. For the last two weeks, the president has been citing the Connecticut Democrat in his major speeches about the war in Iraq. Bush has quoted Lieberman as saying that we have made progress in Iraq and have a strategy for winning, then he declared: "Sen. Lieberman is right."

Vice President Dick Cheney also quoted Lieberman approvingly this week. Republican National Chairman Ken Mehlman and White House spokesman Scott McClellan name-checked Lieberman, too. Last January, George Bush gave Lieberman a kiss on the cheek before the State of the Union. The way things are going, this January Bush might give him a back rub. [complete article]

Comment -- George Bush might not be ready to declare victory and leave Iraq, but come January if a new government has managed to seat itself in Baghdad, Donald Rumsfeld with have the perfect opportunity to declare victory and leave the Pentagon - and, as the rumor mill now has it, be replaced by Joe Lieberman. But would Lieberman be a man constituted from the right stuff to step into the position of steely command now occupied by Rumsfeld? How can a man whose expressions of true resolve always sound mealy-mouthed (however he grins them out) now help lead Bush's victory march out of Iraq? Maybe he can't and maybe that's the point. And maybe Lieberman has done such an excellent job ingratiating himself before his Republican friends that he doesn't realize why he looks so good to them: he's the perfect fall guy. When the U.S. ends up tip-toeing out of Iraq, why not have a Democratic face appearing on every TV screen trying to dodge all the questions about why America's "victory" is not really a defeat?

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U.S. stands alone at U.N. climate conference
By Miguel Bustillo, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2005

With the conspicuous exception of the United States, most countries were poised Friday to agree to negotiate a new treaty to combat global warming before the obligations of the current pact, the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, expire in 2012.

The U.S., which opposes mandatory limits on greenhouse gas emissions, found itself isolated during the United Nations Climate Change Conference here. At one point early Friday, the top U.S. negotiator, Harlan L. Watson, walked out of talks on reopening dialogue under a separate 1992 U.N. treaty, which he regarded as an attempt to renew discussions on limiting emissions. [complete article]

See also, Climate official's work is questioned (WP) and Bush threatens U.N. over Clinton climate speech (NY Magazine).

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The U.S. has used torture for decades. All that's new is the openness about it
By Naomi Klein, The Guardian, December 10, 2005

It was the "Mission Accomplished" of George Bush's second term, and an announcement of that magnitude called for a suitably dramatic location. But what was the right backdrop for the infamous "We do not torture" declaration? With characteristic audacity, the Bush team settled on downtown Panama City.

It was certainly bold. An hour and a half's drive from where Bush stood, the US military ran the notorious School of the Americas from 1946 to 1984, a sinister educational institution that, if it had a motto, might have been "We do torture". It is here in Panama, and later at the school's new location in Fort Benning, Georgia, where the roots of the current torture scandals can be found. [complete article]

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Pre-9/11 warning to Saudis that Osama bin Laden might target civilian airliners
National Security Archive, December 9, 2005

More than three years before the 9/11 attack on the United States, U.S. officials warned Saudi Arabia that Osama bin Laden "might take the course of least resistance and turn to a civilian [aircraft] target," according to a declassified cable released by the National Security Archive today. The warning was made by the U.S. regional security officer and a civil aviation official in Riyadh based on a public threat bin Laden made against "military passenger aircraft" and his statement that "we do not differentiate between those dressed in military uniforms and civilians."

The State Department cable was not mentioned in the report of the 9/11 Commission, which investigated how U.S. intelligence failed to detect planning for the terrorist attacks, using civilian airliners, on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. It was obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by Archive analyst Barbara Elias. [complete article]

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By Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, November 17, 2005

Syriana, written and directed in a fever of risk-taking provocation by Stephen Gaghan, takes off with the lightning speed of a thriller, the gonzo force of frontline journalism and the emotional wallop of a drama that puts a human face on shocking statistics. Global oil corruption has seeped into every facet of our lives, from the collusion of White House and business interests in the Persian Gulf to the financial squeeze we all feel just pumping gas. No dry civics lesson, this fighting-mad film isn't just hot, it's incendiary. And no one gets off the hook. You see it with the exhilarating feeling that a movie can make a difference. [complete article]

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'Victory in Iraq': A strategy to mask defeat
By Richard Reeves, Real Clear Politics, December 9, 2005

"Victory has a thousand fathers ..." John F. Kennedy once said, famously. Last week one of his successors, President Bush, used the word about that many times as he tried to explain how we would win one day in Iraq.

Alas, that is not going to happen. But Mr. Victory is talking as fast as he can to avoid thinking about JFK's next line: "Defeat is an orphan."

Hopefully, Bush, whom I characterized a week ago as running a strong race to be our worst president ever, will look a little better next week after the Iraqi elections we made possible. That would be a good thing for Iraq as it seems to collapse before our eyes. Certainly our ever-changing strategies there are collapsing. In fact, the "Plan for Victory," as the president called his speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, is a strategy to mask defeat. [complete article]

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Muslim clerics call for release of hostages
By Daniel McGrory, The Times, December 10, 2005

An unprecedented number of Muslim radicals have pleaded for the release of the British hostage Norman Kember whose Iraqi captors have set a deadline of tonight to execute him.

Diplomats trying to free Mr Kember, 74, and three other Western peace activists said that they were "heartened" by the efforts of so many militant groups, but are unsure whether it will sway the kidnappers.

Yesterday, the leader of the banned Muslim Brotherhood added his voice to those of a jailed terror suspect in the UK and a former British detainee in Guantanamo Bay. Mohammed Mahdi Akef, president of the world's oldest Islamic movement, said that Mr Kember and the others are being held against the principles of the Koran. Mr Akef said in a broadcast on the Arabic satellite channel, al-Jazeera: "Islam rejects the kidnapping of innocent people regardless of their aim, beliefs and opinion." [complete article]

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The torture administration
By Anthony Lewis, The Nation, December 7, 2005

When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933 and proceeded to carry out their savagery, many in the outside world asked how this could have happened in the land of Goethe and Beethoven. Would the people of other societies as readily accept tyranny? Sinclair Lewis, in 1935, imagined Americans turning to dictatorship under the pressures of economic distress in the Depression. He called his novel, ironically, It Can't Happen Here.

Hannah Arendt and many others have stripped us, since then, of confidence that people will resist evil in times of fear. When Serbs and Rwandan Hutus were told that they were threatened, they slaughtered their neighbors. Lately Philip Roth was plausible enough when he imagined anti-Semitism surging after an isolationist America elected Charles Lindbergh as President in 1940.

But it still comes as a shock to discover that American leaders will open the way for the torture of prisoners, that lawyers will invent justifications for it, that the President of the United States will strenuously resist legislation prohibiting cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners--and that much of the American public will be indifferent to what is being done in its name. [complete article]

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Najaf, Iraq's Shiite capital, seeking a higher office
By Ashraf Khalil, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2005

A straight black ribbon cuts through barren land on the edge of town like some sort of surrealist vision: a literal highway to nowhere.

The two-mile runway, still bearing skid marks from landing jets, is the only remnant of a former Iraqi air force base. For Najaf officials, it's the key to the next stage of evolution for this long-suffering city of faith.

After the fall of Saddam Hussein, pilgrims flocked to Najaf's shrines, some of the holiest in Shiite Islam, and the city's religious leadership emerged from seclusion to dominate the Iraqi political experiment. Iraq's oppressed Shiite majority had come alive, and Najaf was its heart.

Now, plans to turn the old asphalt runway into Imam Ali International Airport could cement Najaf's position as the second capital of Iraq -- and the hub of an emerging Shiite super-region that could alter the dynamics of the Middle East. [complete article]

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Iraq's powerful Shiite coalition shows signs of stress as parliamentary elections loom
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 9, 2005

As the debate got under way in a hotel assembly hall here recently, the governor of this Shiite holy city tried to stay on message when asked about his party's position on the hottest of the country's hot-button issues - the American troop presence.

"If the Americans feel they're ready to withdraw from Iraq, they will withdraw," the governor, Assad Abu Galal al-Taiee, a party official in the main Shiite coalition in the coming parliamentary elections, said to rival politicians and reporters.

But just hours earlier, in a hotel across town, another prominent member of the coalition, Moktada al-Sadr, swept into a news conference in his flowing black robes to deliver an altogether different pronouncement.

His aides handed out fliers demanding "the pullout of the occupier and the setting of a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq." [complete article]

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U.S. military probing video of road violence
By Jonathan Finer and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, December 9, 2005

A silver Mercedes swings into the passing lane when a machine gun opens fire, sending the car smashing into a taxi, whose terrified occupants scatter. Moments later on the video, posted on the Internet and apparently recorded in Iraq, a white sedan is riddled with bullets as it accelerates on an open highway.

Framed as if on a movie screen by the outline of a sport-utility vehicle's rear window, those scenes and others show what appear to be private security contractors firing on Iraqi civilians. The video footage has prompted an investigation by the U.S. military, a spokesman said Thursday, and by the company linked to the incidents. It even has a soundtrack: Elvis Presley's upbeat "Mystery Train."

Details about the origin of the video clip and the location shown in it are unknown. It was originally posted last month on a Web site maintained by former employees of Aegis Specialist Risk Management, a London-based company that has a $293 million U.S. government contract to provide security services in Iraq. The video has since been removed from the site. [complete article]

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Congress torn over Iraq endgame
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 2005

Rep. John Murtha's call for the withdrawal of US troops in Iraq is roiling both parties on the war - and intensifying a debate that is rapidly moving beyond the capacity of party leaders to control.

The fracture lines are most acute for the Democrats. Their two House leaders are divided by Mr. Murtha's proposal. And their party's chairman, Howard Dean, spurred controversy this week by suggesting that victory in Iraq is not possible. Some Democrats fear that stand may undermine their party's claim to be strong on national defense - and weaken their prospects to make gains in next year's midterm elections. [complete article]

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Hussein trial inspires fixation, fury in Iraq
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2005

It's eight o'clock Wednesday night and an Iraqi woman named Umm Ahmad is on the line, calling in to a television talk show to give the nation a piece of her mind about Saddam Hussein's grandstanding in court.

"He is still massacring Iraqis," says the Baghdad resident, alluding to the ex-dictator's loyalists fighting in the insurgency. "You cannot give him the right to talk like he does."

In the southern city of Basra, Isam Shimir is equally furious about the case. So far, he says, prosecutors have utterly failed to show that the government's response to a 1982 attempt on Hussein's life in Dujayl -- including the killings of 146 residents of that village -- was wrong.

"He was subject to an assassination attempt and the suspects got caught," says the 30-year-old Sunni Muslim Arab. "What should he have done? Forgiven them?" [complete article]

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Wolfowitz suggests knowing Iraq had no WMD might have put off invasion
AFP (via Yahoo), December 7, 2005

World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz suggested that US forces might not have invaded Iraq if Washington had known then that the regime of Saddam Hussein had no weapons of mass destruction.

"And I'm not sure based on the evidence we know now that we could have been absolutely convinced that there was no danger, absolutely no danger," Wolfowitz said at National Press Club.

"If somebody could have given you a Lloyds of London guarantee that weapons of mass destruction would not possibly be used, one would have contemplated much more support for internal Iraqi opposition and not having the United States take the job on the way we did," he said. [complete article]

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Probe into Iraq coverage widens
By Rick Jervis and Zaid Sabah, USA Today, December 9, 2005

A U.S. investigation into allegations that the American military is buying positive coverage in the Iraqi media has expanded to examine a press club founded and financed by the U.S. Army.

The Baghdad Press Club was created last year by the U.S. military as a way to promote progress amid the violence and chaos of Iraq, said Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman. [complete article]

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Band of brothers
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, December 9, 2005

The Muslim Brotherhood's success in Egypt's parliamentary elections, which came to a turbulent end yesterday, will reverberate around the Arab world. The region traditionally looks to Cairo for a lead. And potentially incompatible demands for strengthened civil societies and the integration of Islamists into mainstream politics are this year's hot topic.

The Brotherhood's advance also poses a dilemma for Hosni Mubarak, Egypt's president, and for the US and other countries urging greater Middle East democracy but fearful of Islamist activism. Officially the Brotherhood is banned in Egypt, as in several Arab countries. The Bush administration refuses to talk to the movement. It is equally wary of Islamists such as Hamas, expected to make gains in next month's Palestinian elections.

Poll results gave the ruling National Democratic party and its allies roughly 333 seats in the 454-seat assembly. Secular parties and independents took a handful of seats. But the Brotherhood was the big gainer. Its 19% share of the vote, translating into a record 88 seats, confirmed it as Egypt's main opposition group - despite its decision to field only about 150 candidates for fear of provoking a crackdown. [complete article]

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In Kabul, a stark gulf between wealthy few and the poor
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, December 9, 2005

Displayed under fluorescent lights on a spotless marble floor, the imported refrigerators, dishwashers and ovens at the new Beko store draw a steady stream of gawkers in a city where nearly everything is coated with grime. But few Afghans can afford such luxury appliances -- or the electricity to run them.

"A lot of people come in and they really, really want to buy these kinds of products," said Baki Karasu, 41, who opened the store this fall. "But they don't have any power. If they have a big generator, they can buy. But if they don't, they have to wait for the government to provide the electricity."

Four years after the ouster of the Taliban, as another frigid winter begins, most residents of the Afghan capital are without power, except for five hours every second or third night. Although hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid have been spent to fix the problem, conditions have worsened in the past year as improvements have lagged and the population surges. Government officials say things will not noticeably improve until at least 2008, when new power lines are to be completed.

The gulf between the wealthy few and the literally powerless majority is especially striking now, as pockets of opulence sprout across the impoverished capital of 4 million after a quarter-century of war that left much of the city in ruins. Downtown, there is a glittering new shopping mall as well as a five-star hotel where regular rooms go for $250 a night and the Presidential Suite fetches $1,200. [complete article]

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Qaeda-Iraq link U.S. cited is tied to coercion claim
By Douglas Jehl, New York Times, December 9, 2005

The Bush administration based a crucial prewar assertion about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda on detailed statements made by a prisoner while in Egyptian custody who later said he had fabricated them to escape harsh treatment, according to current and former government officials.

The officials said the captive, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, provided his most specific and elaborate accounts about ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda only after he was secretly handed over to Egypt by the United States in January 2002, in a process known as rendition.

The new disclosure provides the first public evidence that bad intelligence on Iraq may have resulted partly from the administration's heavy reliance on third countries to carry out interrogations of Qaeda members and others detained as part of American counterterrorism efforts. The Bush administration used Mr. Libi's accounts as the basis for its prewar claims, now discredited, that ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda included training in explosives and chemical weapons.

The fact that Mr. Libi recanted after the American invasion of Iraq and that intelligence based on his remarks was withdrawn by the C.I.A. in March 2004 has been public for more than a year. But American officials had not previously acknowledged either that Mr. Libi made the false statements in foreign custody or that Mr. Libi contended that his statements had been coerced. [complete article]

In 'victory,' both power and peril
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 2005

If there is one word the White House wants the American public to associate with the war in Iraq, it is probably "victory." President Bush said it 11 times Wednesday in his speech on rebuilding Iraq - following victory's 15 mentions in his address on the training of Iraqi forces last week.

From the administration's point of view, the benefits of this rhetorical approach are obvious. As a theme, victory is positive, even uplifting. It might serve to counter any public impression that the US is stuck in an Iraqi morass. [complete article]

Comment -- For the Bush administration, finding ways to manipulate the way people think is the name of the game. Reality has an unwelcome habit of conflicting with the message, but if the message can be repeated often enough and loud enough, then it will be heard and absorbed - at least that is what the White House believes. The problem is, the proponents of this Rovian approach to politics seem to have been suckered by their own game.

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Why Condi roiled Europe
By Chris Mullin, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2005

Many Americans will be puzzled, and perhaps even a little hurt, that Europeans reacted with such incredulity to this week's denial by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the U.S. has been ghosting suspected terrorist prisoners to countries where they are likely to be tortured.

Let me explain. First, Rice's statement appeared to have been very carefully lawyered. On the face of it, an assertion that the U.S. has not transported anyone to a country "when we believe he will be tortured" looks pretty watertight. But "will be" is the key phrase. She should have said "may be."

Second, she said: "Where appropriate, the United States seeks assurances that the transferred persons will not be tortured." This is risible. Just how much weight should we attach to a piece of paper signed by a member of, say, the Egyptian, Syrian, Libyan or Moroccan security services promising that the suspect will not be tortured? Even a cursory knowledge of the human rights situation in the countries concerned suggests the answer is: not much.

Third, it has recently become apparent that many Americans have a different definition of torture than that which prevails in Europe -- and indeed in much of the rest of the world. Europeans have watched with incredulity what appears to be a serious debate in the United States about whether "waterboarding" (immersion just short of drowning) constitutes torture.

Fourth, Rice's protestations of innocence have to be matched against the known facts. There are witnesses. A small number of people have emerged alive from this secret gulag, and the stories they tell are wholly at odds with the bland assertions in her statement.

Fifth, if cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment isn't being applied, then what's it all about? Why has this vast, secret web been constructed, if not to ensure that whatever is happening takes place beyond the reach of U.S. law?

Finally, of course, some of us have long memories. We have been here before -- in Chile, El Salvador, Iran under the shah, Vietnam ... you name it. [complete article]

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Dark days in prisons at home and abroad
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, December 9, 2005

When Fatima Tekayeva heard that her son was about to be returned to Russia from the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, she felt an aching fear.

Don't do it, she begged anyone who would listen. It's bad there, yes. It's worse here. Please don't send my son home.

All the same, the scenario unfolded like a scripted nightmare. Rasul Kudayev was put on a plane back to Russia. Soon he was released. He came home to the Caucasus region nothing like the broad-shouldered wrestling champion who had gone off to study Islam with the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He could barely walk unaided. His eyes were yellow from hepatitis, his heart fluttered, his head throbbed, family members said. Kudayev would sit up in the kitchen all night, telling his brother how guards at Guantanamo forced him to take medicine that made him sick and left him alternately to freeze and suffocate by opening and closing the ventilation system in a cramped isolation cell. By morning, his stories spent, he would fall asleep.

It ended as Tekayeva feared it would.

On Oct. 23, a truckload of soldiers showed up outside the family's small house and seized Kudayev, accusing him of having participated in an attack by Islamic militants on police and government targets in Nalchik 10 days earlier. Tekayeva threw her body in front of her son's thin frame. [complete article]

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Torture ruling leaves British terror policy in chaos
By Clare Dyer and Alan Travis, The Guardian, December 9, 2005

The government will have to show that evidence obtained under torture has not been used in up to 30 cases in which foreign terror suspects are held in Britain, following one of the most important judgments to come from the House of Lords.

Seven judges in Britain's highest court ruled yesterday that intelligence extracted by torture is not admissible in any British court. Lawyers said the judgment would reverberate around the world, putting beyond doubt that the ban on torture was absolute in civilised countries.

Home Office sources confirmed that they now expected "coerced evidence" to be a key issue in the appeals yet to be heard in the cases of 22 men held pending their deportation to countries such as Algeria and Libya, and a further five placed under anti-terror "control orders".

The seven law lords unanimously overturned an appeal court judgment in August last year, which decided that such evidence could be used if it was obtained abroad from third parties and if Britain had not condoned or connived in the torture. It makes it clear that evidence extracted by torture may be used as evidence only against torturers. [complete article]

See also, Britain's top court rules information gotten by torture is never admissible evidence (NYT).

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'Don't ask, don't tell'
By Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, December 8, 2005

European politicians demanding investigations into mysterious flights into their countries by suspected CIA-operated airplanes may find their own governments are as unenthusiastic about digging into the issue as top Bush administration officials.

According to current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials, some European governments were informed of at least some of the details of the CIA flight operations before or as they happened. Other European governments operated what one U.S. counterterror official acknowledged amounted to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy regarding the CIA airplanes. In other words, the governments may have been aware that something was going on in their airspace with CIA aircraft, but they did not really want to know what was happening, did not ask too many (or perhaps any) questions about the agency's activities, and the United States did not volunteer any answers. A CIA spokesman declined to comment. [complete article]

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U.S. may yet deport acquitted ex-professor
By Mitch Stacy, AP (via SF Chronicle), December 8, 2005

Federal authorities hit with a stunning defeat in a terrorism case against a former Florida college professor are considering deporting him instead of retrying him.
U.S. immigration authorities are holding him on an immigration detainer and will probably try to deport him if he is released from jail. The agency can deport any foreigner it deems a terrorism risk. The burden of proof for deportation is lower than it is in the criminal courts.
Al-Arian holds permanent residency status in the United States, where he has lived for three decades. He was raised mostly in Egypt. If he is deported, it is not clear where he would be sent. [complete article]

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Life under siege in a divided city
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, December 9, 2005

Visitors to the Abu Aishe family in the heart of the biblical and bitterly-disputed city of Hebron either require an army escort to the front of the steel mesh cage protecting the three-storey home or risk assault by a barrage of stones, rotting food and shouts of "Death to Arabs" from the neighbours.

Three generations of the Abu Aishe family are the last Arabs living in their street, defiantly staying on in the face of what international monitors have described as the "cleansing" of parts of Hebron by messianic Jews, with the complicity of the Israeli army, that has driven thousands of people from their homes and businesses. Over recent years, parts of Hebron were all but emptied of Palestinians as their shops were sealed and the streets closed off. [complete article]

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Marshals', witnesses' accounts differ on jet bomb threat claim
CNN, December 8, 2005

As investigators try to piece together the final moments before two air marshals shot and killed an American Airlines passenger, questions are arising about whether he made a bomb threat.

Air marshals said Rigoberto Alpizar announced he was carrying a bomb before being killed.

However, no passenger has publicly concurred with that account. Only one passenger recalled Alpizar saying, "I've got to get off, I've got to get off," CNN's Kathleen Koch reported. [complete article]

See also, Fretful passenger, turmoil on jet and fatal shots (NYT).

Comment -- What had initially sounded like swift action from air marshalls who had no choice but to shoot a self-declared bomber is suddenly starting to sound like a re-run of the London police killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. Another example of the perils of profiling? (Latest news of the Menezes killing (The Times).)

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The government men in masks who terrorize Iraq
By Dahr Jamail and Harb al-Mukhtar, Asia Times, December 9, 2005

After the US forces and the bombings, Iraqis are coming to fear those bands of men in masks who seem to operate with the Iraqi police.
The "death squads" as they have come to be called are getting more active with just a week to go before the December 15 election.

On Tuesday this week Iraqi police said they found 20 bodies dumped at two different locations in western Iraq, according to the al-Sharqiyah television network. Eleven bodies of men wearing civilian clothes were found dumped on the main road between Baghdad and the Jordanian border. The bodies were found near al-Rutbah city, with their hands tied behind their backs. Nine bodies, also of civilians and riddled with bullets, were found on the side of a road near Fallujah on Monday. [complete article]

See also, Documents show top brass knew of abuse (AP).

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The daunting logistics of withdrawal
By David Isenberg, Asia Times, December 9, 2005

Almost no consideration has been given to the question of just how fast the US can remove its forces from Iraq. But one can bet that logisticians in the Pentagon and Central Command planning cells have already been working on that question for some time

Military officers have a saying: "Amateurs talk about strategy, dilettantes talk about tactics, and professionals talk about logistics." [complete article]

See also, Iraq deployments may be canceled (AP).

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Barzani supporters attack Kurdish party building
By Cetiner Cetin, Suleyman Kurt,, December 8, 2005

On the eve of the December 15 elections in Iraq, tension in the north of the country is escalating. Kurdish groups clashed due to a dispute over a common list, and four people died in the skirmish on Wednesday.

The Iraqi Kurdish Islamic Union became a target when they decided to depart from the partnership called the "Kurdish Joint List" led by Iraqi Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and the Iraqi Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), and chose to participate in the polls independently.

KDP supporters attacked PUK offices in various northern Iraqi towns such as Dohuk, Zaho, Amedi, Shaklaca, Kadash, Sedarash, and Akre. A candidate deputy, Mushir Ahmet of KDP, and three others died in the skirmish. According to eye witnesses, crowd gathered in front of PUK bureau in Dohuk called for the party to take down Kurdish flags since they do not want to be included in Kurdish Alliance; clashes followed. KDP supporters tried to set the building on fire, resulting in 21 people wounded. The Iraqi Kurdish Islamic Union was part of the Kurdish Alliance in January elections. [complete article]

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In cities Bush cited, progress is relative
By Robin Wright and Saad Sarhan, Washington Post, December 8, 2005

In a tale of two cities, President Bush yesterday heralded progress in northern Mosul and southern Najaf as new models for rebuilding Iraq.

But last Friday, Iraq's government imposed emergency law and a curfew in Sunni-dominated Mosul and throughout Ninevah province, and a senior U.S. official in Baghdad yesterday referred to the city of about 1.7 million as "nasty Mosul."

In Najaf, militia fighters of the two rival religious parties that control the Shiite holy city recently clashed in street battles. A few days ago, former prime minister Ayad Allawi was attacked during a visit by an angry, rock-throwing mob that some Iraqis charge was backed by a militia -- and that Allawi called an assassination attempt.

The two important and politically charged cities showcase signs of progress for Iraq, as Bush described, but also security problems and other pressing difficulties for the U.S. mission and the new Iraqi government. [complete article]

See also, President's accounts of gains depict only part of the picture (NYT) and Bush shifts priorities in rebuilding Iraq to smaller projects (NYT).

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U.S. military continues Iraq propaganda operation despite probe
AFP (via Yahoo), December 7, 2005

The US military is continuing a controversial "information operations" program that paid Iraqi newspapers to run favorable stories even as it investigates the effort, US defense spokesmen said.

General George Casey has named Rear Admiral Van Buskirk to conduct a investigation of the program, they said.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said it will look at policies and procedures governing the program and "whether or not people are performing their duties and responsibilities within those policy and procedure parameters."

Asked whether the program has been suspended in the meantime, Whitman said, "I don't know of any changes."

Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said in an email that "MNF-I (Multi-National Forces-Iraq) has not directed that the IO (information operations) program be suspended." [complete article]

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An author's confession -- he got the war wrong
George Packer interviewed by Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle, December 4, 2005

George Packer: The single most doubtful line in the book ["The Assassins' Gate"], and one that I have quoted back to me all the time, is: "The Iraq war was always winnable. It still is." I wrote that in April of this year. We were coming off the success of the January elections. The violence had subsided quite a bit. It seemed to me that Iraq was becoming a country in which the majority of people wanted to live together under a representative government.

In the six or seven months since then, it has really moved toward civil war. And the election may very well have had a role in it, because the Sunnis locked themselves out and that became a self-fulfilling act. By now, I'm quite grim, and I would not have written that line in the present tense. The armed militias are running the show. The young and the dispossessed and the angry and the religious have become the wave of the future. They've been released by the invasion to impose their own vision of Iraq on the country, usually at the point of a gun. It is no longer mostly about an anti-occupation insurgency. That is the short-term battle and in a way the cover and the pretext for the power struggle among Iraq's major groups. [complete article]

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New grand jury in CIA leak case hears from prosecutor
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, December 8, 2005

The CIA leak investigation returned to a more active stage yesterday as a special prosecutor presented information to a grand jury for the first time in six weeks.
...several legal experts and sources involved in the case said Fitzgerald was probably providing the new grand jury with a primer on what has been learned in the investigation and what remains unresolved. They said the prosecutor's move into a more active probe could spell trouble for Rove, or for other people enmeshed in more recent developments in the case. [complete article]

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Archaeologist held hostage
By Roger Atwood, Archeology, December 2, 2005

Less than six months after she received word that a violent group had targeted her for abduction, archaeologist Susanne Osthoff was kidnapped in northern Iraq in late November.

Osthoff, 43, an intrepid archaeologist and fluent Arabic speaker, had worked tirelessly to gather facts about the destruction of ancient sites across Iraq. She disappeared on November 25, and four days later her kidnappers issued a video showing Osthoff and her driver sitting blindfolded on the ground, with armed men standing next to them. One was holding a rocket-propelled grenade launcher. The kidnappers have reportedly threatened to kill Osthoff and the driver, who was not identified, if Germany does not cease all contacts with Iraq's government. Germany's main activity in Iraq is a police training program. [complete article]

See also, Qaeda-linked cleric wants aid workers in Iraq freed (Reuters).

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In Iraq, signs of political evolution
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, December 8, 2005

Tucked into a bunker-like former headquarters of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, a type of war room unfamiliar in this country buzzed with life Wednesday. Halfway through a 14-hour shift, campaign workers from the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni Arab group that boycotted the country's previous elections in January, munched rice and kebabs, their faces lit by computer screens.

Across town, hundreds of black-clad followers of the radical Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr -- who decried balloting 10 months ago as something imposed under American occupation -- beat their backs with chains and stomped across a large poster of former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi. Sadr's political wing has joined forces with the alliance of Shiite religious parties that leads Iraq's current government and opposes Allawi's secular movement.

As Iraqis nationwide prepare to go to the polls for the third time this year on Dec. 15 -- this time for a new parliament -- candidates and political parties of all stripes are embracing politics, Iraqi style, as never before and showing increasing sophistication about the electoral process, according to campaign specialists, party officials and candidates here. [complete article]

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Will politics tame Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood?
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, December 8, 2005

When stumping through the port city of Alexandria, whose crumbling mansions and rickety tram lines evoke long-faded glory, Sobhe Saleh of the Muslim Brotherhood vowed he had a different vision for Egypt's future.

"If Islam were applied, no one would be hungry," he roared recently to a crowd of fully veiled women ululating with joy. "Islam is a religion of construction. Islam is a religion of investment. Islam is a religion of development."

Religion, in fact, should profoundly alter both Egypt's domestic and foreign policy, said Mr. Saleh, a 52-year-old lawyer with a clipped helmet of steel-gray hair.

"If Islam were applied, the television would not show us prostitution and people lacking all decency!" he declared. "If Islam were applied, Iraq could not have been invaded, Israel could not occupy Jerusalem, and aggression could not have been used to humiliate Muslims everywhere!"

A long-expected day of reckoning is at hand in Egyptian politics now that the Brotherhood, an illegal organization with a violent past, is entering the corridors of power for the first time in significant numbers.

The outcome of the freest election in more than 50 years could determine whether political Islam will turn Egypt into a repressive, anti-American theocracy or if Islamic parties across the Arab world will themselves be transformed by participating in mainstream politics. [complete article]

See also, Islamists build on gains in violent Egypt election (Reuters).

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Pentagon memo on torture-motivated transfer cited
By Ken Silverstein, Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2005

Although Bush administration officials have denied that they transfer terrorism suspects to countries where they are likely to be abused, a classified memorandum described in a court case indicates that the Pentagon has considered sending a captured militant abroad to be interrogated under threat of torture.

The classified memo is summarized -- its actual contents are blacked out -- in a petition filed by attorneys for Majid Mahmud Abdu Ahmad, a detainee held by the Pentagon at its Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, facility.

The March 17, 2004, Defense Department memo indicated that American officials were frustrated in trying to obtain information from Ahmad, according to the description of the classified memo in the court petition. The officials suggested sending Ahmad to an unspecified foreign country that employed torture in order to increase chances of extracting information from him, according to the petition's description of the memo.

The precise contents of the Pentagon memo on Ahmad were not revealed, but the memo was described in the petition by New York attorney Marc D. Falkoff, who contested the transfer of Ahmad and 12 other Yemenis in U.S. District Court in Washington this year.

Falkoff's description was not disputed by U.S. government lawyers or by U.S. District Judge Rosemary M. Collyer, who read the actual Pentagon document. The judge ruled in favor of the Yemenis on March 12, and Ahmad has not been transferred from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

The memo appears to call into question repeated assertions by the administration that it does not use foreign governments to abuse suspected militants -- what critics call "torture by proxy." [complete article]

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More questions as Rice asserts detainee policy
By Richard W. Stevenson and Joel Brinkley, New York Times, December 8, 2005

Responding to pressure at home and abroad to set clearer standards for the interrogation of terrorist suspects, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the policy of the United States was not to allow its personnel, whether on American or foreign soil, to engage in cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners.

But her statement did little to clear up widespread confusion about where the administration draws the line or to dispel hints of an internal debate among President Bush's inner circle on that topic. It was interpreted variously as a subtle but important shift in policy, a restatement of the administration's long-held position or an artful dodge intended to retain flexibility in dealing with detainees while soothing public opinion in the United States and Europe.
A former senior American government official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the administration's policy candidly, said Ms. Rice seemed to have three goals in making the statement. The first, the former official said, was "to appease our European critics, from whom she is taking enormous heat." The second, he said, was "to tie more firmly the hands" of the Justice Department, the C.I.A. and the Pentagon when it comes to setting policy. The third, he said, is to help make a case on Capitol Hill that the McCain amendment is unnecessary. [complete article]

See also, Rice seeks to clarify policy on prisoners (WP).

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British high court rules against use of torture evidence
By Philippe Naughton, The Times, December 8, 2005

Information which may have been obtained by foreign states using torture cannot be used as evidence against suspects in secret UK terror tribunals, the Law Lords ruled today.

A panel of seven Law Lords unanimously agreed to allow the appeal by eight detainees held without charge on suspicion of involvement in terrorism against a controversial Court of Appeal judgment in August last year. By a two-to-one majority, the appeal judges had ruled that if the evidence was obtained under torture by agents of another country with no involvement by the UK, it was usable and there was no obligation by the Government to inquire about its origins.

The Law Lords rejected the Court of Appeal judgment and Lord Bingham of Cornhill, the former Lord Chief Justice who headed the panel, was especially trenchant, saying that English law had regarded "torture and its fruits" with abhorrence for more than 500 years. [complete article]

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U.N. official faults U.S. detentions
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, December 8, 2005

The U.S.-led fight against terrorism is eroding the time-honored international prohibition of torture and other forms of cruel or degrading treatment of prisoners, the top U.N. human rights official said Wednesday in a statement commemorating Human Rights Day.

Louise Arbour, the high commissioner for human rights at the United Nations, presented the most forceful criticism to date of U.S. detention policies by a senior U.N. official, asserting that holding suspects incommunicado in itself amounts to torture.
John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, criticized Arbour, calling it "inappropriate" for her to choose a Human Rights Day celebration to criticize the United States instead of such rights abusers as Burma, Cuba and Zimbabwe. He also warned that it would undercut his efforts to negotiate formation of a new human rights council that would exclude countries with bad rights records. [complete article]

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Oil industry targets E.U. climate policy
By David Adam, The Guardian, December 8, 2005

Lobbyists funded by the US oil industry have launched a campaign in Europe aimed at derailing efforts to tackle greenhouse gas pollution and climate change.

Documents obtained by Greenpeace and seen by the Guardian reveal a systematic plan to persuade European business, politicians and the media that the EU should abandon its commitments under the Kyoto protocol, the international agreement that aims to reduce emissions that lead to global warming. The disclosure comes as United Nations climate change talks in Montreal on the future of Kyoto, the first phase of which expires in 2012, enter a critical phase.

The documents, an email and a PowerPoint presentation, describe efforts to establish a European coalition to "challenge the course of the EU's post-2012 agenda". They were written by Chris Horner, a Washington DC lawyer and senior fellow at the rightwing thinktank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which has received more than $1.3m (£750,000) funding from the US oil giant Exxon Mobil. Mr Horner also acts for the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group set up "to dispel the myth of global warming". [complete article]

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Israel's Likud finds itself in a free fall
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, December 8, 2005

Not so long ago, any politician from Israel's conservative Likud Party could count on a consistently warm reception in the country's open-air produce markets. The cramped rows of stalls heaped with fresh tomatoes and fragrant spices had been the movement's heartland for as long as anyone could remember.

So when Uzi Landau, then a contender for the Likud leadership, toured a Tel Aviv market recently, he had reason to hope for the usual friendly meet-and-greet with vendors. Instead, he found himself heckled and booed.

"You wrecked the Likud!" a fruit seller shouted. "It's a shipwreck!" yelled a fishmonger.

Landau was hustled away by aides who said a case of laryngitis had prevented him from speaking at length to his constituents.

More than two weeks after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon broke away from the Likud, declaring that its goals were no longer compatible with the national interest, the country's powerhouse political movement appears to have dwindled to a shadow of itself. [complete article]

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Syria ready to reopen Israel peace talks
By Simon Tisdall and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, December 8, 2005

Syria is engaged in clandestine talks about reopening peace negotiations with Israel in an attempt to head off United Nations sanctions next week over its alleged role in the February assassination of Rafiq Hariri, the former Lebanese prime minister.

Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, is being urged by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan to restart bilateral talks with Israel that collapsed in 2000. Discussions were under way in Mecca yesterday at a summit of the Islamic Conference Organisation, chaired by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and attended by most Arab heads of government.

The Arab proposal forms part of an unexpected initiative to revive King Abdullah's landmark 2002 plan for a comprehensive MIddle East peace settlement. An Arab official said the Abdullah plan, which proposes official recognition of Israel by all Arab countries in exchange for the return of occupied Arab land, was on yesterday's agenda in a closed-door session of the Mecca summit. [complete article]

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Intelligence design and the architecture of war
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 8, 2005

On another day when the Iraq war was tearing Washington apart, a leading architect of that war, Paul D. Wolfowitz, was donning sheep's clothing over at the National Press Club.

The former deputy defense secretary, now president of the World Bank, gave a 30-minute speech yesterday about the virtues of peace, the ills of poverty and the benefits of multilateralism -- without a mention of Iraq.

"One of the things that's fun about this job is [that] development is a unifying mission and you can get a lot of people together across a table to put their political differences aside," said the man President Bush calls "Wolfie."

Only when questioners pressed him about Iraq would Wolfowitz address the subject. "How do you account for the intelligence failures regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?" he was asked.

"Well," he said after a long pause, "I don't have to." [complete article]

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Democrats fear backlash at polls for antiwar remarks
By Jim VandeHei and Shalaigh Murray, Washington Post, December 7, 2005

Strong antiwar comments in recent days by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean have opened anew a party rift over Iraq, with some lawmakers warning that the leaders' rhetorical blasts could harm efforts to win control of Congress next year.

Several Democrats joined President Bush yesterday in rebuking Dean's declaration to a San Antonio radio station Monday that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong."

The critics said that comment could reinforce popular perceptions that the party is weak on military matters and divert attention from the president's growing political problems on the war and other issues. "Dean's take on Iraq makes even less sense than the scream in Iowa: Both are uninformed and unhelpful," said Rep. Jim Marshall (D-Ga.), recalling Dean's famous election-night roar after stumbling in Iowa during his 2004 presidential bid. [complete article]

Comment -- One of the fundamental problems in domestic political discourse on the subject of war is that from the vantage point of anyone living in America today, war is always something that happens somewhere else. Even though many people say that on 9/11 they realized that America was at war, the events of a single day - however dramatic - are a far remove from the experience of wartime. Yet if we look back to the last time that war truly dug its roots into American soil, once the fighting ended, there was no real victory and a hundred a fifty years later, the scars still remain.

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Abuse 'widespread' in Iraqi prisons
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, December 7, 2005

After a US raid on a secret Iraqi government jail last month revealed some detainees were tortured and abused there, Interior Minister Bayan Jabr insisted abuse claims were exaggerated and that torture will not be tolerated in the new Iraq.

US soldiers and some Iraqi officials disagree. They say not only is prisoner abuse widespread, but that much of it is carried out by Mr. Jabr's subordinates. Efforts to bring the problem under control during the past year have largely been frustrated by indifference from senior Iraqi officials, they say.

Privately, half a dozen US officers have acknowledged to the Monitor that prisoner abuse by Iraqi police is common.

Now, one officer is speaking out. Major R. John Stukey, a US Army doctor who served in Baghdad from January to June, frequently visited Interior Ministry facilities on the east side of Baghdad to assess the health of prisoners. He says he personally treated about a dozen men who had been tortured and observed an environment of overcrowding and neglect. [complete article]

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Behind Iraq politicians, Sistani holds sway
By Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, December 7, 2005

A year ago, Sistani himself forged the coalition of competing Shi'ite parties, persuading them to run together as a single party.

This time around, many smaller parties dissatisfied with the performance of the government have split off to run separately, leaving three powerhouses in the Shi'ite Alliance: the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Da'wa Party, and followers of the upstart militant cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

But even those who style themselves as Shi'ite dissidents never stray far from Sistani's line. [complete article]

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Courage in their coverage
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, December 7, 2005

The U.S. government has been bribing Iraqi newspapers to run "good news" stories about the American occupation of Iraq. This at a time when real Iraqi reporters are risking their lives to work for The Post and other news organizations in Baghdad because they believe in honest journalism. Here's a thought for an administration that claims to love freedom and democracy: Let's try living our values, rather than just talking about them. [complete article]

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Syria attacks evidence as U.N. case turns more bizarre
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, December 7, 2005

The United Nations investigation into the assassination of the former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, is beginning to show some cracks: one witness is dead, another is in jail and still another has recanted his testimony with a fantastic story of abduction, drugging and bribery.

In a case that has begun to sound more and more like a fictional spy thriller, with charges of Soviet-style intimidation tactics and a witness who died when his car ran off a road, the issue of witness credibility has risen to the forefront. While it is too soon to draw any firm conclusions on how the new developments will affect the investigation, they have at least raised questions about the validity of crucial evidence supporting the charge that the Syrian state was responsible for Mr. Hariri's assassination, according to Western diplomats based in Syria and a draft of an interim report by the United Nations investigator, Detlev Mehlis.

A month ago, Syrian officials were reeling, accused by investigators of complicity in the killing and fearful that the Security Council would demand that they hand over some of Syria's most powerful people or face crushing economic sanctions and international isolation. But now, it is Syrian on the offensive, undercutting credibility of witnesses and diluting charges that Syria has refused to cooperate by sending officials to Vienna for questioning. [complete article]

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Pain of political change
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, December 7, 2005

When the last light drains from the autumn sky and sinks into the fields, Damanhur could be any town in the Nile Delta. Workers wheel home on rusting bicycles. Donkey carts circle the town square. Little girls in head scarves weave arm in arm through the dusk.

As elections rolled through Egypt this fall, Damanhur was just one of the many towns where the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood fought the ruling National Democratic Party for parliamentary seats. It was a contest that reflected the decades-old struggle between the wildly popular Muslim Brotherhood and the historically repressive, secular government.

By the time election day was over, curses had been uttered, blows landed and tear gas fired in the streets of Damanhur. Known as a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold, the town of 300,000 had become an unwilling window on the tortured political evolution of Egypt -- and the Arab world beyond.

"It's the government versus the people here," said Hamdi Assar, a 30-year-old computer consultant and member of the Muslim Brotherhood. "You have a very strong Islamist tendency, support for the Muslim Brotherhood and love for this candidate. Then someone who represents a corrupt government tries to run and says, 'I'm going to win.'" [complete article]

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Rice clarifies U.S. interrogation methods
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, December 7, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday that the United States had barred all of its personnel from engaging in cruel or inhumane interrogations of prisoners. Her statement appears to mark a significant shift in U.S. policy.

"As a matter of U.S. policy, the United States' obligations under the C.A.T. [U.N. Convention against Torture,] which prohibits cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment -- those obligations extend to U.S. personnel wherever they are, whether they are in the United States or outside of the United States," Rice said during a news conference with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. [complete article]

Comment -- Though public debate around the issue of torture has focused on the question of what methods of interrogation should and should not be permitted, statements from the White House, the vice president, and the State Department, make it clear that the administration's focus is elsewhere. Their attention is fixed on legal culpability. A Congressional Research Service report (Renditions: Constraints imposed by laws on torture (PDF)), dated September 22, 2005, states that:
The U.N. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) and U.S. domestic implementing legislation impose the primary legal restrictions on the transfer of persons to countries where they would face torture. CAT requires signatory parties to take measures to end torture within territories under their jurisdiction, and it prohibits the transfer of persons to countries where there is a substantial likelihood that they will be tortured. Torture is a distinct form of persecution, and is defined for purposes of CAT as "severe [emphasis in original document] pain or suffering...intentionally inflicted on a person" under the color of law. Accordingly, many forms of persecution - including certain harsh interrogation techniques that would be considered cruel and unusual under the U.S. Constitution - do not necessarily constitute torture, which is an extreme and particular form of mistreatment.
While Secretary Rice might appear to be ruling out the suggestion that a legal distinction can be made between torture and "cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment", the real issue that the administration continues to dodge is whether it operates and intends to continue operating a policy through which methods of interrogation impermissible to American personnel are used by non-American interrogators on the basis of a (most likely unwritten) "understanding."

George Bush's much repeated pledge, "We don't torture," is currently being parsed by questioning his dubious definition of "torture." Not enough attention is being given to the emphasis he places on "we." To say that "we don't torture" and that prisoners are not transferred to other countries "for the purpose" of being tortured and that those countries need to provide "credible assurances" that prisoners will not be tortured, still provides the administration with lots of legal lattitude. Prisoners can still be tortured while American officials absolve themselves of responsibility by waving a piece of paper saying that the Egyptians or Syrians or whoever promised not to torture.

Senator McCean might be successful in outlawing torture conducted by Americans, yet little will have been accomplished if the United States continues to take advantage of the willingness of other countries to disregard international law.

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White House and McCain are near deal on torture bill
By Eric Schmitt and David E. Sanger, New York Times, December 7, 2005

The White House has all but abandoned its effort to persuade Senator John McCain to exempt Central Intelligence Agency employees from legislation barring inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners in American custody. But a top presidential aide continued to negotiate a deal on Tuesday that would offer covert officers some protection from prosecution, administration and Senate officials said. [complete article]

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'Tortured' Australian speaks out
BBC News, December 7, 2005

A former Australian terror suspect says he was caught up in the controversial US policy of transferring detainees to foreign countries for interrogation.

Mamdouh Habib claims he was tortured while held for a period in his native Egypt during his four years in custody.

He told the BBC he was brain-washed, beaten and given electric shocks.

The US State Department has not commented on his specific allegations, but says it does not transfer prisoners for the purposes of torture. [complete article]

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Secretary Rice's rendition
Editorial, New York Times, December 7, 2005

It was a sad enough measure of how badly the Bush administration has damaged its moral standing that the secretary of state had to deny that the president condones torture before she could visit some of the most reliable American allies in Europe. It was even worse that she had a hard time sounding credible when she did it.

Of course, it would have helped if Condoleezza Rice was actually in a position to convince the world that the United States has not, does not and will not torture prisoners. But there's just too much evidence that this has happened at the hands of American interrogators or their proxies in other countries. Vice President Dick Cheney is still lobbying to legalize torture at the C.I.A.'s secret prisons, and to block a law that would reimpose on military prisons the decades-old standard of decent treatment that Mr. Bush scrapped after 9/11. [complete article]

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German citizen held in secret prison sues ex-CIA director
By Frank Davies and Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, December 6, 2005

A German citizen whom the CIA abducted from Macedonia and held in a secret prison in Afghanistan for five months sued former CIA Director George Tenet on Tuesday, saying he'd been tortured.

"I want an apology, and I want to know why this happened to me," Khaled al-Masri said during a video hookup from Germany. "What happened to me was outside the bounds of any legal framework, and should never be allowed to happen to anyone else."

Al-Masri's lawsuit, filed by ACLU lawyers in Alexandria, Va., sheds light on the CIA's secret practice of "extraordinary renditions," using special teams to capture suspected terrorists and transport them to countries that practice torture or to one of the agency's reported secret prisons in Eastern Europe or Asia. [complete article]

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Romania torn between U.S. and E.U.
By Anca Paduraru, ISN Security Watch, December 7, 2005

Visiting Romania, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has described Romanians and Americans as "brothers" during a signing ceremony in Bucharest of a agreement between Romania and the US on the "shared use" of two military bases and training camps there.

But this new brotherhood sealed late on Tuesday in the capital, Bucharest, will mean more pressure on Romanian President Traian Basescu over how he decides to answer allegations that his country has been hosting secret CIA-operated torture facilities.

During a joint press conference with Rice late on Tuesday, Basescu made it clear that he would stand by his new "brother", calling on those who made the allegations to "come and investigate first hand, and then close the subject".

The Romanian authorities repeatedly have denied any knowledge of unlawful operations conducted by the CIA in Romania, but stopped short of launching their own official investigation. [complete article]

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Skepticism seems to erode Europeans' faith in Rice
By Richard Bernstein, New York Times, December 7, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did what was expected, many people in Europe said Tuesday, after her meetings with Chancellor Angela Merkel and other German officials. She gave reassurances that the United States would not tolerate torture and, while not admitting mistakes, promised to correct any that had been made.

She accompanied that with an impassioned argument for aggressive intelligence gathering, within the law, as an indispensable means of saving lives endangered by an unusually dangerous and unscrupulous foe.

Did anybody believe her on this continent, aroused as rarely before by a raft of reports about secret prisons, C.I.A. flights, allegations of torture and of "renditions," or transfers, of prisoners to third countries so they can be tortured there? [complete article]

See also, Rice is challenged in Europe over secret prisons (NYT) and Losing European hearts and minds (Der Spiegel).

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Pakistan deletes 'pro-Bush' poem
BBC News, December 5, 2005

Pakistan's government is to remove a poem from a school textbook after it emerged the first letters of each line spelt out "President George W Bush".

The anonymous poem, called The Leader, appeared in a recent English-language course book for 16 year-olds.

Critics say it praises Mr Bush. Its rhyming couplets describe someone "solid as steel, strong in his faith". [complete article]

Comment -- If the FBI can't uncover the author of the Niger documents or find out who sent out the anthrax letters, I think they should focus on finding out who wrote "The Leader." How about checking to see if it's attached to Karen Hughes' resume and could have been what convinced George Bush that she'd be perfect to spearhead US efforts in public diplomacy?

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German sues over abduction said to be at hands of CIA
By Scott Shane, New York Times, December 6, 2005

A German citizen who says he was abducted, beaten and taken to Afghanistan by American agents in an apparent case of mistaken identity in 2003 filed suit in federal court today against George J. Tenet, the former C.I.A. director, and three companies said to have been involved in secret flight operations. The suit came three days after Khaled el-Masri, a 42-year-old Lebanese-born former car salesman, was refused entrance to the United States after arriving Saturday in Atlanta on a flight from Germany with the intention of appearing at a news conference today in Washington. He spoke instead by video satellite link, describing somberly how he was beaten, photographed nude and injected with drugs during five months in detention in Macedonia and Afghanistan. [complete article]

Iraq bombers kill 43 at police academy
By David Fickling, The Guardian, December 6, 2005

At least 43 people were killed and 73 injured today when two suicide bombers blew themselves up in a police academy classroom in east Baghdad. [complete article]

Troops used for politics, Yawer says
AP (via LAT), December 6, 2005

The training of Iraqi security forces has suffered a serious setback in the last six months, with the army and other groups increasingly being used to settle scores and for other political purposes, Iraqi Vice President Ghazi Ajil Yawer said Monday. [complete article]

E. European support waning in Iraq
By John Dyer, Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2005

"New Europe" is saying goodbye to Iraq. Some of the former East bloc's largest contingents in the US-led coalition are slated to bow out of fighting after Iraq's parliamentary elections in December. [complete article]

Now defending Saddam, Clark has long list of controversial clients
By Dave Montgomery and Leila Fadel, Knight Ridder, December 5, 2005

To those who've watched his legal evolution over the past half-century, [Ramsey] Clark's latest choice of clients - and his brief protest at the outset of Monday's proceedings - came as no surprise. The son of a former U.S. Supreme Court justice who began his practice in the family's establishment law firm in Dallas, Clark has spent much of the past 30 years well past the reaches of mainstream politics and the law. [complete article]

Ex-professor acquitted on several charges
By Mitch Stacy, AP (via The Guardian), December 6, 2005

In a stinging defeat for prosecutors, a former Florida professor accused of helping lead a terrorist group that has carried out suicide bombings against Israel was acquitted on nearly half the charges against him Tuesday, and the jury deadlocked on the rest. The case against Sami Al-Arian, 47, had been seen as one of the biggest courtroom tests yet of the Patriot Act's expanded search-and-surveillance powers. [complete article]

Israel begins clampdown in West Bank after bombing
By Matt Spetalnick, Reuters, December 6, 2005

Israel began a clampdown in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday in the early stages of what it vowed would be a harsh military response to a Palestinian suicide bombing that killed five Israelis. [complete article]

U.S. missile parts at Pakistan al Qaeda target site
By Haji Mujtaba, Reuters, December 4, 2005

Pakistani tribesmen on Sunday displayed parts of a U.S.-marked missile they said hit a house and killed two boys, evidence at odds with the government which says an explosion there killed a top al Qaeda commander. [complete article]

With abysmal GPA, government fails to make Kean's list
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, December 6, 2005

Thomas H. Kean, the former chairman of the 9/11 commission, sounded like the parent confronting his bright but lazy child. "Look at this report card!" he demanded. "There are too many C's, D's and F's in this report card!" Kean was standing on a stage in the Ronald Reagan Building in front of a giant poster grading the federal government's response to the 9/11 commission's recommendations. And the results weren't pretty: Five F's, 12 D's, two incompletes and only one A, which translates to a grade-point average of 1.8. [complete article]

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"Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror." Donald Rumsfeld, The Pentagon, October 16, 2003

"To be responsible, it seems to me, one needs to stop defining success in Iraq as the absence of terrorist attacks." Donald Rumsfeld, John's Hopkins University, December 5, 2005

Rumsfeld warns of Islamic superstate if U.S. leaves Iraq too soon
By Drew Brown, Knight Ridder, December 6, 2005

If U.S. forces leave too soon, Iraq will become a haven for terrorists and the base of a spreading Islamic superstate that would threaten the rest of the world, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.

Speaking at Johns Hopkins University's Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Rumsfeld warned that al-Qaida leaders such as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden would seize power in the wake of an American withdrawal and turn Iraq into the kind of terrorist safe haven that Afghanistan was before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Moreover, Rumsfeld said: "Iraq would serve as the base of a new Islamic caliphate to extend throughout the Middle East, and which would threaten legitimate governments in Europe, Africa and Asia. This is their plan. They have said so. We make a terrible mistake if we fail to listen and learn." [complete article]

Rumsfeld stresses optimistic view of Iraq
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2005

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld declared Monday that the mission in Iraq was essential to national security, and he painted an optimistic picture of that country's future. Rumsfeld said progress in Iraq could not be measured by the amount of bloodshed or the number of insurgent attacks, and he criticized news outlets for dwelling on the violence. [complete article]

Interview with Michael Ware, Time Magazine
Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees, CNN, December 5, 2005

I'd personally like to invite Secretary Rumsfeld to come and spend some time here on the ground in Baghdad in what he would refer to as the Red Zone. Whenever Secretary Rumsfeld himself has visited Iraq, it's been well within the embrace of the U.S. military. He has been encased in the Green Zone. Let him come out and taste what life is like for the ordinary Iraqis. For the ordinary Iraqi, a few soccer balls, a painted school means nothing. When you cannot have confidence in sending your children to elementary school and that they won't be blown up, that government-sponsored death squads won't kick in your door at night, that you won't be caught in the crossfire of some awful battle. Let Secretary Rumsfeld come and live that life for a day and then let him talk about the positives that are being unreported. If -- it would be an insult to the Iraqi experience to have it any other way. [complete article]

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A weak defense
Editorial, Washington Post, December 6, 2005

In an attempt to quell a growing storm in Europe over the CIA's secret prisons, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday issued a defense based on the same legalistic jujitsu and morally obtuse double talk that led the Bush administration into a swamp of human rights abuses in the first place. Ms. Rice insisted that the U.S. government "does not authorize or condone torture" of detainees. What she didn't say is that President Bush's political appointees have redefined the term "torture" so that it does not cover practices, such as simulated drowning, mock execution and "cold cells," that have long been considered abusive by authorities such as her State Department. [complete article]

Comment -- The conceit of the Bush administration (under Frank Luntz's tutelage) has always been that it can win any argument if it can control the language. Applied to a domestic audience with the assistance of an easily pliable media this is a strategy that has been extremely effective. Applied to a global audience it can't work. President Bush's assertion that we don't torture has as much credibility as the idea of free and fair elections in the Soviet Union.

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Seized, held, tortured: six tell same tale
By Ian Cobain, The Guardian, December 6, 2005

Mamdouh Habib, 49, an Australian citizen, was caught up in the rendition system after being arrested near the Pakistani-Afghan border shortly after the 9/11 attacks. His lawyers say he was bundled aboard a small jet by men speaking English with American accents and flown to Egypt, the country where he was born. For the next six months, they say, he was held in a Cairo jail, where he was hung from hooks, beaten, given shocks from an electric cattle prod, and told he was to be raped by dogs.

Habib also says that he was shackled and forced into three torture chambers: one filled with water up to his chin, requiring him to stand on tiptoe for hours, a second with a low ceiling and two feet of water, forcing him into a painful stoop, and a third with a few inches of water, and within sight of an electric generator which his captors said would be used to electrocute him. He made statements - which he has since withdrawn - declaring that he had helped train the 9/11 attackers in martial arts. Habib was moved to Afghanistan and then to Guantanamo. Last January he was released without charge and allowed to return to his wife and three children in Sydney. [complete article]

Qaeda figures held in secret CIA prisons
By Brian Ross and Richard Esposito, ABC News, December 5, 2005

Two CIA secret prisons were operating in Eastern Europe until last month when they were shut down following Human Rights Watch reports of their existence in Poland and Romania.

Current and former CIA officers speaking to ABC News on the condition of confidentiality say the United States scrambled to get all the suspects off European soil before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived there today. The officers say 11 top al Qaeda suspects have now been moved to a new CIA facility in the North African desert. [complete article]

CIA ruse is said to have damaged probe in Milan
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, December 6, 2005

In March 2003, the Italian national anti-terrorism police received an urgent message from the CIA about a radical Islamic cleric who had mysteriously vanished from Milan a few weeks before. The CIA reported that it had reliable information that the cleric, the target of an Italian criminal investigation, had fled to an unknown location in the Balkans.

In fact, according to Italian court documents and interviews with investigators, the CIA's tip was a deliberate lie, part of a ruse designed to stymie efforts by the Italian anti-terrorism police to track down the cleric, Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, an Egyptian refugee known as Abu Omar.

The strategy worked for more than a year until Italian investigators learned that Nasr had not gone to the Balkans after all. Instead, prosecutors here have charged, he was abducted off a street in Milan by a team of CIA operatives who took him to two U.S. military bases in succession and then flew him to Egypt, where he was interrogated and allegedly tortured by Egyptian security agents before being released to house arrest.

Italian judicial authorities publicly disclosed the CIA operation in the spring. But a review of recently filed court documents and interviews in Milan offer fresh details about how the CIA allegedly spread disinformation to cover its tracks and how its actions in Milan disrupted and damaged a major Italian investigation. [complete article]

Ex-CIA agent in Milan asks for immunity
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, December 6, 2005

He has not been arrested, and he's probably nowhere near Italy, but a former CIA station chief has begun to sketch his defense against charges he led a clandestine operation that kidnapped a radical Egyptian imam from the streets of Milan.

Robert Seldon Lady, identified by Italian prosecutors and law enforcement officials as the retired station chief in Milan, is one of 22 current or former CIA operatives for whom Italian prosecutors have issued arrest warrants in connection with the 2003 abduction. The cleric was seized on his way to a mosque and bundled off to an Egyptian jail, where he later said he was tortured. [complete article]

Britain's role in war on terror revealed
By Ian Cobain, Stephen Grey and Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, December 6, 2005

The full extent of British logistical support for the CIA's secret "ghost flights" emerged yesterday as Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said the agency's operations were "a vital tool" in the campaign against terrorism.

The Guardian publishes for the first time today the details of more than 200 flights in and out of Britain of aircraft owned or controlled by the CIA. The agency has used almost 20 airports across the UK during the period when its agents have been snatching terror suspects and taking them to countries where they may be tortured. As well as enjoying access to a number of RAF bases, the agency has been flying in and out of civilian airports across the country. [complete article]

Keep quiet about secret flights to secret jails, Rice tells Europe
By David Charter, The Times, December 6, 2005

Condoleezza Rice challenged European leaders to back controversial American anti-terrorism tactics yesterday as she robustly defended the CIA's extrajudicial seizure, transportation and interrogation of thousands of suspects.

In a defiant statement delivered before flying to Berlin, the US Secretary of State responded to European demands for explanations of secret CIA flights from EU territory by insisting that aggressive US actions had "prevented attacks in Europe" and "saved innocent lives".

Despite the uproar in Europe over America's "extraordinary rendition" of suspects to countries such as Afghanistan, and claims that secret CIA prisons are located in Romania and Poland, Dr Rice said that she expected American allies to co-operate and keep quiet about sensitive anti-terrorism operations. [complete article]

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Democrats find Iraq alternative is elusive
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 5, 2005

Around the country, many grass-roots Democrats are clamoring for a quick withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. On Capitol Hill, Democratic politicians have grown newly aggressive in denouncing the Bush administration's war strategy and outlining other options.

But among the Democratic foreign-policy elite, dominated by people who previously served in the top ranks of government, there are stark differences -- and significant vagueness -- about a viable alternative.

In interviews, veteran policymakers offered no end of criticism about how President Bush maneuvered the United States into its present predicament, but only one had a clear vision of what he would do if the Iraq problem were handed over tomorrow. Several accept Bush's premise that a rapid withdrawal anytime soon would leave Iraq unstable and risk a strategic disaster in the broader Middle East. [complete article]

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What would JFK have done?
By Theodore C. Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger Jr., New York Times, December 4, 2005

What did we not hear from President Bush when he spoke last week at the United States Naval Academy about his strategy for victory in Iraq?

We did not hear that the war in Iraq, already one of the costliest wars in American history, is a running sore. We did not hear that it has taken more than 2,000 precious American lives and countless - because we do not count them - Iraqi civilian lives. We did not hear that the struggle has dragged on longer than our involvement in either World War I or the Spanish-American War, or that by next spring it will be even longer than the Korean War.

And we did not hear how or when the president plans to bring our forces back home - no facts, no numbers on America troop withdrawals, no dates, no reference to our dwindling coalition, no reversal of his disdain for the United Nations, whose help he still expects. [complete article]

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The new rules of engagement
By Michael Ware, Time, December 4, 2005

The secret meeting took place earlier this year on the outskirts of Baghdad, in a safe house known only to the insurgents in attendance. One of them, an Iraqi known by the nom de guerre Abu Marwan, is a senior commander of the leading Baathist guerrilla group called the Army of Mohammed. Together with a representative of an alliance of Iraqi Islamist insurgent groups, Abu Marwan met aides to Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. The purpose was to discuss the idea of uniting under a joint command the disparate networks fighting U.S. forces in Iraq. When the conversation turned to leadership issues, Abu Marwan's companion suggested that al-Qaeda replace al-Zarqawi with an Iraqi, "as it would have an enormous impact on the other groups." But an al-Zarqawi aide rebuffed the notion. "Who started our organization?" he asked rhetorically. No one was prepared to ask al-Zarqawi to step aside.

That episode might seem inconsequential in a long and bloody war that's growing deadlier on the ground--20 service members died last week, including 10 Marines killed by a bombing in Fallujah on Thursday--and increasingly unpopular at home. Yet it reflects a critical new dimension to the war, a shifting tide within al-Qaeda and the broader insurgency. The Jordanian-born al-Zarqawi and his network of hard-line jihadis have long been the driving force of the insurgency, transforming it from a nationalist struggle to one fueled by religious zealotry and infused with foreign recruits. But a Time investigation, based on dozens of interviews with military and intelligence officials as well as Iraqi leaders inside and outside the insurgency, reveals that Iraqis are reclaiming the upper hand, forcing al-Zarqawi to adjust. Differences between Baathist insurgent groups and al-Qaeda are driven by discomfort with al-Zarqawi's extreme tactics and willingness among some Iraqi commanders to join the political process. U.S. officials in Baghdad confirm to Time that they have stepped up their efforts to negotiate with nationalist insurgents and the Sunnis they represent. "We want to deal with their legitimate concerns," U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tells Time. "We will intensify the engagement, interaction and discussion with them." [complete article]

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Allawi attacked by mob in Najaf
By Juan Cole, Informed Comment, December 5, 2005

Since Allawi is basically running for prime minister in a majority pious Shiite society, the visit to the shrine in Najaf was intended to be a photo op that might help generate favorable campaign images. His attackers knew this and intended to spoil it.

Some analysts believe that Allawi's list, which got 14 percent in the last elections, will do better this time. But there was also a lot of this kind of speculation before the Jan. 30 elections. Basically it is a secular middle class perspective that journalists are more likely to encounter; but in fact the secular middle classes in Iraq have been devastated. Personally, I think the 14 percent was a fluke created in part by his advantages of incumbency (he was on television all the time in January of 2005, making all kinds of promises to various constituencies). He doesn't have those advantages any more, and may actually not run as well. Certainly, he won't get a big vote in Najaf. [complete article]

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Sunni candidates in Iraq find enemies on all sides
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 5, 2005

With just a little more than a week before the vote on Dec. 15 for a full, four-year government, the Bush administration sees Sunni Arab participation as the most crucial aspect of this final stage in the political process it created after toppling Saddam Hussein.

But perhaps no one has more enemies than the Sunni Arab politicians who have committed themselves to taking part in the elections. Claiming to speak for factions in the insurgency, they campaign by denouncing the Shiite-led government and American forces, yet are hounded by zealous Sunni militants like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who reject any involvement in the political process and brand the politicians as traitors. [complete article]

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Netanyahu urges bold Israeli action on Iran nukes
By Dan Williams, Reuters, December 4, 2005

Israel should take "bold and courageous" action against arch-foe Iran's nuclear programme, similar to its 1981 air strike on the main Iraqi atomic reactor, former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday. The frontrunner to head Israel's right-wing Likud Party ahead of March 28 elections, Netanyahu has been drawing battle lines with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who last week voiced hope that foreign diplomacy would prevent Iran getting the bomb.

"It must be understood that Iran cannot be allowed to develop a nuclear threat against Israel," Netanyahu told Israel Radio.

"I will pursue the legacy of (Prime Minister) Menachem Begin, who through a bold and courageous move did not allow a neighbour of Iran, Iraq, to develop such a threat. I believe that this is what Israel should do," he said. [complete article]

Comment -- This sounds like nothing more than campaign rhetoric coming from a man who wants to burnish his tough-guy image. If Israel did attack Iranian nuclear facilities, Iranian pledges to "wipe Israel off the map" notwithstanding, the Iranians would more likely take a diplomatically higher road and shut down oil production. They could afford to do that for a few months and then watch Washington sweat as gas prices pass $5 a gallon. That's why Netanyahu can huff and puff as much as he wants, but even if he became Israel's next prime minister (which itself doesn't sound likely) he's unlikely to get a green light from the US to attack Iran.

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Corrupt intentions
By Michael Kinsley, Slate, December 2, 2005

It used to be said that the moral arc of a Washington career could be divided into four parts: idealism, pragmatism, ambition, and corruption. You arrive with a passion for a cause, determined to challenge the system. Then you learn to work for your cause within the system. Then rising in the system becomes your cause. Then finally you exploit the system -- your connections in it, and your understanding of it -- for personal profit.

And it remains true, sort of, but faster. Even the appalling Jack Abramoff had ideals at one point. But he took a shortcut straight to corruption. On the other hand, you can now trace the traditional moral arc in the life of conservative-dominated Washington itself, which began with Ronald Reagan's inauguration and marks its 25th anniversary in January. Reagan and company arrived to tear down the government and make Washington irrelevant. Now the airport and a giant warehouse of bureaucrats are named after him.

By the 20th anniversary of their arrival, when an intellectually corrupt Supreme Court ruling gave them complete control of the government at last, the conservatives had lost any stomach for tearing down the government. George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" was more like an apology than an ideology. Meanwhile Tom DeLay -- the real boss in Congress -- openly warned K Street that unless all the choice lobbying jobs went to Republicans, lobbyists could not expect to have any influence with the Republican Congress. This warning would be meaningless, of course, unless the opposite was also true: If you hire Republican lobbyists, you and they will have influence over Congress. And darned if DeLay didn't turn out to be exactly right about this! [complete article]

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Rice defends rendition, reiterates anti-torture policy
By Glenn Kessler and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, December 5, 2005

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this morning responded to growing concerns in Europe over reports of CIA prisons in Eastern Europe and the use of European airports to transport terror suspects, arguing that U.S. intelligence operations have "fully respected the sovereignty" of countries cooperating with the United States and conform with international law.

Rice made the lengthy statement minutes before boarding her plane for a five day trip to Europe, seeking to quell a storm that has erupted since The Washington Post reported on November 2 about the clandestine prison system. [complete article]

U.K. 'breaking law' over CIA secret flights
By Ian Cobain and Luke Harding, The Guardian, December 5, 2005

The British government is guilty of breaking international law if it allowed secret CIA "rendition" flights of terror suspects to land at UK airports, according to a report by American legal scholars.

Merely giving permission for the flights to refuel while en route to the Middle East to collect a prisoner would constitute a breach of the law, according to the opinion commissioned by an all-party group of MPs, which meets in parliament for the first time today.

The report comes as the US secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, arrives in Europe for a trip that has been overshadowed by the growing dispute about the CIA's use of rendition - the term used to describe the abduction of suspects who are taken to countries where they can be questioned outside the protection of US law. [complete article]

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Do Islamic radicalism and communism have anything in common?
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Washington Post, December 4, 2005

By asserting that Islamic extremism, "like the ideology of communism ... is the great challenge of our new century," Bush is implicitly elevating Osama bin Laden's stature and historic significance to the level of figures such as Lenin, Stalin or Mao. And that suggests, in turn, that the fugitive Saudi dissident hiding in some cave (or perhaps even deceased) has been articulating a doctrine of universal significance. Underlying the president's analogy is the proposition that bin Laden's "jihad" has the potential for dominating the minds and hearts of hundreds of millions of people across national and even religious boundaries. That is quite a compliment to bin Laden, but it isn't justified. The "Islamic" jihad is, at best, a fragmented and limited movement that hardly resonates in most of the world.

Communism, by comparison, undeniably had worldwide appeal. By the 1950s, there was hardly a country in the world without an active communist movement or conspiracy, irrespective of whether the country was predominantly Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist or Confucian. In some countries, such as Russia and China, the communist movement was the largest political formation, dominating intellectual discourse; in democratic countries, such as Italy and France, it vied for political power in open elections.

In response to the dislocations and injustices precipitated by the Industrial Revolution, communism offered a vision of a perfectly just society. To be sure, that vision was false and was used to justify violence that eventually led directly to the Soviet gulag, Chinese labor and "reeducation" camps, and other human rights abuses. Nonetheless, for a while, communism's definition of the future bolstered its cross-cultural appeal. [complete article]

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New attacks threaten political truce in Iraq
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, December 4, 2005

A recent wave of killings and assassinations in Iraq threatens a tenuous political truce between Arab Sunni Muslims and Shiite Muslims, the head of the country's most influential group of Sunni clerics said Saturday, 12 days before national parliamentary elections.

Abdul Salam Kubaisi, a senior official of the Sunni Association of Muslim Scholars, said the group would "reconsider the decisions" it reached with rival Shiites and Kurds at a national reconciliation conference last month in Cairo. The leaders had agreed that violence in Iraq should stop, U.S. forces should gradually withdraw and some detainees should be freed.

The agreement was hailed by the United States and other governments as an important step toward preventing the country from splitting into warring factions. But Kubaisi said the pledge to curb the violence had not been kept. He blamed the Shiite-led government's security forces and U.S. troops for the continuing attacks. [complete article]

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U.S. Army admits Iraqis outnumber foreign fighters as its main enemy
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, December 4, 2005

Of 1,300 suspected insurgents arrested over the past five months in and around Ramadi, none has been a foreigner. Col John Gronski, senior officer in the town, Anbar's provincial capital, said that almost all insurgent fighting there was by Iraqis. Foreigners provided only money and logistical support.

"The foreign fighters are staying north of the [Euphrates] river, training and advising, like the Soviets were doing in Vietnam," he said.

Although there are tensions between Iraqi insurgents and foreigners from the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, led by the Jordanian zealot Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, there are also alliances of convenience. [complete article]

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Top cleric backs Iraqi candidates with religious intent
By Liz Sly, Chicago Tribune (via Seattle Times), December 4, 2005

The revered Shiite religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani weighed into Iraq's election campaign Saturday with an instruction to his followers on how to vote that amounted to an endorsement of the ruling pro-Iranian Shiite coalition.

In what his aides described as an oral statement issued through his Office of Fatwa, or religious instruction, in the holy city of Najaf, al-Sistani said Shiites are obligated to vote in the Dec. 15 election. He also specified that they should favor lists of candidates who are religiously inclined and that they should not vote for "weak" ones.

The only group that fits that description is the United Iraqi Alliance, the heavyweight Shiite coalition of major religious parties that won the most votes in the last election and now dominates the government. [complete article]

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Private security guards in Iraq operate with little supervision
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2005

Private security contractors have been involved in scores of shootings in Iraq, but none have been prosecuted despite findings in at least one fatal case that the men had not followed proper procedures, according to interviews and documents obtained by The Times.

Instead, security contractors suspected of reckless behavior are sent home, sometimes with the knowledge of U.S. officials, raising questions about accountability and stirring fierce resentment among Iraqis.

Thousands of the heavily armed private guards are in Iraq, under contract with the U.S. government and private companies. The conduct of such security personnel has been one of the most controversial issues in the reconstruction of Iraq. Last week, a British newspaper publicized a so-called trophy video that appears to show private contractors in Iraq firing at civilian vehicles as an Elvis song plays in the background. [complete article]

See also, New Iraq 'trophy videos' raise fears on civilian deaths (The Telegraph).

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Bush's speech on Iraq war echoes voice of an analyst
By Scott Shane, New York Times, December 4, 2005

There could be no doubt about the theme of President Bush's Iraq war strategy speech on Wednesday at the Naval Academy. He used the word victory 15 times in the address; "Plan for Victory" signs crowded the podium he spoke on; and the word heavily peppered the accompanying 35-page National Security Council document titled, "Our National Strategy for Victory in Iraq."

Although White House officials said many federal departments had contributed to the document, its relentless focus on the theme of victory strongly reflected a new voice in the administration: Peter D. Feaver, a Duke University political scientist who joined the N.S.C. staff as a special adviser in June and has closely studied public opinion on the war.

Despite the president's oft-stated aversion to polls, Dr. Feaver was recruited after he and Duke colleagues presented the administration with an analysis of polls about the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004. They concluded that Americans would support a war with mounting casualties on one condition: that they believed it would ultimately succeed.

That finding, which is questioned by other political scientists, was clearly behind the victory theme in the speech and the plan, in which the word appears six times in the table of contents alone, including sections titled "Victory in Iraq is a Vital U.S. Interest" and "Our Strategy for Victory is Clear."

"This is not really a strategy document from the Pentagon about fighting the insurgency," said Christopher F. Gelpi, Dr. Feaver's colleague at Duke and co-author of the research on American tolerance for casualties. "The Pentagon doesn't need the president to give a speech and post a document on the White House Web site to know how to fight the insurgents. The document is clearly targeted at American public opinion." [complete article]

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State Department using ideological litmus tests to screen speakers
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, December 2, 2005

The State Department has been using political litmus tests to screen private American citizens before they can be sent overseas to represent the United States, weeding out critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, according to department officials and internal e-mails.

In one recent case, a leading expert on conflict resolution who's a former senior State Department adviser was scheduled to participate in a U.S. Embassy-sponsored videoconference in Jerusalem last month, but at the last minute he was told that his participation no longer was required.

State Department officials explained the cancellation as a scheduling matter. But internal department e-mails show that officials in Washington pressed to have other scholars replace the expert, David L. Phillips, who wrote a book, "Losing Iraq," that's critical of President Bush's handling of Iraqi reconstruction.

"I was told by a senior U.S. official that the State Department was conducting a screening process on intellectuals, and those who were against the Bush administration's Iraq policy were not welcomed to participate in U.S. government-sponsored programs," Phillips said.

"The ability of the United States to promote democracy effectively abroad is curtailed when we curtail free speech at home, which is essential to a free society," he said. [complete article]

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Israel, U.S. disagree on post-Assad Syria
By Nathan Guttman, Jerusalem Post, December 4, 2005

Israel and the US are at odds over the future of Syria in a post-Bashar Assad era, The Jerusalem Post has learned.

In a strategic dialogue held last week in Washington between the two countries, Israeli representatives warned that a future regime in Syria, should Assad lose power, might be just as problematic as the old one.

The Israelis projected three possible scenarios if the current regime does fall - all of them dangerous for the stability of the region.

The first was the possibility that Syria would deteriorate into total chaos and plunge into some sort of civil war; the second was that Assad would be succeeded by another member of the ruling Alawite sect who would be a hardliner like Assad; or, third, that an extreme Islamic regime would take over the country.

Sources briefed on the content of the talks said these Israeli warnings stood in stark contrast to the American view as it was presented in the dialogue. The Americans said they believed that, after Assad, Syria would go through an evolutionary process similar to the one Lebanon has experienced in the past year, and would transform into a free political society. [complete article]

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The hunt for Hercules N8183J
By Georg Mascolo, Hans-Jurgen Schlamp and Holger Stark, Der Spiegel, November 28, 2005

A bitter debate over torture has erupted in Europe. Washington is believed to have used EU countries as transit points for moving terrorism suspects to clandestine locations where they may have been tortured. The Council of Europe and other organizations are now demanding answers -- from the US and European countries who looked the other way.

A solitary confinement cage at Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
Dick Marty, a liberal-minded Swiss citizen with a gray beard, glasses and a high forehead, knows what it's like to face a powerful opponent. As a prosecutor, he once successfully prosecuted the Mafia. His current adversary is just as intimidating and perhaps even more secretive than the Mafia. It's the United States Central Intelligence Agency, which, in an effort to back the White House, has responded to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks by kidnapping terrorism suspects and presumably abusing them in secret prisons. Now the Council of Europe has hired Marty to find out which European countries may have helped the US agents achieve their objectives.

Last Friday, the Swiss prosecutor made it clear that he has no compunctions about picking a fight with the world's sole remaining superpower. A self-confident Marty filed a request with the European Union's satellite center in Torrejón, Spain for satellite photographs from the past three years. He hopes to use the images to determine whether the alleged secret prisons did in fact exist, in countries like Poland and Romania. He also contacted the European aviation authority, Eurocontrol, asking for data on the flight movements of 31 aircraft suspected of having served as CIA shuttles for the transport of prisoners or abducted terrorism suspects. [complete article]

See also, ACLU to sue CIA over detainee (Reuters).

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Blast in Pakistan kills Al Qaeda commander
By Craig Whitlock and Kamran Khan, Washington Post, December 4, 2005

The killing of an al Qaeda commander in a U.S.-led operation in a remote corner of Pakistan marks an advance in the struggle to locate and eliminate the network's leadership, which has managed to replenish its ranks after suffering key losses in recent years, counterterrorism officials and experts said Saturday.
Counterterrorism officials and analysts said Pakistan serves not just as a hiding place but as an effective base of operations for al Qaeda and other Islamic radical networks, giving them the ability to plan or carry out attacks around the world.

British investigators have found that some of the suicide attackers responsible for the July 7 subway and bus bombings in London had spent time in Pakistan before the attacks. U.S. officials have also complained that Taliban forces fighting the U.S. military in Afghanistan are able to regroup and find fresh recruits across the border in Pakistan.

"The real point here is that Musharraf is not making any dent in the issue that matters -- which is that the extremists are still operating rather freely in Pakistan and feel as comfortable there as ever," said M.J. Gohel, chief executive of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, a London research institute that specializes in security issues in South Asia. "What you need is to completely eradicate and eliminate the entire extremist infrastructure, but nothing has been done there. What has been done is the capture of individuals now and then to please Washington." [complete article]

See also, Officials: CIA missile strike kills al-Qaida no. 3 (NBC).

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Details emerge on a brazen escape in Afghanistan
By Eric Schmitt and Tim Golden, New York Times, December 4, 2005

The prisoners were considered some of the most dangerous men among the hundreds of terror suspects locked behind the walls of a secretive and secure American military detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan.

Their escape, however, might as well have been a breakout from the county jail.

According to military officials familiar with the episode, the suspects are believed to have picked the lock on their cell, changed out of their bright orange uniforms and made their way through a heavily guarded military base under the cover of night. They then crawled over a faulty wall where a getaway vehicle was apparently waiting for them, the officials said.

"It is embarrassing and amazing at the same time," an American defense official said. "It was a disaster."

The fact of the escape was disclosed by the American authorities shortly after it set off an intense manhunt at Bagram, 40 miles north of Kabul, on the morning of July 11. But internal military documents and interviews with military and intelligence officials indicate it was a far more serious breach than the Defense Department has acknowledged. [complete article]

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Intelligent design might be meeting its maker
By Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, December 4, 2005

To read the headlines, intelligent design as a challenge to evolution seems to be building momentum.

In Kansas last month, the board of education voted that students should be exposed to critiques of evolution like intelligent design. At a trial of the Dover, Pa., school board that ended last month, two of the movement's leading academics presented their ideas to a courtroom filled with spectators and reporters from around the world. President Bush endorsed teaching "both sides" of the debate - a position that polls show is popular. And Pope Benedict XVI weighed in recently, declaring the universe an "intelligent project."

Intelligent design posits that the complexity of biological life is itself evidence of a higher being at work. As a political cause, the idea has gained currency, and for good reason. The movement was intended to be a "big tent" that would attract everyone from biblical creationists who regard the Book of Genesis as literal truth to academics who believe that secular universities are hostile to faith. The slogan, "Teach the controversy," has simple appeal in a democracy.

Behind the headlines, however, intelligent design as a field of inquiry is failing to gain the traction its supporters had hoped for. It has gained little support among the academics who should have been its natural allies. And if the intelligent design proponents lose the case in Dover, there could be serious consequences for the movement's credibility. [complete article]

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Buried in Amman's rubble: Zarqawi's support
By Fawaz Gerges, Washington Post, December 4, 2005

Amid the continuing bloodshed in Iraq, there is evidence of fresh thinking. The change is, ironically, brought about by Abu Musab Zarqawi himself, whose indiscriminate terrorism appears to have succeeded in uniting people there against his global jihad ideology. Since the hotel bombings in Zarqawi's native Jordan, more and more Sunni Iraqis and Arabs have condemned the terrorist leader's nightmarish vision for their societies -- one that promises further "catastrophic" suicide attacks. Their reaction represents an important turning point, both for the militants for whom this change of outlook represents a new predicament and for the U.S. government, which must recognize that securing Iraq's future stability is not up to foreign military forces but depends on local public opinion. [complete article]

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All over but the pullback
By Jonathan Rauch, Washington Post, December 4, 2005

On June 8, 1969, President Richard M. Nixon announced the withdrawal of 25,000 American troops from Vietnam. Within the next few months, he would declare that tens of thousands more were coming home. "He was reluctant to withdraw," says John Mueller, a political scientist at Ohio State University and the author of several books on war and public opinion, "but he kept being pushed by politics."

Nixon recognized that, without U.S. military support, the government of South Vietnam would fall to the communist insurgency, and he believed that such a fall would represent a humiliating and costly defeat for the United States. "But Nixon realized that his approval ratings would slip fast unless he made progress in bringing the boys home," writes Stanley Karnow in "Vietnam: A History." American officials searching for a "breaking point" in Vietnam had found one, but what had broken was not the insurgency. It was U.S. public opinion: Americans no longer believed the war was worth it.

President Bush may not know it yet -- or, then again, he may -- but in Iraq he is about to do a Nixon. Psychologically and politically, the withdrawal phase has already begun. Militarily, the pullback will start within weeks, or at most months, of the Dec. 15 Iraqi parliamentary elections. [complete article]

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What planet are you on, Mr Bush? (and do you care, Mr Blair?)
By Geoffrey Lean and David Randall, The Independent, December 4, 2005

More than 100,000 people took to the streets in more than 30 countries yesterday, in the first world-wide demonstration to press for action to combat global warming.

The marches - timed to put pressure on the most important international climate-change negotiations since the agreement of the Kyoto Protocol eight years ago - took place against a background of a blizzard of new research showing that the heating of the planet is seriously affecting the world sooner than the scientists predicted.

The protests were directed primarily at President George Bush, who has been assiduously trying to sabotage the protocol and has ruled out even talking about setting targets for reducing the pollution that causes global warming, once the current targetsexpire. [complete article]

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Wrongful imprisonment: anatomy of a CIA mistake
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, December 4, 2005

In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany to pay an unusual visit to that country's interior minister. Ambassador Daniel R. Coats carried instructions from the State Department transmitted via the CIA's Berlin station because they were too sensitive and highly classified for regular diplomatic channels, according to several people with knowledge of the conversation.

Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri, for five months, and would soon release him, the sources said. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told even if Masri went public. The U.S. officials feared exposure of a covert action program designed to capture terrorism suspects abroad and transfer them among countries, and possible legal challenges to the CIA from Masri and others with similar allegations.

The Masri case, with new details gleaned from interviews with current and former intelligence and diplomatic officials, offers a rare study of how pressure on the CIA to apprehend al Qaeda members after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has led in some instances to detention based on thin or speculative evidence. The case also shows how complicated it can be to correct errors in a system built and operated in secret. [complete article]

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Women of Al Qaeda
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, December 12, 2005

Until recently, many analysts in American government agencies saw the threat of women suicide bombers as a largely theoretical problem. Their best judgment was that "Al Qaeda Central" -- the close-knit organization around Osama bin Laden and ideologue Ayman al-Zawahiri -- would resist any effort to use women as homicidal martyrs. But after the incidents of the past few weeks, they are taking the threat of female Islamic terrorists, particularly suicide bombers, much more seriously, according to two U.S. counterterrorism officials who asked for anonymity because they were discussing intelligence matters. Having seen the phenomenon spread suddenly to Iraq and Jordan, the U.S. officials worry that the plague will move still farther, with women suicide bombers carrying out attacks in Western Europe or the United States. [complete article]

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Their war, my memories
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, December 4, 2005

I left Iraq last summer after covering the conflict there for two years as a Los Angeles Times correspondent. There's a lot not to miss: the carnage, the ubiquitous sense of menace, the logistical barriers of reporting a story in a place where foreign journalists are shut out from much of Iraqi society. But there is also a deep sense of regret for having left behind so many Iraqi colleagues and friends, people who repeatedly risked their lives for me and others. Most have no chance to leave. It is hard to avoid feeling that I abandoned them, though none ever puts it that way. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

If America left Iraq
By Nir Rosen, The Atlantic Monthly, December, 2005

In Baghdad, reality counters rhetoric
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, December 1, 2005

Kurdish oil deal shocks Iraq's political leaders
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2005

Badr leader denies tie to secret Iraq prison
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, December 1, 2005

Why Iraq has no army
By James Fallows, Atlantic Monthly, December, 2005

U.S. military covertly pays to run stories in Iraqi press
By Mark Mazzetti and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2005

Killings linked to Shiite squads in Iraqi police force
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2005

Where is the Iraq war headed next?
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, November , 2005

The author of liberty, religion, and U.S. foreign policy
By John B. Judis, Dissent Magazine, Fall, 2005

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EMAIL UPDATES -- Click here to sign up for weekly email updates -- a digest of key articles from the last seven days. (Please include your name in the message and put "subscribe" in the subject line.)

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