The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Polarization in Iraqi military could lead to civil war, analysts say
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, December 30, 2005

By allowing Iraq's new military to be organized largely along ethnic and religious lines, the United States may inadvertently be deepening the divisions among the country's Kurdish north, Shiite Muslim south and Sunni Muslim Arab west and leaving the sects to fight over the heart of the country.

The creation of a national army to help unify and pacify Iraq is key to U.S. plans to begin significant withdrawals of American troops from Iraq in 2006, and President Bush and other top officials frequently cite the growing number of trained Iraqi troops as evidence of progress.

Iraqi officials and political leaders, however, said the dominance of Shiite and Kurdish militia members in many Iraqi army units had given Sunni insurgents a broader base of support and turned more Sunnis against the U.S. effort in Iraq.

The Sunnis "see them (insurgent fighters) as the only shield that can save them from what they think are official, militia-linked security forces," said Saleem Abdul Kareem, a political analyst at Karbala University in southern Iraq. [complete article]

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Chalabi named Iraq oil minister
By Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, December 31, 2005

As a fuel crisis deepened in Iraq, the government replaced its oil minister with controversial Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Chalabi, whose poor performance in the Dec. 15 elections was a setback in his recent attempt at political rehabilitation.

The oil minister, Ibrahim Bahr Uloom, was put on a mandatory, month-long leave. He had previously threatened to resign over the government's recent decision to increase gasoline prices sharply, a move that has outraged motorists and sparked attacks on gas stations and fuel convoys. [complete article]

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Justice Dept. investigating leak of NSA wiretapping
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, December 31, 2005

The Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation into recent disclosures about a controversial domestic eavesdropping program that was secretly authorized by President Bush after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, officials said yesterday.

Federal prosecutors will focus their examination on who may have unlawfully disclosed classified information about the program to the New York Times, which reported two weeks ago that Bush had authorized the National Security Agency to monitor the international telephone calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens and residents without court-approved warrants, officials said.

The Justice Department's decision to reveal the opening of a criminal investigation is rare, particularly given the highly classified nature of the probe. White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy told reporters in Crawford, Tex., yesterday that the department "undertook this action on its own" and that Bush had only learned about it from senior staff earlier in the day. [complete article]

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Is Washington planning a military strike?
Der Spiegel, December 30, 2005

Recent reports in the German media suggest that the United States may be preparing its allies for an imminent military strike against facilities that are part of Iran's suspected clandestine nuclear weapons program.

It's hardly news that US President George Bush refuses to rule out possible military action against Iran if Tehran continues to pursue its controversial nuclear ambitions. But in Germany, speculation is mounting that Washington is preparing to carry out air strikes against suspected Iranian nuclear sites perhaps even as soon as early 2006. [complete article]

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Memos 'prove evidence used from Uzbek secret police'
By Raymond Hailey, The Scotsman, December 31, 2005

A former British ambassador has defied the Foreign Office and published damning confidential documents which he says show the government knowingly used intelligence obtained by torture overseas.

Craig Murray, formerly the ambassador to Uzbekistan, could face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act after placing a series of memos between himself and the Foreign Office on the internet.

Mr Murray was intending to use his controversial material in a forthcoming book on his experiences in the former Soviet republic, but last week the Foreign Office told him not to publish the documents.

Mr Murray says the memos are proof that the government decided to use information obtained through torture by the notorious Uzbek secret police because it was useful in prosecuting the "war on terror". [complete article]

See also, Ex-envoy unleashes blog-based attack on UK's torture denials (The Register).

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A leader of Fatah makes plea from jail
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times (IHT), December 31, 2005

A Palestinian leader who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison vowed Friday that if his associates are elected in Palestinian elections on Jan. 25, corruption will be snuffed out and honest government installed.

Marwan Barghouti, formerly the head of Fatah in the West Bank, called on Palestinians "to renew their confidence in Fatah and give it another chance" in the parliamentary elections when Fatah faces a major political challenge from the radical Islamic movement Hamas.

Barghouti, convicted by an Israeli court for his role in the deaths of four Israelis and a foreigner, is popular among young Palestinians and recently forced Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to alter Fatah's election list to accommodate younger Barghouti allies.

Barghouti apologized to Palestinians for past mistakes by Fatah and promised that a new government would rebuild the security services, establish law and order, investigate old and new cases of corruption and malfeasance and punish all those responsible, "no matter their rank or position." [complete article]

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Covert CIA program withstands new furor
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, December 30, 2005

The effort President Bush authorized shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, to fight al Qaeda has grown into the largest CIA covert action program since the height of the Cold War, expanding in size and ambition despite a growing outcry at home and abroad over its clandestine tactics, according to former and current intelligence officials and congressional and administration sources.

The broad-based effort, known within the agency by the initials GST, is compartmentalized into dozens of highly classified individual programs, details of which are known mainly to those directly involved.

GST includes programs allowing the CIA to capture al Qaeda suspects with help from foreign intelligence services, to maintain secret prisons abroad, to use interrogation techniques that some lawyers say violate international treaties, and to maintain a fleet of aircraft to move detainees around the globe. Other compartments within GST give the CIA enhanced ability to mine international financial records and eavesdrop on suspects anywhere in the world. [complete article]

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Phone giants mum on spying
By Jon Van, Chicago Tribune, December 29, 2005

In the days following revelations that the Bush administration ordered the National Security Agency to spy on domestic telephone and Internet communications without a court order, one involved party has remained silent.

The nation's telephone giants--which control the data pipelines--have neither commented on nor denied their reported participation, nor have they reacted to the charge that they may have been complicit in violating privacy rights.

But historically the telecom companies have cooperated with the government on wholesale wiretapping, and the Bush administration's anti-terrorism programs appear to be no exception. [complete article]

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U.S. to launch phased Iraq pullout
AP (via, December 30, 2005

The U.S. will carry out planned withdrawals of American troops in Iraq only from regions where Iraqi forces can maintain security against the insurgents, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said Thursday.

Gen. Peter Pace said the current force of 160,000 would drop to below 138,000 by March, then U.S. commanders on the ground would work with the Iraqi government to determine the pace of future pullbacks in areas that have been secured by local security forces. [complete article]

Shiite cleric emerging as a highly influential political leader
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, December 29, 2005

Muqtada al-Sadr, the firebrand Shiite Muslim cleric who just a year ago encouraged his followers to kill U.S. soldiers, has successfully transformed his ragtag followers into a political force that could dramatically reshape the next parliament.

Preliminary results show al-Sadr supporters holding as many as 31 seats in the 275-seat parliament, a number, if it holds, that would make Sadrists the single-largest group in Iraq's first democratically elected permanent parliament. The Independent Electoral Commission of Iraq will release official election results as early as next week.

Al-Sadr's emergence as a potent political figure has prompted worries that the capricious leader could bring a hard-line Islamic slant to Iraq's new parliament, thwarting any remaining hopes that Iraqis can form a centrist, stabilizing government. [complete article]

Attacks halt production at Iraq's largest refinery
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Salih Saif Aldin, Washington Post, December 30, 2005

The United States and Iraq have been trying desperately to rebuild Iraq's energy sector as the foundation for other reconstruction work here. Although Iraq has one of the world's largest oil reserves, inadequate refining systems mean it must spend $500,000 a month importing fuel.

As a result, Iraqis already faced a choice between waiting for hours at gas stations or paying higher prices to buy gasoline on the black market. This week, insurgent attacks and heavy storms in the south brought oil production to some of its lowest levels since the war began in 2003, analysts told the Dow Jones news service. [complete article]

U.S. to restrict Iraqi police
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, December 30, 2005

After a series of prison abuse scandals that have inflamed sectarian tensions, U.S. officials announced plans Thursday to rein in Iraqi special police forces, increasing the number of American troops assigned to work with them and requiring consultations before the Iraqis mount raids in Baghdad.

The decision to impose more day-to-day oversight suggests a recognition within the U.S. military that the heavy-handed tactics of some Iraqi units, which are to increasingly take on the role of fighting insurgents, have aggravated the sectarian strife that helps fuel the insurgency.

More than 2 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion and 1 1/2 years after the formal end of the occupation, it also illustrates that Americans still have the final word on security matters. [complete article]

Are Iraqi police engaging in torture tactics?
By Richard Engel, NBC, December 29, 2005

U.S. military officials announced Thursday the discovery of three more secret prisons, like two others where Sunnis claimed they were tortured.

The Iraqi police who run them, U.S. officials say, have been infiltrated by Shiite militias that target Sunnis, and can no longer be trusted. [complete article]

Review of the year: Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, December 30, 2005

This was the year in which the US admitted it was not going to defeat the insurgency. It was the ebb tide of American and British power in Iraq. By the end of the year both countries were urgently looking to withdraw their troops in circumstances not too humiliating to themselves and without precipitating the complete collapse of the Iraqi state.

The failure of the US and Britain to win the war does not mean that the two-and-a-half year uprising among the Sunni Arabs has achieved all its aims. The beneficiaries from President George W Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003 are not the Sunni but the Iraqi Shia and the Kurds. Outside Iraq, the country which has gained most from the fall of Saddam Hussein is Iran. [complete article]

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Is outsourcing the next terror target?
By Aravind Adiga, Time, December 29, 2005

If the jihadist groups are indeed behind the attack [in Bangalore, South India, on December 28], then they have picked their target well. The Indian Institute of Science is one of India's most important scientific institutions, and its presence in Bangalore is a key reason that the city became India's technology powerhouse. That's why the psychological impact of the attack is immense—analogous to the impact that an attack on MIT would have in the United States. Jaswant Singh, a former finance minister of India and a member of the BJP, India's major opposition party, said that the attack could seriously hurt "the internal, international, and economic standing of the country." Terrorism experts warn that Bangalore remains an attractive target for any terror group looking to hit India. [complete article]

Why Americans should care about the increasingly radical insurgency in Bangladesh
By Eliza Griswold, Slate, December 29, 2005

When Bangladesh's first two suicide bombers blew themselves up recently, the attacks marked a significant escalation in the growing militant insurgency that threatens an already wobbly state. Now, at long last, the world is beginning to pay attention to the spate of bombings, killings, and threats against judges, lawyers, journalists, teachers, professors, politicians, and religious minorities by the banned jihadist group Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh, among others, for the past five years. [complete article]

Pakistani "Taliban" gain sway in tribal region
By Raja Asghar, Reuters, December 30, 2005

Pakistani followers of Afghanistan's Taliban have gained sway in a sensitive border area where they have been killing their opponents with impunity despite the heavy presence of government forces.

The word of the militants, who call themselves Taliban, has virtually become law in parts of the semi-autonomous North Waziristan tribal area while the military appears loathe to intervene. [complete article]

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Fears of new cold war as Russia threatens to switch off the gas
By Jeremy Page, The Times, December 30, 2005

Picture the families shivering in apartments without heating, factories grinding to a halt, frozen water pipes bursting in the depths of winter. Welcome to the new Cold War.

At 10am on Sunday, Russia is threatening to unleash the most powerful weapon in its post-Soviet arsenal: unless Ukraine agrees to a fourfold increase in the price it pays for gas, Russia will simply turn off the tap.

Nor is it just Ukraine under threat -- the EU imports about half of its gas from Russia and 80 per cent of that comes through Ukrainian pipelines.

So when President Putin met Ivan Plachkov, the Ukrainian Energy Minister, in Moscow yesterday, there was more at stake than relations between the neighbouring states. Analysts fear the dispute could provide a foretaste of how Russia will use its massive oil and gas reserves as a foreign policy tool in future disputes with the West. [complete article]

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Palestinian Authority fears large scale Israeli response to suicide attack
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, December 30, 2005

Security sources reported the Palestinian Authority fears a large scale Israel Defense Forces retaliation in Tul Karm following Thursday's suicide attack in which an IDF officer and two Palestinians were killed.

The sources said the PA and its Fatah party closed its offices in Tul Karm early ahead of a possible IDF response. Palestinian police officers that were uniformed before the attack reportedly changed to civilian clothes.

The three victims were killed Thursday morning when a suicide bomber blew himself up at an IDF checkpoint set up in the West Bank in response to warnings of an impending terrorist attack. The officer killed in the attack was named as Lieutenant Ori Binamo, 21, from Nesher. [complete article]

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Sharon triumphant
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly, December 29, 2005

Three months before the Israeli elections on 28 March 2006, Ariel Sharon stands as the undisputed master of his new Kadima Party, commanding what appears to be an unassailable lead in the polls. One month before the Palestinian parliamentary elections on 25 January 2006, Mahmoud Abbas stands at the head of a Fatah movement facing its worst schism in nearly 50 years, with no guarantee at all that it will remain the dominant force in Palestinian nationalism.

Those two realities summarise the cruel headline for 2005. The year amounted to a colossal success for Sharon and his solution for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and a colossal failure for Abbas and his Fatah. It had begun so differently. [complete article]

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NSA spied on its own employees, other U.S. intelligence personnel, and their journalist and congressional contacts
By Wayne Madsen, WMR (via CMI Brazil), December 29, 2005

NSA spied on its own employees, other U.S. intelligence personnel, and their journalist and congressional contacts. WMR has learned that the National Security Agency (NSA), on the orders of the Bush administration, eavesdropped on the private conversations and e-mail of its own employees, employees of other U.S. intelligence agencies -- including the CIA and DIA -- and their contacts in the media, Congress, and oversight agencies and offices.

The journalist surveillance program, code named "Firstfruits," was part of a Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) program that was maintained at least until October 2004 and was authorized by then-DCI Porter Goss. Firstfruits was authorized as part of a DCI "Countering Denial and Deception" program responsible to an entity known as the Foreign Denial and Deception Committee (FDDC). Since the intelligence community's reorganization, the DCI has been replaced by the Director of National Intelligence headed by John Negroponte and his deputy, former NSA director Gen. Michael Hayden.

Firstfruits was a database that contained both the articles and the transcripts of telephone and other communications of particular Washington journalists known to report on sensitive U.S. intelligence activities, particularly those involving NSA. According to NSA sources, the targeted journalists included author James Bamford, the New York Times' James Risen, the Washington Post's Vernon Loeb, the New Yorker's Seymour Hersh, the Washington Times' Bill Gertz, UPI's John C. K. Daly, and this editor [Wayne Madsen], who has written about NSA for The Village Voice, CAQ, Intelligence Online, and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). [complete article]

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Bush team rethinks its plan for political recovery
By Peter Baker and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, December 29, 2005

The lessons drawn by a variety of Bush advisers inside and outside the White House as they map a road to recovery in 2006 include these: Overarching initiatives such as restructuring Social Security are unworkable in a time of war. The public wants a balanced appraisal of what is happening on the battlefield as well as pledges of victory. And Iraq trumps all.

"I don't think they realized that Iraq is the totality of their legacy until fairly recently," said former congressman Vin Weber (R-Minn.), an outside adviser to the White House. "There is not much of a market for other issues." [complete article]

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Outside advocacy group aims to rally support by backing Bush's initial claims on Iraq
By Yochi J. Dreazen and John D. McKinnon, Wall Street Journal, December 28, 2005

The television commercials are attention-grabbing: Newly found Iraqi documents show that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, including anthrax and mustard gas, and had "extensive ties" to al Qaeda. The discoveries are being covered up by those "willing to undermine support for the war on terrorism to selfishly advance their shameless political ambitions."

The hard-hitting spots are part of a recent public-relations barrage aimed at reversing a decline in public support for President Bush's handling of Iraq. But these advertisements aren't paid for by the Republican National Committee or other established White House allies. Instead, they are sponsored by Move America Forward, a media-savvy outside advocacy group that has become one of the loudest -- and most controversial -- voices in the Iraq debate.

While even Mr. Bush now publicly acknowledges the mistakes his administration made in judging the threat posed by Mr. Hussein, the organization is taking to the airwaves to insist that the White House was right all along. [complete article]

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Pentagon calls its pro-U.S. websites legal
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2005

U.S. military websites that pay journalists to write articles and commentary supporting military activities in Europe and Africa do not violate U.S. law or Pentagon policies, a review by the Pentagon's chief investigator has concluded. But a senior Defense Department official said this week that the websites could still be shut down to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

The Pentagon inspector general's inquiry concludes that two websites targeting audiences in the Balkans and in the Maghreb region of northern Africa are consistent with U.S. laws prohibiting covert propaganda, are properly identified as U.S.-government products and are maintained in close coordination with U.S. embassies abroad, according to a previously undisclosed summary of the report's findings. [complete article]

See the U.S. European Command-operated web sites, Southeast European Times and Magharebia.

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U.S. says it didn't target Muslims
By Mary Beth Sheridan, Washington Post, December 29, 2005

Faced with angry complaints, U.S. officials defended an anti-terrorism program yesterday that secretly tested radiation levels around the country -- including at more than 100 Muslim sites in the Washington area -- and insisted that no one was targeted because of his or her faith.

One official knowledgeable about the program explained that Muslim sites were included because al Qaeda terrorists were considered likely to gravitate to Muslim neighborhoods or mosques while in the United States.

"If you were looking [for] the needle in a haystack, that's the haystack you would look at," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. "You'd look at the [likely] targets and the places the operators were." [complete article]

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Kurds are flocking to Kirkuk, laying claim to land and oil
By Edward Wong, New York Times, December 29, 2005

Clusters of gray concrete houses dot the barren plains surrounding this city, like seedlings scattered here by winds blowing down from the mountainous Kurdish homeland to the north.

The villages are uniformly spartan, except for the red, green and white flag of Iraqi Kurdistan sprouting from many rooftops, even though this province is not officially part of the Kurdish autonomous region.

The settlements' purpose is as blunt as their design: they are the heart of an aggressive campaign by the Kurds to lay claim to Kirkuk, which sits on one of the world's richest oil fields. The Kurdish settlers have been moving into the area at a furious pace, with thousands coming in the past few months, sometimes with direct financing from the two main Kurdish parties.

The campaign has emerged as one of the most volatile issues dogging the talks to form a new national government. In this region, it has ignited fury among Arabs and Turkmens, adding to already caustic tension in the ethnically mixed city, American and Iraqi officials say. [complete article]

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Iraq's history still divides children of Mesopotamia
By Borzou Daragahi and Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2005

The myth of a unified Iraqi identity may have finally been laid to rest this month.

More clearly than any other measurement since the U.S.-led 2003 invasion, preliminary results from the Dec. 15 parliamentary elections show Iraq as three lands with three distinct identities, divided by faith, goals, region, history and symbols.

Iraqis of all stripes say they are the descendants of Mesopotamia, the glorious great-grandchildren of the cradle of civilization.

Iraq, they point out, gave birth to law and the written word. And asked their faith, Iraqis often testily answer with the refrain: "There is no Sunni. There is no Shiite. We are all Iraqi."

But the preliminary election results, which have trickled out through a series of haphazard leaks and news conferences and remain disputed by all parties, show a nation starkly fragmented into ethnic and religious cantons with different aims and visions. [complete article]

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With satellite launch, EU positions itself to compete
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, December 29, 2005

The European Union on Wednesday launched the first satellite in its $4.5 billion Galileo global positioning system, a bid to enhance the world's growing reliance on satellite navigation and break the U.S. monopoly on space-based networks.

Officials of the European Space Agency said the Galileo system -- scheduled to begin operation in 2008 -- will double the world's satellite coverage, now provided by the U.S. military's Global Positioning System.

Galileo will be more accurate than its American counterpart for civilian uses and so will allow such enhanced services as tracing emergency calls to within a yard of their origin and helping tourists find an ATM in a strange city using a chip inserted into a cell phone, the officials said.

Many Europeans see political significance in the project, too: The world's only civilian-controlled system will give Europe and its partner nations independence from the United States, which has warned it could diminish or cut off GPS satellite coverage to countries considered enemies in times of national emergency. [complete article]

See also, Europe launches Galileo satellite (BBC).

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Chiefs demoted in Pentagon succession line
AP (via, December 29, 2005

Heading a military service isn't quite the position of power it used to be. In a Bush administration revision of plans for Pentagon succession in a doomsday scenario, three of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's most loyal advisers moved ahead of the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

A little-noticed holiday week executive order from President Bush moved the Pentagon's intelligence chief to the No. 3 spot in the succession hierarchy behind Rumsfeld. The second spot would be the deputy secretary of defense, but that position currently is vacant. The Army secretary, which long held the No. 3 spot, was dropped to sixth.

The changes, announced last week, are the second in six months and reflect the administration's new emphasis on intelligence gathering versus combat in 21st century war fighting. [complete article]

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NSA involved in snooping cookie shocker
ByAshlee Vance, The Register, December 29, 2005

Holy global eavesdropping network, Batman! The NSA has - or rather had - cookies on its website.

Daniel Brandt - he of Google watching and Wikipedia fiddling fame - discovered a pair of cookies lurking on the NSA's (National Security Agency) website. The cookies were set to expire in 2035 and could be used to track your online activity. That's a big no-no under federal rules that forbid the use of most persistent cookies. [complete article]

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Lawyers question use of U.S. spy program
Associated Press (via LAT), December 29, 2005

Lawyers for an Islamic scholar, a Fort Lauderdale computer programmer and an Ohio trucker want federal judges to determine whether evidence used against their clients was gathered by a secret domestic spying program.

Jonathan Turley, a George Washington University law professor, said Wednesday that there "seems to be a great likelihood" that Ali al-Timimi, a northern Virginia Islamic cleric convicted for exhorting followers after the Sept. 11 attacks to wage war against U.S. troops overseas, was "subject to this operation." [complete article]

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U.S. defends conduct in Padilla case
By Jerry Markon, Washington Post, December 29, 2005

A federal appeals court infringed on President Bush's authority to run the war on terror when it refused to let prosecutors take custody of "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla, the Justice Department said yesterday, as it urged the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene.

The sharply worded Justice Department filing was the latest salvo in an increasingly contentious battle over Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago in 2002 and initially accused of plotting to detonate a radiological "dirty bomb." Padilla was held for more than three years by the military before he was indicted last month in Miami on separate criminal terrorism charges. [complete article]

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New twist in Iran on plan for nuclear fuel
By Richard Bernstein and David E. Sanger, New York Times, December 29, 2005

In what may herald a sharp reversal of previous statements, a senior Iranian official said Wednesday that Iran would "seriously and enthusiastically" study a Russian proposal aimed at breaking the deadlock on efforts to block Iran from enriching nuclear fuel.

The official, Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of the Supreme National Security Council, was referring to a proposal made by Russia several weeks ago under which Iranian-produced uranium gas would be processed into fuel in Russia and returned to Iran.

The circuitous route would ensure that Iran would be able to produce fuel only for nuclear power, and could not enrich the uranium into a form that could be used in weapons. It would also slow Iran's ability to obtain enrichment technology. [complete article]

Europeans criticize U.S. sanctions as potential risk to Iran talks
Dan Bilefsky and David E. Sanger, New York Times and International Herald Tribune, December 29, 2005

New U.S. sanctions against nine foreign companies accused of aiding Iran's weapons programs could signal a harder line toward Tehran by the Bush administration and could hinder diplomatic efforts by Europe to end the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, EU officials and analysts said Wednesday.

The companies include six in China, two in India, and an Austrian arms manufacturer.

Reacting to the sanctions, which apply to Steyr-Mannlicher of Austria, over its sales of armor-piercing rifles with scopes to Iran, the Austrian government on Wednesday defended the company and questioned the sense of the U.S. move long after the deal was completed. [complete article]

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Kurds in Iraqi army proclaim loyalty to militia
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, December 27, 2005

Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.

Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops that are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.

The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga - the Kurdish militia - and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.

"It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion," said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. "Kirkuk will be ours." [complete article]

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Sunni lead mass Iraq poll protests
By Steve Negus and Jan Cienski, Financial Times, December 28, 2005

Thousands of Iraqis rallied in Baghdad yesterday, rejecting results in the December 15 parliamentary elections, while politicians started power-sharing talks between Shia, Kurdish and Sunni Arab leaders that may lead to a way out of the crisis.

Meanwhile, Poland's new government yesterday sent a request to Lech Kaczynski, president, to keep Polish troops in Iraq through 2006 to help train the Iraqi military.

The previous government had pledged to remove the 1,450 Polish troops by the end of this year. But Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, the prime minister, said he decided to prolong their stay after receiving requests from Iraqi officials and Polish allies. The soldiers will focus more on training Iraqis and less on combating insurgents.

In the Iraqi capital, an estimated 5,000-10,000 demonstrators representing Sunni Arab and secular groups claimed the massive lead taken by the Shia Islamists in the election stemmed from fraud and voter intimidation. [complete article]

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Iraqi parties try to lay foundation for broad coalition
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, December 28, 2005

Iraqi political leaders on Tuesday began what are expected to be protracted negotiations to form a "national unity" government made up of Iraq's main sectarian and ethnic groups.

Abdul Aziz Hakim, the head of the Shiite coalition that is expected to capture the largest share of votes that were cast in the parliamentary election on Dec. 15, traveled to the northern city of Erbil to meet with Masoud Barzani, the leader of the Kurdish Democratic Party. On Wednesday, Mr. Hakim is expected to met with Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president and head of the other large Kurdish party, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan. [complete article]

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At gas stations in Iraq, price hike fuels outrage
By Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, December 28, 2005

Until recently, Ahmed Taha saw himself as providing a public service, his bustling Abu Qlam gas station dispensing dirt-cheap fuel to Baghdad's growing horde of motorists.

Then one day last week, he said in an interview, the Iraqi government raised gas prices eightfold. Customers already frustrated by strict rationing and mile-long lines were outraged. Station operators got threatening messages to close their doors or else, and several came under armed attack, including at least three in the capital. A gas station run by Taha's brother-in-law was struck by a mortar shell Sunday.
The International Monetary Fund required Iraq to phase out its hefty fuel subsidies as a precondition for forgiving up to 80 percent of its $120 billion foreign debt.

Enacted days after the country's Dec. 15 election, the price increase has sparked large, mostly peaceful protests against the government in several cities. The timing of the decision spared politicians from voters' wrath, and now gas station operators say they have become the targets instead.

In the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk, the insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna left leaflets at several gas stations warning employees not to charge the higher prices and describing them as "apostates," or lapsed Muslims. [complete article]

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Telling it like it isn't
By Robert Fisk, Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2005

I first realized the enormous pressures on American journalists in the Middle East when I went some years ago to say goodbye to a colleague from the Boston Globe. I expressed my sorrow that he was leaving a region where he had obviously enjoyed reporting. I could save my sorrows for someone else, he said. One of the joys of leaving was that he would no longer have to alter the truth to suit his paper's more vociferous readers.

"I used to call the Israeli Likud Party 'right wing,' " he said. "But recently, my editors have been telling me not to use the phrase. A lot of our readers objected." And so now, I asked? "We just don't call it 'right wing' anymore."

Ouch. I knew at once that these "readers" were viewed at his newspaper as Israel's friends, but I also knew that the Likud under Benjamin Netanyahu was as right wing as it had ever been.

This is only the tip of the semantic iceberg that has crashed into American journalism in the Middle East. [complete article]

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Constituting Israel
By David B. Green, Boston Globe, December 25, 2005

When Israel came into existence as a state, in May 1948, its founders expected it to be a matter of years, if not months, before it adopted a constitution. Until then, its Declaration of Independence enumerated the basic principles upon which the state would stand, including equality of rights for all citizens, and "freedom, justice, and peace as envisaged by the Prophets of Israel." It also anticipated the preparation of a constitution, and when it became clear that that wasn't happening, the Knesset resolved to enact a number of initial "basic laws," which were meant to set out the workings of the fundamental institutions and principles of the state and to serve as the building blocks of the eventual document.

Nonetheless, 57 years and 11 basic laws later, Israel still lacks a constitution. Some would even say that the country's lack of a document of basic principles of government explains the political mess that it is in.

Nearly three-quarters of the Israeli public is in favor of a constitution, and a committee of the Knesset has spent the past three years holding hearings on the subject, preparing to draft its own version of one. But saying that Israelis desire a constitution is like saying that they would like to be at peace with their Palestinian neighbors: It doesn't begin to suggest the major constitutional issues that divide them.

The 20 percent of Israel's population who are Arabs view a constitution as an instrument to guarantee their equal rights both as individuals and as a national minority, whereas for Jewish nationalists, the document should define the way in which Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people. Orthodox Jews want a constitution to guarantee their continued monopoly over areas, like marriage and divorce, where religion and state overlap. But civil libertarians imagine a constitution that enshrines the individual freedoms that characterize most Western democracies. [complete article]

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High court urged to hear Padilla case
By Jerry Markon, Washington Post, December 28, 2005

Attorneys for "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla yesterday urged the U.S. Supreme Court to take up his case, saying the government's actions in detaining Padilla without charges for more than three years "highlight the danger of an unchecked Executive Branch."

The brief was the first time Padilla's attorneys have addressed the high court since he was indicted on terrorism charges by a federal grand jury in Miami. Padilla, a U.S. citizen arrested in Chicago in 2002, initially was accused of plotting to detonate a radiological "dirty bomb," declared an enemy combatant by President Bush and held for more than three years in Defense Department custody. He was indicted last month on criminal charges that do not mention the alleged bomb plot or any attack in the United States. [complete article]

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Defense lawyers in terror cases plan challenges over spy efforts
By Eric Lichtblau and James Risen, New York Times, December 28, 2005

Defense lawyers in some of the country's biggest terrorism cases say they plan to bring legal challenges to determine whether the National Security Agency used illegal wiretaps against several dozen Muslim men tied to Al Qaeda.

The lawyers said in interviews that they wanted to learn whether the men were monitored by the agency and, if so, whether the government withheld critical information or misled judges and defense lawyers about how and why the men were singled out.

The expected legal challenges, in cases from Florida, Ohio, Oregon and Virginia, add another dimension to the growing controversy over the agency's domestic surveillance program and could jeopardize some of the Bush administration's most important courtroom victories in terror cases, legal analysts say. [complete article]

See also, Secret court modified wiretap requests (Seattle P-I) and Rice authorized National Security Agency to spy on UN Security Council in run-up to war, former officials say (Raw Story).

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CIA probes renditions of terror suspects
AP (via, December 28, 2005

The CIA's independent watchdog is investigating fewer than 10 cases where terror suspects may have been mistakenly swept away to foreign countries by the spy agency, a figure lower than published reports but enough to raise some concerns.

After the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush gave the CIA authority to conduct the now-controversial operations, called "renditions," and permitted the agency to act without case-by-case approval from the White House or other administration offices.

The highly classified practice involves grabbing terror suspects off the street of one country and flying them to their home country or another where they are wanted for a crime or questioning.

Some 100 to 150 people have been snatched up since 9/11. Government officials say the action is reserved for those considered by the CIA to be the most serious terror suspects. [complete article]

Comment -- By reporting that "fewer than 10 cases" involved suspects "mistakenly swept away", Associated Press is making itself a lackey for the CIA's public affairs office. What AP should be relating and what the details of its report makes clear is that with a frequency approaching 1 in 10 times the CIA has been kidnapping the wrong guy. In other words, as they have implemented "rendition" operations, CIA operatives could accurately be described as incompetant outlaws.

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Nuclear clouds gather over Asia
By Praful Bidwai, IPS, December 26, 2005

The Asia-Pacific region has not only emerged as one of the main engines of the world economy but it has also taken the global centre-stage in developments pertaining to nuclear weapons and efforts to acquire a capability to make them.

From Iran and Israel in West Asia, through India and Pakistan in South Asia, to North Korea and Japan in the East, the region exhibited, in 2005, unprecedented activity in the nuclear field that can only intensify in the coming years.

In each of these countries, the United States plays a major role. Its policies of selectively favouring or opposing their nuclear activities will alter the strategic balance in some of the world’s most volatile regions.

"This is a marked shift from the cold war period, where the global nuclear centre of gravity lay in the all-out confrontation between the eastern and western blocs, which was most intense in Europe," says Achin Vanaik, professor of international relations and global politics at Delhi University. He is also a member of the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace and an independent nuclear expert. "Regrettably, Asia’s nuclear developments are dominated by a superpower that has set its face firmly against nuclear disarmament." [complete article]

Contractors are warned: cuts coming for weapons
By Lesley Wayne, New York Times, December 27, 2005

Everyone at the conference was hanging on the words of Ryan Henry, and it was not difficult to figure out why.

Mr. Henry, a top Pentagon planning official, was giving an early glimpse of the Defense Department's priorities over the next four years to an industry gathering in New York of executives of Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics and other leading military contractors.

For his listeners, there was one question hanging in the air: What will the impact be on me - and on my company?

Some of the answers were already clear, even if there were few details. Mr. Henry, whose official title is principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, said the Pentagon's spending binge of the last several years - its budget has increased 41 percent since 9/11 - cannot be sustained. "We can't do everything we want to do."

It was a message that the industry has been bracing for. The Pentagon budget, James F. Albaugh, chief executive of Boeing's $30 billion military division, said at the conference, has "been a great ride for the last five years." But, he added: "We will see a flattening of the defense budget. We all know it is coming. [complete article]

Scientists recruit wasps for war on terror
By Mimi Hall, USA Today, December 26, 2005

Scientists at a Georgia laboratory have developed what could be a low-tech, low-cost weapon in the war on terrorism: trained wasps.

The tiny, non-stinging wasps can check for hidden explosives at airports and monitor for toxins in subway tunnels.

"You can rear them by the thousands, and you can train them within a matter of minutes," says Joe Lewis, a U.S. Agriculture Department entomologist. "This is just the very tip of the iceberg of a very new resource." [complete article]

Comment -- Imagine for a moment that President Bush was suddenly blessed with a stunning new breadth of imagination. (I know, it's hard to imagine, but the beginning of a new year is always a good time to consider what's possible even if it seems improbable.) He might discover that there's never been a better time to lead a global movement for nuclear disarmament. What better way to burnish an image as a peacemaker and show that he understands what it means to weild some soft power? And while carving all the fat off the bloated defense budget, he could assure fearful Americans that they might actually get more protection from spending thousands of dollars on well-trained wasps than pouring billions into missile defense. Of course this would also require an unprecedented wave of imagination also sweeping across the whole nation. Idle thoughts, perhaps, but isn't this supposed to be a land of possibility?

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Once home, troops face new battle
By Vanessa Gregory and Claire Miller, Los Angeles Times, December 27, 2005

For the first time in two years, the soldiers of Company A are home for the holidays.

But normal life still eludes the families of the California National Guard unit -- based in this town north of San Francisco -- that suffered one of the state's highest casualty rates in Iraq. There are sudden overwhelming anxiety attacks, financial hardships and strained marriages.

"They bring home these empty shells of people, and that's what they are. They left the people they used to be behind," said Rene Gilmore, whose husband, Staff Sgt. Michael Gilmore, spent seven months on tense security patrols in Balad, Iraq, before he was wounded by a roadside bomb explosion.

Like many of the 7,000 California National Guard troops who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, the soldiers of Company A, 579th Engineer Battalion, returned to a system mainly equipped for weekend drills and periodic call-ups to state emergencies, such as forest fires.

Asked to play a front-line role overseas for the first time since the Korean War, members of the Guard nationwide often feel like second-class citizens when they return home. [complete article]

See also, A political debate on stress disorder (WP).

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Dispute delays handoff to Iraqi unit
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, December 27, 2005

A dispute between the U.S. military and Iraq's Defense Ministry over who will command the Iraqi army unit assuming responsibility for some of Baghdad's most sensitive sites has led to the postponement of a formal handover scheduled for Tuesday.

Since August, Col. Muhammed Wasif Taha has served as acting commander of the 5th Brigade, 6th Division of the Iraqi army, the unit set to take charge of a section of the capital including the airport road and the perimeter of the fortified Green Zone. The U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division currently controls both areas.

But the handoff ceremony has been delayed because Iraq's Defense Ministry has not approved Taha's appointment, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

"It is a bit of a showdown," said Capt. John Agnello, public affairs officer for Task Force 4-64, which is part of the 3rd Infantry Division and works closely with the Iraqi 5th Brigade. "We do not want to transfer authority if we don't know the person who will be put in command."

With the Iraqi army still viewed in parts of the country as a Shiite Muslim-dominated sectarian force, the appointment of Taha, a Sunni Arab considered an outstanding officer by U.S. forces, would be an important step, American commanders said. American officials have long sought to recruit more Sunnis for the Iraqi army in an attempt to improve its reputation among the Sunni populace. Sunnis make up the bulk of Iraq's insurgency. [complete article]

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Torture jails force ouster of Iraq chief
By Paul Martin, Washington Times, December 27, 2005

Iraqi Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, whose ministry is accused of operating clandestine prisons where some detainees were tortured, will vacate his job shortly, security and political sources in Baghdad said yesterday.

Mr. Jabr has been under pressure to step down since a Nov. 15 raid by U.S. forces of a secret prison in the Baghdad neighborhood of Jadriyah, where 166 prisoners were discovered, most of them Sunni Muslims and some showing signs of torture.

The minister also had been criticized amid widespread though largely unproven charges of abuses, including hit squads operating within the Interior Ministry, which is dominated by Shi'ite Muslims.

Multiple sources contacted by telephone from London agreed that Mr. Jabr would not retain his position. Most said he was being forced out, although one said he would resign of his own volition because he found the pressure unbearable. [complete article]

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Scholar stands by post-9/11 writings on torture, domestic eavesdropping
By Peter Slevin, Washington Post, December 26, 2005

John Yoo knows the epithets of the libertarians, the liberals and the lefties. Widely considered the intellectual architect of the most dramatic assertion of White House power since the Nixon era, he has seen constitutional scholars skewer his reasoning and students call for his ouster from the University of California at Berkeley.

Civil liberties advocates were appalled by a memo he helped draft on torture. The State Department's chief legal adviser at the time called his analysis of the Geneva Conventions "seriously flawed." Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote, in a critique of administration views espoused by Yoo, "a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens." [complete article]

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CIA team traveled Italy in style
By John Crewdson, Chicago Tribune, December 25, 2005

When the CIA decides to "render" a terrorism suspect living abroad for interrogation in Egypt or another friendly Middle East nation, it spares no expense.

Italian prosecutors wrote in court papers that the CIA spent "enormous amounts of money" during the six weeks it took the agency to figure out how to grab a 39-year-old Muslim preacher called Abu Omar off the streets of Milan, throw him into a van and drive him to the airport.

First to arrive in Milan was the surveillance team, and the hotels they chose were among the best Europe has to offer. Especially popular was the gilt-and-crystal Principe di Savoia, with acres of burnished wood paneling and plush carpets, where a single room costs $588 a night, a club sandwich goes for $28.75 and a Diet Coke adds another $9.35. [complete article]

See also, CIA "tradecraft" amateurish (Chicago Tribune).

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Fear destroys what bin Laden could not
By Robert Steinback, Miami Herald, December 26, 2005

One wonders if Osama bin Laden didn't win after all. He ruined the America that existed on 9/11. But he had help.

If, back in 2001, anyone had told me that four years after bin Laden's attack our president would admit that he broke U.S. law against domestic spying and ignored the Constitution -- and then expect the American people to congratulate him for it -- I would have presumed the girders of our very Republic had crumbled. [complete article]

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Bush presses editors on security
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, December 26, 2005

President Bush has been summoning newspaper editors lately in an effort to prevent publication of stories he considers damaging to national security.

The efforts have failed, but the rare White House sessions with the executive editors of The Washington Post and New York Times are an indication of how seriously the president takes the recent reporting that has raised questions about the administration's anti-terror tactics. [complete article]

Comment -- Kurtz might think these sessions indicate how serious Bush is about the way his policies get reported -- as though the editors of America's leading newspapers were simply drawn to the Oval Office by the irresistable gravity of the issues in question. Nevertheless, their very willingness to attend such closed-door meetings undermines the credibility of a free and open press.

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Bullet-riddled body of Iraqi student leader found
By Nabil Nourredine, Reuters, December 25, 2005

The bound and bullet-riddled body of an Iraqi student leader was found on Sunday, a few days after he led a campus march alleging fraud in last week's election, a students' group said.

The body of Qusay Salahaddin was found close to a hospital in the northern city of Mosul with his hands bound behind his back and marks of strangling on it, a hospital source said.

Gunmen took Salahaddin, president of Mosul University's students' union, from his house on Thursday and bundled him into the trunk of a car before driving off, said Mohammed Jassim, a friend of the victim. He said Salahaddin used his mobile phone to make last-ditch pleas for help.

"Save me, the Peshmerga have kidnapped me," Jassim quoted Salahaddin, a Sunni Arab, as saying before the line went dead, apparently referring to Kurdish militia groups operating in northern Iraq. [complete article]

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Violence flares up across Iraq
By Louise Roug and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2005

Bitter demonstrations and a series of roadside bombings and shootings across Iraq on Sunday and early today left at least 21 people dead, ending a relatively placid stretch since the parliamentary election a week and a half ago.

The violence comes after more than a week of discontent and acrimony among some voters over the preliminary results of the Dec. 15 balloting for the first permanent national government since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. [complete article]

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Iraq contingent may grow if attacks persist, Pace says
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, December 26, 2005

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace said Sunday that the number of U.S. troops in Iraq could increase next year, not decrease, if the insurgency continued.

Pace's comments on "Fox News Sunday" suggested that the Pentagon's plan to reduce the scale of American forces in Iraq, announced Friday by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, depended on several variables. [complete article]

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Shiites decline Sunni bid for more Iraq parliament seats
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, December 25, 2005

Sunni Arab political leaders asked the main Shiite political block today to give them 10 Shiite seats in the new parliament in an early attempt to defuse tensions over the results of last week's election. The Shiites refused the request.

A small committee headed by two independent Sunnis - Noori Arawi, Iraq's outgoing culture minister, and Zuhair Chalabi, the minister of human rights - met with members of the Shiite group, the United Iraqi Alliance, and relayed the request on behalf of the Sunni parties, said Sami al-Askari, an alliance member who was briefed on the meeting.

It was not clear that Iraqi election rules would permit such a seat donation.

Sunni Arabs have expressed anger over what they say was widespread fraud in the election, and the move by the Sunni block, the largest group of Sunni parties, which is known as the Iraqi Consensus Front, was an effort to prevent a looming deadlock that could lead to months of delays over forming a new government and fuel the insurgency. [complete article]

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U.S. seeks to escape brutal cycle in Iraqi city
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, December 26, 2005

On one of his last days in Iraq, Sgt. Dale Evans looked out over the turbulent city from a rooftop tower piled high with sandbags, manning a machine gun. Below him, rows of Bradley Fighting Vehicles stood at the ready. Dusty streets were lined with coiled barbed wire and abandoned houses pockmarked from gunfire -- a protective no-man's land around a base that U.S. commanders describe as their "battleship" in downtown Samarra.

This month, Evans and his company from the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, will leave Patrol Base Uvanni, beginning a third attempt in as many years by U.S. forces to hand this Sunni city over to Iraqi police. It's a major test for the U.S. military in Iraq, and one U.S. commanders here say they can't afford to fail. [complete article]

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U.S. preparing for Iraq exit
By Robert Burns, AP (via Yahoo), December 25, 2005

At every stop on his three-day tour of Iraq, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld sent a similar message: The U.S. military is not rushing to get out, but it is getting out, nevertheless.

In his public appearances with U.S. soldiers and commanders, as well as with Iraqi officials, Rumsfeld emphasized the positive -- an elected Iraqi government is being formed under a new constitution, and Iraq's own soldiers and police are shouldering more of the security duties.

In other words, the U.S. military is getting out. [complete article]

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Hizbullah is Lebanon's bulwark against Al-Qaeda
By Clancy Chassay, Daily Star, December 24, 2005

Since the events of September 11, 2001, there have been numerous attempts to link Hizbullah to Al-Qaeda - some more plausible than others. Investigation, however, reveals considerable animosity between the two groups, and two leading academics on the subject suggest Hizbullah may be Lebanon's best protection against an Al-Qaeda presence in the country. [complete article]

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Post-9/11 rush mixed politics with security
By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham, Washington Post, December 25, 2005

As a small start-up company in Massachusetts sought to become a major player in the business of homeland security, it hired a lobbyist and attended a fundraiser for one of the most powerful members of Congress.

The company was Reveal Imaging Technologies Inc. The congressman was Rep. Harold "Hal" Rogers (R-Ky.). The fundraiser, held Oct. 22, 2003, brought in $14,000 from Reveal and was the beginning of a mutually beneficial association.

Reveal had just received a government grant to develop smaller, cheaper explosives-detection machines to scan baggage at the nation's airports. Rogers, who chairs the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee, said he wanted the machines to improve security while saving taxpayers money.

In the end, Reveal received a federal contract from the Transportation Security Administration worth up to $463 million. Rogers achieved his goal of launching the next generation of machines. In the process, he received $122,111 in donations to his leadership political action committee from Reveal executives and associates -- and a pledge from the company to move $15 million worth of work to Rogers's poor Appalachian congressional district. [complete article]

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The agency that could be Big Brother
By James Bamford, New York Times, December 25, 2005

Jokingly referred to as "No Such Agency," the N.S.A. was created in absolute secrecy in 1952 by President Harry S. Truman. Today, it is the largest intelligence agency. It is also the most important, providing far more insight on foreign countries than the C.I.A. and other spy organizations.

But the agency is still struggling to adjust to the war on terror, in which its job is not to monitor states, but individuals or small cells hidden all over the world. To accomplish this, the N.S.A. has developed ever more sophisticated technology that mines vast amounts of data. But this technology may be of limited use abroad. And at home, it increases pressure on the agency to bypass civil liberties and skirt formal legal channels of criminal investigation. Originally created to spy on foreign adversaries, the N.S.A. was never supposed to be turned inward. Thirty years ago, Senator Frank Church, the Idaho Democrat who was then chairman of the select committee on intelligence, investigated the agency and came away stunned.

"That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people," he said in 1975, "and no American would have any privacy left, such is the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn't matter. There would be no place to hide."

He added that if a dictator ever took over, the N.S.A. "could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back." [complete article]

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U.S. spying is much wider, some suspect
By Josh Meyer and Joseph Menn, Los Angeles Times, December 25, 2005

Phone companies and others have cooperated with U.S. agencies including the NSA for years. In the early 1990s, AT&T agreed to use an NSA-designed chip to ensure that law enforcement had access to phone calls.

And AT&T has a database code-named Daytona that keeps track of phone numbers on both ends of calls as well as the duration of all land-line calls, according to a business executive who has been briefed on the system.

"This started as a way for phone companies to dig out fraud," the executive said Saturday. After Sept. 11, intelligence agencies began to view it as a potential investigative tool, and the NSA has had a direct hookup into the database, he said.

After such massive volumes of information are collected, they are searched for suspicious language. The administration could thus argue that only hundreds of people were monitored because those conversations were the ones that were flagged because they contained suspicious words, [cryptography expert Bruce] Schneier said.

"If a computer looks at all e-mail and says 'bing' once, is that monitoring one person or millions?" Schneier asked. "The Bush numbers are depending on that subterfuge." [complete article]

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Officials want to expand review of domestic spying
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, December 25, 2005

Congressional officials said Saturday that they wanted to investigate the disclosure that the National Security Agency had gained access to some of the country's main telephone arteries to glean data on possible terrorists.

"As far as Congressional investigations are concerned," said Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, "these new revelations can only multiply and intensify the growing list of questions and concerns about the warrantless surveillance of Americans."

Members of the Judiciary Committee have already indicated that they intend to conduct oversight hearings into the president's legal authority to order domestic eavesdropping on terrorist suspects without a warrant.

But Congressional officials said Saturday that they would probably seek to expand the review to include the disclosure that the security agency, using its access to giant phone "switches," had also traced and analyzed phone and Internet traffic in much larger volumes than what the Bush administration had acknowledged. [complete article]

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U.S., citing abuse in Iraqi prisons, holds detainees
By Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times, December 25, 2005

The commander of American-run prisons in Iraq says the military will not turn over any detainees or detention centers to Iraqi jailers until American officials are satisfied that the Iraqis are meeting United States standards for the care and custody of detainees.

"Bottom line, we will not pass on facilities or detainees until they meet the standards we define and that we are using today," the commander, Maj. Gen. John D. Gardner of the Army, said in a telephone interview this week from Iraq.

The comments by General Gardner come in the aftermath of two recent raids of Iraqi government detention centers that uncovered scores of abused prisoners. They also follow calls by American officials for the Iraqi government to bar militias from dominating the security forces. American military experts have joined Iraqi officials in inspecting Iraqi detention centers. [complete article]

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In Iraq, a push for unity on Vote
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, December 25, 2005

Iraq's largest Sunni parties, together with the secular Shiite leader and former interim prime minister Ayad Allawi, have denounced the elections as fixed and threatened to boycott the next parliament if the vote is not rerun. In a demonstration Friday by more than 10,000 Iraqis, protesters held banners that vowed to "extinguish the candle" -- a reference to the symbol employed by the Shiite parties during the campaign.

In response, leaders of top Shiite religious parties such as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq said Saturday that Iraqi law precluded repeating the elections. "What is happening in the streets is led by gangs of the former regime insurgents who don't want to fix the results" but want to "disrupt the political process," Jawad Maliki, a senior member of the Supreme Council, said at a news conference in Baghdad.

Despite the public standoff, factional leaders are engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations. Maliki acknowledged in Saturday's news conference that Iraq could not move forward without factional unity and that negotiations had "started already between us and the slates that won in the elections, away from the voices we hear in the street."

"The next government will have a full term of four years, which requires that we have agreement on how to positively run the government and the state," said Alaa Makki, a senior member of the Iraqi Islamic Party, the country's largest Sunni political organization. "We don't want to end up with a government similar to the current one." [complete article]

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Pro-Israel group criticizes White House policy on Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, December 25, 2005

After years of unwavering support for the Bush administration, the powerful pro-Israel lobbying group AIPAC has begun to sharply criticize the White House over its handling of Iran's nuclear program.

In lengthy news releases and talking points circulated to supporters on Capitol Hill, AIPAC describes the Bush administration's recent policy decisions on Iran as "dangerous," "disturbing" and "inappropriate." One background paper suggests that White House policies are actually helping Iran -- a sworn enemy of the Jewish state -- to acquire nuclear weapons.

The tough words from one of Washington's most well-connected and influential lobbies come at a difficult time for President Bush, who has been struggling with low poll numbers and growing public discontent over the war in Iraq. [complete article]

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U.S. missteps leave Iraqis in the dark
By T. Christian Miller, Los Angeles Times, December 25, 2005

When the United States fires up the last generator at this remote power plant this week, it will mark the conclusion of one of the most frustrating episodes in the effort to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.

A pile of gray metal swarming with construction workers in the deserts of southern Iraq, the Khor Zubayr generating station is the final power plant being built under Washington's ill-fated $4-billion attempt to restore Iraq's electrical supply to its prewar level.

The massive U.S. effort will leave behind this legacy: Iraqis will actually have, on average, fewer hours per day of electricity in their homes than they did before the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

"The money was not effective," Muhsin Shalash, Iraq's minister of electricity, said in an interview. "The contracting was wrong. The whole planning was wrong…. It's a big problem."

U.S. officials have blamed insurgent attacks, unchecked demand and the poor conditions of Iraq's power plants for hobbling the bid to restore electricity. But interviews with dozens of U.S. and Iraqi officials reveal that poor decisions by the United States also played a significant role. [complete article]

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Iraq seeks return of 'Dr. Germ,' other suspects
Reuters (via MSNBC), December 24, 2005

Iraq's national security adviser said on Saturday he wanted to re-arrest Saddam Hussein's former top weapons experts, as the U.S. military confirmed the release of 14 more high-ranking detainees.

Scientists Rihab Taha and Huda Ammash -- "Dr. Germ" and "Mrs. Anthrax" to the Western media -- were among eight former senior figures under Saddam freed on Dec. 17. Along with several of the 14 more now technically freed, they appear to be still in U.S. care for their own protection, awaiting flights abroad. [complete article]

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Facts and fantasies about Arab satellite TV
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, December 24, 2005

The recent British press revelation that President George W. Bush last year told U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair that Washington was considering bombing the Qatar headquarters of the pan-Arab satellite station Al-Jazeera (denied by the White House) brought to new levels of intensity and idiocy the ongoing tension between the American government and some Arab satellite channels. This is the most dramatic edge of a wider phenomenon that is being extensively discussed in the Middle East and throughout the West: the virtually unregulated Middle Eastern and global Arabic-language satellite services, and their impact on Arab social and political sentiments, especially their views of the U.S. and Israel. [complete article]

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A daily record of America's post-9/11 impact on the world
researched, edited and sprinkled with occasional commentary by Paul Woodward

A resource for more information about Iraq, the Middle East conflict, Afghanistan, Korea, nuclear proliferation, war, peace, and the foreign policies of the Bush Administration.

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Middle East Blogs:
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Reference:| Arab Gateway| Bartleby| Brookings Institution| Cambridge Dictionaries| CIA Factbook| Corp Watch| Cryptome| Federation of American Scientists| FirstGov| GAO| Geographic Names| Global Security| Human Rights Watch| Index of Censorship| Institute for Policy Studies| International Crisis Group| Maps - Iraq| Maps - Occupied Territories| Maps - World| Media Matters| Media Transparency| National Security Archive| Nuclear Threat Initiative| Open Secrets| Pentagon| Population Database| PR Watch| Project on Defense Alternatives| Right Web| Source Watch| State Dept.| Union of Concerned Scientists| US Congress| Wayback Machine| The White House| Wikipedia| Worldwatch Institute| World Resources Institute

World News - Regional
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