The War in Context  
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Reunified Islam: unlikely but not entirely radical
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, January 14, 2006

When Osama bin Laden called the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon "a very small thing compared to this humiliation and contempt for more than 80 years," the reference was to the aftermath of World War I, when the last caliphate was suspended as European powers divided up the Middle East. Al Qaeda named its Internet newscast, which debuted in September, "The Voice of the Caliphate."

Yet the caliphate is also esteemed by many ordinary Muslims. For most, its revival is not an urgent concern. Public opinion polls show immediate issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and discrimination rank as more pressing. But Muslims regard themselves as members of the umma , or community of believers, that forms the heart of Islam. And as earthly head of that community, the caliph is cherished both as memory and ideal, interviews indicate.

That reservoir of respect represents a risk for the Bush administration as it addresses an issue closely watched by a global Islamic population estimated at 1.2 billion. Already, many surveys show that since the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, Muslims almost universally have seen the war against terrorism as a war on Islam. [complete article]

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A natural history of peace
By Robert M. Sapolsky, Foreign Policy, January/February, 2006

Humans like to think that they are unique, but the study of other primates has called into question the exceptionalism of our species. So what does primatology have to say about war and peace? Contrary to what was believed just a few decades ago, humans are not "killer apes" destined for violent conflict, but can make their own history.
As field studies of primates expanded, what became most striking was the variation in social practices across species. Yes, some primate species have lives filled with violence, frequent and varied. But life among others is filled with communitarianism, egalitarianism, and cooperative child rearing.

Patterns emerged. In less aggressive species, such as gibbons or marmosets, groups tend to live in lush rain forests where food is plentiful and life is easy. Females and males tend to be the same size, and the males lack secondary sexual markers such as long, sharp canines or garish coloring. Couples mate for life, and males help substantially with child care. In violent species, on the other hand, such as baboons and rhesus monkeys, the opposite conditions prevail.

The most disquieting fact about the violent species was the apparent inevitability of their behavior. Certain species seemed simply to be the way they were, fixed products of the interplay of evolution and ecology, and that was that. And although human males might not be inflexibly polygamous or come with bright red butts and six-inch canines designed for tooth-to-tooth combat, it was clear that our species had at least as much in common with the violent primates as with the gentle ones. "In their nature" thus became "in our nature." This was the humans-as-killer-apes theory popularized by the writer Robert Ardrey, according to which humans have as much chance of becoming intrinsically peaceful as they have of growing prehensile tails.

That view always had little more scientific rigor than a Planet of the Apes movie, but it took a great deal of field research to figure out just what should supplant it. After decades' more work, the picture has become quite interesting. Some primate species, it turns out, are indeed simply violent or peaceful, with their behavior driven by their social structures and ecological settings. More important, however, some primate species can make peace despite violent traits that seem built into their natures. The challenge now is to figure out under what conditions that can happen, and whether humans can manage the trick themselves. [complete article]

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Airstrike by U.S. draws protests from Pakistanis
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, January 14, 2006

Pakistan's government on Saturday condemned a deadly American airstrike on a village in the northwestern tribal region, and a Pakistani security official said he was confident that Ayman al-Zawahiri, the No. 2 leader of Al Qaeda and the target of the strike, had not been in the village when it was hit.

In criticizing the attack, Pakistan's information minister, Sheik Rashid Ahmed, spoke in general terms and avoided blaming the United States specifically. The Associated Press quoted him as saying that the government wanted "to assure the people we will not allow such incidents to reoccur."

Local officials in the Bajaur district, which includes the village Damadola, where the airstrike happened, said 18 civilians were killed in the attack, including six children. But the Pakistani security official who spoke of Mr. Zawahiri seemed to suggest that the death toll was higher, and he said that at least 11 militants were killed in the attack. Seven of the dead were Arab fighters, and another four were Pakistani militants from Punjab Province, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the news media. [complete article]

See also, Attack kills 8 villagers in Pakistan tribal area (January 8, NYT).

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U.S. sources: If Hamas in PA gov't, aid could be cut
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, January 14, 2006

U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority would be reviewed and possibly reduced if it gave Hamas a role in government after this month's Palestinian election, U.S. diplomatic sources said on Friday.

The warning came as top Bush administration officials stepped up pressure on PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to disarm the Islamic militant group which the United States classifies as a terrorist organisation.

The U.S. wants the January 25 parliamentary election to take place as scheduled to strengthen Palestinian democracy and has reluctantly accepted Hamas's participation in the poll. [complete article]

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Divided Fatah braces for check on power
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, January 14, 2006

The party that has led the Palestinian national cause for more than four decades is bracing for the loss of its unchecked authority in elections this month, uncertain about what real political opposition could mean for its future or for the prospects of peace with Israel.

Fourteen months after the death of its founding leader, Yasser Arafat, the Fatah movement is fracturing along generational lines and losing support over its failures in governing the territory Palestinians envision as their state. Growing lawlessness, a sinking economy and corruption among its senior leaders have cost Fatah to an extent that will be measured Jan. 25 in the Palestinians' first parliamentary elections in a decade.

Fatah's divisions have been a boon to the disciplined Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas. For the first time, the party at war with Israel is extremely likely to join the politically weak and financially destitute Palestinian Authority, established under a Fatah-led peace process that Hamas has always opposed. [complete article]

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Voices of the new Arab public
Marc Lynch interviewed by Bradford Plumer, Mother Jones, January 12, 2006

In April of 2004, as the insurgency in Iraq was steadily worsening, President Bush met with Tony Blair and reportedly floated the idea of bombing the headquarters of al-Jazeera in Doha, Qatar. Bush had his reasons: The satellite network, after all, was at the time single-handedly shaping the outcome of the battle against insurgents in Fallujah, by broadcasting images of violence and civilian casualties from inside the besieged city to its 200 million viewers across the Middle East, eventually forcing the U.S. military to withdraw from the city in the face of widespread protests.

President Bush was hardly the only person to see al-Jazeera as an enemy of the United States. Then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz accused al-Jazeera of "inciting violence" and "endangering the lives of American troops" in Iraq. Middle East expert Walid Phares has labeled the network "Jihad TV." William F. Buckley, Jr., once wrote an editorial in the National Review demanding that al-Jazeera be "put out of business." To hear this side, the popular network—which from 1997 until about 2003 was the first and only truly independent Arab news channel out there—broadcasts nothing but sensationalist images that rile the Arab public and foment anti-Americanism. Is that all there is?

Far from it, argues Marc Lynch, in his new book, Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today. Insofar as U.S. policy in the Middle East is to promote democracy and reform, al-Jazeera -- along with the networks that have recently sprung up to imitate it -- may be America's most useful ally. In part thanks to new media such as satellite TV and the internet, a new public sphere is emerging in the Arab world, where political issues can be debated and the status quo criticized for the first time in history. Talk shows on al-Jazeera have provided a forum for Arabs to debate the future of the region, and to agitate for democratic change. (Indeed, al-Jazeera receives as much criticism from despotic Arab regimes as it does from the United States.) Says Lynch: "What I call the new Arab public is palpably transforming Arab political culture, [and] building the underpinnings of a more liberal, pluralist politics." [complete article]

See also, Marc Lynch's blog, Abu Aardvark.

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New Army documents confirm black ops "Special Access Program" unit covered up detainee abuse
ACLU, January 12, 2006

The American Civil Liberties Union today released new documents obtained from the Defense Department detailing abuse at U.S. facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay. Included in the release is the first publicly available government document confirming the existence of a secret "Special Access Program" involving a special ops unit, Task Force 6-26, which has been implicated in numerous detainee abuse incidents in Iraq, and whose operatives used fake names to thwart an Army investigation.

"These documents confirm that the torture of detainees and its subsequent cover-up was part of a larger clandestine operation, in all likelihood, authorized by senior government officials," said ACLU attorney Amrit Singh. "Despite mounting evidence of systemic abuse authorized or endorsed from above, however, not a single high level official has thus far been brought to justice."

In one Army file, an investigator states that he is unable to continue an investigation into claims that a detainee captured by Task Force 6-26 in Tikrit, Iraq, was stripped, humiliated and physically abused until he passed out, because the unit accused of the abuse is part of the Special Access Program (SAP). A memorandum included in the report states that "fake names were used by the 6-26 members" and that the unit claimed to have a computer malfunction which resulted in the loss of 70 percent of their files. The memorandum concludes, "Hell, even if we reopened [the investigation] we wouldn't get any more information than we already have." [complete article]

See also, Tough interrogation tactics were opposed (WP) and Charges sought against officer at Abu Ghraib(LAT).

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Iraq moves a step closer to civil war; the MSM yawn
By Arianna Huffington, Huffington Post, January 12, 2006

Will yesterday's in-your-face decision by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, Iraq's most influential Shiite leader, to renege on his pledge to amend the new Constitution in a manner acceptable to Sunnis be the shove in the back that sends Iraq over the brink into all-out civil war?

It certainly has that potential.

Before the constitution was put to a vote in October, Sunnis were threatening to boycott the referendum.

The problem? The charter contains provisions that decentralize political power in the country in a way that leaves the vast majority of Iraqi oil under the control of Kurds and Shiites -- and the Sunnis facing an impoverished future. [complete article]

See also, Shi'ite challenge to US policy (Asia Times).

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Iran threatens to block U.N. inspections
By John Ward Anderson and Daniela Deane, Washington Post, January 13, 2006

Iran threatened Friday to block U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities and end all voluntary cooperation if it is referred to the U.N. Security Council as the long confrontation over Iran's nuclear program escalated.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, quoted by the state-run news agency IRNA, said 2 1/2 years of talks over Iran's nuclear issue would then end. He said it is up to France, Britain and Germany to make that decision.

"The Iranian government will have to stop all its voluntary cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog" if the case is referred to the United Nations Security Council, Mottaki said. Mottaki insisted that Iran's "right to access nuclear technology is not associated with the will of any particular country." Last year, Iran's parliament passed a law mandating that cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, be terminated if it was sent to the Security Council. [complete article]

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"They don't take the threat of sanctions seriously"
Karim Sadjadpour (ICG) interviewed by Der Spiegel, January 13, 2006

Karim Sadjadpour: A situation like you see in Iraq -- a full-blown military confrontation -- is out of the question. Iran realizes that, the US realizes that. The second possible issue is what's called 'surgical strikes,' and I think given the precedent of Osirak, Iraq's nuclear reactor which the Israelis bombed in 1981, the Iranians have dispersed their sites throughout the country. Some of them are underground, so it's not quite clear that if there were surgical strikes, that they would be constructive. You don't know if you've got the right sites; there might be clandestine sites you don't know about. So I think, from the standpoint of the West, neither of those options is very good.
SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are unconfirmed reports about Israel and the US possibly having plans for surgical strikes.
Sadjadpour: I'm sure there are contingency plans that have been made, but whether they'll be executed -- the odds right now are very slim. The first step is a referral to the Security Council, then you give Iran another chance to move away from the cliff. If they don't take the chance, if they continue not to cooperate, then you have a situation of graduated sanctions: sanctions on dual-use technologies; possibly freezing the assets of Iranian officials abroad; and denying Iranian officials visas for travel abroad. There are four or five layers of things first that have to happen before you see some type of military action. [complete article]

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Israel wants West to deal more urgently with Iran
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, January 13, 2006

With Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map," Israeli officials have special reasons for concern now that Iran has defied the West and said it will resume enriching uranium.

The Israelis are engaged in a careful effort to press the United States and the Europeans to deal more urgently with Iran. Israel has no intention for now of trying to deal with Iran alone or through military means, officials say.

But Israeli officials are worried that politicians in the United States and Europe are focusing on estimates of when Iran might actually have a bomb - rather than concentrating on the "point of no return," perhaps within the next year, when they argue Iran may gain enough technical knowledge to make the fissile material needed for a weapon. After that point, in the Israeli view, it is simply a matter of time until Iran is nuclear-armed. [complete article]

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Hamas drops call for destruction of Israel from manifesto
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 13, 2006

Hamas has dropped its call for the destruction of Israel from its manifesto for the Palestinian parliamentary election in a fortnight, a move that brings the group closer to the mainstream Palestinian position of building a state within the boundaries of the occupied territories.

The Islamist faction, responsible for a long campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis, still calls for the maintenance of the armed struggle against occupation. But it steps back from Hamas's 1988 charter demanding Israel's eradication and the establishment of a Palestinian state in its place.

The manifesto makes no mention of the destruction of the Jewish state and instead takes a more ambiguous position by saying that Hamas had decided to compete in the elections because it would contribute to "the establishment of an independent state whose capital is Jerusalem". [complete article]

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Ban shifts Hamas to quiet campaign
By Matthew McAllester and Timothy M. Phelps, Newsday, January 10, 2006

If it can't campaign like the rest of the Palestinian parties, Hamas will campaign in secret.

Banned from public electioneering in Jerusalem by the Israeli government, the Palestinian militant group has forsaken the leaflets, posters, public meetings and banners that it is using elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza as it contests its first parliamentary elections on Jan. 25.

"We are campaigning through family meetings, knocking on doors, visiting house to house," said Mohammed Abu Teir, 55, a former preacher and prisoner running as a candidate for Hamas, which Israel and the Bush administration consider a terrorist organization.

"Beyond the checkpoints we have conferences and debates," Abu Teir continued, in his living room in this village within Jerusalem's municipal borders. "But here we're meeting the heads of families inside the city limits." [complete article]

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Al-Qaeda's man who knows too much
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, January 5, 2006

He was once close to Osama bin Laden, has intimate knowledge of al-Qaeda's logistics and financing and its nexus with the military in Pakistan, yet US intelligence has not been able to get its hands on him.

Ghulam Mustafa, 38, was picked up about 10 days ago in Lahore, and no charges have been brought against him: he is expected to disappear into a "black hole" and quietly be forgotten.

This is because Mustafa, erstwhile head of al-Qaeda's Pakistani operations, has some tales to tell, but the authorities in Pakistan would rather they were not heard, especially by the Americans, even though Islamabad is a signed-up member in the "war on terror". [complete article]

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Iran and Israel will be kings of the Middle East jungle
By David Hirst, The Guardian, January 13, 2006

In March 2003, before US troops reached Baghdad, Middle East scholar Volker Perthes wrote that while the risks of this "illegitimate" war were enormous, those of "a US failure to stabilise postwar Iraq would be even higher". With those words looking increasingly prophetic, no one, in picturing the implications of such failure, is now more lurid than the Bush administration. The direness of the prospect has become its strongest argument for "staying the course", but for others it is already a given, amounting to "the greatest strategic disaster in US history", in the words of the retired US general William Odom.

If so, what will this disaster look like? In scale, it will surely be at least commensurate with the vast ambitions that came with the invasion in the first place, Iraq being cast as the platform for reshaping the entire Middle East.

A general US retreat from the region, with troop withdrawal at its core, is no doubt a prerequisite for, and yardstick of, the emergence of a healthy, self-reliant new Middle Eastern order. But, with the kind of ignominious scuttle from Iraq that failure would presumably entail, the region won't just revert to the status quo ante. Instead of Iraq becoming a beacon of all good things it will become the single most noxious wellspring of all the bad ones the invasion was supposed to extinguish - and new ones to boot. [complete article]

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A firebrand in a house of cards
By Dariush Zahedi and Omid Memarian, New York Times, January 12, 2006

In defying international monitors and breaking the seals on its nuclear facilities, Iran seems to be courting confrontation. But Western leaders would do well to consider what President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's bravado really says about Iran's likely posture in the region and at the nuclear talks that are scheduled to resume at the end of January. To continue down the path of conflict could be very costly, both for the regional interests of the United States and most of all, for the territorial integrity of Iran.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is surely motivated by ideology and the desire to solidify the position of the security faction within Iran's ruling elite. But he also appears to be acting on the perception that the United States is in a position of considerable, indeed unprecedented, weakness. America's military is overstretched in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Washington has focused on monitoring North Korea's nuclear program rather than Iran's. If threatened, Iran could wreak havoc in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel. These observations may lead Mr. Ahmadinejad to an incorrect assessment of Iran's strength relative to any American threat. [complete article]

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Sanctions on Iran just a start
By Paul Reynolds, BBC News, January 12, 2006

Sanctions against Iran would herald the start of a new era of confrontation - without being certain of achieving their aim of ending Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Any sanctions would be mainly economic. Their effect is questionable. And there are several stages to be gone through before they could be imposed.

To start with, Western countries have to agree among themselves that Iran's decision to remove UN seals and resume uranium enrichment research crosses a red line and means the end, for now at least, of diplomacy. [complete article]

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Iran -- What if?
By Claude Salhani, UPI, January 12, 2006

The threshold will soon be crossed when the Iranian facilities become "hot," meaning an attack on the sites would endanger the environment, most likely causing the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in Iran. Can you say Chernobyl?

So what if Israel and/or the United States did actually venture into unchartered waters and decided to carry out military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities? What are the likely consequences?

First, given the complexity of such an undertaking -- given that, according to Iranian dissident sources, there are anywhere between 200 and 300 possible sites -- the scope of the military operation would have to be formidable. It would require top-notch intelligence to identify and strike only at relevant sites. Assuming that 200 sites are targeted, such a military operation would require at least 600 airplanes, again assuming that only three planes were assigned to hit each facility. [complete article]

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Jill Carroll update
Christian Science Monitor, January 12, 2006

Vigorous efforts are under way on many fronts – by the Monitor, many media organizations, and government forces in Iraq – to locate and secure the release of Jill Carroll, the freelance reporter kidnapped January 7 in Baghdad while on assignment for the Monitor. No one has yet claimed responsibility for her kidnapping.

We will post any new information on this site.

Meanwhile, reactions from her friends and colleagues paint a clear picture of Ms. Carroll's life as a Middle East correspondent and of her dedication to in-depth coverage of Iraq. [complete article]

See also, Reporters in Baghdad join in search for Carroll kidnapper(E&P).

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German spies aided U.S. attempt to kill Hussein in aerial attack
By Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2006

With the battle of Baghdad raging on April 7, 2003, an intelligence tip was rushed to a special Pentagon targeting team: Saddam Hussein and his two sons had been spotted near a chicken restaurant in the city's wealthy Mansour district.

Less than 45 minutes later, a B-1 bomber obliterated the site with four satellite-guided bombs, leaving a deep crater and at least a dozen dead. The Iraqi ruler, it soon became clear, was not among them.

An Iraqi informant provided the initial tip. But U.S. officials now say confirmation came from an unusual source: two German military intelligence operatives who stayed in a Baghdad safe house after Berlin had closed its embassy. [complete article]

See also, German spies deny guiding US bomb raids in Iraq (Reuters).

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Intelligence-kidnapping-Qaeda connections
By Roland Flamini, UPI, January 9, 2006

Susanne Osthoff, the German archeologist kidnapped by Iraqi gunmen on Nov. 25 and released before Christmas was connected with her country's intelligence service, the BND, and had helped arrange a meeting with a top member of the terrorist organization al-Qaida, possibly Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi himself, according to well informed German sources Sunday.

The sources confirmed German press reports that the 43-year-old woman had worked for the BND in Iraq on a freelance basis, and had for some time even stayed in a German intelligence safe house in Baghdad.
The Germans' tentative contacts with al-Qaida reflect Berlin's belief in the existence of another split within the Iraqi-based al-Qaida organization itself. While Zarqawi calls for the Americans to leave, their departure must be far from his intentions since it would undermine his terrorist mission. "Assuming the U.S. pullout continues, Zarqawi's days in Iraq are numbered," says a diplomatic source in Washington. This situation is forcing al-Qaida to think strategically about what to do next. [complete article]

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Local insurgents tell of clashes with Al Qaeda's forces in Iraq
By Sabrina Tavernise and Dexter Filkins, New York Times, January 12, 2006

The story told by the two Iraqi guerrillas cut to the heart of the war that Iraqi and American officials now believe is raging inside the Iraqi insurgency.

In October, the two insurgents said in interviews, a group of local fighters from the Islamic Army gathered for an open-air meeting on a street corner in Taji, a city north of Baghdad.

Across from the Iraqis stood the men from Al Qaeda, mostly Arabs from outside Iraq. Some of them wore suicide belts. The men from the Islamic Army accused the Qaeda fighters of murdering their comrades.

"Al Qaeda killed two people from our group," said an Islamic Army fighter who uses the nom de guerre Abu Lil and who claimed that he attended the meeting. "They repeatedly kill our people."

The encounter ended angrily. A few days later, the insurgents said, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and the Islamic Army fought a bloody battle on the outskirts of town.

The battle, which the insurgents said was fought on Oct. 23, was one of several clashes between Al Qaeda and local Iraqi guerrilla groups that have broken out in recent months across the Sunni Triangle. [complete article]

Democracy Arsenal

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Confusion on the streets, solidarity in the regime as Iran chooses brinkmanship
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, January 12, 2006

The heavy snowfall yesterday, compounding the thick blanket of pollution that habitually engulfs Tehran in the dead of winter, seemed emblematic of the confusion many Iranians now have over their government's decision to resume nuclear research activities in the face of fierce criticism from the west.

The White House yesterday stepped up diplomatic pressure by saying that Iran had made a "serious miscalculation" by clearing the way to resume uranium enrichment, and that intensive diplomacy with European allies and others was starting over what to do next. In London, Tony Blair said it was likely that the US and Europe would agree to refer Iran to the UN security council.

Conscious of the clamour from the west to refer Iran to the council, some people voiced mistrust of their country's nuclear ambitions and feared that the issue could escalate into military conflict. Others, more sympathetic to the Islamic regime, asserted Iran's right to nuclear energy, and even nuclear weapons, saying the nation was being singled out by Islam's enemies.

It was a sharp division of opinion unlikely to be mirrored within the regime itself, said analysts. While the power structure is riddled with disagreements between the ultra-Islamist government of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and more traditional conservatives in parliament, senior regime figures are at one in backing the hardball approach on the nuclear issue. The reason is that the most sensitive nuclear decisions are in the hands of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, rather than with President Ahmadinejad. [complete article]

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CIA prisons alleged in fax
By Letta Tayler, Newsday, January 12, 2006

An intercepted Egyptian government fax alleges the CIA operated five secret detention centers in Europe for terror suspects, adding new fuel to the controversy over the purported prisons.

The authenticity of the information in the fax, which was intercepted in November by the Swiss secret service, has not been verified. Moreover, some of the European countries named in the fax deny hosting CIA prisons.

But the report has heightened concern in Europe over the possible existence of the interrogation centers and CIA use of European airspace to fly prisoners to secret locations. [complete article]

See also, Swiss government probes leak on CIA (IHT).

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General asserts right on self-incrimination in Iraq abuse cases
By Josh White, Washington Post, January 12, 2006

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller, a central figure in the U.S. detainee-abuse scandal, this week invoked his right not to incriminate himself in court-martial proceedings against two soldiers accused of using dogs to intimidate captives at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, according to lawyers involved in the case.

The move by Miller -- who once supervised the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and helped set up operations at Abu Ghraib -- is the first time the general has given an indication that he might have information that could implicate him in wrongdoing, according to military lawyers.
Miller's decision came shortly after Col. Thomas M. Pappas, the commanding officer at Abu Ghraib, accepted immunity from prosecution this week and was ordered to testify at upcoming courts-martial. Pappas, a military intelligence officer, could be asked to detail high-level policies relating to the treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib.

He also could shed light on how abusive tactics emerged, who ordered their use and their possible connection to officials in Washington, according to lawyers and human rights advocates who have closely followed the case. Pappas has never spoken publicly. Crawford said Miller was unaware of Pappas's grant of immunity. "This could be a big break if Pappas testifies as to why those dogs were used and who ordered the dogs to be used," said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. "It's a steppingstone going up the chain of command, and that's positive. It might demonstrate that it wasn't just a few rotten apples." [complete article]

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Ugly phrase conceals an uglier truth
By Salman Rushdie, Sydney Morning Herald (via Common Dreams), January 9, 2006

Beyond any shadow of a doubt, the ugliest phrase to enter the English language last year was "extraordinary rendition". To those of us who love words, this phrase's brutalisation of meaning is an infallible signal of its intent to deceive.

"Extraordinary" is an ordinary enough adjective, but its sense is being stretched here to include more sinister meanings that your dictionary will not provide: secret; ruthless; and extrajudicial.

As for "rendition", the English language permits four meanings: a performance; a translation; a surrender - this meaning is now considered archaic; or an "act of rendering"; which leads us to the verb "to render" among whose 17 possible meanings you will not find "to kidnap and covertly deliver an individual or individuals for interrogation to an undisclosed address in an unspecified country where torture is permitted".

Language, too, has laws, and those laws tell us this new American usage is improper - a crime against the word. Every so often the habitual newspeak of politics throws up a term whose calculated blandness makes us shiver with fear - yes, and loathing. [complete article]

Comment -- Behind the issue of torture lurk broader questions about our conception of law.

In the absence of public debate on this issue, two conceptions of law are implicitly being contested. The Cheney view of law comes out of the claimed necessity that -- as Robert Kagan puts it -- the United States "must live by a double standard."

The rule of law within the state is supposedly being maintained by a willingness to disregard law outside the state. Intelligence agencies are the preferred tool for the state's outlaw activities. The citizenry's peace of mind and faith in the integrity of its political leaders requires that state-employed outlaws (clandestine operatives, sub-contracted torturers, and so forth) conduct their work in secret. The "necessity" used to justify this double standard is a schism in the world separating those who live in law-abiding civilized states from a Hobbesian outer world populated by individuals who regard civilization and its laws with contempt. The borders of civilization cannot be defended, however, if its defenders are constrained by the rules that pertain within. It all sounds so logical and darkly heroic!

In contrast to this view of rule-of-law as a privelage enjoyed by the civilized, is a conception of law towards which no state (however "civilized") can claim a unique allegiance. This is natural law; it affords no room to torture or its defenders. This is the law that no lawyer can finesse; it provides no convenient loopholes. Ultimately, its adjudication takes place in our own conscience.

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Pentagon to set new communications policy: official
By Charles Aldinger, Reuters (via WP), January 11, 2006

The Pentagon, stung by criticism over secret U.S. military payments to Iraqi newspapers to print pro-American articles, is moving to develop a "strategic communications" plan, a senior defense official said on Wednesday.

The White House and some members of Congress have expressed concern over the payments, but the military says it is important to spread the truth in Iraq to counter what it calls lying by insurgents to the Iraqi people. [complete article]

Comment -- The Pentagon's winning hearts and minds and spreading the truth! Lordy, Lordy! I guess there's no point reading The War in Context. Just head on over to DefenseLINK and get the pure, unalloyed, gospel truth. Who needs a free press?

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NSA whistleblower alleges illegal spying
By Brian Ross, ABC News, January 10, 2006

Russell Tice, a longtime insider at the National Security Agency, is now a whistleblower the agency would like to keep quiet.

For 20 years, Tice worked in the shadows as he helped the United States spy on other people's conversations around the world.

"I specialized in what's called special access programs," Tice said of his job. "We called them 'black world' programs and operations."

But now, Tice tells ABC News that some of those secret "black world" operations run by the NSA were operated in ways that he believes violated the law. He is prepared to tell Congress all he knows about the alleged wrongdoing in these programs run by the Defense Department and the NSA in the post-9/11 efforts to go after terrorists. [complete article]

See also, Probe set in NSA bugging (WP) and Americans divided on eavesdropping program, poll finds (WP.

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Hamza 'preached sermons of murder and hatred'
By Pat Clarke and Neville Dean, PA (via The Independent), January 11, 2006

The Muslim cleric Abu Hamza preached "murder and hatred" to his followers, telling them it was their "religious duty to kill" non-Muslims, a court heard today.

Hamza singled out Jews, proclaiming in one of his sermons that "Hitler was sent into the world" because of their "treachery, blasphemy and filth", the Old Bailey was told.

Hamza, 47, from west London, faces nine charges under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861 alleging he solicited others at public meetings to murder Jews and other non-Muslims. [complete article]

See also, Hamza wanted Islamic leader in the White House (Reuters).

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Confidence game
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 10, 2006

The only nuclear program about which any hard evidence exists is the one at the heart of the current crisis: the public program. Iran hid many of the details about its activities for 20 years while trying to acquire the recipe for nuclear enrichment. Its operations were only exposed by an exile group in 2002, but since then Iran has observed the letter, if not the spirit, of the NPT. Would attacks be launched against sites already under inspection, possibly using information gleaned by the inspectors? The very thought undermines the whole process.

Even some of the most rabid Iranian opposition groups think the mullahs can withstand whatever the Israelis or Americans throw at them from the air -- and in the aftermath the Iranian public would rally around the turbans. Indeed, some opposition groups think Ahmadinejad is intentionally goading the Israelis to launch a strike for just that reason. "If they attack him, he will have his war; if they do not, he will have his bomb," says one well-connected exile who still makes occasional visits to Tehran and asked not to be named. [complete article]

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Stakes in Iraq are high, but how high?
By Mark Sappenfield, Christian Science Monitor, January 11, 2006

Time and again, President Bush has insisted that his administration will settle for nothing less than "complete victory" in Iraq.

Likewise, prominent members of Congress, such as Sens. John McCain (R) and Joseph Lieberman (D), have said America "cannot afford to lose."

Yet as a new Iraqi government inches toward taking more responsibility, what the United States will accept as victory is much more than a rhetorical exercise to reassure the American public about the course of the war. Rather, defining victory serves as a measuring stick of when and if the US should begin to disengage.

The base line for success is only a relatively stable government that denies terrorists a haven, analysts say. Yet in a polarized Congress and country pulled between the extremes of staying the course at any cost and withdrawing as soon as possible, there has been little dialogue about what the most realistic waymarks might be, or what America should do when Iraq does - or does not - meet them. [complete article]

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In strong words, Bush tries to redirect debate on Iraq
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, January 11, 2006

President Bush issued a stark warning to Democrats on Tuesday about how to conduct the debate on Iraq as midterm elections approach, declaring that Americans know the difference between "honest critics" and those "who claim that we acted in Iraq because of oil, or because of Israel, or because we misled the American people."

In a speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars here, Mr. Bush appeared to be trying to pre-empt a renewal of arguments about whether to begin a withdrawal immediately, as Representative John Murtha argued in November, or whether to keep a large presence in Iraq through the year.

Democrats themselves have been deeply divided on that issue, even while criticizing Mr. Bush's conduct of the war.

In some of his most combative language yet directed at his critics, Mr. Bush said Americans should insist on a debate "that brings credit to our democracy, not comfort to our adversaries." That follows a theme that Vice President Dick Cheney set last week, when he said critics of the administration's conduct of the war risked undercutting the effort to defeat the insurgency. [complete article]

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A Shiite leader says no changes allowed for Iraqi charter
By John O'Neil, New York Times, January 11, 2006

The leader of Iraq's most powerful party said today that Shiites would not allow substantive changes to the country's new constitution, despite a promise to Sunnis made before its ratification.

Last summer, as Sunni Arabs protested vehemently against the proposed constitution, the Shiite and Kurd leaders who dominated its drafting promised there would be a four-month window for amending the document following the formation of a new government.

But Abdul Azziz al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, the most influential group in the ruling Shiite coalition, today said that "the first principle is not to change the essence of the constituion," according to the Associated Press.

"This constitution was endorsed by the Iraqi people," he said, during a speech in honor of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha.

Mr. Hakim appeared to rule out in particular any change in the constitution's provisions allowing the creation of strong regional provinces, a point that had angered many Sunnis.

"It is our responsibility to form Baghdad provinces and southern Iraq provinces," Mr. Hakim said. [complete article]

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U.S. airstrikes in Iraq could intensify
By Drew Brown, Knight Ridder, January 10, 2006

U.S. warplanes have carried out hundreds of airstrikes in Iraq in the past two years, bombing and strafing insurgent fighters and targets almost daily. And the air war, which has gone largely unnoticed at home, could intensify once American ground forces start to withdraw.

Since Iraq doesn't have a working air force, U.S. jets are expected to provide air cover for Iraqi troops for at least several more years.

Some analysts have raised questions about how effective air power can be in a counterinsurgency war. A key fear is that Iraq's mostly Shiite Muslim and Kurdish army will use American and allied bombing missions for revenge attacks on the Sunni Muslim Arab minority, which provides most of the insurgency's fighters. [complete article]

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A formula for slaughter
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, January 11, 2006

A little over a year ago, a group of Johns Hopkins researchers reported that about 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died as a result of the Iraq war during its first 14 months, with about 60,000 of the deaths directly attributable to military violence by the U.S. and its allies. The study, published in The Lancet, the highly respected British medical journal, applied the same rigorous, scientifically validated methods that the Hopkins researchers had used in estimating that 1.7 million people had died in the Congo in 2000. Though the Congo study had won the praise of the Bush and Blair administrations and had become the foundation for UN Security Council and State Department actions, this study was quickly declared invalid by the U.S. government and by supporters of the war.

This dismissal was hardly surprising, but after a brief flurry of protest, even the antiwar movement (with a number of notable exceptions) has largely ignored the ongoing carnage that the study identified. [complete article]

Comment -- There were obviously many reasons why this report did not get the attention it deserved, but in the last days of the 2004 presidential election campaign there was furious competition for headlines. The day after the Lancet report came out, it was Osama bin Laden who stole the show. Couple that piece of headline news with the then ongoing brouhaha about the missing explosives from Al Qaqaa -- two made-for-TV stories -- and a report based on statistical analysis didn't stand a chance.

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Army's Iraq work assailed by Briton
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, January 11, 2006

A senior British officer has written a scathing critique of the U.S. Army and its performance in Iraq, accusing it of cultural ignorance, moralistic self-righteousness, unproductive micromanagement and unwarranted optimism there.

His publisher: the U.S. Army.

In an article published this week in the Army magazine Military Review, British Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster, who was deputy commander of a program to train the Iraqi military, said American officers in Iraq displayed such "cultural insensitivity" that it "arguably amounted to institutional racism" and may have spurred the growth of the insurgency. The Army has been slow to adapt its tactics, he argues, and its approach during the early stages of the occupation "exacerbated the task it now faces by alienating significant sections of the population." [complete article]

See also, Changing the Army for counterinsurgency operations (Brigadier Nigel Aylwin-Foster, British Army) (PDF)

Comment -- From the way Thomas Ricks reports this, it's not clear whether he thinks the substance of the criticisms or their source, constitutes the larger story.

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Protests in Baghdad over raid linked to kidnapping
Editor&Publisher, January 10, 2006

Events surrounding the kidnapping of Jill Carroll, the American freelancer reporting for the Christian Science Monitor, took a troubling turn on Tuesday when several hundred Sunni Arabs protested the raid on a Baghdad mosque Saturday shortly after the abduction.

The raid, according to wire service accounts, was carried out by U.S. and Iraqi soldiers looking for Carroll. The Monitor also reported this on its Web site.

"The attack on the Umm al-Qura mosque is an attack on Muslims and Islam," read one of the banners at the protest, according to Agence France-Press (AFP).

The United Nations also criticized the U.S. operation, saying it could hinder efforts to build a political consensus. [complete article]

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Did the president propose to take out Al Jazeera?
By Christopher Hitchens, Slate, January 9, 2006

Tomorrow morning, in a court in London, two men will appear to face charges under Britain's Official Secrets Act. The first man, David Keogh, a former employee of the Cabinet Office, is accused of unlawfully handing a confidential memorandum to the second man, Leo O'Connor, a researcher for a former Labor member of Parliament, Tony Clarke.

The memorandum is actually a five-page transcript stamped "Top Secret." It describes a meeting at the White House on April 16, 2004, between President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair. At that meeting, which took place while desperately hard fighting was in progress in the Iraqi town of Fallujah, Bush mooted the idea of taking out the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Doha, Qatar. The network's correspondents inside the city had been transmitting lurid footage of extreme violence. The exchange apparently puts Blair in a good light, in that he dissuaded the president from any such course of action and was assisted in this by Colin Powell, who was then secretary of state.

So, this is ostensibly about something that never actually happened. But what if it had? The state of Qatar, which though a Wahabbi kingdom has a free press and allows women to run and to vote in elections, has not been the host of just Al Jazeera since the network's predecessor was kicked out of Saudi Arabia. It has also been the host of United States Central Command, and of many American civilians. It is the site each year of a highly interesting and useful conference, co-sponsored by the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, where American and Middle Eastern academics and journalists and others meet in conditions of informality. Its emir has been a positive help and supporter to many democrats in the region. Bombing or blowing up the Al Jazeera office would involve hitting the downtown section of Doha, the capital city of a friendly power. It's difficult to think of any policy that would have been more calamitous. [complete article]

See also, Second charge over 'secrets leak' (BBC), MPs leaked Bush plan to hit al-Jazeera (The Guardian). Earlier, Watching al-Jazeera (Marc Lynch aka Abu Aardvark).

Comment -- Readers who pay too much attention to the name of the author rather than the content of the article might be inclined to dismiss Christopher Hitchens' "fighting words", but on this issue I wholeheartedly concur with his conclusion:
It is high time that this question was ventilated by people other than British editors and journalists who labor under the repressive conditions of the Official Secrets Act. Al Jazeera is not describable, perhaps, as a strictly objective station, but it is the main source of news in the Arab world because it is not the property of any state or party, and it has given live and unedited coverage of things like the elections in Iraq. In 2001, its office in Afghanistan was destroyed by "smart" bombs. In 2003, its correspondent in Baghdad was killed in an American missile strike. If it becomes widely believed that it has been or is being targeted, the consequences in the region will be rather more than Karen Hughes' "public diplomacy" can handle.
The fact that the al-Jazeera bombing story has so far struggled to reach beyond the blogosphere is something I can only attribute to one thing: cowardice. American journalists and editors are still afraid of looking like they might be rallying in defense of their frequently vilified collegues in Doha. Instead, they are finding an easy refuge in the position that this is a story too bizarre to take seriously.

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'Hearts and minds' in Iraq
By Reuel Marc Gerecht, Washington Post, January 10, 2006

Once again we are confronted with stories about how the Pentagon and its ubiquitous private contractors are undermining free inquiry in Iraq. "Muslim Scholars Were Paid to Aid U.S. Propaganda," reports the New York Times. Journalists, intellectuals or clerics taking money from Uncle Sam or, in this case, a Washington-based public relations company, is seen as morally troubling and counterproductive. Sensible Muslims obviously would not want to listen to the advice of an American-paid consultant; anti-insurgent Sunni clerics can now all be slurred as corrupt stooges.

There is one big problem with this baleful version of events. Historically, it doesn't make much sense. The United States ran enormous covert and not-so-covert operations known as "CA" activities throughout the Cold War. With the CIA usually in the lead, Washington spent hundreds of millions of dollars on book publishing, magazines, newspapers, radios, union organizing, women's and youth groups, scholarships, academic foundations, intellectual salons and societies, and direct cash payments to individuals (usually scholars, public intellectuals and journalists) who believed in ideas that America thought worthy of support. [complete article]

Abu Aardvark

Iraq's 'PBS' accused of sectarian slant
By Charles Levinson, Christian Science Monitor, January 10, 2006

In the press office of Iraq's Kurdish President Jalal Talibani, a half-dozen staffers monitor CNN, Saudi-financed Al Arabiya, and the local news channel Al Iraqiya, which is state funded, but independent - in theory.

Nearly 50 percent of Iraqis tune into Al Iraqiya, so Mr. Talibani's media adviser, Hiwa Osman, sees to it that his staff does, too.

Mr. Osman, however, has few kind words for the country's leading network, founded in 2003 by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). "It's supposed to be a public service broadcaster ... they should be providing a service for all the people, but they are providing a service only for certain people in government," he says.

Like much of the government in the new Iraq, Al Iraqiya is dominated by Shiites, and critics like Osman say that Iraq's version of America's Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) has simply become a propaganda tool for the country's leading Shiite politicians. Al Iraqiya was meant to stand as a model for a burgeoning independent press, but seems to have instead become one more political spoil for its competing factions. [complete article]

Comment -- The problem with political propaganda (and every form of evangelism for that matter) is that, to the propagandist, the minds of others deserve no respect unless they conform to the propagandist's own view of the world. The propagandist wants to influence without being influenced.

Reuel Marc Gerecht refers to ideas that "America" thinks worthy of support. This is no doubt the same "America" that members of the Bush administration always cite in their support when referring to "the American people." America and the American people are not, however, of one mind - at least not yet. Come the day that Gerecht or anyone else can honestly say what America thinks, the incremental process through which this country is becoming a totalitarian state will have reached fruition. At that point, the gulf between America and the rest of the world will be absolute and any semblance of cultural exchange will have been utterly abandoned.

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Ignoring protests, Iran resumes nuclear program
By Elaine Sciolino and John O'Neil, New York Times, January 10, 2006

Iran restarted its nuclear research program today and announced that it would conduct experiments with nuclear fuel, despite a warning Monday from the head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency that such work would cross a "red line" and trigger an international response.

According to a statement issued by the atomic agency, Iranian officials told inspectors that they plan to start up a small-scale centrifuge and do research in which uranium gas would be introduced. Centrifuges produce a cascade of reactions that enrich uranium to levels at which it can be used for reactors or, if enriched to a far higher level, for weapons.

The news comes after a week of uncertainty about Tehran's intentions, following its surprise announcement on Jan. 3 that it would resume nuclear research. As officials of the international atomic agency sought in vain to learn more about what kind of work was planned, warnings against proceeding were issued separately by the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. [complete article]

See also, Straw expects no military action against Iran (Reuters).


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'Holy warrior' recruiting: 20 held
By Al Goodman, CNN, January 10, 2006

Spanish police have arrested 20 suspected Islamic terrorists for alleged recruitment and indoctrination of so-called "holy warriors" to be sent to fight in Iraq, according to Interior Minister Jose Antonio Alonso.

The suspects are believed to have formed two cells, one based near Barcelona that recruited and sent would-be suicide bombers to Iraq and another based in Madrid that sent so-called "holy warriors" to fight as insurgents, the Interior Ministry said in a statement issued after the minister's news conference in Madrid.

The cell near Barcelona allegedly was in charge of recruiting and sending an Algerian man to carry out a suicide bombing at Nasiriyah, Iraq on November 12, 2003. That attack killed 12 Italian military police, five Italian troops, two Italian civilians and nine Iraqis, according to the ministry statement. [complete article]

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European women join ranks of jihadis
By Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2006

The women of the Dutch extremist network were a new breed of holy warriors on the front lines where Islam and the West collide.

In the male-dominated world of Islamic extremism, they saw themselves as full-fledged partners in jihad. Wives watched videos about female suicide bombers, posed for photos holding guns and fired automatic weapons during clandestine target practice.

The militants swore publicly that one of them would kill Dutch legislator Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an outspoken feminist. Last summer, police captured a 23-year-old leader of the group and his wife at a subway station here as they were allegedly on their way to assassinate the legislator.

The story of the Dutch network, 14 members of which are now on trial, reveals the increasing aggressiveness and prominence of female extremists in Europe. In a chilling trend in the Netherlands and Belgium, police are investigating militants' wives suspected of plotting suicide attacks with their husbands, or on their own. [complete article]

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The U.S. invasion of Iraq: Not the fault of Israel and its supporters
By Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus, January 4, 2006

As the official rationales for the U.S. invasion of Iraq—that Iraq possessed "weapons of mass destruction" which threatened the national security of the United States and that the Iraqi government had operational ties to al-Qaida -- are now widely acknowledged to have been fabricated, and the back-up rationalization -- of bringing freedom and democracy to Iraq -- is also losing credibility, increasing attention is being given as to why the U.S. government, with broad bipartisan support, made such a fateful decision.

There are a number of plausible explanations, ranging from control of the country's oil resources to strategic interests to ideological motivations. One explanation which should not be taken seriously, however, is the assertion that the right-wing government of Israel and its American supporters played a major role in leading the United States to invade Iraq.

The government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and its supporters here in the United States deserve blame for many tragic policies in recent years which have led to needless human suffering, increased extremism in the Islamic world, decreased security, and rampant violations of the UN Charter, international humanitarian law, and other international legal principles. The U.S. invasion of Iraq, however, is not one of them. [complete article]

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The economic costs of the war in Iraq
By Linda Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz, Columbia University, January, 2006

The Congressional Budget Office has now estimated that in their central, mid-range scenario, the Iraq war will cost over $266 billion more in the next decade, putting the direct costs of the war in the range of $500 billion.

These estimates, however, underestimate the War's true costs to America by a wide margin. In this paper, we attempt to provide a range of estimates for what those costs have been, and are likely to be. Even taking a conservative approach, we have been surprised at how large they are. We can state, with some degree of confidence, that they exceed a trillion dollars. [complete article]

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U.S. troops build wall of sand to keep insurgents in their homes
AP (via Army Times), January 9, 2006

Villagers watched from rooftops as U.S. military bulldozers heaved a wall of sand into snaking lines around their homes Saturday in an attempt to trap insurgents believed to be hiding among them.

The drastic tactic in Siniyah came after weeks of increasingly bold insurgent attacks, including almost daily roadside bombs targeting 101st Airborne Division soldiers patrolling the village, 155 miles north of Baghdad.

"This is not in any of the courses they teach in the Army," said Maj. Shawn Daniel, who oversees operations for the 3rd Brigade's 33rd Cavalry Regiment. "But if bad people are coming to Siniyah to attack coalition forces, let's catch them at the gate." [complete article]

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Pity Baghdad's police: Insurgents want to blow them up and restaurants don't want to seat them
By Huda Ahmed and Dogen Hannah, Knight Ridder, January 9, 2006

Most restaurants would be happy to have police officers as regular customers, grateful not only for the business but also for the presence of law and order.

Not in Baghdad. Not when Iraqi security forces are the target of insurgents' bombs. In many restaurants, Baghdad's finest are politely, albeit reluctantly, requested to walk out the door the minute they walk in.

"We ask the police not to come," said Yasser Emad, 39, the manager of his family's popular restaurant in the capital's middle-class Karrada district. "We hate to do this, but we want peace for the public and the restaurant." [complete article]

See also, Suicide bombers kill 29 at Iraqi ministry (WP).

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Terrorism and democracy: Two documentaries address the Peruvian example
By Alan Riding, New York Times, January 9, 2006

Of all the insurgent groups active in Latin America over the last half-century, none fitted the description of "terrorist" more aptly than Peru's Sendero Luminoso, or Shining Path. It began armed action in 1980, committed atrocities for more than a decade and was defeated under a president who was driven from office in 2000 for abuse of power.

So does Peru's war on terror offer any lessons to the United States?

The American directors of two documentaries being shown at Film Forum in New York this month believe it does: at the very least, they say, the Peruvian experience is a cautionary tale because of the price paid by Peru's fragile democracy in crushing terrorism.

Both directors, Pamela Yates and Ellen Perry, said they made their films with American audiences in mind. And while neither film explicitly draws parallels with the American war on terror, the issues raised in Peru - from antiterrorist tactics to civil liberties - have a familiar ring. [complete article]

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The resistable rise of Ariel Sharon
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, January 10, 2006

Sharon traded not in treaties and promises, but in "facts on the ground." Rather than engage Israel in a discussion over whether to annex the West Bank, he simply went ahead and built settlements there to make that annexation a reality in large parts of the territory. Rather than seek Prime Minister Begin's permission to march on Beirut, he told the cabinet that he was sending his troops as far as the Litani River to create a buffer zone deep in Lebanon's south -- and then marched on Beirut, anyway.

When he came to power, the Palestinian Authority controlled 42 percent of the West Bank and Gaza. That, too, was an intractable reality, and Sharon recognized it as such. He made clear he might consider recognizing some form of Palestinian autonomy in the 42 percent of the occupied territories ruled by the Palestinian Authority, or perhaps a little more. That would even suit his objectives, since it was not Israel's control over Palestinian land, but Israel's control over Palestinian populations, that had become politically and diplomatically untenable. But he had no intention of completing Oslo, he declared that he had come to bury it.

And in that endeavor he has enjoyed spectacular success. Today there is no peace process; Sharon's withdrawal from Gaza had nothing to do with a peace process -- it was, quite explicitly, an attempt to avoid a peace process and resolve the issue of the occupation (the untenable colonial rule over the Palestinians) on Israel's own terms. The world, even the Palestinians, may have been waiting to see whether Sharon planned to follow that up with withdrawals from the West Bank in line with his own "42 percent" map, as described by his iron wall. Only Sharon knew. But there was never any question of his sitting down to negotiate a final-status agreement with the Palestinian national leadership. And his victory has two dimensions: One is visible in Ramallah; the other in Washington. [complete article]

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Freelance journalist abducted in Iraq
By Scott Peterson and Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, January 10, 2006

Jill Carroll, a freelance journalist currently on assignment for The Christian Science Monitor, was abducted by unknown gunmen in Baghdad Saturday morning. Her Iraqi interpreter was killed during the kidnapping.

"I saw a group of people coming as if they had come from the sky," recalled Ms. Carroll's driver, who survived the attack. "One guy attracted my attention. He jumped in front of me screaming, 'Stop! Stop! Stop!' with his left hand up and a pistol in his right hand." [complete article]

Comment -- Staff writers for CSM currently working in Iraq have to live with the risks of having their names linked to a newspaper that would actually be much better off (and more widely read) if it was just called "The Monitor." Jill Carroll, on the other hand, should be clearly identified by every journalist and editor who's half awake, as a freelance journalist. On top of that, she's unusually well qualified as a Western reporter in Iraq since she actually speaks Arabic. We can only hope that turns out to be a life-saving gift!

This is how Carroll described her work early last year:
Equal parts reporter, salesman and entrepreneur, the freelancer is a different breed of journalist than a staffer at a major media outlet. Freelancers pay for their own accommodations, translators, food and health insurance, and most do it for under $100 a day.

There are more lucrative ways to work and faster ways to advance a career. But just as athletes do it for love of the game, freelancers in Iraq seem to do it for love of the story.

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Enough of his excuses: Blair must be impeached over Iraq
By General Sir Michael Rose, The Guardian, January 10, 2006

Wars are won when the people, government and army work together for a common cause in which they genuinely believe. Whereas the people may be initially uncertain about military intervention, politicians will often be the strongest advocates - blinded by the imperatives of their political views. It will invariably be military commanders who are most cautious about using force - for they understand better than most the consequences of engaging in war.

Although in a true democracy they must remain subordinate to their political masters, they have a clear responsibility to point out when political strategies are flawed or inadequately resourced. Since they might also have to ask their soldiers to sacrifice their lives, they must be assured that a war is just, legal and the last resort available. Yet three years ago this country was somehow led by the prime minister into war in Iraq where few, if any, of these requirements were met. [complete article]

Comment -- A bit of General Rose's life is worth recounting. This comes from Encyclopaedia Britannica:
In 1968 Rose joined the fabled Special Air Services (SAS), with whom he conducted a number of undercover operations in Northern Ireland, the Middle East, and East Asia. In 1976 he surfaced as a squadron commander in Northern Ireland. Although some British troops were accused of operating a shoot-to-kill policy, Rose acquired a reputation for insisting that all counterterrorist operations had to operate strictly within the law and under political control.

On April 30, 1980, six Arab terrorists occupied the Iranian embassy in London, seizing 27 hostages. Six days later, after the murder of one hostage and the breakdown of negotiations to secure the release of the rest, Rose led a rescue team of SAS officers. They abseiled into the embassy, freed all the remaining hostages, and killed five terrorists. The assault, shown live on television, greatly enhanced the reputation of the SAS in general and Rose in particular.

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The Axis of Excess
By Prem Shakar Jha, Outlook India, January 16, 2006

Three years ago the US and the UK invaded Iraq on the basis of intelligence reports that turned out to be figments of an Iraqi expatriate embezzler's fantasy. Today, a similar spiral of 'intelligence' briefings to friendly governments and planned leaks to the media designed to fuel the public's apprehension has begun again. This time the target is Iran. Earlier this week, Britain's leading newspaper, The Guardian, got access to an intelligence report compiled from US, British, French, German and Belgian sources that was used to warn European governments and industrialists about the existence of a network of Iranian 'front companies, official bodies, academic institutions and middlemen' to purchase critical components and technology to enrich uranium and build long-range rockets.

The original purpose of the briefings was to ask all concerned to exercise greater vigilance over the sale of critical technology, but the significant feature of the leak is not its content but its timing. The report itself is dated July 1, 2005. The briefings took place shortly after that date and were duly noted, albeit in passing, by the media.

Why has the report been leaked now? There are only two possible explanations: to pressurise Iran to put its uranium enrichment plants on Russian soil, as proposed by France, Germany and Britain, or, to prepare the ground for an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Unfortunately, certain recent developments suggest that the scales are tilting towards the second option. [complete article]

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Iran's top mullah may be on our side
By Dariush Zahedi and Ali Ezzatyar, Los Angeles Times, January 8, 2006

The United States has a surprising ally in its impatience with the new Iranian president. Since his inauguration, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's pugnacious demeanor has not only roiled the international community but also a significant portion of Iran's ruling elite. A coalition of traditional conservatives, pragmatists and reformists is emerging within the government to oppose Ahmadinejad's brand of governance. With Iran saying it will resume nuclear fuel research, the U.S. should do all in its power to boost the bargaining power of these more moderate Iranian leaders.

The rise of the anti-Ahmadinejad faction defies the expectations of Iran analysts, who believed that the post-Khatami era would produce a monolithic conservative bloc in control of most major levers of power. Instead, the coalition is strengthening and attracting many of the regime's powerful personalities, perhaps even the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Evidence of the latter is Khamenei's recent decree giving the Expediency Council, a non-elected body headed by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, oversight of the presidency. [complete article]

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Just a coup away
By Aaron Belkin, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2006

The provisional results of the December elections in Iraq are already in dispute, but that doesn't stop Washington from pointing to the vote as a success in its quest to create a peaceful, stable and free Middle East.

But the mere fact of an election cannot change a fundamental truth about Iraq: Saddam Hussein governed as a brutal dictator not simply because he was cruel but also because of the treacherous political landscape that destabilized his relationship with his own military. Hussein was highly vulnerable to a military coup, and future Iraqi leaders will be just as susceptible. Regardless of the election's outcome, a coup will probably follow a U.S. pullout, and Iraq will again be ruled by a dictator.

With University of Minnesota sociologist Evan Schofer, I developed a quantifiable way to assess a nation's risk of a coup. Our measure is a bit like a blood pressure test in that high scores equal high risk -- but it measures the risk of coups, not strokes.

The test cannot predict with certainty when or if any particular regime will experience a coup. But it has proved to be a powerful tool for establishing which regimes are vulnerable. Governments with the worst scores on the test are about 30 times more likely to be overthrown in a coup than those with the best scores. When we computed our results before the U.S. invasion, Iraq already had a bad score. Today, following years of violence, it is surely worse. [complete article]

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His year in Iraq
Paul Bremer interviewed by Brian Williams, NBC, January 9, 2006

Just days after he got the job, Bremer says he saw an alarming report from a think tank, concluding it would take three times more US troops to stabilize Iraq than had actually been sent.

He says he tried to get the attention of his direct boss -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Williams: You'll need a half million soldiers. It's a piece of paper you sent to Secretary Rumsfeld. How did he react to that?

Bremer: So I sent a summary of it around to Rumsfeld and just said, "I thought you should take a look at this." I never had any reaction from him.
Though Bremer says he never heard back from his direct boss, he says he then discussed his concerns with the president. According to Bremer, President Bush said he would try to get more troops from other countries, but made no mention of increasing the number of American forces. [complete article]

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Bullying Iran is not an option
By Mary Riddell, The Observer, January 8, 2006

This week, barring a last-minute climb-down, Iran may get back to building a nuclear bomb. It is a small moment, and a big one. Small because the threat has lingered for years; big because the consequences could convulse the region and the world.

If Iran ends its 30-month freeze on uranium tests, the long diplomatic mission by the West will be in ruins. The Foreign Office says all bets will be off; Condoleezza Rice signals that Iran is heading for the UN Security Council, and thus for resolutions and sanctions. Every diplomat and onlooker knows the steps of that quadrille. They danced it for Iraq.

As Iran moves towards the ultimate in WMD, George W Bush must be thinking he fought the wrong war. Now, as Israel says Iran's nuclear missile programme 'can be destroyed', the scent of another conflict hangs in the air. Even if President Ahmadinejad steps back from the brink, as he is prone to, there is a wider threat. [complete article]

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Israel's new era
By Caroline Glick, Jerusalem Post, January 5, 2006

The need to conduct a military strike against Iran's nuclear program increases with each passing day. The threat that Iran's nuclear weapons program constitutes for Israel is the most egregious example since the Holocaust of what happens when states and societies where anti-Semitism is of a genocidal nature are allowed to acquire the means to attack the Jews.

Israel's experience, like the experience of the Jewish people throughout its history, has taught that such anti-Semites seek out opportunities to use their acquired means to kill Jews. And now, against the increasingly tangible threat that Iran will soon acquire nuclear capabilities, Israel finds itself in an election season marked by political uncertainty and instability.

Even in the absence of domestic political chaos, any Israeli plan to attack Iran's nuclear facilities is today hampered by two things. First, the anti-Semitism that is endemic in the Iranian regime is equally endemic throughout the entire Muslim and Arab world. Were Iran to carry out tomorrow President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's promise to complete Hitler's work, such an act would no doubt be met with glee throughout the Arab and Muslim world.

As well, Iran has been able to advance its nuclear weapons program in large part due to the vast increase in anti-Semitic sentiments throughout the Western world. Over the past five years, the notion that there is something acceptable about murdering Jews and seeking to destroy Israel has met with increasing acceptance among large swathes of European society and the ranks of the international Left. Today, as Israel enters the post-Sharon era, it is hindered by unprecedented diplomatic weakness, largely as a result of the prevalence of Western anti-Semitism and its concomitant demand that Israel do all it can to appease its enemies. [complete article]

Comment -- It's tempting to dismiss Caroline Glick's views as the rantings of a rightwing columnist, but it's worth noting that she is not only a columnist but also the deputy managing editor of the Jerusalem Post and was named "The Most Prominent Woman in Israel" by Israeli newspaper Maariv.

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Iran to break U.N. seals on nuclear sites, pushing research ahead
Haaretz and AP, January 8, 2006

Iran announced on Sunday that inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog agency were in the country and preparing to remove seals from nuclear research facilities no later that Monday, allowing Tehran to move forward with its vow to resume nuclear fuel research.

"Iran is ready to resume the research activities after the inspectors remove the seals. It is our right as other members of the Nonproliferation Treaty. Iran should not be exempted," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said. [complete article]

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U.K. cleared nuclear cargo to Iran
By Anthony Barnett, The Observer, January 8, 2006

British officials have allowed the export to Iran of a cargo of radioactive material that experts believe could be used in a nuclear weapons programme, The Observer can reveal.

The disclosure has prompted calls for an inquiry into how the international trade in such compounds is controlled.

On 31 August a truck carrying 1,000kg of zirconium silicate supplied by a British firm was stopped by Bulgarian customs at the Turkish border on its way to Tehran, after travelling 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) from Britain, through Germany and Romania, without being stopped. Zirconium can be used as a component of a nuclear programme. According to one expert, it is used in nuclear reactors to stop fuel rods corroding and can also be used as part of a nuclear warhead. The metal can be extracted from zirconium silicate. It is because the compound can be used for military purposes that its trade is usually tightly controlled.

The fact that a British firm was allowed to sell the compound without scrutiny will raise questions for the British government over its controls on sensitive materials. Intelligence documents disclosed last week in the Guardian detailed how Iran is creating agencies and middlemen to procure equipment and know-how in Europe in a covert attempt to build nuclear weapons. [complete article]

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U.S Mideast strategy needs redefining
By Nathan Guttman, Jerusalem Post, January 8, 2006

For the Bush administration, Sharon's illness is far more than a personal issue - it is no less than a "situation," demanding close watch and careful attention. An administration that has based its Middle East policy on one person now finds itself in a desperate need to reinvent this policy and adapt it to the new reality.

The Bush policy toward the region, although focused on Sharon, was built on three pillars, each representing a regional player: Yasser Arafat, who was seen as the root cause for Palestinian terrorism and whose removal was viewed as essential before proceeding with any kind of peace process; Sharon, considered by Washington as the only leader who could lead the Israeli people to concessions that would enable a two-state solution; and Bush himself, whose support for the region's leaders (Sharon and later PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas) would allow them to advance.

Arafat's death last year gave the US the needed foundation on the Palestinian side, while the American administration succeeded in playing the role of endorsing and supporting moderates on both sides. But the Israeli pillar became shaky.

After the disengagement plan was introduced, Sharon and Bush maintained a "don't ask, don't tell" policy; Bush didn't ask Sharon what he intended to do after the Gaza withdrawal and Sharon didn't volunteer the information, other than vaguely saying that Israel would adhere to the road map. [complete article]

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Among evangelicals, a kinship with Jews
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, January 8, 2006

Everyone who worships at the Tabernacle quickly learns three facts about its deeply conservative pastor. He comes from a broken home. He rides a canary-yellow Harley. And he loves the Jews.

There is some murmuring about the motorcycle. But the 2,500 members of this Bible-believing, tradition-respecting Southern Baptist church in southern Virginia have embraced everything else about the Rev. Lamarr Mooneyham.

Out of his painful childhood experiences, Mooneyham, 57, preaches passionately about the importance of home. Out of his reading of the Bible, he preaches with equal passion about God's continuing devotion to the Jewish people. [complete article]

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Case dropped against U.S. officer in beating deaths of Afghan inmates
By Tim Golden, New York Times, January 8, 2006

The Army has dropped its case against the only officer to face criminal charges in connection with the beating deaths of two prisoners held by the United States in Afghanistan, military officials said yesterday.

The officer, Capt. Christopher M. Beiring, led a reservist military police company that was guarding the main American detention center in Afghanistan when the two men were killed within days of each other in December 2002. The prisoners died after guards kneed them repeatedly in the legs while each was shackled to the ceiling of his cell.

Captain Beiring, 39, had been charged with lying to investigators and being derelict in his duties, in part by neglecting after the first death to order his soldiers to stop chaining up prisoners by the arms at the behest of military interrogators who wanted to deprive them of sleep before questioning.

"They certainly had a case to investigate - two guys died," Captain Beiring said yesterday in an interview. "And, obviously, some soldiers did some stuff wrong and needed to be punished. But I think it got blown out of proportion. At some point, they were just playing politics." [complete article]

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The Bush administration vs. Salim Hamdan
By Jonathan Mahler, New York Times, January 8, 2006

...Salim Hamdan lives in a 6-by-9-foot cell in Guantanamo, awaiting trial by a special military tribunal established by presidential order in the aftermath of 9/11. If everything goes according to the government's plans, the Bush administration will prosecute Hamdan for violating the laws of war by conspiring to commit acts of terrorism against the United States. The government has revealed little about its case against Hamdan - my portrait is drawn principally from his lawyers, family members and al-Bahri - but it has charged him with serious offenses, including transporting weapons and serving as a bodyguard to bin Laden. If convicted on all charges, Hamdan could receive a life sentence.

Hamdan's attorneys, a government-appointed Navy lawyer and a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, don't deny that their client worked directly for bin Laden, but they play down his importance to Al Qaeda, portraying him as an employee, an uneducated and far-from-devout driver and mechanic who was grateful for a paycheck but generally ignorant of the terrorist enterprise for which he worked. Moreover, they say that the tribunals, known officially as military commissions, are illegal and have sued the American government to block them from going forward.

This spring, the detainee's lawyers will have the chance to make their case to the Supreme Court, when it hears Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The name alone guarantees that it will be one of the most closely watched arguments of the year, and the eventual ruling will have far-reaching implications not just for Hamdan and the rest of the Guantanamo detainees, but also for presidential war powers and quite possibly for the future of democracy in the Middle East. If the war on terror is, at its heart, a battle to show the Islamic world that there is an alternative to oppressive theocracies and autocratic dictators, nothing is more important than how the United States government dispenses justice to detainees like Salim Hamdan. [complete article]

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Denmark is unlikely front in Islam-West culture war
By Dan Bilefsky, New York Times, January 8, 2006

When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, including one in which he is shown wearing a turban shaped as a bomb with a burning fuse, it expected a strong reaction in this country of 5.4 million people.

But the paper was unprepared for the global furor that ensued, including demonstrations in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, death threats against the artists, condemnation from 11 Muslim countries and a rebuke from the United Nations.

"The cartoons did nothing that transcends the cultural norms of secular Denmark, and this was not a provocation to insult Muslims," said Flemming Rose, cultural editor of Jyllands-Posten, Denmark's largest newspaper, which has declined to apologize for the drawings. [complete article]

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Our presidential era: Who can check the president?
By Noah Feldman, New York Times, January 8, 2006

Not since Watergate has the question of presidential power been as salient as it is today. The recent revelation that President George W. Bush ordered secret wiretaps in the United States without judicial approval has set off the latest round of arguments over what the president can and cannot do in the name of his office. Over the past few years, the war on terror has led to the use of executive orders to authorize renditions and the detention of enemy combatants without trial - for which the Bush administration has been called to account by our European allies. The treatment of detainees has also given rise to concerns in Congress about the prerogatives of the chief executive: both houses recently voted to limit the president's authority to employ C.I.A. or other executive agents to engage in cruel and inhumane interrogations. The limits of presidential power will almost surely be a major topic of discussion during Samuel A. Alito Jr.'s Supreme Court confirmation hearings, which are scheduled to begin this week.

The stakes of the debate could hardly be higher: nothing is more basic to the operation of a constitutional government than the way it allocates power. Yet in an important sense, the debate is already long over. By historical standards, even the Bush administration's critics subscribe to the idea of a pre-eminent president. Administrative agencies at the president's command are widely understood to be responsible for everything from disaster relief to drug approval to imposing clean-air standards; and the president can unleash shock and awe on his own initiative. Such "presidentialism" seems completely normal to most Americans, since it is the only arrangement most of us have ever known.

For better or worse, though, this is not the system envisioned by the framers of the Constitution. The framers meant for the legislative branch to be the most important actor in the federal government: Congress was to make the laws and the president was empowered only to execute them. The very essence of a republic was that it would be governed through a deliberative legislature, composed carefully to reflect both popular will and elite limits on that will. The framers would no sooner have been governed by a democratically elected president than by a king who got his job through royal succession. [complete article]

Concurring Opinions

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Bush using a little-noticed strategy to alter the balance of power
By Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder, January 6, 2006

President Bush agreed with great fanfare last month to accept a ban on torture, but he later quietly reserved the right to ignore it, even as he signed it into law.

Acting from the seclusion of his Texas ranch at the start of New Year's weekend, Bush said he would interpret the new law in keeping with his expansive view of presidential power. He did it by issuing a bill-signing statement - a little-noticed device that has become a favorite tool of presidential power in the Bush White House.

In fact, Bush has used signing statements to reject, revise or put his spin on more than 500 legislative provisions. Experts say he has been far more aggressive than any previous president in using the statements to claim sweeping executive power - and not just on national security issues.

"It's nothing short of breath-taking," said Phillip Cooper, a professor of public administration at Portland State University. "In every case, the White House has interpreted presidential authority as broadly as possible, interpreted legislative authority as narrowly as possible, and pre-empted the judiciary." [complete article]

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Iraq war could cost U.S. over $2 trillion, says Nobel prize-winning economist
By Jamie Wilson, The Guardian, January 7, 2006

The real cost to the US of the Iraq war is likely to be between $1 trillion and $2 trillion (£1.1 trillion), up to 10 times more than previously thought, according to a report written by a Nobel prize-winning economist and a Harvard budget expert.

The study, which expanded on traditional estimates by including such costs as lifetime disability and healthcare for troops injured in the conflict as well as the impact on the American economy, concluded that the US government is continuing to underestimate the cost of the war. [complete article]

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The real choice in Iraq
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Washington Post, January 8, 2006

The administration's rhetorical devolution speaks for itself. Yet, with some luck and with a more open decision-making process in the White House, greater political courage on the part of Democratic leaders and even some encouragement from authentic Iraqi leaders, the U.S. war in Iraq could (and should) come to an end within a year.

"Victory or defeat" is, in fact, a false strategic choice. In using this formulation, the president would have the American people believe that their only options are either "hang in and win" or "quit and lose." But the real, practical choice is this: "persist but not win" or "desist but not lose." [complete article]

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Iraq now terrorist central: analyst
By Martin Abbugao, AFP, January 8, 2006

Iraq has replaced Afghanistan as the nerve centre of global terrorism by militant groups whose ability to regenerate, despite setbacks, means that suicide bombings and other mass-casualty attacks remain a serious danger in 2006, analysts said.
Three major developments are likely to define the security landscape this year, Singapore-based terrorism analyst Rohan Gunaratna told a forum organised by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS) last week.

"The first is that al-Qaeda has morphed or transformed from a small group into a terrorist movement," he told diplomats, academics, officials and business executives. [complete article]

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He never intended an equitable solution in Israel
By Henry Siegman, The Observer, January 8, 2006

In a remarkable transformation, the man now lying in a coma in an Israeli hospital has emerged these past five years as the single most dominant political personality in Israel's history, overshadowing even Ben-Gurion's mythic role as founding father of the state.

Most Israelis came to believe that Ariel Sharon was the only person able to solve the Palestinian conflict. Alternatively, if the conflict were to continue, he was the man they trusted to manage it in a manner that assured Israel's stability and security.

This view of Sharon is only partly correct. He was, indeed, uniquely able to make the compromises without which an agreement with the Palestinians is unattainable. It is difficult to imagine another Israeli leader who could retain popular support for the return of most of the West Bank, along the lines suggested in the Clinton proposal of January 2001, and compensate Palestinians for the retention by Israel of the major settlement blocs adjoining the pre-1967 border with comparable territory within Israel. The same is true of allowing the Arab-populated parts of Jerusalem to serve as the capital of a Palestinian state.

If it were true that a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians incorporating these unavoidable 'concessions' were the strategic goal of the 'new' Sharon, his departure from the political scene would be grievous. But Sharon had no intention of making such concessions, nor is there any basis for the expectation that there will ever be a Palestinian leader willing or able to accept an agreement that does not include these provisions. [complete article]

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History interrupted
By James Bennet, New York Times, January 8, 2006

"Look, the Jews are not easy people," Ariel Sharon, one of the least easy of people, said late one evening in 2004 on his farm in southern Israel. "Maybe that's the reason they managed to exist, I would say, for thousands of years." He chuckled.

"You cannot defeat Jews," Israel's prime minister went on. "You can maneuver them. You maneuver them, they maneuver you. I would say it's endless maneuvers."

It is hard to imagine Mr. Sharon's own gambits at an end. Having outmaneuvered Jew and gentile, enemy and ally alike, Mr. Sharon at 77 was losing ground at this writing to the invincible opponent he had also cheated more than once. It should have surprised no one - though it did - that he was caught, in this struggle, in mid-maneuver. Having torn up the Jewish settlements he founded in the Gaza Strip, he had been on his way to tearing apart the right-wing party he founded, Likud, in favor of a new, centrist party that was going to do - well, it may be that only Mr. Sharon knew exactly what, and some wondered if even he did.

He almost certainly planned to pull some Israeli settlers out of parts of the West Bank, but how soon, and from which areas? Did he envision signing a peace agreement with the Palestinians from behind the West Bank barrier he mapped out? One that would provide them sovereignty in a viable state? Or did he want to cage the Palestinians in barricaded enclaves like Gaza? Its ends still unknown, its ultimate achievements still uncertain, one of the most audacious exercises of leadership in Israel's history came to an abrupt close at a moment of resounding ambiguity. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last several days:

Democracy, and all that talk
By Mark LeVine, Asia Times, January 4, 2006

Without Sharon, Bush's Mideast path uncertain
By Tyler Marshall and Laura King, Los Angeles Times, January 6, 2006

After Israel, who can run Gaza?
By Rafael D. Frankel, Christian Science Monitor, January 4, 2006

Exit strategy - How to disengage from Iraq in 18 months
By Barry R. Posen, Boston Review, January/February, 2006

Iraqi civil war? Some experts say it's arrived
By John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, January 1, 2006

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

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

'These people died silently, complaining to God of a guilt they did not commit'
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, December 24, 2005

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

Report rebuts Bush on spying
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, January 7, 2006
(Congressional Research Service report [PDF])

Why the NSA's snooping is unprecedented in scale and scope
By Shane Harris and Tim Naftali, Slate, January 3, 2006

Full speed ahead
Behind the NSA spying furor

By Evan Thomas and Daniel Klaidman, Newsweek, January 9, 2006

Bush's impeachable offense
By Michelle Goldberg, Salon, December 22, 2005

Inside NSA's world
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, December 20, 2005

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