|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Iran calls for oil output cut
By Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, January 20, 2006
Iran has called for a cut in global oil production while simultaneously preparing to shift its foreign assets out of Europe.
The moves were widely interpreted as a signal that Iran is preparing for a long stand-off with the west and sees oil production as a counter weight to international economic pressure.
Tehran's call on Friday for the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries to reduce production by 1m barrels a day helped take prices up to a four-month high of more than $68 a barrel, even though Iran is the only Opec member to call for the cut and is unlikely to find much support for the measure at Opec's meeting in Vienna on January 31.
Some traders said Iran's comment was a sign that Tehran might be willing to use the threat of halting its substantial oil production as a political tool in its nuclear spat with the west. Iran is the fourth biggest oil exporter and main supplier to Japan, South Korea, France and Italy. The media in Iran this week has highlighted the upward pressure on oil prices simply through talk of sanctions. [complete article]
See also, Iran shifts funds out of E.U. banks (WP).
How do you solve a problem like Ahmadinejad?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, January 19, 2006
What to do about Iran? The mullahs seem intent on acquiring a nuclear arsenal. Everything they've been doing lately—enriching uranium, spinning centrifuges, really just about anything they could do short of actual bomb production—is legally permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (a serious problem with the NPT these days). The Bush administration is pushing the U.N. Security Council to impose sanctions. But Russia and China would likely veto the motion, owing to the former's massive investment in Iranian reactors and the latter's heavy dependence on Iranian oil. The entire industrialized world is leery of economic confrontation for this same reason; Western Europe and Japan get 10 percent to 15 percent of their oil imports from Iran. As for a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities, two objections stand out, among several others: It would be very difficult (the facilities are scattered, some buried deep underground), and it would be widely regarded as premature at best (even the most pessimistic intelligence estimates don't foresee an Iranian bomb for at least a few years). [complete article]
See also, No easy military option to stop Iran, experts say (KR) and Iran presents a pressing new challenge for the U.S. (KR).
ArmsControlWonk 'Cheney: No close relationship between Iran and al-Qaeda.'
The results are in: now the real struggle for power begins
By James Hider, The Times, January 21, 2006
Iraq's new leaders were squaring off last night for weeks, if not months, of tough political bargaining after final election results revealed that the dominant Shia theocratic alliance had failed to secure an absolute majority and that the marginalised Sunni groups had made substantial political gains.
The Shia United Iraqi Alliance, which dominated the outgoing transitional parliament, won 128 out of 275 seats up for grabs, which will force it to share power, most likely with the Kurdish coalition that secured 55 seats.
Even as the parliamentary blocks of both Shias and Kurds were reduced, the political muscle of the Sunnis received a major boost, a development that Western officials hope will entice disenfranchised Sunnis into the political mainstream and away from the insurgency. [complete article]
U.S. goals adapt to new Iraq
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, January 21, 2006
Disappointed by the election performance of Iraq's moderate parties, U.S. officials have established a more modest goal as Iraqi leaders divide power in a new government: preventing religious or nationalist parties from gaining a strong hold on the army and police.
American officials have made it a priority to persuade the winners in the election not to give top posts in the defense and interior ministries to anyone linked to armed groups such as the Shiite Muslim-controlled Badr and Al Mahdi militias, and the Kurds' peshmerga forces, U.S. and Iraqi officials say. [complete article]
Deadline for hostage passes with no word
AP (via Chicago Tribune), January 21, 2006
U.S. negotiators were working around the clock to secure the release of American journalist Jill Carroll as a deadline set by militants threatening to kill her passed Friday with no word on her fate.
Muslims from Baghdad to Paris urged the militants to free the 28-year-old woman and end Iraq's kidnappings. Carroll was seized Jan. 7 in a rough Baghdad neighborhood by gunmen who killed her translator. [complete article]
See also, Journalists, once seen as neutral, are now deemed targets (SF Chronicle).
In preview of G.O.P. campaign, Rove tears into Democrats
By Adam Nagourney, New York Times, January 20, 2006
Karl Rove, the president's chief political adviser, gave nervous Republicans here a preview of the party's strategy to maintain its dominance in the fall elections today, assailing Democrats for their positions on terrorism, the White House eavesdropping program and Mr. Bush's attempt to shape the federal judiciary.
For 26 minutes, after calling for civility in politics in a packed speech before the Republican National Committee, Mr. Rove offered a lacerating attack on Democrats that other Republicans said was a road map for how the party would deal with a tough electoral environment. Mr. Rove sharply criticized Democrats for their opposition to tax cuts and Mr. Bush's Supreme Court nominations, but he left little doubt that once again - as has been the case in both national elections since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks - that he was intent on making national security the pre-eminent issue in 2006. [complete article]
See also, Rove's speech, The GOP remains the party of ideas.
Comment -- Rove says, "Ideas - a party's governing philosophy, should be at the heart of our political debates - because they are a deciding factor in elections." He's right and Democrats like Hillary Clinton should stop playing their pathetic me-too game. If Democrats fail to break out of the national security mold and continue with the we-can-be-tough-too posturing, they deserve to get thrashed at the polls.
By Richard Leiby, Washington Post, January 19, 2006
[Colin Powell's former chief of staff, Lawrence] Wilkerson went so far as to draft a letter of resignation to Bush. He never sent it and now wonders whether he should have come out guns blazing before the 2004 election. But becoming a vocal political defector in Washington can mean lonely exile, a loss of stature and income.
"I know it's very hard to put kids, job security and all that sort of stuff aside. I think that's the answer to why more people don't speak out."
For Wilkerson, there was another reason: It might seem a betrayal of Powell, his hero, the man who signed photos to him with sentiments like, "To LW, You're the greatest!"
Larry and Barbara Wilkerson, married for 39 years, live frugally in a Falls Church townhouse. She works at a Hallmark card shop. Their son is an Air Force navigator who's done duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their daughter, now a homemaker, served in the Army. Departing from government after Bush's second inauguration, Wilkerson had to decide: Would he speak his conscience or remain the quiet man like Powell?
"My wife said to me: 'You have two choices, my man. You can think more about him or you can think more about your country. I suggest you do the latter.' " [complete article]
Cheney is the quiet envoy in Middle East diplomacy
By Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder, January 20, 2006
Other government officials, including previous vice presidents, often viewed foreign trips as a chance to promote administration policies or themselves. Not Cheney. He declined to talk on the record to the handful of reporters on Air Force 2 or to provide any details of his conversations. When a senior official finally briefed reporters on the flight home about what had happened in Cheney's meetings, he did so on condition he not be identified, then said nothing revealing anyway.
So traveling halfway round the world with America's vice president on an important diplomatic mission yielded this alone to public view: Cheney shaking hands and bantering with his hosts. [complete article]
Pentagon analyst gets 12 years for disclosing data
By David Johnson, New York Times, January 20, 2006
A federal judge sentenced a former Defense Department analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, to more than 12 years in prison today after Mr. Franklin admitted passing classified military information to two pro-Israel lobbyists and an Israeli diplomat.
The sentence meted out to Mr. Franklin, 59, by Judge T. S. Ellis III in Federal District Court in Alexandria, Va., was at the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines. Judge Ellis said at the hearing that he believed Mr. Franklin was motivated by a desire to help the United States, not to damage it. [complete article]
Comment -- The Larry Franklin sentence! It's all the talk of the blogosphere! Well, no, not really. Not even Laura Rozen or Josh Marshall (both of whom have previously written on the story at length) have bothered commenting. The collective consciousness of the blogosphere remains (at least to me) as big a mystery as ever.
Hamas is winning supporters in an old stronghold of Fatah
By Michael Matza, Knight Ridder, January 19, 2006
For many years this northern West Bank city was a reliable stronghold for Fatah, the political movement founded five decades ago and led by Yasser Arafat until his death in 2004.
Now, with the first Palestinian parliamentary election since 1996 scheduled for Wednesday, many here are itching to cast Fatah out.
"Fatah is in my blood, but now I want a change," said Hosam Abdel Mu'ti, 35, a stall owner hawking cosmetics beneath an old stone arch in the city's center.
Like many others in this city of 120,000, and across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Mu'ti is fed up with perceived corruption in the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. Fatah's leaders "have all been thieves," he said. [complete article]
New-look Hamas spends £100k on an image makeover
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 22, 2006
Hamas is paying a spin doctor $180,000 (£100,000) to persuade Europeans and Americans that it is not a group of religious fanatics who relish suicide bombings and hate Jews.
The organisation, also known as the Islamic Resistance Movement, has hired a media consultant, Nashat Aqtash, to improve its image at home and abroad because it expects to emerge from next week's Palestinian general election as a major political force, and wants recognition and acceptance by the US and EU. [complete article]
Ten police officers may face charges over Stockwell station killing, says IPCC report
By Vikram Dodd, The Guardian, January 22, 2006
Ten police officers were facing the threat of criminal charges yesterday after an official report into the shooting dead of Jean Charles de Menezes found there might be sufficient evidence to prosecute them. The report by the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) into the Brazilian's death was delivered to the Crown Prosecution Service, who will decide whether to bring charges.
Mr de Menezes was killed at Stockwell tube station, south London, on July 22 2005 by police using a then secret shoot-to-kill policy called Operation Kratos, the day after failed terrorist attacks on London's transport network.
Mr de Menezes was mistaken for a suicide bomber and shot eight times from close range while being held down by police. [complete article]
Iraq election results show Sunni gains
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP (via WP), January 20, 2006
The election commission said Friday that an alliance of Shiite religious parties won the biggest number of seats in Iraq's new parliament but too few to rule without coalition partners. Sunni Arabs gained seats over the previous balloting.
Commission official Safwat Rasheed said the Shiite United Iraqi Alliance captured 128 of the 275 seats in the Dec. 15 election, down from the 146 it won in January 2005 balloting. It needed 138 to rule without partners.
A Sunni ticket, the Iraqi Accordance Front, won 44 seats. Another Sunni coalition headed by Saleh al-Mutlaq finished with 11 seats, Rasheed said. A few other Sunnis won seats on other tickets.
That will give the Sunni Arabs a bigger voice in the legislature than they had in the outgoing assembly, which included only 17 from the community forming the backbone of the insurgency. Many Sunnis had boycotted the January vote.
Kurds saw their seat total reduced. An alliance of the two major Kurdish parties won 53 seats, down from the 75 they took in the January 2005 vote. [complete article]
U.S. verifies Bin Laden tape, calls his offer of a truce a ploy
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2006
A new audiotape believed to be from Osama bin Laden warns that Al Qaeda is preparing terrorist attacks on the United States but says they can be avoided if U.S. officials agree to a truce that would allow Muslims to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan.
A CIA technical analysis of the tape concluded that the voice was that of the Al Qaeda leader, an agency official said. The tape, the first from Bin Laden in more than a year, was aired Thursday by the Al Jazeera satellite TV channel. It appeared to have been made in early December, U.S. intelligence officials said. [complete article]
See also, 'People realize that Bush does not have a plan' (text of audiotape) and It's all about the voice (Pepe Escobar).
Iran & the bomb (part one): How close is Iran?
By Jeffrey Lewis, ArmsControlWonk, January 19, 2006
When some moron like Charles Krauthammer claims Iran is now just "months" away from a bomb, you can pretty much ignore him: He has no idea what he is talking about.
Overall, Iran is probably a little less than a decade away from developing a nuclear weapon. The key question here is how long it will take Iran to enrich a few tens of kilograms of uranium to more than 90 percent U-235.
Dafna Linzer reported that the US Intelligence Community does not believe that Iran could do so before "early to mid next decade" -- a revision of previous assessments that Iran would "have the ability to produce nuclear weapons early in the next decade."
Why so long? The answer is that Iran still has to build, install and operate its centrifuges to enrich uranium. [complete article]
See also, ElBaradei rejects EU's request to condemn Iran (FT).
Hillary Clinton says White House has mishandled Iran
By John O'Neil, New York Times, January 20, 2006
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton last night criticized the Bush administration for its response to Iran's nuclear program, saying it had chosen to "downplay" the crisis over the past several years.
In a speech at Princeton University, Mrs. Clinton, a New York Democrat, joined the Bush administration's call for sanctions against Iran, and also said that the threat of military action against nuclear sites should not be ruled out.
But she was critical of the administration for letting European nations take the lead in negotiations over the last several years.
"I believe that we lost critical time in dealing with Iran because the White House chose to downplay the threats and to outsource the negotiations," Ms. Clinton said, according to a transcript of the speech published by The Daily Princetonian. "I don't believe you face threats like Iran or North Korea by outsourcing it to others and standing on the sidelines." [complete article]
Comment -- I'm not sure which is more disturbing: the idea that Hillary Clinton is just engaging in some lame political posturing or that she really means what she says? To talk about outsourcing negotiations makes it sound like (as far as Clinton is concerned) America is trying to rely on sweatshop EU diplomats - not exactly the spirit of internationalism that some of us might hope to find in a future Democratic president. And when Clinton says that nowhere is the need for American leadership and vision greater than in the Middle East, but follows this by saying, "The security and freedom of Israel must be decisive and remain at the core of any American approach to the Middle East," all I can say is, oy vey!
Sunni politician pleads for release of American journalist
By Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, January 20, 2006
A prominent Sunni politician pleaded for the release of American journalist Jill Carroll on Friday, the day of a deadline set by her captors.
Adnan Dulaimi's appeal was carried live on the al-Arabiya satellite television channel. Al-Arabiya and al-Jazeera satellite television aired repeated requests from Carroll's parents to her captors.
"I urge the men who kidnapped this journalist, Jill Carroll, to release her for the sake of God and our country and our religion and our honor," Dulaimi said in a news conference he called on Carroll's behalf. [complete article]
Trial illuminates dark tactics of interrogation
By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, January 20, 2006
It was dubbed the "sleeping bag technique."
Interrogators at a makeshift prison in western Iraq, desperate to break suspected insurgents, would stuff them face-first into a sleeping bag with a small hole cut in the bottom for air.
Chief Warrant Officer Lewis E. Welshofer Jr. used it on an Iraqi general as a last-ditch grab for information as Welshofer's unit was in the midst of an offensive against insurgents and desperate for intelligence.
The technique was not in the Army Field Manual, but Welshofer testified Thursday that he believed it was permitted after top commanders told interrogators "the gloves were coming off."
But Welshofer got no information.
Military prosecutors allege that Maj. Gen. Abed Hamed Mowhoush, 57, suffocated in the sleeping bag as Welshofer sat on him. Welshofer's murder trial, which began this week at the home base of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment to which he was assigned in Iraq, opens a window into the murky world of military interrogations. [complete article]
CIA warned its operatives to stay out of Italy, according to e-mail
By John Crewdson, Chicago Tribune (KRT), January 19, 2006
The CIA warned its operatives to stay out of Italy after learning that Italian prosecutors were preparing to seek arrest warrants in the agency's 2003 kidnapping of a radical Muslim preacher, according to an e-mail message recovered from the computer drive of the chief suspect in the case.
One CIA employee who received the e-mail later wrote to the agency's retired chief in Milan, Robert Seldon Lady, that she was "extremely relieved" to learn that Lady had managed to cross the border into Switzerland and was "in Geneva until this blew over" rather than "sitting in some Italian holding cell."
The employee, who is now living in Virginia, wrote that she had been taken aback when she "suddenly got an e-mail through work which was entitled, 'Italy, don't go there.'" Reached by telephone, the employee said she was not at liberty to discuss her e-mail to Lady, which was dated Dec. 24, 2004. [complete article]
Administration paper defends spy program
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, January 20, 2006
The Bush administration argued yesterday that the president has inherent war powers under the Constitution to order warrantless eavesdropping on the international calls and e-mails of U.S. citizens and others in this country, offering the administration's most detailed legal defense to date of its surveillance program.
The Justice Department's lengthy legal analysis also says that if a 1978 law that requires court warrants for domestic eavesdropping is interpreted as blocking the president's powers to protect the country in a time of war, its constitutionality is doubtful and the president's authority supersedes it.
Many experts on intelligence and national security law have concluded that the president overstepped his authority, and that the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act specifically prohibits such domestic surveillance without a warrant. [complete article]
As Muslims speak out, appeals intensify for reporter's release
By Dan Murphy and Charles Levinson, Christian Science Monitor, January 19, 2006
As calls for the safe release of kidnapped Monitor correspondent Jill Carroll continued to pour in Thursday, her mother appealed directly to the kidnappers "to release this young woman who has worked so hard to show the suffering of Iraqis to the world.... They've picked the wrong person ... if they're looking for someone who is an enemy of Iraq," Mary Beth Carroll told CNN. "Jill is just the opposite."
Some of the Arab world's most influential Muslim leaders, as well as human rights groups and politicians, are calling for the release of Ms. Carroll, whose captors have threatened to kill her if all women prisoners in coalition custody in Iraq are not released. An Iraqi official says a recommendation to release six of the eight women detention was made prior to the broadcast of the video by Carroll's captors.
[Jill Carroll's mother's] plea was echoed by many respected voices in the Arab world. The Supreme Guide of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Mahdi Akef, urged "the kidnappers of the American journalist Jill Carroll to release her immediately" in a statement Thursday. "The Supreme Guide calls on all Iraqi factions to protect civilian lives, Iraqis or not, and especially the lives of reporters and media workers who came to expose the crimes of occupation." [complete article]
Text of the statement by Jill Carroll's mother (AP).
Police recruits among massacre victims found in Iraq
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, January 19, 2006
The bodies of 36 Iraqis killed execution-style were found in two villages north of Baghdad on Wednesday, Iraqi officials said. Many of the dead were identified as police recruits from the largely Sunni Arab city of Samarra.
At least 16 people were killed in attacks around the country on Wednesday, including two American civilian security contractors who were killed by a roadside bomb in Basra.
In a swath of desert near Nebaie, a village about 20 miles northwest of Baghdad, farmers found 25 bodies, some with police identification badges, said Major Muthana, an aide to the governor of Salahuddin Province. According to a police officer from Taji, a city near the area, the men were from Samarra but had been studying at the Baghdad Police Academy. [complete article]
Torture flights: what No 10 knew and tried to cover up
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, January 21, 2006
The [British] government is secretly trying to stifle attempts by MPs to find out what it knows about CIA "torture flights" and privately admits that people captured by British forces could have been sent illegally to interrogation centres. A hidden strategy aimed at suppressing a debate about rendition - the US practice of transporting detainees to secret centres where they are at risk of being tortured - is revealed in a briefing paper sent by the Foreign Office to No 10.
The document shows that the government has been aware of secret interrogation centres, despite ministers' denials. It admits that the government has no idea whether individuals seized by British troops in Iraq or Afghanistan have been sent to the secret centres. [complete article]
Deal on Iran?
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, January 18, 2006
Two senior-level Iranian officials, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, and chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, have both indicated in recent days that the [Russian] enrichment plan was worth discussing, even as other Iranian hardliners have insisted on the nation's right to enrichment on its own soil. In a phone call Friday, Larijani also told ElBaradei that Iran is determined to realize its nuclear goals "in the framework of international regulations and under the supervision of the IAEA."
What this means is that, with talks over Iran's nuclear ambitions moving into what Rice calls a "new diplomatic phase," the key players may no longer be the Europeans and the Americans. They are now the Russians and the Chinese, which have the power to put real teeth into the isolation policy that the Europeans and Americans seek to impose on Tehran. [complete article]
Defusing Iran with democracy
By Shirin Ebadi and Muhammad Sahimi, January 19, 2006
Lost in the international fury over Iran's partial restart of its nuclear energy program, and the deplorable statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad regarding Israel, has been the fact that respect for human rights and a democratic political system are the most effective deterrent against the threat that any aspiring nuclear power, including Iran, may pose to the world.
When the U.S. and its allies encouraged the shah in the 1970s to start Iran's nuclear energy program, they helped create the Frankenstein that has become so controversial today. If, instead, they had pressed the shah to undertake political reforms, respect human rights and release Iran's political prisoners, history could have been very different.
In the three decades since then, India, South Africa, North Korea, Israel and Pakistan have joined the nuclear club — and most people would acknowledge that the democracies among them are viewed today as the least threatening. In the 1980s, South Africa's apartheid regime made several nuclear bombs, but the democratic government of Nelson Mandela dismantled them. India has a nuclear arsenal, but few perceive the world's largest democracy as a global threat. Nor is Israel considered likely to be the first in the Middle East to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.
But North Korea's nuclear program is a threat because its regime is secretive, its leader a recluse. The nuclear arsenal of Pakistan is dangerous because the military, which runs the country and is populated by Islamic extremists, helped create the Taliban and allowed Abdul Qadeer Khan to freely operate a nuclear supermarket.
Iran's nuclear program began accelerating around 1997 when the reform-minded Mohammad Khatami was elected president — just as Iran was developing an independent press, and just before a reformist parliament was elected in 2000. The reformists supported the nuclear program but wanted it to be fully transparent and in compliance with Iran's international obligations. These were reassuring signs that it would not get out of control.
But instead of backing Iran's fledgling democratic movement, which would have led to nuclear transparency, the U.S. undercut it by demonizing Iran. [complete article]
Report questions legality of briefings on surveillance
By Scott Shane, New York Times, January 19, 2006
A legal analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service concludes that the Bush administration's limited briefings for Congress on the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping without warrants are "inconsistent with the law."
The analysis was requested by Representative Jane Harman, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, who said in a Jan. 4 letter to President Bush that she believed the briefings should be open to all the members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. [complete article]
Statement - James Bamford, NSA lawsuit client
By James Bamsford, ACLU, January 17, 2006
My decision to join the ACLU lawsuit against the National Security Agency was not only difficult, but painful. During a quarter century of writing about NSA, including the only two books on the agency and countless articles, I have developed a great deal of respect and even awe for the people who work there. A number of junior cryptologists I came in contact with when I first began writing The Puzzle Palace in 1979 had become senior officials by the time I finished the sequel, Body of Secrets, in 2001. Some of them had also become friends. During that period, my relationship with NSA had also changed, from being threatened with prosecution, to being honored with a book signing ceremony at the agency.
In The Puzzle Palace I devoted a considerable amount of pages to a long list of illegal and improper activities conducted by the agency during the Watergate period. But in Body of Secrets I went to great lengths to explain how the agency had put that past behind it and was now paying strict attention to the law. I even defended the agency on many occasions, including when invited to Brussels to testify before the European Parliament which was looking into whether NSA was spying on European businesses and passing the intelligence on to American corporations. I expressed my view that they were not. In his book, Chatter, about eavesdropping around the world, Patrick Radden Keefe noted that I have "gone from being the scourge of the NSA to the agency's hagiographer."
But now it appears that the agency has gone full circle, and just as I will defend it when I think it is being wrongly accused, I will just as vigorously come out against it when I believe it has gone over the line. [complete article]
See also statements by Larry Diamond, Nancy Hollander and Christopher Hitchens. Also, On NSA spying: A letter to Congress (NYRB).
Bin Laden offers Americans truce
Aljazeera, January 19, 2006
In an audio tape broadcast on Aljazeera, Osama bin Laden has warned that al-Qaida was preparing an attack very soon, but also offered Americans a "long-term truce".
"The new operations of al-Qaida has not happened not because we could not penetrate the security measures. It is being prepared and you'll see it in your homeland very soon," the voice attributed to bin Laden said, apparently addressing Americans.
But the voice on the tape, which appeared to be aimed at the American public, also offered a truce: "We do not mind establishing a long-term truce between us and you." The tape, broadcast on Thursday but dated to December last year, comes after a year of silence from the al-Qaida leader. [complete article]
U.S. raid killed Qaeda leaders, Pakistanis say
By Carlotta Gall and Douglas Jehl, New York Times, January 19, 2006
Two senior members of Al Qaeda and the son-in-law of its No. 2 leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, were among those killed in the American airstrikes in remote northeastern Pakistan last week, two Pakistani officials said here on Wednesday.
The bodies of the men have not been recovered, but the two officials said the Pakistani authorities had been able to establish through intelligence sources the names of three of those killed in the strikes, and maybe a fourth. Both of the officials have provided reliable information in the past, but neither would be identified because they were not authorized to speak to the news media.
American counterterrorism officials declined to say whether the four Qaeda members were in fact killed in the raid, or whether the men were among those who were the targets of it. But one American official said, "These are the kinds of people we would have expected to have been there." [complete article]
Comment -- Pakistan's prime minister, Shaukat Aziz, is currently in the US and will be visiting President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials in Washington next week. He said, "The incident over the weekend is regrettable and we have condemned it, and we cannot condone the loss of innocent lives," but his general tone - as reported by the New York Times - is upbeat and conciliatory. Perhaps this isn't surprising coming from someone that many in Washington would regard as an ideal replacement for President Musharraf.
Writing about the attack in Newsweek, Christopher Dickey says that:
Like so much high-tech warfare waged by the United States, the continued enthusiasm for remote-control assassination is partly about boys with toys. The Predator drones seem to fulfill a basic adolescent fantasy. Controllers -- and by extension, the politicians who give the orders -- can use the $40 million systems to cruise over landscapes, zoom in on suspected bad guys, then rain death and destruction on them with the flick of a joystick and the push of a button.And in The Washington Monthly, Kevin Drum poses a question for discussion in the liberal blogosphere:
For the sake of argument, let's assume that we had pretty good intelligence telling us that a bunch of al-Qaeda leaders were in the house we bombed. And let's also assume that we did indeed kill al-Masri and several other major al-Qaeda leaders. Finally, let's assume that the 18 civilians killed in the attack were genuinely innocent bystanders with no connection to terrorists.I'm sure that as a good liberal, Kevin Drum doesn't think of himself as a racist, but let's suppose that the 18 innocent bystanders had included a group of American journalists. Would Drum still be so cocksure that their deaths were justifiable? The dead were of course tribal people whose names we'll almost certainly never know. I've yet to hear anyone argue that in the war on terrorism it's acceptable that Americans run the risk of becoming "collateral damage." If it's not acceptable that American bystanders get ripped to shreds, why should it be an acceptable for anyone else?
So, on the question about when such as attack would be justified? The answer is simple: Never! Choice might not determine the outcome of a counterterrorism operation but it is always applied to the means. Saddam Hussein and his sons Uday and Qusay were all wanted dead or alive, yet if any of them was to be put on trial we all know which of them was preferred captured rather than killed.
If you think that extrajudicial killings are a matter of necessity when it comes to combatting terrorism, how do you then go about arguing against any of President Bush's other ends-justify-the-means policies?
We could be ignoring the biggest story in our history
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, January 17, 2006
One of the puzzles if you're in the news business is figuring out what's "news." The fate of your local football team certainly fits the definition. So does a plane crash or a brutal murder. But how about changes in the migratory patterns of butterflies?
Scientists believe that new habitats for butterflies are early effects of global climate change -- but that isn't news, by most people's measure. Neither is declining rainfall in the Amazon, or thinner ice in the Arctic. We can't see these changes in our personal lives, and in that sense, they are abstractions. So they don't grab us the way a plane crash would -- even though they may be harbingers of a catastrophe that could, quite literally, alter the fundamentals of life on the planet. And because they're not "news," the environmental changes don't prompt action, at least not in the United States.
The best reporting of the non-news of climate change has come from Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker. Her three-part series last spring lucidly explained the harbingers of potential disaster: a shrinking of Arctic sea ice by 250 million acres since 1979; a thawing of the permafrost for what appears to be the first time in 120,000 years; a steady warming of Earth's surface temperature; changes in rainfall patterns that could presage severe droughts of the sort that destroyed ancient civilizations. [complete article]
U.S. policy of abuse undermines rights worldwide
Human Rights Watch, January 18, 2006
New evidence demonstrated in 2005 that torture and mistreatment have been a deliberate part of the Bush administration's counterterrorism strategy, undermining the global defense of human rights, Human Rights Watch said today in releasing its World Report 2006.
The evidence showed that abusive interrogation cannot be reduced to the misdeeds of a few low-ranking soldiers, but was a conscious policy choice by senior U.S. government officials. The policy has hampered Washington's ability to cajole or pressure other states into respecting international law, said the 532-page volume's introductory essay.
"Fighting terrorism is central to the human rights cause," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "But using illegal tactics against alleged terrorists is both wrong and counterproductive." [complete article]
THREATENING THE SECURITY COUNCIL
The west has picked a fight with Iran that it cannot win
By Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, January 20, 2006
Never pick a fight you know you cannot win. Or so I was told. Pick an argument if you must, but not a fight. Nothing I have read or heard in recent weeks suggests that fighting Iran over its nuclear enrichment programme makes any sense at all. The very talk of it - macho phrases about "all options open" - suggests an international community so crazed with video game enforcement as to have lost the power of coherent thought.
Iran is a serious country, not another two-bit post-imperial rogue waiting to be slapped about the head by a white man. It is the fourth largest oil producer in the world. Its population is heading towards 80 million by 2010. Its capital, Tehran, is a mighty metropolis half as big again as London. Its culture is ancient and its political life is, to put it mildly, fluid.
All the following statements about Iran are true. There are powerful Iranians who want to build a nuclear bomb. There are powerful ones who do not. There are people in Iran who would like Israel to disappear. There are people who would not. There are people who would like Islamist rule. There are people who would not. There are people who long for some idiot western politician to declare war on them. There are people appalled at the prospect. The only question for western strategists is which of these people they want to help. [complete article]
Comment -- The American drumbeat - take Iran to the Security Council - is being carefully choreographed. It is intended to reached a dramatic climax in February when, chance would have it, the council's presidency will be held by US Ambassador, John Bolton. He says, "This will be a test for the council, and appropriately so, because the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems threatens their region and threatens the world as a whole."
The question is, if this a test for the Security Council, is the Bush administration pinning its hopes on success or failure?
It's easy to see how the administration might derive a measure of satisfaction in seeing the council stumble and thereby bolster the claim of those who regard the UN as an "abject failure." At the same time, if the Security Council does not respond well as ringmaster Bolton lashes his whip, the US will then have to tackle the question: What next?
On the other hand, if "success" means that the council agrees to impose the most punative of sanctions by cutting off revenue from oil exports and preventing Iran from importing gasoline, athough this would obviously profit the oil industry it would just as predictably hurt every SUV-driving American and thereby strike a blow to the GOP in the coming elections.
Ultimately, one has to wonder, has the administration really thought this through, or is it again a hostage of its own rhetoric?
Israel in talks with U.S., Europe on Iran sanctions
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, January 18, 2006
Under the guidance of an interministerial committee on Iran's nuclear program, headed by Mossad chief Meir Dagan, various Israeli agencies, both defense and civilian, have prepared proposals for diplomatic and economic sanctions against Iran that could be applied either by the Security Council or by the European Union and other countries independently. These ideas have been presented to American and European officials over the last two months. [complete article]
Khamenei: Iran won't buckle if pressed on nuclear program
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, January 18, 2006
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday the world could not deflect Iran from its "scientific developments," a reference to mounting pressure over the country's nuclear program.
Britain, France and Germany, which suspect Iran's nuclear scientists could be working on weapons, have drafted a resolution seeking that Iran be referred to the U.N. Security Council, where it could face sanctions.
"The Islamic Republic, based on its principles, without being scared of the fuss created, will continue on its path of scientific developments and the world cannot influence the Iranian nation's will," state television quoted him as saying.
"We are not after nuclear weapons and the West knows this because obtaining nuclear weapons is against the country's political and economic interests and is against Islamic teachings," added Khamenei, who has the last word on all state matters. [complete article]
U.S. streamlines entry process for foreign visitors
By Brian Knowlton and John O'Neil, New York Times and International Herald Tribune, January 18, 2006
The United States, seeking to lower obstacles to travel that have hurt business, discouraged foreign students and fueled resentments since the Sept. 11 attacks, announced several measures Tuesday to speed visa processing and generally make it easier to visit the country.
Spokesmen for the travel industry applauded the changes.
The steps, some of them already in development, were announced jointly by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, a combination meant to underscore that, as Rice put it, "it is a vital national interest for America to remain a welcoming nation even as we strengthen security." [complete article]
Comment -- Since the Democratic Party generally seems bereft of its own strategic thinking, maybe they could usefully borrow a phrase from Condoleezza Rice and make it their own: national interest.
It's probably already dawning on most Americans that national security policy - especially as implemented by the Bush administration - doesn't necessarily serve national interest. And now that the country isn't completely held captive by its own fears, it behooves Democrats to stop playing a losing game of strong-on-national-security and start casting itself as the party focused on national interest. Let the Republicans own national security and then forcefully argue how this Republican fixation has played out to the detriment of national interest. The Republicans mean well but their inability to see the big picture has driven the country into debt, alienated its friends and empowered its enemies.
The pursuit of national interest cannot conflict with the needs of national security, yet those who portray themselves as defenders of national security have clearly demonstrated that they don't understand how to serve America's interests. It's the national interest, stupid! Are you listening Mr. Carville?
Musharraf's al-Qaeda hunt crisis
By Zaffar Abbas, BBC News, January 16, 2006
The American missile strike that killed many civilians in a Pakistani border village is the latest in a series of failed attempts by the US intelligence and military to eliminate al-Qaeda's top two men.
The attack destroyed three houses in Bajaur agency near the Afghan border - with or without the knowledge of Islamabad.
It has strengthened the widely-held view in Pakistan that in their sheer desperation to hunt down Osama Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri the Americans have decided not to care about collateral damage. [complete article]
See also, Confusion shrouds Pakistan attack (WP).
Comment -- In Asia Times, Syed Saleem Shahzad cites intelligence contacts who told him that "the target [of Friday's CIA missile strike] was not specifically Zawahiri - it could equally have been Taliban leader Mullah Omar or Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan and a key figure in the Afghan resistance." He also asserts that Pakistan "knew in advance" of the attack. No doubt there is "consultation", but somehow I doubt that the CIA would keep their ISI counterparts completely inside the loop.
Gunmen, car bombings end week-long lull in Iraq violence
By Nelson Hernandez and Bassam Sebti, Washington Post, January 18, 2006
Gunmen and car bombings killed nearly 50 Iraqis in several attacks around the country Wednesday, police officials said, in a new wave of violence that has ended a week-long lull in fighting.
Gunmen ambushed a heavily defended convoy of telecommunications workers traveling the streets of the capital Wednesday morning, killing 10 security guards and kidnapping two African engineers, an Iraqi government spokesman said.
It was unclear who seized the engineers, who worked for the Iraqna cell phone company, said Col. Mohammed Ahmed Nuaimi, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry. Nuaimi said the ambush had taken place in Baghdad's western Nafaq al-Shurta district, which neighbors a Sunni Arab-dominated area of the city. A report by the Associated Press, citing a statement by Iraqna, said that the kidnapped engineers had come from Malawi and Madagascar. [complete article]
Hamas support grows after Israelis shoot militant leader
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, January 18, 2006
The green Hamas flags were fluttering from the rooftops against a cold grey sky when they brought the body of the militant Thabet Ayyadeh home yesterday. As the mourners began making their way towards the cemetery they could hear repeated bursts of Israeli gunfire - directed into the air as a warning - to deter the teenagers throwing stones at the waiting police jeeps.
Mohammed Abu Tir, number two on Hamas's national list of parliamentary candidates, had arrived in good time to pay his condolences to the dead 24-year-old's tearful brother Ziad. As the January rain began to fall, they kissed three times before Ziad Ayyadeh, 36, declared: "It is a positive thing because people now will vote for Hamas." [complete article]
2002 memo doubted uranium sale claim
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, January 18, 2006
A high-level intelligence assessment by the Bush administration concluded in early 2002 that the sale of uranium from Niger to Iraq was "unlikely" because of a host of economic, diplomatic and logistical obstacles, according to a secret memo that was recently declassified by the State Department.
Among other problems that made such a sale improbable, the assessment by the State Department's intelligence analysts concluded, was that it would have required Niger to send "25 hard-to-conceal 10-ton tractor-trailers" filled with uranium across 1,000 miles and at least one international border. [complete article]
White House disputes Gore on NSA spying
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, January 18, 2006
The White House fired back at critics of President Bush in unusually tough terms yesterday as a pair of civil liberties organizations went to court in an effort to shut down the administration's domestic spying program as unconstitutional.
On a day that evoked the presidential campaigns of 2000 and 2004 -- and perhaps that of 2008 -- Bush's chief spokesman lashed out at former vice president Al Gore for "hypocrisy" and at Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) for "out of bounds" criticism. Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) joined the fray by accusing Bush of breaking the law.
The barrage was the latest episode in the uproar sparked by last month's disclosure that Bush authorized warrantless surveillance of telephone calls and e-mail between Americans and people overseas suspected of links to al Qaeda or other terrorist groups. Bush has defended the program as a vital tool in a fast-moving battle against elusive enemies, and he has cited the inherent powers of the presidency in circumventing a long-established secret court that issues warrants in intelligence cases. [complete article]
Iraq captors threaten to kill journalist
Aljazeera, January 18, 2006
The abductors of US journalist Jill Carroll have threatened to kill her if the United States does not free Iraqi women prisoners within 72 hours, reports Aljazeera.
Aljazeera aired a brief video on Tuesday showing Carroll speaking to the camera, without broadcasting her voice.
The Qatar-based station said the kidnappers identified themselves as members of a previously unknown armed group calling itself the "Brigades of Vengeance". [complete article]
Editorial, Jordan Times, January 15, 2006
The kidnappers who abducted her could not have chosen a more wrong target. True, Jill is a US citizen. But she is also more critical of US policies towards the Middle East than many Arabs.
Though as a reporter she always complies with the strictest requirements of objectivity and impartiality, Jill has been from day one opposed to the war, to the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
More than just being sympathetic with average Iraqis under war and occupation, Jill is a true believer in Arab causes.
From Arabic food to the Arabic language, Jill has always wanted to know and experience as much as possible about Arab identity, and she is keen on absorbing it, learning, understanding and respecting it.
She doesn't just "like" Arab culture, she loves it.
An open-minded, sharp, intelligent, dedicated and highly appreciated professional, Jill makes one of the best ambassadors Arabs could ever hope for. It is simply unconscionable for any Arab to want to harm a person like her.
It is simply unconscionable for any human being to even think of remotely hurting such a loyal, noble and unselfish person. [complete article]
Iran vows tough reprisals if referred to UN Security Council
AFP (via Yahoo), January 17, 2006
Iran vowed to put an end to tough UN inspections of its atomic programme and fully resume sensitive nuclear fuel work if its case is referred to the Security Council.
Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asgar Soltaniyeh, also told the student news agency ISNA that a decision to kick-start nuclear research work was "irreversible". [complete article]
Kremlin says Iran sanctions 'not the solution'
By Simon Freeman, The Times, January 17, 2006
Russia today broke ranks with the unified diplomatic front which has condemned Iran for restarting its nuclear programme, saying that sanctions were not the best way ahead.
Moscow has hinted that it could drop its long-standing resistance to referring Iran to the UN Security Council, after Iran's decision to end a moratorium on nuclear activity. President Vladimir Putin said yesterday that he was running out of patience with the republic.
But Sergei Lavrov, Russia's Foreign Minister, told reporters today: "Sanctions are in no way the best, or the only, way to solve the problem." [complete article]
Olmert: We can't allow a foe like Iran to hold WMDs
By Aluf Benn and Yossi Melman, Haaretz, January 17, 2006
Speaking to a joint news conference with President Moshe Katsav, [acting Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert said in response to a question over Iran:
"Under no circumstances, and at no point, can Israel allow anyone with these kinds of malicious designs against us, to have control of weapons of destruction that can threaten our existence." [complete article]
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: The nuclear prophet
By Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, January 15, 2006
What neither the Tehran elite nor the mullahs realised was how unpopular they were: most of the victor's votes [in last summer's presidential election] came not from religious zealots, but from the struggling masses who responded to his uncorrupt image, and his promise to "put Iran's oil wealth on people's tables".
The realities of office have been another matter. Alongside the formal trappings of the presidency, cabinet and parliament is the theocratic power structure, presided over by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who took over on Khomeini's death. The decisions on most matters, including nuclear development, are with him. [complete article]
Oil surpasses $65, reaching three-month high, on Nigeria, Iran
Bloomberg, January 17, 2006
Crude oil rose to its highest in more than three months, topping $65 a barrel in New York, on concern unrest in Nigeria and possible United Nations sanctions against Iran will disrupt supplies from the two countries, which together account for 7.5 percent of global production.
Nigerian militants threatened to attack oil companies in coming days, Sky News reported, after sabotage cut the country's output 4 percent since last week. The U.S. and U.K. yesterday called for the UN Security Council to act after Iran resumed its nuclear-research program. Threats to supply are leading investors to reverse bets for falling prices, said Tobias Merath, an oil analyst at Credit Suisse in Zurich.
"It's a change of perception in light of the developments in Nigeria and Iran and a constant stream of news adding to supply concerns," Merath said. He forecasts oil will rise above $70 "in the summer, during the U.S. driving season. Political tension in the Middle East could bring us there a little earlier," he said. [complete article]
Chinese detainees' lawyers will take case to high court
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, January 17, 2006
Lawyers for a group of Chinese nationals held in the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with no hope of release are taking the rare step of asking the Supreme Court to intervene immediately, saying only the high court can resolve the constitutional crisis their case presents.
Attorneys for the detained Uighurs, Muslim natives of western China who oppose their country's Communist rule, are scheduled to petition the court as early as today. They seek a break in the impasse created when U.S. District Judge James Robertson ruled last month that the Bush administration's "Kafka-esque" detention of the Uighurs was illegal but he simultaneously determined that the court lacked the power to overrule the president and free them.
"That ruling doesn't simply hit innocent men now in their fifth year of imprisonment," said Sabin Willett, one of the Uighurs' attorneys. "It goes to whether we have a judicial branch at all. This is that rare question so vital that the Supreme Court should immediately intervene to answer." [complete article]
Spy agency data after Sept. 11 led FBI to dead ends
By Lowell Bergman, Eric Lichtblau, Scott Shane and Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times, January 17 2006
In the anxious months after the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Security Agency began sending a steady stream of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses and names to the F.B.I. in search of terrorists. The stream soon became a flood, requiring hundreds of agents to check out thousands of tips a month.
But virtually all of them, current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans. [complete article]
Two groups planning to sue over federal eavesdropping
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, January 17, 2006
Two leading civil rights groups plan to file lawsuits Tuesday against the Bush administration over its domestic spying program to determine whether the operation was used to monitor 10 defense lawyers, journalists, scholars, political activists and other Americans with ties to the Middle East.
The two lawsuits, which are being filed separately by the American Civil Liberties Union in Federal District Court in Detroit and the Center for Constitutional Rights in Federal District Court in Manhattan, are the first major court challenges to the eavesdropping program. [complete article]
Gore says Bush broke the law with spying
By Chris Cillizza, Washington Post, January 17, 2006
Former vice president Al Gore accused President Bush of breaking the law by authorizing wiretaps on U.S. citizens without court warrants and called on Congress yesterday to reassert its oversight responsibilities on a "shameful exercise of power" by the White House.
"The president of the United States has been breaking the law repeatedly and insistently," Gore said in a speech at Constitution Hall in Washington. "A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government." [complete article]
Crooks and Liars and The Washington Note
U.S. tries to loosen Shiite grip in Iraq
By Charles Levinson, Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 2006
One month after Iraq's Dec. 15 election, a shift is afoot that will probably weaken Shiite political clout as the country's factions enter serious negotiations to form a new government.
Increasingly, the US is throwing its weight in Iraq behind Sunni Arabs, about 20 percent of the country, to ensure they are part of a new coalition government.
Analysts say the US is convinced reconciliation with Sunni Arabs will help stop the insurgency. There is also an American unease with the growing influence of Iran on Iraq's dominant Shiite bloc.
But Shiite leaders have responded defiantly, threatening unflinching stands that could push the country closer to full-scale civil war. [complete article]
See also, USAID paper details security crisis in Iraq(WP).
Can Karen Hughes spin the CIA attack in Pakistan?
By David Corn, The Nation, January 17, 2006
Imagine this: a drone launched from a ship off the Eastern coast of the United States fires a missile that destroys a neighborhood of Stamford, Connecticut. Another direct attack on America from a foreign enemy! The newspapers would cover the story on the front-page for days to come. It would be all over the cable shows. US officials would be bombarded with demands for answers.
Now consider the CIA's recent attack on the Pakistani village of Damadola--an attempt to kill Ayman Zawahiri, al Qaeda's No. 2 that seems instead to have ended up blowing apart a dozen or so civilians. This tragic episode in the so-called war on terrorism was off the front pages by Monday and competing for time on national cable news broadcasts with runaway convicts and other local crime news. I'm not all that surprised. This was another example of how what we do there does not fully register here. [complete article]
See also, After repeated failed attempts to foster its image in the Middle East, U.S. lays blame on Arab media(Daily Star).
Suicide bombers kill dozens in Afghanistan
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, January 17, 2006
At least two dozen people were killed in a pair of suicide attacks in Afghanistan's southern Kandahar province on Monday, marking the deadliest day of suicide bombings here in the more than four years since the fall of the Taliban.
The larger of the attacks took place in Spin Boldak, a town on the Pakistani border, when a bomber drove his motorbike into a crowd of hundreds who had gathered at a festival to watch a wrestling match, according to the provincial governor, Asadullah Khalid. That attack killed at least 20 people and injured several dozen more.
Earlier in the afternoon, a suicide bomber in the city of Kandahar, near the main mosque downtown, attacked an Afghan army vehicle, killing four soldiers and a civilian. Fourteen other people were wounded, according to a local hospital official. [complete article]
"The order came from Assad"
Former Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam interviewed by Der Spiegel, January 16 , 2006
SPIEGEL: You have accused President Assad of being involved in the attack on Hariri. But so far you haven't charged him with having ordered the attack himself. Who do you think gave those orders?
Former Syrian Vice President Abdul-Halim Khaddam: Logistically speaking, the attack on Hariri was an extremely complex operation, one that could only have been set into motion by the highest-ranking members of the power structure in Lebanon and Syria. Syria's former intelligence chief in Beirut, Rustum Ghazali, could not have done this on his own. And even if Ghazali is a key figure in this crime -- which is what the results of the investigation report suggest -- the orders could only have come directly from President Bashar Assad. Assad said: "If any Syrian is involved in this crime, then I too am involved." There is a great deal of truth to that sentence. [complete article]
Push for Middle East democracy benefiting Islamists
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, January 13, 2006
Call it a case of why you should be careful what you wish for.
President Bush's efforts to spread democracy to the Middle East have strengthened Islamists across the region, posing fresh challenges for the United States, according to U.S. officials, foreign diplomats and democracy experts.
Islamist parties trounced secular opponents in recent elections in Iraq and Egypt.
Hamas, the armed Islamic Palestinian group, appears set to fare well in Palestinian parliamentary elections Jan. 25, posing a quandary for how the United States and Israel pursue peace efforts. Hamas has carried out suicide bombings against Israel and calls for the country's destruction.
In Lebanon, the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah is part of the government for the first time. [complete article]
Translator's conviction raises legal concerns
By Michael Powell and Michelle Garcia, Washington Post, January 16, 2006
For three years federal agents trailed Mohammed Yousry, a chubby 50-year-old translator and U.S. citizen who worked for radical lawyer Lynne Stewart. Prosecutors wiretapped his phone, and FBI agents shadowed and interviewed him. They read his books and notepads and every file on his computer.
This was their conclusion:
"Yousry is not a practicing Muslim. He is not a fundamentalist," prosecutor Anthony Barkow acknowledged in his closing arguments to a jury in federal district court in Manhattan earlier this year. "Mohammed Yousry is not someone who supports or believes in the use of violence."
Still, the prosecutor persuaded the jury to convict Yousry of supporting terrorism. Yousry now awaits sentencing in March, when he could face 20 years in prison for translating a letter from imprisoned Muslim cleric Omar Abdel Rahman to Rahman's lawyer in Egypt. [complete article]
Hamas candidate speaks of future talks with Israel
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, January 15, 2006
"We'll negotiate [with Israel] better than the others, who negotiated for 10 years and achieved nothing," Sheikh Mohammed Abu Tir, second on the Hamas national list for the Palestinian parliamentary election, told Haaretz recently.
Abu Tir does not dismiss future negotiations with Israel. He makes a great effort to explain to Israel and the world, which are attempting to come to terms with his organization's expected good showing in the elections later this month, that Hamas is playing by new rules.
According to Abu Tir, the movement's decision to enter the elections - as well as the decision to remove from its election platform sections in its constitution calling for Israel's destruction - are not only tactical measures. Rather, they represent a strategic shift. [complete article]
Israel OKs voting in East Jerusalem, arrests Hamas candidates
By Dion Nissenbaum, Knight Ridder, January 15, 2006
The Israeli government gave the green light on Sunday for Palestinians in East Jerusalem to vote in next week's legislative elections, but then arrested four candidates from the Islamic group Hamas hours later.
The actions underscored the delicate balance Israel is trying to find in allowing Palestinians to hold a free and fair election without providing support to Hamas, a militant group that seeks Israel's destruction. [complete article]
Comment -- Or to put it another way, the actions underscored the delicate balance Israel is trying to find in creating the appearance of allowing Palestinians to hold "free and fair elections" while also trying to control the outcome of those elections.
Anger in the West Bank helps Hamas win hearts
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, January 16, 2006
Even here in Biddu, a traditionally secular West Bank town a few miles from Jerusalem, the radical Islamic group Hamas is on the rise in an atmosphere of pessimism, anger and joblessness.
The cafe near the Biddu mosque is full of jobless men of all ages, most of whom worked in Israel before the second intifada produced an Israeli crackdown and the building of the separation barrier, which snakes through some Biddu farmland.
Politics echoes through the Friday sermon in the packed mosque, with Sheik Yakoub Kirresh, a Palestinian once deported from Israel and later arrested in Jordan as a legislator there, speaking angrily of the Israeli occupation and the need to vote in the Jan. 25 legislative elections. The walls nearby are covered with election posters for parties and candidates in the legislative elections, the first since 1996. Hamas is running, under the name "Change and Reform," the banner that helped produce sizable wins for Hamas in a series of municipal elections. [complete article]
The fox speaks
By Sami Moubayed, Al-Ahram Weekly, January 5, 2006
Surprising everybody around him, former Syrian vice-president Abdul-Halim Khaddam appeared from his Paris- based residence on Al-Arabiya TV on 30 December declaring his variance from the Syrian regime that he had co- created with Syria's late president Hafez Al-Assad in November 1970. What seemed like a calm Khaddam -- once known as the fox of Syrian politics -- got more aggressive as the hour-long interview progressed. He started by explaining that he had not been exiled to France, but that he was in Paris because he wanted to write his memoirs in peace. His family had come to spend the Christmas holidays in France, he said, "but they will return to Syria". He said that he had met President Bashar Al-Assad prior to his departure and that they enjoyed an excellent relationship "despite differences in opinion". He described Al-Assad as having "high manners" who "showed me affection and respect because he knew of the nature of the relationship between his father and I". [complete article]
See also, Former Syrian VP Khaddam says forming exile government (Reuters).
Protests spread across Pakistan
By Kamran Khan and Griff Witte, Washington Post, January 16, 2006
Thousands of Pakistanis took to the streets in cities across the country Sunday to protest a U.S. missile attack two days earlier that killed more than a dozen people but apparently missed its target, Ayman Zawahiri, the deputy leader of al Qaeda.
In Karachi, Pakistan's most populous city, about 8,000 people attended a rally outside the main Binori mosque, listening to fiery speeches condemning the United States and the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf.
"There has been a protest in every big city, and the government understands why so many people are angry," said Sheik Rashid Ahmad, Pakistan's information minister. "When it comes to image-building in Muslim countries, particularly Pakistan, the U.S. is moving one foot forward and two backwards." [complete article]
Saudis warn Iran that its nuclear plan risks disaster
By Richard Beeston, The Times, January 16, 2006
Saudi Arabia broke its silence yesterday in the growing row between the West and Iran by warning Tehran that its nuclear ambitions could bring disaster to the region.
Prince Saud al-Faisal, the veteran Saudi Foreign Minister, criticised President Ahmadinejad's Administration, urging him to forgo atomic energy, to moderate his foreign policy and resist the temptation of interfering in Iraq.
Speaking before a terrorism conference in London, which he will be attending today, Prince Saud spoke for many in the Arab world when he cautioned of the dangers of a regional arms race.
"We are urging Iran to accept the position that we have taken to make the Gulf, as part of the Middle East, nuclear free and free of weapons of mass destruction. We hope that they will join us in this policy and assure that no new threat of arms race happens in this region," he told The Times.
He said that the problem stemmed from Israel being allowed to build nuclear warheads, prompting others to follow suit. "Nobody mentions that Israel has 100 nuclear weapons in stock, even though it is an open secret," he said. [complete article]
2,000 more M.P.'s will help train the Iraqi police
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, January 16, 2006
American commanders are assigning more than 2,000 Army military police advisers to work side by side with Iraq police officers in one of the most extensive efforts yet to team Americans with uniformed Iraqis.
The effort, a mission that entails significant new security risks for United States forces, is just starting in Baghdad. It will begin expanding to local stations and provincial and district headquarters in all 18 provinces by the end of the month. It greatly increases the size and scope of the current field training by 500 international civilian police advisers and some military police units, American military officials say.
About 80,000 local police officers across Iraq are now certified as trained and equipped, more than halfway toward the goal of 135,000 by early 2007.
But senior commanders, including Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American officer in Iraq, have vowed to make 2006 "the year of the police" in a tacit acknowledgment that corruption, ineptitude and infiltration in the Iraqi police forces stand in the way of any plan by the Americans to draw down troops this year. [complete article]
U.S. deflects criticism of commitment to U.N.
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, January 16, 2006
The Bush administration is defending itself against criticism that it has not followed through on promises to lead a vigorous campaign at the United Nations to establish an effective new human rights council to condemn rights abusers.
For months, human rights advocates have accused the administration of leading a lackluster diplomatic effort, noting that it has assigned a mid-level representative to lead the talks in New York while other governments sent their top U.N. ambassadors.
They also expressed concern that John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has been unduly fatalistic about the prospects for success, indicating he is prepared to abandon the effort if he cannot overcome opposition to a credible council.
Kenneth Roth, executive director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch, said: "Frankly, my main critique of U.S. policy at this stage has been that the United States has been mainly AWOL, that its presence during the negotiations has been low level." Roth said he shares Bolton's assessment that the United States "shouldn't settle for window dressing." He expressed concern that Bolton's view reflects "defeatism" because "I don't accept that we can't emerge from these negotiations without a significantly improved council." [complete article]
Specter remains doubtful of spy program's legality
By Maura Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2006
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) on Sunday reiterated his reservations about President Bush's legal authority to order domestic spying, saying that Congress had not given Bush a "blank check" to order warrantless eavesdropping.
Specter also said that if planned congressional hearings determined that the president broke the law, one possible remedy could be impeachment, though he quickly added that such talk was theoretical -- and premature.
"The remedy could be a variety of things," including impeachment or criminal prosecution, "but the principal remedy ... under our society is to pay a political price," Specter told ABC's "This Week."
He said he was willing to follow the investigation as far as it needed to go, "but I don't see any talk about impeachment here." [complete article]
Europe loses patience with Iran's mullah regime
By Dieter Bednarz, Ralf Beste, Marion Kraske, Georg Mascolo, and Christoph Schult, Der Spiegel, January 16 2006
"Id al-Adha," the "Festival of the Sacrifice," is the most important holiday of the year for devout Muslims, and it's meant to be a time filled with humility and kindness. Every family that can somehow afford to do so slaughters a lamb to celebrate the steadfast faith of the prophet Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his own son out of devotion to Allah. In Sura 22, the Koran commands the faithful to "bring tidings of joy to the righteous" -- and the faithful, after praying in the mosque, generously bestow sweets and good wishes on one another.
One of the most powerful clerics in the Iranian theocracy picked this normally happy occasion to remind the West of his country's resolve and intransigence. Anyone who plans to "cause trouble" for Iran would seriously regret his action, threatened former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Speaking at the University of Tehran, Rafsanjani vowed that Iran would emerge victorious from any conflict.
These sharp words, coming from a former president who is considered both one of the country's most influential politicians and one of its more moderate forces, were not meant for the devout members of his audience. Instead, Rafsanjani's threats were directed at the international community, with which the Tehran regime is at odds over its nuclear program, marking the highest point in a conflict that, as Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, whose country is currently leading the European Union presidency, warns, "threatens world peace." Should Iran, as the West fears, truly move forward on the road to becoming a nuclear power, the radical mullahs' claim to be the source of a confrontational version of Islam would acquire a new dimension -- one backed by nuclear weapons. [complete article]
Iran issues stark warning on oil price
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, January 16, 2006
Iran stepped up its defiance of international pressure over its nuclear programme yesterday by warning of soaring oil prices if it is subjected to economic sanctions. As diplomats from the US, Europe, Russia, and China prepared to meet today in London to discuss referring Tehran to the UN security council, Iran's economy minister, Davoud Danesh-Jafari, said the country's position as the world's fourth-largest oil producer meant such action would have grave consequences.
"Any possible sanctions from the west could possibly, by disturbing Iran's political and economic situation, raise oil prices beyond levels the west expects," he told Iranian state radio. [complete article]
Comment -- Iran's leaders clearly feel that the US and its allies do not present a credible threat to its nuclear ambitions. Neoconservative windbags like William Kristol can solemnly declare that "various military options" must be kept on the table, but when those "options" get spelled out, it becomes plain that the political consequences of attacking Iran look far worse than the current impasse.
When it comes to the threat of sanctions, again the likely economic fallout appears to threaten the threateners more than the threatened. Not surprisingly, Britain's foreign secretary is thus trying to gently put his foot on the brake (even while the US pushes the accelerator) and says there should be "no rush" to apply sanctions. Iran, far from feeling cornered is showing the extent to which it feels emboldened as it now baits its critics. The Bush administration might have thought that it could pursue a hard cop/soft cop strategy in partnership with its European allies, but Iran is now ready to call the American bluff. The only way out (if it's not already too late) is for the Bush administration to make a genuinely bold move and offer a non-aggression treaty and a path towards opening diplomatic relations and lifting economic sanctions. Perhaps then Iran will be willing to step back from the nuclear brink.
Iran's rogue rage
By Christopher Dickey, Maziar Bahari and Babak Dehghanpisheh, Newsweek, January 23, 2006
On the ski slopes of Dizin in north Tehran, boys and girls mingle freely, listening to Madonna, Shakira and Persian pop diva Googoosh. Headscarves are reduced to hair bands, and Mahsid Sajadi, a 25-year-old graphic designer, is sporting a Star-Spangled Banner bandanna her cousin sent her from Orange County, Calif. Sajadi, modern and cosmopolitan, has almost no opinions in common with Iran's rabble-rousing ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—except when it comes to nukes. "We have a right to have nuclear technology," says Sajadi. "We are a nation with an ancient civilization and rich culture. I think it's really hypocritical of Mr. Bush to criticize Iran for having nuclear technology while Pakistan, India and Israel have nuclear bombs." [complete article]
West is in dark ages, says Iran's President
By Robert Tait, The Observer, January 15, 2006
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline President of Iran, launched an angry tirade against the West yesterday, accusing it of a 'dark ages' mentality and threatening retaliation unless it recognised his country's nuclear ambitions.
In a blistering assault, Ahmadinejad repeated the Islamic regime's position that it would press ahead with a nuclear programme despite threats by the European Union and United States to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, where it could face possible sanctions. He added that Iran was a 'civilised nation' that did not need such weapons. Iran insists its nuclear programme is a wholly peaceful attempt to generate electricity.
Addressing a rare press conference in Tehran, he appeared to issue thinly veiled threats against Western countries, implying that they could face serious consequences unless they backed down. 'You need us more than we need you. All of you today need the Iranian nation,' Ahmadinejad said. 'Why are you putting on airs? You don't have that might.' [complete article]
Diplomacy and force
Mohamed ElBaradei interviewed by Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 23, 2006
Christopher Dickey: With all due respect, the Iranians don't seem to care what you think.
Mohamed ElBaradei: Well, they might not seem to care. But if I say that I am not able to confirm the peaceful nature of that program after three years of intensive work, well, that's a conclusion that's going to reverberate, I think, around the world. [complete article]
Campaign kept under wraps
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2006
On Saladin Street, the main commercial thoroughfare in Palestinian-dominated East Jerusalem, an odd election ritual takes place almost every night.
Moving swiftly and stealthily, young Palestinian men affix campaign posters to concrete walls and the metal awnings of closed shops. And the next morning, Israeli police tear them down.
The upcoming Palestinian parliamentary election, scheduled to take place Jan. 25, has become entwined in one of the oldest and bitterest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians: sovereignty over Jerusalem, the holy city both sides believe is their rightful capital. And both sides believe that political activity -- campaigning and voting alike -- constitutes a powerful symbolic claim to its narrow streets and winding alleyways.
With the vote only days away, the city's traditionally Arab sector has almost none of the trappings of what feels in the West Bank and Gaza Strip like a national campaign in full swing. [complete article]
Hamas rallies to 'martyr' mother
By Jon Swain, The Sunday Times, January 15, 2006
One objective burnt deep in the heart and mind of Mohammed Farhat when, rifle in hand, he attacked a Jewish settlement in the Gaza Strip: to kill as many Israelis as possible.
The 17-year-old Palestinian dispatched five settlers before being shot dead. In later military operations his two brothers were killed by the Israelis, who also tried to blow up the Farhats' home.
Today, with the intifada in Gaza and the West Bank over and Israel's withdrawal from the Gaza Strip completed, Mariam Farhat, the mother of the three dead youths, insists that the struggle must go on. But this time she has chosen the ballot box over the bullet. [complete article]
The drone, the CIA and a botched attempt to kill bin Laden's deputy
By Jason Burke and Imtiaz Gul, The Observer, January 15, 2006
The missiles were deadly accurate. In the pitch dark of a night in Pakistan's sparsely populated North West Frontier Province, they not only located the three targeted houses on the outskirts of the village of Damadola Burkanday but squarely struck their hujra, the large rooms traditionally used by Pashtun tribesmen to accommodate guests.
Yesterday some of the results of the strike were very clear: three ruined houses, mud-brick rubble scattered across the steeply terraced fields, the bodies of livestock lying where thrown by the airblast, a row of newly dug graves in the village cemetery and torn green and red embroidered blankets flapping in the chilly wind. Four children were among the 18 villagers who died in the brutally sudden attack on their homes.
Yet evidence emerging appeared to indicate that, though the technology that guided the missiles to their targets at 3am on Friday was faultless, the intelligence that had selected those targets was not. [complete article]
Afghan bomb kills Canadian envoy
BBC News, January 15, 2006
A senior Canadian diplomat has been killed by a suspected suicide bomber in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
A Canadian spokesman said Glyn Berry, 59, was the political director of a reconstruction team in Afghanistan. [complete article]
Taliban defector is assassinated
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, January 15, 2006
Gunmen in the southern city of Kandahar on Saturday killed a former Taliban leader who had repudiated the extremist movement in recent years, siding instead with the U.S. presence and Afghanistan's move toward democracy.
Mohammed Khaksar, the Taliban's former intelligence chief, was shot in the chest, neck and head by two gunmen on a motorbike while he was carrying groceries home from a market around 4 p.m., according to his brother and the Kandahar police chief. He died instantly.
The incident was the latest in a string of brazen attacks that continue to haunt the country four years after the Taliban was ousted from power. In recent weeks, a teacher was beheaded, and numerous other Afghans have been killed in suicide attacks. [complete article]
'Marshall Plan' for Iraq fades
By Doug Smith and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2006
After more than 2 1/2 years of sputtering reconstruction work, the United States' "Marshall Plan" to rebuild this war-torn country is drawing to a close this year with much of its promise unmet and no plans to extend its funding.
The $18.6 billion approved by Congress in 2003 will be spent by the end of this year, officials here say. Foreign governments have given only a fraction of the billions they pledged two years ago.
With the country still a shambles, U.S. officials are promoting a tough-love vision of reconstruction that puts the burden on the Iraqi people. [complete article]
Kurds emerging as Iraqi arbitrators
By Scheherezade Faramazi, AP (via Newsday), January 14, 2006
Once an oppressed minority under Saddam Hussein, the Kurds of Iraq's north are now the kingmakers, hosting a string of visiting politicians from Sunni Arab and Shiite Muslim factions for consultations on shaping a future government.
The Dec. 15 national elections gave a lead role to the largely secular and independence-minded Iraqi Kurds because a two-thirds majority is needed to control parliament and no group is expected to come close to that.
Accounting for about 15 percent of the country's people, the pragmatic Kurds say they will work with anyone willing to offer them something in return. Independence is their ultimate prize -- even if the politicians don't say it publicly. [complete article]
Reporter tells of capture, 5 days held by insurgents
By Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, January 14, 2006
The day after Christmas, as reporter Phil Sands was driving to an interview in a desolate Baghdad neighborhood, two luxury sedans suddenly blocked the way, forcing his driver to stop.
About 10 men in ski masks and AK-47 rifles piled out and swarmed around his car. Sands' translator and driver got out. The masked men pushed them to the ground and handcuffed them. When Sands got out of the car, the men pulled his wool hat down onto his eyes, handcuffed him, stuffed him into the trunk of one of the cars, and sped off.
Sands recalled thinking, "I'm dead. From this moment on, I'm dead." [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Reunified Islam: unlikely but not entirely radical
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, January 14, 2006
A natural history of peace
By Robert M. Sapolsky, Foreign Policy, January/February, 2006
Voices of the new Arab public
Marc Lynch interviewed by Bradford Plumer, Mother Jones, January 12, 2006
Iran and Israel will be kings of the Middle East jungle
By David Hirst, The Guardian, January 13, 2006
Iran -- What if?
By Claude Salhani, UPI, January 12, 2006
Ugly phrase conceals an uglier truth
By Salman Rushdie, Sydney Morning Herald (via Common Dreams), January 9, 2006
With Iran there are options short of war
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 10, 2006
The U.S. invasion of Iraq: Not the fault of Israel and its supporters
By Stephen Zunes, Foreign Policy in Focus, January 4, 2006
The economic costs of the war in Iraq
By Linda Bilmes and Joseph E. Stiglitz, Columbia University, January, 2006
Just a coup away
The return of a strongman in Iraq is probably inevitable
By Aaron Belkin, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2006
Our presidential era: Who can check the president?
By Noah Feldman, New York Times, January 8, 2006
Bush using a little-noticed strategy to alter the balance of power
By Ron Hutcheson and James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder, January 6, 2006
The resistable rise of Ariel Sharon
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, January 10, 2006
Sharon never intended an equitable solution in Israel
By Henry Siegman, The Observer, January 8, 2006
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