The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Intelligence, policy,and the war in Iraq
By Paul R. Pillar, Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2006

The most serious problem with U.S. intelligence today is that its relationship with the policymaking process is broken and badly needs repair. In the wake of the Iraq war, it has become clear that official intelligence analysis was not relied on in making even the most significant national security decisions, that intelligence was misused publicly to justify decisions already made, that damaging ill will developed between policymakers and intelligence officers, and that the intelligence community's own work was politicized. As the national intelligence officer responsible for the Middle East from 2000 to 2005, I witnessed all of these disturbing developments.

Public discussion of prewar intelligence on Iraq has focused on the errors made in assessing Saddam Hussein's unconventional weapons programs. A commission chaired by Judge Laurence Silberman and former Senator Charles Robb usefully documented the intelligence community's mistakes in a solid and comprehensive report released in March 2005. Corrections were indeed in order, and the intelligence community has begun to make them.

At the same time, an acrimonious and highly partisan debate broke out over whether the Bush administration manipulated and misused intelligence in making its case for war. The administration defended itself by pointing out that it was not alone in its view that Saddam had weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and active weapons programs, however mistaken that view may have been.

In this regard, the Bush administration was quite right: its perception of Saddam's weapons capacities was shared by the Clinton administration, congressional Democrats, and most other Western governments and intelligence services. But in making this defense, the White House also inadvertently pointed out the real problem: intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs did not drive its decision to go to war. A view broadly held in the United States and even more so overseas was that deterrence of Iraq was working, that Saddam was being kept "in his box," and that the best way to deal with the weapons problem was through an aggressive inspections program to supplement the sanctions already in place. That the administration arrived at so different a policy solution indicates that its decision to topple Saddam was driven by other factors -- namely, the desire to shake up the sclerotic power structures of the Middle East and hasten the spread of more liberal politics and economics in the region.

If the entire body of official intelligence analysis on Iraq had a policy implication, it was to avoid war -- or, if war was going to be launched, to prepare for a messy aftermath. What is most remarkable about prewar U.S. intelligence on Iraq is not that it got things wrong and thereby misled policymakers; it is that it played so small a role in one of the most important U.S. policy decisions in recent decades. [complete article]

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U.S . staying in Iraq for long haul
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, February 11, 2006 the news from Washington focuses on troop withdrawals, the US military is beginning to implement at immense cost the next stage in its policy for Iraq. And it is one likely to disappoint those hoping for a quick exit of all foreign troops.

Last summer reports began to emerge that plans had been drawn up to create four "super-bases", giant camps that would house tens of thousands of US soldiers similar to other sprawling military facilities around the world.

The intention was for the newly trained and equipped Iraqi army to gradually take over the majority of combat operations, allowing a proportion of the 138,000 US troops to depart. Those remaining would provide back-up from their new centres of operation when requested. [complete article]

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The shoe (bomb) on the other foot
By Jonathan Alter, Newsweek, February 10, 2006

Poor Porter Goss. First, the longtime Florida congressman leaves his safe seat to become director of the CIA, only to find that he's been neutered by a new bureaucratic setup where he reports to John Negroponte, the director of national intelligence. Then he writes an op-ed piece decrying intelligence leaks in The New York Times on Friday, the exact same day as a story appears identifying today's biggest leaker of antiterrorism secrets in Washington -- President George W. Bush.

For crass political reasons -- namely to advance his position on the National Security Agency spying story -- the president chose to use a speech to the National Guard Association to disclose details of a 2002 "shoe bomb" plot to blow up the U.S. Bank Tower, the tallest building in Los Angeles. While the plot had been revealed in general terms in the past, the White House this week arranged for Bush's counterterrorism adviser, Frances Fragos Townsend, to explain to reporters in a conference call exactly the kind of details that Goss claimed on the op-ed page helped the enemy. "We are at risk of losing a key battle," Goss wrote. "The battle to protect our classification system." [complete article]

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Republican speaks up, leading others to challenge wiretaps
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, February 11, 2006

When Representative Heather A. Wilson broke ranks with President Bush on Tuesday to declare her "serious concerns" about domestic eavesdropping, she gave voice to what some fellow Republicans were thinking, if not saying.

Now they are speaking up - and growing louder.

In interviews over several days, Congressional Republicans have expressed growing doubts about the National Security Agency program to intercept international communications inside the United States without court warrants. A growing number of Republicans say the program appears to violate the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that created a court to oversee such surveillance, and are calling for revamping the FISA law. [complete article]

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U.S. reporter's kidnappers set deadline, TV channel says
AP (via LAT), February 11, 2006

Kidnappers of American journalist Jill Carroll have threatened to kill her if their demands are not met by Feb. 26, the owner of a Kuwaiti TV channel that aired a new tape of the hostage said Friday.

Jassem Boudai, owner of Al Rai satellite channel, said the kidnappers had set "more specific" demands than the release of all Iraqi women from prison, which the group laid down in the first videotape, aired in mid-January by Al Jazeera satellite channel. He refused to elaborate. [complete article]

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The raid...
By Riverbend, Baghdad Burning, February 11, 2006

Suddenly, two of them were in the living room. We were all sitting on the sofa, near my aunt. My cousin B. was by then awake, eyes wide with fear. They were holding large lights or 'torches' and one of them pointed a Klashnikov at us. "Is there anyone here but you and them?" One of them barked at my aunt. "No -- it's only us and my husband outside with you- you can check the house." T.'s hands went up to block the glaring light of the torch and one of the men yelled at her to put her hands down, they fell limply in her lap. I squinted in the strong light and as my sight adjusted, I noticed they were wearing masks, only their eyes and mouths showing. I glanced at my cousins and noted that T. was barely breathing. J. was sitting perfectly still, eyes focused on nothing in particular, I vaguely noted that her sweater was on backwards.

One of them stood with the Klashnikov pointed at us, and the other one began opening cabinets and checking behind doors. We were silent. The only sounds came from my aunt, who was praying in a tremulous whisper and little B., who was sucking away at his thumb, eyes wide with fear. [complete article]

See also, Neighborhood peace a casualty of war (WP).

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Iran 'could quit nuclear treaty'
BBC News, February 11, 2006

Iran could abandon the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if forced to limit nuclear activities, its hardline president says.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said if the rights of the Iranian people were violated, Iran would "revise its policies".

He made the comments in a speech marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution. [complete article]

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Israel and U.S. on back foot over Hamas
By Guy Dinmore and Peter Spiegel, Financial Times, February 11, 2006

US and Israeli efforts to isolate Hamas diplomatically appeared to be further undermined on Friday as France cautiously endorsed a Russian offer of talks with the militant Palestinian group.

The Bush administration and Israel have refused to deal with Hamas – listed as a terrorist organisation by Washington and the European Union – which is forming a government following its victory in last month’s Palestinian elections.

US officials admit they were blindsided and dismayed by Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, when he proposed on Thursday inviting Hamas to Moscow for talks. The White House was left urging Russia to use the occasion to underscore the principles it had signed up to as a member of the international Quartet – made up of the US, Russia, the EU and the United Nations – that Hamas recognise Israel, renounce violence and endorse existing agreements. [complete article]

See also, The face of Hamas rule may not include its own (LAT).

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Cheney 'authorized' Libby to leak classified information
By Murray Waas, National Journal, February 9, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, testified to a federal grand jury that he had been "authorized" by Cheney and other White House "superiors" in the summer of 2003 to disclose classified information to journalists to defend the Bush administration's use of prewar intelligence in making the case to go to war with Iraq, according to attorneys familiar with the matter, and to court records. [complete article]

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Cheney says NSA spying should be an election issue
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, February 10, 2006

Vice President Cheney suggested last night that the debate over spying on overseas communications to or from terrorism suspects should be a political issue in this year's congressional elections.

Speaking to Republicans gathered for the annual CPAC convention, Cheney said the debate over the National Security Agency surveillance program "has clarified where all stand" on an issue that has drawn criticism from congressional Democrats and some Republicans.

"And with an important election coming up, people need to know just how we view the most critical questions of national security, and how we propose to defend the nation that all of us, Republicans and Democrats, love and are privileged to serve," Cheney said.

His comments reflected the emerging GOP plan to make national security and terrorism the centerpiece of House and Senate elections. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove telegraphed the strategy last month when he told a Republican audience that "we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security." [complete article]

Comment -- Sounds good to me. Now the question is, can the Democrats craft a better argument than "we're tough too"? How about framing the issue around secrecy vs. transparency. Has the Bush administration been guarding national security with secrecy or simply been using secrecy to conceal its own incompetance? (Rhetorical question, of course!)

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Consensus grows for curbs on surveillance
By Maura Reynolds, Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2006

Bipartisan support on Capitol Hill for stricter regulation of President Bush's secret spying program grew Thursday, as senators briefed by administration officials about the surveillance termed the information inadequate, and called for more investigation of the eavesdropping.

The 16-member Senate Intelligence Committee met behind closed doors for three hours to hear details on the program, conducted by the National Security Agency. Bush has said the agency intercepted communications between terrorist operatives operating outside U.S. borders and people inside the country. [complete article]

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Fast and easy with the LA terrorist plot
By Zachary Abuza, The Counterterrorism Blog, February 9, 2006

There is something terribly disingenuous about the President's assertions today that a 9/11 styled attack on the West Coast was thwarted. The President, then later his Homeland Security Advisor Fran Townsend in a conference call with the press, argued that un-named Al Qaeda operatives arrested in un-named countries were actively planning the attack (though they would not say how far along it was) at an un-named time. All details are classified. How convenient. How un-verifiable for the public. The administration is simply trying to justify its blatantly illegal NSA wire-tapping program to the public. The failure of their legal arguments has been reduced to one point: we are defending America, so anything we do goes.

But was the President's example really an active plot? I have been studying JI for over five years now and it does not smell good. The facts and history just do not add up to what the president said. [complete article]

See also, Bush gives new details about old report of L.A. terror plot (LAT).

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U.S. hostage urges haste in talks
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2006

Jill Carroll, the American reporter kidnapped in Iraq last month, appeared on a new videotape aired by an Arabic-language television channel Thursday night, urging her supporters to do whatever is necessary to obtain her release.

Looking more healthy and composed than in her previous appearance, on Jan. 30, the 28-year-old freelancer asked an unnamed third party to quickly comply with the kidnappers' demands. [complete article]

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Ex-CIA official faults use of data on Iraq
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 10, 2006

The former CIA official who coordinated U.S. intelligence on the Middle East until last year has accused the Bush administration of "cherry-picking" intelligence on Iraq to justify a decision it had already reached to go to war, and of ignoring warnings that the country could easily fall into violence and chaos after an invasion to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

Paul R. Pillar, who was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, acknowledges the U.S. intelligence agencies' mistakes in concluding that Hussein's government possessed weapons of mass destruction. But he said those misjudgments did not drive the administration's decision to invade.

"Official intelligence on Iraqi weapons programs was flawed, but even with its flaws, it was not what led to the war," Pillar wrote in the upcoming issue of the journal Foreign Affairs. Instead, he asserted, the administration "went to war without requesting -- and evidently without being influenced by -- any strategic-level intelligence assessments on any aspect of Iraq." [complete article]

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Peace prevails in Iraq as Shiites observe holy day
By Borzou Daragahi and Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, February 10, 2006

For the first time since the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites on Thursday marked their most important religious holiday without suffering a terrorist attack.
A U.S. military official attributed the relatively peaceful proceedings to better-trained Iraqi security forces; Sunni Arab leaders said insurgents refrained from attacks for fear of sabotaging negotiations for power-sharing in the new government. Sunni Arabs won a combined 55 parliamentary seats in the Dec. 15 elections, whereas the Shiite-dominated United Iraqi Alliance captured 128 of the 275 seats. [complete article]

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Putin to issue invite to Hamas leaders
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 10, 2006

Russian President Vladimir Putin indicated Thursday that he would soon invite the leaders of Hamas to visit Moscow, signaling the first crack in diplomatic efforts to isolate the radical Islamic group as it prepares to form the next Palestinian cabinet.

"Russia is maintaining contacts with the Hamas organization and intends in the near future to invite the leadership of this organization to Moscow," Putin said at a news conference during a visit to Madrid.

Putin's announcement drew a sharp rebuke from Israeli officials, who said it marked a break from the position held by the group known as the quartet -- Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations -- since Hamas's victory in parliamentary elections last month. [complete article]

See also, Israel protests over Russian overtures to Hamas (Reuters).

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U.S. shield blunts Israeli military option on Iran
By Dan Williams, Reuters, February 9, 2006

Israel has long pursued a policy of preemptive attack as its preferred form of defence.

But when it comes to tackling arch-foe Iran, that option may have been put on hold under a protective "umbrella" on offer from the United States.

After years of speculation on whether Israel could launch unilateral strikes on the Iranian nuclear programme, some experts now see a major shift in the Jewish state's strategy. [complete article]

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The permanent energy crisis
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, February 10, 2006

President Bush's State of the Union comment that the United States is "addicted to oil" can be read as pure political opportunism. With ever more Americans expressing anxiety about high oil prices, freakish weather patterns, and abiding American ties to unsavory foreign oil potentates, it is hardly surprising that Bush sought to portray himself as an advocate of the development of alternative energy systems. But there is another, more ominous way to read his comments: that top officials have come to realize that the United States and the rest of the world face a new and growing danger – a permanent energy crisis that imperils the health and well-being of every society on earth. [complete article]

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Islam-West divide 'grows deeper'
BBC News, February 10, 2006

Malaysia's prime minister says a huge chasm has opened between the West and Islam, fuelled by Muslim frustrations over Western foreign policy.

Abdullah Badawi, seen as promoting a moderate form of Islam in largely Muslim Malaysia, said many Westerners saw Muslims as congenital terrorists. [complete article]

See also, Furor over cartoons has some asking, 'Can't Muslims take a joke?' (Knight Ridder).

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"We have to turn up the volume of reason"
Tariq Ramadan interviewed by Charles Hawley, Der Spiegel, February 9, 2006

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where does this intense resentment against the West come from?

Tariq Ramadan: There are a number of countries, like Syria or Iran, in the Islamic world which are under tremendous pressure from the West. The governments present themselves as victims and turn their people against the West. In Gaza, to take another example, there is a perception that the West is speaking about democracy, but when the votes are tallied, it considers the result unacceptable. There is also a perception that Israel is supported to the disadvantage of the Palestinians. So there are many things that add up and the result is a perception that the war on terror isn't only against terror but it is also against Muslims. The cartoon showing the Prophet's turban as a bomb didn't help.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: None of this is terribly new. After all, burning American flags in the Middle East has become something of a tradition. But Muslims living in Europe also talk about an anti-Islam prejudice.

Ramadan: If you're living in Europe as a Muslim, it's in the atmosphere. There is the presence of far-right parties and their discourse -- even though such parties don't have much support. But even mainstream political parties have accepted and propagated a discourse which is perceived by Muslims to be a continuous and permanent attack.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: There are also plenty of people and political parties preaching tolerance and doing their best to help Muslims in Europe. Why focus on the negatives?

Ramadan: I have long been saying that we Muslims have to get rid of this victim mentality. But it's there. And it's hard to ignore the Islamophobia or racism that is present. Many allow themselves to be hurt and their emotional reaction spins out of control. Muslim leaders in Europe have a responsibility to help shape the response of the Muslims to the West and of the West to Islam. We have to somehow take the emotion out of the response. [complete article]

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Rotten judgment in the state of Denmark
By Jytte Klausen, Der Spiegel, February 8, 2006

[The Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten,] wanted to instigate trouble, just not the kind of trouble it got. And in this mission it acted in concert with the Danish government. "We have gone to war against the multicultural ideology that says that everything is equally valid," boasted the minister of cultural affairs, Brian Mikkelsen, in a speech at his party's annual meeting the week before [Jylland-Posten's culture editor, Flemming] Rose's cartoon editorial last fall. Mikkelsen is a 39-year-old political science graduate known for his hankering for the "culture war." He continued, "The Culture War has now been raging for some years. And I think we can conclude that the first round has been won." The next front, he said, is the war against the acceptance of Muslims norms and ways of thought. The Danish cultural heritage is a source of strength in an age of globalization and immigration. Cultural restoration, he argued, is the best antidote. [complete article]

See also, Danish paper cancels plans to republish cartoons about Israel (Haaretz), In Europe, anti-cartoon voices rise (IPS), E-mail, blogs, text messages propel anger over images (WP), Publish or not? Muhammad cartoons still vexing U.S. editors (E&P), All cartoon politics are local (Juan Cole), and What would Muhammad do? (Jamil Momand).

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Israel plans to build 'museum of tolerance' on Muslim graves
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, February 9, 2006

Skeletons are being removed from the site of an ancient Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem to make way for a $150m (£86m) "museum of tolerance" being built for the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Centre.

Palestinians have launched a legal battle to stop the work at what was the city's main Muslim cemetery. The work is to prepare for the construction of a museum which seeks the promotion of "unity and respect among Jews and between people of all faiths".

Israeli archaeologists and developers have continued excavating the remains of people buried at the site - which was a cemetery for at least 1,000 years - despite a temporary ban on work granted by the Islamic Court, a division of Israel's justice system. Police have been taking legal advice on whether the order is legally binding. The Israeli High Court is to hear a separate case brought by the Al Aqsa Association of the Islamic Movement in Israel next week. [complete article]

The hypocrisy of tolerance
By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz, February 9, 2006

Whoever decided to place the ostentatious building of the museum in the graveyard must have known that digging the foundations would unearth hundreds of skeletons. After all, already in the '70s and '80s the Muslim waqf authorities protested the desecration of graves on that site. On the eve of the project's presentation, more than three years ago, many warned of the inevitable scandal that this would cause.

But nobody was bothered. After all, a Jewish-Israeli expert had established that the site's "sanctity had been removed," and contemptuously dismissed arguments of Muslim religious leaders to the contrary. [complete article]

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Hamas, the peace party
By Aluf Benn, The Guardian, February 9, 2006

A year ago I joined a planeload of Israeli journalists flying to the resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. We accompanied Ariel Sharon to a summit with Mahmoud Abbas, the recently elected president of the Palestinian Authority. They met to celebrate a new era in Palestinian-Israeli relations after the demise of Yasser Arafat.

Looking back, it appears that, while reporting scrupulously on exchanges between Sharon and Abbas, I missed the broader picture. Abbas was a figurehead, carrying messages between Israel's authorities and the Palestinian power-brokers, the leaders of Hamas. Abbas came to the summit only after Hamas agreed to hold fire in return for integration into the political process.

Hamas - the Islamic Resistance Movement - has born the torch of Palestinian armed struggle against Israel since the late 80s. Its suicide bombers murdered hundreds of Israelis, leading the second intifada. Two years ago Israel hit back, killing Hamas's founder and spiritual leader, Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi. Israelis expected deadly retaliation, but it never came. Instead, Hamas decided to regroup and turn to politics. Sharon had already pledged to withdraw from Gaza. This was a major victory for Hamas, who did not want to spoil it. [complete article]

We in Hamas demand that Israel agree a package deal
By Ghazi Hamed, Daily Star, February 9, 2006

The Palestinian people have already made it clear that they are capable of defying the international community - after all they voted Hamas into power in the first place - and Palestinians do not trust the international community's intentions vis-a-vis the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. American backing for Israel is seen as one of the fundamental reasons for the failure of the peace process. Should the international community, led by the United States, stop funding the PA and thus punish ordinary Palestinians, Palestinians will blame not Hamas but the international community. [complete article]

Hamas names PM candidate
Aljazeera, February 8, 2006

Hamas has named Gaza businessman Jamal al-Khudairi as its candidate for the post of Palestinian prime minister.

Al-Khudairi ran in last month's Palestinian elections as an independent with Hamas backing, a spokesman for the group said on Wednesday.

Hamas, which scored a shock victory in the elections, has yet to formally put his name forward to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president. [complete article]

Hamas demands say in decisions
Daily Star, February 9, 2006

The Hamas political chief on Wednesday warned PA President Mahmoud Abbas against making changes in the leadership structure without first consulting the group, a marked hardening of the group's stance going into negotiations on forming a new government.

Political leader Khaled Meshaal reiterated that Hamas would not recognize Israel despite intense pressure from the international community and Arab neighbors. [complete article]

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Palestinians probe the depth of graft
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 2006

In the wake of Hamas's parliamentary landslide, government embezzlement and graft have moved to the top of the Palestinian domestic agenda. This week, the Palestinian Authority's attorney general announced 50 investigations that account for about $700 million stolen from the government treasury.

While the inquiries are being credited to President Mahmoud Abbas, observers say it was the ruling Fatah Party's loss in last month's Palestinian parliamentary vote that sparked a push for investigations into the corruption long thought to be endemic within the PA. [complete article]

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Grieving but resigned, Israel leaves giant shadow of Sharon
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, February 9, 2006

Forgotten but not gone, Israel's iconic warrior-politician lies unconscious on the seventh floor of a hospital in the Judean foothills.

A month ago Ariel Sharon was the fulcrum of Israeli politics. He single-handedly transformed its landscape by breaking from the ruling right-wing Likud party to create the centrist Kadima (Forward) before next month's elections.

When he suffered a massive stroke on January 4 a village of journalists encamped at Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital on the outskirts of Jerusalem, filling the courtyard as they reported every twitch of the stricken leader's eyes and limbs.

But as Mr Sharon failed to wake the media drifted away, and now all are gone. [complete article]

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U.S. plans massive data sweep
By Mark Clayton, Christian Science Monitor, February 9, 2006

The US government is developing a massive computer system that can collect huge amounts of data and, by linking far-flung information from blogs and e-mail to government records and intelligence reports, search for patterns of terrorist activity.

The system - parts of which are operational, parts of which are still under development - is already credited with helping to foil some plots. It is the federal government's latest attempt to use broad data-collection and powerful analysis in the fight against terrorism. But by delving deeply into the digital minutiae of American life, the program is also raising concerns that the government is intruding too deeply into citizens' privacy. [complete article]

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Secret court's judges were warned about NSA spy data
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, February 9, 2006

Twice in the past four years, a top Justice Department lawyer warned the presiding judge of a secret surveillance court that information overheard in President Bush's eavesdropping program may have been improperly used to obtain wiretap warrants in the court, according to two sources with knowledge of those events.

The revelations infuriated U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly -- who, like her predecessor, Royce C. Lamberth, had expressed serious doubts about whether the warrantless monitoring of phone calls and e-mails ordered by Bush was legal. Both judges had insisted that no information obtained this way be used to gain warrants from their court, according to government sources, and both had been assured by administration officials it would never happen. [complete article]

See also, White House to give House committee information on spy program (Knight Ridder).

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U.S., Iraqi officials woo Sunnis
By Solomon Moore and Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, February 9, 2006

U.S. and Iraqi officials have begun bartering prisoners, aid and key positions in the army and police for the allegiance of Sunni insurgents, in an effort to lure them away from foreign Al Qaeda fighters in Iraq's most restive province.

The latest attempt to capitalize on recent clashes between insurgents and foreign fighters brought together eight major tribal sheiks from Al Anbar province with the top U.S. military official in Iraq, Army Gen. George W. Casey; Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari and high-ranking members of Iraq's security and intelligence agencies.

The five-hour meeting Tuesday was the highest-level, most detailed parley with Iraq's largest Sunni Muslim Arab tribes since the wedge tactic was adopted late last year. [complete article]

Report says number of attacks by insurgents in Iraq increases
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 9, 2006

Sweeping statistics on insurgent violence in Iraq that were declassified for a Senate hearing on Wednesday appear to portray a rebellion whose ability to mount attacks has steadily grown in the nearly three years since the invasion. [complete article]

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Israel 'may rue Saddam overthrow'
BBC News, February 9, 2006

The head of Israel's domestic security agency, Shin Bet, has said his country may come to regret the overthrow of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Yuval Diskin said a strong dictatorship would be preferable to the present "chaos" in Iraq, in a speech to teenage Jewish settlers in the West Bank. [complete article]

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Iraq coalition shrinking
AP (via, February 9, 2006

The Ukrainians are long gone. So are the Norwegians. The Italians and South Koreans are getting ready to leave, and the Britons and Japanese could begin packing their bags later this year.

Slowly but steadily, America's allies in Iraq are drawing down or pulling out as Iraqi forces take more responsibility for securing the country. By year's end, officials say, the coalition - now 25 nations supporting a dwindling U.S. contingent of 138,000 - may shrink noticeably. [complete article]

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Iraq utilities are falling short of prewar performance
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 9, 2006

Virtually every measure of the performance of Iraq's oil, electricity, water and sewerage sectors has fallen below preinvasion values even though $16 billion of American taxpayer money has already been disbursed in the Iraq reconstruction program, several government witnesses said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday.

Of seven measures of public services performance presented at the committee hearing by the inspector general's office, only one was above preinvasion values. [complete article]

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Post-World War I diplomat to Iraq described obstacles similar to today's
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, February 8, 2006

A senior British diplomat long ago figured out what has become one of the enduring dilemmas of the U.S. occupation of Iraq: that the presence of a foreign army can undermine efforts to establish a new government.

It's "difficult to be burning villages at one end of the country by means of an (occupation) Army, and assuring people at the other end that we really have handed over responsibility to native Ministers," the diplomat, Gertrude Bell, concluded.

Bell wrote that report 85 years ago, as what was then Mesopotamia was struggling to rebuild after World War I and create an independent state that the British would call Iraq.

Fast-forward to today and Bell's observations have an uncanny contemporary feel to them. In letters to her parents while in Iraq, Bell documented the difficulties that Britain faced in forging Iraq into a coherent nation. [complete article]

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These cartoons don't defend free speech, they threaten it
By Simon Jenkins, The Sunday Times, February 5, 2006

I think, therefore I am, said the philosopher. Fine. But I think, therefore I speak? No way.

Nobody has an absolute right to freedom. Civilisation is the story of humans sacrificing freedom so as to live together in harmony. We do not need Hobbes to tell us that absolute freedom is for newborn savages. All else is compromise.

Should a right-wing Danish newspaper have carried the derisive images of Muhammad? No. Should other newspapers have repeated them and the BBC teasingly "flashed" them to prove its free-speech virility? No. Should governments apologise for them or ban them from repeating the offence? No, but that is not the issue.

A newspaper is not a monastery, its mind blind to the world and deaf to reaction. Every inch of published print reflects the views of its writers and the judgment of its editors. Every day newspapers decide on the balance of boldness, offence, taste, discretion and recklessness. They must decide who is to be allowed a voice and who not. They are curbed by libel laws, common decency and their own sense of what is acceptable to readers. Speech is free only on a mountain top; all else is editing. [complete article]

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Bush administration condemns violence over cartoons
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, February 9, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday condemned the violent response to European cartoons mocking Islam and accused Iran and Syria of exploiting the international controversy to incite unrest and protests in the Middle East.

"I have no doubt that Iran and Syria have gone out of their way to inflame sentiments and have used this for their own purposes," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters yesterday. "The world ought to call them on it."

A few hours earlier, at a White House ceremony with Jordan's King Abdullah, President Bush rejected the violence but not the cartoons that incited bloody protests from Afghanistan to Denmark, where the drawings first appeared. "We reject violence as a way to express discontent with what may be printed in a free press," Bush said.

Bush and Rice, making their first public remarks on the growing worldwide controversy, highlighted a shift in White House strategy to focusing on the killings and destruction during Muslim protests in several nations -- in contrast to earlier statements that included criticism of the provocative drawings. Administration officials said Bush does not want a debate over free speech to diminish or deflect attention from the U.S. condemnation of the violence. [complete article]

See also, At Mecca meeting, cartoon outrage crystalized (NYT), Protests express frustration with the West, cleric says (KR), U.S. outreach to Muslims, diplomacy in Middle East are at stake (WP), and Radicals 'exploiting cartoon backlash' (Aljazeera).

Comment -- Whether it's angered Muslims or peace-loving antiwar demonstrators, there's one sentiment that unites everyone who takes to the streets: there seems to be no other way to make ones voice heard. In as much as this wildfire of protests seems to have come out of nowhere, this has as much to do with a string of rebuffs for agrieved Danish Muslims as it has to do with any rabble rousing that may have followed.

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Hamas 'ready to talk to Israel'
BBC News, February 8, 2006

The political leader of Palestinian militant group Hamas has said it is willing to take a serious step towards peace if Israel does the same.

Khaled Meshaal told the BBC that Hamas would not renounce violence, saying resisting an occupation was legal.

But he said a long-term truce would be possible if Israel accepted conditions including a return to its 1967 borders. [complete article]

See also, Israeli leader outlines his goals for nation's borders (LAT) and It's about the land, stupid (and a little more) (Jerusalem Post).

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Limiting NSA spying is inconsistent with rationale, critics say
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, February 8, 2006

Ever since media reports revealed the existence of a warrantless government eavesdropping program targeting U.S. citizens and residents, Bush administration officials have taken great pains to emphasize that the effort involves only international telephone calls and e-mails.

The question from both Democratic and Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee at a hearing Monday was: Why stop there? Why not intercept domestic calls, as well?

"I don't understand why you would limit your eavesdropping only to foreign conversations," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) told Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.

The committee's debate highlighted one of the most significant apparent contradictions in the administration's defense of the spying program, under which the National Security Agency intercepts some calls to and from the United States and contacts overseas. [complete article]

See also, Republican who oversees NSA calls for wiretap inquiry (NYT) and The art of saying nothing (NYT).

Comment -- I'd call this a faux legal conundrum that really isn't too difficult to fathom because for the Bush administration legal means always serve political ends. The Post notes that, "Gonzales told senators that Bush had considered including purely domestic communications in the spying program. The idea was rejected in part because of fear of public outcry."

It seems clear that virtually all the administration's calculations post 9/11 have rested on the assumption that America's xenophobic tendencies could easily be exploited and would be very unlikely to diminish. Thus it followed that if the administration consistently made a sharp distinction between Americans and foreigners it would easily be able to sustain support for the war on terrorism.

The administration's defense of its domestic surveillance program (or as President Bush prefers to call it, their "terrorist surveillance program") emphasizes that the wiretaps required that one party be overseas. There's no clear legal rationale for distinguishing between the international and domestic communications of terrorist suspects, but politically it makes sense that the implicit message the administration wants to put out is this: We only eavesdrop on foreigners and Americans who have suspicious relations with foreigners. As for "homegrown terrorists" such as William Krar, it 's clear that they have always been regarded as Americans who happen to be terrorists, rather than terrorists who happen to be American. Real terrorists - as apparently we are all now supposed to understand - are foreigners.

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A terrorist on every corner?
By James Bovard, Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2006

President Bush and Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales insist that the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of American citizens is a necessary "terrorist surveillance program." And polls show that most Americans support permitting the government to tap the phone calls and e-mails of those considered "suspicious."

But what exactly does that mean? A close look suggests that the feds' definition of a "suspected terrorist" may not meet the laugh test.

In the mass roundup of more than 1,200 people shortly after 9/11, for example, it took very little for a Muslim or Arab illegal immigrant to be considered a "suspected terrorist," according to a 2003 report by the Justice Department's inspector general. Arab students were locked up as suspected terrorists for working at pizza parlors (in violation of their student visas); a Pakistani immigrant was jailed after attracting attention because he and his Queens housemates let their grass grow long and hung their underwear out to dry on the fence; and one Muslim was arrested because "he had taken a roll of film to be developed and the film had multiple pictures of the World Trade Center on it but no other Manhattan sites," the inspector general noted. Some FBI agents were even instructed to look in phone books to find Arab- or Muslim-sounding names, according to Newsweek columnist Steven Brill. [complete article]

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Strong leads and dead ends in nuclear case against Iran
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, February 8, 2006

Iranian engineers have completed sophisticated drawings of a deep subterranean shaft, according to officials who have examined classified documents in the hands of U.S. intelligence for more than 20 months.

Complete with remote-controlled sensors to measure pressure and heat, the plans for the 400-meter tunnel appear designed for an underground atomic test that might one day announce Tehran's arrival as a nuclear power, the officials said.

By the estimates of U.S. and allied intelligence analysts, that day remains as much as a decade away -- assuming that Iran applies the full measure of its scientific and industrial resources to the project and encounters no major technical hurdles. But whether Iran's leaders have reached that decision and what concrete progress the effort has made remain divisive questions among government analysts and U.N. inspectors. [complete article]

Growing number of people fear Iran
AP (via, February 8, 2006

Americans' fears about Iran have grown sharply over the last few months as efforts by the United States and Europe to slow Tehran's nuclear program have been firmly rejected, a poll found.

More people in this country now rate Iran as the biggest threat to the U.S., 27 percent, than say that about any other country, including North Korea, China and Iraq, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. [complete article]

Analysts: Fear of U.S. drove Iran's nuclear policy
By Gareth Porter, IPS (via, February 8, 2006

The George W. Bush administration's adoption of a policy of threatening to use military force against Iran disregarded a series of official intelligence estimates going back many years that consistently judged Iran's fear of a U.S. attack to be a major motivating factor in its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Two former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials who were directly involved in producing CIA estimates on Iran revealed in separate interviews with IPS that the National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) on Iran have consistently portrayed its concerns about the military threat posed by the United States as a central consideration in Tehran's pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability. [complete article]

Comment -- When former Israeli intelligence chief, Rafi Eitan, last month expressed his suspicion that Iran already has enough enriched uranium to construct one or two atomic bombs, this sounded like baseless speculation. His post hoc reasoning was that Iran must have the bomb, "Otherwise Iranian President Ahmadinejad would not have dared come out with his declaration that Israel should be wiped off the map."

Now the Bush administration's own undersecretary of state for arms control, Robert G. Joseph, has come out with what is ostensibly a more substantive position and asserts that, "Iran does have the capability to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them." The conventional wisdom among skeptics would be that this is the latest instance of the administration ramping up fears about Iran. And maybe it is, but there is another possibility.

Consider North Korea. There is now apparently little doubt that they have crossed the threshold and developed nuclear weapons. The lesson to Iran would be: Cross the same threshold and the world will back off. But there's also a lesson that the Bush administration may currently be ruminating upon: If it becomes widely assumed that Iran already has a nuclear capacity then the administration will no longer be under pressure to prevent the occurance of what has already become a reality. The issue then will be containment and a strategy that is not burdened by deadlines. This would amount to a secret self-fulfilling nuclear prophecy. The question for the administration right now may well be: Which comes at a higher political price - preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons, or learning to live with a nuclear Iran? If the latter is the cheaper of the two, then we can expect that the administration will progressively blur distinctions between the present and the future.

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State Department sees exodus of weapons experts
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, February 7, 2006

State Department officials appointed by President Bush have sidelined key career weapons experts and replaced them with less experienced political operatives who share the White House and Pentagon's distrust of international negotiations and treaties.

The reorganization of the department's arms control and international security bureaus was intended to help it better deal with 21st-century threats. Instead, it's thrown the agency into turmoil and produced an exodus of experts with decades of experience in nuclear arms, chemical weapons and related matters, according to 11 current and former officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder.

The reorganization was conducted largely in secret by a panel of four political appointees. A career expert was allowed to join the group only after most decisions had been made. Its work was overseen by Frederick Fleitz, a CIA officer who was detailed to the State Department as senior adviser to former Undersecretary of State John Bolton, a critic of arms agreements and international organizations. [complete article]

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Report says most detainees not accused of hostile acts
AP (via LAT), February 8, 2006

More than half of the terrorism suspects being held at the prison at Guantanamo Bay have not been accused of committing hostile acts against the U.S. or its allies, two of the detainees' lawyers said in a report released Tuesday.

Compiled from declassified Defense Department evaluations of the more than 500 detainees at the U.S. facility in Cuba, the report says 8% are listed as fighters for terrorist groups, whereas 30% are considered members of terrorist groups, and the remainder were "associated with" terrorists. [complete article]

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Gunmen kill head of Fallujah city council
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, February 8, 2006

A prominent Sunni Muslim cleric and civic leader who ran for a seat in Iraq's parliament and worked closely with American forces policing Fallujah was fatally shot Tuesday on his way to work in the western city.

Kamal Nazzal, head of the Fallujah city council and a preacher at the city's Shakir mosque, was arriving at city hall when gunmen in two dark-colored BMWs riddled his body with bullets, police and residents said.

The attack came as 10 people were killed in three bombings in Baghdad. Two of the blasts, timed just moments apart, occurred near a compact disc shop in the commercial neighborhood of Bab al-Sharjee, killing five civilians and three Iraqi policemen, Maj. Muhammed Sultan, a police spokesman, said. At least 15 people were wounded in the blasts. [complete article]

Iraq's powerful Shi'ite bloc struggles to pick PM
By Mariam Karouny, Reuters, February 8, 2006

Iraq's dominant Shi'ite Islamist bloc is struggling to choose its candidate for prime minister, delaying negotiations on the formation of a new government nearly two months after the elections.

Leaders of the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) have held a series of meetings over the past three weeks to try to agree on a candidate for the top job in the new cabinet.

But divisions between the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), led by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, and the al-Dawa Party, headed by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, have only led to a stalemate, raising the possibility of an internal vote. [complete article]

Carroll kidnapping reaches one-month mark with no word on her fate
By Joe Strupp, Editor & Publisher, February 7, 2006

It's been one month since the abduction of reporter Jill Carroll in Baghdad and her fate remains unknown, according to editors at the Christian Science Monitor, for whom she was freelancing at the time of her kidnapping.

"We continue to explore every avenue that we can think of," said David Cook, the Monitor's Washington bureau chief and lead spokesman for the paper on the Carroll search. "We are working closely with her family and exploring every option."

In Europe, meanwhile, Carroll's plight has been gaining attention in recent days. First, a large poster of Carroll's photo has been hung outside the city hall in Rome, where it will reportedly remain until she is found. Today, a demonstration in Paris urged support for Carroll's eventual release. [complete article]

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Evangelical leaders join global warming initiative
By Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, February 8, 2006

Despite opposition from some of their colleagues, 86 evangelical Christian leaders have decided to back a major initiative to fight global warming, saying "millions of people could die in this century because of climate change, most of them our poorest global neighbors."

Among signers of the statement, which will be released in Washington on Wednesday, are the presidents of 39 evangelical colleges, leaders of aid groups and churches, like the Salvation Army, and pastors of megachurches, including Rick Warren, author of the best seller "The Purpose-Driven Life."

"For most of us, until recently this has not been treated as a pressing issue or major priority," the statement said. "Indeed, many of us have required considerable convincing before becoming persuaded that climate change is a real problem and that it ought to matter to us as Christians. But now we have seen and heard enough." [complete article]

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Exxon: Bush's energy goal 'not feasible'
Reuters (via CNN), February 8, 2006

The United States will rely on foreign imports of oil for the foreseeable future to feed its energy needs and should stop trying to become energy independent, a top Exxon Mobil Corp. executive said Tuesday.

"Realistically, it is simply not feasible in any time period relevant to our discussion today," Exxon Mobil Senior Vice President Stuart McGill said, referring to what he called the "misperception" that the United States can achieve energy independence.

The comments, in a speech at an energy conference in Houston, come a few days after President Bush told Congress that America is addicted to oil and needs to slash its Middle East crude purchases 75 percent by 2025 by building vehicles that run on alternative fuels.

Many in the United States believe America should wean itself off oil imports from the Middle East, fearing it makes the country dangerously dependent on an unstable region.

The world's largest publicly traded oil company, however, says hoping to end foreign oil imports is not only a bad idea, but also impossible. [complete article]

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Death toll mounts in rioting over cartoons
By Dan Bilefsky, International Herald Tribune, February 8, 2006

The fury over cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad claimed four more lives in fierce demonstrations in Afghanistan on Tuesday while EU officials expressed concern that Iran, increasingly isolated over its nuclear program, was exploiting the crisis to try to unite the Muslim world against the West.

As President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark conferred on mollifying the rage in the Muslim world, expressed in violence that has claimed the lives of eight people so far, an Iranian newspaper said it was sponsoring a contest to create cartoons caricaturing the Holocaust and Indonesian Islamic radicals said they were hunting for Danes in the streets. [complete article]

Stoking the jihadi fires
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, February 8, 2006

In some parts of the Muslim world, anger over the publication of blasphemous cartoons might be cooled by burning a few diplomatic buildings or setting fire to Israeli flags or effigies of US President George W Bush. But in the region that starts on the Arabian Sea shores of the Pakistani port city of Karachi and ends in the landlocked areas of Afghanistan, passions will not be as easily tempered.

With the Taliban and al-Qaeda gearing for a summer offensive in Afghanistan, using Pakistan's tribal area of North Waziristan as a base, they want to increase their political mass support once they ramp up their activities on the guerrilla front.

At the same time, they are looking for fresh blood from the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan and Pakistani jihadi diehards to join their jihad.

Incidents such as the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed in an unsavory light play right into the hands of al-Qaeda and the Taliban in fanning the already simmering embers of discontent among the masses. [complete article]

The Danish cartoons: a neo-colonial slap
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, February 8, 2006

Many have been surprised by the scope and intensity of angry crowds throughout the Islamic world demonstrating against the offensive cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammad that were published last year in a small, right-wing Danish newspaper. It is perhaps time that we stopped being surprised by a routine phenomenon: the affirmation of Islamic identity as the dominant form of national self-assertion in developing societies whose citizens hold major grievances against the quality of their own statehood and governance, as well as against Western and Israeli policies.

The cartoons, including one depicting the prophet's headdress as a bomb, were only the fuse setting off a combustible mixture of pressures and tensions anchored in a much wider array of problems. These include the cartoons themselves; provocative and arrogant European disdain for Muslim sensitivities about the prophet Mohammad; attempts by some Islamist extremists and criminal-political elements to stir up troubles; the Europeans' clear message that their values count more than the values of Muslims; and, a wider sense by many citizens of Islamic societies that the West in general seeks to weaken and subjugate the Muslim world. [complete article]

See also, UN, EU and Muslims link in call to curb protests (FT), A 'dangerous moment' for Europe and Islam (NYT), and Britons urge arrest of protesters advocating violence (WP).

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The Taliban's bloody foothold in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, February 8, 2006

By taking control of virtually all of Pakistan's North Waziristan tribal area on the border with Afghanistan, the Taliban have gained a significant base from which to wage their resistance against US-led forces in Afghanistan. At the same time, the development solidifies the anti-US resistance groups in Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan, which will now fight under a single strategy.

The Taliban recently declared the establishment of an "Islamic state" in North Waziristan, and they now, through the brutal elimination of the criminal elements who previously held sway, in effect rule in the rugged territory. [complete article] [WARNING: Graphic images]

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Sweden plans to be world's first oil-free economy
By John Vidal, The Guardian, February 8, 2006

Sweden is to take the biggest energy step of any advanced western economy by trying to wean itself off oil completely within 15 years - without building a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The attempt by the country of 9 million people to become the world's first practically oil-free economy is being planned by a committee of industrialists, academics, farmers, car makers, civil servants and others, who will report to parliament in several months.

The intention, the Swedish government said yesterday, is to replace all fossil fuels with renewables before climate change destroys economies and growing oil scarcity leads to huge new price rises. [complete article]

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Abu Hamza jailed for seven years for inciting murder
By Simon Freeman, The Times, February 7, 2006

Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical Muslim cleric whose fiery rhetoric has become synonymous with Islamist extremism in Britain, was jailed for seven years today after being found guilty of inciting his followers to kill non-believers.

The Egyptian-born Abu Hamza, 47, was convicted of 11 of 15 charges of using his influence as a spiritual leader of the Muslim community in North London to become, in the words of the prosecution, a recruiting sergeant for terrorism. His lawyer said that he would appeal against the "politically motivated" conviction. [complete article]

See also, Police found weapons at Finsbury Park mosque (The Times).

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Guantanamo's grip
By Corine Hegland, National Journal, February 3, 2006

You may have seen an image of Detainee 032. He came to Guantanamo Bay early on, a slender 18-year-old Yemeni among the anonymous men who knelt, dressed in orange, for the photographs viewed around the world. He was there on January 27, 2002, when Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld took four senators to see the "most dangerous, best-trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth." He was there two days later, when President Bush proudly declared in his State of the Union address that the "terrorists who once occupied Afghanistan now occupy cells at Guantanamo Bay," and he was there one week later when Bush firmly and finally ruled out prisoner-of-war status for any of the men held at Guantanamo.

Like many of the men who came handcuffed to Cuba, Detainee 032 has never been accused of fighting against America. He fell into U.S custody far away from any battlefield. But today, after four years of interrogations and investigations, he is still an "enemy combatant," even though he was never an enemy or a combatant. [complete article]

See also, Empty evidence (National Journal).

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Chief of CIA's counter-terror center ousted
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2006

The head of the CIA's counter-terrorism center was forced to step down Monday over concerns that he was not aggressive enough in leading the agency's pursuit of Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, current and former intelligence officials said.

The sudden departure of Robert Grenier, who had held the position for about a year, was described by intelligence officials as part of an effort to reinvigorate counter-terrorism operations that have had mixed results during his tenure.

In the latest example of the difficulties the agency has encountered, the CIA carried out a missile strike that killed suspected Al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan last month but missed its main target. The terrorist network's No. 2 leader, Ayman Zawahiri, and Al Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden have taunted the United States with messages promising future attacks. [complete article]

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Pentagon adds initiatives, retains old ones
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, February 7,, 2006

The Pentagon yesterday announced a $439.3 billion budget request that adds billions for new initiatives to fight terrorism and other "irregular" conflicts without cutting major conventional weapons systems -- effectively postponing what defense budget analysts predict will be tough decisions down the road.

The defense budget includes $5.1 billion to increase Special Operations Forces by 4,000 in 2007, with plans to add a total of 14,000 troops at a cost of nearly $28 billion through 2011. The elite troops -- now numbering about 52,000 -- are skilled in combating terrorism and insurgents, and in working with foreign militaries, but they have been stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Other new budget initiatives include $1.7 billion for unmanned aerial drones for intelligence gathering and $181 million for increased training in languages such as Arabic for special operations and military intelligence personnel. [complete article]

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In limelight at wiretap hearing: 2 laws, but which should rule?
By Adam Liptak, New York Times, February 7, 2006

It is the sort of problem that judges confront every day. One law forbids a certain activity. The other may allow it. Which one counts?

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales made the case to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday that two potentially contradictory Congressional actions — one a 1978 law forbidding domestic surveillance without a court's permission, the other a 2001 resolution giving the president authority to use force to combat Al Qaeda — together mean that the executive branch is free to decide on its own to spy on communications between people in the United States and those abroad.

Under the ordinary rules that courts use to harmonize potentially conflicting laws, the more specific one typically governs. Here, that would seem to be the 1978 law, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, which created an elaborate legal scheme to regulate wiretaps, as well as a secret court that promptly hears warrant applications. [complete article]

In quizzing a reticent Gonzales, senators encounter a power shortage
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, February 7, 2006

When did the administration decide it had the authority? "I'm not going to give an exact date," he said.

What does the administration do with the information it collects? "I can't talk about specifics."

Is the information used to obtain search warrants? "I am uncomfortable talking in great detail."

More interesting than what the attorney general said was what he would not say. Has President Bush, invoking his "inherent powers" under the Constitution, also authorized warrantless eavesdropping on domestic calls, opening of Americans' mail and e-mail, and searches of their homes and offices?

"I am not comfortable going down the road of saying yes or no as to what the president has or has not authorized," Gonzales, shifting frequently in his chair, informed the senators. [complete article]

Unclaimed territory

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Brothers in arms - Israel's secret pact with Pretoria
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, February 7, 2006

Israel was openly critical of apartheid through the 1950s and 60s as it built alliances with post-colonial African governments. But most African states broke ties after the 1973 Yom Kippur war and the government in Jerusalem began to take a more benign view of the isolated regime in Pretoria. The relationship changed so profoundly that, in 1976, Israel invited the South African prime minister, John Vorster - a former Nazi sympathiser and a commander of the fascist Ossewabrandwag that sided with Hitler - to make a state visit.

Leaving unmentioned Vorster's wartime internment for supporting Germany, Israel's prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, hailed the South African premier as a force for freedom and made no mention of Vorster's past as he toured the Jerusalem memorial to the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis. At a state banquet, Rabin toasted "the ideals shared by Israel and South Africa: the hopes for justice and peaceful coexistence". Both countries, he said, faced "foreign-inspired instability and recklessness".

Vorster, whose army was then overrunning Angola, told his hosts that South Africa and Israel were victims of the enemies of western civilisation. A few months later, the South African government's yearbook characterised the two countries as confronting a single problem: "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples." [complete article]

Read the first part of Chris McGreal's report, Worlds apart.

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Report: Olmert would keep 3 settlement blocs, Jordan Valley
By Lilach Weissman, Haaretz, February 7, 2006

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in his first media interview since taking power last month, said he intends to hold on to all of Israel's major settlement blocs and small settlements on the border with Jordan, according to a preview of the interview to be aired Tuesday night.

It was the clearest indication to date of how he plans to draw Israel's final borders, defining the central issue for Olmert's Kadima Party as it heads into the March 28 elections that polls indicate it will win handily. [complete article]

See also, Israeli settler population rises despite Gaza pullout (AFP).

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Shin Bet treats Jewish terror suspects less harshly
Haaretz, February 7, 2006

Shin Bet security services show more leniency toward Jewish terror suspects than toward Israeli Arab or Palestinian suspects, the services chief, Yuval Diskin, was taped as saying on Monday.

"If I had arrested a terrorist from Nablus and Eden Nathan Zada," Diskin said, referring to the Jewish terrorist who gunned down four Israeli Arabs last August in a bid to hamper the Gaza disengagement, "they wouldn't have received similar treatment in interrogation or court." [complete article]

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Synod in disinvestment snub to Israel
By Ruth Gledhill, The Times, February 7, 2006

The Church of England is expected to face condemnation from Jewish leaders after it voted to disinvest from companies whose products are used by the Israeli government in the occupied territories.

In a surprise move, the General Synod voted to back a call from the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East for "morally responsible investment in the Palestinian occupied territories". [complete article]

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Hawks have warplanes ready if the nuclear diplomacy fails
By Richard Beeston, The Times, February 7, 2006

It is the option of last resort with consequences too hideous to contemplate. And yet, with diplomacy nearly exhausted, the use of military force to destroy Iran’s nuclear programme is being actively considered by those grappling with one of the world’s most pressing security problems.

For five years the West has used every diplomatic device at its disposal to entice Iran into complying with strict conditions that would prevent its nuclear programme being diverted to produce an atomic bomb. [complete article]

See also, 3 myths about the Iran conflict (Mel Levine, Alex Turkeltaub and Alex Gorbansky) and Iran wants nuclear independence (USA Today).

Comment -- "Every diplomatic device" - except for one: direct talks between the United States and Iran. Impossible!, everyone says. No one in Washington speaks Farsi! Believe me, there are plenty of Iranians wonderfully fluent in English. Isn't it at least worth a try?

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Iran suspends all trade with Denmark
By Roula Khalaf and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, February 7, 2006

The Iranian ministry of commerce confirmed on Tuesday that Iran had suspended all trade with Denmark in the dispute over cartoons deemed offensive to Muslims but said trade with all other countries where they had been published would continue, pending a government review.

Iran moved to the forefront of the controversy over the cartoons on Monday as protesters attacked the Danish and Austrian embassies in Tehran. The protests added urgency to European diplomatic efforts to seek regional support to calm tensions amid violent protests in Lebanon and Syria. [complete article]

See also, Norwegians fire on Afghans protesting cartoon (AP), We have lost our voice (Tabish Khair), and The context of the cartoon(Yitzhak Laor).

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Al-Sadr grabs Iraqi political limelight
By Paul Garwood, AP (via Seattle P-I), February 6, 2006

Behind most of Iraq's protests over cartoons satirizing the Prophet Muhammad has been one increasingly important figure - the fiercely anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr, whose militia has fought U.S. troops and rival Shiite groups for prestige and power since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, has been meeting Middle East heads of state, including Iranian leaders and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

His political supporters won 30 seats in Iraq's 275-member parliament, giving al-Sadr considerable clout in the dominant Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance. [complete article]

See also, Sadr 'at the service' of Syria and Islamic Republic (Daily Star).

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America's unlikely savior
By Nir Rosen, Salon, February 3, 2006

In the spring and summer of 2004, the radical young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr led an armed uprising against the U.S. occupiers. His militia, the Mahdi army, fought several bloody battles against American forces. Muqtada's intifada, along with the Sunni insurgency that broke out in Fallujah at the same time, spelled doom for the neocon fantasy that the U.S. occupation would be a cakewalk. High-ranking U.S. officials called for Muqtada to be captured or killed. But the fiery cleric not only survived, but flourished - and in the last two years he has turned his enormous street credibility into political power. In the December elections his slate earned potentially 30 seats in Parliament, making him an equal partner with two other Shiite groups in the largest Shiite coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance.

But what sets Muqtada apart from the other Shiite leaders - and makes him a potentially crucial, if supremely unlikely, ally for the United States - is his close ties to the Sunni insurgents. With sectarian tensions in Iraq and the region increasing, Muqtada may be the only Shiite leader in Iraq who can reach out to Sunnis, who see him as "the good Shia." His Mahdi army fought the American occupiers, establishing street cred with the Sunni resistance. Much of Muqtada's appeal is his fervent nationalism. Unlike the leadership of Dawa or the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), Muqtada was not in exile and, like his father, has condemned foreign-born clerics based in Iraq. [complete article]

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Sunni tribes turn against jihadis
By Charles Levinson, Christian Science Monitor, February 6, 2006

Sheikh Osama al-Jadaan, head of the influential Karabila tribe in Sunni Arab-dominated western Iraq, is more politician than traditional sheikh these days. He's given up his dishdasha and Arab headdress for a pinstripe suit with a silk handkerchief in his breast pocket.

He's also turned away from supporting Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi and other foreign fighters in Iraq. "We realized that these foreign terrorists were hiding behind the veil of the noble Iraqi resistance," says Mr. Jadaan. "They claim to be striking at the US occupation, but the reality is they are killing innocent Iraqis in the markets, in mosques, in churches, and in our schools."

In Anbar Province, an insurgent hotbed that borders Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, US and Iraqi officials say they have a new ally against the Al Qaeda-inspired terrorists: local tribal leaders like Jadaan and home-grown Iraqi insurgents. [complete article]

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As Iraqi Shiites police Sunnis, rough justice feeds bitterness
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, February 6, 2006

When Shiite forces took over this Sunni town, they spread out and clamped down. Checkpoints sprung up. People suspected of being insurgents were driven out. A Shiite took over as mayor.

They restored stability, but at a cost: in the fall, an American soldier entered a room and found two Sunni prisoners hanging upside down during questioning. Another prisoner was shot dead during an interrogation. His Iraqi captors claimed that he had been trying to escape.

"There were welts on their bodies, bruises and abrasions on the bottoms of their feet," said Lt. Col. Richard Kucksdorf, the commander of a team of Americans advising the Iraqi forces here. "There were bruises you don't get by resisting arrest." [complete article]

See also, Residents of Baghdad neighborhood take security into own hands (Knight Ridder).

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Translating Arabic into injustice
By Zachary Lockman, Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2006

I have been teaching modern Middle Eastern history for more than 20 years. I've helped train many graduate students, some of whom have gone on to become professors at universities across the country. But one of my current New York University graduate students, Mohammed Yousry, faces a very different future. Convicted a year ago of participating in a conspiracy to abet terrorism, he may be sentenced to as many as 20 years in federal prison.

Knowing Mohammed as I do, and having followed his trial closely, I am convinced that he is a victim of the kind of excessive prosecutorial zeal we have seen all too much of since 9/11. But his case is especially disturbing because what may put Mohammed behind bars is the work he did in good faith as a translator and an academic researcher. This would turn a travesty of justice into a very dangerous precedent. [complete article]

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Pentagon eyes new long-range "strike" weapon
By Jim Wolf, Reuters, February 3, 2006

The Pentagon is speeding up the development of new weapons designed to knock out targets anywhere in the world in short order.

The Defense Department said on Friday it wants to develop a new "land-based, penetrating strike capability" for fielding by 2018 while modernizing the current bomber force of B-1s, B-2s and B-52s.

The terms "long-range strike" and "bombers" were once synonymous. But such 21st-century systems could be manned or unmanned and could involve a mix of missiles, rockets, lasers and other munitions, defense experts said. [complete article]

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Iran tells nuclear agency to remove seals, cameras
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, February 6, 2006

Iran has begun restricting U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear program and wants seals and surveillance cameras removed from key sites by midmonth, a confidential IAEA report said Monday.

The Iranian decision will drastically inhibit the most effective international mechanism for monitoring Iran's work on uranium enrichment and ensuring that it's used only for producing fuel for power plants and not for nuclear weapons.

Moreover, it will be much more difficult for the IAEA to answer crucial questions about the Iranian program, including whether it purchased a blueprint for a nuclear warhead from a Pakistani-led black-market smuggling ring. [complete article]

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Palestinians ponder life under Hamas
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, February 6, 2006

Some Palestinians worry about a potential erosion of day-to-day freedoms through the actions of a Hamas-run government or simply through increased social pressure. In the longer term, they are also examining the conventional assumption that a future Palestinian state will be a secular one.

"For many years, what most people envisioned in terms of statehood was very much in the nationalist-secular model of the PLO," said Ziad abu Amr, a lawmaker from Gaza City who ran as an independent but got a crucial endorsement from Hamas. "Now, no one really knows what the model is going to be." [complete article]

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Hamas moderates its rhetoric on Israel
By Simon Freeman, The Times, February 6, 2006

Hamas today hinted that it may suspend its commitment to the destruction of Israel as the militant organisation's leaders convened in Cairo to begin constructing a new Palestinian government.

Senior leaders suggested that past agreements between Israel and the previous Palestinian government would be allowed to stand - at least in the short term. [complete article]

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Mastermind of U.S.S. Cole attack escapes jail
By Christine Hauser, New York Times, February 5, 2006

A man convicted of masterminding the attack on the American destroyer Cole in 2000 escaped a Yemeni jail through a tunnel with 22 other prisoners, the international police organization, Interpol, said today.

The prisoner, Jamal Ahmed Badawi, was sentenced to death in 2004 by a court in Yemen for his role in the attack on the warship that killed 17 American sailors and provided an early glimpse of the workings of Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda global terror network. The Interpol statement said that 12 of the prisoners who escaped through the tunnel with Mr. Badawi were convicted members of Al Qaeda. [complete article]

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Fighting rages as U.S. and Afghans hunt Taliban
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, February 5, 2006

Fighting raged in the southern province of Helmand for a second night as Taliban fighters attacked two government offices, while Afghan and American forces continued to pursue a large group of militants into the mountains on Saturday, officials said.

The battle -- the largest in Afghanistan in months -- erupted Thursday night when about 200 Taliban fighters ambushed a police patrol near the town of Sangin, then attacked reinforcements as they arrived. Coalition planes, including British Harriers and American A10 attack jets and B-52 bombers, joined the battle. [complete article]

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NSA spying myths
By David Cole, The Nation, February 20, 2006

"When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal." So Richard Nixon infamously defended his approval of a plan to engage in warrantless wiretapping of Americans involved in the antiwar movement in the 1970s. For thirty years Nixon's defense has stood as the apogee of presidential arrogance. But of course Nixon was proved wrong. The wiretapping plan was shelved when J. Edgar Hoover, of all people, objected to it. Nixon's approval of it was listed in the articles of impeachment. Nixon learned the hard way that Presidents are not above the law.

George W. Bush appears not to have learned the lesson. His defense of the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping of Americans resurrects the Nixon doctrine, with one modification. For Bush, "when the Commander in Chief does it, it is not illegal." [complete article]

See also, Eavesdropping 101: What can the NSA do? (ACLU), Why Congress won't get through to the NSA (Slate), The power of the president (LAT), Specter criticizes rationale for spying (AP), Telecoms let NSA spy on calls (USA Today), Can the president order a killing on U.S. soil?, and Deliberation nation (Noah Feldman).

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Worlds apart
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, February 6, 2006

There are few places in the world where governments construct a web of nationality and residency laws designed for use by one section of the population against another. Apartheid South Africa was one. So is Israel.

Comparisons between white rule in South Africa and Israel's system of control over the Arab peoples it governs are increasingly heard. Opponents of the vast steel and concrete barrier under construction through the West Bank and Jerusalem dubbed it the "apartheid wall" because it forces communities apart and grabs land. Critics of Ariel Sharon's plan to carve up the West Bank, apportioning blobs of territory to the Palestinians, draw comparisons with South Africa's "bantustans" - the nominally independent homelands into which millions of black men and women were herded.

An Israeli human rights organisation has described segregation of West Bank roads by the military as apartheid. Arab Israeli lawyers argue anti-discrimination cases before the supreme court by drawing out similarities between some Israeli legislation and white South Africa's oppressive laws. Desmond Tutu, the former archbishop of Cape Town and chairman of South Africa's truth and reconciliation commission, visited the occupied territories three years ago and described what he found as "much like what happened to us black people in South Africa".

As far back as 1961, Hendrik Verwoerd, the South African prime minister and architect of the "grand apartheid" vision of the bantustans, saw a parallel. "The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state," he said. It is a view that horrifies and infuriates many Israelis.

A prominent Israeli political scientist, Gerald Steinberg, responded to an invitation to appear on a panel at a Jerusalem cultural centre to debate "Is Israel the new apartheid?" by denouncing the organiser, a South African-born Jew, for even posing the question. [complete article]

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Lebanon protesters set embassy afire
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, February 6, 2006

Thousands of Muslim protesters, enraged over the publication of caricatures of Islam's prophet Muhammad, set ablaze the Danish Embassy on Sunday and rampaged through a predominantly Christian neighborhood, escalating sectarian tensions in a country whose melange of faiths can sometimes serve as a microcosm of the world's religious divide.

The unrest, which involved as many as 20,000 protesters, was some of the worst in Lebanon in years, and leaders from across the political and religious spectrums appealed for calm. In vain, some Muslim clerics tried to step into the hours-long fray to end the clashes, which news agencies said left at least one demonstrator dead and 30 wounded. [complete article]

Cartoon conflicts
By Tariq Ramadan, The Guardian, February 6, 2006

In Copenhagen last October, as demonstrations provoked by the Danish satirical cartoons about Islam were starting, a reporter from the newspaper that published them told me how intensely the editorial staff had debated whether to go ahead, how uncomfortable many of them had been about the whole issue and, at the same time, how surprised they had been by the strong reaction from Muslims and the Arab embassies. At the time, however, the tension seemed likely to remain within Danish borders.

To Danish Muslims denouncing this as an instance of racism - a provocation capitalised upon by the ever expanding far right in the country - my advice was to avoid reacting emotionally, to try to explain quietly why these cartoons were offensive and neither to demonstrate nor to risk activating mass movements that could prove impossible to master. At the time, a resolution seemed to be at hand.

One might ask, then, why it is that three months later, some find it in their interests to pour fuel on the fire of a controversy, with tragic and potentially uncontrollable consequences? A few Danish Muslims visited Middle Eastern countries and ramped up the resentment: governments in the region, only too happy to prove their attachment to Islam - to bolster their Islamic legitimacy in the eyes of the public - took advantage of this piece of good fortune and presented themselves as champions of a great cause. On the other side, the controversy was just what some politicians, intellectuals and journalists needed to paint themselves as champions of the equally great struggle for freedom of expression and as resistance fighters against religious obscurantism in the name of western values.

We are facing an incredible simplification, a gross polarisation: apparently a clash of civilisations, a confrontation between principles, with defenders, in one corner, of inalienable freedom of speech and, in the other, of the inviolable sacred sphere. Presented in such terms, the debate has unfortunately become a battle of wills, and the question becomes: who will win? Muslims, wanting apologies, threaten to attack European interests, even to attack people; western governments, intellectuals and journalists refuse to bend under threats, and certain media outlets have added to the controversy by republishing the cartoons. Most people around the world, observing these excesses, are perplexed: what sort of madness is this, they ask? [complete article]

See also, Protester dies in Afghan cartoons unrest (The Times), Copenhagen rues its lost tolerance (The Times), and Islam on the outskirts of the welfare state (NYT).

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Behind the urgent diplomacy: A sense Iran will get the bomb
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 6, 2006

Hours after the United States and Europe prevailed in a contest over officially reporting Iran's history of clandestine nuclear activity to the United Nations Security Council, President Bush issued a statement on Saturday from his ranch, saying that the overwhelming vote showed "the world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons."

But even some of Mr. Bush's own advisers say that may prove an overstatement. Behind the diplomatic maneuvering, many of the diplomats and nuclear experts involved in the West's effort believe that stopping the program cold is highly unlikely, and probably impossible. They acknowledge that a more realistic goal now is to delay the day that Iran joins the nuclear club.

"Look, the Pakistanis and the North Koreans got there, and they didn't have Iran's money or the engineering expertise," said one senior official who is instrumental in putting together the American strategy. "Sooner or later, it's going to happen. Our job is to make sure it's later." By that time, he said, the hope is that a changed or different government is in power in Tehran.

In part, this is the newfound realism of an administration that has learned some hard lessons in Iraq, and is no longer quite so eager to talk about pre-empting what it regards as looming threats.

But the goal rises from a growing understanding of the damage wrought by the clandestine nuclear network of Abdul Qadeer Khan, the Pakistani nuclear engineer who began supplying the Iranians with designs, prototypes and equipment in the late 1980's, beneath the radar of American intelligence agencies. By the time Dr. Khan and the Iranians split in the mid-1990's, apparently in a dispute over money and advanced technology, Iran was already well advanced on the learning curve. [complete article]

Will Israel strike Iran?
By Kevin Peraino and John Barry, Newsweek, February 13, 2006

As scary as the idea may sound, the Israelis may not be bluffing. Their defense experts display no doubt whatsoever that Israel's Air Force can cripple Iran's nuclear program if necessary. The trick, they say, is to go after the system's weak spots. "You need to identify the bottlenecks," says a senior Israeli military source, asking not to be named for security reasons. "There are not very many. If you take them out, then you really undermine the project." Shlomo Brom, a former Israeli armed forces chief of strategic planning, says the destruction of two or three key facilities would probably suffice. He singles out the Natanz uranium-enrichment complex and the conversion plant at Esfahan as critical.

It wouldn't be as easy as it sounds. Tehran, taking obvious lessons from Israel's successful 1981 bombing of Saddam Hussein's reactor at Osirak, has done its best to shield potential targets like Natanz. "They are dispersed, underground, hardened," says the senior Israeli military source. U.S. analysts say each facility would require multiple hits before serious damage was done. Still, the Israelis -- who have an undeclared nuclear arsenal of their own, and refuse international inspections or oversight—insist they have all the firepower they need: more than 100 U.S.-made BLU-109 "bunker buster" earth-penetrating bombs. "I think they could do the job," says the senior Israeli source. [complete article]

See also, Nuclear inspections are curbed by Iran (AP), Oil prices soar as Iran resumes nuclear enrichment (Reuters), and Iraq colored the debate over how to rein in Iran (LAT).

Comment -- As this confrontation escalates, there seems little question that it is the Iranians who are now leading the rhetorical charge. The danger is that at a certain point baiting ones opponent can tip the balance and then emotion will defeat reason.

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Iran warns West 'we don't need you but you need us'
By Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, February 4, 2006

The international dispute over Iran's nuclear programme moved into an uncertain new phase over the weekend after the United Nations nuclear watchdog voted to report the issue to the UN Security Council.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad reacted with scorn to US-led efforts to isolate Tehran from the international community after it resumed its nuclear programme.

"Our enemies cannot do a damn thing. We do not need you at all, but you are in need of the Iranian nation," he said during a public appearance in Tehran on Sunday. [complete article]

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Devoted and defiant
By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, February 13, 2006

Born to a blacksmith, educated as a revolutionary, trained as a killer and derided by rivals as a mystical fanatic, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is easily cast as the personification of everything there is to fear about a nuclear Iran. But he may be worse than that -- not because of how he looks to the outside world, but because of what he represents inside his country. Ahmadinejad plays to a nostalgia for war among parts of Iran's leadership, and even some of its young people: a longing for confrontation, a belief that a quarter century ago, when revolutionary Iran was ready to challenge the world, send countless youths to martyrdom in the fight against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, endure missile attacks on its cities, suffer poison-gas attacks against its troops—in those days the regime of the ayatollahs was purer, more noble, more popular and ultimately more secure.
U.S. intelligence sources estimate that a workable Iranian weapon is four to 10 years away. Israeli intelligence suggests a year may be a closer bet, and the Israelis see Iranian nukes as an existential threat to be stopped at all costs. Not since Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini was alive in the 1980s has Iran provoked so many regional and global tensions -- and that's just what Ahmadinejad, his religious superiors and his key supporters in the Street seem to want. "This is the war generation," says Massoud Denhmaki, a documentary filmmaker and former member of the religious militia Ansar-e Hizbullah. "During the war [against Saddam Hussein's Iraq from 1980-1988], we learned how to walk on mines so others could walk on our backs. This is the same approach this generation has toward politics. We accomplished a lot with very little during the war. We'll manage the country the same way." [complete article]

See also, Iran the great unifier? The Arab world is wary and Nuclear dispute arouses patriotism among Iranians (NYT).

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Cartoons spark burning of embassies
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, February 5, 2006

Outrage among Muslims around the world over cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad again erupted into violence on Saturday, as crowds in Damascus, Syria, set afire the embassies of two countries where newspapers published the images forbidden by Islam.

The embassies of Denmark and Norway were badly damaged by demonstrators shouting "God is Great!" as police fired tear gas and water cannons, news reports said. In the Palestinian territories, protesters burned tires and threw rocks at offices of the European Union, and a leader of the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, was quoted as calling for the death of those responsible for the caricatures.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church added its voice to Western governments condemning publication of the images. "The right to freedom of thought and expression ... cannot entail the right to offend the religious sentiment of believers," the Vatican said in a statement. [complete article]

Clash over cartoons is a caricature of civilization (Philip Kennicott), Free speech and civic responsibility (Tariq Ramadan), and Don't be fooled, this isn't an issue of Islam versus secularism (Robert Fisk).

See also, Thousands of Afghans protest caricatures of the Prophet (AP), Iraq halts deals with Denmark, Norway (Reuters), Cartoons: 'Cut them to pieces' (News24), and Iraq militant group urges attacks over cartoons (Reuters).

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Surveillance net yields few suspects
By Barton Gellman, Dafna Linzer and Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, February 5, 2006

Intelligence officers who eavesdropped on thousands of Americans in overseas calls under authority from President Bush have dismissed nearly all of them as potential suspects after hearing nothing pertinent to a terrorist threat, according to accounts from current and former government officials and private-sector sources with knowledge of the technologies in use.

Bush has recently described the warrantless operation as "terrorist surveillance" and summed it up by declaring that "if you're talking to a member of al Qaeda, we want to know why." But officials conversant with the program said a far more common question for eavesdroppers is whether, not why, a terrorist plotter is on either end of the call. The answer, they said, is usually no.

Fewer than 10 U.S. citizens or residents a year, according to an authoritative account, have aroused enough suspicion during warrantless eavesdropping to justify interception of their domestic calls, as well. That step still requires a warrant from a federal judge, for which the government must supply evidence of probable cause.

The Bush administration refuses to say -- in public or in closed session of Congress -- how many Americans in the past four years have had their conversations recorded or their e-mails read by intelligence analysts without court authority. Two knowledgeable sources placed that number in the thousands; one of them, more specific, said about 5,000. [complete article]

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Oil graft fuels the insurgency, Iraq and U.S. say
By Robert F. Worth and James Glanz, New York Times, February 5, 2006

Iraqi and American officials say they are seeing a troubling pattern of government corruption enabling the flow of oil money and other funds to the insurgency and threatening to undermine Iraq's struggling economy.

In Iraq, which depends almost exclusively on oil for its revenues, the officials say that any diversion of money to an insurgency that is killing its citizens and tearing apart its infrastructure adds a new and menacing element to the challenge of holding the country together.

In one example, a sitting member of the Iraqi National Assembly has been indicted in the theft of millions of dollars meant for protecting a critical oil pipeline against attacks and is suspected of funneling some of that money to the insurgency, said Radhi Hamza al-Radhi, the chairman of Iraq's Commission on Public Integrity. The indictment has not been made public.

The charges against the Sunni lawmaker, Meshaan al-Juburi, are far from the only indication that the insurgency is profiting from Iraq's oil riches. [complete article]

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Sunni leader killed for joining ceasefire talks
By Hala Jaber, The Sunday Times, February 5, 2006

A Sunni tribal leader was murdered in the Iraqi city of Ramadi a day after taking part in talks with American and Iraqi officials aimed at curbing violence there.

Sheikh Nasser Kareem al-Fahdawi, head of the al-Bu Fahad tribe and a physics professor at Anbar University, was shot by insurgents opposed to the talks in late December.

His killing came 24 hours after he had joined tribal leaders representing insurgent groups in a meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, and Ibrahim Jaafari, the Shi'ite prime minister.

A source within the tribe, who is also a member of Al-Qaeda, indicated that he believed al-Fahdawi had been too sympathetic towards the United States during talks. "He was a traitor who deserved to be killed," he said. [complete article]

See also, Where the shadows have shadows (NYT).

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Sunnis accuse Shiites in mass killings
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, February 5, 2006

A recent surge in killings with sectarian overtones has left at least two dozen Iraqis dead, angering the country's Sunni Arab minority as negotiations to draw them into a future government continue.

On Saturday, authorities identified two groups of corpses as those of young Sunni Arab men dumped in separate locations in a poor neighborhood of northwestern Baghdad.

The men had recently been detained by Iraqi security forces, and all the bodies bore signs of torture, Sunni Arab political and religious leaders said.

"They are raiding homes and mosques and making random arrests," said Harith Obeidi, a leader of a Sunni group that is part of negotiations to form a new government. "The people are in government cars and wearing the government uniforms. They arrest people and beat them during the raids, and after two days we find them killed on the road or at the morgue." [complete article]

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Palestinian officials flee over missing $700m
By Harvey Morris, Financial Times, February 5, 2006

The Palestinian Authority's senior law officer announced on Sunday that a number of senior Palestinian officials had fled abroad to escape prosecution in a series of corruption cases in which more than $700m had been squandered or stolen.

"There are 50 cases of financial and administrative corruption," Ahmed al-Moghani, PA attorney-general, told a press conference. He said 25 unnamed officials had been arrested and the PA was seeking the extradition of 10 others who had fled.

The announcement came as the Israeli government decided to hand over about $55m owed to the PA that it withheld after Hamas, the militant Islamic movement, won a landslide victory in Palestinian elections last month. [complete article]

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You get what you vote for. What does Hamas get us?
By Abdallah Alsalmi, Washington Post, February 5, 2006

Here in Gaza, we are holding our breath, waiting to see what the unprecedented victory of Hamas in our legislative elections will mean for us. The territory is quiet. Even the militants have taken a break from launching rockets or occupying government buildings.

Ironically, the subdued atmosphere is a clear sign of the violent turmoil inside each and every Palestinian. But this unease is not focused on what attacks or retaliations might occur between Hamas and its avowed enemy, Israel. Instead, what I hear my neighbors and colleagues discussing is: How will Hamas govern without the support of international donors? Will I receive next month's paycheck?

It is easy to be cynical about these questions. After all, the Palestinians who voted for Hamas -- which remains dedicated to the destruction of Israel -- are collectively the same people who have told pollsters that, like the majority of Israelis, they want to end the Middle East conflict peacefully on the basis of a two-state solution.

So why did so many throw their support behind Hamas? In recent days I have asked this question of many friends and colleagues, and most of their answers had nothing to do with Israel. [complete article]

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Freshly elected Hamas comes out from the shadows
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 5, 2006

The men who lead Hamas are doctors and professors, high school teachers and administrators who have patiently built an organization classified as a terrorist enterprise in Israel and the West. Their political outlook has been shaped by exile and prison, refugee camps, the threat of assassination and a strict reading of Islam that is at the heart of both their populist social program and their enduring war with Israel.

Now these men are emerging from lives little known beyond their tattered neighborhoods to chart the future of Palestinian politics after winning a large parliamentary majority last month. They have the right to form the next cabinet under the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, though it remains to be seen whether they will run ministries themselves or exercise influence less obtrusively.

On Saturday, Abbas met with Ismail Haniyeh and Mahmoud Zahar, two top Hamas national candidates, for the first time since the election to begin discussing the next cabinet. After the meeting, the Hamas leaders told reporters that the group did not intend to recognize Israel, as Western governments have demanded, before entering parliament later this month. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Shutting out a voice for Islam
By Diana L. Eck, Boston Globe, February 2, 2006

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood may be model for Islam's political adaptation
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, February 3, 2006

Time for the U.S. to get real on Hamas
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, February 2, 2006

The gap between U.S. rhetoric and reality
By Anatol Lieven, International Herald Tribune, January 30, 2006

Ability to wage 'long war' is key to Pentagon plan
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, February 4, 2006

Bush told Blair we're going to war, memo reveals
By Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian, February 2, 2006

Wide plot seen in guilty plea in Iraq project
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 2, 2006

The biggest secret
A review of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration by James Risen
By Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books, February 23, 2006

Battleground of ideas
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, February 1, 2006

Iran calling wider world to its side
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, February 1, 2006

Israel's shooting of young girl highlights international hypocrisy, say Palestinians
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, January 30, 2006

Ballot-box win boosts Iraqi radical
By Charles Levinson, Christian Science Monitor, January 30, 2006

The war within
By Matthew B. Stannard, San Francisco Chronicle, January 29, 2006

The Hamas revolution
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, January 29, 2006

Palace revolt
By Daniel Klaidman, Stuart Taylor Jr. and Evan Thomas, Newsweek, February 6, 2006

Direct talks -- U.S. officials and Iraqi insurgents
Newsweek, February 6, 2006

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