The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Iran was on edge; now it's on top
By Megan K. Stack and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, February 18, 2006

The Islamic government in neighboring Iran watched with trepidation in March 2003 when U.S.-led troops stormed Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein's regime and start remaking the political map of the Mideast.

In retrospect, the Islamic Republic could have celebrated: The war has left America's longtime nemesis with profound influence in the new Iraq and pushed it to the apex of power in the region.

Emboldened by its new status and shielded by deep oil reserves, Tehran is pressing ahead with its nuclear program, daring the international community to impose sanctions. Iran is a Shiite Muslim nation with an ethnic Persian majority, and the blossoming of its influence has fueled the ambitions of long-repressed Shiites throughout the Arab world.

At the same time, Tehran has tightened alliances with groups such as Hamas, which recently won Palestinian elections, and with governments in Damascus and Beijing.

In the 1980s, Iran spent eight years and thousands of lives waging a war to overthrow Hussein, whose regime buffered the Sunni Muslim-dominated Arab world from Iran. But in the end, it took the U.S.-led invasion to topple Iraq's dictator and allow Iranian influence to spread through a chaotic, battle-torn country. [complete article]

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Ahmadinejad on the warpath
By Mahan Abedin, Asia Times, February 18, 2006

As the Iranian revolution enters its 28th year this month, the Islamic Republic stands at the most critical stage of its history. While power is being transferred to second-generation revolutionaries, the country is on a collision course with the United States over its controversial nuclear program.

At the center of this unfolding drama is the perplexing figure of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who has managed to isolate, enrage and frighten important domestic and external constituencies in the space of only six months.

Left to their own devices, Ahmadinejad and the second-generation revolutionaries who stand behind him are likely to change the Islamic Republic beyond recognition in the years ahead. But the complicating factor in all this is the increasing possibility of some form of military confrontation between Iran and the United States within two years. The key question is whether Ahmadinejad and his inner circle believe that military confrontation serves their long-term political and socio-economic agenda. [complete article]

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Iraq power shift widens a gulf between sects
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, February 18, 2006

Not long after the Americans occupied Iraq, strange things began happening in the family of Fatin Abdel Sattar, a Sunni Arab.

Her teenage son stopped giving his Sunni name in Shiite areas. Her sister's marriage fell apart as her Shiite husband turned his anger over old wounds on his Sunni spouse.

"We're concluding that it's better not to marry those from another sect," Ms. Abdel Sattar said, "to avoid problems in the future, to try to make our children's lives a little easier."

Of all of the changes that have swept Iraqi society since the American invasion almost three years ago, one of the quieter ones, yet also one of the most profound, has been the increased identification with one's own sect. In the poisonous new mix of violence, sectarian politics and lawlessness, families are turning inward to protect themselves. [complete article]

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'The Americans are breaking international law... it is a society heading towards Animal Farm' - Archbishop Sentamu on Guantanamo
By Ian Herbert and Ben Russell, The Independent, February 18, 2006

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, has launched a passionate attack on President George Bush, saying his administration's refusal to close the notorious Guantanamo Bay camp reflected "a society that is heading towards George Orwell's Animal Farm".

Dr Sentamu, the Church of England's second in command, urged the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) to take legal action against the US - through the US courts or the International Court of Justice at The Hague - should it fail to respond to a report, by five UN inspectors, advising that Camp Delta at Guantanamo Bay should be shut immediately because prisoners there are being tortured.

The report was published on Thursday, as a senior High Court judge, Mr Justice Collins, stated that American actions over Guantanamo's Camp Delta do not "appear to coincide with that of most civilised nations". As a result of his ruling, three of eight British inmates held in the camp are to appeal to the Foreign Secretary Jack Straw to intervene with the Bush administration on their behalf. [complete article]

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Europe's contempt for other cultures can't be sustained
By Martin Jacques, The Guardian, February 17, 2006

Is the argument over the Danish cartoons really reducible to a matter of free speech? Even if we believe that free speech is a fundamental value, that does not give us carte blanche to say what we like in any context, regardless of consequence or effect. Respect for others, especially in an increasingly interdependent world, is a value of at least equal importance.

Europe has never had to worry too much about context or effect because for around 200 years it dominated and colonised most of the world. Such was Europe's omnipotence that it never needed to take into account the sensibilities, beliefs and attitudes of those that it colonised, however sacred and sensitive they might have been. On the contrary, European countries imposed their rulers, religion, beliefs, language, racial hierarchy and customs on those to whom they were entirely alien. There is a profound hypocrisy - and deep historical ignorance - when Europeans complain about the problems posed by the ethnic and religious minorities in their midst, for that is exactly what European colonial rule meant for peoples around the world. With one crucial difference, of course: the white minorities ruled the roost, whereas Europe's new ethnic minorities are marginalised, excluded and castigated, as recent events have shown. [complete article]

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Ten die in Libya cartoon clash
BBC News, February 17, 2006

At least 10 people have been killed and several injured in Libya in clashes during a protest outside an Italian consulate, according to police. Police confronted protesters who had set fire to the building in the port city of Benghazi, in the latest protests over the Muhammad cartoons. [complete article]

Italy cartoon row minister quits
BBC News, February 18, 2006

The Italian reform minister who angered Muslims by wearing a T-shirt decorated with Western media cartoons satirising the Prophet Muhammad has resigned. Roberto Calderoli stepped down a day after rioting outside the Italian consulate in the Libyan city of Benghazi led to at least 10 deaths. [complete article]

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Hamas takes control of Palestinian parliament
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 18, 2006

The radical Islamic group Hamas took control of the Palestinian parliament Saturday during a somber swearing-in ceremony, and legislators from the new majority made clear soon after that they would not abide by signed agreements that recognize Israel's right to exist.

In a speech to the new 132-seat parliament, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas staunchly defended past agreements, including the 1993 Oslo accords that created the Palestinian Authority and the legislature Hamas entered Saturday. He called for the immediate renewal of negotiations with the goal of establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, declaring "there is a Palestinian partner" for such talks. Those past agreements were backed by Abbas' Fatah party, now a governing minority for the first time. Hamas, a terrorist organization in the eyes of the United States and the European Union, have favored a military campaign that in the past six years has included more than 50 suicide attacks inside Israel over peace negotiations that have failed to achieve Palestinian independence. [complete article]

Israelis poised for ascent of Hamas
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 18, 2006

On the eve of Hamas's entry into the Palestinian government, Israel's acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his senior advisers neared agreement Friday on a series of steps that would effectively isolate the Gaza Strip and deprive the nearly bankrupt Palestinian Authority of funding once the radical Islamic group forms a cabinet, according to Foreign Ministry officials.

Core members of Olmert's cabinet did not decide how to proceed after Saturday, when Hamas, designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, becomes the majority bloc in the Palestinian parliament. The decision was postponed to give Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose fractured Fatah party will soon be a minority, the opportunity to address the incoming parliament without new Israeli policies as a backdrop. [complete article]

U.S. asks Palestinians to return $50 million in aid
Reuters, February 17, 2006

The United States has asked the Palestinian Authority to return $50 million in U.S. aid because Washington does not want a Hamas-led government to have the funds, the State Department said on Friday.

The money is being demanded as part of a review of all U.S. aid for the Palestinians which began soon after the militant group Hamas' surprise win in elections last month. The State Department expects to finish the review in the next few weeks.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the caretaker government of President Mahmoud Abbas had agreed to return the $50 million, which was given to the Palestinian Authority last year for infrastructure projects after Israel's withdrawal from Gaza and parts of the West Bank. [complete article]

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Studies: Al Qaeda both complex and dull
CNN, February 17, 2006

Al Qaeda and the like have similar weaknesses to other modern organizations, according to two West Point studies that portray the terror network as sophisticated but its daily operations as banal.

As a consequence, the study "Stealing al Qaeda's Playbook" says, the United States should conduct counterinsurgency and psychological operations against terrorist organizations in a subtle manner that avoids "direct engagement" whenever possible.

The other study, "Harmony and Disharmony: Exploiting al Qaeda's Organizational Vulnerabilities," analyzes seized al Qaeda documents and lists ways to combat the group on many levels, such as targeting its finances and undermining it with propaganda. [complete article]

Comment -- The implication of these studies, in a nutshell, is that the "war" on terrorism shouldn't be described, thought of, or engaged in, as a war.

The administration made some half-hearted attempts at retooling its rhetoric when the GWOT got rebranded as the GSAVE -- Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism -- but they ignored Andy Card's advice by trying to roll out a new product in the summer. George "War" Bush quickly overruled his advisors. He didn't need Alberto Gonzales' help to figure out that the commander-in-chief wouldn't have war powers if he didn't have a war. So, now we're going through another period in which the administration is busy refining its phrasing and the solution they've found probably brings equal delight to both the White House and the Pentagon: it's a war and it's going to last for generations: The Long War.

The administration has yet again demonstrated its true forte: picking names. (Why sit around wasting your time reading studies from West Point counterterrorism experts if you're convinced that real political power flows simply from the ability to govern language?)

What would be most appropriate and perfectly fitting would be if they declined forthwith concealing their gift and, on the contrary, institutionalized it in an entity that so many powerful governments have found indispensable - a Department of Information. Secretary of Information, Scott McClellan, would no longer be forced to endure the daily humiliation of being grilled by the riffraff in the White House press corps; he could simply issue Dept. of Information press releases. Now wouldn't that make journalism much more straightforward?

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U.S. lags in propaganda war: Rumsfeld
By Daniel Trotta, Reuters, February 17, 2006

The United States lags dangerously behind al Qaeda and other enemies in getting out information in the digital media age and must update its old-fashioned methods, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said on Friday.

Modernization is crucial to winning the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide who are bombarded with negative images of the West, Rumsfeld told the Council on Foreign Relations.

The Pentagon chief said today's weapons of war included e-mail, Blackberries, instant messaging, digital cameras and Web logs, or blogs. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld aims to elevate role of Special Forces
By Greg Jaffe, Wall Street Journal, February 18, 2006

Well into the Bush administration's second term, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is concentrating much of his energy on remaking a small but important corner of the military: special-operations forces.

The Pentagon chief's focus on these elite forces reflects his conviction that the Iraq war -- in which about 140,000 U.S. troops are struggling to rebuild a country from the ground up -- is an anomaly that is winding down and won't be repeated, say senior defense officials.

"We are not going to invade and occupy our way to victory in the long war against Islamic extremism," said Michael Vickers, who served as a senior adviser on the secretary's recently released review of Pentagon spending and strategy. [complete article]

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Senate chairman splits Wwith Bush on spy program
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, February 18, 2006

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Friday that he wanted the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping program brought under the authority of a special intelligence court, a move President Bush has argued is not necessary.

The chairman, Senator Pat Roberts, Republican of Kansas, said he had some concerns that the court could not issue warrants quickly enough to keep up with the needs of the eavesdropping program. But he said he would like to see those details worked out.

Mr. Roberts also said he did not believe that exempting the program from the purview of the court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act "would be met with much support" on Capitol Hill. Yet that is exactly the approach the Bush administration is pursuing. [complete article]

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Bush's High Prophet faces angry Muslim world on PR trip
By Sam Knight, The Times, February 17, 2006

The woman whom President Bush calls his High Prophet today sets off to try and control the international consequences of this week's publication of the new Abu Ghraib images and the UN's report on Guantanamo Bay.

Karen Hughes was appointed in September to the post of Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, dubbed by Vice President Dick Cheney "the hardest job in government", with the responsibility of remaking America's image in the world, above all in the Middle East.

Today, caught in a snare of bad timing, she leaves for just her second trip to the region.
Ms Hughes, who has served by Mr Bush's side since becoming his press director in 1994 and then all-answering "Counselor" when he became President in 2000, has also made one clear change to improve the press coverage of her second trip abroad: this time, no journalists have been invited. [complete article]

Ms. Hughes' credibility gap
By Hooman Majd, Huffington Post, February 13, 2006

...Ms. Hughes, whose job after all is to explain the U.S. to a hostile world and who is traveling to Qatar this week to take part in the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, made a telling remark on the subject (in an article on the influence of American Muslim leaders) to the New York Times. She said, "The voices of Muslim Americans have more credibility in the Muslim world frankly than my voice as a government official, because they can speak the language of their faith and can share their experience of practicing their faith freely in the West, and they can help explain why the cartoons are so offensive."

One has to admire Karen for so candidly admitting her shortcomings as a government official, but if she is sincere one has to wonder why has she not hired any Muslim-Americans for senior positions in her department. (Egyptian-American Copt Dina Powell, her deputy, doesn't count, I'm afraid, for although she is fluent in Arabic, she too lacks any credibility when it comes to speaking with Muslims unconvinced of America's benevolent intentions in their countries and towards their faith.) [complete article]

See also, Current administration seems to relish media's anger (Knight Ridder).

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Turkey allows Hamas visit
By Amberin Zaman, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2006

A five-man delegation from the Hamas movement, headed by leader Khaled Meshaal, arrived in the Turkish capital Thursday, provoking harsh criticism from Israel and concern from U.S. officials.

It was first announced that the delegation would be received by Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. But hours after the group arrived, the prime minister's office said there would be no meeting.

A Turkish official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Erdogan changed his mind in part because of intense pressure from the Bush administration. [complete article]

Comment -- The US-Israeli strategy of trying to get the world to cold-shoulder Hamas is bound to fail - in fact, it's probably working in Hamas' favor. As Hamas burnishes its image as a populist and democratically sanctioned party, those who stand in the way of its political evolution are in effect going to tend to sideline themselves (at least in the Middle East) by appearing to be reactionaries who are stuck in the past.

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The mess
By Peter W. Galbraith, New York Review of Books, March 9, 2006

Much of the Iraq fiasco can be directly attributed to Bush's shortcomings as a leader. Having decided to invade Iraq, he failed to make sure there was adequate planning for the postwar period. He never settled bitter policy disputes among his principal aides over how postwar Iraq would be governed; and he allowed competing elements of his administration to pursue diametrically opposed policies at nearly the same time. He used jobs in the Coalition Provisional Authority to reward political loyalists who lacked professional competence, regional expertise, language skills, and, in some cases, common sense. Most serious of all, he conducted his Iraq policy with an arrogance not matched by political will or military power.

These shortcomings have led directly to the current dilemmas of the US both in Iraq and with Iran. Unless the President and his team -- abetted by some oversight from Congress -- are capable of examining the causes of failure in Iraq, it is hard to believe he will be able to manage the far more serious problem with Iran. [complete article]

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Accord in House to hold "inquiry" on surveillance
By Eric Lichtblau and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, February 17, 2006

Leaders of the House Intelligence Committee said Thursday that they had agreed to open a Congressional inquiry prompted by the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program. But a dispute immediately broke out among committee Republicans over the scope of the inquiry.

Representative Heather A. Wilson, the New Mexico Republican and committee member who called last week for the investigation, said the review "will have multiple avenues, because we want to completely understand the program and move forward."

But an aide to Representative Peter Hoekstra, the Michigan Republican who leads the committee, said the inquiry would be much more limited in scope, focusing on whether federal surveillance laws needed to be changed and not on the eavesdropping program itself. [complete article]

Senate rejects wiretapping probe
By Charles Babington and Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, February 17, 2006

The Bush administration helped derail a Senate bid to investigate a warrantless eavesdropping program yesterday after signaling it would reject Congress's request to have former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and other officials testify about the program's legality. The actions underscored a dramatic and possibly permanent drop in momentum for a congressional inquiry, which had seemed likely two months ago.

Senate Democrats said the Republican-led Congress was abdicating its obligations to oversee a controversial program in which the National Security Agency has monitored perhaps thousands of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents and foreign parties without obtaining warrants from a secret court that handles such matters.

"It is more than apparent to me that the White House has applied heavy pressure in recent days, in recent weeks, to prevent the committee from doing its job," Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV (D-W.Va.), vice chairman of the intelligence committee, said after the panel voted along party lines not to consider his motion for an investigation. [complete article]

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Senator may seek tougher law on leaks
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 17, 2006

The chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence said yesterday that he may add language to the fiscal 2007 intelligence authorization bill to criminalize the leaking of a wider range of classified information than is now covered by law. He indicated the new measure would be similar to legislation vetoed by President Bill Clinton more than five years ago.

The statement by Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) comes as Bush administration is campaigning against leaks and focusing on the people who receive and distribute them, including journalists. [complete article]

Bipartisan support emerges for federal whistle-blowers
By Scott Shane, New York Times, February 17, 2006

Even as the Bush administration presses an aggressive campaign against leaks, some Congressional Republicans are joining Democrats in supporting government employees who say they have been punished for disclosing sensitive information on reported abuses.

Representative Christopher Shays, Republican of Connecticut, is leading the defense of whistle-blowers who have spoken out about abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, illicit federal wiretapping and other matters. "It's absolutely essential that we have a system that allows people to speak out about abuses, especially in the national security realm," Mr. Shays said in an interview. [complete article]

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Bioterrorism, hyped
By Milton Leitenberg, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2006

The United States has spent at least $33 billion since 2002 to combat the threat of biological terrorism. The trouble is, the risk that terrorists will use biological agents is being systematically and deliberately exaggerated. And the U.S. government has been using most of its money to prepare for the wrong contingency.

A pandemic flu outbreak of the kind the world witnessed in 1918-19 could kill hundreds of millions of people. The only lethal biological attack in the United States -- the anthrax mailings -- killed five. But the annual budget for combating bioterror is more than $7 billion, while Congress just passed a $3.8-billion emergency package to prepare for a flu outbreak.

The exaggeration of the bioterror threat began more than a decade ago after the Japanese Aum Shinrikyo group released sarin gas in the Tokyo subways in 1995. The scaremongering has grown more acute since 9/11 and the mailing of anthrax-laced letters to Congress and media outlets in the fall of 2001. Now an edifice of institutes, programs and publicists with a vested interest in hyping the bioterror threat has grown, funded by the government and by foundations. [complete article]

Comment -- Every threat provides an opportunity. Back in the early '80's -- if I'm not mistaken -- the whole industry of tamper-resistant packaging was spawned by an isolated case of Tylenol tampering. During the same period, fruit was tampered with but clearly no one figured out a commmercially viable way of making fruit and veggies tamper resistant. The result: we all feel safe when we pop a pill and blithely take our lives in our hands when we bite an apple.

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Apparent death squad is linked to Iraqi ministry
By Nelson Hernandez and Bassam Sebti, Washington Post, February 17, 2006

U.S. and Iraqi authorities discovered an apparent death squad operating within the country's Interior Ministry last month when Iraqi troops prevented a group of highway patrol officers from killing a Sunni Arab man the officers had arrested, an American military spokesman said Thursday.

The 22 men, dressed in the camouflage uniforms of special police commandos, were stopped by chance at an Iraqi army checkpoint in northern Baghdad, according to Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, who gave a detailed account of the incident to the Chicago Tribune for an article published Thursday. When the soldiers asked the police what they were doing, they responded bluntly: They were going to execute their captive. Instead, they wound up in jail.

The men's arrest was first reported this month in the New York Times, which also quoted Peterson, who oversees the training of Iraqi police. The general outlines of the incident were confirmed Thursday in an e-mail from Peterson and by Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch, a U.S. military spokesman. [complete article]

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Company executive pleads guilty to $1 million fraud in Iraq
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 17, 2006

An executive for a company that was hired by Kellogg, Brown & Root, the Halliburton subsidiary, to fly cargo into Iraq for the war effort has pleaded guilty to inflating invoices by $1.14 million to cover fraudulent "war risk surcharges," a federal district court in Illinois announced Thursday.

Charges against the executive, Christopher Joseph Cahill, 51, of Katy, Tex., had been sealed pending his plea agreement, said a spokeswoman for the court, in Rock Island, Ill., where the Army Field Support Command, which administers the Kellogg, Brown & Root contract, is situated. Mr. Cahill served as a regional vice president in Dubai for Eagle Global Logistics, a Houston-based company that won the contract from Kellogg, Brown & Root in 2002, court papers say. [complete article]

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Niger Uranium rumors wouldn't die
By Bob Drogin And Tom Hamburger, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2006

In the spring of 2001, long before Sept. 11 and the American focus on Iraq, the CIA asked its Paris station about rumors that 200 tons of nuclear material had vanished from two French-owned mines in the West African nation of Niger.

"We heard stories this stuff had gone to Iraq, or to Syria, or Libya, or China or North Korea. We heard all kinds of stories," said a now-retired CIA officer.

But the CIA soon concluded that a French-run consortium maintained strict control over stockpiles of uranium ore in Niger, a former French colony, and that none had been illegally diverted.

"Everything was accounted for," the former spy said. "Case closed."

Hardly. [complete article]

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A radical changes the political dynamic in Iraq
By Robert F. Worth and Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times (IHT), February 16, 2006

Late Saturday night, on the eve of a crucial vote to choose Iraq's next prime minister, a senior Iraqi politician's cellphone rang. A supporter of the Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr was on the line with a threat.

"He said that there's going to be a civil war among the Shia" if Sadr's preferred candidate was not confirmed, the politician said.

Less than 12 hours later, and after many similar calls to top Shiite leaders, Sadr got his wish. The widely favored candidate lost by one vote, and Ibrahim al-Jaafari, the interim prime minister, was anointed as Iraq's next leader.

"Everyone was stunned; it was a coup d'etat," said the politician, a senior member of the main Shiite political coalition, the United Iraqi Alliance.

It was a crowning moment for Sadr, whose sudden rise to political power poses a stark new set of challenges for Iraq's fledgling democracy. The man who led the Mahdi Army militia's two deadly uprisings against American troops in 2004 now controls 32 seats in Iraq's Parliament, enough to be a kingmaker. [complete article]

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Can Cheney be his own declassification machine?
By Steven Clemons, The Washington Note, February 16, 2006

Vice President Cheney is right that he has the ability to classify materials; that is clear from the Executive Order.

It is also clear, however, that the rules and processes for CLASSIFYING national security information are completely different than DECLASSIFYING information. That is evident from reading the structure of the Executive Order itself.

So, Cheney is engaged in Executive Branch over-reach again, implying he has a power that is not designated.

This is the issue that the nation should be focused on -- and in TWN's view, it is far more important than Cheney's hunting accident and even his obsession with making the White House opaque to this country's citizens. [complete article]

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Israel plans sanctions as Hamas picks a prime minister
By Greg Myre, New York Times, February 16, 2006

Hamas appeared ready today to name its candidate for prime minister, while Israel's Defense Ministry drew up sanctions likely to be imposed after a new Palestinian Parliament, dominated by Hamas, is sworn in on Saturday. [complete article]

See also, Hamas picks "pragmatist" Haniyeh as Palestinian PM (Reuters) and Behind tough talk, Israel torn on Hamas (The Forward).

Israel excludes Palestinians from fertile valley
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, February 14, 2006

Israel has effectively annexed the Jordan Valley - about a third of the occupied West Bank - by barring almost all Palestinians from entering the region, a respected Israeli human rights group said yesterday.

The group, B'Tselem, points to a system of permits and checkpoints that has expanded over recent months to keep most Palestinians out of the valley. It says this and other measures that are forcing residents to leave the area appear to be a step towards seizing the land for Israel.

"Israel's permit regime in the valley, together with statements of senior officials, give the impression that the motive underlying Israel's policy is not based on military-security needs, but is political: the de facto annexation of the Jordan Valley," said B'Tselem. [complete article]

See also, Israel has de facto annexed the Jordan Valley (B'Tselem).

Improve the image
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 16, 2006

David Ben-Gurion said that Israel's fate is dependent on two things: its strength and justness. His heirs believed strength was enough. In the current election campaign as well as those in the past, the candidates are competing over who will annex more territory and hurt the Palestinians more. None are speaking of Israel's legitimate problems and saying what must be done to fix them. [complete article]

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Game over for Bush's war of ideas
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, February 16, 2006

The media loves to wring its collective hands over each new droning video sermon released by Osama bin Laden or Ayman Zawahiri, but it is the release -- to unprecedented box office success -- of the Turkish movie "Valley of the Wolves: Iraq" that heralds the failure of the Bush administration to win the "battle of ideas" that is has insisted is so central to its "global war on terror." The reason is simple: The average Joe everywhere from France to China, and all of the developing world, pretty much loathes U.S. foreign policy; but even in hotbeds of anti-American sentiment nothing quite matches the entertainment allure of American action movies. Al Qaeda's video production values are no match for those of Jerry Bruckheimer, but "Valley of the Wolves" signals a shift -- now audiences in the Muslim world (and beyond) can find a Bruckheimer-esque package of thrills, explosions and near misses, and vicious goons whose diabolical deeds crank up the audience for emotionally satisfying revenge fantasies in which the Rambo types deliver the bad guys their comeuppance -- except that this time, the bad guys are the U.S. military; the wronged innocents are Iraqis; and the avengers are Turkish special forces going to war with their NATO ally. [complete article]

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Anatomy of the cartoon protest movement
By Anthony Shadid and Kevin Sullivan, Washington Post, February 16, 2006

Protests have erupted in an arc stretching from Europe through Africa to East Asia and, at times, the United States. About a dozen people have died in Afghanistan; five have been killed this week in Pakistan. Muslim journalists were arrested for publishing the cartoons in Jordan, Algeria and Yemen. European countries have evacuated the staffs of embassies and nongovernmental organizations, Muslim countries have withdrawn ambassadors, and Danish exports that average more than $1 billion a year have dried up in a span of weeks.

But the scope of the fallout tells only one story. The debate over the cartoons is replete with unintended consequences, some still taking shape this week. On one side is a defense of freedom of expression, on the other an unforgivable insult to a sacred figure. In between are potentially longer-lasting repercussions: a rethinking of relations between Europe and the Muslim world, and a rare moment of empowerment among Muslims who have felt besieged. Given the moral certainty pronounced by each party, some in the middle feel forced to take sides, blurring the diversity of religious thought that might offer grounds for compromise. [complete article]

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Rice asks for $75 million to increase pressure on Iran
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 16, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress yesterday to provide $75 million in emergency funding to step up pressure on the Iranian government, including expanding radio and television broadcasts into Iran and promoting internal opposition to the rule of religious leaders.

The request would substantially boost the money devoted to confronting Iran -- only $10 million is budgeted to support dissidents in 2006 -- and signals a new effort by the Bush administration to persuade other nations to join the United States in a coalition to bolster Iranian activists, halt Iran's funding of terrorism and stem its nuclear ambitions, State Department officials said. [complete article]

Why Iran's enrichment rattles the West
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, February 15, 2006

To begin enriching raw uranium into fissile material, as Iran now may have done, is to take a fateful step down the path of nuclear capability.

That's because it is perhaps the most difficult aspect of developing a nuclear power - or weapons - program. Centrifuge enrichment is a sort of technological ballet, requiring thousands of thin tubes to spin at outrageous speeds, each feeding a thin stream of uranium gas along to a neighboring tube, until the gas reaches the end of the cascade line.

And once a nation has mastered the art of enriching uranium for a power plant, it does not take much more effort to increase the concentration of fissile elements to the level required for bombs. Thus, Iran may already have collected almost everything it requires, if it wants to become a member of the nuclear weapons club. [complete article]

France says Iran's atomic program is a military cover
AP (via NYT), February 16, 2006

France's foreign minister said Thursday that Iran's nuclear program was a cover for clandestine military activity, in an unusually direct attack on Tehran for a European diplomat.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator immediately dismissed the charge, insisting that Iran doesn't "want to have the bomb."

Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy's comments were likely to increase pressure on Iran amid the international dispute over its nuclear activities. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful but European and U.S. leaders fear it is aimed at building atomic weapons. [complete article]

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Dead man waiting?
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, February 14, 2006

"Valentine" is not a word that comes readily to mind in connection with Walid Jumblatt. "Warlord" has been a more common description since the 1970s, and more recently one hears the phrase "dead man walking" uttered in the streets of Beirut. But as Jumblatt stood behind a bullet-proof barrier before the hundreds of thousands of people who filled Martyrs' Square in the Lebanese capital today, it struck me as I watched on television that this wild-looking, straight-talking, passionate, calculating, eccentric hereditary leader of the small Druze religious sect deserves not only our attention but our hearts.

At a time when the Bush administration's commitment to democracy in the Arab world looks ever more situational and cynical, Jumblatt has taken a stand so far out in front of other Lebanese politicians, and so far beyond anything Washington is willing to commit to publicly, that it's not surprising his admirers think he'll be killed in the next few days or weeks or months. Jumblatt is calling not only for freedom in Lebanon, but in effect for the overthrow of the Syrian president he called today "the terrorist tyrant Bashar al-Assad." As a close friend of mine and Jumblatt's told me over the phone from Beirut this afternoon, "What Walid's doing is very useful, but he's doing it because he knows he’s finished and he's got nothing left to lose." [complete article]

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Tough G.I.'s go to war armed with Afghan ABC's
By John Kifner, New York Times, February 16, 2006

As the 10th Mountain Division prepared to go to Afghanistan this month, its Third Brigade ordered boxes of the Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid's seminal book "Taliban" to be issued to officers along with body armor, high-tech seven-layer cold weather uniforms and ballistic-grade Oakley Blade wraparound sunglasses.

When the 10th Mountain went to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001, their task was purely military: to hunt down Taliban and al Qaeda fighters. That mission remains, but now the goal is as much a political one: to bolster the American-supported government of President Hamid Karzai.

The 10th Mountain, one of the Army's best units, is developing a military ethos that goes beyond the tactics of past conventional warfare to a new age of ideological war.

In a series of interviews as the soldiers -- about half of them combat veterans -- prepared for their deployment this month, the division's commander, Maj. Gen. Benjamin C. Freakley, and other officers spoke of the heightened language and cultural training they had instituted to meet the new challenges in a conflict against militant Islam that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently referred to as "the long war."

The officers were relentlessly upbeat; war is not a profession for doubters. But at the same time, they were keenly aware they faced, as General Freakley put it, "a very savvy, capable adversary" in what another officer called "a very ambiguous battle-space." [complete article]

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In their own words: reading the Iraqi insurgency
International Crisis Group, February 15, 2006

In Iraq, the U.S. fights an enemy it hardly knows. Its descriptions have relied on gross approximations and crude categories (Saddamists, Islamo-fascists and the like) that bear only passing resemblance to reality. This report, based on close analysis of the insurgents' own discourse, reveals relatively few groups, less divided between nationalists and foreign jihadis than assumed, whose strategy and tactics have evolved (in response to U.S. actions and to maximise acceptance by Sunni Arabs), and whose confidence in defeating the occupation is rising. An anti-insurgency approach primarily focused on reducing the insurgents' perceived legitimacy – rather than achieving their military destruction, decapitation and dislocation – is far more likely to succeed.

Failure to sufficiently take into account what the insurgents are saying is puzzling and, from Washington's perspective, counter-productive. Abundant material – both undervalued and underutilised – is available from insurgent websites, internet chat, videos, tapes and leaflets. Over the past two years such communication has assumed more importance, both among insurgent groups and between groups and their networks of supporters or sympathisers. This report, the first exhaustive analysis of the organised armed opposition's discourse, seeks to fill the gap, and the lessons are sobering. [complete article]

See also ABC's Nightline video report (preceeded by a 15-second commercial) and the report transcript.

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Order, peace elusive in Iraqi city of Samarra
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, February 15, 2006

The gunfight by the Tigris River was over. It was time to retrieve the bodies.

Staff Sgt. Cortez Powell looked at the shredded jaw of a dead man whom he'd shot in the face when insurgents ambushed an American patrol in a blind of reeds. Powell's M4 assault rifle had jammed, so he'd grabbed the pump-action shotgun that he kept slung over his shoulders and pulled the trigger.

Five other soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division scrambled down, pulled two of the insurgents' bodies from the reeds and dragged them through the mud.

"Strap those motherf-----s to the hood like a deer," said Staff Sgt. James Robinson, 25, of Hughes, Ark.

The soldiers heaved the two bodies onto the hood of a Humvee and tied them down with a cord. The dead insurgents' legs and arms flapped in the air as the Humvee rumbled along.

Iraqi families stood in front of the surrounding houses. They watched the corpses ride by and glared at the American soldiers.

Fifteen months earlier, when the 1st Infantry Division sent some 5,000 Iraqi and U.S. soldiers to retake Samarra from Sunni Muslim insurgents, it was a test of the American occupation's ability not only to pacify but also to rebuild a part of Iraq dominated by the country's minority Sunnis.

More than a year later, American troops still are battling insurgents in Samarra. Bloodshed is destroying the city and driving a wedge between the Iraqis who live there and the U.S. troops who are trying to keep order.

Violence, police corruption and the blurry lines of guerrilla warfare are clouding any hopes of victory. [complete article]

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U.S. reports discovery of apparent death squad in Iraq
By Liz Sly, Chicago Tribune, February 15, 2006

The U.S. military has stumbled across the first evidence of a death squad within Iraq's Interior Ministry after the detention last month of 22 men wearing police commando uniforms who were about to shoot a Sunni man, according to the American general overseeing the training of Iraqi police.

The men turned out not to be police commandos but were employed by the Ministry of Interior as highway patrolmen, according to Maj. Gen. Joseph Peterson, who commands the civilian police training teams in Iraq.

"We have found one of the death squads," he said. "They are a part of the police force of Iraq." [complete article]

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The Basra video should lay to rest a scurrilous lie
By Jasem al-Aqrab, The Guardian, February 16, 2006

Since April 2003, the people of Basra have consistently been bemused by reports that they and their city enjoy a state of calm and stability under the command of the British forces, in contrast to the north of Iraq and the so-called Sunni triangle. As someone born and bred in Basra, I hope that the recent images of British troops beating young Basra boys to within an inch of their lives will allow such claims to be laid to rest and show a fraction of the reality that has made life throughout Iraq a living hell.

When the Abu Ghraib scandal broke a couple of years ago, I recall a commentator on the BBC World Service smugly saying that the Americans were heavy-handed and undisciplined when it came to dealing with civilians, while the British were far more restrained, touring Basra in their berets as peacekeepers rather than occupiers. My estimation of the BBC World Service dipped when the other side of the picture was not presented.

The truth is that ever since the fall of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime, abuses and atrocities committed against Iraqi civilians have been a regular, at times daily, occurrence throughout the country, including in Basra. These have been committed by American, British and Iraqi official forces. Hearing the British prime minister describe this latest incident as an isolated case fills me and fellow Iraqis with anger. [complete article]

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Iraqi Shiite bloc showing cracks
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2006

Only days after deciding to nominate incumbent Ibrahim Jafari to continue as Iraq's prime minister, his United Iraqi Alliance coalition on Wednesday was showing signs of fraying.

Leaders of the Al Fadila al Islamiya party, which is associated with radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr and had offered its own candidate for the post, threatened Wednesday to break from the dominant alliance if the UIA did not make more overtures to Sunni Arabs, restrain Shiite paramilitary groups and rule in a more collaborative style.

As legislators prepare to form Iraq's first permanent government since Saddam Hussein's ouster in 2003, the Fadila ultimatum suggested that Jafari's nomination, approved by a one-vote margin among the coalition's 128 members of parliament, was causing tension within the Shiite-led alliance. [complete article]

Iraqi Kurds take tough stance on Kirkuk
By Paul Garwood, AP (via The Guardian), February 15, 2006

Kurdish political chiefs led by President Jalal Talabani warned Shiite leaders Tuesday that a deal on the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk would be their key demand in talks on forming the country's next government.

Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni Arab leaders met in the most intensive discussions over the next government since Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari narrowly won a ballot last week to be the dominant Shiite alliance's candidate to retain the premiership. [complete article]

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No checks, many imbalances
By George F. Will, Washington Post, February 16, 2006

The next time a president asks Congress to pass something akin to what Congress passed on Sept. 14, 2001 -- the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) -- the resulting legislation might be longer than Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past." Congress, remembering what is happening today, might stipulate all the statutes and constitutional understandings that it does not intend the act to repeal or supersede.

But, then, perhaps no future president will ask for such congressional involvement in the gravest decision government makes -- going to war. Why would future presidents ask, if the present administration successfully asserts its current doctrine? It is that whenever the nation is at war, the other two branches of government have a radically diminished pertinence to governance, and the president determines what that pertinence shall be. This monarchical doctrine emerges from the administration's stance that warrantless surveillance by the National Security Agency targeting American citizens on American soil is a legal exercise of the president's inherent powers as commander in chief, even though it violates the clear language of the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was written to regulate wartime surveillance. [complete article]

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U.N. report sparks row over demand to close Guantanamo
By Philippe Naughton, The Times, February 16, 2006

A group of top UN human rights experts today urged the United States to shut down its Guantanamo Bay detention centre "without further delay" because it violates key fundaments of international law including the prohibition on torture.

The call came in a report by five independent experts who act as monitors for the UN Human Rights Commission.

The report disputes the US definition of some 500 detainees at the naval base on Cuba as "enemy combatants" and argues that that President Bush's War on Terror has no basis in international law. [complete article]

See also the U.N. report, Situation of detainees at Guantanamo Bay (PDF).

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Why we're publishing the new Abu Ghraib photos
By Walter Shapiro, Slate, February 16, 2006

The horrors carried out during the last three months of 2003 by U.S. soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison are shockingly familiar and, at the same time, oddly remote. The torture photographs that were published when the prisoner-abuse scandal first exploded have lost their power to shock. We have all seen the pictures repeatedly: a pyramid of unclothed prisoners; a naked detainee cowering in front of snarling dogs; captives wearing punitive hoods that seem borrowed from a medieval inquisition; American soldiers grinning over Iraqi dead bodies and, always, that chillingly ironic thumbs-up sign.

Eventually this visual repetition numbs the senses. All these ghastly images have been viewed so often that they seem to belong to a different war conducted by a different superpower in a different century. Yet the photographs that news organizations have so far published represent only a partial sample of the government's chilling documentary record from Abu Ghraib.

When Salon's national correspondent Mark Benjamin obtained the never-before-released photographs that accompany this essay, we had to both establish their authenticity and to answer the basic question of our justification for publishing. The images themselves partly answered the why-publish question for us. Speaking for myself, I remain haunted by one of the more seemingly banal pictures in this new collection from the dark side. Taken on Dec. 6, 2003, the photograph shows a uniformed and seemingly untroubled Army sergeant leaning against a corridor wall completing his paperwork. All routine, except standing next to the sergeant is a hooded and naked Iraqi prisoner. Just another day of methodical record-keeping at Abu Ghraib. [complete article]

See also, The Abu Ghraib portfolio (Slate) and Painted in blood, an abstract expression of horror (Philip Kennicott).

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A surge in whistle-blowing ... and reprisals
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, February 16, 2006

Dissent often carries a price in official Washington, especially in the war years of the Bush presidency.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the number of insiders alleging wrongdoing in government - either through whistle-blower channels or directly to the press - has surged, as have reprisals against them.

That's the message from this week's congressional hearing on protections for national security whistle-blowers - the first in more than a decade. "The system is broken," says Rep. Christopher Shays (R) of Connecticut, who chaired the House Government Affairs subcommittee hearing. [complete article]

See also, The bureaucracy strikes back (Nick Turse).

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Plugging leaks, chilling debate
By Gary Wasserman, Washington Post, February 16, 2006

"Persons who have unauthorized possession, who come into unauthorized possession of classified information, must abide by the law. That applies to academics, lawyers, journalists, professors, whatever."

-- Judge T.S. Ellis III

The judge was speaking last month after sentencing a former Pentagon desk officer for Iran to prison for sharing classified information too widely. It didn't seem to matter that Lawrence Franklin was a conservative former Air Force colonel who was using contacts outside of government to lobby for a harder line on Iran. In a week when an American soldier was given no more than a reprimand for smothering an Iraqi general to death, Franklin's 12 1/2 -year sentence was a reminder that this is an administration more horrified by leaks than torture. [complete article]

See also, You're a spy (Fred Kaplan).

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325,000 names on terrorism list
By Walter Pincus and Dan Eggen, Washington Post, February 15, 2006

The National Counterterrorism Center maintains a central repository of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects or people who allegedly aid them, a number that has more than quadrupled since the fall of 2003, according to counterterrorism officials.

The list kept by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) -- created in 2004 to be the primary U.S. terrorism intelligence agency -- contains a far greater number of international terrorism suspects and associated names in a single government database than has previously been disclosed. Because the same person may appear under different spellings or aliases, the true number of people is estimated to be more than 200,000, according to NCTC officials.

U.S. citizens make up "only a very, very small fraction" of that number, said an administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of his agency's policies. "The vast majority are non-U.S. persons and do not live in the U.S.," he added. An NCTC official refused to say how many on the list -- put together from reports supplied by the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA) and other agencies -- are U.S. citizens. [complete article]

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Cheney says he has power to declassify info
By Pete Yost, AP (via Seattle P-I), February 16, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney disclosed Wednesday that he has the power to declassify sensitive government information, authority that could set up a criminal defense for his former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Cheney's disclosure comes a week after reports that Libby testified under oath he was authorized by superiors in 2003 to disclose highly sensitive prewar information to reporters. The information, about Iraq and alleged weapons of mass destruction, was used by the Bush administration to bolster its case for invading Iraq. [complete article]

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Justice Dept. role in eavesdropping decision under review
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, February 16, 2006

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility has opened an internal investigation into the department's role in approving the Bush administration's warrantless domestic eavesdropping program, officials said yesterday.

In addition, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales signaled in an interview with The Washington Post yesterday that the administration will sharply limit the testimony of former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and former deputy attorney general James B. Comey, both of whom have been asked to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding the program. [complete article]

Congressional probe of NSA spying is in doubt
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, February 15, 2006

Congress appeared ready to launch an investigation into the Bush administration's warrantless domestic surveillance program last week, but an all-out White House lobbying campaign has dramatically slowed the effort and may kill it, key Republican and Democratic sources said yesterday.

The Senate intelligence committee is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a Democratic-sponsored motion to start an inquiry into the recently revealed program in which the National Security Agency eavesdrops on an undisclosed number of phone calls and e-mails involving U.S. residents without obtaining warrants from a secret court. Two committee Democrats said the panel -- made up of eight Republicans and seven Democrats -- was clearly leaning in favor of the motion last week but now is closely divided and possibly inclined against it. [complete article]

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Will we let Jill Carroll be killed?
By Peter Singer, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2006

Jill Carroll, the 28-year-old freelance reporter for the Christian Science Monitor who has been held by kidnappers in Iraq since Jan. 7, appeared on a video last week.

"Please just do whatever they want," she said. "Give them whatever they want as quickly as possible. There is a very short time. Please do it fast. That's all."

What the kidnappers want is for the United States to free the female prisoners it is holding in Iraq, and they have made it clear that if the U.S. does not do so, Carroll will be killed. Given that other captives have been killed by Iraqi kidnappers, there can be little doubt that the threat to Carroll's life is real. Why then has there been so little discussion of whether we should meet the demands? With a human life at stake, is it right not even to debate her case? [complete article]

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Abu Ghraib called incubator for terrorists
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, February 15, 2006

American commanders in Iraq are expressing grave concerns that the overcrowded Abu Ghraib prison has become a breeding ground for extremist leaders and a school for terrorist foot soldiers.

The reason is that the confinement allows detainees to forge relationships and exchange lessons of combat against the United States and the new Iraqi government. "Abu Ghraib is a graduate-level training ground for the insurgency," said an American commander in Iraq. [complete article]

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Dozens more Abu Ghraib abuse images broadcast
By Sam Knight, The Times, February 15, 2006

America prepared to face the next chapter of the Abu Ghraib scandal today after an Australian broadcaster showed dozens of previously undiclosed images showing US soldiers alongside beaten, dead and sexually humiliated Iraqis.

The photographs and videos, which are currently the subject of a legal tug-of-war in America, where the Pentagon is fighting to prevent their publication, were broadcast by Dateline, a current affairs show on SBS, Australia's state broadcaster, this morning. [complete article]

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Popular Turkish movie portrays American soldiers as brutal killers
By Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder, February 14, 2006

A Turkish-made film that portrays American soldiers in Iraq as brutal and callous killers is setting attendance records in Turkey and has just opened throughout Europe.

From the opening seconds to the dramatic conclusion, the movie, "The Valley of the Wolves - Iraq," portrays Americans as wearing the black hats.

In one scene, an American doctor, played by actor Gary Busey, is furious because troops keep killing Iraqi prisoners before they reach the Abu Ghraib prison. The doctor's problem? If the Iraqis are dead, he can't harvest their organs to send to Israel.

The movie, the most expensive production in Turkish film history, has been a runaway success in Turkey since it opened Feb. 3. Would-be viewers must wait weeks for tickets. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, according to Turkish press reports, recommended the film to friends after a private screening. His wife noted, "It's a beautiful film." [complete article]

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Quieter presence urged in Mideast
By John Diamond, USA Today, February 14, 2006

The United States should launch a major covert information campaign to promote the nation's image in the Middle East and sow division among radical Muslim groups, according to a West Point critique of U.S. terrorism policy.

The strategy, amounting to a secret campaign for hearts and minds, could involve paying for favorable publications and schools that promote moderate Islamic philosophies.

The report also proposes using Muslim allies, or at least groups hostile to the more militant Islamic movements, to exploit ideological rifts within terrorist groups.

Through it all, however, "it is essential that the U.S. hand not be seen," said the report by the Combating Terrorism Center at the U.S. military academy. [complete article]

Comment -- The problem here is that these "hearts and minds" operations - overt or covert - are, by definition, ham-fisted. They flow from the assumption that those being targeted have nothing to teach those conveying the message. As I say to evangelists who come to my door, "If I'm open-minded in listening to what you have to say, are you willing to be open-minded too?"

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Quick rise for purveyors of propaganda in Iraq
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, February 15, 2006

Two years ago, Christian Bailey and Paige Craig were living in a half-renovated Washington group house, with a string of failed startup companies behind them.

Mr. Bailey, a boyish-looking Briton, and Mr. Craig, a chain-smoking former Marine sergeant, then began winning multimillion-dollar contracts with the United States military to produce propaganda in Iraq.

Now their company, Lincoln Group, works out of elegant offices along Pennsylvania Avenue and sponsors polo matches in Virginia horse country. Mr. Bailey recently bought a million-dollar Georgetown row house. Mr. Craig drives a Jaguar and shows up for interviews accompanied by his "director of security," a beefy bodyguard.

The company's rise, though, has been built in part by exaggerated claims about its abilities and connections, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former Lincoln Group employees and associates, and a review of company documents. [complete article]

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Mounting concern over Afghanistan
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2006

Grim phrases are on the lips of diplomats, government officials, and aid workers in Kabul when describing Afghanistan these days. Narco state, political disillusionment, military stalemate, donor fatigue, American military pullout.

Tie it all together, and it's a picture that suggests Afghanistan could be reverting back to a failed state. None of these issues is new, with the exception of the US decision to start drawing down its forces in Afghanistan and the expected arrival of NATO forces this summer. Yet four years after the government of President Hamid Karzai came to power, these various factors seem to be converging, with explosive results. [complete article]

Afghan suicide bombings, tied to Taliban, point to Pakistan
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, February 14, 2006

Arrests and interrogations of suspects in a recent series of suicide bombings in Afghanistan show that the attacks have been orchestrated from Pakistan by members of the ousted Taliban government with little interference by the Pakistani authorities, Afghan officials say.

In taped interviews by an Afghan interrogator, two Afghans and three Pakistanis who were among 21 people arrested in recent weeks described their roles in the attacks, which have killed at least 70 people in the last three months, most of them Afghan civilians but also international peacekeepers, a Canadian diplomat and a dozen Afghan police officers and soldiers.

In the tape, the men described a fairly low-budget network that begins with the recruitment of young bombers in the sprawling Pakistani port city of Karachi. The bombers are moved to safe houses in the border towns of Quetta and Chaman, and then transferred into Afghanistan, where they are provided with cars and explosives and sent out to find a target. [complete article]

Afghan gas pipeline nears reality
By Scott Baldauf, Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2006

From the time it was first proposed in the early 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the 1,000-mile-long Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan pipeline project, or TAP, has always had a certain unrealistic aura to it. Clearly Pakistan has a growing need for energy. Just as clearly, Turkmenistan has a lot of natural gas. The dilemma has always been Afghanistan: Would you put a gas pipeline through a country with a raging civil war?

For much of the 1990s, American oil company Unocal answered "yes," and hired Afghan consultants - such as the soon-to-be president Hamid Karzai; soon-to-be US ambassador to Kabul, Zalmay Khalilzad; and soon-to-be minister of Mines and Industry Sediq - to help negotiate with tribal chiefs and militia warlords. Eventually, Unocal shelved the project, in part because of the Taliban's intransigence, and in part because of pressure from human rights groups for trying to do business with them.

But with the fall of the Taliban in late 2001, and the support of foreign forces to keep relative peace, Afghanistan has suddenly turned into a "safe" investment choice, at least from the perspective of the oil industry. That is the assessment of the Asian Development Bank, which recently commissioned a study that gave its support to the TAP. Security is an issue, the ADB report says, but an issue that can be resolved with a few protective measures. [complete article]

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The roots of Muslim outrage
By Olivier Roy, Newsweek, February 13, 2006

The worldwide uproar over the cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad, printed in a Danish newspaper and reprinted across Europe, has little to do with what's in the headlines. In fact, those obscure the real -- and critical -- issues at stake. We read that the affair pits the strictures of Islam against Western freedom of expression. In fact, most Muslims are neither more nor less concerned about abuses of that freedom than Christians or Jews. Except for a small fringe of radicals who presume to speak for Islam, mainstream Muslims, especially in Europe, have reacted with impressive moderation to what they rightly see as an outrage. There have been no huge demonstrations on the Continent, no calls for boycotts, no sit-ins, no incitements to violence. There is, however, intense anger -- and it's important to understand it. [complete article]

See also, On cartoons, they walk the line (LAT).

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Denmark's new values
By Kiku Day, The Guardian, February 14, 2006

Denmark has at last managed to catch the world's eye, after so many years of failing to get credit for being at the cutting edge of liberalism. But the inelegant handling of the controversy over the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad is the result of a country that has been moving in the direction of xenophobia and racism - especially towards its Muslim inhabitants.

The world needs to realise that the Denmark that helped Jews flee from Nazi deportation is long gone. A new Denmark has appeared, a Denmark of intolerance and a deep-seated belief in its cultural superiority.

We were a liberal and tolerant people until the 1990s, when we suddenly awoke to find that for the first time in our history we had a significant minority group living among us. Confronted with the terrifying novelty of being a multicultural country, Denmark took a step not merely to the right but to the far right. Now, politicians of most stripes have embraced ignorance. [complete article]

See also, Capture the flag (Martin Burcharth).

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Two killed in Pakistan's worst wave of violence against cartoons
AP (via IHT), February 14, 2006

Thousands of protesters rampaged through two Pakistani cities Tuesday, storming into a diplomatic district, setting fire to Western businesses and a local government building in the country's worst wave of violence against the Prophet Mohammad cartoons, officials said. At least two people were killed and 11 injured.

Security forces fired into the air as they struggled to contain the unrest in the eastern city of Lahore, where protesters burned down four three-story buildings housing a hotel, two banks, a KFC restaurant and the office of Norwegian cell phone company, Telenor. [complete article]

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Video of soldiers beating Iraqis fans Muslim anger
Washington Times, February 14, 2006

Arab fury at the West intensified yesterday after images of British soldiers apparently beating Iraqi youths were aired in a region already inflamed by caricatures of the prophet Muhammad.

Some Arabs said the video, like the Danish newspaper cartoons, was proof of the contempt the West held for Islam, the dominant faith in the Middle East.

They also said the beatings, which occurred in 2004 and were publicized by a British newspaper Sunday, exposed the ugly side of Britain's presence in Iraq despite its efforts to put a "friendly face" on the occupation.

"This beating is all part of the same war on Islam that the West is carrying out these days," said Egyptian traffic policeman Gamal Bashir. "The [Muhammad] cartoons are part of the same war, too." [complete article]

See also, Iraqi province cuts ties with British (AP).

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U.S. risks reporter's life to strike tough pose
By Gareth Porter, IPS (via, February 14, 2006

The George W. Bush administration went well beyond refusing to negotiate with terrorists in its handling of the threat by freelance journalist Jill Carroll's abductors to kill her if all female detainees were not released from U.S.-run prisons in Iraq.

According to Iraqi officials, U.S. officials delayed the scheduled release of six female prisoners whom they knew had already been found innocent because of the kidnappers' demand for their release. Then they refused to speed up the review of the files of the five remaining female prisoners, in violation of a policy of giving priority to females in the review of detainee files for release.

Had the normal policy been followed, it is very likely that all the women held by the United States would have been released by now. By delaying the releases of female detainees to strike a tough anti-terrorism pose, the administration has increased the risk to Jill Carroll's life. [complete article]

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Gazans not feeling very free
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2006

It was just before 2:30 a.m. when the Israeli F-16 came screaming out of the darkness. Salah Shawwa, a 72-year-old retired farmer, said he knew precisely because he was lingering late over a Danielle Steele novel, feeling guilty for not switching off the light.

It prepared him for when the first missile hit the bridge outside his front gate. Shawwa dived out of bed and ran for the hall. The shockwave from the second rocket sent a hail of rubble tumbling onto the bed he had just fled. The third and fourth volleys busted through his bedroom wall and brought the roof and rafters tumbling around his ears, he said.

"They claim since the Israeli withdrawal that Gaza has become free," Shawwa said one day last week, sitting on a plastic chair in the yard outside the ruins of his house. "[But] they have been bombarding us like this day and night." [complete article]

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Mideast to dominate petroleum products export market
By Carola Hoyos, Financial Times, February 14, 2006

Europe and the US will become increasingly dependent on the Middle East as an exporter of refined petroleum products over the next 10 years, according to data published on Tuesday.

The figures compiled by the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and Wood Mackenzie, the oil analysts, show ambitious refinery building plans in the Middle East are expected to propel its refining capacity above that of Russia and the former Soviet republics, where underinvestment has plagued the energy sector.

Aggressive investment in expanding and building new refineries is forecast to boost capacity in the Middle East by 60 per cent, according to the study published by Wood Mackenzie. This would make the region, chiefly the Gulf, the main exporter of finished petroleum products such as petrol, diesel, heating oil and jet fuel. [complete article]

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Feeding at Saudis' trough
Former U.S. envoys lobby for kingdom

By Jeff Stein, San Francisco Chronicle, February 12, 2006

Back in August 2002, a congressional delegation was traveling around Saudi Arabia, home to 15 of the 19 al Qaeda hijackers who less than a year earlier had launched the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

On one leg of the trip, in a big, white embassy van, Republican Rep. Mike Rogers of Michigan, a former FBI agent, turned to the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Robert Jordan. He asked Jordan, in light of how the Sept. 11 attacks had revealed the Saudis' role in nurturing al Qaeda-connected charities and religious schools, whether Jordan, a big-time Houston oil and gas lawyer, would be the first U.S. ambassador to not go to work for the Saudis after leaving his post.

Jordan, who had George W. Bush as a client before he went to the White House, considered Rogers' question for a moment, and then politely declined to "take the pledge," according to a witness who recalled the episode. [complete article]

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Outed CIA officer was working on Iran, intelligence sources say
By Larisa Alexandrovna, Raw Story, February 13, 2006

The unmasking of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson by White House officials in 2003 caused significant damage to U.S. national security and its ability to counter nuclear proliferation abroad, RAW STORY has learned.

According to current and former intelligence officials, Plame Wilson, who worked on the clandestine side of the CIA in the Directorate of Operations as a non-official cover (NOC) officer, was part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran.

Speaking under strict confidentiality, intelligence officials revealed heretofore unreported elements of Plame's work. Their accounts suggest that Plame's outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for U.S. national security and its ability to monitor Iran's burgeoning nuclear program. [complete article]

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"For the Palestinian people, the only path to independence and dignity and progress is the path of democracy."
President George W. Bush, National Endowment for Democracy, November 6, 2003

U.S. and Israelis are said to talk of Hamas ouster
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, February 14, 2006

The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats.

The intention is to starve the Palestinian Authority of money and international connections to the point where, some months from now, its president, Mahmoud Abbas, is compelled to call a new election. The hope is that Palestinians will be so unhappy with life under Hamas that they will return to office a reformed and chastened Fatah movement. [complete article]

See also, Hamas rips U.S. for reportedly mulling PA regime change (AP).

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Getting away with murder
By Tim Golden, New York Times, February 13, 2006

In the chronicle of abuses that has emerged from America's fight against terror, there may be no story more jarring than that of the two young men killed at a United States military detention center in Afghanistan in December 2002.

The two Afghans were found dead within days of each other, hanging by their shackled wrists in isolation cells at the prison in Bagram, north of Kabul. An Army investigation showed they were treated harshly by interrogators, deprived of sleep for days, and struck so often in the legs by guards that a coroner compared the injuries to being run over by a bus.
... several Army lawyers familiar with the case said, the prosecution never had much hope of pressing murder charges. So many guards had admitted to striking the two men, the lawyers said, that it would be almost impossible to fix blame on one or even several of them. Moreover, there were few witnesses to the beatings, and almost none who were not themselves implicated in wrongdoing.

The closest the prosecution team came to assigning responsibility for the deaths were charges of involuntary manslaughter, maiming and other crimes against one of the military policemen, Specialist Willie V. Brand. He had spoken openly with Army investigators long after others had invoked their right to remain silent, and the story he told was chilling. By his own admission, Specialist Brand, then 24, had repeatedly struck both of the detainees who died, kneeing them in the thigh with a technique that some of the unit's reservists had taught to others.

Specialist Brand had told investigators that he kneed Mr. Dilawar more than 30 times, because "I was fed up with him," and added that he struck "a lot of other" detainees as well. He said "90 percent" of the other guards who worked the Bagram isolation cells on the night shift also used knee strikes, including some who struck Dilawar because they were amused to hear him cry out, "Allah!"
The prosecutors did not mention the young wife and a 2-year-old daughter that Mr. Dilawar left behind, or that interrogators had concluded before his death that he was almost certainly innocent of any involvement in the rocket attack on the American base. The jury convicted Specialist Brand of maiming, assault, maltreatment and making a false statement and could have sentenced him to 16 years in a military prison. Instead, after hearing about his sick wife and their indigent family of four children, they declined even to give him a bad-conduct discharge. The most serious charge against him, involuntary manslaughter, was dropped before the trial began.

Even Specialist Brand's civilian lawyer, John P. Galligan, said he was stunned by the sentence: his client was reduced in rank to private, but not jailed or fined; he left the Army with an honorable discharge. [complete article]

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The Bush legacy of legalized torture
By Alfred W. McCoy, TomDispatch, February 8, 2006

With the horrific reality of the Twin Towers attack still resonating and endless nuclear-bomb-in-Times-Square/ticking-bomb interrogation scenarios ricocheting around the media and pop culture, torture seems to have gained an eerie emotional traction. Polls taken over the last three years have confirmed this. With a complex reality reduced to a few terrifyingly simple, fantasy-ridden scenarios, torture in defense of the "homeland" has gained surprisingly wide acceptance, while the torture debate has been reframed -- to the administration's great advantage -- as a choice between public safety and the lives of millions or private morality and bleeding-heart qualms over a few slaps up the side of the head. In this way, old-fashioned morality has been made to seem little short of immoral. [complete article]

Comment -- There are two facets of torture: torture as a method of interrogation and torture as a method of punishment. The American debate on the use of torture invariably treats torture as a questionable means to a justifiable end, yet in practice torture is almost always also an end in itself.

The torturer needs to feel comfortable about what he's doing. At a minimum he needs to feel the sense of protection that comes from obedience to a higher authority (a commanding officer, the Secretary of Defense, the commander-in-chief, or a vengeful god). He might also derive personal satisfaction from acting out his own sadistic fantasies. He very likely tells himself that this is what it means to "bring justice to the enemy." Nevertheless, whatever internal rationalization the torturer employs, he also needs an acquired or congenital sociopathic inability to empathize with human suffering. The easiest way he can cultivate this perspective is by regarding his victims as sub-human.

Instituting torture within a framework of public policy requires two things. Firstly, one must be able to recruit torturers - military and non-military intelligence services appear to be able to find and train suitable candidates. Secondly, an adequate level of secrecy needs to be maintained so that the qualms of a morally perturbed minority of citizens don't impinge on the ability of a quiessant majority to accept a practice about which they are happy to know as little as possible.

At the same time, it's also important that the prevailing cultural context be one in which there are no strong social taboos against the use of violence. Through its iconic treatment of violent crime in movies and television, along with popular support of the ultimate forms of state-sanctioned violence - warfare and execution - American culture clearly provides the foundations for a torture-friendly environment. That is not to say that Americans are violent by nature. Rather, we most readily condone violence when we expect that someone else will do the deed and that we will never see the results.

We ostensibly accept the idea that there is such a thing as cruel and unusual punishment yet somehow imagine that execution, sanitized by regulation, thereby becomes civilized. A needle replaces a bullet, the killing is bloodless and the violence less grotesque.

Twice as many Americans support the death penalty as those who oppose it, but would this support be quite so broad if any law-abiding citizen might be required to become an executioner? What if, alongside the civic duty of jury duty we were also expected to be willing to perform a killing duty?

Where else can moral clarity be found other than in the willingness to do oneself what one would sanction others to do on ones behalf? So when it comes to thinking about whether torture can be justified, we should also be reflecting on our own capacity to become torturers.

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Report: U.S. is torturing prisoners
By Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2006

A draft United Nations report on the detainees at Guantanamo Bay concludes that the U.S. treatment of them violates their rights to physical and mental health and, in some cases, constitutes torture.

It also urges the United States to close the military prison in Cuba and bring the captives to trial on U.S. territory, charging that Washington's justification for the continued detention is a distortion of international law. [complete article]

See also, The Gitmo disgrace (LAT editorial).

Comment -- Even now and even when the description is being ascribed to a report, headline writers are still terrified of using the word "torture." The actual LAT headline thus reads, "Report: U.S. is abusing captives."

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Innocent, but in limbo at Guantanamo
By Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, February 13, 2006

Five Muslim detainees from China's western Xinjiang province are stranded in a legal no man's land at the US terrorism prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

They shouldn't be there. Even the US military has found that the men, members of the besieged Uighur ethnic group, are not enemy combatants. But their ordeal in custody isn't over. Because they could face harsh treatment back in China - and the US doesn't want to set a precedent by granting them asylum here - they sit in a barracks-like detention center waiting for a country to give them a home.

Now, more than four years after their imprisonment by US military forces, the men are asking the US Supreme Court to examine their case. At issue is whether individuals captured abroad can be held in military detention indefinitely - even after the US government has declared that they pose no threat to national security. [complete article]

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Force-feeding used in Guantanamo fasts
By Tim Golden, New York Times (IHT), February 9, 2006

U.S. military authorities have taken tougher measures to force-feed detainees engaged in hunger strikes at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, after concluding that some of them were determined to commit suicide to protest their indefinite confinement, military officials have said.

In recent weeks, the officials said, guards have begun strapping recalcitrant detainees into "restraint chairs," sometimes for hours a day, to feed them through tubes and prevent them from deliberately vomiting afterward. [complete article]

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Talking with the guys from Hamas
By Rami G. Khouri, Agence Global, February 11, 2006

Hamas lives in the real world, not in fantasyland. It and its supporters are not so impressed with having tea in the White House. They are much more focused on bringing back a degree of personal dignity, communal self-respect, and national integrity to Palestinian life. They also know that the majority of Palestinians, other Arabs and world nations wish to coexist in negotiated peace with the state of Israel, if Israel in turn reciprocates the sentiment to the Palestinians and other Arabs whose lands it has occupied. How to reconcile these realities is a priority issue for them in the coming months. [complete article]

Hamas will end armed struggle if Israel quits occupied territories
By Eric Helque, Middle East Online, February 13, 2006

Hamas will end its armed struggle against Israel if the Jewish state withdraws from all occupied Palestinian territories, the radical Islamist group's leader told a Russian daily in comments published Monday.

"If Israel recognizes our rights and pledges to withdraw from all occupied lands, Hamas, and the Palestinian people together with it, will decide to halt armed resistance," the radical Islamist group's supremo Khaled Meshaal said in an interview with the Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily. [complete article]

Israel cuts Jordan Rift from rest of West Bank
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, February 13, 2006

While the international community busied itself with the disengagement from the Gaza Strip last summer, Israel completed another cut-off process, which went unnoticed; In 2005, Israel completed a process of sealing off the eastern sector of the West Bank, including the Jordan Rift Valley, from the remainder of the West Bank.

Some 2,000,000 Palestinians, residents of the West Bank, are prohibited from entering the area, which constitutes around one-third of the West Bank, and includes the Jordan Rift, the area of the Dead Sea shoreline and the eastern slopes of the West Bank mountains. [complete article]

Russia and France reach out to Hamas
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, February 13, 2006

Hamas appeared to break out of its international isolation over the weekend as both Russia and France backed talks with the Islamic militants to discuss continued foreign aid to the cash strapped Palestinian Authority (PA).

Hamas's plans to attend talks in Moscow drew initial Israeli accusations of a "slippery slope" toward legitimizing an organization branded as terrorists in the US and Europe. But the diplomatic opening might provide a way to steer the new Palestinian government away from the influence of more radical regimes such as Iran, some say. [complete article]

Palestinian parliament gives new power
AP (via WP), February 13, 2006

The outgoing Palestinian parliament on Monday passed legislation giving Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas the power to appoint a court that could veto legislation passed by the new Hamas-led parliament to be sworn in this week.

Under the new law, the constitutional court could veto legislation deemed in violation of the Palestinians' Basic Law, a forerunner to the Palestinian constitution. Abbas would appoint the nine judges to the new court without seeking parliamentary approval, according to the legislation. [complete article]

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The evolution of terrorism in 2005
A statistical assessment

By Prof. Dr. Rik Coolsaet and Teun Van de Voorde, The War in Context, February 13, 2006

In view of the number of international terrorist incidents and victims it is difficult to uphold the view that international terrorism represents a existential threat and that counter-terrorism should be viewed as a 'long war'. International terrorism is more of a challenge than a threat.

Contrary to widespread belief, it is not international but domestic terrorism that presents the gravest danger. Moreover, instead of being a threat of a global nature, terrorism is largely concentrated within one region, the Middle East. In 2005, Iraqi Sunni and jihadi groups were responsible for 80 percent of all victims of domestic terrorism.

This assessment leads to the following conclusions:

The vast gap in the numbers of fatalities in the West and in the Middle East undoubtedly points to the success of the national (and international) counter-terrorism efforts, especially in the West. Even so, it also negates a well known contention: the West is not the prime target of jihadi terrorism.

The concentration of fatalities in the Middle East shows that Muslims are the principal victims of terrorism perpetrated in the name of Islam. This helps to explain the decreasing sympathy in Muslim countries for jihadi terrorism and for Osama bin Laden in particular.

The Iraq war has drastically boosted terrorism, instead of lessening it – although this was the official rationale for going to war. Considering the high level of domestic attacks and fatalities in Iraq, we can only conclude that 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror has above all contributed to a 'clash within one civilisation'. The Iraq war, being presented as part of the war on terror, has contributed to turning Iraq into today's epicentre of terrorism. [complete article]

Rik Coolsaet is Professor of International Relations at Ghent University (Belgium) and Director of the Security & Global Governance Department at the Royal Institute for International Relations (Brussels).

Teun Van de Voorde is research fellow at the Department of Political Science at Ghent University. She is preparing a PhD on the rise and demise of successive waves of major terrorist activities.

This article is an original opinion - a new feature at The War in Context. If you are interested in submitting an article you can find out more here.

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Iran crosses 'red line' in nuclear stand-off
By Simon Freeman, The Times, February 13, 2006

Iran has started to inject uranium feedstock gas into centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear facility, crossing an internationally agreed "red line" on the path to producing the material for atomic weapons.

A senior diplomat from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that researchers at the republic's pilot enrichment plant in central Iran had taken the crucial step, signalling a major escalation in the long-running face-off between Tehran and the West. [complete article]

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Iran: The consequences of war
By Paul Rogers, Oxford Research Group, February, 2006

An air attack on Iran by Israeli or US forces would be aimed at setting back Iran's nuclear programme by at least five years. A ground offensive by the United States to terminate the regime is not feasible given other commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and would not be attempted. An air attack would involve the systematic destruction of research, development, support and training centres for nuclear and missile programmes and the killing of as many technically competent people as possible. A US attack, which would be larger than anything Israel could mount, would also involve comprehensive destruction of Iranian air defence capabilities and attacks designed to pre-empt Iranian retaliation. This would require destruction of Iranian Revolutionary Guard facilities close to Iraq and of regular or irregular naval forces that could disrupt Gulf oil transit routes.

Although US or Israeli attacks would severely damage Iranian nuclear and missile programmes, Iran would have many methods of responding in the months and years that followed. These would include disruption of Gulf oil production and exports, in spite of US attempts at pre-emption, systematic support for insurgents in Iraq, and encouragement to associates in Southern Lebanon to stage attacks on Israel. There would be considerable national unity in Iran in the face of military action by the United States or Israel, including a revitalised Revolutionary Guard.

One key response from Iran would be a determination to reconstruct a nuclear programme and develop it rapidly into a nuclear weapons capability, with this accompanied by withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would require further attacks. A military operation against Iran would not, therefore, be a short-term matter but would set in motion a complex and long-lasting confrontation. It follows that military action should be firmly ruled out and alternative strategies developed. [complete article]

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Ahmadinejad leading Iran into isolation
Der Spiegel, February 13, 2006

Iran on Monday indefinitely postponed negotiations on Russia's offer to enrich Iranian uranium. And this after a weekend of extremism. Speaking before tens of thousands on Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to remove Israel.

Nobody, of course, thought that referring Iran's nuclear research program to the United Nations Security Council would lead immediately to Iranian willingness to negotiate. The idea was to demonstrate the seriousness of western and global concern over Iran's suspected eagerness to acquire nuclear weapons. But since the referral at the beginning of February, Iranian rhetoric appears only to be getting more radical -- and its willingness to negotiate seems to be fading fast. [complete article]

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The limits of propaganda
By Anatol Lieven and David Chambers, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2006

The crushing victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections has starkly revealed the bankruptcy of the Bush administration's strange strategy of trying to democratize Arabs while ignoring their feelings and opinions. Democracy is, obviously, representative. If the United States acts in ways that the great majority of Arabs see as hostile to their interests, Arab democracy will produce outcomes that are hostile to American interests.

One of the chief means by which democracy was supposed to be preached to Arabs is the U.S. Arabic-language television station Al Hurra ("the Free One") and its sister station, Radio Sawa ("Together"). Instead, these government-funded stations represent everything that is wrong and misconceived about official U.S. ways of approaching the Arab world. [complete article]

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'Weak' PM picked to lead new Iraq government
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, February 13, 2006

Mr Jaafari's success will not be wholly welcome to the US because he is closer to the Shia religious leaders than Mr Mahdi, a member of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. Kurdish leaders have criticised him for being evasive about agreements over the sharing of power. Nevertheless a coalition between the UIA and the Kurdish coalition with 55 seats in parliament is likely to be the basis of the government.

Central to Mr Jaafari retaining his job is his alliance with Muqtada al-Sadr, the populist and nationalist Shia cleric, whose supporters did particularly well in the election. [complete article]

See also, Shiite bloc votes to retain Iraq premier (LAT) and Can Shiite Jaafari unify the new Iraq? (CSM).

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Spying necessary, Democrats say
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 13, 2006

Two key Democrats yesterday called the NSA domestic surveillance program necessary for fighting terrorism but questioned whether President Bush had the legal authority to order it done without getting congressional approval.

Rep. Jane Harman (Calif.), ranking Democrat on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and former Senate majority leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.) said Republicans are trying to create a political issue over Democrats' concern on the constitutional questions raised by the spying program. [complete article]

See also, Lawmakers question effectiveness of spy program (LAT) and Bush's bad connection(Newsweek).

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Oops! - Bush unaware mikes were still on
AP (via WP), February 10, 2006

The eavesdropping tables were turned on President Bush on Friday. The president apparently believed he was speaking privately when he talked about listening in without a warrant on domestic communications with suspected al-Qaida terrorists overseas. But reporters were the ones doing the listening in this time. [complete article]

Comment -- Holy moly! There we were thinking that whenever Bush and Cheney have one of their closed-door meetings they must be up to something sinister, but now it turns out - and the Associated Press is telling us, so it must be true - Bush's "private statements were basically no different from what he's said in public." The question is, what did Bush have to say after the microphones were turned off? How about, "It's always good to jerk around those suckers in the briefing room. Now let's get down to business."

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Beneath the rage in the Mideast
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, February 12, 2006

It is difficult to draw an absolute link between the [Egyptian] ferry disaster and the violence that exploded across much of the Muslim world last week in response to Danish cartoons that had lampooned the Prophet Muhammad. Many Muslims feel it was blasphemous to draw the Prophet at all, let alone in a mocking manner.

But in the coincidence of the two events, there is a clue to a dynamic that has played out in this region for many years: Leaders often call attention to external enemies -- most often the Israelis -- as a device to allow their own subjects to blow off steam. The anger itself is almost always home grown.

The crisis over the cartoons has often been portrayed as a clash in values between the Muslim and Western worlds, focusing on issues of free expression and respect for other cultures.

But that crisis and the ferry sinking also reflect another difference in perspective. While the West speaks of democracy and freedom, Muslims here tend to speak of justice. There is widespread feeling that the region's governments deny their people justice, and this feeling has been instrumental in the increased support for Islamists throughout the Middle East, whether the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, or Hamas among the Palestinians. [complete article]

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'New populists' vs. the West
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, February 10, 2006

Some might call it the axle of anti-American populism.

With linchpins in Tehran on one end and Caracas on the other, a new brand of international populism is rising by fanning flames of division between Western powers and the "powerless" of the developing world.

Leaders, from Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, are winning points at home by striking a nationalist and anti-American pose. Their method: Use the international stage to rail against what they see as a disconnect between the values espoused by the world's sole superpower and its actions. [complete article]

See also, A Latin American pipeline dream (WP).

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Russian leaders reach out to rogue regimes
By Vladimir Isachenkov, AP (via The Guardian), February 11, 2006

By inviting Hamas leaders to Moscow, President Vladimir Putin is reaffirming Russia's desire to act as a top mediator between the West and its adversaries - a role that has given the Kremlin a lot of limelight even if it is unlikely to lead to any diplomatic breakthroughs.

Moscow's active involvement in the Iranian nuclear crisis and its attempt to win leverage with Hamas reflect Russia's growing ambitions, buoyed by an oil-driven economic boom.

Russia, which is hosting this year's summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations, relishes its newfound role of global power broker, enjoying the growing international prestige it has sought since the 1991 Soviet collapse. [complete article]

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Russian nukes redux
By Owen Matthews, Newsweek, February 13, 2006

Is energy the nuclear weapon of the 21st century? In recent months, Russia has shown that control of gas supplies to its neighbors can be a potent political tool. But when Vladimir Putin was asked exactly that question last week, he disagreed. "We still have plenty of nuclear rockets too," boasted Putin. "We recently carried out tests on new ballistic-weapon systems, weapons which no other country in the world has." The new Russian systems, he said, "don't care if there is a missile-defense system or not." In other words, for Putin, nukes are the nukes of the 21st century.

Only one country in the world -- America -- is actually developing a missile defense system. So why, in an era when Russia and the United States enjoy friendly relations, do Russian leaders feel the need to revamp the country's nuclear arsenal, and add a new nuclear warhead designed specifically to penetrate the U.S. defenses? For the Kremlin's part, Putin sees nukes as Russia's membership card to the world's top table. Asked last week whether Russia really belonged in the G8 club of the world's leading industrialized nations, Putin's response was that Russia was a major nuclear power and couldn't be ignored. Putin makes no secret of his wish to see Russia great again -- and since it's unlikely to join the ranks of the world's richest countries any time soon, staying in the nuclear game is a key part of that strategy. "Putin picked up on these weapons as a political slogan," says military analyst Pavel Felgenauer. "He is promoting this warhead as proof that we can still do things, still stay in the game." No one is suggesting that Putin intends to nuke Washington. But he does want to ensure he and his successors have that option.

To that end, Russia has been giving its nuclear-weapons arsenal a major face-lift. The new targetable warhead Putin mentioned -- a unique system no other country has so far tried to replicate -- is specifically designed to counter U.S. anti-missile technology. The warhead is fired into space on a conventional ballistic missile. But instead of falling to earth on a predictable trajectory, it then detaches and maneuvers as it re-enters the atmosphere, like a cruise missile. This maneuverability, analysts say, would confound U.S. missile defenses, which work by plotting an incoming warhead's trajectory and intercepting it as it homes in on a target. Tests last year showed that for the first time, prototype targetable warheads can shift trajectory at Mach 8, making them almost impossible to shoot down. [complete article]

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U.S. prepares military blitz against Iran's nuclear sites
By Philip Sherwell, The Telegraph, February 12, 2006

Strategists at the Pentagon are drawing up plans for devastating bombing raids backed by submarine-launched ballistic missile attacks against Iran's nuclear sites as a "last resort" to block Teheran's efforts to develop an atomic bomb.

Central Command and Strategic Command planners are identifying targets, assessing weapon-loads and working on logistics for an operation, the Sunday Telegraph has learnt.

They are reporting to the office of Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, as America updates plans for action if the diplomatic offensive fails to thwart the Islamic republic's nuclear bomb ambitions. Teheran claims that it is developing only a civilian energy programme.

"This is more than just the standard military contingency assessment," said a senior Pentagon adviser. "This has taken on much greater urgency in recent months." [complete article]

Comment -- Pentagon planning -- its stated urgency notwithstanding -- should not be taken as a clear marker of the administration's intentions. Three years ago the world cowered in the face of America's unparalleled might and its doctrine of pre-emptive war. Now that Iran is clearly emboldened by the results of the U.S.'s own hubris we can be sure that their planning is just as well advanced as that going on inside the Pentagon. The Boston Globe reports that, "Iran is prepared to launch attacks using long-range missiles, secret commando units, and terrorist allies planted around the globe in retaliation for any strike on the country's nuclear facilities, according to new US intelligence assessments and military specialists." As omminous as this warning sounds, the fact that this assessment is being leaked suggests that a debate inside the Pentagon is being pushed into the public arena.

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Bush urged to stir rebellion within Iran
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, February 12, 2006

Neoconservatives in Washington are urging President George W Bush to drop diplomacy with Iran in favour of boosting internal dissent and opposition forces within the Islamic regime.

In an open breach with White House policy, they argue the multilateral diplomacy pursued by Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, is encouraging the Iranians to snub the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and develop a nuclear bomb under cover of a peaceful energy programme.

Michael Rubin, a Middle East expert at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute in Washington, said: "The United States doesn't have a policy on Iran. We should be looking for a way to address the people of the country."

Rubin accused Rice of being tepid in her support for democratic reform and internal regime change. "I don't believe Rice has ever put her neck out for freedom when the Soviet Union was dissolving or now," he said. [complete article]

Comment -- Now that they don't have any credibility even inside Washington, isn't it time we stopped dignifying these folks with that tiresome but highsounding phrase, "neoconservative"? How about just calling them what they get called behind their backs - rightwing wackos.

No doubt there are many Iranians who have no patience for Ahmadinejad and his cronies, but that doesn't make them ripe for insurrection just because armchair revolutionaries like Rubin, Kagan, Ledeen and Perle like to toot the trumpet of freedom.

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Bracing for penalties, Iran threatens to withdraw from nuclear treaty
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, February 12, 2006

Iran's president warned on Saturday that Iran could withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty if international pressure increased over its nuclear program.

His threat was a significant escalation of the government's previous position that it would only stop complying with spot inspections of military installations and sites it has not declared to be part of its nuclear program. The warning also raised the specter that Iran was considering following a strategy set by North Korea three years ago.

In a speech to tens of thousand of demonstrators who had gathered to mark the 27th anniversary of the Islamic revolution, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also staked out a broader path of resistance if penalties are imposed against Iran.

Evoking the possibility of penalties and international ostracism, he insisted that the country would continue its nuclear activities and urged Iranians to brace for tough times. [complete article]

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Shiites nominate Jafari to new four-year term
By Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post, February 12, 2006

The leading coalition of Shiite Muslim parties in Iraq nominated the country's incumbent prime minister, Ibrahim Jafari, to a new four-year term in an internal election decided by a single vote, the group's leaders announced at a news conference Sunday afternoon. [complete article]

Juan Cole

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'We want better weapons'
By Michael Hastings and Scott Johnson, Newsweek, February 20, 2006

If the rest of Iraq were so quiet, U.S. troops might almost be ready to pack. "We have complete control over this city," says Col. Saadi Salih al-Maliki, making his rounds in Najaf on a sunny midwinter afternoon. "The area is stable and secure. The militias here are afraid of the Iraqi Army." The colonel's sentries salute crisply as his Land Cruiser enters their checkpoint in front of the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, and Maliki, 45, returns the salute through his wide-open back-seat drapes. There's a lot less fear of sniper fire and flying glass in Najaf now. Barely 18 months ago the holy city was a battleground between U.S. forces and the Mahdi Army militia of renegade Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, but these days it's a different place. Within the next few months, if all goes well, Coalition forces will hand over the city to the Iraqi Army.

The colonel and his brigade seem ready. They fought beside the Americans for Najaf in August 2004, and Maliki's men say he stood with them, wielding an AK-47. "It was a good battle," he recalls with a gruff smile. His brigade, one of the Iraqi Army's best, belongs to the Eighth Division, which now has operational control over a quarter of Iraq's territory. The area includes two entire provinces in the south, Al Kut and Diwaniya, and part of three others. "Gradual withdrawal of Coalition forces has begun," said America's top officer in Iraq, Gen. George Casey, at a Jan. 26 handover ceremony. Nevertheless, Maliki says, U.S. forces need to proceed with caution. "It would be a disaster if there was an immediate withdrawal," he says. "While the Americans exist in Iraq, Iraq exists ... The Americans keep the political process stable."

Recent polls suggest a majority of Iraqis agree -- even though many deeply resent the U.S. presence and relatively few want the Americans to stay indefinitely. That is the tension at the heart of the relationship: the Americans and Iraqis don't fully trust each other. "We're not teaching them everything we know," says one U.S. officer, asking not to be named since it's a sore topic. He's worried that today's ally could become tomorrow's enemy: "We could turn around and be fighting them in a few years." It appears to be American policy not to build an Iraqi Army strong enough to defend itself against its neighbors. So no matter how well trained the Iraqi Army becomes, it will remain dependent on American power and support for many years into the future. And American qualms about the intentions of some Iraqi leaders have only been deepened by recent revelations that the Interior Ministry maintained secret detention facilities where inmates were tortured. After so much destruction and sacrifice, nobody wants to see Saddam's dictatorship replaced by another ruthless regime. [complete article]

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The Iraqi insurgency is still primarily an anti-occupation effort
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, February 8, 2006

New data reveal, surprisingly, that the vast majority of the Iraqi insurgents' attacks are still aimed not at Iraqi security forces or at civilians, but rather at U.S. and coalition troops. In other words, as much as was the case a year or two ago, the Iraqi insurgency is primarily an anti-occupation insurgency.

The statistics -- compiled by the multinational military command in Iraq and reproduced in a report released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office -- raise anew a basic question in the debate over the future of U.S. policy toward Iraq: Is the presence of American troops doing more harm or more good? [complete article]

See also, Bomb buster for Iraq hits Pentagon snag (LAT).

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British troops videoed 'beating Iraqis'
By Jo Revill and Ned Temko, The Observer, February 12, 2006

Details emerged last night of a shocking video which appears to show a group of British soldiers brutally beating and kicking defenceless Iraqi teenagers in an army compound.

The footage is said to show eight soldiers pulling four teenagers off the street following a riot and dragging them into their army base, before beating them with batons, as well as punching and kicking them.

An urgent Military Police investigation was under way last night into the events shown in the video. The Ministry of Defence issued the following statement: 'We are aware of these very serious allegations and can confirm that they are the subject of an urgent Royal Military Police investigation. We condemn all acts of abuse and treat any allegation of wrongdoing extremely seriously.' [complete article]

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Billions wasted in Iraq?
60 Minutes, CBS News, February 9, 2006

Some $8.8 billion dispersed for reconstruction efforts in Iraq is unaccounted for, says the U.S. official in charge of tracing it.

For a report to be broadcast this Sunday, Feb. 12, at 7 p.m. ET/PT,
60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft investigates the billions spent on reconstruction-related work, particularly money paid to a contractor, Custer Battles, now being sued for fraud.

Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, says $8.8 billion is unaccounted for because oversight on the part of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the entity governing Iraq after the war, "was relatively nonexistent." [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

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

Intelligence, policy,and the war in Iraq
By Paul R. Pillar, Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2006

U.S. staying in Iraq for long haul
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, February 11, 2006

America's unlikely savior: Muqtada al-Sadr
By Nir Rosen, Salon, February 3, 2006

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

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

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

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

Iran: How dangerous is Ahmadinejad?
By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, February 13, 2006

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

Israel and South Africa
Part one: Worlds apart

By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, February 6, 2006

Israel and south Africa
Part two: Brothers in arms - Israel's secret pact with Pretoria

By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, February 7, 2006

The Taliban's bloody foothold in Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, February 8, 2006
[WARNING: Graphic images]

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

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

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

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

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