The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Ethnic hatred in Iraq has become entrenched, political solutions elusive
By Tom Lasseter and Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, March 3, 2006

Zeena Ahmed, a Shiite Muslim who lives in a Sunni Muslim neighborhood in western Baghdad, has come up with a plan if a Sunni mob attacks her family. She'll run to the back of the house, scream for help and hope to escape slaughter. She's certain the attack will come.

Alaa al Badri, a Sunni who lives in a Shiite neighborhood in southern Baghdad, has a hard time forgiving himself for not going to the streets with a gun this week when he heard the local Sunni imam calling for help on a loudspeaker, saying that the mosque was under attack. He'd have gone, al Badri said, but he was worried that his Shiite neighbors would slip into his home and murder his wife and children.

More than a week after the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra ignited sectarian fighting that left hundreds dead and dozens of mosques burned, the continued violence and mistrust have made it clear that Iraq's multiethnic society has ruptured and won't soon heal.

Scores of Iraqis like Ahmed and al Badri now cower in their homes, hoping that the next major bombing doesn't provoke unrestrained violence. Interviews this week with ordinary Iraqis, top Iraqi officials and analysts made it clear that the nation, almost three years after the U.S. invasion, is teetering: As politicians stumble to form a unified government almost three months after national elections, hatred and fighting are pushing the nation toward civil war. [complete article]

See also, Remember Beirut? Welcome to Baghdad (Adam Shatz).

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Lethal 'flying gunships' returning to Iraq
AP (via MSNBC), March 3, 2006

The U.S. Air Force has begun moving heavily armed AC-130 airplanes -- the lethal "flying gunships" of the Vietnam War -- to a base in Iraq as commanders search for new tools to counter the Iraqi resistance, The Associated Press has learned. [complete article]

Military will keep planting articles in Iraq
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2006

The U.S. military plans to continue paying Iraqi newspapers to publish articles favorable to the United States after an inquiry found no fault with the controversial practice, the top U.S. general in Iraq said Friday.

Army Gen. George W. Casey said the internal review had concluded that the U.S. military was not violating U.S. law or Pentagon guidelines with the information operations campaign, in which U.S. troops and a private contractor write pro-American articles and pay to have them planted without attribution in Iraqi media. [complete article]

Comment -- Now, had the scope of this review been broader and not simply looked at the issue of legality and compliance with Pentagon guidelines, it might have reached a different conclusion. This propaganda program would have been halted for a simple reason: it's stupid and counterproductive. Having already shot itself in one foot, the military now shoots itself in the other.

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Administration revives dispute over eavesdropping authority
By Barton Gellman, Washington Post, March 4, 2006

In a new defense of its warrantless eavesdropping program, the Bush administration yesterday reopened a dispute about whether it tried and failed to obtain direct congressional authority for use of the president's war-making powers on U.S. territory.

The Justice Department has asserted that Congress implicitly granted President Bush the power to secretly order interception of some overseas calls and e-mails made by Americans in the United States when it passed a resolution authorizing use of military force against those responsible for the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Eavesdropping is part of war, the administration maintains, and the battlefield includes the United States. [complete article]

Paper said to show NSA spying given to Post reporter in 2004
By Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, March 3, 2006

A classified document that an Islamic charity says is evidence of illegal government eavesdropping on its phone calls and e-mails was provided in 2004 to a Washington Post reporter, who returned it when the FBI demanded it back a few months later.

According to a source familiar with the case, the document indicated that the National Security Agency intercepted telephone conversations in the spring of 2004 between a director of the al-Haramain Islamic Foundation and lawyers for the foundation in the District. [complete article]

At the NSA, the enemy is us
By Aziz Huq,, March 2, 2006

President Bush famously said that his administration took the battle overseas so that we would not need to fight the war at home. Revelations about the NSA's warrantless domestic spying suggest that this formulation has the administration's logic backward: The authority to conduct war elsewhere has been treated as permission to bring the tools of war back home.

This is the little-noticed issue at the heart of ongoing controversies over the NSA's spying. It knots together the complex legal and political issues in that tangled debate. The administration's key legal justification rests on the controversial proposition that the whole United States is a battlefield, and we are all potential enemy soldiers. But the administration has also been fighting tooth and nail to resist congressional inquiries, sought by Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., and Sen. John Rockefeller, D-W.Va, into the war powers that have in fact been brought to bear on Americans at home. How indiscriminate has this use of war powers been? And what is the collateral damage? [complete article]

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Hamas leader a pragmatic politician to some, terrorist to others
By Dion Nissenbaum, Knight Ridder, March 2, 2006

"In many respects [Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh,] is a man of compromise," said Anat Kurz, an expert on Hamas with the Jaffe Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University. "He's a politician. Not a religious leader. Not a military leader. Therefore he stands a chance to become even more powerful."

While Haniyeh represents the rise of Hamas' more pragmatic political wing, top Israeli leaders are warning the world not to be deceived by a man they regard as a well-spoken terrorist in a suit.

"Westerners cannot understand fanaticism when it looks them in the eye - especially if it's dressed with a coat and tie," said former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

"The assumption that Hamas is a leopard that will change its spots with the coming of power is false," said Netanyahu, the leader of Israel's conservative Likud Party. "It will not happen."

But some Hamas leaders suggest - at least privately - that they're prepared to do exactly that. Increasingly, Hamas figures are signaling that they're prepared to compromise with Israel - if they're given the time.

"Hamas has shown many indications and signals that you can deal with Hamas," said Ghazi Hamid, editor of the Hamas newspaper The Messenger. "Hamas is not rigid. There is an opportunity to negotiate and deal with Hamas." [complete article]

Hamas takes a defiant stance in Russia talks but will keep truce
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2006

Leaders of the militant Palestinian movement Hamas struck a defiant tone Friday as they launched a series of high-profile meetings in Russia, demanding a complete Israeli withdrawal before they negotiate with the Jewish state and declaring that they no longer have "interest or enthusiasm" in their year-old cease-fire.

Yet Russia was able to win a pledge that Hamas would continue the truce. Hamas officials also said they would recognize earlier Palestinian agreements with Israel, including the internationally brokered "road map" for the phased implementation of a Palestinian state -- provided that Israel "moves in the same direction" toward peace and ends its occupation of the West Bank, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov said. [complete article]

Gaza crossings: choked passages to frustration
By Greg Myre, New York Times, March 4, 2006

At 3 a.m. on a chilly winter day, the tensions at this crossing point were growing.

Shrouded in fog, stuck in a long, unmoving line, several thousand Palestinian laborers with permits to work in Israel were beginning to seethe. Before they could cross into Israel, they had to pass the daily security check, and many of them faced long drives afterward. The morning commute can take four hours or more, every working day — most of it spent in line on the Gaza-Israel frontier.

Frustration grew, until the men suddenly surged past the hapless Palestinian guards and charged down a long, urine-scented tunnel toward the Israeli checkpoint. It was closed, their way blocked by a metal gate. The workers howled in anger, feeling cheated out of a day's pay and cursing Israel before the sun had risen.

A constant source of friction for both sides, the crossings are crucial for Gaza, with its population of 1.4 million crammed into an area barely 6 miles wide and 25 miles long, far too small to be self-sufficient. The Israeli fence along Gaza's perimeter has three crossings: Erez in the north, for those going to and from Israel; Karni to the east, which handles cargo; and Rafah to the south, on the Egyptian border.

A one-day tour of all three offered a snapshot of how they are struggling to function at this moment of uncertainty, with Hamas, the radical Islamic group, poised to lead the Palestinian Authority and Israel warning it could respond with even tighter security controls. [complete article]

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WMD terrorism is a nightmare of different sort
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, March 2, 2006

Terrorist "capabilities" to use weapons of mass destruction are "more limited" than those of states like North Korea and Iran, but the threat of terrorist attack with WMD is "more likely" than an attack by any state, top U.S. intelligence officials said Tuesday.

Despite this broad assertion, U.S. officials offer only that there is the "possibility" of a future terrorist attack with WMD. They present no evidence that there is any actual terrorist capability, not a single example of terrorists receiving assistance from WMD states to develop their own capabilities nor do they offer any intelligence indicators that terrorists are making headway towards achieving any WMD capability.

I've never thought that terrorists posed much of a weapons of mass destruction threat, and I've always thought that the specter of "nuclear terrorism" was promiscuous and politically motivated, both to undermine disarmament and to bolster U.S. WMD programs. [complete article]

See also, U.S. plans to modernize nuclear arsenal (WP).

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Letter from India: Arundhati Roy takes to the streets
By Amelia Gentleman, International Herald Tribune, March 3, 2006

Last week, Arundhati Roy found herself standing at traffic lights in a sleazy district of Delhi handing out stickers bearing the slogan "Bush Quit India" to passing traffic. No one recognized her as the Booker Prize winning writer. It was a curiously anonymous form of protest for a woman adept at using her celebrity to draw attention to forgotten causes.

"It was very enlightening. People on the auto-rickshaws and horse carts were asking for more," she said; the drivers of cars were less receptive.

Amid the noisy street demonstrations to protest President George W. Bush's trip to India, Roy provides a sober but quietly strident voice of opposition to the United States. [complete article]

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How to prevent a clash of civilizations
By Hans Kung, International Herald Tribune, March 3, 2006

Has the controversy over the Danish cartoons finally proved Samuel Huntington's theory of the "clash of civilizations" to be right? No, for civilizations are not players on the stage of world politics, nor do they wage wars; in many places, people of different cultures are living quite peacefully together.

World politics is a matter for states and their leaders, as it always has been. But they could make a mistaken theory come true through mistaken policies. A war of civilizations and religions must be prevented. The question is how.

De-escalation through dialogue. But are Muslims interested in serious dialogue?

Such a dialogue is taking place, between individuals, groups and faith communities in many places and at different levels all over the world. [complete article]

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In deal with India, Bush has eye on China
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2006

A key factor behind the nuclear cooperation agreement reached this week between the United States and India was a simple trade-off: The White House was willing to risk losing ground in the worldwide campaign to limit the spread of nuclear weapons for a deal with India that could help it counter the rising power of China. [complete article]

Bush visit is show of support for Musharraf
By Carlotta Gall and Elisabeth Bumiller, New York Times, March 3, 2006

...the presidential motorcade - with or without Bush - raced through the dark, deserted streets of a capital that looked as if it had been effectively shut down for the visit, which threatens further to roil the waters in a nation still seething over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad printed in a Danish newspaper. Thousands of people have turned out in rolling protests increasingly directed at stirring wider opposition both to Bush and the pro-American policies of Musharraf. [complete article]

Iran says U.S. trying to sabotage atomic deal
AP (via LAT), March 3, 2006

Tehran's top nuclear negotiator Thursday accused the United States of scuttling his country's talks with Moscow on a possible deal to move some nuclear activities to Russia to assuage concerns that Iran would divert enriched uranium to make a bomb. [complete article]

Investigation: The CIA's no. 3 has a friend in the spotlight
By Mark Hosenball and Jamie Reno, Newsweek, March 6, 2006

As logistics chief at the CIA's main base near Frankfurt, Germany, Kyle (Dusty) Foggo sat at the crossroads of agency operations. Operatives and VIPs passed through, and former top spies say Foggo was customarily on hand to greet them. After Porter Goss took over as CIA director, many agency veterans were astonished when the former House intel chair chose Foggo, a midranking bureaucrat, to become CIA executive director, the agency's third-ranking official, responsible for day-to-day operations. Insiders attributed his rise to his mastery of office politics. But Foggo's glad-handing has raised awkward questions. Federal prosecutors have accused (as an unindicted co-conspirator) one of Foggo's closest friends, San Diego businessman Brent Wilkes, of participating in a scheme to bribe Randall (Duke) Cunningham, the GOP congressman from San Diego who resigned his seat after pleading guilty to federal corruption and tax charges. [complete article]

Documents reveal the stories of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay
By Greg Miller, Mark Mazzetti and Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2006

Forced by a federal court to lift the cloak of secrecy that had long shrouded the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the Pentagon released thousands of pages of documents Friday containing names and other details for hundreds of detainees scooped up after the Sept. 11 attacks. [complete article]

Hearing set on agencies' withdrawal of papers from archives
By Christopher Lee, Washington Post, March 4, 2006

A congressional committee will look into a secret program under which federal intelligence agencies have withdrawn thousands of historical documents from public access at the National Archives, even though the records had been declassified. [complete article]

Archivist urges U.S. to reopen classified files
By Scott Shane, New York Times, March 3, 2006

After complaints from historians, the National Archives directed intelligence agencies on Thursday to stop removing previously declassified historical documents from public access and urged them to return to the shelves as quickly as possible many of the records they had already pulled. [complete article]

Pentagon agency's contracts reviewed
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 3, 2006

Federal investigators are looking into contracts awarded by the Pentagon's newest and fastest-growing intelligence agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity, which has spent more than $1 billion, mostly for outsourced services, since its establishment in late 2002, according to administration and congressional sources. [complete article]

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We can't force democracy
By Robert D. Kaplan, Washington Post, March 2, 2006

The decision to remove [Saddam Hussein from power] was defensible, while not providential. The portrait of Iraq that has emerged since his fall reveals him as the Hobbesian nemesis who may have kept in check an even greater anarchy than the kind that obtained under his rule.

The lesson to take away is that where it involves other despotic regimes in the region -- none of which is nearly as despotic as Hussein's -- the last thing we should do is actively precipitate their demise. The more organically they evolve and dissolve, the less likely it is that blood will flow. That goes especially for Syria and Pakistan, both of which could be Muslim Yugoslavias in the making, with regionally based ethnic groups that have a history of dislike for each other. The neoconservative yearning to topple Bashar al-Assad, and the liberal one to undermine Pervez Musharraf, are equally adventurous. [complete article]

Comment -- Robert Kaplan expresses a commonplace view of what went wrong in Iraq: the American mistake was not to recognize the fractured nature of the country and thus anticipate the anarchy that would be unleashed by toppling the regime. It's a way of looking at the situation that serves to diminish American culpability. It amounts to saying, that place was so badly broken before we got there that there's no way we could fix it. It's a kind of innocent ignorance that serves as a balm to a troubled conscience. It's a way of avoiding confronting the possibility that this horrible mess is of our own making; that it happened not because this was Iraq's fate but because a dreadful amount of power could freely be exercised by a dangerously ignorant American administration supported by people whose knowledge of the world is pitifully limited.

Kaplan is correct in concluding that, "Political change is nothing we need to force upon people; it's something that will happen anyway." What he fails to observe is that the American urge to change other countries is driven by a conviction that we can know where to lead them even if we don't understand their history or culture - it's a quasi-religious conceit that parades itself as goodwill. And now, even while Americans in increasing numbers believe that the "US should mind its own business internationally," an influential minority is still intent on pursuing an evangelical foreign policy agenda.

Even now, there are those in the Pentagon who imagine that they have the capacity to "amplify the moderate forces" in the Middle East, yet no clearer measure of America's current influence in the region can be seen than in a recent statement from Syria's liberal opposition. Damascus Declaration turned down $5 million offered by the U.S. State Dept., saying that its credibility would be damaged if it accepted the cash. Founding member Hassan Abdel Atheem told Reuters, "Our project is nationalist, independent democratic change in Syria, not through occupation or economic pressure as we see the United States doing."

George Bush likes to say that the "liberty we prize is not America's gift to the world, it is God's gift to humanity," but autonomy and independence are not gifts from a god or anything else; they are things that every creature craves. Their loss is what saps the spirit of a caged animal and their expression is what makes life pulsate.

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New U.S. focus on promoting democracy in Iran
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, March 2, 2006

The US State Department has created an office dedicated to Iran to reflect the Bush administration's new focus on promoting democracy in the Islamic republic, officials said on Thursday.

Establishment of the Office of Iran Affairs follows the request to Congress made by Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, last month for an additional $75m this year to spend on influencing democratic change in Iran. The proposed spending has already triggered an internal struggle over who will control the $50m designated for a new Farsi-language television station.

The new office will come with posts in Europe and Dubai for Farsi-speaking diplomats as well as extra personnel in Washington working on human rights and public diplomacy. [complete article]

Comment -- A State Department official says that the new office's mission will be "to facilitate a change in Iranian policies and actions." She continues, "Yes, one of the things we want to develop is a government that reflects the desires of the people, but that is a process for the Iranians." Typical Orwellian doublespeak! The US wants to develop a new Iranian government and this is a process for the Iranians. We're just here to help. Right!

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Iraqi parties unite to derail Shiite leader's nomination
By John Ward Anderson and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, March 3, 2006

Political parties in Iraq stepped up their efforts Thursday to derail the selection of the ruling Shiite Muslim coalition's nominee for prime minister, threatening to prolong the process of forming a new government but perhaps laying the ground for a more inclusive and widely acceptable one.

Kurdish political parties sent a letter to Shiite coalition leaders Thursday asking them to withdraw their nomination of transitional Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari to retain his post in Iraq's next government, according to Mahmoud Othman, an independent member of parliament representing the Kurdish coalition. Tariq al-Hashimi, a member of the Sunni Arab bloc, said the Sunnis supported the Kurdish position, while a spokesman for the secular party of former prime minister Ayad Allawi, a Shiite, said his group was still studying the issue. [complete article]

See also, Kurds, Sunni Arabs seek Jafari's ouster (LAT) and Jafari puts a new face forward (LAT).

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Civil strife is not the only conflict for Iraq's Shias
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, March 3, 2006

In spite of the killing of Sunnis and Shias, the main struggle these days is an intra-Shia one. The Mahdi army attacked several Sciri offices in southern Iraq last summer, putting Sciri in a weak position everywhere, including Basra. Under cover of the latest mayhem, each side accuses the other of sending snatch teams into mixed Sunni-Shia areas to kill people. While the Mahdi army's role is hard to prove (anyone can use men in black clothes, the trademark Mahdi dress, to terrorise people), Sciri's link to death squads that have killed hundreds of Iraqis in recent months is established: a Sciri minister runs the police, who operate a network of torture centres in Baghdad, which the Americans themselves have denounced.

The US is turning against the federalism it favoured last year. Anxious to bring Sunnis into government, it advocates legislation to "implement" the constitution, but in fact to amend it - a goal that looks unlikely unless Sciri changes its line or is marginalised.

The constant talk of civil war is undermining even the hardiest secular Iraqis, though it is still far from reality. Minorities in mixed areas are slipping away to be with their "own". Community leaders and imams are targeted. But the violence is mainly imposed from above. Balkan-style pogroms where neighbour turns against neighbour, burning houses and shops, have not happened. [complete article]

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Ex-envoy: Execution victims spike at Baghdad morgue
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 3, 2006

Nearly three years into a war epitomized by car bombs and suicide attacks, executions -- many of them following torture -- now account for up to three-fourths of the hundreds of corpses coming in to Baghdad's main morgue each week, the former U.N. human rights chief for Iraq said Thursday.

John Pace, who headed the U.N. human rights mission here until Feb. 13, said that between two-thirds and three-fourths of the victims brought to Baghdad's main morgue are recorded as casualties of gunshot wounds. Nearly all showed signs of having been executed, tortured or both, Pace said by telephone from his home in Sydney.

Pace said he held one of Iraq's factional militias principally responsible -- the Badr Organization, the armed faction of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, a Shiite Muslim religious party that is one of the most powerful members of Iraq's governing coalition.

"They have caused havoc," Pace said of the Badr group in a separate interview with the Associated Press. "They do basically as they please. They arrest people, they torture people, they execute people, they detain people, they negotiate ransom, and they do that with impunity." [complete article]

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What Bush was told about Iraq
By Murray Waas, National Journal, March 2, 2006

Two highly classified intelligence reports delivered directly to President Bush before the Iraq war cast doubt on key public assertions made by the president, Vice President Cheney, and other administration officials as justifications for invading Iraq and toppling Saddam Hussein, according to records and knowledgeable sources.

The first report, delivered to Bush in early October 2002, was a one-page summary of a National Intelligence Estimate that discussed whether Saddam's procurement of high-strength aluminum tubes was for the purpose of developing a nuclear weapon. [complete article]

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U.S. cites exception in torture ban
By Josh White and Carol D. Leonnig, Washington Post, March 3, 2006

Bush administration lawyers, fighting a claim of torture by a Guantanamo Bay detainee, yesterday argued that the new law that bans cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of detainees in U.S. custody does not apply to people held at the military prison.

In federal court yesterday and in legal filings, Justice Department lawyers contended that a detainee at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, cannot use legislation drafted by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to challenge treatment that the detainee's lawyers described as "systematic torture."
"Unfortunately, I think the government's right; it's a correct reading of the law," said Tom Malinowski, Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "The law says you can't torture detainees at Guantanamo, but it also says you can't enforce that law in the courts."

Thomas Wilner, a lawyer representing several detainees at Guantanamo, agreed that the law cannot be enforced. "This is what Guantanamo was about to begin with, a place to keep detainees out of the U.S. precisely so they can say they can't go to court," Wilner said. [complete article]

See also, 'War on terror' trials could allow evidence obtained through torture (AFP).

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The precipice, the brink, the abyss -- Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, March 2, 2006

... back in September 2004, Arab League chief Amr Mussa presciently proposed a far more extreme image for Iraq at a time when Bush administration officials were still speaking hopefully of turning points. He said: "The gates of hell are open in Iraq." At about the same time, French President Jacques Chirac offered a hardly less extreme image, comparing the situation in Iraq to Pandora's box.

On the other hand, when you consider our invasion and occupation in, say, six-month intervals, few cliffs or precipices actually appear. Instead, there is a relatively slow, steady devolution. Insurgent attacks rise relatively steadily; services to Iraqis fall relatively steadily; oil production declines over time to its present abysmal level of less than 1 million barrels a day, again rather steadily under the pressure of a botched reconstruction effort and persistent insurgent sabotage; Iraqi casualties increase; the seeds of a possible civil war are planted; bodies, cuffed and shot in the head, begin to appear more frequently in ditches or fields; families flee mixed neighborhoods more regularly. In the meantime, outside Iraq, in Jordan, in Saudi Arabia (where recently there was the first failed terrorist attack on an actual oil facility), things also seem to be devolving, even if more slowly yet. In short, while no cliff appears, and there is no particular turning or tipping point; things just get worse. Pick your image for that. [complete article]

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Jaafari allies defy calls for him to quit
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, March 2, 2006

Allies of Ibrahim al-Jaafari on Thursday rejected a push by Iraq's other main political blocs to replace him as prime minister, deepening the country's political crisis as continued violence kept sectarian tensions high.

The campaign to push Mr Jaafari's Shia-led coalition to choose another candidate "is neither reasonable nor natural", said Ali al-Adib, a senior leader in Mr Jaafari's Dawa party.

The United Iraqi Alliance, which chose Mr Jaafari on February 12 after an internal vote, "makes its own decisions...There can be no backing down from this position", Mr Adib said. [complete article]

See also, 36 people die in unrelenting Iraq violence (AP), 45 Sunni preachers and employees killed since shrine blast, says official (Gulf News), and White-collar Iraqis targeted by assassins (IPS).

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The NSA scandal now clearly includes interception of domestic communications, perjury and presidential lying
By Glenn Greenwald, Unclaimed Territory, March 2, 2006

Alberto Gonzales sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday which contained what Gonzales called numerous "clarifications" of the testimony he gave on February 6 regarding the NSA program. What Gonzales actually did in this letter is identify numerous unambiguous statements to which he testified that were clearly false, and he "corrected" them in order to render them "true" in the narrowest, most legalistic, most misleading sense. In doing so, he left no doubt that the Administration has been engaged in a series of false and misleading statements about their conduct as part of this scandal.

There are many people who are eager to proclaim this scandal dead. But every week brings new revelations of impropriety, deceit, and most importantly, an ever-expanding scope of still-concealed eavesdropping activities on the American people. It is just absurd even to suggest that this scandal is anywhere near a resolution because the level of knowledge we have about what actually happened here – and by "we" I mean both the American people and even the Senate – is minuscule, especially as to the question of the scope of the government’s warrantless eavesdropping on Americans. [complete article]

See also, Saudi group alleges wiretapping by U.S. (WP).

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Europe urged to restrain foreign spies
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, March 2, 2006

Europe has become "a happy hunting ground" for foreign intelligence agents looking to kidnap terrorist suspects, the leader of the continent's top human rights group said Wednesday, urging European governments to crack down on operatives working for the CIA and other spy services.

Terry Davis, chairman of the Council of Europe, also criticized several European countries for not being more forthcoming about whether they have helped the CIA carry out extralegal counterterrorism operations on their soil. These include the secret detention and abduction of suspected members of al-Qaeda.

"I strongly support cooperation between Europe and the United States of America on all issues and especially the fight against terrorism," Davis said at a news conference at the council's headquarters in Strasbourg, France.

"But I also insist that European governments should have sufficient confidence to participate in such cooperation as equal partners." [complete article]

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Israeli 'ruler-in-waiting' plans to starve Hamas
By Leonard Doyle, The Independent, March 2, 2006

She is already being spoken of as an Israeli leader in waiting. Today the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni brings to London the campaign to destabilise the incoming Hamas Palestinian government by starving it of cash.

Israel's policy - described by a spokesman as putting "the Palestinians on a diet, but not to make them die of hunger" - has left London feeling squeamish. Tony Blair and Jack Straw will today undoubtedly show solidarity with Israel, saying Britain is not in the business of funding terrorists. But in private there is anguish that the policy will bring malnutrition to innocent Palestinians and punish them for taking part in a democratic election. The Palestinians are completely dependent on foreign aid for their survival and Israel's campaign to put 3.6 million people on starvation rations is foreboding. [complete article]

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Envoy says Hamas view of Israel may change
AP (via WP), March 2, 2006

The Palestinian ambassador to Russia said Thursday that Hamas might reconsider its stance toward Israel in order to advance the interests of the Palestinian people, a Russian news agency reported.

Hamas "ties the question of recognizing Israel as a state with the necessity to end the occupation of the Palestinian territories," Ambassador Bakir Abdel Munem was quoted as saying in an interview with ITAR-Tass news agency. "At the same time, I think that Hamas may revise its stance in the interests of the entire Palestinian people." [complete article]

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An Islamic Jihad military chief is killed in Gaza City explosion
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2006

A fiery explosion in the middle of a busy street killed the top military commander of Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday. The Palestinian militant group immediately blamed Israel, which denied involvement.

Adding to tensions, gunmen in the West Bank killed a Jewish settler and, in another part of the territory, seriously wounded a second Israeli man. Roadside attacks were common at the height of the Palestinian uprising, or intifada, but had become less common over the last year.
When Israeli forces carry out a "targeted killing" of a militant leader, the military generally acknowledges having done so. But an army spokeswoman emphatically denied responsibility for this death, though Israel had tried to kill Dahdouh in the past. [complete article]

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Iraqi parties want Jaafari out of prime minister race
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, March 2, 2006

In a move that could redraw Iraq's political map, leaders of Iraq's Kurdish, Sunni and secular parties are considering a plan to ask the country's largest Shiite bloc to withdraw Ibrahim Jaafari as its candidate for prime minister in the new government.

One political leader said the parties would send letters in the next day or two asking the Shiite bloc to reverse its decision to retain Mr. Jaafari as prime minister. If the Shiites refuse, the parties will form their own umbrella bloc, large enough to block the Shiites' choice and let them put forth their own candidate, said the leader, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because delicate negotiations over the issue were in progress.

Two other political leaders from parties involved confirmed that discussions were under way, but said a final decision to put forth the demand had not yet been made. [complete article]

Comment -- On February 16, the New York Times reported on Moktada al-Sadr's reaction to opposition to Ibrahim Jaafari's bid to become prime minister:
Late Saturday night [Feb. 11], 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.
That was before everyone's attention had been violently grasped by a tangible demonstration of the danger of all-out civil war. The suspected role of Sadr's Mahdi Army in stoking last week's bloodshed has been widely reported, so, as he and his political opponents head for another showdown over who becomes Iraq's new prime minister we should be under no illusion about the risk of further violence.

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Growing friction separates Shiite, Sunni
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 2006

While central Iraq was calmer during an unprecedented three-day curfew in this part of the country, imposed to stop a wave of tit-for-tat sectarian killings, Sunni and Shiites in Baghdad say residents of religiously mixed neighborhoods continued to flee to safety across the country's ever-hardening sectarian front lines.

Representatives of the Mahdi Army, which is loyal to powerful Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, say more than 100 Shiite families have fled homes on the outskirts of the city and some of them have taken up residence in the area's schools, under their group's care.

Calls for unity and brotherhood issued by top Sunni and Shiite leaders were starting to be drowned out by their followers' demands for revenge, and amid fingerpointing by the leaders themselves. [complete article]

See also, Evictions may foreshadow Iraq civil war (AP).

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Spurt of violence in Iraq mutes talk of U.S. troop cuts, but decisions loom
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, March 2, 2006

Senior Pentagon officials said Wednesday that in the aftermath of a burst of sectarian violence in Iraq, it was unlikely that a decision would be made on a reduction in troop levels when top Army commanders meet with President Bush next week.

Officials also said it was possible a decision would be made but not announced immediately.

Their hesitancy reflected uncertainty over whether the sectarian bombings and insurgent attacks, which have killed hundreds of Iraqis in the past two weeks, might lead to a broader civil war, and whether Iraqi forces were up to the task of keeping order. [complete article]

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Four years after fall of Taliban, leader's power barely extends beyond the capital
By Declan Walsh in Kabul and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, March 2, 2006

Standing behind George Bush inside his Kabul palace yesterday, Hamid Karzai radiated the trappings of a powerful president: a confident smile, massed security guards and the legitimacy bestowed by the 2004 election in which he won 55% of the vote. He appeared proud as Mr Bush praised Afghanistan for its progress over the past five years.

But outside the palace walls, Mr Karzai's hold on power vacillates sharply. Kabul is a showcase for post-Taliban achievements - growing school attendance, women freely walking the streets and a billion-pound aid industry. But for all its progress, the capital feels like an overcrowded garrison town. Electricity is sporadic, crime is soaring and running water is scarce. Taxis from other cities are turned away at the city limits for fear they might carry militants or suicide bombers. At night the streets are largely deserted, save for twitchy policemen.

Beyond Kabul, Mr Karzai's control ranges from minimal to non-existent. "You have a government but you do not have a state, with institutions and infrastructure," Ayesha Khan, an associate fellow at the foreign affairs thinktank Chatham House, based in London, said yesterday. [complete article]

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Taliban rebels still menacing Afghan south
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, March 2, 2006

...four years after the Taliban were ousted from power by the American military, their presence is bigger and more menacing than ever, say police and government officials, village elders, farmers and aid workers across southern Afghanistan.

American and Afghan officials have said for months that the Taliban are no longer capable of fighting large battles, and in their weakness have changed tactics to roadside bombings or attacking soft targets, like harassing villagers, killing teachers and burning schools.

Yet despite its evident military supremacy, the American-led alliance has not been able to root out the insurgency. And the Taliban's tactics have succeeded in sowing fear, nearly all here agree. [complete article]

Comment -- It's ironic that even now, when the failures in Afghanistan are being widely reported, Republicans and Democrats alike - including many critics of the war in Iraq - still talk about the "success" of the war on terrorism in Afghanistan. No one in Washington has the guts to come out and say that not only was the war in Iraq a colossal mistake, but the war on terrorism itself was fatally flawed in its very conception and thus always destined to fail.

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Blast kills U.S. diplomat in Pakistan
By Kamran Khan and Fred Barbash, Washington Post, March 2, 2006

An apparent suicide bomber detonated explosives outside the U.S. consulate in Karachi Thursday killing four people, including an American diplomat and a Pakistani security officer, and wounding about 50 others, according to officials.

The attack came two days before President Bush is scheduled to visit Pakistan, following his journey to Afghanistan and India. It also followed what Pakistani officials said was a major assault by the Pakistani military that killed 40 to 45 militants in a tribal region of the country. [complete article]

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U.S. and India reach agreement on nuclear cooperation
By Elisabeth Bumiller and Somini Sengupta, New York Times, March 2, 2006

In New Delhi, American and Indian negotiators working through the night reached agreement on implementing the nuclear deal when the United States accepted an Indian plan to separate its civilian and military nuclear facilities. Under the initial nuclear agreement that both countries announced in Washington in July 2005, India would be allowed to buy nuclear fuel and reactor components from the United States and other countries as long as it worked out a separation plan.

In the plan announced today, India agreed to permanently classify 14 of its 22 nuclear power reactors as civilian facilities, meaning those reactors will be subject for the first time to international inspections.

The other reactors, as well as a prototype fast-breeder reactor in the early stages of development, will remain as military facilities, and not be subject to inspections. India also retained the right to develop future fast-breeder reactors for its military program, a provision certain to upset critics of the deal. In addition, India said it was guaranteed a permanent supply of nuclear fuel. [complete article]

Comment -- Academic qualifications are no guarantee of wisdom in leadership but it's hard not to envy India under the prime ministership of an economist with a doctorate from Oxford along with three other degrees - and see the Indians' love of language and wit in protest placards such as this: "I am Bush. I ambush"!

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Shameless political posturing insults Arabs and Americans
By James J. Zogby, Baltimore Sun, February 28, 2006

Smearing all things Arab remains the last acceptable form of ethnic bigotry in America.

As a result of this mindset, the UAE, one of America's closest Mideast allies in the war on terror - a country that has sent troops to fight alongside ours in Afghanistan, complied with all of our antiterrorism initiatives and provides the largest base port for U.S. military ships - is being called a "rogue government," an "Islamic fascist" state, and the "home of terrorists."

In the Middle East, people are scratching their heads.

If the UAE, which has stuck its neck out to support the United States, can be treated with such scorn, some ask, what's the point of being a friend of America? [complete article]

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Al-Qaeda infiltrated UAE government, according to 2002 letter
Think Progress, March 2, 2006

New evidence has emerged that key agencies of the United Arab Emirates may have been infiltrated by al-Qaeda. In May or June of 2002, al Qaeda officials wrote a letter to the UAE government claiming the emirates were "well aware" of the infiltration.

The letter, translated by the United States Government, is publicly available on the website of the West Point Combating Terrorism Center. [complete article]

Comment -- Hmmm. So if the US Government receives a letter from "al Qaeda officials" (presumably on paper with al Qaeda's official letterhead) claiming that the Democratic Party has been infiltrated by al Qaeda then that would be sufficient grounds for an investigation of the Democrats? No?

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Emirate wakes up famous. Thank you, America
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, March 2, 2006

A prominent publicist who has been advising the government said the city needed to distinguish itself from other Arab cities and countries. "Dubai still has a big role in explaining who we are to the world," said the publicist, who requested anonymity because of the delicacy of implicitly criticizing other Arab countries. "Everybody knows who Dubai is in the region. But in America, Dubai is Arab, period."

With native Emirati citizens accounting for only about 15 percent of the population, Arab may be the last word that comes to mind in describing this city. Indeed, the average resident here is more likely to speak English than Arabic, and more likely to be Asian than Arab. Many Indians jokingly refer to Dubai as "the best-run Indian city."

Set across the Persian Gulf from Iran and just east of Saudi Arabia, Dubai is the financial capital of the United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven sheikdoms that won independence from Britain in 1971. But in stark contrast to many of its neighbors, Dubai more than two decades ago turned its back on oil and focused on diversifying its economy.

Today, the city derives less than 15 percent of its revenue from oil, but greets more than five million tourists a year, many of them from Europe, and is the Middle East headquarters for more than 800 American companies. Like Singapore, long a model for the city, Dubai has also become a regional trade hub and a magnet for Arab, Iranian and Asian investors. [complete article]

U.S. urges UAE to end its boycott of Israel
By David R. Sands and Shaun Waterman, Washington Times, March 2, 2006

The Bush administration said yesterday it is pressing the United Arab Emirates to drop its economic boycott of Israel -- a major sticking point in the proposed takeover of key U.S. ports by a UAE-owned firm.

A joint U.S. agency team traveled to the oil-rich Gulf kingdom last month to discuss the boycott, and a senior Commerce Department official will press Dubai again during a visit this month, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. [complete article]

Arab boycott largely reduced to 'lip service'
By Orly Halpern, Jerusalem Post, February 28, 2006

In its heyday, the Damascus headquarters of the Office of the Arab Boycott (OAB) blacklisted 8,500 foreign companies for buying products from Israeli companies, stopping in Haifa port, having a branch in Israel, or any other number of moves which Israel could benefit from economically.

The OAB went even further: the secondary boycott prohibited foreign firms from operating in Arab States if they had trade or commercial dealings with Israel, and the tertiary boycott prohibited foreign firms from acquiring technology from, and establishing partnerships or joint ventures with blacklisted foreign companies.

Today, however, even the most hardline Arab countries are officially dropping the official primary level of the boycott to join trade organizations and agreements.

The most significant "fall" was of Saudi Arabia, which agreed last September to drop the primary boycott of Israel to join the WTO. On Sunday December 11, the world's biggest oil exporter will become the 149th WTO member. Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are also WTO members.

"Today the Arab boycott is all bark and no bite," said Danny Halperin, who founded and headed the Israeli Authority Against Economic Warfare (IAAEW). "We succeeded." [complete article]

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Iraq's death spiral
By Gerard Baker, The Times, February 28, 2006

As Iraq descends deeper into the mire, those of us who supported the war, especially those who supported it as vehemently as I did, and who made large claims for it in advance as I did, have an obligation to explain ourselves. Though our intellectual honour is of no significance in the unfolding misery of a nation, we still have a duty to truth to look honestly at the gap between what we forecast and what has happened and either to re-justify or to recant our belief in a project that has proved to be so tragically flawed.

First let me say what I won't say about this. I won't argue, as so many of the war's supporters now do, that what has gone wrong has all been because of poor execution by the Bush administration. This is a favourite trope: there was nothing wrong in principle with the decision to go to war, it goes. If it hadn't been screwed up by Bush or Cheney or Rumsfeld, Iraq would now be fine. In all honesty, this just won't do.
[...]'s simply a cop-out, I think, for the war's supporters to say its conception was brilliant but its execution a failure.

It's a cop-out because of the uncomfortable fact that many of those who opposed the war said at the time that certain things would follow - a bloody insurgency, a lethal inter-ethnic struggle, broader damage to the US cause in the Middle East. I, certainly, and others, downplayed - all right, dismissed - these arguments.

And now? They were right and I was wrong. But I was wrong not just because Donald Rumsfeld didn't send in enough troops, or Paul Bremer didn't allow elections quickly enough, but because the risk of long-term violence and instability was always greater than I had believed; building stability in that ruined country was going to be a tall order. [complete article]

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U.S .seeks funds to build prisons in Iraq
By Sue Pleming, Reuters, March 1, 2006

The U.S. State Department is winding down its $20 billion reconstruction program in Iraq and the only new rebuilding money in its latest budget request is for prisons, officials said on Tuesday.

State Department Iraq coordinator James Jeffrey told reporters he was asking Congress for $100 million for prisons but no other big building projects were in the pipeline for the department's 2006 supplemental and 2007 budget requests for Iraq, which total just over $4 billion.

"This is the one bit of construction we will be doing -- $100 million for additional bed capacity for the Iraqi legal system," he said.
Experts on Iraq reconstruction said it was notable that the only new rebuilding money was for prisons after the public relations disaster caused by the eruption of the scandal at Abu Ghraib prison where U.S. forces abused Iraqi inmates.

"For a country like the United States that is promoting the advancement of freedom, building jails is not necessarily your best image," said Rick Barton of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. [complete article]

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Sunni clerics blame Shiites and US forces for violence
Reuters (via Gulf News), March 1, 2006

Iraq's main Sunni Muslim religious organisation, accusing the Shiite-led government and US forces of involvement in attacks by Shiite militiamen, yesterday called on the community to protect its mosques.

"Our brothers in all areas must protect their mosques as the government has failed to do so," Abdul Salam Al Qubaisi, spokesman for the Muslim Clerics Association, told a news conference broadcast live on Al Jazeera television. [complete article]

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Pakistan sees future in troubled province
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, February 28, 2006

Given all that glitters in Balochistan, it's no wonder Pakistan places the province at the center of its economic and strategic ambitions: It boasts rich deposits of gas, coal, and copper; a coastline granting access to Persian Gulf trade; and a transit zone for two proposed multibillion-dollar, natural-gas pipelines, one from Iran and one from Turkmenistan.

In geopolitical terms, Balochistan is a prize - one that Islamabad plans to bolster with $2 billion-plus in investment.

But to the province's powerful tribal leaders, the prospect of such investment is troubling - bringing increased military presence and foreign development without assurances that the rewards will benefit the Baloch people. And tribal militants are making their feelings known in harsh terms. [complete article]

Baluchistan in the Shadow of al-Qaeda
By Tarique Niazi, Terrorism Monitor, February 23, 2006

The sudden surge in violence in southern Afghanistan, which Kabul blames on Pakistan-based al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters, has thrust Baluchistan into the international spotlight (Dawn, January 21). Afghanistan's southeastern province of Kandahar and southwestern province of Helmand, which border Baluchistan, have recently convulsed with violence. On January 16, Kandahar's border town of Spin Boldak, which adjoins northwestern Baluchistan, suffered a deadly suicide attack in which 26 people were killed. Since November 2005, there have been 13 suicide attacks in Afghanistan. Similarly, Helmand, which borders southwestern Baluchistan, has witnessed the Taliban's lethal engagements with Afghan and coalition forces; on February 3, for instance, 25 people were killed in a skirmish (BBC, February 4). [complete article]

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Surely Americans will not put up with this censorship
By Katharine Viner, The Guardian, March 1, 2006

The flights for cast and crew had been booked; the production schedule delivered; the press announcement drafted and approved; tickets advertised on the internet. The Royal Court production of My Name Is Rachel Corrie, the play I co-edited with Alan Rickman, was transferring next month to the New York Theatre Workshop, home of the groundbreaking musical Rent, following two sellout runs in London and several awards.

We always thought that it was a piece of work that needed to be seen in the US. Created from the journals and emails of American activist Rachel Corrie, telling of her journey from her adolescent life in Seattle, Washington, to her death under a bulldozer in Gaza at the age of 23, we considered it, in a sense, to be an American story, which would have a particular relevance for audiences in Rachel's home country. After all, she had made her journey to the Middle East in order "to meet the people who are on the receiving end of our [American] tax dollars", and she was a killed by a US-made bulldozer.

But last week the New York Theatre Workshop cancelled the production - or, in their words, "postponed it indefinitely". The political climate, we were told, had changed dramatically since the play was booked. As James Nicola, the theatre's artistic director, said yesterday: "In our pre-production planning and our talking around and listening in our communities in New York, what we heard was that after Ariel Sharon's illness and the election of Hamas in the recent Palestinian elections, we had a very edgy situation." Rachel was to be censored for political reasons. [complete article]

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Against Holocaust denial, use arguments not laws
By Peter Singer, Daily Star, February 28, 2006

The timing of Austria's conviction and imprisonment of David Irving for denying the Holocaust could not have been worse. Coming after the deaths of at least 30 people during protests in Arab and Muslim countries against the Danish cartoons ridiculing the prophet Muhammad, the Irving verdict made a mockery of the claim that in democratic countries freedom of expression is a basic right.

We cannot consistently hold that cartoonists have a right to mock religious figures, but that it should be a criminal offense to deny the existence of the Holocaust. I believe that we should stand behind freedom of speech. And that means that David Irving should be freed.

Before you accuse me of failing to understand the sensitivities of victims of the Holocaust, or the nature of Austrian anti-Semitism, I should say that I am the son of Austrian Jews. My parents escaped Austria in time, but my grandparents did not. All my grandparents were deported to ghettos in Poland and Czechoslovakia. Two of them were sent to Lodz, in Poland, and then probably murdered with carbon monoxide at the extermination camp at Chelmno. One fell ill and died in the overcrowded and underfed ghetto at Theresienstadt. My maternal grandmother was the only survivor. [complete article]

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As Hamas and Israel bicker, the West weighs its options
Der Spiegel, February 27, 2006

Hamas leaders continue to refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist threatening foreign aid to the Palestinians. A serious financial crisis in the West Bank and Gaza may be only weeks away. The West has two options: finance a terror organization, or let the region descend into chaos.

How to deal with a democratically elected terrorist organization? It's a question that has dominated Middle Eastern politics since the victory of the Islamist group Hamas in the Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections in January. And this week, it promises to be the focus of a two-day meeting of European Union foreign ministers starting in Brussels on Monday. [complete article]

Palestinians on financial brink, envoy warns
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 28, 2006

A special Middle East envoy, James D. Wolfensohn, has warned international donors that the Palestinian Authority could collapse within two weeks unless fresh funding can be found to pay salaries, clear overdue energy bills and sustain government services financed largely by foreign aid.

In a letter Saturday to senior diplomats from the group of peace interlocutors known as the quartet -- Russia, the United States, the European Union and the United Nations -- Wolfensohn said Israel's decision to withhold revenue from the sales tax and customs fees it collects for the Palestinian Authority had pushed the caretaker government to the brink of insolvency. [complete article]

Israeli anger at Europe's aid for Palestinians
By Donald Macintyre and Stephen Castle, The Independent, February 28, 2006

Sharp differences emerged between Israel and the international community over the acute financial crisis faced by the Palestinian Authority as the EU agreed to an emergency aid package of $143m (about £82m).

The differences are over Israel's refusal to transfer between $50m and $60m a month in duties it collects on the PA's behalf - most of which is used to pay salaries - and the increasingly hard line taken by its government against the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas. [complete article]

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U.S. is settling detainee's suit in 9/11 sweep
By Nina Bernstein, New York Times, February 28, 2006

The federal government has agreed to pay $300,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by an Egyptian who was among dozens of Muslim men swept up in the New York area after 9/11, held for months in a federal detention center in Brooklyn and deported after being cleared of links to terrorism.

The settlement, filed in federal court late yesterday, is the first the government has made in a number of lawsuits charging that noncitizens were abused and their constitutional rights violated in detentions after the terror attacks.

It removes one of two plaintiffs from a case in which a federal judge ruled last fall that former Attorney General John Ashcroft, the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other top government officials must answer questions under oath. Government lawyers filed an appeal of that ruling on Friday. [complete article]

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Tortured logic
By Anthony Lagouranis, New York Times, February 28, 2006

I have never met Sgt. Santos Cardona or Sgt. Michael Smith, but we share similar experiences. In late 2003 and early 2004, both men used their dogs to intimidate Iraqi prisoners during interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison. They maintain that they were following legal orders. Now they both face impending court-martial.

From January 2004 to January 2005, I served in various places in Iraq (including Abu Ghraib) as an Army interrogator. Following orders that I believed were legal, I used military working dogs during interrogations. I terrified my interrogation subjects, but I never got intelligence (mostly because 90 percent of them were probably innocent, but that's another story). Perhaps, I have thought for a long time, I also deserve to be prosecuted. But if that is the case, culpability goes much farther up the chain of command than the Army and the Bush administration have so far been willing to admit. [complete article]

Comment -- Thus far, the torture debate (in as much as the issue has actually been debated) has focused on a conflict between morality and national security. What has taken second place -- even while the signs are quite evident -- is the issue of ordinary soldiers being betrayed by their commanders. The policy of "taking the gloves off" not only appears to have been designed to circumvent the law; but just as mafia bosses go to great lengths to shield themselves from the consequences of the crimes they instigate, the White House and Pentagon appear to have instituted their interrogation policies in such a way that policymakers would be insulated from criminal liability. Anthony Lagouranis accuses former Abu Ghraib commander, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, of "a stunning betrayal of his subordinates and Army values." The accusation could just as appropriately be directed at every other member in the chain of command above Miller.

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Guantanamo force-feeding tactics are called torture
By Josh White, Washington Post, March 1, 2006

Lawyers for a captive at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, say their client was tortured to coerce him into abandoning a lengthy hunger strike, and they contend that tactics used to force-feed detainees explicitly violate a new federal law that bars cruel or degrading treatment of people in U.S. custody.

In a 13-page filing released yesterday, the lawyers say U.S. military officials at Guantanamo Bay used harsh and unnecessary tactics to break a hunger strike that at one point included more than 100 detainees. Invoking a new law principally written by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the lawyers said the military illegally made the force-feeding process painful and humiliating to coerce cooperation from the detainees. [complete article]

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Shiites told: Leave home or be killed
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 1, 2006

Salim Rashid, 34, a Shiite laborer in an overwhelmingly Sunni Arab village 20 miles north of Baghdad, received his eviction notice Friday from a man at the door with a rocket launcher.

"It's 6 p.m.," Rashid recounted the masked man saying then, as retaliatory violence between Shiites and Sunnis exploded across wide swaths of central Iraq. "We want you out of here by 8 p.m. tomorrow. If we find you here, we will kill you."

Walking, hitchhiking and hiring cars, the Rashid clan and many of the 25 other families evicted from the town of Mishada had made their way by Tuesday to a youth center in Baghdad's heavily Shiite neighborhood of Shoula. There, other people forced from their homes were already sharing space on donated mattresses.

With sectarian violence rampant since last week's bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, the families have become symbols of an emerging trend in Iraq: the expulsion of Shiites from Sunni towns. [complete article]

Comment -- While civil war is not inevitable the clearest signs that Iraq is moving in that direction don't necessarily come in headlines such as "1,300 dead" or today's toll from the latest bombings but rather in the less dramatic events that expose social trends. None is more ominous than the physical separation of religious and ethnic groups and the loss of harmony where it had once thrived. As the International Crisis Group noted, by the end of 2005:
Sectarian identification, previously a taboo, became de rigueur, with Iraqis seeking to discover – in subtle and sometimes not so subtle ways – the ethnic or confessional background of friends, neighbours and visitors. "It used to be very shameful to say: I am from this sect and you are from that sect", lamented Baher Butti, a psychiatrist. "We did not have this feeling between the people". A Kurdish politician, once the target of an assassination attempt by agents of the former regime, concurred: "We never had this even under Saddam....This is very dangerous".

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Pressure seen on probes at Baghdad morgue
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 1, 2006

Officials overseeing Baghdad's morgue have come under pressure not to investigate the soaring number of apparent cases of execution and torture in the country, the former U.N. human rights chief for Iraq said Tuesday.

John Pace, who left his post this month, spoke as Iraqi and U.S. officials offered widely varying numbers for the toll so far in the explosion of sectarian violence that followed last Wednesday's bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra.

Pace said the pressure had come from "both sides," but declined to give further details. The statement seemed to refer to both the Shiite-led government and the Sunni insurgency fighting it.

Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafari said Tuesday that the death toll provided to The Washington Post by morgue workers -- more than 1,300 dead since last Wednesday -- was "inaccurate and exaggerated." Jafari said the toll was 379. Gen. Ali Shamarri of the Interior Ministry's statistics department put the toll at 1,077. [complete article]

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Iraqi asks U.S. to step back from talks
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2006

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad has been actively pressuring Shiite, Sunni Muslim and Kurdish factions to cooperate.

But Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, a Kurd and longtime ally of the U.S., suggested Khalilzad should refrain from making recommendations on Cabinet positions, such as his ongoing criticism of Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who is viewed by many as too close to Shiite militias allegedly involved in human rights violations.

"Because there is this tension and because any statement by [Americans] will be interpreted by one group or the other, it will backfire," Zebari said in an interview with The Times. "Such a statement will be read by the Shia that the American ambassador [is] siding with the Sunnis." [complete article]

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Sadr seeks Iraq national unity - against U.S.
By Tony Karon,, February 28, 2006

In essence, Sadr appears to be betting that Shi'ite and Sunni Iraqis mistrust the U.S. more than they mistrust each other, a not unreasonable assumption. Indeed, both Shi'ites and Sunnis on the streets tend to blame the U.S. presence for the mounting sectarian dischord; opinion polls have long found a majority of Iraqis wanting Coalition forces to leave. The parties of the dominant Shi'ite alliance are formally committed to a similar position, although in reality they're in no hurry to face the security consequences of a hasty U.S. departure. Still, Sadr's game plan may include championing the demand for the U.S. to go. He has called for joint Shi'ite-Sunni worship at Friday prayers this week, in preparation of a mass national unity march in Baghdad, which would demand U.S. withdrawal. [complete article]

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Intelligence agencies warned about growing local insurgency in late 2003
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, February 28, 2006

U.S. intelligence agencies repeatedly warned the White House beginning more than two years ago that the insurgency in Iraq had deep local roots, was likely to worsen and could lead to civil war, according to former senior intelligence officials who helped craft the reports.

Among the warnings, Knight Ridder has learned, was a major study, called a National Intelligence Estimate, completed in October 2003 that concluded that the insurgency was fueled by local conditions - not foreign terrorists- and drew strength from deep grievances, including the presence of U.S. troops.

The existence of the top-secret document, which was the subject of a bitter three-month debate among U.S. intelligence agencies, has not been previously disclosed to a wide public audience. [complete article]

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American troops want swift pull-out from Iraq
By Demetri Sevastopulo and Edward Alden, Financial Times, February 28, 2006

Most American troops in Iraq believe the US should withdraw within the next year, according to the first poll of US military personnel there.

President George W.?Bush, whose overall approval rating fell to a new low of 34 per cent this week, has repeatedly said the US would finish the mission in Iraq.

But a Zogby International/Le Moyne College poll found that only 23 per cent of US troops believed they should stay "as long as they are needed". [complete article]

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Veterans report mental distress
By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, March 1, 2006

More than one in three soldiers and Marines who have served in Iraq later sought help for mental health problems, according to a comprehensive snapshot by Army experts of the psyches of men and women returning from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and other places.

The accounts of more than 300,000 soldiers and Marines returning from several theaters paint an unusually detailed picture of the psychological impact of the various conflicts. Those returning from Iraq consistently reported more psychic distress than those returning from Afghanistan and other conflicts, such as those in Bosnia or Kosovo.

Iraq veterans are far more likely to have witnessed people getting wounded or killed, to have experienced combat, and to have had aggressive or suicidal thoughts, the Army report said. Nearly twice as many of those returning from Iraq reported having a mental health problem -- or were hospitalized for a psychiatric disorder -- compared with troops returning from Afghanistan. [complete article]

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Tens of thousands protest Bush India visit
By Nirmala George, AP (via WP), March 1, 2006

Tens of thousands of Indians waving black and white flags and chanting "Death to Bush!" rallied Wednesday in New Delhi to protest a visit by President Bush.

Surindra Singh Yadav, a senior police officer in charge of crowd control, said as many as 100,000 people, most of them Muslim, had gathered in a fairground in central New Delhi ordinarily used for political rallies.

"Whether Hindu or Muslim, the people of India have gathered here to show our anger. We have only one message - killer Bush go home," one of the speakers, Hindu politician Raj Babbar, told the crowd. [complete article]

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Republicans seek to bridge differences on surveillance
By David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, March 1, 2006

Stepping into the growing debate in his party about the Bush administration's domestic eavesdropping, the Republican leader Bill Frist pushed a group of Republican senators on Tuesday to work out conflicting approaches to legislation to address the program.

Senator Frist's efforts reflect the increasing determination of Republican lawmakers to impose some form of oversight on the program, through which the administration has secretly sidestepped the existing legal authorities for years to spy on thousands of domestic communications with terror suspects abroad. But lawmakers and staff members leaving a meeting called by Mr. Frist said deep disagreement remained within the party over how to rein in the administration. [complete article]

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U.N. agency says Iran's stonewalling on nuclear program
By Matthew Schofield and Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, February 27, 2006

Iran is defying international demands to halt uranium enrichment and divulge all aspects of its nuclear program, including whether its military was involved in what may have been nuclear warhead-design work, a U.N. nuclear agency report Monday says.

Unless Iran cooperates, U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency investigators may never be able to determine whether its program is strictly for peaceful purposes, as it claims, the report says.

"Although the Agency has not seen any diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices, the Agency is not at this point in time in a position to conclude that there are no undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran," says the report, by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei. [complete article]

See also, Time interview with Iran's foreign minister, Part One and Part Two.

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Taliban attacks on schools create 'lost generation'
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, February 28, 2006

Ghulam Rasul was leaving school when two gunmen walked in and opened fire. The 17-year-old died instantly. As other students and teachers fled in terror, the shooting continued. Two more people were hit.

The attack at Kartilaya High School in Lashkar Gar was just one in a series which is crippling Afghanistan's education system. At least 165 schools and colleges have been burnt down or forced to close so far by a resurgent Taliban and their Islamist allies.

Five years after the end of the Afghan war and Tony Blair's famous pledge that "this time we will not walk away", it seems the Taliban and al-Qa'ida are back with a vengeance, and one of their main targets is the country's education system. [complete article]

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U.S. official says Taliban is on the rise
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2006

Escalating insurgent violence in Afghanistan has placed the fledgling government there in greater peril than at any time since the aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, a senior American intelligence official testified Tuesday.

The stark assessment comes as sectarian violence soars in Iraq, underscoring the daunting challenges the United States and its allies face years after invading the two countries.

In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Lt. Gen. Michael D. Maples, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, said attacks in Afghanistan by remnants of the ousted Taliban government and other groups had surged 20% in the last year.

"We judge insurgents now represent a greater threat to the expansion of Afghan government authority than at any point since late 2001 and will be active this spring," Maples said in a statement submitted to the committee. The DIA is the Pentagon's main source for analysis of military threats around the world. [complete article]

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Sliding into civil war
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, February 28, 2006

When Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, says, "It was a serious crisis. I believe that Iraq came to the brink and came back," the swiftness of his prognosis sounds like little more than wishful thinking. Less than a week after an event that has already resulted in 1,300 deaths, it seems way too early to be declaring that Iraq has clearly pulled back from the brink of civil war. Moreover, when US military spokesman, Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, says, "The violence did not escalate, because of the measures [the Iraqi government] took. We had forces standing by if needed. Fortunately, that need wasn't realized," he is exaggerating the influence of elected officials, overestimating the capabilities of Iraqi and US forces, and minimizing the role of clerics in controlling the violence. While the US military and Iraqi government clearly want to sustain the impression that they have everything under control, a much more credible view of the situation comes from Capt. Gregory Stone, who said, "It felt -- at times -- like someone else's war."

A war against an insurgency is one that the US Army can attempt to fight and conceivably delegate to homegrown security forces, but a war between militias will mark a watershed in the conflict. It will render US forces impotent -- unless, that is, they unambiguously take sides. The suggestion that they should do so is increasingly being voiced, though given the inevitable boost in US casualties that would ensue, it hardly seems like a credible option.

So far, the Lebanonization of the war is incomplete in as much as while Shia and Kurdish militias/government forces are arrayed on one side, they have thus far only been opposed by a loose mix of Sunni insurgents with diverse affiliations. Yet the required conditions for full-blown civil war now appear to be coalescing. Reuters reports that militias and armed gangs now rule the streets, and for Knight Ridder, Nancy A. Youssef reports:
Sunni Muslims from across central Iraq, alarmed by how easily Shiite Muslim fighters had attacked their mosques during last week's clashes, said Monday that they were sending weapons to Baghdad and were preparing to dispatch their own fighters to the Iraqi capital in case of further violence.

While no central Sunni group appeared to be coordinating the movement of weapons and people, the widespread claims were seen as the first evidence that Sunnis are organizing to combat Shiite militias, which had mustered thousands of armed men to control many Baghdad neighborhoods after last week's bombing of one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines.

Iraq was calmer Monday, but the Sunni preparations suggested that the country is still in danger of descending into civil war.
Meanwhile, even in the midst of this so-called calm, bombings and mortar fire against mainly religious targets in Baghdad today resulted in 68 deaths, while "Mujahidin Humvees" are patrolling the streets further escalating the ongoing sectarian violence.

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Iraq violence puts troop cuts in doubt
By Mark Mazzetti, Los Angeles Times, February 28, 2006

The recent explosion of violence in Iraq is forcing a debate inside the Pentagon about whether the U.S. military can proceed with plans to cut the number of troops in Iraq, Defense officials said Monday.

The violence came at a crucial time for the U.S. military: Top generals must decide within weeks whether to carry out a long-anticipated reduction in American troops this summer. Threats of civil war in the country have raised questions about the wisdom of a troop drawdown in the next few months. [complete article]

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As deadline passes, Iraqi official thinks Jill Carroll is alive
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, February 28, 2006

A deadline set by the captors of reporter Jill Carroll came and went on Sunday with no definitive news on her situation. But Iraq's interior minister, in conversations with the US ambassador and in an interview with ABC television, says he thinks Ms. Carroll is alive and will be recovered safely.

Interior Minister Bayan Jabr told ABC that his ministry knows who arranged Ms. Carroll's abduction. "We know his name and address, and we are following up on him as well as the Americans," he said. "I think she is still alive."

Jabr said in his ABC interview that his ministry does not know where Carroll is and that she may have recently been moved. His comments contradict an earlier interview US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad gave to Fox News saying that the Interior Ministry may "have information with regard to where she might be held." [complete article]

Comment -- It's hard to make sense of these statements and the fact that they are being made. If Jill Carroll's release hasn't been secured, doesn't saying anything put her in further jeopardy?

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Caught between Iraq and the hard guys
By Lawrence Pintak, Daily Star, February 28, 2006

The visit to the Middle East last week by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice brought with it another reminder that American Middle East policy is firmly wedged between Iraq and the hard guys.

There were never any easy answers to the Middle East morass, complicated further by the recent outbreak of sectarian violence in Iraq. Washington's drunken lurching in search of easy answers, however, has only made matters worse. Like American consumers, those at the top of the U.S. policy food-chain want instant gratification. It's not going to happen. The rush to democracy proved that. [complete article]

Comment -- While this rush reflects in part American naivety and impatience, it is also a product of a constitutional constraint that imposes a global burden: the presidential term. Realistically, how much can be accomplished within a four-year term? An American president serves his first term with one eye fixed on his prospects for re-election and then -- if successful -- has too little time to complete much in the second. Wouldn't it make more sense to have just one six-year term? A sitting president would then waste no time on campaigning and success or failure could be measured solely in the tangible results of his or her initiatives. And if those results -- even before the end of his term -- were already clearly disastrous, there would of course be the option of impeachement.

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The next Iraqi war? Sectarianism and civil conflict
International Crisis Group, February 27, 2006

The bomb attack on a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra on 22 February 2006 and subsequent reprisals against Sunni mosques and killings of Sunni Arabs is only the latest and bloodiest indication that Iraq is teetering on the threshold of wholesale disaster. Over the past year, social and political tensions evident since the removal of the Baathist regime have turned into deep rifts. Iraq's mosaic of communities has begun to fragment along ethnic, confessional and tribal lines, bringing instability and violence to many areas, especially those with mixed populations. The most urgent of these incipient conflicts is a Sunni-Shiite schism that threatens to tear the country apart. Its most visible manifestation is a dirty war being fought between a small group of insurgents bent on fomenting sectarian strife by killing Shiites and certain government commando units carrying out reprisals against the Sunni Arab community in whose midst the insurgency continues to thrive. Iraqi political actors and the international community must act urgently to prevent a low-intensity conflict from escalating into an all-out civil war that could lead to Iraq's disintegration and destabilise the entire region.

2005 will be remembered as the year Iraq's latent sectarianism took wings, permeating the political discourse and precipitating incidents of appalling violence and sectarian "cleansing". The elections that bracketed the year, in January and December, underscored the newly acquired prominence of religion, perhaps the most significant development since the regime's ouster. [complete article]

See also, Long path to Iraq's sectarian split (BBC).

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Muqtada calls for Sunni-Shiite marches, prayers
Wants pan-Islamic resolution for U.S. withdrawal

By Juan Cole, February 27, 2006

Al-Zaman/AFP report that young Shiite nationalist leader Muqtada al-Sadr, having arrived at Basra on Sunday from Iran, called for a joint peaceful demonstration involving both Shiites and Sunnis that demands the departure of US, British and other foreign troops from Iraq and calls for concord between Sunnis and Shiites.

Muqtada once again blamed the United States for the destruction of the Askariyah Shrine at Samarra.

Sadr said before a big crowd of his supporters in the southern Gulf port, "I call for a united, peaceful demonstration in the capital, Baghdad, which you will organize at a specific time, involving Shiites, Sunnis and others, in which you will demand the withdrawal of the Occupying forces, and call for mutual love among you." He made an attempt to rein in the Mahdi Army militias [plural in the original Arabic report], whom Sunnis accuse of burning Sunni mosques in Baghdad after the Samarra attack. [complete article]

Analysis: Iraq crisis propels al-Sadr
By Robert H. Reid, AP (via WP), Feburary 26, 2006

Through skillful use of intimidation, first, and then concessions, al-Sadr, 31, has profited more than any other Iraqi figure from the unrest that swept the country after the Wednesday bombing of a Shiite shrine, which triggered reprisal attacks against Sunni mosques and clerics.

Many of those reprisal attacks were believed to be the work of al-Sadr's own Mahdi Army militia, which operates in the Shiite slum of Sadr City and in Shiite strongholds throughout the country.

But al-Sadr, who was in Lebanon when the bombing occurred, denied any role in the violence. He quickly joined moderate Shiite clerics in public appeals to halt the attacks.

The fact that the worst of the violence ended after the clerics' appeal added to al-Sadr's prestige, especially since no major Shiite figure has openly challenged his denial of a role in the reprisal attacks.

The message was clear: al-Sadr controls the streets in much of the country, and no agreement to restore order has a chance of success unless he signs off on it. No major Shiite figure, including the country's top cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani himself, would at this point challenge al-Sadr openly. [complete article]

Violence subsides across Iraq (LAT), Iraqi Sunni bloc to rejoin talks on government (NYT), and Iraqi leaders sidestep all-out civil war (CSM).

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Chaos in Iraq sends shock waves across Middle East and elevates Iran's influence
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, February 27, 2006

Shortly before the American-led invasion of Iraq, Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, warned that the attack would "open the gates of hell." Now, three years later, there is a sense in the Middle East that what was once viewed as quintessential regional hyperbole may instead have been darkly prescient.

Even before the bombing of one of Shiite Islam's holiest shrines in Samarra set off sectarian fighting last Wednesday, the chaos in Iraq helped elevate Iran's regional influence — a great concern to many of the Sunni led governments here — while also giving Al Qaeda sympathizers a new a foothold in the region.

But the bombing, and the prospect of a full-blown civil war driven by sectarian divisions, is even more ominous for the Middle East. Nine Middle Eastern countries have sizable populations of Shiites living side by side with Sunnis, and there is concern in many of them that a split in Iraq could lead to divided allegiances and, perhaps, conflict at home. [complete article]

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Case against Iran differs from Iraq
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, February 27, 2006

In stark contrast to U.S. allegations against Iraq three years ago that were based on secret intelligence, today's suspicions about Iranian nuclear ambitions draw on evidence made public by a U.N. agency, the same one that found no case against Saddam Hussein.

The information appears in a series of reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear monitoring arm, whose latest assessment of the material is due out early this week. The IAEA has credibility internationally as an impartial analyst, which may explain the greater consensus in the world community about the need for a concerted response to Iran.

"Since Iraq, who's going to believe intelligence? Who is going to believe anybody but a neutral agency?" said Ramzy Ezzeldin Ramzy, the Egyptian ambassador to Austria and a vice chair of the IAEA board of governors. [complete article]

Iran, Russia reach tentative nuclear deal
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, February 27, 2006

The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization said Sunday that his country had agreed in principle to set up a joint uranium enrichment project with Russia, a potential breakthrough in efforts to prevent an international confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"Regarding this joint venture, we have reached a basic agreement," said Gholamreza Aghazadeh, the country's nuclear chief, speaking at a news conference with his Russian counterpart in Bushehr, where Russia is helping to build a nuclear power plant. "Talks to complete this package will continue in coming days in Russia."

Among the outstanding issues is whether Iran will continue the small-scale uranium enrichment it began earlier this month, a source of growing international concern. [complete article]

See also, We can live with a nuclear Iran (Barry R. Posen).

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Hamas leader roils Israel debate
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, February 27, 2006

After a weekend during which it was portrayed as a party that might be ready to make peace with Israel under certain circumstances, Hamas has found itself walking a fine line between dogma and diplomacy.

In an interview with The Washington Post, Ismail Haniyeh, the top Hamas member in the Palestinian parliament and the man tapped to serve as prime minister, suggested that Hamas had no hatred of Israel and was prepared to consider recognition of the Jewish state as long as Israel pulls back to its 1967 boundaries and allows for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Such recognition is considered a prerequisite by Israeli officials as well as much of the international community for Hamas's place at any negotiating table.

But in the flurry of attention following the interviews indicating a more pragmatic bent, Mr. Haniyeh either retracted or clarified the statement, saying that his position had not been accurately portrayed. [complete article]

Comment -- The mutual recognition of their rights to exist would seem like an equitable foundation for negotiations between the State of Israel and the State of Palestine. There is however no State of Palestine. Where is the equity in demanding that a Palestinian government recognizes the rights of a state that not only exists but makes ambiguous claims about its rights to occupy or expand into territory beyond its internationally recognized borders, while the government exacting this demand recognizes for Palestinians nothing more than a right in principle that at some point undetermined they can have their own state within boundaries yet to be defined?

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Mark Danner on Bush's State of Exception
Mark Danner interviewed by Tom Engelhardt, February 26, 2006

Tomdispatch: I wanted to start with an area of expertise for you, torture policy. For me, the Bush administration's decision to enter this arena so quickly after 9/11 was a reach for power. If you can torture, you can do anything.

Mark Danner: When you look at the record, the phrase I come back to, not only about interrogation but the many other steps that constitute the Bush state of exception, state of emergency, since 9/11 is "take the gloves off." We hear this again and again. The interesting thing about that phrase is the implication that before we had the gloves on, that the laws and principles that constitute our belief not only in democracy but in human rights left the country vulnerable. The U.S. adherence to the Geneva Convention, the U.S. record of treating prisoners humanely that goes back to George Washington, laws like the FISA law passed to restrict the government's power to surveil its citizens -- all of these constitute the gloves on American power and 9/11 signaled to those in power that the system with "the gloves on" was insufficient to protect Americans. That seems to be their belief. [complete article]

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Saudi forces kill five terror suspects
AP (via NYT), February 27, 2006

Saudi security forces on Monday shot dead five suspected terrorists believed to be involved in a foiled attack on the world's biggest oil processing complex, the Saudi Interior Ministry said. A sixth suspect was arrested.

The shootings came after security forces raided two houses in the Saudi capital of Riyadh that had been under surveillance, said Lt. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, chief spokesman for the ministry. The suspects were killed during a shootout, the ministry said in a statement.

"We think all the men involved had something to do with Abqaiq attempt," al-Turki said, referring to Friday's attempt by suicide bombers to detonate car bombs inside the world's biggest oil stabilization plant. [complete article]

See also, Analysis: Al-Qaida terror resumes in Saudi (UPI).

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Venezuela cautions U.S. it may curtail oil exports
By Juan Forero, New York Times, February 27, 2006

Venezuela's oil minister, in blunt comments published in a Caracas newspaper on Sunday, warned the United States that it could steer oil exports away from the United States and toward other markets.

The minister, Rafael Ramirez, said Venezuela, which is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter and supplies more than 10 percent of American oil imports, could act in the face of what he described as aggression by the Bush administration.

Although such warnings have become part of President Hugo Chavez's verbal arsenal against the Bush administration, the comments by Mr. Ramirez, coupled with the increasing sale of oil to China, are seen by oil experts and political analysts as a signal that Venezuela is serious about finding new buyers. [complete article]

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Militant inmates riot and seize control of cellblock in Afghan prison
By Sultan M. Munadi and Carlotta Gall, New York Times, February 27, 2006

Prisoners in Afghanistan's main high-security prison, among them people accused of being members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, rioted and seized control of one cellblock on Saturday evening, battling with guards through the night, the Afghan authorities said Sunday.

Up to 5 prisoners were killed and 31 wounded as police guards opened fire to stop them from escaping when the violence began, a health worker at the prison said, based on information from the prison doctor. Sporadic gunfire could be heard outside the prison on Sunday.

The Afghan authorities moved in about 300 soldiers and seven tanks to surround the prison, near Kabul, the capital. The prison houses about 2,000 inmates, including 70 women. The prisoners include ordinary criminals and about 350 prisoners thought to be fighters for the country's ousted Taliban movement or for Al Qaeda. There are also three Americans, two former soldiers, Jonathan K. Idema and Brent Bennett, who were found guilty of running a private jail in Afghanistan, and a free-lance cameraman, Edward Caraballo, who was convicted with them. [complete article]

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Army to pay Halliburton unit most costs disputed by audit
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 27, 2006

The Army has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.41 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq, even though the Pentagon's own auditors had identified more than $250 million in charges as potentially excessive or unjustified.

The Army said in response to questions on Friday that questionable business practices by the subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root, had in some cases driven up the company's costs. But in the haste and peril of war, it had largely done as well as could be expected, the Army said, and aside from a few penalties, the government was compelled to reimburse the company for its costs. [complete article]

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Analysts see Lebanon-ization of Iraq in crystal ball
By Borzou Daragahi and Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2006

The outlines of a future Iraq are emerging: a nation where power is scattered among clerics turned warlords; control over schools, hospitals, railroads and roads is divided along sectarian lines; graft and corruption subvert good governance; and foreign powers exert influence only over a weak central government.

The bleak prospects have serious implications for the U.S. Washington wants to tone down its overt political influence in Baghdad and decrease the number of U.S. troops precisely at a time when the fledgling Iraqi government has shown itself incapable of maintaining political or military control.

"This is something that's been leaning in this direction for some time, and the mosque incident has accelerated the process," said Edward S. Walker, a former assistant secretary of State for Near East affairs. "What we're talking about is people looking out for their own. I don't think it can be turned around." [complete article]

Fears over a 'new Saddam' as Iraq battles to avert civil war
By Sarah Baxter, Hala Jaber and Hamoudi Saffar, The Sunday Times, February 26, 2006

Andrew Krepinevich, a Pentagon adviser who heads the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a military think tank, warns that if civil war breaks out "the outcome may be that we help the rise of another Saddam Hussein who is ruthless enough to deal with the problem".

Krepinevich is one of the architects of the "clear, hold and build" strategy recently adopted by the US military in Iraq. It means killing insurgents in hotspots while persuading Iraqis -- through reconstruction and peacekeeping -- that they are better off without them.

Today Krepinevich fears those efforts may be running out of time. "The view from 50,000ft is that we are making progress, but is it quickly enough? Are the forces of disorder progressing faster than the forces of order?"

Much depends on the negotiating skills of Khalilzad, a Muslim born and raised in Afghanistan who first moved to America as an exchange student in secondary school. As a neoconservative who called for regime change in Iraq, Khalilzad has risen to the challenge.

"He's the one irreplaceable American," said Krepinevich. "A lot of people are hoping he will pull a rabbit out of a hat."

Khalilzad's strongest card is that the Americans have the money and the military boots on the ground. "Behind closed doors, he can say that if there is a civil war, because of our military power we can decide who comes out on top -- and leave it open as to who might emerge the victor," Krepinevich said.

It is, he added, a warning to all sides that "we can make life really miserable for you". [complete article]

What civil war could look like
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, February 26, 2006

The pivot of what could become a regional conflict is almost certainly Iran. Shiite leaders close to Iran won the Iraqi election in December, and although American and many Iraqi leaders defend their Iraqi nationalist bona fides, a civil war would almost certainly drive them to seek help from Iran. That stirs Sunni Arab fears of Iranian dominance in the region.

"What you have in Iraq is not just a society coming apart like Yugoslavia or Congo," said Vali R. Nasr, a professor of national affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif. "What is at stake is not just Iraq's stability but the balance of power in the region."

Historians looking at such a prospect would see a replay of the Shiite-Sunni divide that has effectively racked the Middle East since the eighth century and extended through the rival Safavid and Ottoman Empires in modern Mesopotamia and finally into the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980's. This time, however, Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions could accelerate a nuclear arms race, with Saudi Arabia likely to lead the way among Sunni nations. [complete article]

Younger clerics showing power in Iraq's unrest
By Robert F. Worth and Edward Wong, New York Times, February 26, 2006

American officials have been repeatedly stunned and frequently thwarted in the past three years by the extraordinary power of Muslim clerics over Iraqi society. But in the sectarian violence of the past few days, that power has taken an ominous turn, as rival hard-line Shiite clerical factions have pushed each other toward more militant and anti-American stances, Iraqi and Western officials say.

Even Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the paramount Shiite cleric to whom the Americans have often looked for moderation, appears to have been outflanked by younger and more aggressive figures.

After a bomb exploded in Samarra at one of Iraq's most sacred Shiite shrines on Wednesday, many young Shiites ignored his pleas for calm, instead heeding more extreme calls and attacking Sunni mosques and killing Sunni civilians, even imams, in a crisis that has threatened to provoke open civil war. [complete article]

Shiite militias roam free despite curfew, occupy Sunni mosques
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, February 26, 2006

While Baghdad and three other Iraqi provinces are supposed to be under security lockdown, Shiite militias are roaming the streets among and alongside Iraq's police and army, attacking and occupying dozens of Sunni mosques -- and reflagging some as Shiite -- and detaining and killing worshipers. Residents of several Baghdad neighborhoods have reported seeing pickup trucks barreling through otherwise empty streets, bearing militia members armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades.

Ostensibly outlawed, private militias maintain thousands of foot soldiers across Iraq. Members of two Shiite militias -- the Mahdi Army and the Badr Organization, which is affiliated with the country's dominant Shiite political party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq -- dominate the ranks of Iraq's police and army. Ethnic Kurds also have a huge armed force whose members, called pesh merga , are arrayed throughout the Kurdish-populated north. But Sunni Arabs, who make up the bulk of Iraq's insurgency, lack their own formal militia and have blamed the Shiite militias for recent kidnappings and assassinations, allegedly committed by men wearing uniforms of the security forces.

This week, U.S. and Iraqi officials acknowledged the militia problem -- which Sunnis have long pointed to as the most likely trigger of a civil war -- but seem unable to do much about it. In the aftermath of the Samarra bombing, Sunnis said more than 100 of their mosques were attacked; both the U.S. military and Iraqi government assert that fewer assaults took place. [complete article]

Some Iraq leaders see hope of progess
BBC News, February 26, 2006

Political and militia leaders in Iraq say they have made progress in talks aimed at curbing sectarian violence. [...] Salah al-Mutluq, who heads the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue, told the BBC the new security plan involved removing Shia-dominated interior ministry forces, including police, from sensitive Sunni areas. Instead, these districts would be patrolled by the Iraqi army and multinational troops, he said. [complete article]

Bus station bomb after Iraq leaders rally for calm
By Lin Noueihed and Waleed Ibrahim, Reuters, February 26, 2006

A bomb killed five people at a bus station south of Baghdad on Sunday, breaking a relative calm after Iraqi and U.S. leaders appealed for an end to days of sectarian bloodshed that have pitched Iraq toward civil war.

A bomb in the washroom of a Shi'ite mosque in the second city of Basra caused minor injuries, police said; it went off shortly after a rally in another part of the city by visiting young Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a fiery militia leader. [complete article]

Samarra witnesses a nation's shattered dream of peace
By Aqeel Hussein and Colin Freeman, The Sunday Telegraph, February 26, 2006

The residents of Samarra fear that their city could become the first battleground in a civil war after the orgy of sectarian violence that followed the destruction of the dome. More than 200 people died in tit-for-tat killings across Iraq in the 48 hours that followed. Among the dead are a mixed group of 47 Sunnis and Shias, who were massacred as they returned from Samarra to Baghdad after a joint demonstration against the shrine bombing.

Officially, the Shia militiamen, also known as the Mehdi Army, should not even have been in Samarra. In an attempt to stem the escalating bloodshed, the Iraqi government imposed an all-day curfew on Friday and yesterday, forbidding private citizens to travel outside their neighbourhoods.

But in a stark sign of the Shia-dominated government's lack of control over the religiously affiliated militias, long convoys of Mehdi Army fighters were allowed to travel up from Baghdad, passing unhindered through checkpoints run by the Iraqi police and army units, and unchallenged at any point by the Americans. [complete article]

Comment -- While few observers can resist speculating about why the current violence in Iraq might or might not spiral into full-blown civil war, the determining factor may simply be whether the violence acquires a "critical mass." At that point the logic of vengeance will overshadow everything else.

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He's welcome in Pakistan
By Ahmed Rashid, Washington Post, February 25, 2006

When President Bush lands in Islamabad later this week, it may be the closest he ever comes to being in the same neighborhood as Osama bin Laden. His nemesis is probably only a few hours drive away in Pakistan's Pashtun belt, now considered to be al Qaeda Central and one of the world's most dangerous regions.

During the past 12 months or so, CIA and Pentagon officials have quietly modified the line they employed for three years after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- that bin Laden was hiding out "in the tribal areas along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border." Now the same officials say with some confidence that he is "not based in Afghanistan." Whatever ambiguity there was in the past is gone: Bin Laden is in Pakistan.
Bin Laden's new friendship zone stretches nearly 2,000 miles along Pakistan's Pashtun belt -- from Chitral in the Northern Areas near the Chinese border, south through the troubled tribal agencies including Waziristan, down to Zhob on the Balochistan border, then to the provincial capital Quetta and southwest to the Iranian border. The region includes every landscape from desert to snow-capped mountains. Sparsely populated, it provides bin Laden an ideal sanctuary.

Al Qaeda's money, inspiration and organizational abilities have helped turn Pakistan's Pashtun belt into the extremist base it is today, but U.S. and Pakistani policies have helped more. Although the Taliban and al Qaeda extremists were routed from Afghanistan by U.S. forces, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld's refusal to put enough U.S. troops on the ground let the extremists escape and regroup in Pakistan's Pashtun belt. The Taliban settled in Balochistan where they had originated before 1994, while al Qaeda members hid in the tribal agencies they knew well. Bin Laden had built tunnels and caves there for the anti-Soviet mujaheddin in the 1980s.

What followed was a disaster: For 27 months after the fall of the Taliban regime, Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Washington's closest ally in the region, allowed the extremists free rein in the Pashtun tribal areas to re-establish training camps for militants who had escaped Afghanistan. These included Arabs, Central Asians, Chechens, Kashmiris, Africans, Uighurs and a smattering of East Asians. It was a mini-replay of the gathering in Afghanistan after bin Laden arrived there in 1996. [complete article]

See also, A guide to the hunt (Peter Bergen), Total war: Inside the new Al-Qaeda (Abdel Bari Atwan), Al-Qaeda pledges war on Saudi oil plants (The Sunday Times), and Sending a general to do a sheriff's job(Andrew J. Bacevich).

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A Growing Afghan prison rivals bleak Guantanamo
By Tim Golden and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, February 26, 2006

While an international debate rages over the future of the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500 terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without charges.

Pentagon officials have often described the detention site at Bagram, a cavernous former machine shop on an American air base 40 miles north of Kabul, as a screening center. They said most of the detainees were Afghans who might eventually be released under an amnesty program or transferred to an Afghan prison that is to be built with American aid.

But some of the detainees have already been held at Bagram for as long as two or three years. And unlike those at Guantanamo, they have no access to lawyers, no right to hear the allegations against them and only rudimentary reviews of their status as "enemy combatants," military officials said.

Privately, some administration officials acknowledge that the situation at Bagram has increasingly come to resemble the legal void that led to a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June 2004 affirming the right of prisoners at Guantanamo to challenge their detention in United States courts.

While Guantanamo offers carefully scripted tours for members of Congress and journalists, Bagram has operated in rigorous secrecy since it opened in 2002. It bars outside visitors except for the International Red Cross and refuses to make public the names of those held there. The prison may not be photographed, even from a distance. [complete article]

See also, American gulag (Thomas Wilner).

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Bearded Arabs 1; American ladies 0
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, February 25, 2006

Nothing better captures the broad lines of the great contestation that now defines the Middle East than the four very telegenic characters who have crisscrossed the region during the past week: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her colleague in charge of U.S. public policy, Karen Hughes, Hamas official Khaled Meshaal and the young Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Their travels have been closely followed by the news media, which instinctively recognize a gladiatorial battle for the future when they see it, as is the case here.

Two of these four Middle Eastern itinerant ideologues are slick, appointed American political figures who spend many of their waking hours preaching the benefits of democratic elections in the Arab world. Two others are bearded Arab Islamists who have come to power through the American-supported vehicle of democratic elections in the Arab world. It would seem to be a match made in heaven: bearded Arab politicos who wish to expand their own efficient constituencies and militias into governing systems that enhance the wellbeing of their fellow citizens; and the American ladies who combine the bouncy enthusiasm of young high school cheerleaders with the more daring inclination to engage in political genetic engineering in order to enhance the wellbeing of Arab citizens and the security of Americans, in one fell swoop. [complete article]

See also, Why Rice failed to find Arab support on Hamas (Tony Karon).

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Israel fears an alliance of two enemies
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, February 26, 2006

If there is a single recent development that has Israel more rattled than the Islamist group Hamas' ascent to power in last month's Palestinian elections, it is the seemingly tightening bonds of friendship between Hamas and Iran.

A visit to the Islamic Republic last week by Hamas' exiled senior political leader, Khaled Meshaal, set off alarm bells in the Jewish state, generating banner headlines and drawing heated rhetoric from Israeli policymakers.

But a contrarian view has emerged from Israeli intelligence officials, analysts and Western diplomats: that this much-trumpeted relationship between Iran and Hamas may prove to be of exaggerated import. [complete article]

Some U.S. aid to Palestinians will continue, diplomat says
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 26, 2006

A senior U.S. diplomat told Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday that the Bush administration would provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians even after the radical Islamic group Hamas forms a cabinet in the coming weeks.

"We continue to be devoted to the humanitarian needs of the Palestinian people and we shall remain so," C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, told reporters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

But Palestinian officials who met with Welch, the most senior U.S. official to visit the West Bank since Hamas's victory in parliamentary elections last month, said the pledge did not guarantee the continuation of U.S. development funds. The United States provided more than $400 million in development aid to the Palestinian territories last year, all of it channeled through nongovernmental organizations and U.N. agencies rather than the governing Palestinian Authority. [complete article]

See also, 'We do not wish to throw them into the sea' (interview with Hamas's new prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh).

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Iran: Is there a way out of the nuclear impasse?
International Crisis Group, February 23, 2006

There is no easy way out of the Iranian nuclear dilemma. Iran, emboldened by the situation in Iraq and soaring oil prices, and animated by a combination of insecurity and assertive nationalism, insists on its right to develop full nuclear fuel cycle capability, including the ability to enrich uranium. Most other countries, while acknowledging to varying extents Iran's right under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to acquire that capability for peaceful energy purposes, have a concern – reinforced by Iran's lack of transparency in the past, continuing support for militant Middle East groups and incendiary presidential rhetoric – that once able to highly enrich uranium, it will be both able and tempted to build nuclear weapons.

But EU-led diplomacy so far has failed to persuade Iran to forego its fuel cycle ambitions; the UN Security Council seems unlikely to agree on sanctions strong enough to force it to do so; and preventive military force is both a dangerous and unproductive option. [complete article]

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Challenging Musharraf
By Graham Usher, Agence Global, February 24, 2006

A thousand young men storm Islamabad's Aabpara Junction, shearing through waves of tear gas. The police retreat, attempt to hold some kind of line, then flee in disarray. On reaching the junction, three older men unfurl a banner praising THE HONOR OF THE PROPHET. The protesters had vowed they would hold their demonstration. And -- despite a police ban, mass arrests and a massive security clampdown on Pakistan's capital -- they did.

The protest was ostensibly about the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad published in several European newspapers. But it was also the latest shot in what some Pakistani analysts are calling the most serious challenge to President-General Pervez Musharraf since he seized power in a coup in 1999. The challenger is the Muttahidda Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), a parliamentary coalition of Pakistan's main Islamist parties and once an ally of Musharraf's military regime. What brought about the rupture? [complete article]

See also, Pakistan: The myth of an Islamist peril (Frederic Grare, Carnegie Endowment).

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U.S. intelligence agencies backed Dubai port deal
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, February 25, 2006

Reviews by U.S. intelligence agencies supported Dubai Ports World's purchase of the British company running terminals at six American seaports, and the assessments were made available to the Treasury Department-run interagency committee that approved the deal, according to senior administration officials.

The intelligence studies were coordinated by the Intelligence Community Acquisition Risk Center, a new organization under the office of the Director of National Intelligence John D. Negroponte, said one official. The center normally does broad threat analyses of foreign commercial entities that seek to do business with U.S. intelligence agencies. [complete article]

Homeland Security objected to ports deal
By Ted Bridis, AP (via SF Chronicle), February 25, 2006

The Homeland Security Department objected at first to a United Arab Emirates company's taking over significant operations at six U.S. ports. It was the lone protest among members of the government committee that eventually approved the deal without dissent.

The department's early objections were settled later in the government's review of the $6.8 billion deal after Dubai-owned DP World agreed to a series of security restrictions. [complete article]

A face-saving Dubai deal in the works?
By Timothy J. Burger, Mike Allen, and Matthew Cooper, Time, February 25, 2006

Moving toward a deal that could allow President Bush and congressional GOP leaders to save face and avert a prolonged confrontation, GOP officials said today that they were discussing the idea of having Dubai Ports World seek a new review of its acquisition of a British company's operation that runs several key U.S. ports. [complete article]

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Specter proposes NSA surveillance rules
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, February 26, 2006

The federal government would have to obtain permission from a secret court to continue a controversial form of surveillance, which the National Security Agency now conducts without warrants, under a bill being proposed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.).

Specter's proposal would bring the four-year-old NSA program under the authority of the court created by the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The act created a mechanism for obtaining warrants to wiretap domestic suspects. But President Bush, shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on communications without such warrants. The program was revealed in news reports two months ago. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

A nation teeters on brink of civil war
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, February 25, 2006

The power of symbols
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, February 22, 2006

Arab democracy is exposing the blind spot of U.S. policy
By David Hirst, The Guardian, February 23, 2006

Israel's policies are feeding the cancer of anti-semitism
By Paul Oestreicher, The Guardian, February 20, 2006

Apartheid in a cage
Jewish settlers and Palestinians in Hebron

Der Spiegel, February 23, 2006

The Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community's secret historical document reclassification program
By Matthew M. Aid, National Security Archive, February 21, 2006

Musharraf losing his grip
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, February 22, 2006

Storm over ports: Who's behind the Dubai company in U.S. harbors?
By Tony Karon with Douglas Waller,, February 20, 2006

How an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, February 20, 2006

The Guantanamo detainees: the government's story
By Professor Mark Denbeaux and Joshua Denbeaux, February 8, 2006

Bush and Blair have brilliantly done Bin Laden's work for him
By Simon Jenkins, The Sunday Times, February 19, 2006

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