The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
When democracy looks like civil war
By Yassin Musharbash, Der Spiegel, March 10, 2006

The verdicts reached by the experts are harsh: "The political system that the United States has helped set up in Iraq ... is a house of cards," writes failed-states expert Marina Ottaway in her recent study "Back from the Brink: A Strategy for Iraq." "Time is running out," warns Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution in a February Atlantic Monthly article. "A six- to 12-month window of opportunity may be all that remains before the spiral toward possible chaos and civil war is beyond control."

And that's unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg. Well-respected think tanks, big-name military experts and Middle East specialists are currently producing a flood of reports painting a frighteningly pessimistic picture of Iraq and its immediate future prospects. It's no secret, of course, that the country is currently on the very brink of a civil war. But the experts want to know why -- and the virtually unanimous conclusion they have arrived at may be surprising. It's not only the terrorists and the insurgents who are propelling the country toward chaos. More than anything else, policies followed by the US government and procedures of the American military can be blamed for the impending disaster. [complete article]

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A government with no military and no territory
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, March 10, 2006

Iraqi government impotence flows from its lack of access to any systematic means of coercion. This may seem a strange assertion, given the increasing prominence of the Iraqi Army in various military campaigns since late last summer, and the slogan popularized by President Bush since about the same moment: "As the Iraqi military stands up, we will stand down."

Nonetheless, even if the Iraqi army, Special Forces, and local police were to become the formidable military machine that American officials envision, they would not add up to an effective instrument of Iraqi national policy for a simple reason: These units are being developed as part of the occupation military, not as a force loyal to or commanded by the elected government.

It is well known that the Americans are recruiting and training both the military and the police in Iraq. What is less well known is that, once their training is complete, the Bush administration does not relinquish control over these forces. [complete article]

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Kirkuk dispute bedevils Iraq's political crisis
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, March 11, 2006

Iraq's newly elected legislature is split almost down the middle between the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shia-led ruling coalition of which Mr Jaafari's Dawa party is a member, and an alliance comprising Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and allies of the secular-leaning Shia leader Iyad Allawi who say they cannot work with him.

Each group has its reasons to oppose Mr Jaafari - the Sunnis say he has failed to protect them from Shia death squads - but the initiators of this particular push to unseat him are the Kurds, and their key grievance is Kirkuk. [complete article]

Peace activist taken hostage in Iraq is found dead
By Martin Weil and Michael Alison Chandler, Washington Post, March 11, 2006

Tom Fox, the Virginia peace activist who was taken hostage last year in Iraq, has been found dead, a State Department spokesman said last night. The FBI verified that a body found in Baghdad on Thursday morning was that of Fox, according to the State Department. It was not immediately clear last night when he had been killed or how. Nothing was said immediately about the circumstances leading to the discovery of the body. [complete article]

Symbol of Abu Ghraib seeks to spare others his nightmare
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, March 11, 2006

Almost two years later, Ali Shalal Qaissi's wounds are still raw.

There is the mangled hand, an old injury that became infected by the shackles chafing his skin. There is the slight limp, made worse by days tied in uncomfortable positions. And most of all, there are the nightmares of his nearly six-month ordeal at Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004.

Mr. Qaissi, 43, was prisoner 151716 of Cellblock 1A. The picture of him standing hooded atop a cardboard box, attached to electrical wires with his arms stretched wide in an eerily prophetic pose, became the indelible symbol of the torture at Abu Ghraib, west of Baghdad. [complete article]

Sunni insurgents 'have al-Zarqawi running for cover'
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, March 11, 2006

Insurgent groups in one of Iraq's most violent provinces claim that they have purged the region of three quarters of al-Qa'eda's supporters after forming an alliance to force out the foreign fighters. [complete article]

Blasts flare in Iraq as curfews ease
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 11, 2006

Under the guard of machine guns mounted in white police pickup trucks, sparse crowds returned to Baghdad's mosques Friday as curfews imposed to stem recent sectarian bloodletting eased. In Shiite and Sunni mosques, some clerics called for forgiveness, while others wept bitterly over losses in the conflict or warned of more to come.

Bombings claimed at least 19 lives around Iraq, including that of a Sunni preacher killed when a car bomber drove up to a mosque in the city of Samarra, where Iraq's worst burst of sectarian violence since the U.S. invasion began Feb. 22 with the bombing of a Shiite shrine. Another three people -- two police officers and one gunman -- died Friday in a gun battle that raged in a southern Baghdad market. [complete article]

U.S. pushes for broad coalition as Iraqi parliament prepares to open
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, March 11, 2006

The American ambassador to Iraq, seeking to break the stalemate over the formation of a new government, is urging the nation's political leaders to hold a conference somewhere in Iraq to broker a grand coalition, the embassy's spokeswoman said Friday.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, "is proposing this idea as a possibility to push forward the formation of a national unity government," said the spokeswoman, Elizabeth O. Colton. [complete article]

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U.S. tells moderates to stay out of Hamas cabinet
By Harvey Morris, Financial Times, March 11, 2006

US officials are exerting pressure on moderate Palestinian politicians not to serve in a Hamas-led government and have warned that Washington would sever existing contacts with them if they did.

According to Palestinians familiar with Hamas's current efforts to put together a national unity government following its election victory in January, Washington has targeted a number of independents the Islamist movement was considering for cabinet posts.

The Bush administration favours a situation in which Hamas would be forced to govern alone and would bear the full consequences of failures that could be exacerbated by a cut-off of western aid to the Palestinian Authority. [complete article]

Comment -- The irony of this is maddeningly absurd! In Iraq the U.S. is struggling to get into place a national unity government but when it comes to Palestine it dreads the very possibility!

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Border proposal roils preelection waters in Israel
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2006

With Israeli elections less than three weeks away, a furor erupted Friday over acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's declaration that in the next four years Israel would draw its own borders, roughly following the route of a barrier being built in the West Bank.

Both right- and left-wing opponents expressed outrage over Olmert's plan, spelled out in interviews that appeared Friday in major Israeli newspapers.

The fate of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, home to about 250,000 Israelis, is a major issue in the campaign leading up to the March 28 elections. [complete article]

Comment -- So now Olmert comes straight out and says what has been obvious all along: the wall isn't simply an emergency measure for dealing with terrorism; it is a unilaterally defined Israeli border. Yet as recently as last month, the misinformation campaign was in full swing as was evident in this exchange on NPR's On The Media:
DAVID SARANGA: When the fence became an important subject in the media, we noticed that everyone refers to it as a wall, when only five percent of it is a concrete wall and the rest is actually a fence.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: David Saranga currently works in the Israeli Consulate in New York, but prior to that, in Israel, he coordinated the public relations effort for the barrier. He says it's very important to find the right words.

DAVID SARANGA: So we started to use the term "the anti-terrorist fence" or "the security fence" in order to make the world understand what is the reason Israel is building a fence. It's not about separation. It's about preventing the terror to enter Israel.

BROOKE GLADSTONE: As a practical matter, what does a fence look like in this context?

DAVID SARANGA: A fence is - look like something which is reversible. I mean, if you build a wall, so it's irreversible, but if you build a fence, this means that it's something you can move; it's something you can change its route.

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Olmert: Israel would not act alone against Iran
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, March 11, 2006

Israel remains part of an international coalition against a nuclear Iran, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in comments broadcast Saturday on Israel Radio, suggesting Israel would not act alone against Tehran.

Olmert spoke after former Israel Defense Forces chief Moshe Ya'alon said Israel and the West have the ability to launch a military strike that could set back Iran's nuclear program for years.

Ya'alon was widely criticized for the remarks, with some saying he was drawing unnecessary attention to Israel's capabilities. [complete article]

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Iran won't yield to threats or pressure, top leader says
By John Daniszewski, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2006

Iran's supreme leader vowed Thursday to "resist any pressure and threat" after an international panel stuck with its decision to put the issue of his nation's nuclear program before the U.N. Security Council.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said pressure over the nuclear issue was the latest chapter in the United States' 27-year history of hostility toward the Islamic Republic.

In Washington, meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told a congressional hearing that Iran must not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, a capacity that Iran says it does not seek. She said Iran already was a risk to Israel and other countries in the Middle East. [complete article]

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The twisted religion of Blair and Bush
By Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst, International Herald Tribune, March 10, 2006

Secular Britain was shocked last weekend when Prime Minister Tony Blair said that God would be his judge over the war in Iraq. Similarly, President George W. Bush has often used God to justify the war on terror as a religiously blessed and righteous campaign against "evil doers." Predictably, those who oppose the war view themselves as secular progressives untainted by religious fundamentalism and the madness it produces.

Unfortunately for liberals, the origins of Bush's and Blair's religious convictions lie not within Christianity but rather within the history of Western modernization and, most important, within contemporary liberalism itself.

Religious fundamentalism has often been used to justify extreme political ideologies. Currently both sides of the war on terror legitimate their actions by perverted theological reasoning. [complete article]

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Madrid bombings show no al-Qaida ties
By Paul Haven, AP (via WP), March 9, 2006

A two-year probe into the Madrid train bombings concludes the Islamic terrorists who carried out the blasts were homegrown radicals acting on their own rather than at the behest of Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network, two senior intelligence officials said.

Spain still remains home to a web of radical Algerian, Moroccan and Syrian groups bent on carrying out attacks - and aiding the insurgency against U.S. troops in Iraq - a Spanish intelligence chief and a Western official intimately involved in counterterrorism measures in Spain told The Associated Press.

The intelligence chief said there were no phone calls between the Madrid bombers and al-Qaida and no money transfers. The Western official said the plotters had links to other Islamic radicals in Western Europe, but the plan was hatched and organized in Spain. "This was not an al-Qaida operation," he said. "It was homegrown."
Paul Wilkinson, chairman of the Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland, said the model used in Madrid, and likely for the July 7 London transport bombings fits in well with al-Qaida's business plan.

"Al-Qaida is not and never was a topdown organization that did everything in terms of attacks around the world. They have a key role in ideological terms ... but they rely on local cells and those that are inspired to carry out these attacks," he said.

After the fact, bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahri are happy to claim responsibility because they recognize the carnage as inspired by their movement. [complete article]

Comment -- The vital link between the Madrid bombers and al Qaeda is the Global War on Terrorism itself. This has done more to help globalize the Qaeda ideology than anything Osama bin Laden could ever have initiated himself.

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Growing strength of Pakistani Taliban worries U.S. officials
By Ken Moritsugu, Knight Ridder, March 9, 2006

A Pakistan-based movement inspired by the former Taliban rulers of Afghanistan is growing along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, challenging U.S.-led efforts to stamp out insurgents in Afghanistan and hunt down Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaida leaders.

Reports from the South Waziristan region, which is closed to foreign journalists, indicate that local leaders who also call themselves Taliban are setting up offices, recruiting followers and, in some places, acting as local judges.

In Wana, the regional capital, about 20 miles from the Afghan border, these Pakistani Taliban are laying down a strict code of conduct: Men are forbidden to shave, for example, and barbers, fearing punishment, are said to no longer offer the service. [complete article]

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When America exports censorship
By Xeni Jardin, New York Times (IHT), March 10, 2006

American technology companies are taking heat for helping China's government police the Internet. But this controversy extends well beyond China and the so- called Internet Gang of Four: Google, Yahoo, Cisco and Microsoft. Just how many American companies are complicit hit home for me last month when readers of e-mailed us to say they had been suddenly denied access.

The cause was SmartFilter, a product from a Silicon Valley company, Secure Computing. A recent update to the nannyware's list of no-no sites had started blocking our site as containing "nudity." This is absurd: A visit to BoingBoing might yield posts about iPod- shaped cakes and spaceship blueprints, but not pornography. SmartFilter later told us that even thumbnails of Michelangelo's "David" could land a site on the forbidden "nudity" list.

Many locked-out readers were trying to view BoingBoing from libraries, schools and workplaces. That is regrettable but not tragic, as American viewers generally have other options. But after regular visitors from Qatar and Saudi Arabia complained, we discovered a more worrisome problem: Government-controlled Internet providers were using SmartFilter to effectively block access for entire countries. [complete article]

Comment -- Last year I discovered to my surprise that my own site is inaccessible from my local library - in this case because of SonicWALL content filtering. A network administrator can use such a filtering application to block access to any type of content whatsoever. And if you happen to live in a rural county in some parts of America I suspect there's no limit to what a library or school system might deem "inappropriate content."

While Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin is justified in drawing attention to the implications of web filtering being used overseas, she doesn't appear to have visited a public library recently. While web users in libraries make up quite a small section of the American online population, for many and perhaps most of these users, a library is the only place where it's possible to get on the Net.

At this time, the two places I'm aware off where it's not possible to go to The War in Context are my local library (in North Carolina) and Iran!

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Port deal's political fallout not over
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, March 11, 2006

Flush from what they see as a victory, members of Congress appear determined to insert themselves into matters of national security that they had previously left exclusively to the president. But their aggressive response has left administration officials -- and even some colleagues -- concerned that the longer the controversy drags out, the more likely it will alienate foreign allies, dampen investment in the United States and even slow the economy.

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties pledged to revise the review process for business acquisitions by foreigners while moving swiftly on legislation to bolster port security.

Critics of the congressional attack on the port deal said DP World's withdrawal will not make the six U.S. ports any safer from terrorist attacks. But lawmakers say the controversy will spark action on measures to tighten security that have languished in Congress. Both the Senate and House homeland security committees said they will draft legislation in a matter of weeks. [complete article]

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U.S. more intent on blocking Chavez
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, March 10, 2006

The Bush administration is stepping up efforts to counter leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as he builds opposition to U.S. influence in Latin America.

U.S. diplomats have sought in recent years to mute their conflicts with Chavez, fearing that a war of words with the flamboyant populist could raise his stature at home and abroad. But in recent months, as Chavez has sharpened his attacks -- and touched American nerves by increasing ties with Iran -- American officials have become more outspoken about their intention to isolate him.

Signaling the shift, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress last month that the United States was actively organizing other countries to carry out an "inoculation strategy" against what it sees as meddling by Chavez. [complete article]

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In response, China attacks U.S. record on rights
By Joseph Kahn, New York Times, March 10, 2006

China criticized the human rights record of the United States on Thursday, arguing that racial discrimination remained pervasive and that the American military abused prisoners held at detention centers abroad.

In a sharply worded response to the annual State Department report on human rights conditions globally, which was released in Washington on Wednesday, China's cabinet said the American government should concentrate on improving its own rights record.

"As in previous years, the State Department pointed the finger at human rights situations in more than 190 countries and regions, including China, but kept silent on the serious violations of human rights in the United States," the Chinese report said. [complete article]

See also, The Human Rights Record of the United States in 2005 (Information Office of the State Council of the People's Republic of China).

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Ex-Justice lawyer rips case for spying
By Dan Eggen and Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 9, 2006

A former senior national security lawyer at the Justice Department is highly critical of some of the Bush administration's key legal justifications for warrantless spying, saying that many of the government's arguments are weak and unlikely to be endorsed by the courts, according to documents released yesterday. [complete article]

Panel on eavesdropping is briefed by White House
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 10, 2006

The new seven-senator intelligence subcommittee created to review the Bush administration's domestic surveillance program had its first White House briefing yesterday and is scheduled to visit the National Security Agency's headquarters Monday to gather additional information, according to congressional and administration officials. [complete article]

Pentagon admits errors in spying on protesters
NBC News, March 10, 2006

The Department of Defense admitted in a letter obtained by NBC News on Thursday that it had wrongly added peaceful demonstrators to a database of possible domestic terrorist threats. The letter followed an NBC report focusing on the Defense Department’s Threat and Local Observation Notice, or TALON, report. [complete article]

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Overseas firms entrenched in ports
By Paul Blustein, Washington Post, March 10, 2006

The decision by Dubai Ports World to abandon its effort to take over terminal operations at six U.S. seaports was a victory for the numerous politicians who have thundered in recent days that foreign companies have no business handling U.S. port operations.

But foreign firms remain deeply embedded in nearly every major port in the country. And transferring ownership of those operations to U.S. companies could cause serious problems in an industry in which nearly all of the shipping is controlled by foreign interests. An immense amount of capital from those foreigners will be required to expand the nation's port system in coming years as global commerce continues to burgeon.

For an example of the industry's international nature, consider Inchcape Shipping Services, a London-based company that provides ship agency services -- arranging the smooth arrival and departure of vessels -- at 200 ports around the world, including more than two dozen in the United States. Inchcape was purchased in January by a Dubai company whose chief executive, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, also heads Dubai Ports World. [complete article]

Comment -- By most accounts, dumping the US ports will be good for DPW's bottom line, but Congress has drawn its own line in the mud and sent Middle East capital a clear message: Don't bother investing in America - it's not worth the trouble. And that's not particularly good news for an economy that requires $3 billion of investment a day to stay afloat.

Meanwhile, editorial writers are having a field day. The Los Angeles Times:
Protectionists rejoice! The dastardly United Arab Emirates company that would have presumed to unload containers of underwear and toothpaste on U.S. soil has backed down, and it will now divest its U.S. port interests to an American entity. Rest assured, the nation is now safe from dangerous Middle Eastern accountants and port logistics specialists.
And from the Washington Post:
...our brave new Congress has achieved more than the irrational spiking of one business deal. It has also sent a clear message to the Arab world: No matter how far you move along the path of modernization and cooperation, Americans may be unable to distinguish you from al-Qaeda.
As for who will replace DPW, Democratic Senator Charles Schumer's earlier statement, "I'd take Halliburton over U.A.E. at this point, if I had to take a choice right now", is leading to speculation that this will in fact be the outcome. Personally, I suspect the rumors are coming from Republicans who know how easy it is to bait Bush's critics. Somehow, I don't think that either the White House or Halliburton would favor the deal. Elsewhere, the candidates being named are unknowns (at least, unknown to those of us outside the stevedoring world) such as SSA Marine and Maher Terminals.

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Israel's tragedy foretold
By Gershom Gorenberg, New York Times, March 10, 2006

With Israel's national election approaching, each day's news emphasizes a clear political shift: the settlement enterprise has lost the support of the country's mainstream voters.

Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the front-runner in the March 28 vote, plans to evacuate more West Bank settlements unilaterally, a top figure in his party said this week. Mr. Olmert himself announced he would stop decades of investment in infrastructure for settlements. Those promises reflect a change not only in Mr. Olmert, a lifelong rightist, but in the electorate. Polls show that a strong majority supports parties ready to part with settlements.

The pattern is a familiar one from other countries. An endeavor once considered the epitome of patriotism leads to a quagmire. Sobriety and sadness replace euphoria. Arguments that once turned dissidents into pariahs now seem obvious: in this case, that to keep the West Bank will require Israel either to cease being democratic or to cease being a Jewish state. Not only settlers but national leaders have eroded the rule of law in pursuit of what they considered a patriotic goal.

As an Israeli who has pored over the documentary record of the settlement project, I know there is one more painful, familiar element to this story: the warnings were there from the start and were ignored, kept secret or explained away. Leaders deceived not only the country's citizens, but themselves. So begin national tragedies. [complete article]

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What is fundamentalism?
By Grahame Thompson, Open Democracy, March 9, 2006

Human beings are at the same time, and ambivalently, alike and different. What divides us are also the things that we share. What divides us, in other words, are not so much differences as similarities. But it can be more difficult to acknowledge sameness than to recognise difference, and fundamentalists work with this difficulty in a particular way: by disavowing difference in the name of sameness. They offer a retreat from, or a withdrawal from, difference by insisting that everything should be the same – the same as them (and many of them are prepared to die to achieve this). The command they issue is that all should conform to their way of life, worship their God (who is the only true God), share their beliefs, and their ideals.

This is connected to what Sigmund Freud called "the narcissism of minor differences". We are narcissistically fascinated with minor differences because, at root, we all desire to be the same. Fundamentalism connects with this desire and offers an idealised version of its possible applicability in a real world of unimaginable diversity and plurality – of difference.

This offer carries with it five consequences for the way fundamentalists think about and relate to the world: extremism, leader-fixation, sacrifice, aggression, and endurance. [complete article]

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Sane Britain disappears
By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram Weekly, March 9, 2006

Until recently liberal Europeans were keen to distance themselves, at least officially, from the ideological excesses of the current American administration. They argued that the neo-conservative enthusiasm for the "war on terror" -- and its underpinning ideology of "a clash of civilisations" -- did not fit with Europe's painful recent experiences of world wars and the dismantling of its colonial outposts around the globe.

But there is every sign that the public dissociation is coming to a very rapid end. The language and assumptions of the "clash scaremongers" is permeating European thought, including the reasoning of its liberal classes, just as surely as it once did about the Cold War. [complete article]

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U.S. sets plans to aid Iraq in civil war
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, March 10, 2006

The U.S. military will rely primarily on Iraq's security forces to put down a civil war in that country if one breaks out, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told lawmakers yesterday.

Sectarian violence in Iraq has reached a level unprecedented since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 and is now eclipsing the insurgency as the chief security threat there, said Army Gen. John P. Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, who appeared with Rumsfeld.

"The plan is to prevent a civil war, and to the extent one were to occur, to have the ... Iraqi security forces deal with it to the extent they're able to," Rumsfeld told the Senate Appropriations Committee when pressed to explain how the United States intended to respond should Iraq descend wholesale into internecine strife.

If civil war becomes reality, "it's very clear that the Iraqi forces will handle it, but they'll handle it with our help," Abizaid said later when asked to elaborate on Rumsfeld's remark. [complete article]

Comment -- If the US post-war "plan" was written on the back of an envelope, its civil war "plan" would fit on the back of a postage stamp!

Warner: Civil war would warrant Iraq pullout
By Gordon Trowbridge, Army Times, March 9, 2006

The U.S. should pull its forces out of Iraq if that country descends into a sectarian civil war, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee said March 7.

Sen. John Warner, R-Va., a strong supporter of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, said he was speaking only for himself and not other Republicans, and that he doesn't believe the term "civil war" now applies to Iraq. But his statements raise the possibility that a worsening of the security situation could turn calls for a pullout into a bipartisan chorus. [complete article]

Employer of 50 abductees faced inquiry about links to insurgents, Iraqi general says
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, March 10, 2006

The Sunni-owned security company where about 50 employees were kidnapped on Wednesday was under investigation for allegedly collaborating with the antigovernment insurgency, an Interior Ministry official said Thursday. [complete article]

U.S. contractor found guilty of $3 million fraud in Iraq
By Erik Eckholm, New York Times, March 10, 2006

In the first corporate whistle-blower case to emerge from Iraq, a federal jury in Virginia yesterday found a contractor, Custer Battles L.L.C., guilty of defrauding the United States by filing grossly inflated invoices for work in the chaotic year after the Iraqi invasion. [complete article]

U.S. to abandon Abu Ghraib and move prisoners to a new center
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, March 10, 2006

The American military said Thursday that within the next several months it planned to relocate all its detainees from Abu Ghraib prison, the sprawling penal compound west of Baghdad that became notorious throughout the world after photographs were made public of American soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners there. [complete article]

Khalilzad: A pullout is still possible
By Aparisim Ghosh, Time, March 9, 2006

Washington's point man in Iraq believes a significant pullout of U.S. troops this year remains a possibility, despite a recent upsurge in sectaran violence that has left the country teetering on the edge of a civil war. However, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad says a pullout is predicated on Iraq's leaders being able to set aside their bickering and get the long-stalled political process back on track. [complete article]

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The planet can't wait
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, March 8, 2006

The warnings are coming from frogs and beetles, from melting ice and changing ocean currents, and from scientists and responsible politicians around the world. And yet what is the U.S. government doing about global warming? Nothing. That should shock the conscience of Americans.

Actually, the Bush administration's policy is worse than doing nothing. It has resisted efforts by other nations to discuss new actions that could reduce emissions of carbon dioxide before the global climate reaches a disastrous tipping point. And it muzzles administration scientists to keep them from warning about the seriousness of the issue. The administration's position is that more research is needed -- and then, as evidence grows that humans are adding to global warming, it calls for still more research. [complete article]

Comment -- For a Republican administration to disregard the future of the planet seems true to form. What I don't understand is why the Democrats don't have the guts to champion this issue. After all, isn't global warming the greatest imaginable threat to national security? Or would they prefer to be able to say: I didn't do much to save the planet but I did fight to stop our ports being run by Dubai!

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The failure of Hugo-bashing
By Mark Weisbrot, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2006

It was yet another public relations coup for Venezuela: Vila Isabel, the samba club sponsored mainly by the Venezuelan government, won the parade competition in Rio de Janeiro's Carnaval last week. A float with a giant likeness of Simon Bolivar, combined with thousands of ornately costumed participants parading down the avenue, trumpeted the winning theme: Latin American unity.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice just last month called for "a united front" against Venezuela, continuing a long-term policy of trying to isolate the country. But Washington has been spitting into the wind. Venezuela's influence in the hemisphere has continued to rise while the U.S. has succeeded only in isolating itself more than at any time in at least half a century. It might be worth asking why.

First, Venezuela is a democracy - despite the best efforts of the Bush team to use President Hugo Chavez's close relations with Cuba's Fidel Castro as evidence to the contrary. Its elections are transparent and have been certified by observers from the Organization of American States, the Carter Center and the European Union. Freedom of speech, of the press, of assembly and of association prevail, at least as compared with the rest of the hemisphere.

In fact, most of the media remains controlled by the opposition, which attacks the government endlessly on all the major TV channels. It is the most vigorous and partisan opposition media in the hemisphere, one that has not been censored under Chavez. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld's free pass on Iraq
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 9, 2006

Sen. Robert Byrd, the ranking Democrat, posed some pertinent questions [to Donald Rumsfeld when he appeared before the Senate appropriations committee this morning], or started to anyway. What are our plans, he asked, if all-out civil war erupts in Iraq? Will our troops hunker down, will they withdraw? If not, which side will they fight on? Do we have plans for such a contingency?

Rumsfeld replied, "The plan is to prevent a civil war and, to the extent one were to occur, to have the Iraqi security forces deal with it, to the extent they are able to."

That's not a plan, and Rumsfeld must know it. He even, wittingly or not, left an opening in his reply—Iraqi security forces will deal with it, "to the extent they are able to" -- that any high-school debater would have plowed through with gusto. "To what extent are they able to?" would have been one decent follow-up (especially since U.S. officials in the field have noted that many of these security forces have stronger allegiances to ethnic factions than to a central government).

But nobody followed up. [complete article]

Comment -- The very notion of Iraqi security forces "dealing" with a civil war presupposes that they would not already be partisans - a much more plausible scenario. And if that was the situation, where would that leave US forces? Fight against everyone, take sides, or leave. Hunkering down would not sound like an option.

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G.O.P. plan would allow spying without warrants
By Scott Shane and David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, March 9, 2006

The plan by Senate Republicans to step up oversight of the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program would also give legislative sanction for the first time to long-term eavesdropping on Americans without a court warrant, legal experts said on Wednesday.

Civil liberties advocates called the proposed oversight inadequate and the licensing of eavesdropping without warrants unnecessary and unwise. But the Republican senators who drafted the proposal said it represented a hard-wrung compromise with the White House, which strongly opposed any Congressional interference in the eavesdropping program.

The Republican proposal appeared likely to win approval from the full Senate, despite Democratic opposition and some remaining questions from Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania and chairman of the Judiciary Committee. [complete article]

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Israel to draw West Bank borders by 2010
By Mark Lavie, AP (via Yahoo), March 9, 2006

Israel will draw its final borders by 2010, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an interview published Thursday, for the first time setting a deadline for what is expected to be a unilateral large-scale West Bank pullback.

Olmert, whose Kadima Party is the front-runner in March 28 elections, has been increasingly forthcoming about his agenda in recent days to stop a gradual slide in the polls.

Olmert's agenda also includes a plan for an expanded Jerusalem that alarms Palestinians, connecting the West Bank's largest settlement to the disputed city with new Jewish housing — a plan the U.S. opposes. [complete article]

See also, Olmert tells Haaretz he'll build in West Bank area near Jerusalem (Haaretz).

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Terrified villagers flee as bombers strike at Taleban
By Tim Albone, The Times, March 9, 2006

Those who fled came across the hills with tales of terror: bombed hospitals, beheaded government officials, helicopter gunships and indiscriminate bombings.

The survivors escaped in pick-up trucks - their frightened women and children crying in the back - to make the 15-minute journey to the Afghan border and safety.

When they arrived in Ghulam Khan yesterday, they described a ferocious five-day battle between Taleban insurgents and the Pakistan military for control of the town of Miran Shah in the tribal lands of Waziristan. [complete article]

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Negative perception of Islam increasing
By Claudia Deane and Darryl Fears, Washington Post, March 9, 2006

As the war in Iraq grinds into its fourth year, a growing proportion of Americans are expressing unfavorable views of Islam, and a majority now say that Muslims are disproportionately prone to violence, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

The poll found that nearly half of Americans -- 46 percent -- have a negative view of Islam, seven percentage points higher than in the tense months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, when Muslims were often targeted for violence.

The survey comes at a time of increasing tension; the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq show little sign of ending, and members of Congress are seeking to block the Bush administration's attempt to hire an Arab company to manage operations at six of the nation's ports. Also, Americans are reading news of deadly protests by Muslims over Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad.

Conservative and liberal experts said Americans' attitudes about Islam are fueled in part by political statements and media reports that focus almost solely on the actions of Muslim extremists.

According to the poll, the proportion of Americans who believe that Islam helps to stoke violence against non-Muslims has more than doubled since the attacks, from 14 percent in January 2002 to 33 percent today.

The survey also found that one in three Americans have heard prejudiced comments about Muslims lately. In a separate question, slightly more (43 percent) reported having heard negative remarks about Arabs. One in four Americans admitted to harboring prejudice toward Muslims, the same proportion that expressed some personal bias against Arabs. [complete article]

Comment -- In as much as the Bush administration's response to 9/11 was to retaliate against countries rather than exclusively against the individuals and organization responsible, the administration's response to the attacks was xenophobic.

During the last four years, in increasing numbers, Americans of most political persuasions, Judeo-Christian and secularist, have regarded 9/11 as emblematic of an Arab/Muslim threat. Yet this fear wasn't born on that day. As James J. Zogby wrote recently in an op-ed on the Dubai port deal, "smearing all things Arab remains the last acceptable form of ethnic bigotry in America."

During the same period that American xenophobia has been squarely targeted at Arabs and Muslims, tens of thousands of Americans - most of whom identify themselves as Christians - have been personally responsible for killing tens of thousands of Arabs, nearly all of whom had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11. Should this be the basis on which Muslims judge Christianity?

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Israel will have to act on Iran if U.N. can't
By Louis Charbonneau, Reuters, March 8, 2006

If the U.N. Security Council is incapable of taking action to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Israel will have no choice but to defend itself, Israel's defense minister said on Wednesday.

Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz was asked whether Israel was ready to use military action if the Security Council proved unable to act against what Israel and the West believe is a covert Iranian nuclear weapons program.

"My answer to this question is that the state of Israel has the right give all the security that is needed to the people in Israel. We have to defend ourselves," Mofaz told Reuters after a meeting with his German counterpart Franz Josef Jung. [complete article]

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Pro-Israel activists cheer Cheney
By E.J. Kessler, The Forward, March 10, 2006

Even as President Bush's popularity dropped to record lows, his administration was embraced warmly this week by the thousands of delegates at the most influential annual gathering of American Jewish activists.

In recent weeks Bush has seen his approval ratings drop to around 35%, leading some analysts to the conclusion that his poll numbers were putting him perilously close to a "failed presidency" - one unable to effectuate its policies because of a lack of popular support. But this week, at the annual policy conference of the main pro-Israel lobby, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, several of the most hard-line administration officials, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, drew a resounding response.

The hard-line mood of the audience also extended to Israeli politics.

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who, like the two other candidates for prime minister in Israel's coming election, spoke on a video link from Jerusalem, was cheered enthusiastically when he called for building "an iron wall" around Hamas. Labor leader Amir Peretz and Kadima's candidate, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, were not as warmly received, as they talked about a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Olmert spoke about unilaterally redrawing Israel's border in the West Bank through further pullouts, and received polite applause. Former premier Netanyahu, however, was cheered enthusiastically when he spoke about the need to push the West Bank security fence eastward, deeper into the Palestinian territory, to create a broader buffer against Palestinian terrorism.

The enthusiastic support for Netanyahu and Bush administration hawks underscores what appears to be a widening gap between pro-Israel activists in Washington on the one hand and the Israeli and American publics on the other. [complete article]

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Threats rattle at nuclear meeting on Iran
By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, March 9, 2006

Consideration of the Iran case by the agency on Wednesday was a diplomatic ritual. It came toward the end of the regularly scheduled quarterly session of the board, in which several nuclear issues were discussed. A number of board members, as well as Iran, delivered speeches on Iran's nuclear crisis, but no formal resolution was introduced.

Iran's oil minister, Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh, delivered a very different message in Tehran. He assured an edgy oil market that Iran would continue to export crude even if economic sanctions were imposed. His remarks underscored the fluid nature of Iran's policy making.

Noting that sanctions "could affect" the oil market and raise prices, "it will not affect our decision to continue our supply," he told reporters on the fringes of a meeting of OPEC oil ministers. "Oil flow is continuing. The exports will not be stopped."

But the Bush administration was quick to focus on Iran's threats. "Provocative statements and actions only further isolate Iran from the rest of the world," the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said in New Orleans.

Iran's threats came a day after Vice President Dick Cheney declared, without any specifics, that the Security Council would "impose meaningful consequences" on Iran if it proceeded with uranium enrichment activities. He did not indicate how he was able to predict the outcome of Security Council deliberations before the body even met. [complete article]

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Iran defies U.N. nuclear pressure
BBC News, March 9, 2006

Iran's president has warned against US-led efforts to pressure it over its nuclear programme - saying the West would suffer if action was taken. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the West could not force Iran to give up its right to nuclear power through "bullying and brutality". [complete article]

Facing facts on Iran
Editorial, New York Times, March 9, 2006

If reality bent to tough talk, Iran would have been forced to stop its uranium enrichment program a long time ago. The Bush administration sounded very stern this week in swatting down a tentative Russian attempt to work out a compromise with Tehran. Unfortunately, the depressing truth is that the United States has very few other options when it comes to making Iran stop working on projects that could lead to nuclear weapons, and Iran knows it. [complete article]

In Iran, even critics back nuclear stance
By Nasser Karimi, AP (via Yahoo), March 8, 2006

Hasan Dahghani doesn't like his government. But when it comes to Iran's nuclear program, he backs the president and his fierce attacks on the West all the way. Like many Iranians interviewed Wednesday, Dahghani sees Tehran's confrontation with the United States and Europe as a matter of national pride. [complete article]

Western sources: Iran has covert nuclear channel
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, March 9, 2006

In concurrence with growing diplomatic tension over Iran's nuclear program, on Thursday it emerged that intelligence services in the West are convinced that Iran is taking covert means to develop nuclear weapons, in addition to the nuclear program under the partial supervision of the IAEA. Russian intelligence is believed to agree with this assessment. [complete article]

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Iraqis fight talk of civil war
By Brian Conley and Isam Rashid, IPS (via Asia Times), March 10, 2006

Repeated cries in the mainstream media of an unfolding civil war fall on the deaf ears of many Iraqis who see the violence as a direct result of the US-led occupation.

In the days after the bombing of the Shi'ite shrine at Samarra on February 22, the Association of Muslim Scholars and representatives of Shi'ite groups led by Muqtada al-Sadr and Sheikh al-Khalisi met at the Abu Hanifa Mosque in Adhamiya to negotiate a response.

They constructed a 10-point plan for responding to the violence and building a future for Iraq. That plan is currently being implemented with varying amounts of success.

A primary function of this plan is to "condemn the press organizations who tried to make this problem between Sunni and Shi'ite become larger and larger, and we have all the rights to try them in future". [complete article]

Official says Shiite party suppressed body count
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 9, 2006

Days after the bombing of a Shiite shrine unleashed a wave of retaliatory killings of Sunnis, the leading Shiite party in Iraq's governing coalition directed the Health Ministry to stop tabulating execution-style shootings, according to a ministry official familiar with the recording of deaths.

The official, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because he feared for his safety, said a representative of the Shiite party, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, ordered that government hospitals and morgues catalogue deaths caused by bombings or clashes with insurgents, but not by execution-style shootings. [complete article]

Night-time knock on door heralds secret assassins
By Oliver Poole, The Telegraph, March 9, 2006

The cars may be back on the streets of Baghdad, but the shuttered homes of Street Number 60 provide a grim reminder that the sectarian violence that flared after the destruction of the Golden Mosque continues under cover of darkness.

Each house in this street in the southern neighbourhood of Dora once housed a family. Now most lie empty, their owners having fled after armed groups warned Shia in this predominately Sunni area to leave or die. [complete article]

U.S. expands training to address Iraqi police woes
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2006

U.S. officials have revamped and expanded training programs for Iraqi police units amid mounting concern that their focus on fighting insurgents, and not protecting citizens, has created an unaccountable force plagued by corruption and rights abuses.

The police units are under the Iraqi Interior Ministry, led by Bayan Jabr, a Shiite Muslim with ties to a sectarian militia. The predominantly Shiite force has become highly politicized and is accused of torture and death squad operations against Iraq's Sunni Arab minority. [complete article]

Comment -- Better training will be of little consequence if the most basic issue stems from loyalties. As Matt Sherman noted in the NYT yesterday:
Perhaps the most worrisome aspect of the militia culture is that many government ministers now have an unchecked power to install their own people throughout their fiefs. Over the past two months the interior minister, Bayan Jabr, a member of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (the party that controls the Badr Brigades) has purged the ministry of officials from outside his militant group. He apparently intends to remain in control of the ministry even if he is forced, under the next government, to resign his post.

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When war becomes its own justification
By Louis Hansen, The Virginia-Pilot, March 10, 2006

In late 2004, Cpl. Jason Watrous spent several weeks of his military hitch in a city west of Baghdad.

The work was hard. The hours were long. And that was only the start of it.

Watrous left the service in July to work in a mill in upstate New York. B y Christmas, though, the square-jawed 24-year-old had re-enlisted in the Marine Corps.

"I like deployments," Watrous said he realized.

He wanted to get back to what he discovered in that teeming city, Fallujah.

For those the fight for Fallujah didn't kill, wound or drive from the service, it brought a purpose - keep waging the war. [complete article]

Comment -- Although I imagine this is a story that's meant to relate the dedication of American soldiers, the chilling message is that for some soldiers, when a war has no other justification, warfighting itself provides a sense of purpose. Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney seem to hold out the promise of endless war, but what will happen for each of the soldiers described above when their own war ends. How will they bring the war home? If fighting in Falluja provided these men with a sense of reality that they craved, what kind of extremes may some of them later seek out in order to continue feeding that craving?

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Iraq through the prism of Vietnam
By William E. Odom, Nieman Watchdog, March 8, 2006

The Vietnam War experience can't tell us anything about the war in Iraq - or so it is said. If you believe that, trying looking through this lens, and you may change your mind.

The Vietnam War had three phases. The War in Iraq has already completed an analogous first phase, is approaching the end of the second phase, and shows signs of entering the third. [complete article]

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State Dept. report blames weak Iraq rule for abuses
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, March 8, 2006

The US State Department on Wednesday released a damning report on the state of human rights and the security situation in Iraq, describing a weak and corrupt government with little control over its own murderous security forces in the face of a powerful insurgency.

Contained within the department's annual global human rights report, the 50-page section on Iraq represented the Bush administration's most detailed public assessment of the gravity of the crisis.

The report appeared to be more in line with the view of the US ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, who conceded this week that the US had "opened a Pandora's box in Iraq", than Donald Rumsfeld, the defence secretary, who accused the US and other media on Tuesday of exaggeration. [complete article]

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The trouble with Iraq's prime minister
By Tony Karon,, March 7, 2006

The inability of Iraq's elected leaders to agree on a new coalition government certainly exacerbates the danger of civil war. But the political deadlock also highlights the fact that Iraq is plagued by not one, but two explosive civil conflicts.

Since last week, Jalal Talabani -- both the president of Iraq and a key Kurdish nationalist leader -- has been maneuvering to force the Shi'ite bloc that won the most seats in December's parliamentary election to withdraw its nomination of incumbent Ibrahim al-Jaafari as prime minister. The main Kurdish grievance with Jaafari appears to be his resistance to their attempts to incorporate the northern oil city of Kirkuk into their de facto autonomous mini-state; the last straw was a recent visit by Jaafari to Ankara to discuss Iraqi affairs with Turkey, which has made clear that it regards anything resembling Kurdish sovereignty on its border as intolerable. It has vowed to support Iraq's Turkmen minority, concentrated in Kirkuk, in resisting attempts to incorporate the city into Kurdistan. [complete article]

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Gaza closure is causing food shortages
By Irahim Barzak, AP (via The State), March 7, 2006

Israel's security closure of Gaza's main cargo crossing has hit the coastal strip hard: milk and cheese have virtually disappeared, fruit is hard to find, and flour is running out.

The shortages could get worse for the 1.3 million residents of Gaza once Hamas formally takes power, with Israel threatening to seal its borders with Gaza altogether once the Islamic militants form a government.

"The world should look at this and find us a solution," said Mustafa Shurab of the Palestinian Mill Co. "Collective punishment is a small word to describe this war."

Shurab said his company supplies about 60 percent of Gaza's flour. But with the Karni cargo crossing closed, his reserves are running out. He said the mill halted work three days ago, and if the crossing isn't reopened, Gaza will run out of bread this week. [complete article]

Mid-East peace plan 'out of date'
BBC News, March 8, 2006

The US-backed Middle East peace plan is "out of date" and needs to be revamped, a UN human rights envoy said. In his report to the UN Human Rights Commission, John Dugard said a new accord was needed that took into account "present political realities". The report also said Gaza was still effectively occupied despite Israel's pullout from settlements last summer. [complete article]

Hamas leader accuses west of hypocrisy over threat to withhold cash
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, March 8, 2006

The new Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, has accused the US and Europe of hypocrisy in threatening to slash aid to the occupied territories unless Hamas meets western demands, while failing to hold Israel to a similar standard.

Hamas leaders describe pressure to recognise Israel, respect accords and renounce violence as "cheap blackmail" aimed at corralling them into a "peace process" they describe as a trap. Mr Haniyeh said that Israel had been allowed to repudiate peace accords and to lay the ground to unilaterally redraw its borders, without sanction from foreign powers. [complete article]

Bush is herding cats in the American Jewish community
By William Fisher, Daily Star, March 8, 2006

On the heels of the surprise victory of Hamas in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, President George W. Bush is discovering just how difficult it is to try to herd a bunch of cats. Some members of his ordinarily supportive Jewish-American pro-Israel constituency are distinctly unhappy that Bush insisted on holding elections on time in the Palestinian territories, producing what they consider to be disastrous results. Others are suspicious that, despite the president's rhetorical assurances that his administration would not have anything to do with terrorists, he has left the door ajar and may be pressured by his European and Arab allies into somehow dealing with Hamas. Mirroring the sentiments of the Israeli right-wing, powerful groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee want that door slammed shut until Hamas recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces violence.

American Christian fundamentalist groups, meanwhile, which have been strong supporters of Israel of late, take much the same view as their more hawkish Jewish-American counterparts. Both these groups are vital constituencies for Bush, and have influence in the White House and in the House and Senate, particularly with congressional elections next November. Indeed, they could make the president's life almost as complicated as dealing with Hamas.

A further complication is that the American Jewish community is far from homogenous. As in Israel, American Jewry has a smaller, less well-financed, but also increasingly vocal, left wing. Emblematic of this faction is the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace. This national organization of American Jews is headed by Marcia Freedman, a former member of Israel's Knesset. It is committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The alliance says many American Jews share its perspective, but are reluctant to express themselves for fear they may bring harm to Israel and the Jewish people. [complete article]

Comment -- A letter urging Bush to remain "constructively engaged" with the Palestinians, now has signatures from nearly 400 rabbis across America.

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Elite troops get expanded role on intelligence
By Thom Shanker and Scott Shane, New York Times, March 8, 2006

The military is placing small teams of Special Operations troops in a growing number of American embassies to gather intelligence on terrorists in unstable parts of the world and to prepare for potential missions to disrupt, capture or kill them.

Senior Pentagon officials and military officers say the effort is part of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's two-year drive to give the military a more active intelligence role in the campaign against terrorism. But it has drawn opposition from traditional intelligence agencies like the C.I.A., where some officials have viewed it as a provocative expansion into what has been their turf.

Officials said small groups of Special Operations personnel, sometimes just one or two at a time, have been sent to more than a dozen embassies in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America. These are regions where terrorists are thought to be operating, planning attacks, raising money or seeking safe haven. [complete article]

See also, SpecOps beset by command confusion (Marine Times).

Comment -- This is just yet another indication that even though John Negroponte, as Director of National Intelligence, has nominal authority over all US intelligence agencies, it is the Pentagon that now wields the real power. As Congressional Quarterly reported last week:
Washington's conventional wisdom these days is that ODNI is a joke. The main reason is that Negroponte's group has little power over the Pentagon's covert actions. It's not his fault. Congress set it up that way after Rumsfeld and company worked the rooms of the House and Senate office buildings. The noted intelligence historian Lock K. Johnson worries that Negroponte could end up like the National Drug Czar, "with no real power" over U.S. spy agencies.

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Iran threatens 'harm and pain' to U.S. if sanctions imposed
By William Branigin, Washington Post, March 8, 2006

Iran warned today that the United States could suffer "harm and pain" if the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions over Iran's nuclear program.

Iran delivered the warning at a meeting in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board. The 35-member board convened to consider an IAEA report that concluded, after three years of inspections, that the existence of "undeclared nuclear materials or activities in Iran" could not be ruled out. [complete article]

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Cheney warns of 'consequences' for Iran on nuclear issue
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, March 8, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney declared Tuesday that the United Nations Security Council would "impose meaningful consequences" on Iran if it proceeded with uranium enrichment activities, and the Bush administration put an end to talk of compromise with Iran as floated by Russia.

But the administration's tough language pressing the Tehran government to return to a suspension of its enrichment program left unclear what the Security Council would do when it takes up Iran's case next week. The administration's goal is to win consent for a statement by the Security Council president calling on Iran to cooperate with the demand for a freeze on its nuclear activities.

Despite Mr. Cheney's comments, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ruled out an early push for sanctions. [complete article]

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NSA probe or assimilation?
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, March , 2006

Last week, the House Intelligence Committee reached an internal compromise on how to deal with the National Security Agency’s warrantless surveillance program. The committee decided to become part of the program.

Since December, when The New York Times revealed the warrantless searches by the NSA, Congress has struggled with how to respond to the possibly illegal program. Lawmakers have considered conducting a full investigation to determine the specifics of the program and its potential encroachment into the lives of innocent Americans and, alternately, they've looked at the option of becoming Big Boy, indoctrinated players in a super-secret world they'd like very much to be a part of.

I, for one, don’t believe that the NSA program -- at least not this one -- hides some Nixonian-like abuse targeted on Americans. I particularly reject the 1960’s paradigm that the administration is using NSA to collect a new "enemies list."

But at the same time I recognize that this is what many Americans believe. And that means Congress has both a moral and Constitutional responsibility to assuage American fears, while at the same time determining that the Executive Branch is not overstepping its bounds. [complete article]

See also, GOP senators say accord is set on wiretapping (NYT).

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Libby defense request strongly resisted by CIA
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, March 8, 2006

The CIA said in an affidavit released yesterday that meeting the demand of former White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby for copies of highly classified intelligence documents he saw before he was indicted would "impose an enormous burden" and divert its analysts from more important tasks.

Attorneys for Libby, former chief of staff to Vice President Cheney, responded that the CIA was exaggerating the difficulty of finding and turning over the documents. But they also scaled back their request for information in the hope of persuading a federal judge to order the agency to produce the documents. [complete article]

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Bombs rock India's foundations
By Siddharth Srivastava, Asia Times, March 9, 2006

The attack at Varanasi follows a pattern. Last October witnessed the worst terrorist attack on the Indian capital, New Delhi, when similar serial bomb blasts, including one in a busy market, left 62 dead and over four times the number injured, with more than 30 in a critical condition. The attacks took place at the height of the festival season.

In December, a shootout at the prestigious Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore (considered India's Silicon Valley) killed a well-known Delhi professor and injured several more. The attack hit at India's technological might and economic success.

Again, last July, a fidayeen (suicide) attack on one of the holiest shrines of the Hindus at Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh was thwarted by the security forces. It could have been worse. Had the terrorists managed to damage the shrine at the Ram Janambhoomi (birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the most revered gods) there was the possibility of communal riots being unleashed across the country. [complete article]

See also, High alert after India explosions (BBC).

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Violence rages as 50 abducted in Iraq
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, March 8, 2006

Gunmen stormed the offices of an Iraqi-owned private security company in Baghdad on Wednesday, police reported, forcing some 50 employees into vehicles and driving them away.

The raid on the al-Rawafid company headquarters, in the capital's eastern suburb of Zayouna, is one of the most brazen attacks on the dozens of companies, both foreign and Iraqi, that have that have been targeted in Baghdad since the 2003 US-led invasion.

The news followed the discovery of 18 male bodies - bound and strangled - in a Sunni Arab district of Baghdad on Wednesday. This type of incident has become almost a daily occurrence since the destruction of a Shia shrine which ignited a brutal wave of sectarian violence two weeks ago. [complete article]

See also, Sectarian strife drives Iraqi families from homes (Reuters).

Comment -- Reuters reports:
Some people have left the capital Baghdad, a religiously-mixed city of around seven million, and have moved back to their home provinces where their sect is dominant.

But others find nowhere to turn.

In the past week, some homeless families have streamed to the offices of radical Shi'ite cleric and militia leader Moqtada al-Sadr, and to the Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party, where they can find basic accommodation and food.

Records at Sadr's office in the Shi'ite Shula district of Baghdad document the cases of more than 500 displaced Shi'ite families, mostly from areas near Abu Ghraib, a violent town just west of Baghdad that has been a hotbed of Sunni-led insurgency.

"What we have is only the tip of the iceberg. We take their fingerprints and copies of their documents to take a background check to verify their status," said an official at Sadr's office, who refused to give his name because he said he has received death threats.
And while reports such as these come out each day, Dick Cheney gets applauded at the AIPAC convention when he claims that, "Progress in Iraq has not come easily, but it has been steady." Steady progress!! I can't decide which is the more disturbing conclusion one could draw: that Cheney has no qualms about lying through his teeth, or, that he actually believes what he says?

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Bush administration sending a mixed message on Iraq
By Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder, March 7, 2006

Vice President Dick Cheney said Tuesday that conditions in Iraq were improving steadily, but the American ambassador in Baghdad has said the U.S. invasion opened a "Pandora's box" of ethnic and religious violence that could inflame the entire Middle East.

Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published Tuesday that the "potential is there" for a full-scale civil war in Iraq. Khalilzad, a highly regarded diplomat, warned that a victory by Islamic extremists "would make the Taliban in Afghanistan look like child's play."

The conflicting themes - Cheney emphasizing progress, Khalilzad stressing the difficulties and dangers - highlight the Bush administration's struggle over how to deal with bad news from Iraq. Striking the right balance between optimism and realism could be crucial as Republicans head into the November elections with their control of Congress on the line. [complete article]

See also, Defense secretary suggests misreporting swaying public opinion

Comment -- If the Cheney-Rumsfeld gang really believe what they're saying, how come this doesn't translate into actions? If the situation is really improving in Iraq, how come there's no word on when American troops are going to be pulled out?

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Pentagon seeks to fund new force of conventional-warhead missiles
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, March 8, 2006

The Pentagon, seeking a faster way to thwart threats from hostile states or terrorist groups, is asking Congress for $500 million to create a new force of conventionally armed, long-range missiles capable of striking anywhere in the world within an hour after an order is given, a senior defense official said yesterday.

The initiative would convert 24 Trident missiles armed with nuclear warheads into rockets carrying conventional warheads and begin fielding them by 2008. The missiles would be launched from submarines and could hit targets 5,000 to 6,000 miles away within 10 yards, the official said.

A primary advantage, defense officials say, is that it would offer U.S. leaders a conventional alternative to nuclear weapons in a distant crisis where speed is essential. They acknowledge a major risk is that other nations could conceivably misinterpret a conventional missile attack as a nuclear strike. [complete article]

Comment -- With conventionally-armed missiles ready to strike anywhere on the planet, it's easy to see how a trigger-happy president, freed from the moral burden involved in the use of nuclear weapons, will find it so tempting to shoot first and ask questions later.

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U.S. dials back the volume on 'democracy'
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, March 8, 2006

President Bush has begun to soften his tone on the urgency of democratizing Muslim countries, lately choosing more cautious words that some experts say are a better match with his administration's modest political goals for countries ranging from Morocco to Pakistan.

The change so far is subtle. But the rise to power of Hamas, the radical Islamist group, through US-backed elections in the Palestinian territories and the difficulty of implanting democratic governance in Iraq are prompting Mr. Bush to soft-pedal his pronouncements.

The cautious approach is likely to continue at least until the administration sorts out how to respond to the new realities, experts say - leaving the Middle East peace process and other pressing regional matters hanging in the balance. [complete article]

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Iraq's little armies
By Matt Sherman, New York Times, March 8, 2006

While the violence that followed the bombing of the Golden Mosque at Samarra in Iraq last month has abated, the larger problem it exposed continues: ever since Saddam Hussein fell, armed militias have roamed the country dispensing justice and retribution to other ethnic and religious groups as they see fit. Ideally, not only can the government and its American supporters stop this vigilantism, but they can also channel it into a productive role within the legitimate security services of the fledgling state.

Having spent two years in Baghdad as the American policy adviser to Iraq's Interior Ministry, I have a sense of just how strong these militias really are and just how destabilizing they can be. While there is no official count, in 2004 we held negotiations with what we considered the nine major groups, which in all represented tens of thousands of armed men. [complete article]

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Bodies of 23 men found in Baghdad
By John Ward Anderson and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, March 8, 2006

The bodies of 23 men who had been strangled or shot were found in two locations in Baghdad Wednesday morning, with 18 discovered aboard an abandoned bus in a predominantly Sunni area of the capital, police said. All of the victims on the bus were found with their hands tied by rope, according to an official in the in the Baghdad police operations room who would not be quoted by name. He said 15 of the victims, including the driver of the bus, had been strangled and three had been shot in the back of the head. [complete article]

Delay sought in opening of Iraq assembly
By John Ward Anderson and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, March 8, 2006

Iraq's political parties continued to wrangle over the formation of a new government Tuesday, as the ruling coalition of Shiite religious parties tried to delay the first meeting of parliament, scheduled for Sunday, to have more time to line up support for its nominee for prime minister. [complete article]

Troop drawdown in Iraq a delicate balance
AP (via NYT), March 8, 2006

Gen. John Abizaid and his aides huddled around tables on his personal aircraft to discuss one of America's pressing domestic issues: whether to bring some U.S. troops home from Iraq this summer. Abizaid, commander of the U.S. military's Central Command, was flying to Afghanistan after a two-day visit to Iraq. He is supposed to discuss the potential troop drawdown this week with President Bush and Gen. George Casey, the top commander in Iraq. [complete article]

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Hamas and Kadima's silent accord
By Rami G. Khouri,, March 7, 2006

After a hundred years of the conflict between Zionism and Arabism in Palestine, the Palestinians and the Israelis still do not have a peace agreement—but they seem to have an agreement. The parameters of this unspoken but relatively clear understanding seem to meet the immediate needs of both sides. They were first articulated by Ariel Sharon about a year and a half ago, put in motion by his unilateral withdrawal from Gaza last year, are being consummated by the Hamas victory in Palestine and probably will be capped by a new Israeli government headed by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his Kadima party.

The terms include a faster and neater separation between Israelis and Palestinians, a mutual ceasefire, steadily reversing the Israeli colonization of occupied Palestinian lands and allowing the Palestinians to get on with the business of building their micro-state in Gaza and about half the West Bank.

This silent accord between Israelis and Palestinians will always be relatively fragile, because it is imbalanced and unilaterally imposed. Crucially, it does not resolve the core demands of both sides: recognition, security and end-of-conflict for the Israelis; and liberation, statehood and full refugee rights for the Palestinians. But for both sides, and for a period of time, this flawed and imbalanced understanding seems preferable to their recent low-intensity war. [complete article]

Hamas picks a first-day fight
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, March 7, 2006

In its first working session, the Hamas-controlled Palestinian legislature swiftly asserted its new political clout Monday by nullifying a law approved by the previous parliament that gave new powers to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the rival Fatah movement.

The law was passed on the final day of the lame-duck legislature dominated by Fatah, the secular-nationalist movement that Hamas trounced in the Jan. 25 parliamentary elections. Fatah lawmakers called the Hamas vote to void the law illegal and stormed out of parliament in protest. [complete article]

See also, Palestinians get $42-million grant from World Bank.

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Rumsfeld says Iran interfering in Iraq
By Robert Burns, AP (via SJ Mercury), March 7, 2006

Raising a new complaint about Iran, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Tuesday accused Tehran of dispatching elements of its Revolutionary Guard to stir trouble inside Iraq.

At the same time, he rejected the idea that Iraq has slipped into civil war, asserting that media reports have overstated recent violence there.

Rumsfeld offered few details concerning his allegation of interference by Iran, which fought a nearly decade-long war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the 1980s and shares a largely unguarded border.

"They are currently putting people into Iraq to do things that are harmful to the future of Iraq," he told a Pentagon news conference. "And it is something that they, I think, will look back on as having been an error in judgment."

He did not elaborate except to say the infiltrators were members of the Al Quds Division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, the network of soldiers and vigilantes whose mandate is to defeat threats to the 1979 Islamic revolution. The Al Quds Division is responsible for operations outside Iranian territory. [complete article]

Comment -- The administration continues ratcheting up the rhetoric, yet in the same news conference where Rumsfeld made the allegations reported above, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Peter Pace, when pressed to provide details, said, "The most recent reports have to do with individuals crossing the border into Iraq." When asked whether these individuals were backed by the Iranian government, Pace's response: "I don't know." Not, this is classified information, or, I can't go into further details, but simply, "I don't know."

So, Rumsfeld wants to accuse the media of reporting that has inflamed the situation by exagerating the risk of civil war in Iraq, while he and Pace and Cheney are out making incendiary but unsubstantiated allegations that Iran is sending forces and weapons into Iraq. Who's being irresponsible?

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Iraq's fate could shape region's future
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2006

Iraq skims the brink of civil war and then whirls away, leaving behind a lingering unpredictability that threatens turmoil across a jittery Middle East that has begun modest steps toward democracy after decades of instability.

Although regional fears of being infected by sectarianism and Islamic militancy have loomed since U.S.-led forces deposed Iraqi President Saddam Hussein three years ago, they have become more urgent in recent weeks as rage between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Iraq has led to hundreds of deaths.

For the broader Middle East, this violent spasm underscores how the region's fate is bound to Iraq. A civil war could carve the country along Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish lines and quickly echo through other nations. Shiite-ruled Iran would probably exert more of its growing influence in the region by aiding Iraq's majority Shiite population. Saudi Arabia and Jordan might intervene to help the minority Sunnis. And Turkey, long resistant to a free Kurdish state along its border, could send its army into heavily Kurdish northern Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- In spite of the fact that Iran is widely portrayed as a hub of regional instability, there's good reason to doubt that the Iranians would really like to see Iraq break up and thus reason to doubt that they have any interest in either fomenting civil war or simply watching one unfold. Why? Although the creation of a Shia Iraqi state could be seen as a stepping stone towards a regional consolidation of Shia power with Iran at its center, alongside this a new Kurdish state would very likely come into being - threats of a Turkish intervention notwithstanding. And if Iraq's Kurds have their own state, that would almost certainly fuel discontent among Iran's 6 million-strong Kurdish minority. In spite of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's passion for bellicose rhetoric, the Iranians do actually share with their neighbors an interest in regional stability.

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Envoy to Iraq sees threat of wider war
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2006

The top U.S. envoy to Iraq said Monday that the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime had opened a "Pandora's box" of volatile ethnic and sectarian tensions that could engulf the region in all-out war if America pulled out of the country too soon.

In remarks that were among the frankest and bleakest public assessments of the Iraq situation by a high-level American official, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the "potential is there" for sectarian violence to become full-blown civil war.

For now, Iraq has pulled back from that prospect after the wave of sectarian reprisals that followed the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra, he said. But "if another incident [occurs], Iraq is really vulnerable to it at this time, in my judgment," Khalilzad said in an interview with The Times.

Abandoning Iraq in the way the U.S. disengaged from civil wars in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Somalia could have dramatic global repercussions, he said.

"We have opened the Pandora's box and the question is, what is the way forward?" Khalilzad said. "The way forward, in my view, is an effort to build bridges across [Iraq's] communities."

Khalilzad's central message that the United States cannot immediately pull out of Iraq jibed with Bush administration policy. But he offered a far gloomier picture than assessments made in recent days by U.S. military spokesmen. [complete article]

Comment -- Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is quoted as saying on Sunday that things in Iraq were "going very, very well, from everything you look at." Pace embodies what seems to be one of the most perverse dimensions of military training: the use of obedience to supress reason. Yet if the JCS had no other motive, then simply for the sake of recruitment, you'd think they'd want to avoid sounding delusional.

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As militias arm, civil war threat 'recedes'
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times (IPS), March 8, 2006

The Bush administration deliberately played down the seriousness of the threat of sectarian civil war in Iraq after the mass killings of Sunnis in revenge for the destruction of a revered Shi'ite shrine in Samarra, despite abundant evidence that even worse sectarian violence is certain to follow the next terrorist bombing. [complete article]

Iraqi leadership crisis grows
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 7, 2006

Pushing the legal deadline to the limit, Iraqi President Jalal Talabani Monday declared that Iraq's new parliament will convene for the first time on March 12. But an event that was expected to bring a glimmer of hope - and the formation of a US-backed unity government - is instead being overshadowed by a perfect political storm. While Iraq's leaders are battling over the post of prime minister, sectarian bloodshed has left more than 500 dead over the past two weeks. Party militias are exerting more control over the streets, and Iraqis are fed up with a weak government and collapsing services. [complete article]

Senior Iraqi general killed in ambush
By John Ward Anderson and Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, March 7, 2006

The top commander of the Iraqi army division in Baghdad was killed Monday when his car came under small-arms fire while traveling through the capital, the U.S. military said. Maj. Gen. Mubdar Hatim Hazya al-Dulaimi was one of the highest-ranking members of the new Iraqi army to be killed in insurgent violence. Under his leadership, the 6th Iraqi Army Division has been gradually assuming control of parts of the capital from U.S. forces. [complete article]

U.S. takes steps to reduce Shiite domination in Iraqi military
By Edward Wong, New York Times, March 7, 2006

As the threat of full-scale sectarian strife looms, the American military is scrambling to try to weed out ethnic or religious partisans from the Iraqi security forces. The United States faces the possibility that it has been arming one side in a prospective civil war. Early on, Americans ceded operational control of the police to the Iraqi government. Now, the police forces are overseen at the highest levels by religious Shiite parties with militias, and reports of uniformed death squads have risen sharply in the past year. [complete article]

Iraqi tribes strike back at insurgents
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, March 7, 2006

First they killed the chief of the Naim tribe and his son. Then they killed a top tribal sheik who headed the Fallujah city council. Then they assassinated the leader of the al-Jubur tribe. And now the reported killers of all these men -- al-Qaeda in Iraq, the insurgent group of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- have a powerful new enemy. [complete article]

Majority in U.S. fears Iraq civil war
By Richard Morin, Washington Post, March 7, 2006

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that fighting between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in Iraq will lead to civil war, and half say the United States should begin withdrawing its forces from that violence-torn country, according to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll. The survey found that 80 percent believe that recent sectarian violence makes civil war in Iraq likely, and more than a third say such a conflict is "very likely" to occur. These expectations extend beyond party lines: More than seven in 10 Republicans and eight in 10 Democrats and political independents say they believe such a conflict is coming. [complete article]

Comment -- Repeatedly flash the words "civil war in Iraq" on American TV screens and its hardly surprising that that's what most Americans now expect. The question is, how many Iraqis now think civil war is inevitable?

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Drumbeat sounds familiar
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, March 7, 2006

George Bush's explanation of his volte-face over a proposed Iran-India gas pipeline project appeared slightly disingenuous. "Our beef with Iran is not the pipeline," the US president said on Saturday after withdrawing previous objections and giving the go-ahead to Washington's new friends in Delhi. "Our beef with Iran is the fact that they want to develop a nuclear weapon."

But US fears about Iranian nukes, discussed in Vienna yesterday, are hardly the whole story. Washington is compiling a dossier of grievances against Tehran similar in scope and seriousness to the pre-war charge-sheet against Iraq. Other complaints include Iranian meddling in Iraq, support for Hamas in Palestine and Hizbullah in Lebanon, and human rights abuses.

Mr Bush regularly urges Iranians to seize the "freedom they seek and deserve". In Tehran's ministries, that sounds like a call for regime change. He has ignored past Iranian offers of talks and tightened US economic sanctions.

Official Washington's quickening drumbeat of hostility is beginning to recall political offensives against Libya's Muammar Gadafy, Panama's Manuel Noriega and Saddam Hussein, which all ended in violence. Rightwing American media are urging action, deeming Iran "an intolerable threat" that is the "central crisis of the Bush presidency". [complete article]

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Russia and West split on Iran nuclear issue
By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, March 7, 2006

A serious rift emerged Monday when Russia split with the United States and Europe over Iran's nuclear program after the Russians floated a last-minute proposal to allow Iran to make small quantities of nuclear fuel, according to European officials.

The reports of the proposal prompted Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to call Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and according to an administration official who was briefed on the conversation, "she said the United States cannot support this."

Ms. Rice's call came after Dr. ElBaradei suggested to reporters that the standoff with Iran could be resolved in a week or so, apparently an allusion to the Russian proposal. Washington's strategy is to get past the meeting of the I.A.E.A. that opened Monday and, under a resolution passed by the agency's board in February, have the issue turned over to the United Nations Security Council immediately. But officials clearly fear that the Russian proposal is intended to slow that process. [complete article]

See also, Iranians defend nuclear rights (LAT) and Energy, Iran spur Turkey's revival of nuclear plans (WP).

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Iraq weapons - made in Iran?
By Brain Ross, Richard Esposito, and Jill Rackmill, ABC News, March 6, 2006

U.S. military and intelligence officials tell ABC News that they have caught shipments of deadly new bombs at the Iran-Iraq border.

They are a very nasty piece of business, capable of penetrating U.S. troops' strongest armor.

What the United States says links them to Iran are tell-tale manufacturing signatures -- certain types of machine-shop welds and material indicating they are built by the same bomb factory. [complete article]

Comment -- Of course the Iranians could be shipping roadside bombs into Iraq, but it takes more than spotting manufacturing signatures to reach this conclusion - even if Richard Clarke thinks it's an inescapable conclusion. You have to ask, why? What would they hope to accomplish?

If the insurgency started winding down, coalition troops started withdrawing and a Shia-dominated government started to consolidate power, Iran's influence in Iraq, far from diminishing, would only increase. So why impede a political process that's already working in Iran's favor by shipping bombs into Iraq? (And, for that matter, why arm Sunni insurgents who detest Iranians!?)

On the other hand, the US clearly has a motive for portraying Iran as a belligerent right now. Domestic and international opinion is being primed on the necessity to get tough and put a stop to Iran's nuclear ambitions. Perceptions of the threat that Iran poses will obviously be hardened if there is evidence that they are arming Iraqi insurgents.

ABC "reports" (or to be more precise, regurditates lines straight from the Pentagon):
U.S. intelligence officials say Iran is using the bombs as a way to drive up U.S. casualties in Iraq but without provoking a direct confrontation.

John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, testified before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on Februrary 2, saying, "Tehran's intention to inflict pain on the United States and Iraq has been constrained by its caution to avoid giving Washington an excuse to attack it."
Now there's a tangled thought!

If Negroponte really wanted to be taken at his word, you'd have to say Iran can't be supplying bombs because they don't want to give Washington an excuse to attack. But even though that's what he says, it's clearly not what he means. What he's really saying is: the Iranians are out to get us and if we catch them, they'll have to face the consequences.

"Tehran's intention to inflict pain on the United States" apparently requires no explanation. (I guess everyone's supposed to think that this would necessarily be Tehran's intention because Iran hates the "Great Satan.") But if you start with the premise, Iran's intention to assert itself as a regional power..., it's not altogether clear - at least to me - how in the long run, Iraq's instability would serve Iran's interests. More likely, the Iranians - just like most Iraqis - want to see the Americans go home so that they can get on with their lives (and pursue their regional ambitions).

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A new totalitarianism?
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, March 6, 2006

What could be more invigorating than to place oneself at the vanguard of the resistance to The New Totalitarianism? Not sure what the new totalitarianism is? After having thwarted fascism, Nazism, and Stalinism, the free world is now under threat from Islamism -- at least, that's what Salman Rushdie and fellow signatories of "Together Facing the New Totalitarianism" would have you believe.

Last week, their manifesto was greeted with a flurry of ebullient praise from rightwing bloggers. More attention was given to the facts that this is an anti-Islamist statement and it was published by the Danish newspaper that sparked the cartoon controversy, than to the contents of the manifesto itself. Eschewing analysis of the manifesto or any of the assumptions upon which it rests, Michelle Malkin appealed to sympathizers to "spread the word far and wide," while GOP Bloggers solemnly declared, "These people need our support and that of the West, which should stop appeasing and excusing the radicals."

But what does the manifesto advocate?

Echoing a neoconservative view of history that segments the last century into four "world wars" (First, Second, Cold and currently "Long"), the "new totalitarianism" of Islamism is presented as a global threat: a struggle between democracy and theocracy.
We, writers, journalists, intellectuals, call for resistance to religious totalitarianism and for the promotion of freedom, equal opportunity and secular values for all.

Recent events, prompted by the publication of drawings of Muhammad in European newspapers, have revealed the necessity of the struggle for these universal values.

This struggle will not be won by arms, but in the ideological field.
The myth-making appeal of casting global events in terms of contesting ideologies is clear, but does Islamism actually have the coherence that truly makes it a phenomenon (let alone a global threat), or is this simply a catchall phrase that allows somewhat disparate phenomena to get bundled together?

As Islamists, are Turkey's democratically-elected prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and the Jordanian terrorist, Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, really cut from the same cloth?

If the new Hamas government responds to international pressure and makes some conciliatory gestures towards the Israelis, will its pragmatism call into question the Western image of Islamism, or will Hamas' Islamism be the reason that its apparent pragmatism is mistrusted?

Now that the Muslim Brotherhood is represented in the Egyptian parliament, is this an important democratic development in Islamism, or is it a threat to Egypt's tentative democratic gestures?

As elections across the Middle East have repeatedly brought success to populist Islamist parties, is Western disdain for this newly exercised power justifiable, or is it akin to Henry Kissinger's view of Chile when Salvador Allende was democratically elected: "It's people are irresponsible"?

Anyone who cares to consider the opinion of an internationally recognized expert on Islamism, might ponder these words from Olivier Roy, author of Globalized Islam:
"...the principal obstacle to democracy is not Islamists per se, but the Muslim world's more or less secular authoritarian states, supported by the West."
Where, then, are the real friends of democracy?

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Israeli Arabs reflect on Hamas win
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, March 5, 2006

Ibrahim Sarsur, the former mayor of this Arab city with a view of Tel Aviv's skyline, stepped onto the plywood platform soon after the evening call to prayer. Over his shoulder, a green banner warned, "Voting for the Zionist parties is supporting those who spilled our blood, robbed our land and violated our holy places."

"If you give your vote to them, a Jew will enter and an Arab will not," Sarsur shouted to the hundreds of men filling rows of white plastic chairs in a smoke-filled community center. "Islam has opened our hearts -- this is our message.

"Why do you have to vote?" he asked, then answered his question: "For this program that connects this life with the next life."

With national elections less than a month away, parties that represent Israel's Arab population are struggling to maintain their small foothold in the Israeli parliament. As the parties grapple with new legal barriers, fresh competition and a frustrated constituency, at least one coalition is drawing a lesson from Hamas's recent victory in the Palestinian territories: The solution is Islam. [complete article]

Hamas rejects support of al-Zawahri
By Tanalee Smith, AP (via The State), March 5, 2006

Hamas officials shrugged off the support offered by al-Qaida's No. 2 leader, saying Sunday the Palestinian militant group has a different ideology than the terror network and won election through a moderate approach to Islam.

In a video aired Saturday by Al-Jazeera, Ayman al-Zawahri called for jihad, or holy war, to reclaim Palestinian lands and implied al-Qaida's support for Hamas' refusal to recognize Israel despite international pressure since the militant Islamic group swept parliamentary elections in January.

A Hamas official in Gaza, speaking on condition of anonymity because the movement did not want to formally respond to al-Zawahri's support, said: "Hamas believes that Islam is completely different to the ideology of Mr. al-Zawahri."

"Our battle is against the Israeli occupation and our only concern is to restore our rights and serve our people. We have no links with any group or element outside Palestine," the official said. [complete article]

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Thousands held without trial in Iraq, says Amnesty
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, March 6, 2006

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have been detained for months if not years without trial by US-led multinational forces since the 2003 invasion, Amnesty International said in a report today.

The London-based rights group called for an end to the indefinite internment of thousands of detainees in Iraq by the multinational forces, as it launched a report titled "Beyond Abu Ghraib: Detention and Torture in Iraq".

Approximately 14,000 prisoners were being held without charge in breach of international law, the organisation said, while others had been released "without explanation or apology or reparation after months of detention, victims of a system that is arbitrary and a recipe for abuse." [complete article]

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"I believe that after 9/11 America became very aggressive and that's probably the only reason I'm here." A prisoner in Guantanamo

Voices baffled, brash and irate in Guantanamo
By Tim Golden, New York Times, March 6, 2006

Among the hundreds of men imprisoned by the American military at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, there are those who brashly assert their determination to wage war against what they see as the infidel empire led by the United States.

"May God help me fight the unfaithful ones," one Saudi detainee, Ghassan Abdallah Ghazi al-Shirbi, said at a military hearing where he was accused of being a lieutenant of Al Qaeda.

But there are many more, it seems, who sound like Abdur Sayed Rahman, a self-described Pakistani villager who says he was arrested at his modest home in January 2002, flown off to Afghanistan and later accused of being the deputy foreign minister of that country's deposed Taliban regime.

"I am only a chicken farmer in Pakistan," he protested to American military officers at Guantánamo. "My name is Abdur Sayed Rahman. Abdur Zahid Rahman was the deputy foreign minister of the Taliban." [complete article]

U.S. cast wide net in terror war
AP (via, March 6, 2006

New documents on the Guantanamo detainees suggest the Bush administration has cast a wide net in its war on terror. But the U.S. has often come up empty as American troops picked up suspects with descriptions as varied as a Kazakh apple seller and a Pakistani millionaire.

Evidence against the apple seller, for example, showed he had been captured by the Taliban and forced to work as a cook.

In fact, the man told his U.S. military tribunal, he was only a cook's helper, and had never heard of al-Qaida or the Taliban until he was kidnapped and conscripted by Afghanistan's former hardline Islamic regime.

"I never had a weapon. I never carried a weapon with me and I've never been in any kind of armed fight," he said in one of hundreds of military hearings held to determine whether detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay are being properly held without charges as "enemy combatants."
The apple seller's fate is unknown. His name apparently was not mentioned in his hearing, and so does not appear in the unredacted transcripts that have revealed many other detainee names for the first time. But he had a theory about why he was being held.

"I always knew America as a democratic country and always heard positive things about America," he told the tribunal. "I believe that after 9/11 America became very aggressive and that's probably the only reason I'm here." [complete article]

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Expert on Iraq: 'We're in a civil war'
By Jake Tapper, ABC News, March 5, 2006

"We're in a civil war now; it's just that not everybody's joined in," said retired Army Maj. Gen. William L. Nash, a former military commander in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "The failure to understand that the civil war is already taking place, just not necessarily at the maximum level, means that our counter measures are inadequate and therefore dangerous to our long-term interest.

"It's our failure to understand reality that has caused us to be late throughout this experience of the last three years in Iraq," added Nash, who is an ABC News consultant. [complete article]

Gunmen attack 3 mosques in Iraq
By John Ward Anderson and Saad Sarhan, Washington Post, March 6, 2006

Unidentified gunmen attacked at least three mosques in Iraq over the weekend, killing four people and prolonging a nearly two-week spate of sectarian violence that has deepened animosity between the country's Shiite and Sunni Muslims. [complete article]

U.S. military in Iraq denies troop withdrawal plan
Reuters (via Yahoo), March 5, 2006

Media reports that America and Britain plan to pull all their troops out of Iraq by the spring of 2007 are "completely false," the U.S. military in Iraq said on Sunday, reiterating there is no timetable for withdrawal. [complete article]

Iraqi insurgents have frustrated U.S. forces using tactics traced to Lawrence of Arabia
By Mohamad Bazzi, Newsday, March 5, 2006

When insurgents in Iraq use IEDs to attack armored vehicles and disrupt U.S. supply lines, they are taking a page from the less-advanced tactics of T.E. Lawrence, the British adventurer who pioneered guerrilla warfare during the 1916-18 Arab revolt against Turkish rule. His main lesson for insurgents: If you're facing a bigger and better-armed adversary, don't engage him directly. [complete article]

Iraq's crisis of scarred psyches
By Jonathan Finer and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, March 6, 2006

More than 25 years after Saddam Hussein's rise to power ushered in a period of virtually uninterrupted trauma -- three wars, crippling economic sanctions and now a violent insurgency -- the psychological damage to many Iraqis is only now being assessed, psychiatrists and government officials here say. [complete article]

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As crisis brews, Iran hits bumps in atomic path
By William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, New York Times, March 5, 2006

When Iran defiantly cut the locks and seals on its nuclear enrichment plants in January and restarted its effort to manufacture atomic fuel, it forced the world to confront a momentous question: How long will it be before Tehran has the ability to produce a bomb that would alter the balance of power in the Middle East?

Iran's claims that it is racing forward with enrichment have created an air of crisis as the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency prepares to meet tomorrow in Vienna before the United Nations Security Council takes up the Iran file for possible penalties.

Yet behind the sense of immediate alarm lies a more complex picture of Iran's nuclear potential. Interviews with many of the world's leading nuclear analysts and a review of technical assessments show that Iran continues to wrestle with serious problems that have slowed its nuclear ambitions for more than two decades. [complete article]

Bolton warns Iran of 'painful consequences'
Reuters (via MSNBC), March 5, 2006

Iran faces "tangible and painful consequences" if it continues its nuclear activities and the United States will use "all tools at our disposal" to stop this threat, a senior U.S. official said Sunday, ahead of a crucial international meeting on Iran. [complete article]

U.S. envoy hints at strike to stop Iran
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, March 6, 2006

The US ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has told British MPs that military action could bring Iran's nuclear programme to a halt if all diplomatic efforts fail. The warning came ahead of a meeting today of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which will forward a report on Iran's nuclear activities to the UN security council. [complete article]

Iran renews threat to withhold oil
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, March 6, 2006

Iran's chief negotiator renewed a threat to interrupt petroleum exports if the IAEA board of governors followed through on its vote last month to report Iran to the Security Council pending a last stab at a diplomatic solution. Iran is the second-largest producer in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. [complete article]

See also, U.S. warns Iran of consequences of nuclear ambitions (Reuters) and How we duped the West, by Iran's nuclear negotiator (The Sunday Telegraph).

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We are (aren't) safer with India in the nuclear club
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, March 5, 2006

Has President Bush just made the world a safer or a more dangerous place?

That question lingered after he reached a deal with India last week recognizing that India is never giving up its nuclear weapons, and declaring that a country America once treated as a nuclear pariah could now be trusted.

In doing so, Mr. Bush took a step in his efforts to rewrite the world's longstanding rules that for more than 30 years have forbidden providing nuclear technology to countries that do not sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"I'm trying to think differently," Mr. Bush said in New Delhi, referring to the administration's argument that a new system is needed. But in treating India as a special case — a "strategic relationship" -- he has so far declined to define general rules for everyone.

In essence, Mr. Bush is making a huge gamble -- critics say a dangerous one -- that the United States can control proliferation by single-handedly rewarding nuclear states it considers "responsible," and punishing those it declares irresponsible. For those keeping a scorecard, India is in the first camp, Iran is in the second, and no one in the administration wants to talk, at least on the record, about Israel or Pakistan -- two allies that have embraced the bomb, but not the treaty. [complete article]

See also, Misfiring at the India nuclear deal (Seema Gahlaut).

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Pakistani forces take back town from tribesmen
By John Lancaster, Washington Post, March 6, 2006

Backed by helicopters and artillery, security forces regained control of a major town near Afghanistan on Sunday after a fierce overnight battle with local tribesmen, authorities said. But sporadic fighting continued, underscoring the challenge that confronts the government four years after its army began operations to secure the remote region.

The government's assertion of progress came a day after hundreds of armed tribesmen seized government buildings in the town of Miran Shah, forcibly shut down the main bazaar and opened fire on an army fort, Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, the chief military spokesman, said at a news conference Sunday afternoon.

The local insurrection began on the day President Bush met in Islamabad with Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's president, on a visit aimed partly at ensuring Pakistan's cooperation in the war on terrorism. The tribesmen were retaliating for an army assault on a militant training camp in the area earlier in the week. [complete article]

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Bush: no nuclear pact for Pakistan
By Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2006

President Bush praised Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf on Saturday as a "strong friend and ally" but said in no uncertain terms that his host's government would not receive the kind of landmark nuclear cooperation deal the U.S. struck last week with India, Pakistan's longtime rival.

Bush's comments, coming in a joint appearance designed to showcase U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in the fight against Al Qaeda, illustrated the international ripple effect of the U.S. decision to reverse decades of policy and permit sales of nuclear technology and fuels to India even though it has not signed the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. [complete article]

See also, Bush divides his allies in the war against terror (The Independent) and Pakistan clashes with militants near Afghan border, killing dozens (AP).

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Iraq's besieged Sunnis now looking to U.S.
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, March 5, 2006

Two years ago, doctor Riyadh Adhadh cursed the U.S. soldiers who had overrun his homeland, toppled the Sunni-dominated government and tormented prisoners at Abu Ghraib. A member of the city council, he loudly demanded that American troops leave Baghdad.

Last week, his Sunni Arab neighborhood under attack by Shiite militiamen, Adhadh found himself huddled over the telephone in panic, begging the U.S. Embassy to send American soldiers.

The moment of bitter irony for the 52-year-old father of six is emblematic of a sharp shift in Iraqi opinion. Three years after the March 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein, with the threat of civil war looming, leaders of a nervous Sunni Arab minority have started to drop demands for an immediate U.S. withdrawal. [complete article]

Iraqi voices grow for Jafari ouster
By John Ward Anderson and Omar Fekeiki, Washington Post, March 5, 2006

The president of Iraq and the country's leading coalition of Sunni Arab parties added their voices Saturday to a growing chorus of top politicians and political parties urging the ruling alliance of Shiite parties to reconsider its nominee for prime minister in favor of someone who would attract broader support. [complete article]

U.S. commander meets with Iraqi leaders on impasse over premier
By John F. Burns, New York Times, March 5, 2006

The top American military commander in the Middle East met in Baghdad on Saturday with senior Iraqi politicians, and appeared to press American demands for a quick resolution of the dispute over the post of prime minister in the new government.
Another priority for General Abizaid appeared to have been the need for strong action to curb political militias, a demand that gained fresh urgency amid sectarian violence that followed the bombing last month of a Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, and Shiite reprisal attacks on at least 30 Sunni mosques.

American commanders say that many Shiite reprisals were carried out by the Mahdi Army, a militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, a volatile Shiite cleric, and that in some places, including Baghdad, units of the American-trained Iraqi Army stood aside, clearing the way for the militia fighters to carry out the attacks.

Mr. Talabani's security adviser, Wafiq al-Samarraie, said after the meeting with General Abizaid that Mr. Talabani had agreed on the need for militia groups to lay down their arms. For Kurdish leaders like Mr. Talabani, who control much of northern Iraq through militia groups known as the pesh merga, the step would be a major concession.

But Mr. Samarraie said Mr. Talabani's position was unequivocal. "It is a clear and open call for the brothers who carry weapons," he said.

At a separate news conference, Bayan Jabr, the interior minister, who has been accused by Sunnis of allowing Shiite death squads to operate within police ranks, said he had sent a letter to all militia groups asking them to disband, as required by the new Iraqi Constitution. [complete article]

Comment -- So, the disbanding of militias now depends on the reliability of the Iraqi postal service?!

Violence prevents formation of Iraq government
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP (via Yahoo), March 5, 2006

Early Sunday, police reported commandos from the Interior Ministry stormed a Sunni mosque in west Baghdad, killing three people and injuring seven in a 25 minute gunbattle. Later, two relatives of an influential Sunni leader were killed in a drive-by shooting in another part of west Baghdad. [complete article]

All British soldiers to be out of Iraq in 12 months
By Sean Rayment, The Sunday Telegraph, March 5, 2006

All British and United States troops serving in Iraq will be withdrawn within a year in an effort to bring peace and stability to the country.

The news came as defence chiefs admitted privately that the British troop commitment in Afghanistan may last for up to 10 years.

The planned pull-out from Iraq follows the acceptance by London and Washington that the presence of the coalition, mainly composed of British and US troops, is now seen as the main obstacle to peace.

According to a senior defence source directly involved in planning the withdrawal, Britain is the driving force behind the scheme. The early spring of next year has been identified as the optimum time for the start of the complex and dangerous operation.

The source explained that troop numbers were expected to decrease slightly over the next 12 months but that the bulk of British and American forces, who make up 138,000 of the coalition's 153,000 troops, would be withdrawn simultaneously.
[complete article]

Comment -- A lot can happen in a year.

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Separating fact from fantasy
By Fareed Zacharia, Newsweek, March 13, 2006

Watching what's happening in Iraq right now, with Shias and Sunnis polarized, hostile and increasingly violent, it is easy to conclude that this is all a product of ancient hatreds and that Iraq will inevitably descend into a bloody civil war. In fact, for a society with many different communities in it, Iraq has had a strikingly peaceful, even harmonious history -- unlike India or Nigeria or the Balkans. Current events are the product of recent forces, some set in motion by Saddam Hussein, others by the American occupation. Perhaps they can be reversed even at this stage, but it will take a more full-scale and aggressive reversal of American policy.

The administration's first, massive misstep was to occupy a country of 25 million people with only 140,000 troops. [complete article]

Comment -- Wrong! That was the administration's second massive misstep. The administration's first, massive misstep was to occupy a country of 25 million people.

In looking at the U.S.'s policy of "Iraqification", Zakaria cites Stephen Biddle's "powerful and persuasive critique" of the policy in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. While Biddle's conclusions are questionable, his analysis is well worth reading.

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White House trains efforts on media leaks
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, March 5, 2006

The Bush administration, seeking to limit leaks of classified information, has launched initiatives targeting journalists and their possible government sources. The efforts include several FBI probes, a polygraph investigation inside the CIA and a warning from the Justice Department that reporters could be prosecuted under espionage laws.

In recent weeks, dozens of employees at the CIA, the National Security Agency and other intelligence agencies have been interviewed by agents from the FBI's Washington field office, who are investigating possible leaks that led to reports about secret CIA prisons and the NSA's warrantless domestic surveillance program, according to law enforcement and intelligence officials familiar with the two cases. [complete article]

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AIPAC roiled by prosecution of two ex-officials
By Scott Shane and David Johnston, New York Times, March 5, 2006

The annual gathering of [AIPAC] the nation's top pro-Israel lobbying group, which starts here on Sunday, will be addressed by Vice President Dick Cheney and United Nations Ambassador John R. Bolton. Politicians are lined up to warn of the threat from Iran and Hamas. Workshops will offer advice on winning the legislative game on Capitol Hill.

But the official program omits a topic likely to be a major theme of corridor chatter: the explosive Justice Department prosecution of two former officials of the group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, that is ticking toward an April trial date.

The highly unusual indictment of the former officials, Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, accuses them of receiving classified information about terrorism and Middle East strategy from a Defense Department analyst, Lawrence A. Franklin, and passing it on to a journalist and an Israeli diplomat. Mr. Franklin pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 12½ years in prison, though his sentence could be reduced based on his cooperation in the case. [complete article]

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A fate worse than Guantanamo?
By Eric Umansky, Washington Post, March 5, 2006

Walid al-Qadasi should have been thrilled he was finally leaving Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Al-Qadasi, a Yemeni man in his mid-twenties, had been held at the prison there about two years. He was first arrested in late 2001 by Iranian authorities who, al-Qadasi later recalled, "sold" him to U.S.-allied Afghan forces for a bounty. With little evidence against him -- and no tribunal having established his guilt or innocence -- al-Qadasi was sent home from Guantanamo in April 2004.

In an affidavit taken by the Center for Constitutional Rights, which leads a team of attorneys representing Guantanamo detainees, al-Qadasi says that he remembers almost nothing of the unexpected move. He recalls being given an injection at Guantanamo and then simply waking up in another cell in what turned out to be Yemen. (Other detainees have also spoken of being drugged during transfers.) Once in Yemen, al-Qadasi said, he was "routinely beaten" by guards. Yemeni officials insist al-Qadasi is being held at the request of the United States, an assertion the Pentagon denies. Whatever the case, al-Qadasi has now been sitting in that jail for two years without a lawyer or prospects for a trial. [complete article]

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Iran's Khatami says Islam is the enemy West needs
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, March 5, 2006

Former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami, whose foreign policy was defined by a quest for what he called a "dialogue between civilizations," warned Saturday that tensions between the Islamic world and the West are taking the shape of a new Cold War.

Khatami, speaking at a government conference promoting interfaith dialogue, said the West was largely responsible. Islam was being cast as the "enemy of humanity" by governments reverting to the polarized worldview that divided the planet for 50 years after World War II, he said.

The West "needs an enemy, and this time it is Islam," Khatami said. "And Islamophobia becomes a part of all policies of the great powers, of hegemonic powers.

"We are not very far from the era of the Cold War that inflicted a lot of damage on the world." [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

Ethnic hatred in Iraq has become entrenched, political solutions elusive
By Tom Lasseter and Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, March 3, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

Islamist democracy beats American democracy
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, February 25, 2006

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

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

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

Bin Laden is welcome in Pakistan
By Ahmed Rashid, Washington Post, February 25, 2006

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

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

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

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