The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     

Predictions of a better Middle East have evaporated three years after invasion
By Warren P. Strobel and Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, March 16, 2006

Cost of Iraq war could surpass $1 trillion
By Martin Wolk, MSNBC, March 17, 2006

Three years on: Survey shows misinformation on Iraq endures
E&P, March 17, 2006

Global protests mark Iraq war anniversary
AP (via NYT), March 18, 2006

U.S., Iran closer to talks on Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer and William Branigin, Washington Post, March 18, 2006

Why the U.S. and Iran will talk
By Tony Karon,, March 17, 2006

Iran talks offer a 'ploy'
AFP, March 18, 2006

Iran, U.S. disagree over goal of talks
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2006

Sunni Leaders say U.S.-Iran talks amount to meddling
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, March 18, 2006

Oil groups shun Iran over fears of embargo
By Thomas Catan and Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, March 17, 2006

Iranian dissident freed from jail
BBC News, March 18, 2006

Pentagon hired contractor to advise on collecting information on churches, mosques, other U.S. sites
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, March 17, 2006

Wisconsin voters prepare to weigh in on the war in Iraq
By Peter Slevin, Washington Post, March 18, 2006

How Operation Swarmer fizzled
By Brian Bennett and Al Jallam,, March 17, 2006

Ringleader of Samarra mosque bombing in custody, Iraqi officials say
By John Johnson Jr., Los Angeles Times, March 18, 2006

Cited as symbol of Abu Ghraib, man admits he is not in photo
By Kate Zernike, New York Times, March 18, 2006

A wall that enlarges Israel and embitters its victims
By Sharmila Devi, Financial Times, March 17, 2006

Palestinians may sue Britain over storming of Jericho jail
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, March 18, 2006

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[Editor's note - One of the most remarkable features of political discourse in the United States is that US-Israeli relations, as a subject for debate or investigation, is to all intents and purposes off-limits. To raise the issue is to immediately expose oneself to accusations of anti-Semitism. Two of America's leading political scientists have now broken this taboo.

In a dispassionate and thorough exposition, John Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, Professor of International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, pull the veil back on the "Israel Lobby", its influence on Washington and its effect on Middle East politics. From a very long article - its 24 pages are well worth printing out - I have posted an extended passage that describes the make-up of the Lobby and its operation in Congress. Beneath this passage is the beginning of an article from
The Forward reporting one of the most recent examples of the Lobby's unparalleled influence.

Scroll down for the rest of today's news items.

The Israel Lobby
By John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, London Review of Books, March 23, 2006

For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread 'democracy' throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history. Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.

Instead, the thrust of US policy in the region derives almost entirely from domestic politics, and especially the activities of the 'Israel Lobby'. Other special-interest groups have managed to skew foreign policy, but no lobby has managed to divert it as far from what the national interest would suggest, while simultaneously convincing Americans that US interests and those of the other country - in this case, Israel - are essentially identical.
... if neither strategic nor moral arguments can account for America's support for Israel [as the authors of this article clearly argue in the preceeding pages], how are we to explain it?

The explanation is the unmatched power of the Israel Lobby. We use 'the Lobby' as shorthand for the loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer US foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction. This is not meant to suggest that 'the Lobby' is a unified movement with a central leadership, or that individuals within it do not disagree on certain issues. Not all Jewish Americans are part of the Lobby, because Israel is not a salient issue for many of them. In a 2004 survey, for example, roughly 36 per cent of American Jews said they were either 'not very' or 'not at all' emotionally attached to Israel.

Jewish Americans also differ on specific Israeli policies. Many of the key organisations in the Lobby, such as the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations, are run by hardliners who generally support the Likud Party's expansionist policies, including its hostility to the Oslo peace process. The bulk of US Jewry, meanwhile, is more inclined to make concessions to the Palestinians, and a few groups – such as Jewish Voice for Peace – strongly advocate such steps. Despite these differences, moderates and hardliners both favour giving steadfast support to Israel.

Not surprisingly, American Jewish leaders often consult Israeli officials, to make sure that their actions advance Israeli goals. As one activist from a major Jewish organisation wrote, 'it is routine for us to say: "This is our policy on a certain issue, but we must check what the Israelis think." We as a community do it all the time.' There is a strong prejudice against criticising Israeli policy, and putting pressure on Israel is considered out of order. Edgar Bronfman Sr, the president of the World Jewish Congress, was accused of 'perfidy' when he wrote a letter to President Bush in mid-2003 urging him to persuade Israel to curb construction of its controversial 'security fence'. His critics said that 'it would be obscene at any time for the president of the World Jewish Congress to lobby the president of the United States to resist policies being promoted by the government of Israel.'

Similarly, when the president of the Israel Policy Forum, Seymour Reich, advised Condoleezza Rice in November 2005 to ask Israel to reopen a critical border crossing in the Gaza Strip, his action was denounced as 'irresponsible': 'There is,' his critics said, 'absolutely no room in the Jewish mainstream for actively canvassing against the security-related policies ... of Israel.' Recoiling from these attacks, Reich announced that 'the word "pressure" is not in my vocabulary when it comes to Israel.'

Jewish Americans have set up an impressive array of organisations to influence American foreign policy, of which AIPAC is the most powerful and best known. In 1997, Fortune magazine asked members of Congress and their staffs to list the most powerful lobbies in Washington. AIPAC was ranked second behind the American Association of Retired People, but ahead of the AFL-CIO and the National Rifle Association. A National Journal study in March 2005 reached a similar conclusion, placing AIPAC in second place (tied with AARP) in the Washington 'muscle rankings'.

The Lobby also includes prominent Christian evangelicals like Gary Bauer, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed and Pat Robertson, as well as Dick Armey and Tom DeLay, former majority leaders in the House of Representatives, all of whom believe Israel's rebirth is the fulfilment of biblical prophecy and support its expansionist agenda; to do otherwise, they believe, would be contrary to God's will. Neo-conservative gentiles such as John Bolton; Robert Bartley, the former Wall Street Journal editor; William Bennett, the former secretary of education; Jeane Kirkpatrick, the former UN ambassador; and the influential columnist George Will are also steadfast supporters.

The US form of government offers activists many ways of influencing the policy process. Interest groups can lobby elected representatives and members of the executive branch, make campaign contributions, vote in elections, try to mould public opinion etc. They enjoy a disproportionate amount of influence when they are committed to an issue to which the bulk of the population is indifferent. Policymakers will tend to accommodate those who care about the issue, even if their numbers are small, confident that the rest of the population will not penalise them for doing so.

In its basic operations, the Israel Lobby is no different from the farm lobby, steel or textile workers' unions, or other ethnic lobbies. There is nothing improper about American Jews and their Christian allies attempting to sway US policy: the Lobby's activities are not a conspiracy of the sort depicted in tracts like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. For the most part, the individuals and groups that comprise it are only doing what other special interest groups do, but doing it very much better. By contrast, pro-Arab interest groups, in so far as they exist at all, are weak, which makes the Israel Lobby's task even easier.

The Lobby pursues two broad strategies. First, it wields its significant influence in Washington, pressuring both Congress and the executive branch. Whatever an individual lawmaker or policymaker's own views may be, the Lobby tries to make supporting Israel the 'smart' choice. Second, it strives to ensure that public discourse portrays Israel in a positive light, by repeating myths about its founding and by promoting its point of view in policy debates. The goal is to prevent critical comments from getting a fair hearing in the political arena. Controlling the debate is essential to guaranteeing US support, because a candid discussion of US-Israeli relations might lead Americans to favour a different policy.

A key pillar of the Lobby's effectiveness is its influence in Congress, where Israel is virtually immune from criticism. This in itself is remarkable, because Congress rarely shies away from contentious issues. Where Israel is concerned, however, potential critics fall silent. One reason is that some key members are Christian Zionists like Dick Armey, who said in September 2002: 'My No. 1 priority in foreign policy is to protect Israel.' One might think that the No. 1 priority for any congressman would be to protect America. There are also Jewish senators and congressmen who work to ensure that US foreign policy supports Israel's interests.

Another source of the Lobby's power is its use of pro-Israel congressional staffers. As Morris Amitay, a former head of AIPAC, once admitted, 'there are a lot of guys at the working level up here' - on Capitol Hill - 'who happen to be Jewish, who are willing ... to look at certain issues in terms of their Jewishness ... These are all guys who are in a position to make the decision in these areas for those senators ... You can get an awful lot done just at the staff level.'

AIPAC itself, however, forms the core of the Lobby's influence in Congress. Its success is due to its ability to reward legislators and congressional candidates who support its agenda, and to punish those who challenge it. Money is critical to US elections (as the scandal over the lobbyist Jack Abramoff's shady dealings reminds us), and AIPAC makes sure that its friends get strong financial support from the many pro-Israel political action committees. Anyone who is seen as hostile to Israel can be sure that AIPAC will direct campaign contributions to his or her political opponents. AIPAC also organises letter-writing campaigns and encourages newspaper editors to endorse pro-Israel candidates.

There is no doubt about the efficacy of these tactics. Here is one example: in the 1984 elections, AIPAC helped defeat Senator Charles Percy from Illinois, who, according to a prominent Lobby figure, had 'displayed insensitivity and even hostility to our concerns'. Thomas Dine, the head of AIPAC at the time, explained what happened: 'All the Jews in America, from coast to coast, gathered to oust Percy. And the American politicians - those who hold public positions now, and those who aspire - got the message.'

AIPAC's influence on Capitol Hill goes even further. According to Douglas Bloomfield, a former AIPAC staff member, 'it is common for members of Congress and their staffs to turn to AIPAC first when they need information, before calling the Library of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, committee staff or administration experts.' More important, he notes that AIPAC is 'often called on to draft speeches, work on legislation, advise on tactics, perform research, collect co-sponsors and marshal votes'.

The bottom line is that AIPAC, a de facto agent for a foreign government, has a stranglehold on Congress, with the result that US policy towards Israel is not debated there, even though that policy has important consequences for the entire world. In other words, one of the three main branches of the government is firmly committed to supporting Israel. As one former Democratic senator, Ernest Hollings, noted on leaving office, 'you can't have an Israeli policy other than what AIPAC gives you around here.' Or as Ariel Sharon once told an American audience, 'when people ask me how they can help Israel, I tell them: "Help AIPAC."' [complete article]

A PDF version of this paper with complete footnotes (an additional 40 pages!) can be downloaded here. (Right click on the Adobe icon and select "save as...")

Pro-Israel activists block travel reform
By Ori Nir, The Forward, March 17, 2006

Jewish organizations played a leading role in defeating the effort, launched in response to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, to ban privately funded trips for members of Congress.

Advocates of lobbying reform and many members of Congress stepped up their push for a ban on travel paid for by private individuals and organizations after Abramoff — who organized junkets for many lawmakers — pleaded guilty in January to fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy. With lawmakers fearing a public backlash over the Abramoff scandal, many members of Congress on both sides of the aisle were lining up behind legislation that would outlaw privately funded trips and place severe restrictions on gifts and meals from lobbyists.

But then Jewish organizations, in the lead of a loose coalition of nonprofit groups, moved to block the reforms on travel, arguing that one of their most effective lobbying tools has been privately sponsored trips to Israel for lawmakers. Israel is the number one foreign destination of privately funded congressional trips, and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Washington's powerful pro-Israel lobby, is the second largest underwriter of such overseas travel. [complete article]

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Iran agrees to talk with U.S. about Iraq
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, March 17, 2006

A senior Iranian official said Thursday that Iran would enter into direct talks with the United States about Iraq, opening the way for the two countries to hold their first face-to-face discussion about Iran's western neighbor since shortly after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

"In the days to come we are going to designate people who are going to carry out these talks," Ali Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said in an interview. "The important thing for us is an established government in Iraq and that security is restored."

The White House welcomed the Iranian participation, which was solicited by the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, and urged by Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, a Shiite leader in Iraq with close ties to Tehran. [complete article]

Comment -- The spirit of this newfound openness to dialogue is clearly expressed in this passage in the New York Times' report:
Mr. Hadley appeared to try to dampen expectations that the talks would produce any breakthroughs, saying: "We're talking to Iran all the time: We make statements; they make statements."

So far, most of those statements have amounted to a public exchange of accusations and vague threats, from Iran's periodic claim that it would consider an oil cutoff if the Security Council censured it, to the Bush administration's warning, in a revised national security strategy released on Thursday, that diplomacy "must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided."

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Day two of U.S.-led Iraq offensive
BBC News, March 17, 2006

A major military operation targeting insurgents and foreign fighters in northern Iraq is continuing into a second day, the US military says. US and Iraqi troops surrounded a group of villages and are carrying out raids, but a security official said insurgent leaders had left before they arrived.

The operation near the town of Samarra is not as huge as has been suggested, correspondents say. Local people say there has been little if any combat. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi politician: 'US raid untimely' (Aljazeera).

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Al-Zarqawi gains ground
By Henry Schuster, CNN, March 16, 2006

Iraq is on a knife-edge, bleeding and possibly headed to civil war, if not already there.

And Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is tightening his grip on the handle of that knife, according to those close to the situation.

In the past, the U.S. military talked of al-Zarqawi and the rest of the foreign fighters in Iraq as separate from local insurgents, though linked by common goals and common enemies.

That seems to have changed, even as the U.S. negotiates with Sunni politicians, and in some cases, those linked to the insurgents.

Al-Zarqawi and his al Qaeda in Iraq followers are certainly not the only ones pushing Iraq into chaos. But the bloodbath since the bombing of a Shiite Muslim mosque in Samarra has made his position stronger among Iraq's Sunni Muslim minority who were favored by Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

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Kurds destroy monument in rage at leadership
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, March 17, 2006

For nearly two decades, Kurds have gathered peacefully in this mountainous corner of northern Iraq to commemorate one of the blackest days in their history. It was here that Saddam Hussein's government launched a poison gas attack that killed more than 5,000 people on March 16, 1988.

So it came as a shock when hundreds of stone-throwing protesters took to the streets here Thursday on the anniversary, beating back government guards to storm and destroy a museum dedicated to the memory of the Halabja attack.

The violence, pitting furious local residents against a much smaller force of armed security men, was the most serious popular challenge to the political parties that have ruled Iraqi Kurdistan for the past 15 years. Occurring on the day the new Iraqi Parliament met for the first time, the episode was a reminder that the issues facing Iraq go well beyond fighting Sunni Arab insurgents and agreeing on cabinet ministers in Baghdad. [complete article]

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Was it worth it? An Iraqi family debates
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 17, 2006

Crammed into the same ramshackle apartment in which they fearfully waited out the US invasion of Iraq three years ago, the Methboub family is asked to list the good points of the US presence.

But an argument erupts in their small living room, like a bomb in a crowded marketplace.

"They never do anything good, they close the roads, they kill the Iraqi people," spits out 19-year-old daughter Fatima, clicking her tongue "no" repeatedly. "They own Saddam's palaces, but they are worse than Saddam Hussein. They hurt the Iraqi people."

"I object," says Amal, 16, trying to insert her more nuanced argument between Fatima's strident declarations. "The first thing [the Americans] did is release us from Saddam Hussein. That's a big revolution for Iraq."

The close-knit, poor family of Karima Selman Methboub, a widow with eight children whom the Monitor has followed closely since late 2002, has always met challenges head-on, accepting what they see as their fate with a potent sense of humor, and often with laughter.

But for many Iraqis, who have watched in horror as tens of thousands of their countrymen have died since the 2003 invasion, hopes for the future are muted, or gone. US promises of freedom and democratic rule after the tyranny of Saddam Hussein have instead given way to Iraqi anger at US invaders and Iraqi insurgents. [complete article]

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Seven days in Iraq
By Audrey Gillan, The Guardian, March 17, 2006

An American hostage is murdered. Car bombs kill 58 at a street market. Police discover 29 bodies in a mass grave. And the US launches its biggest assault since the invasion. On the eve of its third anniversary, Audrey Gillan pieces together just another week in a war zone. [complete article]

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Conservative warrior wields influence in White House
By Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder, March 17, 2006

Most people have never heard of David Addington, but he's been at the center of nearly every controversy shaking the White House.

President Bush's eavesdropping program, the so-called torture memo, the Guantanamo Bay detention center, the administration's penchant for secrecy - all bear his fingerprints. Addington's influence is especially remarkable because he doesn't work for Bush, he works for Vice President Dick Cheney.

He's known as "Cheney's Cheney." Like his boss, he believes that the Constitution gives the president virtually unlimited power to deal with terrorists and other national security threats. Addington's mission is to provide the legal foundation for the unfettered use of presidential power and to quash any internal dissent over it.

He serves as Cheney's chief of staff, but his clout far exceeds his job title. [complete article]

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GOP irritation at Bush was long brewing
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, March 17, 2006

President Bush's troubles with congressional Republicans, which erupted during the backlash to the Dubai seaport deal, are rooted in policy frustrations and personal resentments that GOP lawmakers say stretch back to the opening days of the administration.

For years, the Bush White House and its allies on Capitol Hill seemed like one of the most unified teams Washington had ever seen, passing most of Bush's agenda with little dissent. Privately, however, many lawmakers felt underappreciated, ignored and sometimes bullied by what they regarded as a White House intent on running government with little input from them. Often it was to pass items -- an expanded federal role in education under the No Child Left Behind law and an expensive prescription drug benefit under Medicare -- that left conservatives deeply uneasy.

What Bush is facing now, beyond just election-year jitters by legislators eyeing his depressed approval ratings, is a rebellion that has been brewing since the days when he looked invincible, say many lawmakers and strategists. Newly unleashed grievances could signal even bigger problems for Bush's last two years in office, as he would be forced to abandon a governing strategy that until recently counted on solid support from congressional Republicans. [complete article]

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Bill would allow warrantless spying
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, March 17, 2006

The Bush administration could continue its policy of spying on targeted Americans without obtaining warrants, but only if it justifies the action to a small group of lawmakers, under legislation introduced yesterday by key Republican senators.

The four senators hope to settle the debate over National Security Agency eavesdropping on international communications involving Americans when one of the parties is suspected of terrorist ties. President Bush prompted a months-long uproar when he said that constitutional powers absolve him of the need to seek warrants in such cases, even though the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act requires warrants for domestic wiretaps. [complete article]

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Effects of Iraq war vary dramatically in USA
By Rick Hampson, USA Today, March 17, 2006

Half of those interviewed in the latest USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll say the war has made them cry, and almost nine in 10 say it has made them pray.

Yet never in U.S. history has such a huge military effort - it has cost $150 million a day, more than 2,300 American lives and more than 17,000 U.S. wounded - required so little of so many. [complete article]

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Go to church, back the war
By Jennifer Harper, Washington Times, March 17, 2006

Protestants and frequent churchgoers are most supportive of the war in Iraq, according to research released yesterday by Gallup.

"In general, the more frequently an American attends church, the less likely he or she is to say the war was a mistake," noted Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport, who analyzed a series of polls that posed the question, "Is the war a mistake?" to 4,000 adults from January 2005 to February 2006. [complete article]

Comment -- I guess that blind faith in one higher power lends itself to blind support for another.

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Braids of faith at Baba's temple: A Hindu-Muslim idyll
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times, March 17, 2006

They came to banish ghosts, find a cure for eczema, seek succor for a cheating husband or an unruly child. Their feet bare, their heads covered, the believers, both Hindu and Muslim, entered the shrine in droves, stopping only to kiss each stair.

That was the scene March 9 at the tomb of Hazarat Syed Baba Bahadur Shahid, a Muslim, two days after homemade bombs tore through a Hindu temple and a railway station here in Hinduism's holiest city, raising the specter of Hindu-Muslim violence.

But such violence did not come to pass. Indeed, the scene at the Bahadur Shahid shrine served as a reminder of a fact often obscured by the spasms of ruthless sectarian violence that strike India: that after living cheek by jowl here for so many centuries, Hindus and Muslims often find themselves quietly braided together in worship as in daily life. [complete article]

Comment -- While India has had its share of bloodletting through sectarian violence at various times in its modern history, the overarching sentiment that permeates this syncretic culture is tolerance. As Indian-American relations improve, hopefully more Americans will be able to discover for themselves the remarkable way in which a population more than three times as great as that of the United States is able to live in relative peace on a territory that is less than a third the size of America.

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U.S. begins big assault on Iraq
By Edward Wong, New York Times, March 16, 2006

The American military announced today that it had begun its largest air assault since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, while Iraqi legislators convened the long-awaited first session of the new Parliament in the capital, even in the absence of any agreement to form a full government.

The Parliament's leaders delivered blunt speeches that acknowledged the rising sectarian tensions and the vacuum of power, then adjourned the session after a swearing-in ceremony for the 275 members, all elected last December. Party leaders rushed off to continue negotiations to cobble together a four-year government.

Police officials later said that 36 bodies, all executed with gunshots to the head, had been discovered in various parts of Baghdad since Wednesday morning, believed to be the latest victims in a long spate of sectarian bloodletting. [complete article]

Benchmarks: More civilians killed in Iraq
By Martin Sieff, UPI, March 15, 2006

Iraq's insurgents are succeeding in escalating the scale of casualties they are inflicting on the nation's civilians -- and they appear to be focusing on this goal in the short term even more than trying to inflict casualties on the nation's new security forces.

With the passing of the third anniversary of the start of U.S. and coalition operations to topple Saddam Hussein this March 19, the goal of restoring peace and stability to Iraq appears further off than ever. According to the Iraq Index Project of the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, 116 Iraqi policemen and soldiers were killed by insurgent action in the 18 days from Feb. 23 through March 18, an average rate of 6.4 killed per day. [complete article]

Ordinary Iraqi families getting ready to fight
By Charles Levinson, San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2006

Om Hussein, wrapped in her black abaya, lists the contents of the family's walk-in storage closet: three 175-pound cases of rice, two 33-pound cases of cooking fat, six cases of canned tomatoes, three crates of assorted legumes, a one-month supply of drinking water, frozen chicken livers in the freezer. And in the garage, jerry cans filled with fuel are piled floor to ceiling.

Om Hussein, who was reluctant to give her full name, and her Shiite family are preparing for war. They've stocked up on food. They bought a Kalashnikov rifle and a second car -- so that there is space for all 13 members of their extended family should they need to flee in a hurry. [complete article]

See also, Up to 13 killed in U.S. assault (WP).

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A self-defeating Iran strategy
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, March 16, 2006

Ask most governments in the world if they support Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and they’d answer no. But ask them whether stopping Iran from doing so is worth launching another war in the Middle East, and I suspect the answer would also be no. Indeed, most of them might be inclined to the view that the more the U.S. threatens regime-change, the more likely it is that Iran will seek nuclear weapons. The consensus of the diplomatic community would far more likely be that they want the U.S. and Iran to settle their differences. Indeed, far from regime-change, the best chance for avoiding the eventuality of Iran going nuclear lies in regime-recognition, i.e. in the normalizing of relations between Tehran and the West. [complete article]

Comment -- The normalization of relations between Iran and the U.S. would require the Bush administration to first reaffirm its belief in an old-fashioned idea, generally associated with pre-9/11 thinking: respect for national sovereignty. Without that, there really is no basis for international relations.

Today's release of the new National Security Strategy gives no indication that this administration is ready for such a shift. Far from it, by reasserting its dominion as global defender of freedom, the United States seeks "to shape the world; not merely be shaped by it."

But just imagine - just entertain this idle fantasy for one moment... What if this nation of 293 million people allowed itself to be shaped more - not less- by the 6.2 billion people in the rest of the world; by these other nations and other cultures. Is American culture such a fragile thing that it would shrivel up in the face of such exposure, or on the contrary, might we all be enriched by a process of cultural cross-fertilization?

But then again, maybe I should just set aside such idle fantasies and dream instead of Armageddon!

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'Israel prevented initial Saadat trial'
By Orly Halpern, Jerusalem Post, March 16, 2006

Ahmed Saadat was never tried because Israel refused to provide the Palestinian Authority with evidence that he ordered the murder of transportation minister Rehavam Ze'evi, Alastair Crooke, a former security adviser to the European Union's special envoy to the Middle East, told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday.

"[Former PA chairman Yasser] Arafat insisted that evidence be produced and that [Saadat] stand trial in Palestine," he said by phone from London. "Israel was not prepared to give evidence to the Palestinians or to Arafat."

In January 2002, Saadat, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was arrested by PA special forces, who also caught the four PFLP members responsible for Ze'evi's murder. The five were held at Arafat's Mukata headquarters in Ramallah. [complete article]

Britain's duplicity and the siege of Jericho jail
By Jonathan Cook, Electronic Intifada, March 15, 2006

In the looking-glass world of Middle East politics, it is easy to forget that Ahmad Saadat, the imprisoned Palestinian leader Israel summarily arrested in Jericho late on Tuesday, is wanted for masterminding the killing of the Jewish state's most notorious racist politician-general.

Rehavam Zeevi, head of the Central Command in the late 1960s and early 1970s, personally developed and managed Israel's brutal regime in the newly occupied West Bank. After retiring from the battlefield, he waged a relentless war against "the Arabs" on the political front. His Moledet party, founded in the 1980s, advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from Greater Israel - in other words, from Israel and the occupied territories.

His thinking became so acceptable after the outbreak of the intifada that he was appointed tourism minister in Ariel Sharon's first cabinet. Maybe Sharon thought that, with Zeevi for company, he really might start to look like a man of peace. [complete article]

See also, Jericho raid gives Olmert pre-election boost: polls (Reuters), Britain and U.S. complicit in Jericho raid, says Abbas (The Independent), We warned of prison attack, says Israel (The Guardian), Blair's credibility suffers body blow among Arabs (The Guardian), and Britain's standing is now at a nadir in the Middle East (Seumas Milne).

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Gaza: Life gets harder in the 'prison'
By Fawzia Sheikh, IPS (via, March 16, 2006

The overcrowded Gaza Strip has routinely been described as a big prison following the onset of the second Palestinian rising, the Intifadah, six years ago and the virtual closing of crossing points to and from Israel.

Life for the 1.4 million Palestinians packed into refugee camps on this thin sliver of land, one of the world's most densely populated areas, has worsened since last August's evacuation of Jewish settlers, observers say. [complete article]

World Bank warns Palestinians of bleak year for economy
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, March 16, 2006

If Israel withholds revenues from a Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and donor countries reduce aid, the Palestinian areas will be thrown into a deep depression, with personal incomes dropping 30 percent this year alone, according to a new World Bank study.

The study says the Palestinian economy would shrink by 27 percent in 2006 -- a one-year contraction that compares to the Depression in the United States. Unemployment would nearly double, to 39.6 percent, and two-thirds of the population would be living below the poverty level. [complete article]

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MI5, Camp Delta, and the story that shames Britain
By George B. Mickum, The Independent, March 16, 2006

Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna are among eight British residents who remain prisoners at the U.S. Naval Air Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They are jailed because British officials rendered them into the hands of the CIA in Africa, a fact that may explain why the British government refuses to intercede on their behalf. Bisher and Jamil have been wrongfully imprisoned now for more than three years. This is the story of their betrayal by the British government and their appalling treatment at the hands of the CIA and the U.S. military. [complete article]

Who's really locked up in Guantanamo?
By Tom Malinowski, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2006

Last week, under court order, the Pentagon released the transcripts of several hundred hearings held to decide whether Guantanamo prisoners were in fact "enemy combatants." Classified evidence was deleted, but what emerges is how insignificant most of these prisoners are. Fewer than half were caught on battlefields in Afghanistan or by U.S. troops. A majority were turned over by Pakistan (often for cash bounties). Few "combatants" are even accused of having fought. Many are held simply because they were living in a house associated with the Taliban or working for a charity linked to the group.

It seems that U.S. forces, inundated by thousands of captives after the Afghan war, didn't have enough experienced interrogators and interpreters to sort out the actual terrorists from Arabs unaffiliated with Al Qaeda. But they were under pressure to get results and unwilling to believe that their Pakistani allies could deceive them. Prisoners who claimed to know nothing were subjected to increasingly brutal treatment until some confessed or accused others. [complete article]

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Dictatorship is the danger
By Jonathan Raban, The Guardian, March 13, 2006

Linking the words "America" and "dictatorship" is a daily staple of leftwing blogs, which thrive on the idea that Bush administration policies since 9/11 are taking the country ever closer to totalitarian rule. Liberal fears that democracy is endangered by Republicans in Congress are so widespread, so endemic to the jittery political climate in the US, that they hardly bear repeating. It'll surprise no one to learn that another voice was added to the chorus last Thursday, warning that recent attacks on the American judiciary were putting the democratic fabric in jeopardy and were the first steps down the treacherous path to dictatorship.

What is surprising - more than that, electrifying - is that the voice belonged to Sandra Day O'Connor, who retired a few weeks ago from the supreme court. O'Connor is a Republican and a Reagan nominee. Regarded as the "swing vote" on the court, she swung the presidential election to George Bush in 2000.

Equally surprising is that O'Connor's speech to an audience of lawyers at Georgetown University was attended by just one reporter, the diligent legal correspondent for National Public Radio, Nina Totenberg. No transcript or recording of the speech has been made available, so we have only Totenberg's notes to go on. But - assuming they are accurate - the notes are political dynamite. [complete article]

Justice Ginsburg reveals details of threat
By Gina Holland, AP (via Seattle P-I), March 15, 2006

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she and former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor have been the targets of death threats from the "irrational fringe" of society, people apparently spurred by Republican criticism of the high court. [complete article]

Comment -- In writing about the lack of coverage given to Sandra Day O'Connor's warnings about dictatorship, Slate's Jack Shafer makes a rather implausible argument that this has "much to do with a press corps unaccustomed to reporting the views of a former justice." This sounds like saying that reporters find it difficult cover something unexpected - something that to most of us non-journalists would look like "news."

I'd credit the press with a bit more flexibility and a lot more vanity. Nina Totenberg was the only reporter at the event and hardly anyone else wanted to credit her with a scoop. Let's face it, as someone who devotes most of her coverage of the Supreme Court to reading verbatum from transcripts of court proceedings, she doesn't generally stand out as a scoop-worthy journalist.

Oh, and as for Republicans putting the lives of judges in jeopardy, I'd just put that down to the Bush administration's conviction that it is not above the law; it is the law.

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U.S. responds to Iran, saying it is "ready" for talks on Iraq
AP (via NYT), March 16, 2006

The United States said Thursday it was prepared to talk with Iran about Iraq, but said any discussions must be restricted to that topic and not include other contentious subjects like Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons program.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, is authorized to talk with Iran about Iraq, much as the United States has talked with Iran about issues relating to Afghanistan, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

"But this is a very narrow mandate dealing specifically with issues relating to Iraq," McClellan said. U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear program are being dealt with at the United Nations. "That's a separate issue from this," McClellan said.

The White House statement came after Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator and secretary of the country's Supreme National Security Council, said Tehran was ready to open direct talks with the United States over Iraq, marking a major shift in Iranian foreign policy.

President Bush has accused Iran of meddling in Iraq's affairs and of sending weapons and men to help insurgents in Iraq.

Months ago, however, Bush authorized Zhalilzad to speak with Iranian diplomats about Iraq-related issues. The ambassador followed up by approaching the Iranians in Baghdad. The response was that Iran was not interested in a dialogue exclusively about Iraq, said a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements.

If Iran is willing to talk about its military support for Iraqi militia, including explosives, the United States would be interested in pursuing talks, the official said. [complete article]

Comment -- This sounds like a prosecutor saying he's "ready" to talk to a defendant as soon as the defendant waives his right not to testify against himself. Diplomacy, however, presupposes that each party at least goes through the motions of showing some civility.

It must seem strange - at least to many observers in the rest of the world - that the Bush administration so often assumes a posture that signals that it views civility as a form of humiliation. It seems to regard the willingness to negotiate as a sure route to the emasculation of American power. Ironically, in this very inflexibility it exposes its own weakness.

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Iraq's turn for the worse brings U.S. and Baathists closer
By Michael Ware, Time, March 15, 2006

... the U.S. has been actively reaching out to Sunni officers from the former army, many of them Baathists, looking to bring them back in from the cold.

The ongoing dialogue between the U.S. and the Sunni insurgency is based on a shared wariness about the influence of Iran and its supporters in Iraq. U.S. officials are now saying bluntly that it's time to bring back the Baath Party, excluding only those that are guilty of specific crimes. That reflects a growing acceptance among U.S. officials that the military and bureaucratic know-how in the Sunni community is badly needed, even to help run the security forces that the U.S. is standing up.

Senior Baathist insurgent commanders are responding positively to the U.S. outreach on the political and military level. One senior commander I spoke to praised the U.S. for the release of some key Baathist officers who had been imprisoned, and later, when I asked a senior U.S. intelligence officer about the releases, he said the men had been freed as part of a calculated effort to demonstrate good faith in dealing with the insurgents. Of course, both sides share the objective of avoiding a civil war. [complete article]

Comment -- The slogan on which Iraq's salvation is currently fixed is "government of national unity." (As I've said previously, American mendacity is no more evident than in its vigorous support for a government of national unity in Iraq while vigorously opposing such a government in Palestine.) But since a government of national unity has been elevated from preference to necessity, the message to the Shia majority seems to be that once again for a US administration, containing Iran takes precedence over advancing democracy in Iraq. Even David Ignatius' sunny assessment of the current moves towards government formation concedes that, "One seeming obstacle to unity has been fear about the role of Iran." Supposedly, that problem could be "finessed" if Iran and the US sit down together and work it out -- nice idea, but hardly likely to happen.

As for the danger of civil war, the closest Donald Rumsfeld can get to providing a sanguine assessment is to say that he sees no risk of Iraq having a civil war on the scale of the American civil war. I'm sure that comes as great relief to most Iraqis!

While its always been recognized that the clerics have the power to unleash civil war, that power is not matched by an ability to effectively rein in sectarian violence. Shia clerics now warn that, "People are paying less and less heed to the Marja'iya [clerical authorities] every day because of how sectarian killings are affecting Shi'ite public opinion."

Iraq's new parliament met for the first time today, but in order to do so, Baghdad was shut down. And as Iraq's neighbors reflect on the regional impact of civil war, clear evidence of Washington's renewed faith in realpolitik can be seen in the return of Mr Fix-It, James Baker -- a move that's unlikely to rekindle much domestic support for the war.

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Iran ready for direct talks with U.S. on Iraq
By Gareth Smyth and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, March 16, 2006

Ali Larijani, Iran's top security official, said on Thursday that Iran was ready for direct talks with the United States over Iraq.

Mr Larijani was responding to Wednesday's call for "dialogue" between Tehran and Washington from Abd al-Aziz Hakim, leader of Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, in Iraq and a long-term ally of Tehran.

Zilmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador to Iraq, had reiterated on Saturday that he was authorised to talk to Iranian officials about Iraq, despite Washington's increasing pressure on Iran over its controversial nuclear programme. [complete article]

Comment -- This is a smart move by Iran's diplomats that will likely fuel further argument between Washington's ideologues and pragmatists. At the same time, Bush, Rice et al, have painted themselves into a corner. How can this administration now turn around and talk to the "central bankers of terrorism"?

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Bolton compares Iran threat to Sept. 11 attacks
MSNBC, March 15, 2006

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, Wednesday compared the threat from Iran's nuclear programs to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

"Just like Sept. 11, only with nuclear weapons this time, that's the threat. I think that is the threat," Bolton told ABC News' Nightline. "I think it's just facing reality. It's not a happy reality, but it's reality and if you don't deal with it, it will become even more unpleasant."

Bolton ratcheted up the rhetoric as the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council failed again to reach agreement on how to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions after a fifth round of negotiations. [complete article]

See also, Is Washington pushing to overthrow Iran? (Time) and Iran tells U.S. allies it will escalate crisis if hit with U.N. sanctions (Knight Ridder).

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2002 doctrine of preemptive war reaffirmed
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, March 16, 2006

President Bush plans to issue a new national security strategy today reaffirming his doctrine of preemptive war against terrorists and hostile states with chemical, biological or nuclear weapons, despite the troubled experience in Iraq.

The long-overdue document, an articulation of U.S. strategic priorities that is required by law, lays out a robust view of America's power and an assertive view of its responsibility to bring change around the world. On topics including genocide, human trafficking and AIDS, the strategy describes itself as "idealistic about goals and realistic about means."

The strategy expands on the original security framework developed by the Bush administration in September 2002, before the invasion of Iraq. That strategy shifted U.S. foreign policy away from decades of deterrence and containment toward a more aggressive stance of attacking enemies before they attack the United States. [complete article]

See also, Bush confronted on nuclear pact (LAT).

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This is why the Islamists are winning
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, March 15, 2006

Many people in the Middle East, Asia and the West work overtime these days trying to understand the expanding wave of Islamist political groups that are winning elections and sharing power. Mainstream Islamist parties winning democratic elections are often perceived in many Western lands and Israel as a dire threat. Not all Arabs and Asians are happy with the victorious Islamists, either. It is important to interpret correctly why the Islamists are winning, and what they really represent.

I have had many opportunities in the past few years to participate in conferences, seminars, lectures and friendly dinner conversations with Arab, Asian, European and North America colleagues. With only a few exceptions, what I have heard largely reflects the distorted analysis pervading much of the Western media. Analysts from outside the Middle East quickly become confused by the synthesis of phenomena that manifest themselves simultaneously in Islamist politics, in a way that they do not in Western culture. These include religion, national identity, good governance, and resistance to foreign occupation or subjugation.

We hear and read a lot about hopes for a revived Islamic caliphate, suicide bombers enticed by virgins in heaven, Islamofascism, the need for reformation and modernization in Islam, the urgency of embracing secularism in Arab-Islamic society, problems with education in religious schools, anti-American, anti-Israeli incitement in Arab media, and other ideas. Such views suffer from two fundamental constraints: they either reflect Western historical traditions and assume that Islamic societies must follow the same trajectory of democratic reform and modernity; or, they focus only on the religious vocabulary of the Islamists, without grasping the political and national issues that drive them. [complete article]

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Iraq is about to look a lot like Lebanon
By Ian Bremmer, RealClearPolitics, March 15, 2006

Lost in the surge in violence that followed last month's attack on the Shiite al-Askariya shrine and the growing U.S. debate over troop withdrawals, an event took place in northern Iraq last fall that has much to tell us about Iraq's future. On November 29, the Norwegian oil company DNO announced it had begun drilling for oil in the Kurdish region of northern Iraq under a production-sharing agreement with the Kurdish Regional government signed in June 2004. Sunnis complained noisily. Few others noticed.

Countries like Russia, Venezuela, Iran, and others have reintroduced the term "resource nationalism," the process by which central governments limit the leverage of outsiders in the management of their countries' strategic resources, into the lexicon of international relations. But as Iraq's Shia, Sunnis, and Kurds stake claim to their shares of the country's assets, Iraq is now well on its way to introducing a brand new concept: "resource sectarianism." [complete article]

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Baghdad: The besieged press
By Orville Schell, New York Review of Books (via TomDispatch), March 14, 2006

Almost nowhere in our homogenized world does crossing an international frontier deliver a traveler to a truly unique land. There is, however, no place in the world like Iraq. Even at Amman's Queen Alia International Airport, one finds hints of this mutant land to come. Affixed to the wall above a baggage carousel is an advertisement for "The AS Beck Company, Bonn, Germany: CERTIFIED ARMORED CARS." The company's logo is a sedan with the crosshairs of an assault rifle's telescopic scope trained on the windshield on the driver's side. "WHEN GOING TO IRAQ, MAKE SURE YOU DRIVE ARMORED!" the ad proclaims cheerfully. At the departure gate, a crimson placard warns against carrying FORBIDDEN ITEMS: "Gun Powder, Golf Clubs, Hand Grenades, Ice Axes, Cattle Prods, Hocket Sticks [sic], Meat Cleavers and Big Guns," making one wonder if "little guns" are OK. [complete article]

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'I have seen death'
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2006

As the light faded from the wintry sky over Samarra that day, Atwar Bahjat looked into the camera with a somber face and implored her country to stay calm.

"Whether you are Sunni or Shia, Arab or Kurd, there is no difference between Iraqis," said Bahjat, one of the most respected war correspondents in the Arab world. "[We are] united in fear for this nation."

There was every reason to be afraid. They were coming for her already.

The gunmen arrived in a pickup truck, hunting for Bahjat and her crew from satellite news channel Al Arabiya. "Where's the announcer?" they yelled, according to witnesses. They seized Bahjat, her cameraman and her engineer.

Their bodies were discovered the next morning laced with bullets, dumped in the dirt on the outskirts of Samarra. [complete article]

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Handover's impact on the war uncertain
By Peter Baker and Bradley Graham, Washington Post, March 15, 2006

President Bush's objective of turning over most of Iraq to Iraqi troops by the end of the year appears achievable given recent progress in training new security forces, but even if he meets the goal it would not necessarily mean that the end of the war would be in sight, military analysts said yesterday.

In an effort to turn the war over to Iraqis, the U.S. military has increasingly been shifting territory to local forces in recent weeks, tripling what officers call "Iraqi-owned battle space" since the beginning of the year. Baghdad has largely been transferred to Iraqi forces, along with swaths to the east of the capital and disputed areas around the northern city of Mosul.

But even those Iraqi forces still require U.S. military assistance, and administration officials warned against assuming that American troops could come home simply because Iraqis are taking more of the lead in the war. Moreover, because much of the insurgency has been concentrated in four provinces, Iraqi forces could theoretically control the bulk of the country without eliminating the bloody resistance to the U.S.-supported government. [complete article]

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The Abu Ghraib files
By Joan Walsh, Salon, March 14, 2006

The human rights scandal now known as "Abu Ghraib" began its journey toward exposure on Jan. 13, 2004, when Spc. Joseph Darby handed over horrific images of detainee abuse to the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID). The next day, the Army launched a criminal investigation. Three and a half months later, CBS News and the New Yorker published photos and stories that introduced the world to devastating scenes of torture and suffering inside the decrepit prison in Iraq.

Today Salon presents an archive of 279 photos and 19 videos of Abu Ghraib abuse first gathered by the CID, along with information drawn from the CID's own timeline of the events depicted. As we reported Feb. 16, Salon's Mark Benjamin recently acquired extensive documentation of the CID investigation -- including this photo archive and timeline -- from a military source who spent time at Abu Ghraib and who is familiar with the Army probe. [complete article]

See also, Identifying a torture icon (Salon).

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U.S. military airstrikes significantly increased in Iraq
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, March 14, 2006

American forces have dramatically increased airstrikes in Iraq during the past five months, a change of tactics that may foreshadow how the United States plans to battle a still-strong insurgency while reducing the number of U.S. ground troops serving here.

A review of military data shows that daily bombing runs and jet-missile launches have increased by more than 50 percent in the past five months, compared with the same period last year. Knight Ridder's statistical findings were reviewed and confirmed by American Air Force officials in the region. [complete article]

Comment -- As Seymour Hersh wrote last November:
Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units. The danger, military experts have told me, is that, while the number of American casualties would decrease as ground troops are withdrawn, the over-all level of violence and the number of Iraqi fatalities would increase unless there are stringent controls over who bombs what.

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Iran's president is playing a weak hand
By Stanley A. Weiss, International Herald Tribune, March 15, 2006

To listen to many Western observers, Iran's hard-line president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has reignited the Islamic Revolution and is catapulting the world toward nuclear confrontation. Elected last year in a "landslide," his triumph supposedly returns all power to a unified clique of clerical reactionaries, dealing a death blow to Iran's reform movement.

Emboldened by record oil revenues and divisions within the UN Security Council, which will address Iran's nuclear activities this week, Tehran brazenly resumes enriching uranium for a nuclear weapon. Ahmadinejad, deemed the new Hitler for calling the Holocaust a "myth," then has the means to fulfill his pledge to "wipe Israel off the map."

Perhaps no headline captured this hysteria more than a recent cover of Newsweek, from which Ahmadinejad peered menacingly at the world and which asked, alarmingly, "How Dangerous is Iran?"

The answer? Not as dangerous as many in the West believe. [complete article]

See also, In Iran, a chorus of dissent rises on leadership's nuclear strategy (NYT).

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Latin America and Asia are at last breaking free of Washington's grip
By Noam Chomsky, The Guardian, March 15, 2006

The prospect that Europe and Asia might move towards greater independence has troubled US planners since the second world war. The concerns have only risen as the "tripolar order" - Europe, North America and Asia - has continued to evolve.

Every day Latin America, too, is becoming more independent. Now Asia and the Americas are strengthening their ties while the reigning superpower, the odd man out, consumes itself in misadventures in the Middle East.

Regional integration in Asia and Latin America is a crucial and increasingly important issue that, from Washington's perspective, betokens a defiant world gone out of control. Energy, of course, remains a defining factor - the object of contention - everywhere. [complete article]

Pragmatism or ideology?
By Scott T. Paul, TPM Cafe, March 14, 2006

What do Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary have in common with Mexico, Chile, and Peru?

All six - key democratic allies of the United States - are principled supporters of the International Criminal Court. If John Bolton had his way, they would each forfeit crucial military and economic assistance.

Each of the above mentioned countries are parties (or will soon become parties) to the ICC and have honored their commitments to its statute by refusing to sign a Bilateral Immunity Agreement with the U.S. Put simply, these countries will not agree to put U.S. personnel above international law - even though it is inconceivable that U.S. soldiers could ever be tried in the ICC.

The U.S. pressure to sign these agreements is positively quixotic, and the penalties for not signing are very, very harsh. Under the inappropriately named American Servicemembers' Protection Act and legislation now known simply as the Nethercutt Amendment, any state-party to the Court that does not sign a BIA stands to lose military aid and economic support funds - unless the president signs a waiver. The result of this ill-conceived policy is that our most democratic and principled aid recipients and strategic allies are facing substantial aid cuts. Bolton, whose opposiiton to the ICC is almost comically enthusiastic, has opposed the use of presidential waivers so that aid to these crucial allies can continue. [complete article]

See also, China increases foreign military training (AP).

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Sighting of terrorist in Lodi questioned
By Lee Romney, Eric Bailey and Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2006

An FBI informant shocked a Sacramento federal courtroom this week when he testified that he had frequently seen Al Qaeda's No. 2 leader in a mosque here during 1998 and 1999.

But terrorism experts and even federal officials expressed serious doubts Tuesday about Naseem Khan's testimony, saying there is little aside from his statements to suggest that Egyptian terrorist Ayman Zawahiri spent time in the sleepy Central Valley farming community.

Defense attorneys said the statements raise serious credibility issues about Khan, the government's chief witness against a Lodi ice cream truck driver and his son.

If Khan's reliability becomes a factor in the case, the prosecution of Umer Hayat, 48, and his son, Hamid Hayat, 23, could become the latest in a long string of problems the federal government has faced in trying alleged terrorists. Earlier this week, a Virginia judge halted the sentencing trial of Al Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui in order to investigate apparent witness tampering by a federal attorney in the case. [complete article]

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Fear won the ports debate
By James Zogby,, March 14, 2006

Hostility towards Arabs and Muslims is more widespread than it was the immediate aftermath of September 11, 2001. This negative animus both provided the tinder for the "Dubai port controversy" and was in turn, fueled by the shameful way this issue was debated.

A recent Washington Post poll shows that the U.S. public now has a net negative view of Islam (43% favorable, 46% unfavorable). These numbers represent a 10-point drop in favorable attitudes and a doubling of negative attitudes when compared with polls taken a few months after 9/11.

What this suggests is that, though dormant at times, the animus remains a vein just below the surface that can either erupt in times of crisis or be tapped into by demagogues seeking to exploit its power. [complete article]

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The Feingold resolution and the sound of silence
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, March 15, 2006

Democratic senators, filing in for their weekly caucus lunch yesterday, looked as if they'd seen a ghost.

"I haven't read it," demurred Barack Obama (Ill.).

"I just don't have enough information," protested Ben Nelson (Neb.). "I really can't right now," John Kerry (Mass.) said as he hurried past a knot of reporters -- an excuse that fell apart when Kerry was forced into an awkward wait as Capitol Police stopped an aide at the magnetometer.

Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) brushed past the press pack, shaking her head and waving her hand over her shoulder. When an errant food cart blocked her entrance to the meeting room, she tried to hide from reporters behind the 4-foot-11 Barbara Mikulski (Md.).

"Ask her after lunch," offered Clinton's spokesman, Philippe Reines. But Clinton, with most of her colleagues, fled the lunch out a back door as if escaping a fire.

In a sense, they were. The cause of so much evasion was S. Res. 398, the resolution proposed Monday by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) calling for the censure of President Bush for his warrantless wiretapping program. At a time when Democrats had Bush on the ropes over Iraq, the budget and port security, Feingold single-handedly turned the debate back to an issue where Bush has the advantage -- and drove another wedge through his party. [complete article]

See also, A Senate maverick acts to force an issue (WP).

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Analysis: 'Give back territory and kill Arabs'
By Yossi Verter, Haaretz, March 15, 2006

"To return territory and kill Arabs" is a favorite expression of the "ranch forum" of Ariel Sharon's advisers. In 2000, when adman-strategist Reuven Adler and company reshaped and polished Sharon's image, a rule was made: The public likes leaders who show diplomatic moderation and military toughness, who return land and kill Arabs. Sharon followed the rule during his five-year reign, and his heir-apparent, Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will do the same.

Last weekend, in his foreign policy program, Olmert returned a lot of territory. On Tuesday he completed the equation by sending in the Israel Defense Forces and its bulldozers to nibble at the walls of Jericho Prison and to threaten the murderers of minister Rehavam Ze'evi and the people involved in the Karin A arms ship with imprisonment or death. [complete article]

Avneri likens Ze'evi death to IDF killings;'Yassin outranked Ze'evi'
Haaretz, March 15, 2006

Attacking the IDF siege of the Jericho prison as a campaign ploy by Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, leftist activist and ex-MK Uri Avneri Tuesday termed the 2001 assassination of cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi a targeted killing, and said that slain Hamas founder Sheikh Ahmed Yassin "was certainly of a higher rank" than Ze'evi.

"This was an almost-uncamouflaged campaign ploy by Olmert, prepared in a cabal with the British and the Americans," Avneri said of the IDF operation, in which a nine-hour siege ended with the surrender of Ze'evi's killers. [complete article]

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Jail raid reflects Mid-East tensions
By Jeremy Bowen, BBC News, March 14, 2006

The British have not given any concrete reasons for why they pulled their monitors out of the prison in Jericho, other than because of security fears. Certainly, the Palestinians have not been keeping to the rules they were meant to be following for running this particular prison - but there is nothing new in that.
From the perspective of the Israeli leadership, which goes to the polls on 28 March, it is easy to see why this raid on the prison might be an attractive operation. Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been losing points in opinion polls because he does not have a strong military background - certainly not like his predecessor Ariel Sharon. He can certainly expect a consolidation of his political position after this.
Britain says it emphatically told the Palestinian Authority a few days ago that this was going to happen. It also had to tell the Israelis under the terms of the agreement under which this prison was organised. [complete article]

How the walls of Jericho were breached
By Harry de Quetteville, The Telegraph, March 15, 2006

Britain's tiny contingent of monitors left Jericho's jail soon after 9am yesterday, telling Palestinian staff that they were taking their car to be fixed. In reality they had no intention of returning to watch over its 200 inmates, among them Ahmed Saadat, the man accused of masterminding the assassination of Rehavam Zeevi, Israel's tourism minister, in 2001.

Instead, the three monitors headed out of the jail and began the uphill drive from the lowest city on earth to Jerusalem. The Foreign Office later said they were leaving because of fears for their "security" and few doubt that inside Jericho jail the inmates ran the show.
The military operation to raid the jail truly began at the moment the British passed an Israeli army checkpoint, according to senior Israeli commanders. "One, two, three, I counted the British monitors out," said an Israeli colonel, second-in-command of yesterday's operation. "We have standing orders to act in this case, so we went in."

Within minutes, a passage of time that provoked furious Palestinian accusations of collusion between Britain and the Israelis, the mission was under way. [complete article]

Palestinian fury after Israelis seize leader from Jericho jail
By Ian MacKinnon and Stephen Farrell, The Times, March 15, 2006

A Palestinian security guard and a prisoner were killed, and dozens more wounded, as the Israelis smashed the prison walls with tanks and bulldozers and mounted a ten-hour siege until the prisoners surrendered.

As the crisis unfolded, enraged Palestinians kidnapped at least nine foreigners, burnt the British Council office in Gaza City and attacked an American cultural centre and an HSBC bank in Ramallah.

As gunmen stormed into hotels looking for hostages, westerners fled the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) temporarily withdrew their international staff from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office advised all Britons to leave. [complete article]

The walls of Jericho
Lead Editorial, The Guardian, March 15, 2006

The sequence of events that led to the confrontation at the jail in Jericho yesterday, and to protests, arson and kidnapping elsewhere in the West Bank and Gaza, is not entirely clear. But it seems likely that Hamas, still in the process of forming a government after its victory in the Palestinian elections, sensed that it could win a small victory over the Israelis by releasing the militants held in Jericho. The men include Ahmed Saadat, the leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who the Israelis say ordered the killing of an Israeli minister, and Fuad Shobaki, who they say organised a big shipment of arms to the Occupied Territories that was intercepted at sea.

The group was originally transferred to Jericho as part of the deal that ended the siege of Yasser Arafat's compound in Ramallah in 2002. Arafat would not agree to their being seized by the Israelis, and the Israelis would not agree to let them go free, so the compromise was detention in a Palestinian prison under the supervision of British and American monitors. The Palestinian Supreme Court later ordered their release, as they had not been charged with any offence, to which the Israeli response was that, if they were, they would be the subjects of targeted assassinations. The men stayed in prison, in effect, to protect their lives. Britain, the foreign secretary said yesterday, felt that conditions in Jericho were too loose, as well as that our monitors might themselves be potentially in danger. What he did not say, but which can be speculated, is that Hamas may have calculated that in the new situation following the January elections and with a de facto ceasefire more or less holding, Israel might not carry out the assassination threat, so that it was now safe to release them. Jack Straw may have calculated that the British could not be party to that so it was better to withdraw. [complete article]

See also, Abbas rushes home after jail raid (BBC).

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Israel tightens grip on Jordan Valley
By Richard Galpin, BBC News, March 14, 2006

In a recent report the Israeli human rights organisation B'Tselem accused the Israeli government of effectively annexing the Jordan Valley - a large strip of land which makes up at least a quarter of the occupied West Bank.

UN officials have also told the BBC they are concerned that the region is gradually being cut off by restrictions imposed on the Palestinian population by the Israeli security forces. [complete article]

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Settler-movement founder backs Olmert
By Joshua Mitnick, Washington Times, March 13, 2006

As acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert signaled a readiness to evacuate more Israeli towns in the West Bank last week, his election campaign received an unexpected endorsement from one of the founders of the settlement movement.

Rabbi Yoel Ben Nun endorsed Mr. Olmert's Kadima party, acknowledging that the dream of Israel's controlling all of the biblical land of Israel is unrealistic and accusing settler leaders of isolating themselves from the Israeli mainstream.

By throwing his support behind Kadima and working within the party that is projected to form the next Israeli government, Mr. Ben Nun hopes to minimize the number of settlements that will have to be moved. [complete article]

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Iraqis find 85 bodies in 24-hour period
Alexander Zavis, AP (via Yahoo), March 14, 2006

Police in the past 24 hours have found the bodies of at least 85 people killed by execution-style shootings -- a gruesome wave of apparent sectarian reprisal slayings, officials said Tuesday.

The dead included at least 27 bodies stacked in a mass grave in an eastern Shiite neighborhood of Baghdad.

The bloodshed -- the second wave of mass killings in Iraq since bombers destroyed an important Shiite shrine last month -- followed weekend attacks in a teeming Shiite slum in which 58 people died and more than 200 were wounded. [complete article]

See also, Iraqis try to avert civil war (CSM) and Shiite vigilantes in Baghdad beat and kill 4 men accused of attacks (NYT).

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In wake of Sadr City attacks, clerics speak out for restraint
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Bassam Sebti, Washington Post, March 14, 2006

Clean-up crews guarded by gun-toting Shiite Muslim militiamen on Monday hauled away the carbonized car hulls and other debris from one of the deadliest attacks of the war in Baghdad's largest Shiite quarter. Three car bombs targeted markets there Sunday while families were shopping, killing 58 and wounding roughly 200, authorities said.

Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish leaders denounced the bombings as the latest attempt to push Iraq into full-scale sectarian war, and Iraq's transitional president, Jalal Talabani, a Kurd, urged political factions "to intensify their efforts to form a government and establish a broad front to achieve security and stability."

The Muslim Scholars' Association, an influential Sunni group, condemned the bombings and any future retaliation. But the most important call for restraint may have come from Moqtada al-Sadr, the Shiite cleric and militia leader whose loyal Baghdad enclave, Sadr City, was hit by Sunday's attacks.

"I can fight the terrorists. I am able to face them, militarily and spiritually," the black-turbaned young cleric said at a news conference in the Shiite holy city of Najaf. "But I don't want to slip into a civil war. Therefore, I will urge calm." [complete article]

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Bush sets target for transition in Iraq
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, March 14, 2006

President Bush vowed for the first time yesterday to turn over most of Iraq to newly trained Iraqi troops by the end of this year, setting a specific benchmark as he kicked off a fresh drive to reassure Americans alarmed by the recent burst of sectarian violence. [complete article]

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Iran and US: 'everything is on the table'
By Gwynne Dyer, Arab News, March 14, 2006

The biggest pitfall in predicting the behavior of radical groups like the inner circle of the Bush administration is that you keep telling yourself that they would never actually do whatever it is they’re talking about. Surely they must realize that acting like that would cause a disaster. Then they go right ahead and do it.

"(The Iranians) must know everything is on the table and they must understand what that means," US Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton told a group of visiting British politicians last week. "We can hit different points along the line. You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down." In other words, he was calmly proposing an illegal attack on a sovereign state, possibly involving nuclear weapons. [complete article]

Comment -- It's easy to dismiss the suggestion that the US would contemplate a nuclear strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. After all, it would go down in history as a staggering demonstration of nuclear hypocrisy. Nevertheless, it's worth remembering that behind the US's multifarious justifications for going to war in Iraq, there's no question that the invasion was meant to showcase American power through "shock and awe." There may well be those inside the administration, frustrated by the fact that Iraq has revealed the limits of American power rather than its preeminence, who now envision Iran presenting an opportunity for an even more spectacular demonstration of power.

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U.S. push for democracy could backfire inside Iran
By Karl Vick and David Finkel, Washington Post, March 14, 2006

Prominent activists inside Iran say President Bush's plan to spend tens of millions of dollars to promote democracy here is the kind of help they don't need, warning that mere announcement of the U.S. program endangers human rights advocates by tainting them as American agents.

In a case that advocates fear is directly linked to Bush's announcement, the government has jailed two Iranians who traveled outside the country to attend what was billed as a series of workshops on human rights. Two others who attended were interrogated for three days. [complete article]

Inside the U.S.'s regime-change school
Asia Times, March 14, 2006

When the invitation to attend a human-rights workshop in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates came, it was a complete surprise for Nilofar, an attractive Iranian woman in her early 30s who works for an international organization in Tehran and claims to be apolitical.

"I got the invite through a press officer at another international organization who clearly did not know the real nature of the workshop," Nilofar told Asia Times Online over a series of three interviews from last September to February. "When I arrived in Dubai, the other participants were very surprised to see me and told me that these workshops are only for activists. So I don't know how I got in, really, except if their selection process is not as stringent as they would make it out to be."

Once in Dubai, Nilofar was booked by one of two organizations running the program into the Holiday Inn. She recounts that the course organizers were a mixture of Los Angeles-based exiled Iranians, Americans who appeared to supervise the course and whose affiliation remained unclear throughout, and three Serbs who said they belonged to the Otpor democratic movement that overthrew the late Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. [complete article]

See also, Tehran elite turning on extremist presidency (Washington Times).

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Iran may finally be ready to talk
By John Daniszewski and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2006

In spite of the hostile rhetoric in recent days over Iran's nuclear ambitions, the Islamic Republic may be losing its long-standing reluctance to speak directly with the United States, politicians and analysts here say.

There is a growing body of opinion in Iran that talks with Washington on the nuclear question and regional security issues could be in the country's interest. For the first time, reformers and conservatives appear to be in agreement on that question.

But as Tehran has shifted toward engagement with Washington, the U.S. has appeared to be moving in the opposite direction. [complete article]

New 'cold war' looms with Iran
By Paul Reynolds, BBC News, March 13, 2006

The United States is developing the concept of a "cold war" with Iran. It would be a third way between trying to engage with the hard-line government there and attacking its nuclear facilities with the risk of major conflict.

The idea is that regime or policy change could be effected by the Iranian people themselves. However such a cold war might turn into a hot war if Washington decided this approach would not stop Iran from developing the technology needed for a nuclear bomb. [complete article]

Bush ties Iran to deadly Iraq bombs
AFP, March 14, 2006

US President George W. Bush, stepping up a war of words with Iran, accused Tehran of contributing to ever-deadlier roadside bombs used against US-led forces and civilians in Iraq. [complete article]

Iran vows to resist U.N. pressure over nukes
By Al Akbar Dareini, AP (via Yahoo), March 14, 2006

Iran's president vowed to resist pressure from the U.N. Security Council to back down in his country's confrontation with the West over its suspect nuclear program, declaring that "no power" can take away Iran's nuclear technology. [complete article]

Moscow may be losing patience with Tehran
By Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, March 13, 2006

Sergei Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, on Monday said Moscow would within days hold talks with Iran on its nuclear programme, but sharply criticised Tehran for "absolutely not helping" countries that wanted to find a peaceful resolution to the crisis. [complete article]

See also, Showdown at U.N.? Iran seems calm (NYT) and Dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions: four approaches (CSM).

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How Bush helps jihadists
By Michael Scheuer, Washington Times, March 13, 2006

These days Osama bin Laden must fear that Muslims will begin to believe the United States is his sponsor, and that Washington is doing all it can to ensure al Qaeda's victory. The foreign-policy performance of the Bush administration since bin Laden's Jan. 19 statement has been a godsend for al Qaeda. So bad for U.S. interests has been Washington's diplomacy that a summary of it falls into what radio host Don Imus calls the "you-couldn't-make-this-up category."

First, even before all votes were counted in Palestine, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, the president, the neoconservative pundits, and sundry members of both parties in Congress -- some of whom clearly aspire to be Knesset members -- rejected dealing with the democratically elected Hamas government unless it abandons its pledge to defend Palestine against Israel, presumably a chief reason Palestinians voted for it.

Almost before this dictum was fully announced, Washington and Tel Aviv jointly announced they intend to financially strangle the Hamas regime, cleverly creating a situation where Hamas will seek funding from Shi'ite Iran and thereby force America's Sunni "allies" in the Persian Gulf to make up Western funding or be disgraced by Shi'ite Iran assisting Sunni Hamas.

As the smoke clears from this U.S.-foreign-policy train wreck, the dominating image must be that of Osama bin Laden's shy and wry smile. America, once again, has validated the al Qaeda chief's decade-long and ongoing lesson for Muslims: America supports democracy only if its agents are elected; America will destroy any regime that threatens Israel; America will not allow a country to be ruled by Islamic law unless it has vast oil resources; and, for America, Muslim blood is cheap, it has no qualms about cutting funds used to feed Muslim children. [complete article]

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U.S. abuses, sense of irony missing in rights report
By William Fisher, IPS (via, March 14, 2006

Foreign policy, legal, and human rights authorities are raising serious questions about the credibility of the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights, released last week.

Noah S. Leavitt, an attorney who has worked with the International Law Commission of the United Nations in Geneva and the International Court of Justice in The Hague, told IPS: "The sad reality is that because of the [George W.] Bush administration's haughty unilateralism and its mockery of international prohibitions on torture, most of the rest of the world no longer takes the U.S. seriously on human rights matters." [complete article]

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A climate change of heart
By Eugene Linden, Los Angeles Times, March 14, 2006

A beleaguered president stubbornly insists on staying the course even as his staunchest allies abandon him. I'm not talking about Iraq, but global warming.

Here's a case where virtually everybody is acknowledging a weapon of mass destruction -- the threat of climate chaos -- but still President Bush refuses to take action. When the evangelical community, Bush's stalwart base, called for climate action last month, the news grabbed headlines. But the more important Bush defectors on this issue are some of the world's largest corporations, including British Petroleum, General Electric, DuPont and Cinergy. So, the question arises: Why does Bush persist in his increasingly lonely stance?

The answer may lie in the difference between realpolitik and ideology. Many corporations initially opposed climate action as a practical matter, because of its perceived costs. The Bush administration's opposition seems to derive from its ideological hostility to international treaties and the United Nations on the one hand and environmentalists on the other. [complete article]

Climate change 'irreversible' as Arctic sea ice fails to re-form
By Steve Connor, The Independent, March 14, 2006

Sea ice in the Arctic has failed to re-form for the second consecutive winter, raising fears that global warming may have tipped the polar regions in to irreversible climate change far sooner than predicted.

Satellite measurements of the area of the Arctic covered by sea ice show that for every month this winter, the ice failed to return even to its long-term average rate of decline. It is the second consecutive winter that the sea ice has not managed to re-form enough to compensate for the unprecedented melting seen during the past few summers.

Scientists are now convinced that Arctic sea ice is showing signs of both a winter and a summer decline that could indicate a major acceleration in its long-term rate of disappearance. The greatest fear is that an environmental "positive feedback" has kicked in, where global warming melts ice which in itself causes the seas to warm still further as more sunlight is absorbed by a dark ocean rather than being reflected by white ice. [complete article]

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U.S. said to misread Hussein on arms
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 14, 2006

U.S. intelligence agencies misinterpreted Saddam Hussein's directions that his military do away with weapons of mass destruction or their elements, believing incorrectly the orders were a ruse meant to hide evidence of such weapons from United Nations inspectors, according to an article in Foreign Affairs magazine that includes excerpts of a recently declassified report by the Pentagon's Joint Forces Command.

In 2002, when U.S. intelligence intercepted an internal message between two Iraqi commanders talking about removing the words "nerve agents" from "wireless instructions," the analysts "had no way of knowing that this time the information reflected the regime's attempt to ensure it was in compliance with U.N. resolutions," according to the Pentagon report. [complete article]

Saddam never planned insurgency: US military study
AFP, March 13, 2006

Ousted president Saddam Hussein did not plan the insurgency in Iraq because he thought the United States would never invade the country, a US military history has concluded.

Even with US armored columns 100 miles (161 kilometers) from Baghdad about to make their final push, Saddam apparently believed the war was going Iraq's way, according to the history, called "The Iraqi Perspectives Project." [complete article]

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Judge calls halt to penalty phase of terror trial
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, March 14, 2006

An angry federal judge delayed the sentencing trial of Zacarias Moussaoui on Monday and said she was considering ending the prosecution's bid to have him executed after the disclosure that a government lawyer had improperly coached some witnesses.

Judge Leonie M. Brinkema said she had just learned from prosecutors that a lawyer for the Transportation Security Administration gave portions of last week's trial proceedings to seven witnesses who have yet to testify. In e-mail messages, the lawyer also seemed to tell some of the witnesses how they should testify to bolster the prosecution's argument that Mr. Moussaoui bore some responsibility for the deaths caused by the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

"In all my years on the bench, I've never seen a more egregious violation of the rule about witnesses," Judge Brinkema said before sending the jury home for two days. She said that the actions of the government lawyer, identified in court papers as Carla J. Martin, would make it "very difficult for this case to go forward." [complete article]

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Magazine: Bradlee knows Woodward's source on Plame
By Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, March 14, 2006

Vanity Fair is reporting that former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee says it is reasonable to assume former State Department official Richard L. Armitage is likely the source who revealed CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to Post Assistant Managing Editor Bob Woodward.

In an article to be published in the magazine today, Bradlee is quoted as saying: "That Armitage is the likely source is a fair assumption." Armitage was deputy secretary of State in President Bush's first term. [complete article]

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U.S. campaign is aimed at Iran's leaders
By Peter Baker and Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 13, 2006

As the dispute over its nuclear program arrives at the U.N. Security Council today, Iran has vaulted to the front of the U.S. national security agenda amid Bush administration plans for a sustained campaign against the ayatollahs of Tehran.

President Bush and his team have been huddling in closed-door meetings on Iran, summoning scholars for advice, investing in opposition activities, creating an Iran office in Washington and opening listening posts abroad dedicated to the efforts against Tehran.

The internal administration debate that raged in the first term between those who advocated more engagement with Iran and those who preferred more confrontation appears in the second term to be largely settled in favor of the latter. Although administration officials do not use the term "regime change" in public, that in effect is the goal they outline as they aim to build resistance to the theocracy. [complete article]

Support for Iran embargo losing ground
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, March 12, 2006

US efforts to isolate Iran over its nuclear ambitions are colliding with the energy concerns of Asia's economic powers, testing Washington's ability to form a diplomatic coalition and its influence on oil and gas markets.

Officials tell the Financial Times that the US is looking at "creative" ways of addressing the energy worries of China, Japan and India -- major buyers of Iranian oil.

The US is searching for a viable energy framework that would persuade such thirsty customers to halt planned investments in Iran's energy sector or even contemplate the shock of a sudden break in oil exports.

Officials and analysts are sceptical it can be done and, so far, US moves seem to be having the opposite effect. [complete article]

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70 Iraqis killed in spasm of violence
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2006

Bombs, rockets, mortar shells and gunfire on Sunday claimed the lives of more than 70 Iraqis and injured hundreds, as the government put on displays of unity and promised to overhaul security forces.

The most deadly violence -- and Iraq's worst sectarian provocation since last month's bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine in Samarra -- took place in Sadr City, the sprawling Shiite slum in northeastern Baghdad, where apparently coordinated attacks killed 46 people and wounded more than 200 others. [complete article]

Sadr appeals for calm in Baghdad
BBC News, March 13, 2006

Radical Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr has appealed for calm among Iraqi Shias following bomb attacks in Baghdad which killed about 50 people on Sunday.

Mr Sadr said Iraq was now in a state of civil war, but he said he would order his Mehdi army militia not to respond. The bombings destroyed street markets in the slum district of Sadr City which is a stronghold of Sadr supporters.

He said US-led forces were responsible for letting the attacks happen but the government should maintain security. "Sunnis and Shias are not responsible for such acts, national unity is required," Mr Sadr told reporters at his headquarters in Najaf. [complete article]

Sadr expands his reach
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, March 13, 2006

Three years ago, the U.S. invaded Iraq at least in part, the White House says, to unleash the nation's democratic potential. By deftly employing gun and ballot alike, Sadr has used the chaos of the postwar period to spread his movement's power day by day -- and, startlingly, transform himself from obscure young rabble-rouser to hunted rebel to statesman.

Sadr's status has alarmed U.S. officials hoping to wind down the American presence and leave behind a stable government. U.S. and Iraqi officials worry that his movement, with its arsenal of weapons and radical ideology, poses a threat to any central authority and inspires other political movements to take up arms. [complete article]

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Sectarian fighting changes face of conflict for Iraqis
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 13, 2006

Forced by Sunni Arab insurgents to flee his home, Bassam Fariq Daash, a 34-year-old Shiite auto mechanic, bid a weeping goodbye Tuesday to the Sunnis who had been his neighbors for a lifetime.

Forced by marauding Shiite militiamen to defend his home, Firas Ali, a 28-year-old Sunni Arab medical technician, takes up an AK-47 and joins his Sunni and Shiite neighbors every night between 10 p.m. and 3 a.m. at garden gates, at roadblocks made of felled palm trunks and on the roof of his mosque.

The past two weeks have changed the war in Iraq, shifting its focus from a U.S.-driven fight against Sunni insurgents to a direct battle for power and survival between Iraq's empowered Shiite majority and disempowered Sunni minority. [complete article]

Death squads operated from inside Iraqi government, officials say
By Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder, March 12, 2006

Senior Iraqi officials Sunday confirmed for the first time that death squads composed of government employees had operated illegally from inside two government ministries.

"The deaths squads that we have captured are in the defense and interior ministries," Minister of Interior Bayan Jabr said during a joint news conference with the Minister of Defense. "There are people who have infiltrated the army and the interior." [complete article]

See also, John Burns, back from Baghdad: U.S. effort in Iraq will likely fail (E&P).

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Iraq's sovereignty vacuum: A government with no military and no territory
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, March 10, 2006

President Bush marked the Iraqi election of December 2005 as the beginning of a new era. A freely selected permanent government would begin asserting its sovereignty over the country, building an administrative infrastructure, and rising to the challenge of governing an unruly and often violent constituency.

Only three months later, this hopeful vision is in ruins. Various parliamentary leaders have occupied themselves with tortuous negotiations over who will be the next prime minister, while crises explode around their Green Zone sanctuary. Some of these crises flashed in and out of the headlines, including a controversy over illegal detention and torture sites reportedly run by Shia militias under the aegis of the Ministry of the Interior; a new wave of insurgent attacks in Baghdad; and, most dramatically, the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra, triggering retaliatory attacks against Sunni mosques as well as nationwide demonstrations calling for the withdrawal of American forces. Other crises continue to build without benefit of the media spotlight: a multi-ethnic conflict over control of Kirkuk, the northern oil hub and projected capital of a future Kurdistan; the steady escalation of guerrilla attacks on American troops and of American air strikes against Sunni cities; a further degeneration in the delivery of electricity, potable water, fuel, and most of the other basics of modern life; a growing population of homeless refugees; an ongoing exodus of professionals; and unremitting unemployment levels, variously estimated at between 30% and 65% of the workforce. [complete article]

Iraq's sovereignty vacuum: The campaign to pacify Sunni Iraq
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, March 12, 2006

The December elections in Iraq did not initiate a period of state building, but instead marked an expanding, many-sided conflict whose latest major horror was the bombing of the Golden Mosque in Samarra and the carnage it triggered. All the conflicts of the present moment have metastasized and spread from the ill-fated attempt by American-led forces to pacify Sunni communities in Baghdad and in four provinces to the north and west. Today, not only is the country edging toward an ever-more virulent civil war, but the Sunni resistance is stronger than ever, registering about 100 attacks a day in January.

This original war remains the central front in the ongoing battle for domination in Iraq and, as the core conflict, it continues to cast off enough bitterness, suffering, destruction, and rebellion to guarantee its never-ending spread to new areas and groups. [complete article]

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The War Dividend: The British companies making a fortune out of conflict-riven Iraq
By Robert Verkaik, The Independent, March 13, 2006

British businesses have profited by at least £1.1bn since coalition forces toppled Saddam Hussein three years ago, the first comprehensive investigation into UK corporate investment in Iraq has found.

The company roll-call of post-war profiteers includes some of the best known names in Britain's boardrooms as well many who would prefer to remain anonymous. They come from private security services, banks, PR consultancies, urban planning consortiums, oil companies, architects offices and energy advisory bodies. [complete article]

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Detainee in photo with dog was 'high-value' suspect
By Josh White, Washington Post, March 13, 2006

When Army Sgt. Michael J. Smith faces a court-martial today on charges that he used his military working dog to harass and threaten detainees, one of the prime examples of that alleged misconduct will be a photograph of Smith holding the dog just inches from the face of a detainee. It is one of the notorious images to emerge from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Although officials characterized the other detainees who appeared in the Abu Ghraib photographs as common criminals and rioters, the orange-clad detainee seen cowering before the dog was different. Detainee No. 155148 was considered a high-value intelligence source suspected of having close ties to al-Qaeda. According to interviews, sworn statements from soldiers and military documents obtained by The Washington Post, Ashraf Abdullah Ahsy was at the center of a military intelligence "special project" designed to break him down, and was considered important enough that his interrogation was mentioned in a briefing to high-ranking intelligence officials at the Pentagon.
Ahsy was interrogated dozens of times by military intelligence soldiers, civilian contractors, and members of other government agencies (OGA), a common euphemism for the CIA, according to the documents. The newly discovered accounts reveal that the military working dog in the photograph was being used in conjunction with a coordinated effort to get Ahsy to talk, an effort that continued for months.
"People were always making a big deal about him, and I don't know why," said Sgt. Hydrue Joyner, who ran the day shift on Tier 1A. "Whenever we took him out of the cell, they made it seem like we had Hannibal Lecter with us. They thought he was important, and OGA [CIA] and MI were paying a lot of attention to him."

Interrogation summaries show that Ahsy was questioned regularly -- 63 times through April 12, 2004 -- and interrogators were frustrated by his lack of cooperation. He was threatened with being sent to a Saudi or Israeli prison, and interrogators tried to scare him with the possibility of sending him to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
Military officials in Baghdad said Ahsy was released from custody in October 2004 -- 10 months after his capture -- but declined to elaborate. [complete article]

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Meshal: Olmert's withdrawal plan is a declaration of war
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, March 12, 2006

From a Palestinian perspective, Kadima leader Ehud Olmert's plan to leave parts of the West Bank and determine Israel's borders by 2010 constitutes a declaration of war, said Hamas' political bureau chief Khaled Meshal on Friday.

Olmert announced the plan in interviews this weekend.

Responding to Olmert's plan during an interview with the Agence France-Presse correspondent in Damascus, Meshal said: "This disengagement plan is based on a withdrawal from areas densely populated by Palestinians and it is not peace, but rather a declaration of war. The plan stems from safeguarding Israeli security interests and not steps toward peace that involve a genuine withdrawal and recognition of Palestinian rights. After implementing the plan, Israel will remain in large areas of the West Bank, will preserve the fence and settlements and is refusing to give up East Jerusalem." [complete article]

Recognising Israel 'is up to the people'
By Ahmed Janabi, Aljazeera, March 12, 2006

Hamas's draft government programme has left the question of recognising Israel to the Palestinian people - leaving the door open for a possible referendum.

Hamas published a draft of its government programme on its website on Saturday.

The fifth article in the programme says: "The question of recognising Israel is not the jurisdiction of one faction, nor the government, but a decision for the Palestinian people."

Handing the issue over to a popular referendum would neatly disengage Hamas from being labelled as a hardline movement that refuses to recognise Israel on ideological grounds. [complete article]

Fatah faces U.S. cut off if it join Hamas government
Reuters (via WP), March 13, 2006

The Bush administration intends to curtail contacts with President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction if it joins a Hamas-led government, Western diplomatic sources said on Monday.

The warning came as senior Fatah officials held talks in Gaza with Hamas over whether to join the government being formed by the Islamic militant group, which beat Fatah in January elections. [complete article]

Israel's new iron man plans 'axis of hope' in Middle East
By Uzi Mahnaimi, The Times, March 12, 2006

The man likely to become Israel's next defence minister does not shy away from talking about his past.

"I killed many Arabs, probably more than Hamas fighters killed Jews, and more than anybody else, but all in order to secure Israeli lives," said Admiral Ami Ayalon, the Labour party’s candidate for the most difficult portfolio in Israeli politics.

There are two weeks before the general election, and victory for either Labour or the Kadima party is expected to ensure that the former commando and head of Shin Bet, the internal security service, will take over from Shaul Mofaz, the incumbent, in a coalition.

Ayalon is considered a dove despite his 32 years of military service and his near five-year stint at the helm of the intelligence agency. He is a straight talker, and wants a comprehensive peace settlement with the Palestinians even under a Hamas leadership. [complete article]

Lacking mandate on Hamas policy, Mideast envoy may quit
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, March 12, 2006

In another indication of international confusion over how to deal with a new Palestinian government led by the radical Islamic group Hamas, the Middle East envoy of the main Western nations involved in the dormant peace process, James. D. Wolfensohn, told his staff on Saturday that without a clear mandate on a policy toward Hamas, he would leave his job at the end of April, a staff member said. [complete article]

Palestinians growing desperate for money
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, March 10, 2006

In the last two weeks, the Palestinian Authority has been given about $70 million - more than $40 million released by the World Bank, nearly $21 million from the European Union and $10 million from Norway. But even once all that cash arrives, the Palestinian Authority will have only 95 percent of the money needed to pay February's overdue salaries, said the Palestinian minister of national economy, Mazen Sinnoqrot.

How the Palestinian Authority will cover salaries for March, Sinnoqrot said, "remains a mystery." And that is even before the victorious Islamic group Hamas names a new Palestinian government, which will put a stop to significant amounts of international aid. [complete article]

West Bank tours reveal the grim reality of Israeli occupation
By Harry de Quetteville, The Telegraph, March 11, 2006

On the top floor of a commandeered Palestinian home in the West Bank city of Hebron, Yehuda Shaul, a former Israeli soldier, stood at the centre of a group of rapt German tourists and told them about the time he unleashed his grenade launcher on local gunmen.

"I was trained with the grenade gun. That was my mission," he said. "But we were shooting at houses 800 metres away, so of course you hit innocent targets too."

When Mr Shaul talks about innocent targets, he means Palestinian civilians. Yet he is not afraid to tell stories from his 14 months service in the Israeli army in Hebron.

"Could we fire grenades at areas where Palestinians lived? Sure. Why not?" he asked, describing many Israeli army actions breaking the army's own rules of engagement. "It was fun. It was cool. Could we shut 2,000 Palestinian shops with a curfew on a whim? Why not?"

In the past nine months, Mr Shaul and the Breaking the Silence group he founded has led more than 40 groups totalling 1,200 people around the divided city of Hebron, where 500 Jewish settlers live at the heart of a Palestinian population of more than 100,000.

The tourists pay nothing bar transport costs, but they are given a no-holds-barred insider view of the effect that Israel's Hebron settlements - and the hundreds of combat troops which protect them - have on the city's Palestinian population.

"Patrols are invading houses around the clock, not to arrest terrorists but to show our presence," said Mr Shaul. "So you break into houses in the middle of the night, wake everybody up. You do not treat Palestinians as equal human beings. It's like putting all your morality and all your education in a blender," he added. "After a minute there's nothing left." [complete article]

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Test of U.S. ability to win terror cases in court
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, March 13, 2006

If nothing else, the long trial of confessed Al Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui - now in its final phase - may have highlighted the difficulties of prosecuting big terrorism cases in a democratic nation's civilian courts.

Mr. Moussaoui himself has been disruptive and belligerent. He's been thrown out of court for outbursts, such as shouting "I am Al Qaeda!" in front of prospective jurors. The courts have struggled with his attempts to serve as his own lawyer, and requests for testimony from other terror suspects.

But the US isn't alone in this regard. In Spain, prosecutors have asked the Supreme Court to review the only conviction thus far directly related to the September 11 attacks. They're no longer sure evidence proves that Syrian-born Spaniard Immad Yarkas provided logistics for the 9/11 conspiracy. [complete article]

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Iraq: The reckoning
By Patrick Cockburn and Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, March 12, 2006

President George Bush is about to embark on one of the toughest campaigns of his second term. Tomorrow, with the third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq looming, he will make the first of a series of speeches to convince the American public, a sceptical world - and perhaps even himself - that things are going the right way in Iraq.

Signalling the start of this public relations offensive, Mr Bush said on Friday that Iraq had stepped back from "the abyss" of civil war. That is debatable - in the eyes of many Iraqis, civil war has already begun - but it shows how far expectations have sunk since the invasion was launched with such swaggering confidence 36 months ago. [complete article]

See also, Iraq: three years on (The Observer)

No one knows how many Iraqis have died
By Jim Krane, AP (via WP), March 10, 2006

Three years into the war, one grim measure of its impact on Iraqis can be seen at Baghdad's morgue: There, the staff has photographed and catalogued more than 24,000 bodies from the Baghdad area alone since 2003, almost all killed in violence.

Despite such snapshots, the overall number of Iraqi civilians and soldiers killed since the U.S.-led invasion in spring 2003 remains murky. Bloodshed has worsened each year, pushing the Iraqi death toll into the tens of thousands. But no one knows the exact toll. [complete article]

Even as U.S. invaded, Hussein saw Iraqi unrest as top threat
By Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor, New York Times, March 12, 2006

As American warplanes streaked overhead two weeks after the invasion began, Lt. Gen. Raad Majid al-Hamdani drove to Baghdad for a crucial meeting with Iraqi leaders. He pleaded for reinforcements to stiffen the capital's defenses and permission to blow up the Euphrates River bridge south of the city to block the American advance.

But Saddam Hussein and his small circle of aides had their own ideas of how to fight the war. Convinced that the main danger to his government came from within, Mr. Hussein had sought to keep Iraq's bridges intact so he could rush troops south if the Shiites got out of line. [complete article]

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The juggler
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, March 12, 2006

Both Sunnis and Shiites now publicly accuse [US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad,] of secretly siding with their opponents. With the possibility of civil war looming, they seem to have gone beyond worrying whose faction will get the next cabinet post; their deepest concern now is whom will the American forces help if unrestrained warfare breaks out.

The Shiite religious parties who dominate Iraq's government have now grown tired of hearing the ambassador tell them that they must share power with Sunni Arab leaders, whom they view as terrorists.

Some Shiite leaders even say they suspect the ambassador of betraying them in his recent criticisms of Shiite militia tactics. They interpreted those comments as a shift from democratic idealism to a cold concern with the balance of power, no matter who has won the most votes or how virtuous or brutal the players are. [complete article]

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U.S. vows no permanent bases in Iraq
AFP (via Yahoo), March 11, 2006

US ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad said that his country did not want permanent military bases in Iraq and that he was willing to talk to Iran about the war-torn country's future.

"We want Iraq to stand on its own feet, we have no goal of establishing permanent bases here," he said in an interview with Iraq's Ash-Sharqiya television, according to a transcript obtained by AFP.

"Our goal is a working, a workable government, so that we can leave Iraq and let Iraqis handle all their circumstance themselves. That's our goal, and were very serious about this, we mean it," he said.

The ambassador said he was willing to speak with Iran about Iraq's future, stressing however that the US would not let its concerns over Iran's alleged nuclear weapons' drive influence its policies in Iraq. [complete article]

Iran claims U.S. has offered peace talks
By Lindsey Hilsum, The Sunday Times, March 12, 2006

Even as politicians in Tehran and Washington stoked the fires of confrontation last week, America was said to have been asking Iran for help in calming the violence in Iraq.

A senior Iranian intelligence official showed Channel 4 News a letter in Persian purportedly signed by Zalmay Khalilzad, the US ambassador in Baghdad, inviting Iranian representatives to Iraq for talks. [complete article]

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SAS soldier quits British Army in disgust at 'illegal' American tactics in Iraq
By Sean Rayment, The Sunday Telegraph, March 12, 2006

An SAS [Britain's special operations force] soldier has refused to fight in Iraq and has left the Army over the "illegal" tactics of United States troops and the policies of coalition forces.

After three months in Baghdad, Ben Griffin told his commander that he was no longer prepared to fight alongside American forces.

He said he had witnessed "dozens of illegal acts" by US troops, claiming they viewed all Iraqis as "untermenschen" - the Nazi term for races regarded as sub-human.

The decision marks the first time an SAS soldier has refused to go into combat and quit the Army on moral grounds.

It immediately brought to an end Mr Griffin's exemplary, eight-year career in which he also served with the Parachute Regiment, taking part in operations in Northern Ireland, Macedonia and Afghanistan. [complete article]

See also, Waiting to blow up (Brian Mockenhaupt).

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Vietnam and Iraq: Looking back and looking ahead
By David A. Fahrenthold, Washington Post, March 12, 2006

They were talking about a guerrilla war in Asia. Or, fairly often, more than one.

"You cannot win against an insurgency that springs from the population," said Jack Valenti, former special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson. "There's never been an insurgency that doesn't prevail against a mighty power."

"How much reform can you do," former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger wondered later, "simultaneously with fighting a war?"

The banner on their dais read "Vietnam and the Presidency" -- ostensibly, the subject of a high-powered conference that brought historians and former policymakers to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library for two days ending Saturday.

But, as the speakers talked about anti-American insurgents and faulty U.S. intelligence and the search for an honorable way out in Southeast Asia, nearly all found bitter parallels to the current conflict in Iraq. [complete article]

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Captors tortured American, then killed him, Iraq says
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, March 12, 2006

Tom Fox, the kidnapped American peace worker whose body was found this week, had apparently been tortured by his captors before being shot multiple times in the head and dumped on a trash heap next to a railway line in western Baghdad, an official at the Iraqi Interior Ministry said Saturday.

The body was discovered Thursday afternoon dressed in a gray track suit and stuffed in a large plastic bag, the official said, adding that Mr. Fox, 54, of Clear Brook, Va., had been bound at the wrists and ankles. [complete article]

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Iraq media campaign to free Jill Carroll continues
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 10, 2006

The Christian Science Monitor has reinvigorated its Iraqi media campaign to free journalist Jill Carroll, who was on assignment for the paper when she was kidnapped on Jan. 7, 2006. The effort is focused on reminding Iraqis of her situation as she marks two months in captivity.

Television stations with national and local reach in Iraq are broadcasting public-service announcements in Arabic that carry the message: "Kidnapped American journalist Jill Carroll loves Iraq, and now she needs your help. It is time for Jill Carroll to come home safely." [complete article]

See also, Bloggers campaign for Jill Carroll (Committee to Protect Bloggers).

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Iran raises temperature in nuclear dispute
AFX via Forbes), March 12, 2006

Iran upped the stakes in the confrontation over its atomic program, saying a Russian compromise proposal was no longer on the table and threatening to quit an international nuclear treaty.

The comments by Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and his spokesman came days before Iran's nuclear drive, alleged by the US to be a cover for weapons production, is due to be discussed on the UN Security Council. [complete article]

Iran builds a secret underground complex as nuclear tensions rise
By Philip Sherwell, The Sunday Telegraph, March 12, 2006

Iran's leaders have built a secret underground emergency command centre in Teheran as they prepare for a confrontation with the West over their illicit nuclear programme, the Sunday Telegraph has been told.

The complex of rooms and offices beneath the Abbas Abad district in the north of the capital is designed to serve as a bolthole and headquarters for the country's rulers as military tensions mount. [complete article]

It's not just Iran's leaders who think it better to fight and die than compromise with America
By Dilip Hiro, The Sunday Telegraph, March 12, 2006

So what can the United States do to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons? The short answer is: not very much. The Bush administration insists that "military intervention is not ruled out" - John Bolton, Bush's ambassador to the UN, repeated that message last week - but in reality it is ruled out. America will not invade Iran, at least not while it is still embroiled in Iraq and Afghanistan. Simple logistics eliminate that option: the US does not have enough soldiers to launch a successful invasion of Iran.

There are, of course, military options other than full-scale invasion. The Americans are known to have drawn up a list of 40 targets that they would need to destroy if Iran's nuclear programme were to be disabled, or at least delayed, and its conventional military power crippled. The idea is for "surgical" air strikes to destroy key sites in the nuclear production chain and military industry.

But air strikes are never surgical, especially when the targets are in or near cities, as 10 of the American 40 are thought to be. The Iranian reaction when one of America's bombs hits a hospital, a school or a factory and kills scores of civilians is not difficult to imagine. Iranians would demand revenge. And their leaders would find a way to ensure that they got it. [complete article]

See also, 'The choice is not enrichment or not, it is enrichment or weapons' (The Sunday Telegraph).

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Iraq-war vets: The Democrats' newest weapon
By Joe Klein, Time, March 12, 2006

[Chris Carney, Democratic candidate running in the 10th Congressional District, Montrose, Pa.,] is one of more than 50 veterans running for Congress as Democrats this year, eight of whom are Iraq-combat veterans. Carney didn't see action in Iraq, but he was a senior intelligence analyst who served in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Indeed, he was one of a core group of military-intelligence officers who studied the Iraqi insurgency over the past three years and have been frustrated by the Bush Administration's failure to bring adequate force to meet the challenge. [complete article]

See also, Bush's troubles disturbing his party (NYT).

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Add to Bush's follies the rape of his own country
By Henry Porter, The Observer, March 12, 2006

Eastern Kentucky is a long way from Britain. What do we care if another million acres of the Appalachian mountain range are lost to strip mining? If the habitat of the flying squirrel and the cerulean warbler is blown up and bulldozed? If one of the oldest temperate forests in the world with some 80 species of trees is destroyed by the greed of a few coal companies? Why should it matter to us?

I'll tell you why. First, because this story exposes the pathological destructiveness of the Republican political and religious elite. Not content with the ruin it has caused in Iraq, George W Bush's administration lays waste the great American wilderness in a way that tests your faith in the reason of man. [complete article]

See also, Pollution soaring to crisis levels in Arctic (The Observer) and Death of the world's rivers (The Independent).

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Mafia's role in ports also raises concerns
By David B. Caruso, AP (via WP), March 11, 2006

Justice Department lawyers warned eight months ago that a nefarious element had infiltrated important East Coast ports, but they weren't talking about terrorists or Arab shipping companies.

They were talking about the mafia.

In a civil suit filed in July, prosecutors accused the International Longshoremen's Association, the 65,000-member union that supplies labor to ports from Florida to Maine, of being a "vehicle for organized crime" on the waterfront.

Packed with tales of corruption, embezzling and extortion, the complaint accused union executives of being associates of the Genovese and Gambino crime families.

The U.S. attorney's office asked a judge to seize control of the union, remove its officers and "put an end to the conspiracy among union officials, organized crime figures and others that has plagued some of the nation's most important ports for decades."

The allegations, assailed by the union as unjust and untrue, are inching toward trial amid heightened concern over port security. [complete article]

Comment -- And as many Americans sit down this evening to enjoy the beginning of a new season of The Sopranos, perhaps it's time to consider why organized crime is still romanticized through popular images of the mafia. While their real-life counterparts continue to exert a significant influence in this society, the government, the FBI, and much of society has more interest in fixing its attention on a nebulous threat from terrorism. Violence - so long as its homegrown - remains an accepted feature of the American landscape.

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Can network theory thwart terrorists?
By Patrick Radden Keefe, New York Times, March 12, 2006

Recent debates about the National Security Agency's warrantless-eavesdropping program have produced two very different pictures of the operation. Whereas administration officials describe a carefully aimed "terrorist surveillance program," press reports depict a pervasive electronic net ensnaring thousands of innocent people and few actual terrorists. Could it be that both the administration and its critics are right? One way to reconcile these divergent accounts - and explain the administration's decision not to seek warrants for the surveillance - is to examine a new conceptual paradigm that is changing how America's spies pursue terrorists: network theory. [complete article]

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The crime of being a Muslim charity
By Laila al-Marayati and Basil Abdelkarim, Washington Post, March 12, 2006

The Treasury Department is playing target practice with American Muslim charities. On Feb. 19 Treasury seized the assets and froze the operations of KindHearts, a Toledo-based humanitarian organization, acting on the dubious allegation that it is financing terrorism. Someone from Treasury once told us, "There are folks here who look at you guys like notches on their belts ... just waiting to take the next one out."

Unfortunately, those of us in the American Muslim community who want to give to legitimate causes in a lawful manner are getting mixed messages from the U.S. government. We are told that if we conduct due diligence and function transparently, we should be able to give to charities of our choice. Then the government closes most of these charities, using the weakest of evidence to support its actions and leading many American Muslims to believe that our government opposes efforts to help needy Muslims around the world. Moreover, the arbitrary freezing of assets ensures that the money will never reach the destination intended by the donors -- the truly indigent. The government has consistently denied requests to have the frozen funds released to reputable organizations (that are not on any lists) doing similar work so that the donors' intentions are honored. [complete article]

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Patriot Act partly blamed in Madrid case
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, March 11, 2006

The FBI used expanded powers under the USA Patriot Act to demand information from banks and other companies as part of the investigation of Oregon lawyer Brandon Mayfield, who was wrongfully arrested in connection with the Madrid train bombings in 2004, according to a report issued yesterday.

Inspector General Glenn A. Fine also found that although FBI investigators did not abuse any of its powers in the case, the Patriot Act anti-terrorism law "amplified the consequences" of the FBI's misidentification of a fingerprint by allowing numerous agencies to share flawed information. [complete article]

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Look who's running the world now
By David J. Rothkopf, Washington Post, March 12, 2006

From 2001 to 2005, the vice president's influence over U.S. foreign policy may have been greater than that of any individual other than the president since Henry A. Kissinger held the positions of national security adviser and secretary of state during the Nixon years. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld served as Cheney's partner in steamrolling bureaucratic rivals; Colin L. Powell toiled loyally at the largely ignored and mistrusted State Department; and Condoleezza Rice, national security adviser and ostensibly the coordinator of policy, played the role of tutor to a neophyte president and seldom challenged Cheney. As a result, policies were largely shaped by the vice president and his circle.

But Cheney's influence has waned. He's lost his top aide, his public approval ratings are dismal, and his network of supporters inside the administration has dissolved. At the same time, Rice has taken charge at State, and the National Security Council has faded even further. The result is a kinder, gentler face on foreign policy, but also a void in the Bush administration foreign policy apparatus just where it matters most -- the White House. [complete article]

See also, Overextended, U.S. gets real (Vincent Ferraro).

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The fruits of diplomacy
By Madhur Jaffrey, New York Times, March 12, 2006

Whatever anyone else might say, America's new nuclear and trade pact with India is a win-win deal. India gets nuclear fuel for its energy needs and America, doing far better in what might be called a stealth victory, finally gets mangoes.

Not those pleasantly hued but lifeless rocks that pass as mangoes in most American grocery stores. Definitely not the fibrous, unyielding, supersized Florida creations that boast long shelf life and easy handling and shipping but little else. They might hint at possibilities but provide no satisfaction.

No. What America will be getting is the King of Fruit, Indian masterpieces that are burnished like jewels, oozing sweet, complex flavors acquired after two millenniums of painstaking grafting. I can just see them arriving at the ports: hundreds of wide baskets lined with straw, the mangoes nestling in the center like eggs lolling in their nests.

These mangoes will be seasonal. Americans will learn to wait for them, just as Indians do. They cannot be pushed to grow in hothouses. Indian mango trees, many of them hundreds of years old (and some reputed to be thousands of years old) need to breathe the same free, fresh air Indians breathe and live through India's three main seasons: summer, the monsoons and winter. Only then will they deign to bear fruit. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

When democracy looks like civil war
By Yassin Musharbash, Der Spiegel, March 10, 2006

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

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

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

European liberals recruited into an uncivilized clash
By Jonathan Cook, Al-Ahram Weekly, March 9, 2006

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

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

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

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

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