The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Battle for Baghdad 'has already started'
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, March 25, 2006

The battle between Sunni and Shia Muslims for control of Baghdad has already started, say Iraqi political leaders who predict fierce street fighting will break out as each community takes over districts in which it is strongest.

"The fighting will only stop when a new balance of power has emerged," Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of Massoud Barzani, the Kurdish leader, said. "Sunni and Shia will each take control of their own area." He said sectarian cleansing had already begun.

Many Iraqi leaders now believe that civil war is inevitable but it will be confined, at least at first, to the capital and surrounding provinces where the population is mixed. "The real battle will be the battle for Baghdad where the Shia have increasing control," said one senior official who did not want his name published. "The army will disintegrate in the first moments of the war because the soldiers are loyal to the Shia, Sunni or Kurdish communities and not to the government." He expected the Americans to stay largely on the sidelines. [complete article]

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Iraq is the 51st state
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, March 22, 2006

Amid all the Bush dissembling that marked the third anniversary of his Iraq invasion, it might be easy to forget that we got into this mess because the Democrats and the media were not prepared to challenge the Big Lie used to justify it. It was plain as daylight even four years ago that Iraq was absolutely no threat to the U.S. or to anyone else in the region, for that matter. (Today, too much of the media still seems to let Bush get away with claiming that the intelligence services of the world shared his assessment of the Iraqi threat: That, quite frankly, is a cow pat -- yes, the intelligence services of the world may have had a similar assessment to that of the U.S. about what Iraq had in its arsenal. And on that basis, they deduced that Iraq was no threat, as did U.S. intelligence until the Duckhunter and the neocons began to lean on them to change the conclusions they were drawing from the same facts.)

Still, Bush seems to get very little by way of skeptical questioning when he offers a new palliative to suit the new situation: Even as he makes absolutely clear that U.S. forces will remain in Iraq after his presidency, he offers the seductive promise that "progress" is being made because Iraqi security forces are being deployed to replace their U.S. counterparts, which supposedly will allow them to leave. Now, if in social situations, we judge people not by what they say about themselves but by their behavior, then surely we should apply the same standard in the realm of politics? Although this idea of Iraqi forces deployment allowing U.S. forces to leave has been reported for months, there have been no signs in the behavior of U.S. forces in Iraq that the way is being prepared for a departure of its forces for the foreseeable future. [complete article]

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Russians helped Iraq, study says
By Ann Scott Tyson and Josh White, Washington Post, March 25, 2006

Russian officials collected intelligence on U.S. troop movements and attack plans from inside the American military command leading the 2003 invasion of Iraq and passed that information to Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, according to a U.S. military study released yesterday.

The intelligence reports, which the study said were provided to Hussein through the Russian ambassador in Baghdad at the height of the U.S. assault, warned accurately that American formations intended to bypass Iraqi cities on their thrust toward Baghdad. The reports provided some specific numbers on U.S. troops, units and locations, according to Iraqi documents dated March and April 2003 and later captured by the United States. [complete article]

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U.S. avoids embarrassing its favorite dictator
By Shankar Vedantam, Washington Post, March 25, 2006

The Bush administration has withdrawn an invitation to a Pakistani lawmaker and a prominent critic of President Pervez Musharraf who was to arrive in the United States today as a guest of the State Department, setting off charges that the action came at the behest of the Pakistani government.

Sana Ullah Baloch, who had been invited by the State Department last year and issued a visa, was told recently by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad that he could not attend a State Department-sponsored program on accountability in government and business and that a visa he had already received had been revoked.

American officials first told Baloch in a letter sent March 13 that they had taken the action because of "a recent withdrawal in funding which made it necessary for us to scale back the program."

In an interview Wednesday, State Department spokeswoman Nancy Beck said the problem was not funding but rather new information that was received after Baloch had been approved that "led us to believe he was not eligible for a visa." She declined to elaborate.

The incident has drawn sharp parallels with the case of Mukhtar Mai, a woman gang-raped in 2002 by a village council in Pakistan, who was prevented by the Pakistani government from traveling to the United States last summer to publicize her story. The government later relented. [complete article]

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Iran's nuclear steps quicken, diplomats say
By Alissa J. Rubin and Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2006

With efforts to halt its nuclear program at an impasse, Iran is moving faster than expected and is just days from making the first steps toward enriching uranium, said diplomats who have been briefed on the program.

If engineers encounter no major technical problems, Iran could manufacture enough highly enriched uranium to build a bomb within three years, much more quickly than the common estimate of five to 10 years, the diplomats said.

Iran insists that it is interested only in producing electricity, which requires low-grade enrichment of uranium. [complete article]

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Disgraced defense contractor planned to promote democracy in Iran
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, March 24, 2006

In a new example of disgraced defense contractor Mitchell Wade's attempts to exert influence in Washington and beyond, Wade and two business partners formed a nonprofit group in 2004 to promote democracy in Iran, according to documents and interviews.

Wade and the two partners, who have been large contributors to Republican political campaigns, formed the Iranian Democratization Foundation in April 2004, according to incorporation papers filed in Washington.

The timing coincides with a push by opponents of the theocratic regime in Tehran to appropriate more money for democracy programs. [complete article]

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Scholars' attack on pro-Israel lobby met with silence
By Ori Nir, The Forward, March 24, 2006

In the face of one of the harshest reports on the pro-Israel lobby to emerge from academia, Jewish organizations are holding fire in order to avoid generating publicity for their critics.

Officials at Jewish organizations are furious over "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," a new paper by John Mearsheimer, a top international relations theorists based at the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, the academic dean of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. In their report - versions of which appear on the Kennedy School Web site and in the March 26 issue of the London Review of Books - the scholars depict "the Israel lobby" as a "loose coalition" of politicians, media outlets, research institutions, Jewish groups and Evangelical Christians that steers America's Middle East policy in directions beneficial to Israel, even if it requires harming American interests.

Despite their anger, Jewish organizations are avoiding a frontal debate with the two scholars, while at the same time seeking indirect ways to rebut and discredit the scholars' arguments. Officials with pro-Israel organizations say that given the limited public attention generated by the new study - as of Tuesday most major print outlets had ignored it - they prefer not to draw attention to the paper by taking issue with it head on. As of Wednesday morning, none of the largest Jewish organizations had issued a press release on the report. [complete article]

Professor says American publisher turned him down
By Ori Nir, The Forward, March 24, 2006

John Mearsheimer says that the pro-Israel lobby is so powerful that he and co-author Stephen Walt would never have been able to place their report in a American-based scientific publication.

"I do not believe that we could have gotten it published in the United States," Mearsheimer told the Forward. He said that the paper was originally commissioned in the fall of 2002 by one of America's leading magazines, "but the publishers told us that it was virtually impossible to get the piece published in the United States." [complete article]

See also, Israeli media condemn, discuss report on US-Israel ties (CSM) and Blaming the lobby (Joseph Massad).

Comment -- The Forward reports that:
Mearsheimer and Walt also seem to be resisting further publicity.

"I don't have an agenda in the sense of viewing myself as proselytizing or trying to sell this," Mearsheimer told the Forward. "I am a scholar, not an activist, and I am reticent to take questions from the media because I do believe that this is a subject that has to be approached very carefully. You don't want to say the wrong thing. The potential for saying the wrong thing is very great here."
True. It is very easy to say the wrong thing, but suggesting that a debate should be opened up and then declining to participate in this debate simply makes Mearsheimer and Walt look like cowards. How do they expect to encourage anyone else to speak up if they themselves are unwilling to join the fray?

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Challenge for U.S.: Iraq's handling of detainees
By Edward Wong, New York Times, March 24, 2006

The blindfolded detainees in the dingy hallway line up in groups of five for their turn to see a judge, like schoolchildren outside the principal's office.

Each meeting lasts a few minutes. The judge rules whether the detainee will go free, face trial or be held longer at this Iraqi base in northern Baghdad. But Firas Sabri Ali, squeezed into a fetid cell just hundreds of yards from the judge's office, has watched the inmates come and go for four months without his name ever being called.

He is jailed, along with two brothers and his father, solely as collateral, he says. The Iraqi forces are hunting another brother, suspected of being an insurgent. The chief American medic here says that he believes Mr. Ali to be innocent but that it is up to the Iraqi police to decide whether to free him. The Iraqis acknowledged that they were holding Mr. Ali until they captured his brother.

"I hope they catch him, because then I'll be released," said Mr. Ali, 38, a soft-spoken man who until his arrest worked for a British security company to support his wife and three sons. "They said, 'You must wait.' I told them: 'There's no law. This is injustice.' " [complete article]

We don't need reason to hold you, Hammoudeh told
By Meg Laughlin, St. Petersburg Times, March 22, 2006

Government attorneys finally told Sameeh Hammoudeh, Tuesday, the main reason they're keeping him imprisoned: because they can.

This explanation was their response to a lawsuit filed by Hammoudeh's lawyer, Stephen Bernstein, against U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and others.

The suit claims that Hammoudeh's continued incarceration in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement wing of the Manatee County Jail is unconstitutional because he has been acquitted in the Sami Al-Arian case and received no jail time in a separate tax fraud case, in which he agreed to be deported.

But government attorneys argued in their written response Tuesday that the overriding reason Hammoudeh remains in jail is because ICE can legally keep him for six months, according to a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

In the Zadvydas case, the Supreme Court said it was illegal to keep a deportee in jail for more than six months without justification.

The government, relying on an 11th Circuit appellate reading of Zadvydas, says the opposite also is true: Hammoudeh "cannot state a claim for unreasonable detention" until the six months is up. Hammoudeh's argument that his continued imprisonment is unconstitutional is "premature," says the government. [complete article]

Comment -- The day after federal prosecutors made this outrageous argument, a federal judge ruled that:
Sameeh Hammoudeh should not have to wait six months before challenging the constitutional right of immigration officials to keep him in custody while awaiting deportation.

"The Fifth Amendment is not triggered by the passage of time," said U.S. District Judge James Whittemore. "Mr. Hammoudeh has a viable cause of action."

On Dec. 6, Hammoudeh was acquitted of all charges as a co-defendant in the terrorism-related trial of Sami Al-Arian, but faces deportation after pleading guilty in another case.
Nevertheless, the mere fact that a prosecutor can present such an argument for imprisoning someone begs the question: What kind of government do these prosecutors think they are representing? Is this a democracy or a police state?

(For background on this case, see Sami Al-Arian trial coverage (St. Petersburg Times).)

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Surviving to tell the tale of torture
By Olga Talamante, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2006

The burlap bag felt rough and scratchy against my cheek, but it also smelled earthy and deceptively comforting. Thick tape already covered my eyes, so the bag's only purpose was to frighten me. And it worked. I knew I had entered another dimension.

A day earlier I had been a not-too-unusual 24-year-old American student from UC Santa Cruz, working with the Peronist Youth organization for social change in Azul, Argentina. For the next 16 months, I would become one of thousands of political prisoners and torture victims taken into custody as Argentina first declared martial law and then later suffered a right-wing military coup. But I was one of the lucky ones -- a survivor, thanks to family and friends in the United States who won my release on March 27, 1976.

When I returned home to California and testified about the torture, my stories horrified listeners. But we could feel safe here because torture was the province of brutal, unsophisticated despots. It was a time when the average American could not imagine our soldiers abroad participating in anything remotely similar. Now, three years into the Iraq war, we have seen the images of Abu Ghraib and read accounts of the atrocities at Baghdad's Camp Nama. [complete article]

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Near Paul Revere country, anti-Bush cries get louder
By Michael Powell, Washington Post, March 25, 2006

To drive through the mill towns and curling country roads here is to journey into New England's impeachment belt. Three of this state's 10 House members have called for the investigation and possible impeachment of President Bush.

Thirty miles north, residents in four Vermont villages voted earlier this month at annual town meetings to buy more rock salt, approve school budgets, and impeach the president for lying about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction and for sanctioning torture.

Window cleaner Ira Clemons put down his squeegee in the lobby of a city mall and stroked his goatee as he considered the question: Would you support your congressman's call to impeach Bush? His smile grew until it looked like a three-quarters moon.

"Why not? The man's been lying from Jump Street on the war in Iraq," Clemons said. "Bush says there were weapons of mass destruction, but there wasn't. Says we had enough soldiers, but we didn't. Says it's not a civil war -- but it is." He added: "I was really upset about 9/11 -- so don't lie to me."

It would be a considerable overstatement to say the fledgling impeachment movement threatens to topple a presidency -- there are just 33 House co-sponsors of a motion by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) to investigate and perhaps impeach Bush, and a large majority of elected Democrats think it is a bad idea. But talk bubbles up in many corners of the nation, and on the Internet, where several Web sites have led the charge, giving liberals an outlet for anger that has been years in the making. [complete article]

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Israel's superfluous election
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly, March 23, 2006

Elections in Israel usually circle around a big idea. In 1992, it was peace. In 1996 it was security. In 1999 it was peace again, combined with the desire to end Israel's 20-year occupation of Lebanon. In 2003 it was the Intifada and how Israel was to deal with the Palestinians' second national revolt in less than a decade. Ariel Sharon insisted that any retreat -- territorial or otherwise -- would be a "victory for terrorism". The Labour Party leader, Amran Mitzna, called for negotiations and/or a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon won the elections and implemented Mitzna's policy, minus the negotiations.

There is no big idea for the Israeli elections on 28 March. There is a continuation of existing government policy. It's called separation and carries Sharon's imprimatur. All that his successor, acting Prime Minister and Kadima leader Ehud Olmert, has done is provide the details: the West Bank wall will be Israel's eastern border, including its concrete envelop around occupied East Jerusalem; the West Bank settlements will be "converged" into three vast blocks; Israel will retain security control over the Jordan Valley; and there will be a permanent severance between the West Bank and Gaza, with the latter under Israel's total control. The same will be the fate of the West Bank cantons. [complete article]

See also, Kadima lays bare it's plan for dividing Jerusalem (Haaretz).

Israeli restrictions create isolated enclaves in West Bank
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, March 24, 2006

The regime of restriction on movement imposed by Israel on the Palestinians has crumbled the West Bank into dozens of closed or partially closed enclaves isolated from each other despite their geographical proximity. Permanent and mobile checkpoints, along with physical barriers of various kinds, fenced-off main roads, limitations on Palestinian traffic on east-west and north-south arteries, have cut off direct transportational links between areas of the West Bank.

Thus, a new geographic, social and economic reality has emerged in the West Bank.

Hundreds of exits from Palestinian communities to main and regional roads are blocked. Traffic among the enclaves is directed to secondary roads and a small number of main roads passing through Israel Defense Force-controlled bottle-necks. Entry to the Jordan Valley, Palestinian East Jerusalem and to enclaves between the separation fence and the Green Line is barred to all Palestinians except those registered as residents of those areas. To enter such areas, special authorization to "non-residents" must be obtained, which is rarely given. [complete article]

See also, Hamas says it won't arrest militants who attack Israel (Haaretz).

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Good versus evil isn't a strategy
By Madeleine Albright, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2006

The Bush administration's newly unveiled National Security Strategy might well be subtitled "The Irony of Iran." Three years after the invasion of Iraq and the invention of the phrase "axis of evil," the administration now highlights the threat posed by Iran -- whose radical government has been vastly strengthened by the invasion of Iraq. This is more tragedy than strategy, and it reflects the Manichean approach this administration has taken to the world.

It is sometimes convenient, for purposes of rhetorical effect, for national leaders to talk of a globe neatly divided into good and bad. It is quite another, however, to base the policies of the world's most powerful nation upon that fiction. The administration's penchant for painting its perceived adversaries with the same sweeping brush has led to a series of unintended consequences.

For years, the president has acted as if Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein's followers and Iran's mullahs were parts of the same problem. Yet, in the 1980s, Hussein's Iraq and Iran fought a brutal war. In the 1990s, Al Qaeda's allies murdered a group of Iranian diplomats. For years, Osama bin Laden ridiculed Hussein, who persecuted Sunni and Shiite religious leaders alike. When Al Qaeda struck the U.S. on 9/11, Iran condemned the attacks and later participated constructively in talks on Afghanistan. The top leaders in the new Iraq -- chosen in elections that George W. Bush called "a magic moment in the history of liberty" -- are friends of Iran. When the U.S. invaded Iraq, Bush may have thought he was striking a blow for good over evil, but the forces unleashed were considerably more complex. [complete article]

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Salvadorans ambushed by memories in Iraq
By N.C. Aizenman, Washington Post, March 25, 2006

The convoy of Salvadoran troops was rumbling along a highway in southern Iraq when a bomb exploded under the first Humvee, slicing the driver's neck with shrapnel. As a medic scrambled to reach him, insurgents hiding nearby unleashed a torrent of small-arms fire.

It was the soldiers' first taste of combat in Iraq. But for those who had fought in El Salvador's fierce civil war as teenagers two decades earlier, the skirmish near Diwaniyah last September felt uncomfortably familiar.

Once again, they were crouching for cover against the deafening rat-a-tat-tat of AK-47 assault rifles. Once again, they were firing back with weapons and ammunition supplied by the U.S. government.

"Suddenly all these memories of the civil war came back to me," recalled Gustavo, a 35-year-old sergeant who returned to his village in northern El Salvador last month. Like other soldiers interviewed, he asked that his full name not be published because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "It was strange," he said. "I started remembering all these ambushes and battles I hadn't thought about in so long." [complete article]

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Iraq Qaeda chief seems to pursue a lower profile
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, March 25, 2006

Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian terrorist and the head of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, has sharply lowered his profile in recent months, and his group claims to have submitted itself to the leadership of an Iraqi.

In postings on Web sites used by jihadi groups, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, the terrorist network's arm in Iraq, claims to have joined with five other guerrilla groups to form the Mujahedeen Shura, or Council of Holy Warriors. The new group, whose formation was announced in January, is said to be headed by an Iraqi named Abdullah Rashid al-Baghdadi. Since then, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has stopped issuing its own proclamations.

The Mujahedeen Shura, which continues to call for attacks against American and Iraqi forces, has stopped taking responsibility for large-scale suicide attacks against civilians, and it has toned down its fierce verbal attacks against Iraq's Shiite majority. [complete article]

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Military should reveal media payments, Pace says
AP (via LAT), March 24, 2006

The U.S. military should reveal when it pays foreign journalists for favorable news, and the Defense Department should review policies that let it secretly pay Iraqi media, the Pentagon's highest-ranking officer said Thursday.

In an interview, Marine Gen. Peter Pace said that although the United States needed to get its message out to Iraqis, Pentagon programs should be reviewed so readers would know what to believe.

"We should be more clear so people will understand what they're reading," said Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. "I think there are ways to get your message out, but get it out in a form that people understand how the message got there." [complete article]

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Espionage law's merits tied into ex-lobbyists' case
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 24, 2006

The federal judge presiding over the prosecution of two former lobbyists has focused attention on the imprecise nature of the law they are charged with breaking, the 1917 Espionage Act that restricts the dissemination of national defense information that could harm U.S. interests.

In January, U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III raised the possibility that the law may not be sensibly written, as he sentenced a former Defense Department employee, Lawrence A. Franklin, to 12 years in prison for giving classified information to the two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC.

Despite the law's possible shortcomings, Ellis said in an unusual statement from the bench, it is up to Congress, not the court, to decide if the statute needs to be changed. [complete article]

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Losing faith in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, March 25, 2006

Even as the Bush administration steps up pressure on Afghanistan over the plight of a Christian convert, thousands of youths are descending on Kabul to demand that he be hanged for renouncing Islam.

US President George W Bush and other Western leaders have latched onto the case of Abdul Rahman, 41, who was arrested last month and accused of apostasy for converting to Christianity in 1990, saying that the issue was one of "honoring the universal principle of freedom".

For many Afghans, though, it is just another rallying point to step up pressure for a broader alliance against the presence of foreign forces in the country, while for the Bush administration and its allies it is an opportunity to rethink their position on Afghanistan.

The United States has more than 18,000 troops in the country, while the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force numbers about the same. Germany and Italy have already hinted they may reassess military support for Afghanistan. And German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble suggested that Afghanistan could lose aid or technical support for reconstruction because of the case. The US begun reducing its troop strength in Afghanistan this year and has indicated that it will continue to do so.

Bush said this week that US forces did not help liberate Afghanistan from Taliban rule so that conservative Islamic judges could issue death sentences against people because of their religious beliefs. He added that he was "deeply troubled" by the case, while Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice phoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to call for a "favorable resolution to this case at the earliest possible moment".

The masses in Afghanistan are not listening, though. [complete article]

For Afghans, allies, a clash of values
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, March 23, 2006

The case of an Afghan man who could be prosecuted and even put to death for converting to Christianity has unleashed a blizzard of condemnation from the West this week and exposed a conflict in values between Afghanistan, a conservative Muslim country, and the foreign countries that have helped defend and rebuild it in the four years since the fall of the Taliban.

The case of Abdul Rahman, a longtime Christian convert who lived in Germany for years and was arrested last month in Kabul, has also highlighted the volatile debate within Afghanistan over the proper role of Islam in Afghan law and public policy as the country struggles to develop a democracy.

Diplomats from several countries said yesterday that Rahman, 41, now seems unlikely to be tried or executed. Prosecutors in Kabul said he might be mentally unfit to stand trial, a sign that the government may be seeking to avoid confronting its Western allies without giving ground on Islamic law, under which conversion to another religion is punishable by death. [complete article]

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Envoy accuses Iran of duplicity on Iraq
By Jonathan Finer and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 24, 2006

Iran is publicly professing its support for Iraq's stalemated political process while its military and intelligence services back outlawed militias and insurgent groups, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Thursday.

Iranian agents train and arm Shiite Muslim militias such as the Mahdi Army, linked to one of Iraq's most powerful clerics, Khalilzad said, and also work closely with Sunni Arab-led insurgent forces including Ansar al-Sunna, blamed for dozens of deadly attacks on Iraqi and American soldiers and Shiite civilians.

"Our judgment is that training and supplying, direct or indirect, takes place, and that there is also provision of financial resources to people, to militias, and that there is presence of people associated with Revolutionary Guard and with MOIS," the Afghan-born Khalilzad said, referring to Iran's main military force and its Ministry of Intelligence and Security. [complete article]

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Bush's requests for Iraqi base funding make some wary of extended stay
By Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2006

Even as military planners look to withdraw significant numbers of American troops from Iraq in the coming year, the Bush administration continues to request hundreds of millions of dollars for large bases there, raising concerns over whether they are intended as permanent sites for U.S. forces.

Questions on Capitol Hill about the future of the bases have been prompted by the new emergency spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, which overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives last week with $67.6 billion in funding for the war effort, including the base money.

Although the House approved the measure, lawmakers are demanding that the Pentagon explain its plans for the bases, and they unanimously passed a provision blocking the use of funds for base agreements with the Iraqi government. [complete article]

U.S.: Iraq on own to rebuild
By Thomas Frank, USA Today, March 23, 2006

The head of the U.S.-led program to rebuild Iraq said Thursday that the Iraqi government can no longer count on U.S. funds and must rely on its own revenues and other foreign aid, particularly from Gulf nations.

"The Iraqi government needs to build up its capability to do its own capital budget investment," Daniel Speckhard, director of the U.S. Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, told reporters.

The burden of funding reconstruction poses an extraordinary challenge for a country that needs tens of billions of dollars for repairing its infrastructure at the same time it's struggling to pay its bills. Iraq's main revenue source -- oil -- is hampered by insurgent attacks on production facilities and pipelines, forcing the country to spend $6 billion a year on oil imports.

Iraq's deputy finance minister, Kamal Field al-Basri, said it was "reasonable" for the United States to sharply cut back its reconstruction efforts after spending about $21 billion. "We should be very much dependent on ourselves," al-Basri said in an interview.

Anthony Cordesman, a Middle East expert at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, called the U.S. reconstruction effort "a dismal failure. It hasn't met any of its goals. It's left a legacy of half-built projects, built to U.S. standards, which Iraq doesn't have the capability to maintain." [complete article]

See also, Breaking the silence - former head of USAID speaks out (Newsweek).

Comment -- Even if Army Lt. Col. Barry Venable's claim -- "We're building permanent bases in Iraq for Iraqis" -- is taken at face value, what's the message the Pentagon wants to send to the people of Iraq? We wasted billions of dollars on a bungled effort to rebuild your infrastructure but we are going to make sure that we leave you with state-of-the-art military bases. Is this what "liberation" is supposed to look like?

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The Iraqi brain drain
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, March 24, 2006

Still ashen-faced six days after escaping death, Dr Ali Faraj pulls his hair aside to display a scar above his left ear. One of Iraq's top cardiologists, he was seeing a patient when a group of kidnappers wearing ski-masks stormed into his Baghdad clinic, knocked his receptionist to the floor and when he emerged to investigate the noise, ordered him to come with them.

To his surprise, they said they were taking him to the Interior Ministry. "I know the minister so I said I would check if it was really necessary. I put out my hand to pick up the phone, but they knocked my arm aside and struck me on the head with a pistol butt. They dragged me to the front gate where a car was waiting," he says, safe now in Jordan.

"It was about 7pm, already dark. Suddenly we heard shots. I couldn't tell where they were coming from. One of the kidnappers fell to the ground. He had been hit. Three of them started to lift him up. The fifth man ordered me into the car but I ran back to the clinic in the darkness."

Faraj was not totally unprepared for what has become a normal risk of Baghdad life. "I had a Kalashnikov in the clinic. My driver took it and started shooting. I also had a pistol in my drawer. The kidnappers drove off." [complete article]

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58 dead as violence continues in Iraq
By Steven R.Hurst, AP (via The Guardian), March 23, 2006

The U.S. military spokesman in Iraq asserted Thursday that major violence is largely confined to just three of the country's 18 provinces, but fighting there raged on with at least 58 people killed in execution-style slayings, bombings and gunbattles.

For the third straight day, Sunni insurgents hit a major police and jail facility - this time with a suicide car bombing that killed 25 in central Baghdad. The attacker detonated his explosives at the entrance to the Interior Ministry Major Crimes unit in the Karradah district, killing 10 civilians and 15 policemen, authorities said. [complete article]

See also, Most of Iraq peaceful (AP).

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Iraq abuse trial is again limited to lower ranks
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, March 23, 2006

With the conviction on Tuesday of an Army dog handler, the military has now tried and found guilty another low-ranking soldier in connection with the pattern of abuses that first surfaced two years ago at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

But once again, an attempt by defense lawyers to point a finger of responsibility at higher-ranking officers failed in the latest case to convince a military jury that ultimate responsibility for the abuses lay farther up the chain of command.

Some military experts said one reason there had not been attempts to pursue charges up the military chain of command was that the military does not have anything tantamount to a district attorney's office, run by commanders with the authority to go after the cases.

"The real question is, who is the independent prosecutor who is liberated to pursue these cases," said Eugene Fidell, a specialist in military law. "There is no central prosecution office run by commanders. So you don't have a D.A. thinking, I'm going to follow this wherever it leads." [complete article]

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Ex-Iraqi official unveiled as spy
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 23, 2006

Deposed Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's last foreign minister, Naji Sabri, was a paid spy for French intelligence, which later turned him over to the CIA to supply information about Iraq and its chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs more than six months before the war began in March 2003, according to former senior intelligence officials.

Although some CIA officials met informally with Sabri, who traveled extensively outside Iraq, the French and the CIA used a third-country intermediary when attempting to get information from him about Hussein's inner circle and weapons programs, according to the retired officials who refused to be identified because the information is classified. [complete article]

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Three abducted peace activists rescued in Iraq
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, March 24, 2006

British and U.S. troops rescued three kidnapped Christian peace activists early Thursday in a military operation that was based on information provided by two men detained only three hours earlier by U.S. forces, according to a U.S. military official.

The freed captives -- Norman Kember, 74, of London, and James Loney, 41, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, 32, both of Canada -- were members of Christian Peacemaker Teams, a Chicago- and Toronto-based group that advocates nonviolence and is opposed to the war in Iraq. They were kidnapped in Baghdad on Nov. 26 along with a fourth member of their group, Tom Fox of Clear Brook, Va.

The well-being of the three abductees had been a cause for concern ever since Fox's body was discovered on a trash-strewn street in Baghdad two weeks ago, with his hands bound and shot multiple times. [complete article]

See also, CPT statement: CPTers freed (Christian Peacemaker Teams).

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Islamic activism sweeps Saudi Arabia
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Washington Post, March 23, 2006

More than a dozen women in black cloaks, some with colorful head scarves, others with only their eyes visible through slits in black veils, filed into the dining room after sunset prayers. They sat around a long table set up with paper, pencils and thermoses of Arabic coffee, across from a small group of men, including that evening's guest, Sadeg al-Malki.

The women -- homemakers, physicians and college students -- had sought out Malki, a consultant at the Islamic Education Foundation, because they wanted help on a project they were embarking on: how to talk to non-Muslim co-workers and acquaintances about Islam and the prophet Muhammad.

The women, who have since taken several mini-courses with Malki on discussing their religion with non-Muslims, are part of a loosely knit grass-roots movement that has sprung up across the kingdom since January, when anger over cartoons of Muhammad sparked riots in Europe and several Muslim countries. The movement is made up of a diverse cross section of women, students, businessmen, lawyers and clerics, all campaigning under the banner of Nusrat al-Rasool, or Victory for the Prophet. [complete article]

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Chertoff says ports would have been safer under Dubai
Reuters, March 23, 2006

U.S. ports would have been safer with an Arab company running the terminals than they will be now that a political firestorm killed the deal, the chief of U.S. homeland security said on Thursday.
"The irony of this is, that had the deal gone forward, we would have had greater ability to impose a security regime worldwide on the company than we have now," Chertoff said. [complete article]

U.S. port deal collapse may hurt, not help, security
By Michael Christie, Reuters, March 21, 2006

The debacle over a Dubai company's thwarted attempt to take over some U.S. port operations may end up undermining U.S. security because of its impact on counter-terrorism cooperation with Arab states, maritime experts said on Tuesday

The experts said the furor that led to state-owned Dubai Ports World promising to sell its interest in six U.S. ports it would acquire by buying the global assets of Britain's P&O had been driven by politics, ignorance and bigotry, and not by honest security concerns. [complete article]

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A warning from America
Editorial, Haaretz, March 22, 2006

America's unhesitating support for Israel and its willingness to restrain itself over all of Israel's mistakes can be interpreted as conflicting with America's essential interests and are liable to prove burdensome. The fact that Israelis view the United States' support for and tremendous assistance to Israel as natural, causes excess complacence, and it fails to take into account currents in public opinion that run deep and are liable to completely change American policy.

Instead of strengthening the Jewish and Israeli lobby and causing it to influence American policymakers to support Israel unreservedly, the Israeli government must understand that the world will not wait forever for Israel to withdraw from the territories, and that the opinions expressed in the article [The Israel Lobby] could take root in American politics if Israel does not change the political reality quickly. [complete article]

Comment -- While The Israel Lobby has yet to be deemed worthy of discussion on a single op-ed page in any major American newspaper*, its impact is clearly being taken much more seriously in Israel. Indeed, it's noteworthy that the editors of Haaretz -- a newspaper that is Israel's equivalent to the New York Times -- recognize that Israel is not well served by unconditional American support. On the contrary, that support has often had the effect of slowing down a political process that becomes increasingly urgent.

Even so, if that process should -- as Haaretz suggests -- be directed towards winning international support for a unilateral withdrawal from the occupied territories, it's clear that most Israelis now regard a real resolution to their conflict with the Palestinians as unattainable. The goal is to physically and psychologically isolate a whole people so effectively that their existence can be purged from Israeli awareness. Yet a fifth of Israel's citizenry are Arabs. The physical barrier that is being built up around their kin on the other side of The Wall, is mirrored in a social barrier that condemns Israeli Arabs to second-class status.

What does this say about Israel's much vaunted claim to be a beacon of democracy or its hope for sustainable peace?

*Note - Since writing this, a reader has directed me to an op-ed appearing in yesterday's Wall Street Journal (Israel Lobby by Ruth Wisse). She writes: would be a mistake to treat this article on the "Israel Lobby" as an attack on Israel alone, or on its Jewish defenders, or on the organizations and individuals it singles out for condemnation. Its true target is the American public, which now supports Israel with higher levels of confidence than ever before. When the authors imply that the bipartisan support of Israel in Congress is a result of Jewish influence, they function as classic conspiracy theorists who attribute decisions to nefarious alliances rather than to the choices of a democratic electorate. Their contempt for fellow citizens dictates their claims of a gullible and stupid America. Their insistence that American support for Israel is bought and paid for by the Lobby heaps scorn on American judgment and values.
This is quite a charge: Mearsheimer and Walt launched an attack on America! If other American opinion writers follow suit, I guess we could be in for a new round of hysteria that might even surpass that port operations brouhaha -- at least in pitch, if not volume.

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Gaza rations food as Israel cuts supplies
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, March 22, 2006

Widespread bread rationing has been introduced in the Gaza Strip because Israel has cut off deliveries of flour and other foodstuffs to the Palestinian territory for most of the past two months.

The military reopened the main cargo crossing into Gaza yesterday under US pressure to allow in humanitarian supplies, but the UN said the terminal was working at only a fraction of capacity. The Israelis say that the closure has been forced by security warnings but the Palestinians accuse them of using the crossing as a political tool after the Hamas election victory, and in breach of pledges to the US.

"The bakeries are rationing bread," said John Ging, director of UN operations in Gaza. "People queue and they're given a coupon and a rationed amount ... The shelves are quite empty. There's no sugar, oil, milk, the basics. The shops are really depleted on those essential items." [complete article]

See also, Gaza bakeries feel brunt of territory closure (AFP).

Strangled in Gaza
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, March 22, 2006

In the elections [on March 28], Israelis will not be voting just for themselves. Not only will they choose parties that affect their own lives for four years, but also those of 3.5 million occupied Palestinians - as they have done for 39 years now. The winners in Israel will form a government that will determine the most minute details of every Palestinian's life.

This is the essence of occupation. One people casts its votes and thereby authorizes its democratic government to be a dictator in a place that it rules by military hegemony. In that place there lives a separate nation that is entirely excluded from any rights in this democratic game. [complete article]

See also, Politicians court a not-so-silent minority: Israeli Arabs (NYT).

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Poll: 68% of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in same building as an Arab
By Eli Ashkenazi and Jack Khoury, Haaretz, March 22, 2006

Sixty-eight percent of Israeli Jews would refuse to live in the same apartment building as an Israeli Arab, according to the results of an annual poll released Wednesday by the Center for the Struggle Against Racism.

The "Index of Racism Towards Arab Palestinian Citizens of the State of Israel," conducted by Geocartographia, revealed only 26 percent of Jews in Israel would agree to live with Arab neighbors in the same building.

Forty-six percent of Jews would refuse to allow an Arab to visit their home while 50 percent would welcome an Arab visitor. Forty-one percent of Jewish support the segregation of Jews and Arabs in places of recreation and 52 percent of such Jews would oppose such a move. [complete article]

Comment -- These polls not only reveal growing hostility towards those Arabs who make up 20% of Israel's citizenry but also the intractable contradiction between a state that defines itself as Jewish yet also maintains the trappings of a Western secular democracy. Again, the parallels between Israel and South Africa come to mind. As The Guardian's Chris McGreal wrote earlier this year in a two-part series on Israel and apartheid South Africa:
Some Jewish South Africans and Israelis who lived with apartheid - including politicians, Holocaust survivors and men once condemned as terrorists - describe aspects of modern Israel as disturbingly reminiscent of the old South Africa. Some see the parallels in a matrix of discriminatory practices and controls, and what they describe as naked greed for land seized by the fledgling Israeli state from fleeing Arabs and later from the Palestinians for the ever expanding West Bank settlements. "Apartheid was an extension of the colonial project to dispossess people of their land," said the Jewish South African cabinet minister and former ANC guerrilla, Ronnie Kasrils, on a visit to Jerusalem. "That is exactly what has happened in Israel and the occupied territories; the use of force and the law to take the land. That is what apartheid and Israel have in common."

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Alienated Arabs shun role in 'Jewish game'
By Sharmila Devi, Financial Times, March 22, 2006

Nowhere is the voter apathy that has characterised the run-up to next Tuesday's Israeli elections more apparent than among the country's Arab citizens, who make up a fifth of the population and voice marked feelings of alienation from the main Zionist parties.

Opinion polls show a clear majority for the Kadima party led by Ehud Olmert, acting prime minister, which failed to include an Arab candidate high enough on its party list to stand a chance of entering the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

Most Zionist parties speak of a "demographic problem" and the threat posed by the Arabs to Israel's Jewish majority. The policy prescriptions of Zionist parties range from making Israel a state for all its citizens, with a separation of church and state, to advocating the "transfer" of Arabs out of the state.

"It's stupid to give us the vote when in all other areas of life we're not made part of the state and are called a 'demographic problem'," says Sayed Kashua, an award-winning Israeli Arab author who writes in Hebrew. "I won't vote because the whole thing is a Jewish game and I don't have any faith in politicians, especially the Arab parties, which fight each other." [complete article]

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'Settlers don't know when the knock on the door will come and they have to leave'
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, March 23, 2006

Three decades ago, a small group of religious pioneers installed themselves on a bare hillside to reclaim the biblical town of Beit El for the modern state of Israel.

A few miles inside the occupied West Bank, Beit El offered a special symbolism. Its name, meaning House of God, was chosen by Jacob 4,000 years ago because it was there that the Lord told him the land belonged to the Jews. The modern community grew into a settlement of 6,000 people, its residents certain no one could take from them what God had said was rightfully theirs.

Israel's voters appear ready to differ.

If, as expected, next week's general election returns a government led by the acting prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his Kadima party, Beit El and other settlements home to tens of thousands of Jews are probably doomed. Mr Olmert says he will sacrifice many isolated and smaller colonies - often the ones most dear to the religious community - to hold on to the settlements on the Israeli side of the West Bank barrier that will mark its future border. [complete article]

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Between Iran and Israel, try a bomb for a bomb
By David Hirst, Daily Star, March 21, 2006

There is widespread international agreement that Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons is an alarming prospect. But very little attention is paid to the most obvious reason why: There already is a Middle Eastern nuclear power, Israel, insistent on preserving its monopoly. So the crisis has been foreseeable for decades; it would be automatically triggered by the emergence of a second nuclear power, friendly or unfriendly to the West. Iran is the unfriendliest possible, encouraging a widespread assumption that it alone is responsible for creating the crisis - and settling it. But is it?

It certainly isn't blameless. First, its nuclear arming would deal a major blow to an already fraying international non-proliferation regime. Second, it would involve a huge deceit. Third, the United States broadly divides actual or potential nuclear powers into responsible and irresponsible ones. Iran would be irresponsible par excellence, being already the worst of "rogue states." Typically, a rogue state, as well as being domestically oppressive, ideologically repugnant and anti-American, unites an aggressive nature with disproportionate military strength, thereby posing a constant, exceptional threat to an established regional order. What could now more emphatically consign Iran to such company than President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, with his calls to "wipe Israel off the map?"

Yet, in nuclear terms, Israel is the original sinner in the Middle East. Non-proliferation must be universal; if, in a zone of potential conflict, one party goes nuclear, its adversaries can't be expected not to either. No matter how long ago it was, by violating that principle, Israel must bear a heavy responsibility for what has since happened. [complete article]

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The power of saying no
By Jeff Halper, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, March 23, 2006

As the new Hamas government is sworn into power in the Palestinian Authority, we might ask: What would bring a people, the most secular of Arab populations with little history of religious fundamentalism, to vote Hamas? Mere protest at Fatah ineffectualness in negotiations and internal corruption doesn't go far enough. While warning Hamas that their vote did not constitute a mandate for imposing an Iran-like theocracy on Palestine, the Palestinians took the only option left to a powerless people when all other avenues of redress have been closed to them: non-cooperation.

Gandhi put it best: "How can one be compelled to accept slavery? I simply refuse to do the master's bidding. He may torture me, break my bones to atoms and even kill me. He will then have my dead body, not my obedience. Ultimately, therefore, it is I who am the victor and not he, for he has failed in getting me to do what he wanted done. Non-cooperation is directed not against…the Governors, but against the system they administer. The roots of non-cooperation lie not in hatred but in justice." [complete article]

See also, Hamas has a government, so now what? (Daoud Kuttab).

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"A model democracy is not emerging in Iraq"
Francis Fukuyama interviewed in Der Spiegel, March 22, 2006

Fukuyama: I was partly unsure whether the United States could handle the transition to a democratic government in Iraq. But the biggest problem I had was that the people pushing for the intervention lacked self-knowledge about the US. When I look back over the 20th century history of American interventions, particularly those in the Caribbean and Latin America, the consistent problem we've had is being unable to stick it out. Before the Iraq war, it was clear that if we were going to do Iraq properly, we would need a minimum commitment of five to 10 years. It was evident from the beginning that the Bush administration wasn't preparing the American people for that kind of a mission. In fact, it was obvious the Bush people were trying to do Iraq on the cheap. They thought they could get in and out in less than a year.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Where did this belief come from? Was it naivete, hubris or just plain ignorance?

Fukuyama: A lot of the neo-conservatives drew the wrong lessons from the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism. They generalized from that event that all totalitarian regimes are basically hollow at the core and if you give them a little push from the outside, they're going to collapse. Prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall, most people thought that communism would be around for a long time. In fact, it disappeared within seven or eight months in 1989. That skewed the thinking about the nature of dictatorships and neo-conservatives made a wrong analogy between Eastern Europe and what would happen in the Middle East. [complete article]

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Blair sees Iraq as 'clash about civilisation'
By Matthew Tempest, The Guardian, March 21, 2006

Tony Blair has marked the third anniversary of the war on Iraq with his most combative defence yet of the conflict, declaring victory there to be part of "a clash about civilisation".

In the first of three foreign policy speeches - with the other two to be made on undisclosed dates in Australia and the US - the prime minister said there was now a worldwide "battle about modernity", some of which "can only be conducted and won within Islam itself".

In 40-minute speech which aimed to reshape the debate about the UK's "activist" foreign policy from Sierra Leone, to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr Blair warned Iran that when it "gives support to such terrorism, it becomes part of the same battle with the same ideology at its heart". [complete article]

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Iraq: three years of war
openDemocracy, March 20, 2006

openDemocracy presents the views of Iraqis on the third anniversary of the United States-led invasion of Iraq -- Riverbend (Iraqi blogger in Baghdad), Dlawer Ala'Aldeen (academic), Firas Al-Atraqchi (journalist), Zeyad A (Baghdad dentist), and Tahrir Abdul Samad Numan (Iraqi exile and peace activist). [complete article]

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Anatomy of a rebel strike
By Richard Boudreaux and John Johnson Jr., Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2006

Since last year, the city of Muqdadiya had not been considered especially vulnerable. There were shootings and bombings from time to time, but police would round up suspected rebels in nearby villages, as they did last weekend, and haul them to cells in the downtown courthouse.

Then at dawn Tuesday, masked men came to break the detainees out. Descending from a dozen cars and pickup trucks laden with mortars and grenades, they surrounded the judicial compound and blasted away, killing at least 17 policemen and guards and freeing 33 prisoners in one of Iraq's boldest insurgent raids in months.

The highly coordinated attack, which featured car bombs to repel reinforcements, was a potent reminder of the Sunni-led insurgency's capacity to strike at Iraqi government and U.S. targets, despite almost constant sweeps against guerrilla forces and President Bush's frequent assertions of progress in combating the rebellion. [complete article]

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Iraqi insurgents attack police paramilitary unit
By Edward Wong, New York Times, March 22, 2006

Insurgents laid siege today to the headquarters of a police paramilitary unit near the capital, lobbing a volley of mortars that killed at least one senior officer and injured at least five, Interior Ministry officials said.

The police fought back, killing at least five insurgents, a commander in Baghdad said. By nightfall, the police were holding at least 76 people for questioning.

The predawn attack, on an infamous paramilitary force, unfolded as 14 mortars pummeled the former governorate center in the Sunni Arab-dominated town of Salman Pak, 12 miles southeast of Baghdad. [complete article]

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Need for new U.S. nuclear arsenal disputed
By James Sterngold, San Francisco Chronicle, March 21, 2006

Scientists say evidence is mounting that the radioactive plutonium used in nuclear weapons could have a far longer useful life than previously estimated, raising questions about the need for an expensive Bush administration program to build more than a thousand replacement warheads.

With hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars potentially at stake, the research on the aging of this dangerous and complex weapons ingredient, being conducted at the nuclear weapons laboratories, is being followed closely by Bush administration officials, lawmakers and nuclear weapons experts. [complete article]

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No breach seen in work in Iraq on propaganda
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, March 22, 2006

An inquiry has found that an American public relations firm did not violate military policy by paying Iraqi news outlets to print positive articles, military officials said Tuesday. The finding leaves to the Defense Department the decision on whether new rules are needed to govern such activities.

The inquiry, which has not yet been made public, was ordered by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, after it was disclosed in November that the military had used the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations company, to plant articles written by American troops in Iraqi newspapers while hiding the source of the articles. [complete article]

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Iranian leader reaffirms offer of talks
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, March 22, 2006

Iran pushed ahead on its nuclear program Tuesday as the country's most powerful figure reaffirmed its willingness to hold face-to-face talks with the United States on Iraq -- sending a somewhat mixed message to the international community.

Talks at the United Nations Security Council about a response to Iran's nuclear program remained stalled as diplomats from Russia and China argued with representatives of the European Union and the United States over how hard to press Iran to halt its efforts to start uranium enrichment.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the ultimate say in Tehran on all state matters, said Iran was prepared to discuss ways to stabilize Iraq with an American delegation. [complete article]

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Revolution in the Pakistani mountains
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, March 23, 2006

The Taliban have established a foothold in the Pakistani tribal areas of North and South Waziristan along the Afghanistan border, but it is not simply a question of their having marched in and established their writ.

Their ability to impose themselves, which is the result of a virtual revolution in the region, has far-reaching consequences for both Afghanistan and Pakistan.

News reports tend to focus on the renewed capabilities of the Taliban, in terms of their reorganization, their base in Pakistan, improved weaponry and their mass of suicide bombers. What is overlooked in the troubled tribal areas is an astonishing change in local dynamics, which neither the British Raj nor successive Pakistani or Afghan governments had been able to engineer, the ramifications of which threaten the existing order of the whole region. [complete article]

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Islamist voices rise on Pakistani campuses
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, March 22, 2006

Like many students at Punjab University, Mohammed Abid Faran worries about living costs almost as much as his studies. To save rupees, he counts on an Islamist student organization, Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT), which keeps prices at the university hostel artificially low.

"Here a cup of tea costs three rupees," Mr. Faran, an engineering student, says. "Outside it costs six."

But Faran worries that IJT dictates not only the price of tea but the proper comportment of Muslim students in this cosmopolitan city as well.

"We are studying, and they are saying we should protest, without regard if we are busy and want to go or not," he says, referring to a recent demonstration on campus over the controversial cartoons of the prophet Muhammad. "Why should they put pressure on us?"

Such conflicted feelings underscore a heated debate on Pakistani campuses over the influence of groups like IJT. Islamist student unions are battling for the hearts and minds of young Muslims - receiving a boost from a growing student conservatism as well as IJT's ability to fill in gaps left by the poor funding of education here. [complete article]

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West works to free Christian Afghan
Reuters (via LAT), March 22, 2006

The United States and three NATO allies with troops in Afghanistan urged the Kabul government Tuesday to respect the religious freedom of an Afghan convert to Christianity who faces the death penalty there.

The United States, which counts Afghan President Hamid Karzai as a key ally in the region, raised the case with visiting Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah, calling on Kabul to uphold Afghan citizens' constitutional right to choose their faith. [complete article]

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A silent, crippling fear
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, March 21, 2006

The prospect of American ports being run by an Arab company ignited a firestorm in the blogosphere -- and the mainstream media and Congress. Now two of America's leading political scientists allege that U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is being skewed away from U.S. national interests by a "loose coalition of individuals and organisations who actively work to steer U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction." You'd imagine this would provoke, at the very least, a strong reaction.

So far, the response to The Israel Lobby [hereafter TIL], by John J. Mearsheimer (professor of political science, University of Chicago) and Stephen M. Walt (academic dean of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard), has been predictable scorn from the Pro-Israel Right (typified by Power Line and The American Thinker), with little more than murmurings from the Left (such as these postings out in the quiet backwaters of Daily Kos and TPM Cafe).

Even while leftwing bloggers seem hesitant to discuss the issues raised here, the noteworthiness of the Mearsheimer-Walt paper is evident in mainstream media coverage from UPI and Christian Science Monitor. And at Harvard, law professor, Alan M. Dershowitz (identified in TIL as an "apologist" for Israel) is ready to "debate" against Mearsheimer and Walt who he describes as "liars" and "bigots," while Walt's colleague Marvin Kalb knows how to cut an academic to the quick -- accuse him of engaging in second-rate journalism.

In its opening paragraphs TIL asserts:
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 U.S. interests and those of the other country -- in this case, Israel -- are essentially identical.
There have been times when such a claim would not garner much attention from domestically preoccupied Americans, but right now you'd have to be comatose not to recognize the grave implications as America and Israel speak with one voice on the threat from Iran.

Only yesterday, President Bush confirmed that the U.S. will use military force to defend Israel from Iranian threats, yet neither the administration nor Congress acknowledge that Israel's own nuclear arsenal, its occupation and colonization of Palestinian territories, or its treatment of its own Arab citizens, are critical factors exacerbating Middle East tensions.

It has thus never been more vital to open up debate on where U.S. and Israeli interests truly intersect and where they do not, yet so far the message from the Left is, we'd rather not talk about this sensitive issue.

To understand why the American Left is now largely mute on this subject, I recommend reading The Israel Lobby and the Left: Uneasy Questions, by Jeffrey Blankfort. His article, published in May, 2003, begins:
It was 1991 and Noam Chomsky had just finished a lecture in Berkeley on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and was taking questions from the audience. An Arab-American asked him to explain his position regarding the influence of America's Israel lobby.

Chomsky replied that its reputation was generally exaggerated and, like other lobbies, it only appears to be powerful when its position lines up with that of the "elites" who determine policy in Washington. Earlier in the evening, he had asserted that Israel received support from the United States as a reward for the services it provides as the U.S.'s "cop-on-the-beat" in the Middle East.

Chomsky's response drew a warm round of applause from members of the audience who were no doubt pleased to have American Jews absolved from any blame for Israel's oppression of the Palestinians, then in the fourth year of their first Intifada.
Blankfort then points out that:
What is noteworthy is that Chomsky's explanation for the financial and political support that the U.S. has provided Israel over the years is shared by what is generically known as the Israel lobby, and almost no one else.

Well, not quite "almost no one." Among the exceptions are the overwhelming majority of both houses of Congress and the mainstream media and, what is equally noteworthy, virtually the entire American Left, both ideological and idealistic, including the organizations ostensibly in the forefront of the fight for Palestinian rights.

That there is a meeting of the minds on this issue between supporters of Israel and the Left may help explain why the Palestine support movement within the United States has been an utter failure.
A new campaign to silence debate about the Israel Lobby is already following a predictable course. Efforts are being made to marginalize the issue by drawing attention to the fact that TIL has received praise from white supremicist David Duke along with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. Nevertheless, Mearsheimer and Walt's effort to push the question of the Lobby's influence into mainstream political discourse is only one of several recent attempts.

One such came from Michael Massing, writing in The Nation, in 2002. Several more came from Michael Lind, writing in The Prospect in April 2002, Newsweek the same month, and again The Prospect in October 2002.

If the participation of the Dean of the Kennedy School of Government can't open up and legitimize this debate, it's hard to imagine what it might take to stir faint-hearted liberals into action -- but this is no time to remain silent.

In recent years, the slogan, "What did you do in the war?", has been used to good effect by many antiwar campaigners, yet as the U.S. and Israel continue gearing up to take on Iran, how many of those same campaigners if asked, "What did you do to challenge the influence of the Israel Lobby?" would now have nothing to say?

A PDF version of The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy (including 40 pages of endnotes) can be downloaded here. (Right click on the Adobe icon and select "save as...")

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Speaking to Tehran, with one voice
By Jessica T. Mathews, New York Times, March 21, 2006

A nuclear Iran is dangerous enough, but this crisis is only proximately about Iran. More important, it is about the likely consequence of an Iranian bomb, namely, that Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt would produce their own bombs, and, thanks to the concomitant international failure to deal with North Korea, the nonproliferation regime would collapse. What is at stake is not a choice between 9 and 10 nuclear weapons states, but a choice between 9 and 30 or more.

The major powers may yet be able to unite to stop Iran at this late hour, but not without a decisive change in American policy. Washington's choice is simple: does it want to stop Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons badly enough to deal with Iran's present government? [complete article]

See also, Security Council is stalled over Iran's nuclear program (NYT), Some U.S. officials fear Iran is helping al Qaeda (LAT), and Iran: time to leak (Katharine Gun).

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U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for years, Bush says
By William Douglas, Knight Ridder, March 21, 2006

President Bush said Tuesday that U.S. troops will be in Iraq until after his presidency ends almost three years from now.

Asked at a White House news conference whether there'll come a time when no U.S. forces are in Iraq, he said "that will be decided by future presidents and future governments of Iraq." Pressed on that response, the president said that for him to discuss complete withdrawal would mean he was setting a timetable, which he refuses to do.

Bush's statement flies in the face of U.S. public opinion. A Gallup Poll released Friday found that a clear majority of Americans, 60 percent, think the war isn't worth the costs, 19 percent called for immediately withdrawing U.S. troops, another 35 percent favored a pullout by March 2007 and only 39 percent said troops should remain in Iraq indefinitely. The issue is expected to dominate congressional elections next November. [complete article]

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How did Iraq go wrong?
By Michael Young, Reason, April, 2006

There is a line in George Packer's The Assassins' Gate that sums up the American approach to the Middle East: "In this country, Iraq was almost always about winning the argument."

Even before the Bush administration ordered its soldiers into battle in March 2003, Iraqis were incidental to America's domestic debate on the looming war. Since the ouster of Saddam Hussein, Iraqis and Americans have largely talked past each other. Offered only a marginal role in Washington's democratic narrative for their country, Iraqis decided to write their own script -- whether by bending the postwar Iraqi state to satisfy their long-deferred ambitions or trying to resurrect what existed under the Ba'ath. [complete article]

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Congress eyes own window on Iraq war
By Gail Russell Chaddock, Christian Science Monitor, March 21, 2006

Marking the third anniversary of the Iraq war, President Bush said US strategy will "lead to victory."

Before recessing last week, the House easily approved $67.6 billion for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan - exactly the amount the White House had requested - and the Senate punted on a bid to censure Mr. Bush on his conduct of the war on terror.

But behind the headlines, Capitol Hill lawmakers are signaling that 2006 must be a decisive year in the Iraq war - and many of the war's vigorous defenders are looking for guidance outside the Bush administration on how to move ahead.

Exhibit A is the quiet launch of an independent, bipartisan panel to bring "fresh eyes" to the Iraq conflict. Last week, the House included $1.3 million in a defense funding bill for the panel, which will work out of the congressionally chartered US Institute for Peace here. [complete article]

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Jordan blocks Palestinians fleeing violence in Iraq
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, March 21, 2006

More than 100 Palestinians fleeing violence in Baghdad and seeking refuge in Jordan have been denied entry by Jordanian border officials for not having proper entry permits, the spokesman for the Jordanian government said Monday.

The Palestinians have remained at the border in the hope of crossing, but the Jordanian government has closed it pending a resolution of the matter, the spokesman, Nasser Judeh, said in a telephone interview from the capital, Amman.

In recent weeks, as the country has experienced a surge in sectarian violence, Palestinians have been increasingly singled out by Shiite militias, because they were Sunni Arabs and because they had enjoyed certain privileges under Saddam Hussein. Many Palestinians were members of the Baath Party, and Mr. Hussein granted them free schooling and free housing, among other favors. [complete article]

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Multiple wounds mark bodies of Iraqis killed in disputed U.S. raid
By Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder, March 21, 2006

Iraqi police investigating the deaths of 11 people in the town of Ishaqi after a U.S. military raid last week reported that each of the bodies bore multiple wounds, according to a preliminary report reviewed by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

The report contradicted an Iraqi police commander's claim on Sunday that each of the dead had been shot once in the head. [complete article]

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Arab parties battle to stay in the Knesset
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, March 21, 2006

Parties representing Israeli Arabs in the Knesset will be struggling to maintain their parliamentary presence in the face of voter frustration, competition from the main Zionist parties such as Labour, and a call by Islamists to boycott next Tuesday's election.

The National Democratic Alliance (NDA), one of the two biggest Arab parties, with only three Knesset seats, has launched a concerted effort to persuade Arab Israeli citizens to vote for any of the four Arab parties in an effort to maintain or even improve their current total of eight (out of 120) Knesset members.

The campaign is aimed at persuading the 600,000 Israeli Arab voters that their best chance of fighting racial discrimination, gaining "cultural autonomy" over issues such as the education curriculum, and improving their depressed economic status lies with a significant Arab bloc in the Knesset. [complete article]

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Time running out for Mideast peace - King Abdullah
By Jon Boyle, Reuters, March 20, 2006

Jordan's King Abdullah said on Monday he believed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process had only two years left before changes on the ground would make it redundant and condemn the region to more years of strife.

The international community was tired of the failure to make a breakthrough and risked washing its hands of the peace process with potentially disastrous results, Abdullah told the European-American Press Club.

"We are physically running out of time," he said. "I don't think that we have more than two years if we're all talking about a viable, independent Palestinian state.

"If it doesn't look like we're actually going to get the formation of a future peace process and a future for Israelis and Palestinians (by 2007-2008), then I think we're all in for a rough ride." [complete article]

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FBI was warned about Moussaoui
By Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer, Washington Post, March 21, 2006

An FBI agent who interrogated Zacarias Moussaoui before Sept. 11, 2001, warned his supervisors more than 70 times that Moussaoui was a terrorist and spelled out his suspicions that the al-Qaeda operative was plotting to hijack an airplane, according to federal court testimony yesterday.

Agent Harry Samit told jurors at Moussaoui's death penalty trial that his efforts to secure a warrant to search Moussaoui's belongings were frustrated at every turn by FBI officials he accused of "criminal negligence." Samit said he had sought help from a colleague, writing that he was "so desperate to get into Moussaoui's computer I'll take anything."

That was on Sept. 10, 2001.

Samit's testimony added striking detail to the voluminous public record on the FBI's bungling of the Moussaoui case. It also could help Moussaoui's defense. Samit is a prosecution witness who had earlier backed the government's central theory of the case: that the FBI would have raised "alarm bells" and could have stopped the Sept. 11 attacks if Moussaoui had not lied to agents. But under cross-examination by the defense yesterday, Samit said that he did raise those alarms -- repeatedly -- but that his bosses impeded his efforts. [complete article]

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Onetime clerk is at center of Lodi trial
By Rone Tempest, Los Angeles Times, March 21, 2006

At the convenience store where he worked in this central Oregon resort town before he became an undercover operative for the FBI in California, Naseem Khan was known to his co-workers as "Mike."

The picture of Khan that emerges from interviews with friends, co-workers and landlords in Bend, a picturesque former logging town of 70,000 in the shadow of snow-capped Mt. Bachelor, is of a quiet, hard-working, mostly solitary young man with an interest in law enforcement.

Khan is now the key witness in the terrorism trial of a Lodi, Calif., ice cream truck driver and his son. Last week, he shocked the Sacramento courtroom when he said he saw Al Qaeda's No. 2 figure in 1999 at a mosque in the San Joaquin Valley farming community. He is expected to take the stand today for the first time since he made that claim, which terrorism experts discount as highly improbable. [complete article]

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U.S. in Iraq to stay
AP (via, March 21, 2006

The concrete goes on forever, vanishing into the noonday glare, 2 million cubic feet of it, a mile-long slab that's now the home of up to 120 U.S. helicopters, a "heli-park" as good as any back in the States.

At another giant base, al-Asad in Iraq's western desert, the 17,000 troops and workers come and go in a kind of bustling American town, with a Burger King, Pizza Hut and a car dealership, stop signs, traffic regulations and young bikers clogging the roads.

At a third hub down south, Tallil, they're planning a new mess hall, one that will seat 6,000 hungry airmen and soldiers for chow.

Are the Americans here to stay? Air Force mechanic Josh Remy is sure of it as he looks around Balad.

"I think we'll be here forever," the 19-year-old airman from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., told a visitor to his base. [complete article]

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The planet of unreality
By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, March 21, 2006

This is not good. The people running this country sound convinced that reality is whatever they say it is. And if they've actually strayed into the realm of genuine self-delusion -- if they actually believe the fantasies they're spinning about the bloody mess they've made in Iraq over the past three years -- then things are even worse than I thought.

Here is reality: The Bush administration's handpicked interim Iraqi prime minister, Ayad Allawi, told the BBC on Sunday, "We are losing each day an average of 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is. Iraq is in the middle of a crisis. Maybe we have not reached the point of no return yet, but we are moving towards this point.... We are in a terrible civil conflict now."

Here is self-delusion: Dick Cheney went on "Face the Nation" a few hours later and said he disagreed with Allawi -- who, by the way, is a tad closer to the action than the quail-hunting veep. There's no civil war, Cheney insisted. Move along, nothing to see here, pay no attention to those suicide bombings and death-squad murders. As an aside, Cheney insisted that his earlier forays into the Twilight Zone -- U.S. troops would be greeted as liberators, the insurgency is in its "last throes" -- were "basically accurate and reflect reality."

Maybe on his home planet. [complete article]

See also, Old forecasts come back to haunt Bush (WP).

Comment -- Let's imagine that in line with the Bush-Cheney perspective on news coverage of Iraq, the media had covered hurricane Katrina in a "balanced" way. The news on August 29, 2005, would have been that for most Americans it was a rather uneventful day. Except for a few isolated pockets of devastation along the Gulf coast, it was business as usual in the majority of the country. Of course, any news editor who had tried to run with that story would have been fired the next day.

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Collateral damage or civilian massacre in Haditha?
By Tim McGirk, Time, March 19, 2006

The incident seemed like so many others from this war, the kind of tragedy that has become numbingly routine amid the daily reports of violence in Iraq. On the morning of Nov. 19, 2005, a roadside bomb struck a humvee carrying Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, on a road near Haditha, a restive town in western Iraq. The bomb killed Lance Corporal Miguel (T.J.) Terrazas, 20, from El Paso, Texas. The next day a Marine communique from Camp Blue Diamond in Ramadi reported that Terrazas and 15 Iraqi civilians were killed by the blast and that "gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire," prompting the Marines to return fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding one other. The Marines from Kilo Company held a memorial service for Terrazas at their camp in Haditha. They wrote messages like "T.J., you were a great friend. I'm going to miss seeing you around" on smooth stones and piled them in a funeral mound. And the war moved on.

But the details of what happened that morning in Haditha are more disturbing, disputed and horrific than the military initially reported. According to eyewitnesses and local officials interviewed over the past 10 weeks, the civilians who died in Haditha on Nov. 19 were killed not by a roadside bomb but by the Marines themselves, who went on a rampage in the village after the attack, killing 15 unarmed Iraqis in their homes, including seven women and three children. Human-rights activists say that if the accusations are true, the incident ranks as the worst case of deliberate killing of Iraqi civilians by U.S. service members since the war began. [complete article]

See also, U.S. military probes Iraq killings (BBC).

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Iraqi insurgents storm police station, killing 15 officers
By Kirk Semple and John O'Neil, New York Times, March 21, 2006

In a bold raid at daybreak, a band of at least 100 insurgents stormed a police station in the town of Muqdadiya northeast of Baghdad today, killing at least 18 police officers, wounding four others and freeing all of the 33 prisoners being held in the station, officials in the Interior Ministry said.

The insurgents shelled the police station with mortar fire before attacking with rifle-propelled grenades, hand grenades and machine guns, the officials said. Reports of the number of insurgents killed or captured varied widely, with the Interior Ministry saying only one was killed and the American military putting the number at five.

The attackers destroyed about 20 police vehicles and set fire to the police station and a nearby courthouse before escaping, the Iraqi officials said. An Iraqi army unit that tried to reach the scene to support the police during the attack was disabled by a roadside bomb as the convoy passed through a city gate. [complete article]

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Palestinians face economic ruin as Hamas names cabinet
By Eric Silver, The Independent, March 20, 2006

Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas' choice for Prime Minister, has been presenting his cabinet to Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President. After Fatah and other parties defeated in the January elections declined to join a national unity government, Hamas filled all the key posts.

Mahmoud Zahar, an outspoken Gaza-based Islamist, was expected to serve as Foreign Minister, and Omar Abdel-Razeq, a West Bank economics professor recently released from an Israeli security prison, as Finance Minister. Their inclusion will make it harder for US, European and other foreign donors to go on subsidising the Palestinian treasury.

Israel predicted that Mr Haniyeh's government would be a "pariah regime" if Hamas did not recognise Israel, renounce violence and honour previous agreements. Mark Regev, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said: "They have decided to conduct themselves outside the norms of international legitimacy. Most governments in the world will not be dealing with them, including Israel. That's their choice, and they will have to deal with the consequences."

Ghassan Hatib, Planning Minister in the outgoing administration, warned that the Palestinian Authority might collapse if donors stopped delivering aid. "If the PA is not able to fulfil its financial obligations," he said, "the public might feel that they don't need it. If the PA stops paying salaries, the employees will no longer be willing to continue their work. Health, education, welfare and other systems will collapse." Mr Hatib, a political scientist who is returning to a teaching post at Bir-Zeit University near Ramallah, contended that Israel would then have to fill the vacuum. This would include going back into the Gaza Strip, from which it withdrew troops and settlers last summer. "Under international law," he said, "Israel has to fulfil its obligations as a belligerent occupation. Even after the disengagement, they kept Gaza under siege. It's still occupied." [complete article]

See also, Israel opens, then closes, Gaza crossing, citing threats (NYT), World Food Programme warns food running out in blockaded Gaza strip (WFP), Left to rot in Gaza (WP), and A new landscape: Hamas digs in (NYT).

Comment -- Even after former World Bank chief and current Quartet envoy James Wolfensohn warned, "I do not believe you can have a million starving Palestinians and have peace," the siege of Gaza continues. Were this happening anywhere else in the world it would be headlined as a human rights crisis.

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The Israeli raid in Jericho: the background
By Stephen Zunes, FPIC, March 17, 2006

The origins of the March 14 Israeli raid of a Palestinian prison in Jericho are rooted in another Israeli raid on a Palestinian city in 2001.

On August 27 of that year, Israeli occupation forces assaulted the offices of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) with a U.S.-supplied helicopter gunship and missiles. Their target was PFLP leader Abu Ali Mustafa, who was killed instantly. The PFLP vowed to retaliate.

The PFLP, a Marxist movement notorious for engineering a spate of airline hijackings in the early 1970s, had in previous years ended its involvement in international terrorism and had returned from exile to emerge as part of the secular leftist opposition to both the Fatah-dominated Palestine Authority and the Islamist Hamas. As a legal political party, the PFLP regularly put forward candidates in Palestinian elections, though their percentage of the popular vote rarely scored better than the low single digits. The PFLP also maintained an armed militia, though--unlike Hamas and Islamic Jihad--it primarily targeted the Israeli military and police in the occupied territories rather than civilians inside Israel. [complete article]

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Too hot for New York
By Philip Weiss, The Nation, March 20, 2006

The slim book that was suddenly the most controversial work in the West in early March was not easy to find in the United States. Amazon said it wasn't available till April. The Strand bookstore didn't have it either. You could order it on Amazon-UK, but it would be a week getting here. I finally found an author in Michigan who kindly photocopied the British book and overnighted it to me; but to be on the safe side, I visited an activist's apartment on Eighth Avenue on the promise that I could take her much-in-demand copy to the lobby for half an hour. In the elevator, I flipped it open to a random passage:

"I can't cool boiling waters in Russia. I can't be Picasso. I can't be Jesus. I can't save the planet single-handedly. I can wash dishes."

The book is the play My Name Is Rachel Corrie. Composed from the journal entries and e-mails of the 23-year-old from Washington State who was crushed to death in Gaza three years ago under a bulldozer operated by the Israeli army, the play had two successful runs in London last year and then became a cause celebre after a progressive New York theater company decided to postpone its American premiere indefinitely out of concern for the sensitivities of (unnamed) Jewish groups unsettled by Hamas's victory in the Palestinian elections. When the English producers denounced the decision by the New York Theatre Workshop as "censorship" and withdrew the show, even the mainstream media could not ignore the implications. Why is it that the eloquent words of an American radical could not be heard in this country--not, that is, without what the Workshop had called "contextualizing," framing the play with political discussions, maybe even mounting a companion piece that would somehow "mollify" the Jewish community?

"The impact of this decision is enormous--it is bigger than Rachel and bigger than this play," Cindy Corrie, Rachel's mother, said. "There was something about this play that made them feel so vulnerable. I saw in the Workshop's schedule a lesbian play. Will they use the same approach? Will they go to the segment of the community that would ardently oppose that?"

In this way, Corrie's words appear to have had more impact than her death. The House bill calling for a US investigation of her killing died in committee, with only seventy-eight votes and little media attention. But the naked admission by a left-leaning cultural outlet that it would subordinate its own artistic judgment to pro-Israel views has served as a smoking gun for those who have tried to press the discussion in this country of Palestinian human rights. Indeed, the admission was so shocking and embarrassing that the Workshop quickly tried to hedge and retreat from its statements. But the damage was done; people were asking questions that had been consigned to the fringe: How can the West condemn the Islamic world for not accepting Muhammad cartoons when a Western writer who speaks out on behalf of Palestinians is silenced? And why is it that Europe and Israel itself have a healthier debate over Palestinian human rights than we can have here? [complete article]

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Emirates aided kin of Palestinian militants
By Julia Preston, New York Times, March 20, 2006

In the last four years the United Arab Emirates has provided substantial financial support, through its Red Crescent Society, to families of Palestinians, militants as well as civilians, who have been wounded or killed by Israeli forces, according to Red Crescent documents.
Officials of the Emirates government and the Red Crescent Society said the payments helped create possibilities for younger Palestinians. They said most of the beneficiaries were relatives of civilians who had been killed, and that the society handed out cash payments only for Palestinians under 18. Spouses and older children receive coupons for food, medicine and housing materials.

"What is the fault of the orphans?" a government official said, referring to children in the martyrs' program. "By helping them, you are pulling them away from extremism."

Daniel Glaser, a deputy assistant Treasury secretary, said the Emirates was "one of our primary partners" in the Middle East in combating financing of terrorist groups. He said the Treasury had a close working relationship with the Emirates central bank, and that financial officials there had provided concrete cooperation in recent investigations.

Mr. Glaser said he was not familiar with the details of Red Crescent programs. But as a general matter, he said, "Charities that are supporting terrorist activities, including by supporting family members and orphans — we consider that to be terrorist financing." [complete article]

Comment -- This assertion that charities helping the families of suicide bombers or other militants are indirectly supporting terrorism, is a claim that is rarely challenged. Nevertheless, while this form of guilt-by-association is one of the central tenets of the war on terrorism there are dozens of charitable organizations operating legally in America against whom a similar argument could be applied, namely, charities helping the families of prisoners. For instance, the Aleph Institute serving Jewish inmates in American prisons, provides "emergency financial assistance to families who demonstrate need." By the logic of the Treasury Dept., isn't the Aleph Institute thereby assisting Jewish criminals? Likewise, Prison Fellowship International provides Christmas gifts to the children of prisoners. Another charity supporting crime?

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Ongoing wave of violence in Iraq kills 39
By Steven R. Hurst, AP (via Yahoo), March 20, 2006

At least 39 people were killed by insurgents and shadowy sectarian gangs, police reported Monday -- continuing the wave of violence that has left nearly 1,000 Iraqis dead since the bombing last month of a Shiite Muslim shrine.

As the Iraq war entered its fourth year, police found the bodies of at least 15 more people -- including that of a 13-year-old girl -- dumped in and near Baghdad. The discoveries marked the latest in a string of execution-style killings that have become an almost daily event as Sunni and Shiite extremists settle scores. [complete article]

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'Iraq was awash in cash. We played football with bricks of $100 bills'
By Callum Macrae and Ali Fadhil, The Guardian, March 20, 2006

In a dilapidated maternity and paediatric hospital in Diwaniyah, 100 miles south of Baghdad, Zahara and Abbas, premature twins just two days old, lie desperately ill. The hospital has neither the equipment nor the drugs that could save their lives. On the other side of the world, in a federal courthouse in Virginia, US, two men - one a former CIA agent and Republican candidate for Congress, the other a former army ranger - are found guilty of fraudulently obtaining $3m (£1.7m) intended for the reconstruction of Iraq. These two events have no direct link, but they are none the less products of the same thing: a financial scandal that in terms of sheer scale must rank as one of the greatest in history.

At the start of the Iraq war, around $23bn-worth of Iraqi money was placed in the trusteeship of the US-led coalition by the UN. The money, known as the Development Fund for Iraq and consisting of the proceeds of oil sales, frozen Iraqi bank accounts and seized Iraqi assets, was to be used in a "transparent manner", specified the UN, for "purposes benefiting the people of Iraq". [complete article]

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Iraqi police report details civilians' deaths at hands of U.S. troops
By Matthew Schofield, Knight Ridder, March 19, 2006

Iraqi police have accused American troops of executing 11 people, including a 75-year-old woman and a 6-month-old infant, in the aftermath of a raid last Wednesday on a house about 60 miles north of Baghdad.

The villagers were killed after American troops herded them into a single room of the house, according to a police document obtained by Knight Ridder Newspapers. The soldiers also burned three vehicles, killed the villagers' animals and blew up the house, the document said.

A U.S. military spokesman, Major Tim Keefe, said that the U.S. military has no information to support the allegations and that he had not heard of them before a reporter brought them to his attention Sunday. [complete article]

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The letter of the law
By Chitra Ragavan, US News & World Report, March 27, 2006

In the dark days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, a small group of lawyers from the White House and the Justice Department began meeting to debate a number of novel legal strategies to help prevent another attack. Soon after, President Bush authorized the National Security Agency to begin conducting electronic eavesdropping on terrorism suspects in the United States, including American citizens, without court approval. Meeting in the FBI's state-of-the-art command center in the J. Edgar Hoover Building, the lawyers talked with senior FBI officials about using the same legal authority to conduct physical searches of homes and businesses of terrorism suspects--also without court approval, one current and one former government official tell U.S. News. "There was a fair amount of discussion at Justice on the warrantless physical search issue," says a former senior FBI official. "Discussions about--if [the searches] happened--where would the information go, and would it taint cases."

FBI Director Robert Mueller was alarmed by the proposal, the two officials said, and pushed back hard against it. "Mueller was personally very concerned," one official says, "not only because of the blowback issue but also because of the legal and constitutional questions raised by warrantless physical searches." FBI spokesman John Miller said none of the FBI's senior staff are aware of any such discussions and added that the bureau has not conducted "physical searches of any location without consent or a judicial order." [complete article]

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This misadventure has alienated most of the world from Bush
By Gary Younge, The Guardian, March 20, 2006

Shortly before the first Gulf war the recently retired chairman of the United States joint chiefs of staff, Admiral William Crowe, went for lunch with his successor, Colin Powell. In words that resonate today, Crowe warned Powell that "a war in the Middle East - killing thousands of Arabs for whatever noble purpose - would set back the US in the region for a long time. And that was to say nothing of the Americans who might die".

But despite his own misgivings, Crowe clearly believed military intervention was likely in the interests of presidential prestige.

"It takes two things to be a great president," he told Powell. "First you have to have a war. All the great presidents have had their wars. Two you have to find a war where you are attacked."

Six years into his presidency it is difficult to think of a single, substantial foreign policy initiative that US president George Bush has pursued that did not involve war, or the threat of it. There is good reason for this. It is the one area in which America reigns supreme, accounting alone for 40% of the global military expenditure and spending almost seven times the amount of its nearest rival, China. [complete article]

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Tehran courts support of Arabs
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, March 20, 2006

Iran has embarked on a charm offensive in the Arab world aimed at expanding economic and political ties and circumventing efforts by the United States and its allies to isolate Iran over its nuclear program.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad traveled this month to Kuwait, the first visit there by a high-ranking Iranian official in more than 25 years. Other Iranian officials toured Persian Gulf states trying to persuade them to endorse Iran's desire to develop nuclear technology, which U.S. officials have called a cover for building weapons. In mid-February, Iran's deputy foreign minister for Arab and African affairs, Mohammad-Reza Baqeri, met in Mecca with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal in a bid to persuade the Saudis to coordinate stands on regional issues, according to reports from Tehran.

Iran also moved to shore up its longtime alliance with Syria, itself a target of U.S.-led isolation efforts. Iran and Syria signed preferential trade agreements and announced plans to lay an oil pipeline between the two countries, although a key section would have to pass through Iraq. During a recent meeting with Iranian officials in Damascus, Syrian Prime Minister Naji al-Otri publicly endorsed Iran's assertion of the right to develop nuclear technology, albeit for "peaceful purposes." [complete article]

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In Iraq, U.S. influence wanes as full-scale civil war looms
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 20, 2006

Every day, more violence. And more uncertainty for Iraqis than they have ever known, as they mark three years since American troops invaded.

The wave of optimism that once buoyed Iraqis after the fall of Saddam Hussein is now being marked as yet another casualty of the bombs and murders that are part of daily life here.

But even as Iraq slides toward full-scale civil war, Iraqi analysts are trying to envision a way out of a vicious insurgency, political deadlock, and sectarian bloodshed. [complete article]

Comment -- The White House is stuck in a quagmire. This is no more clearly evident than in the tortured headline through which they are spinning the anniversary of the "beginning of Iraq liberation" by avoiding any mention of war. Riverbend offers a much more pointed description of this as the aniversary of "the end of Iraq's independence."

Paul D. Eaton, a former Army major general who was in charge of training the Iraqi military from 2003 to 2004, is calling for Rumsfeld's head to roll, while Andrew Sullivan makes the prosaic and altogether unpolitical observation that this administration is simply burnt out. Tiredness is no excuse for incompetance, but it probably is part of the explanation why in spite of so many countervailing reasons, Bush still persists with his utterly lame posture of steady progress. This isn't so much about staying on course as it is about struggling to imagine what another course would look like. Nevertheless, the longer Bush persists along this fanciful track, the all the more certain it is that it will lead to an inescapable conclusion: failure.

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Prospect of anarchy on the rise in strife-torn Iraq
By Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, March 19, 2006

A year after the US invasion of Iraq, Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations envoy at the time, told Iraqis that civil wars were not started by a "decision". Countries slid into them, he said, when people were reckless and thought more of themselves than of the benefit to their own country.

Mr Brahimi's warnings are becoming Iraq's dreadful reality. On the third anniversary of the start of the war that ousted Saddam Hussein's regime, two images of Iraq emerge. One is the deteriorating sectarian violence on the ground. The other is the squabbling leaders still looking to form a government three months after parliamentary elections. [complete article]

See also, Death squads on the prowl in a nation paralysed by fear (The Independent), One week in Baghdad (Zeyad, Healing Iraq blog), and My Iraqi wedding (Manal Omar).

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With each mile, the divisions deepen
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, March 20, 2006

Cold War-like checkpoints and concrete barriers, bursts of machine-gun fire and close encounters with mysterious bands of armed men punctuate the lives of millions of ordinary Iraqis. House by house, neighborhood by neighborhood, province by province -- a tour of the streets and roads of Iraq is lined with guideposts pointing to the country's potential disintegration.

Although Iraq has seen a flowering of long-suppressed Shiite faith, a surge in religious hatred has sharpened the rift between the two main Muslim sects in key cities and rural enclaves. Iraqis are now more free to speak their minds and organize politically, but ethnic rivalries among Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens in the north fester, even as the war between U.S.-led forces and Sunni-dominated guerrillas in the west continues.

Three years after the military invasion to oust Hussein, the country's landscape betrays its fault lines, like land heaved up by shifting tectonic plates. [complete article]

See also, The roots of sectarian violence (Nir Rosen).

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The way forward for Iraq hinges on the U.S.'s way out
By Mark Sappenfield and Mark Rice-Oxley, Christian Science Monitor, March 20, 2006

Weeks ago, when President Bush said that Iraq had reached a "moment of choosing" after the bombing of a Samarra mosque, he could just as easily have been talking about the countries of his own coalition.

Today, three years after the war began, the United States and Britain have their own decisions to make about how to help Iraq as it stumbles toward democracy, civil war, or both. Yet those decisions seem as uncertain as the course of the war itself.

In conversations with some of the most influential past policymakers in both America and Britain, there are notes of concord: Iraq is not yet lost, they agree, but Iraq's leaders must soon take more responsibility. Moreover, the inevitable withdrawal of troops must be orderly and purposeful, not a hasty flight.

When it comes to how and when to do this, however, many are as split as the nation they hope to unify. [complete article]

See also, Iraq's factions agree to form security council (LAT), Deaths fall for U.S., rise for Iraqis (USA Today), and Some troops headed back to Iraq are mentally ill (San Diego Union-Tribune).

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Iranians see talks with U.S. as historic
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, March 20, 2006

The United States severed diplomatic relations with Iran [in 1979], and over the next quarter-century both countries consistently found a reliable villain in the other.

Inside Iran, however, an appetite for rapprochement grew along with a population whose youthful majority had no memory of the revolution.

In 2002, a poll found that three-quarters of Iranians surveyed favored talks with the United States. The pollster was thrown in jail, but the reality drove a quiet competition between Iran's two rival political forces.

"Whoever could take the prize" of U.S. rapprochement would, it was widely believed, dominate Iranian politics for the foreseeable future, said Mehdi Karrubi, a moderate cleric who was speaker of the last parliament dominated by reformers.

The competition, however, had paralyzed the effort: Neither side would allow the other to reach out to the United States without risking accusations of betraying the Islamic revolution.

That changed last year, when conservative clerics edged reformists out of government, unifying Iran's elaborate ruling structure for the first time in nearly a decade. It also cleared the way for the opening to Washington, and even reformists urged the conservatives to act.

"This might be a historic irony, but it's true the state is in 'harmony,' " said Mostafa Tajzadeh, a prominent reformist theoretician, speaking before the announcement of the direct talks. "No time has been more convenient for talks between the two countries. We are less sensitive than at any time since the revolution." [complete article]

Comment -- The big question is: Does anyone in the Bush administration have the imagination and courage to pursue the glimmer of an opportunity, or is the notion of rapprochement so distasteful to the ideologues that it won't even enter the administration's own internal debate?

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Suppose we just let Iran have the bomb
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, March 19, 2006

President Bush's message to Iran these days sounds unambiguous: The United States will do what it takes to keep the mullahs from getting the bomb. Diplomacy is vastly preferred, President Bush and his aides insist. Yet it was no accident that the just-revised National Security Strategy declares: "This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided."

To nervous allies, those words echo the run-up to the Iraq invasion, which began three years ago today. But Iran is not Iraq. And some experts in the United States -- mostly outside the administration -- have been thinking the unthinkable, or at least the undiscussable: If all other options are worse, could the world learn to live with a nuclear Iran?

"The reality is that most of us think the Iranians are probably going to get a weapon, or the technology to make one, sooner or later," an administration official acknowledged a few weeks ago, refusing to talk on the record because such an admission amounts to a concession that dragging Iran in front of the United Nations Security Council may prove an exercise in futility. "The optimists around here just hope we can delay the day by 10 or 20 years, and that by that time we'll have a different relationship with a different Iranian government." [complete article]

Comment -- The headline is loaded with imperial self-flattery. This isn't about "letting" Iran go nuclear as much as it is about being powerless to stop it happening. If the US was to first come to terms with the limits of its own power, there would then be a realistic foundation for a multitude of foreign policy debates. Until that happens, all such discussions are skewed by a need to avoid puncturing the balloon of American grandiosity.

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If Bush ruled the world
By William Pfaff, IHT, March 20, 2006

Intellectual poverty is the most striking quality of the Bush administration's new National Security Strategy statement, issued on Thursday. Its overall incoherence, its clichés and stereotyped phraseology give the impression that Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, and his fellow authors assembled it from the boilerplate of bureaucratic discourse with contempt for the Congress to whom it is primarily addressed.

It reveals the administration's foreign policy as a lumpy stew of discredited neoconservative ideas with some neo- Kissingerian geopolitics now mixed in. [complete article]

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'American Theocracy'
By Alan Brinkley, New York Times, March 19, 2006

Four decades ago, Kevin Phillips, a young political strategist for the Republican Party, began work on what became a remarkable book. In writing "The Emerging Republican Majority" (published in 1969), he asked a very big question about American politics: How would the demographic and economic changes of postwar America shape the long-term future of the two major parties? His answer, startling at the time but now largely unquestioned, is that the movement of people and resources from the old Northern industrial states into the South and the West (an area he enduringly labeled the "Sun Belt") would produce a new and more conservative Republican majority that would dominate American politics for decades. Phillips viewed the changes he predicted with optimism. A stronger Republican Party, he believed, would restore stability and order to a society experiencing disorienting and at times violent change. Shortly before publishing his book, he joined the Nixon administration to help advance the changes he had foreseen.

Phillips has remained a prolific and important political commentator in the decades since, but he long ago abandoned his enthusiasm for the Republican coalition he helped to build. His latest book (his 13th) looks broadly and historically at the political world the conservative coalition has painstakingly constructed over the last several decades. No longer does he see Republican government as a source of stability and order. Instead, he presents a nightmarish vision of ideological extremism, catastrophic fiscal irresponsibility, rampant greed and dangerous shortsightedness. (His final chapter is entitled "The Erring Republican Majority.") In an era of best-selling jeremiads on both sides of the political divide, "American Theocracy" may be the most alarming analysis of where we are and where we may be going to have appeared in many years. It is not without polemic, but unlike many of the more glib and strident political commentaries of recent years, it is extensively researched and for the most part frighteningly persuasive. [complete article]

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Iraq: next steps for U.S. policy
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Think Progress, March 16, 2006

Three years ago, almost to a day, just as the war was beginning, I appeared on the Jim Lehrer show, and at the end of the show, Lehrer, as his last question asked me, "What do you think is riding on this war?" And my response was as follows: Ultimately, American global leadership is at stake in this war. It's not Saddam who is the issue, it's whether America can lead, lead constructively, and in a way that others respect. Three years later, I think it's appropriate to ask: Where are we? Where are we headed? And what should we do?

First, where are we? The answers to this are easy, and on this I can be quick. The war has proven to be prohibitively costly. American leadership, in all of its dimensions, has been damaged. American morality has been stained – in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. American legitimacy has been undermined – by unilateral decisions. American credibility – particularly the case for the war, has been shattered. Leadership depends on morality, legitimacy, credibility. The economic costs of the war are escalating into hundreds of billions of dollars. More importantly, American casualties are in the thousands, with more than tens of thousands maimed. We are not even counting Iraqi casualties; we prefer not to know what they are. [complete article]

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The enemy we hardly know
By Robert Malley and Peter Harling, Boston Globe, March 19, 2006

The insurgency began as scattered, erratic, and chaotic, not organized by Saddam Hussein and his henchmen, but by a cacophonous set of groups divided between jihadists and nationalists that sought to outdo one another with the gruesomeness and savagery of their operations. No more. Today, it increasingly is dominated by a handful of large groups that enjoy sophisticated means of communication. They are well organized, produce regular publications, react to political developments, and, to a surprising degree, coordinate their words and deeds. Over the past year, they have tried to shed any outward appearance of disunity, converging around a set of relatively homogenous practices and discourse that blend Islamist Salafism and Iraqi patriotism and dilute what once were considered rigid distinctions between foreign jihadis and Iraqi combatants.

Their methods continue to be brutal, but a notable evolution has been demonstrated. As shown by their internal communications, and as they have become more coordinated and streamlined, insurgent groups have shown greater awareness of public opinion. They systematically and promptly respond to accusations of moral depravity or blind violence. All -- Al Qaeda in Iraq included -- strenuously, if disingenuously, reject accusations of waging a sectarian campaign. They publicize, in words and images, their purported efforts to protect or aid civilians. They have discarded some of the more gruesome and locally controversial practices, such as beheading hostages or attacking people going to the polls. And they systematically accuse the United States and its Iraqi allies of conducting a dirty war in coordination with sectarian militias, engaging in torture, fostering the country's division, and showing insensitivity to civilian life.

The insurgents have proved surprisingly adept at adjusting their tactics to fit their enemy's. Their Internet postings, chat discussions, and publications exhibit implicit self-criticism and overt tactical fine-tuning. Having initially opposed elections -- going so far as to physically harm those who dared associate with them -- they changed course, sensing that their approach had backfired. On the ground, they have answered the US strategy of "clear, hold, and build" with one of their own: recoil, redeploy, and spoil. Rather than confront the enemy head on, as they had sought to do, they are taking advantage of military flexibility, the limited number of US troops, and the fragility of Iraqi security forces to attack at the time and place of their choosing. [complete article]

See also, Iraq's insurgents: who's who (WP) and Statements by insurgents (WP).

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U.S. abuse continued in wake of Abu Ghraib
By Eric Schmitt and Carolyn Marshall, New York Times, March 19, 2006

As the Iraqi insurgency intensified in early 2004, an elite Special Operations forces unit converted one of Saddam Hussein's former military bases near Baghdad into a top-secret detention center. There, American soldiers made one of the former Iraqi government's torture chambers into their own interrogation cell. They named it the Black Room.

In the windowless, jet-black garage-size room, some soldiers beat prisoners with rifle butts, yelled and spit in their faces and, in a nearby area, used detainees for target practice in a game of jailer paintball. Their intention was to extract information to help hunt down Iraq's most-wanted terrorist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, according to Defense Department personnel who served with the unit or were briefed on its operations.

The Black Room was part of a temporary detention site at Camp Nama, the secret headquarters of a shadowy military unit known as Task Force 6-26. Located at Baghdad International Airport, the camp was the first stop for many insurgents on their way to the Abu Ghraib prison a few miles away.

Placards posted by soldiers at the detention area advised, "NO BLOOD, NO FOUL." The slogan, as one Defense Department official explained, reflected an adage adopted by Task Force 6-26: "If you don't make them bleed, they can't prosecute for it." According to Pentagon specialists who worked with the unit, prisoners at Camp Nama often disappeared into a detention black hole, barred from access to lawyers or relatives, and confined for weeks without charges. "The reality is, there were no rules there," another Pentagon official said. [complete article]

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A sliding scale for victory
By Doyle McManus, Los Angeles Times, March 19, 2006

Three years ago, as they ordered more than 150,000 U.S. troops to race toward Baghdad, Bush administration officials confidently predicted that Iraq would quickly evolve into a prosperous, oil-fueled democracy. When those goals proved optimistic, they lowered their sights, focusing on a military campaign to defeat Sunni-led insurgents and elections to jump-start a new political order.

As the conflict enters its fourth year today, the Bush administration faces a new challenge: the prospect of civil war. And, in response, officials again appear to be redefining success downward.

If Iraq can avoid all-out civil war, they say, if Baghdad's new security forces can hold together, if Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds all participate in a new unity government, that may be enough progress to allow the administration to begin reducing the number of U.S. troops in the country by the second half of this year. [complete article]

How do you say clueless?
By Muean Aljabiry, Washington Post, March 19, 2006

[In late April 2003, as Lt. Gen. Jay] Garner addressed the gathering [in Baghdad to establish an interim government], the audience was shouting complaints about looting and the lack of security, electricity and other services. There was no semblance of order in the hall. Responding to his unruly audience's demands, Garner started assigning security functions to some of the clerics and the tribal sheiks. "Rebels, especially successful rebels, were of necessity bad subjects and worse governors," [T.E.] Lawrence wrote amid the chaos of liberated Damascus [in 1918]. It seemed that the same could be said of these Iraqi generals, clerics and chieftains.

Not long after, my new friend Lt. Col. Bill came to ask me to teach him a few words in Arabic. He said he was assigned to deal with the former Ministry of Culture and that he needed help to interact with its department heads. He inquired if Iraqis' "language" is different from that of Saudis. He wanted to know whether Iraqis say marhaba , instead of greeting each other with salaam alaikum as they do in Saudi Arabia. I managed to teach him how to say shukran, for thank you. And I promised him that learning one phrase per day would make him as good as a native speaker by the time we left Iraq. I could easily tell he did not get the cynicism in my promise. [complete article]

See also, Iraq in civil war, says former PM (BBC) and Shiite pilgrims are walking targets in sectarian conflict (NYT).

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iraq's sovereignty vacuum (1): A government with no military and no territory
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, March 10, 2006

Iraq's sovereignty vacuum (2): The campaign to pacify Sunni Iraq
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, March 12, 2006

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

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

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

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

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