The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
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Jill Carroll Statement
Christian Science Monitor, April 1, 2006

During my last night in captivity, my captors forced me to participate in a propaganda video. They told me they would let me go if I cooperated. I was living in a threatening environment, under their control, and wanted to go home alive. I agreed.

Things that I was forced to say while captive are now being taken by some as an accurate reflection of my personal views. They are not. The people who kidnapped me and murdered Alan Enwiya are criminals, at best. They robbed Alan of his life and devastated his family. They put me, my family and my friends--and all those around the world, who have prayed so fervently for my release--through a horrific experience. I was, and remain, deeply angry with the people who did this.

I also gave a TV interview to the Iraqi Islamic Party shortly after my release. The party had promised me the interview would never be aired on television, and broke their word. At any rate, fearing retribution from my captors, I did not speak freely. Out of fear I said I wasn't threatened. In fact, I was threatened many times. [complete article]

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Note -- Saturday news roundup appears below this posting.

Jill Carroll forced to make propaganda video as price of freedom
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, March 31, 2006

The night before journalist Jill Carroll's release, her captors said they had one final demand as the price of her freedom: She would have to make a video praising her captors and attacking the United States, according to Jim Carroll.

In a long phone conversation with his daughter on Friday, Mr. Carroll says that Jill was "under her captor's control."

Ms. Carroll had been their captive for three months and even the smallest details of her life - what she ate and when, what she wore, when she could speak - were at her captors' whim. They had murdered her friend and colleague Allan Enwiya, "she had been taught to fear them," he says. And before making one last video the day before her release, she was told that they had already killed another American hostage.

That video appeared Thursday on a jihadist website that carries videos of beheadings and attacks on American forces. In it, Carroll told her father she felt compelled to make statements strongly critical of President Bush and his policy in Iraq.

Her remarks are now making the rounds of the Internet, attracting heavy criticism from conservative bloggers and commentators.

In fact, Carroll did what many hostage experts and past captives would have urged her to do: Give the men who held the power of life and death over her what they wanted. [complete article]

Comment -- Jill Carroll is likely to remain hostage to one of the most cumbersome contrivances of American journalism: the pretense of impartiality. Assuming that she wants to continue in her career as a reporter, it's unlikely that she'll freely air her thoughts and feelings about the war in Iraq. To do so would, supposedly, prejudice her ability to be an objective, unbiased journalist. On the hallowed pages of the American newspaper the free expression of opinion is the exclusive province of self-important columnists and anonymous editorialists.

It's sad to think that for as long as she's a reporter we probably won't hear at much length (if any) what Carroll's honest opinions really are -- in spite of the fact that her opinions draw from a depth of experience that those of us outside Iraq will never acquire.

If the truth is that she feels a certain amount of sympathy for her captors, in and of itself that would neither necessarily make her a traitor nor mean she was suffering from the Stockholm Syndrome. The willingness to take up arms and defend ones country against a foreign invader is something that most Americans can sympathize with. You don't have to condone any of the actions of Iraqi insurgents in order to recognize that many are driven by their own brand of patriotism.

As for Jill Carroll's willingness to make a propaganda statement while she was being held captive, it's worth recalling a few words from another American back in the early days of the war. PFC Patrick Miller of Park City, Kansas, when interviewed on Aljazeera and asked why he was fighting in Iraq, replied meekly, "Because I was told to come here." That could be described as a less-than-full-blooded expression of committment to the mission of "liberating Iraq." Nevertheless, who would fault Miller for explaning his presence in that way? He was a prisoner!

Everyone in Iraq has to draw on reservoirs of strength that those of us who have never been tested can't be sure we ourselves possess. Armchair critics who now sit back and question Carroll should keep this in mind: Iraq is a place just as dangerous for journalists as it is for American soldiers. The print journalists, like Jill Carroll, who venture beyond their hotels and outside the Green Zone don't wear helmets or carry M16s, yet their courage rarely wins praise. Ironically, popular celebrations of courage are reserved for those who have state-of-the-art armor and armaments rather than those who carry no weapons at all.

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Iraqis take another step towards all-out sectarian war
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2006

U.S. troop fatalities hit a low; Iraqi deaths soar
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, April 1, 2006

U.S. officials: Iraqi insurgents educating Afghan, Pakistani militants
By Jonathan S. Landay and John Walcott, Knight Ridder, March 31, 2006

Shiite clerics' criticism of U.S. intensifies
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, April 1, 2006

Filming the Iraq insurgency
By Matt Hann, BBC News, April 1, 2006

Ms Rice goes to Blackburn
By Patrick Barkham, The Guardian, April 1, 2006

John Dean blasts warrantless eavesdropping
By Laurie Kellman, AP (via Yahoo), March 31, 2006

Militant's death in Gaza spurs violence between rivals
By Greg Myre, New York Times, April 1, 2006

For 911 operators, Sept. 11 went beyond all training
By Al Baker and James Glanz, New York Times, April 1, 2006

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How to lose the 'war on terror': Handing victory to the extremists
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, March 31, 2006

The West's insistence that opening a political dialogue [with organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah] be preceded by and conditioned on disarmament is simply unrealistic: it suggests that we believe that "our" violence is benevolent while "theirs" is unreasoning and random - that a 19-year-old rifle-toting American in Fallujah is somehow less dangerous than a 19-year-old Shi'ite in southern Lebanon.

In fact, political agreements have rarely been preceded by disarmament. United Nations demands for the disarmament of the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in 1978 unraveled a conflict-ending political agreement (a situation put right when the rebels were allowed to keep their weapons), and Northern Ireland's "Good Friday Agreement" allowed the IRA to keep its weapons until a political process (leading to "decommissioning") reflecting their concerns was put in place.

The West often views Islamic violence as random and unreasoning, but Hamas and Hezbollah believe that violence can shift practical political considerations to create a psychology in which armed groups can use the tool of de-escalation as a way of forwarding a political process. That is to say, absent a political agreement, Hamas and Hezbollah will not voluntarily abandon what they view as their only defense against the overwhelming weight of Israeli military power.

Disarmament (or "demilitarization") is possible: it worked in Northern Ireland and South Africa. When coupled with substantive political talks, the unification of armed elements into a single security or military force - demilitarization - provides the best hope for increased stability and security in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.

As a part of our program with Hamas and Hezbollah, we invited John Lord Alderdice to Beirut to brief the groups on how demilitarization might work in their societies. Lord Alderdice helped to negotiate the "Good Friday Agreements" in Northern Ireland that "decommissioned" the IRA and allowed, among other things, for Catholic policing of Catholic neighborhoods and the recomposition of a more representative Ulster Constabulary. Hezbollah leaders have acknowledged that they would be willing to undertake a process of demilitarization that would allow Shi'ite officers to hold more senior level officer positions in the Lebanese army, while Hamas leaders have openly talked of creating a national army - thereby acknowledging the importance of the "one commander, one security service, one gun" solution promoted by the Bush administration.

Demilitarization is not a panacea, it does not work always and in every case, but it holds out greater hope for long-term stability and security than conditioning peace on requirements that cannot be met. [complete article]

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Carroll: Mujahideen are the ones that will win in the end
By Jay Deshmukh, Middle East Online, March 31, 2006

In a late Thursday video footage, whose authenticity could not be verified, Carroll in an interview with her kidnappers before her release was seen praising Iraq's insurgents and even predicted their victory over the coalition forces.

"I think the mujahideen are very smart and even with all the technology and all the people that the American army has here, they still are better at knowing how to live and work here, more clever," Carroll said in answer to a question posed by one of her kidnappers.

Asked what she meant, Carroll, who was snatched from a Baghdad street on January 7, answered: "It makes very clear that the mujahideen are the ones that will win in the end."

The video showed her dressed in the same baggy clothes she was seen wearing after her release.

The interviewer then asked Carroll if she had a message for US President George W. Bush.

She smiled before saying: "He needs to stop this war. He knows this war is wrong ... He needs to finally admit that to the American people and make the troops go home."

Carroll then said she felt guilty being set free while many women remained imprisoned at Baghdad's US-run Abu Ghraib prison.

"It shows the difference between the mujahedeen and the Americans, it shows the mujahedeen are good people fighting an honourable fight while the Americans are here as an occupying force treating the people in a very bad way," she said. [complete article]

See also, 'Like falling off a cliff for 3 months' (WP)

Comment -- I have to admit I have some real ambivalence about posting this but little doubt that it is ricocheting all over the Web right now. If or when Jill Carroll answers questions about what she did or didn't say and what she did or didn't mean, I'll be sure to post.

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Iraq Shi'ite ayatollah demands U.S. fire envoy
By Mariam Karouny, Reuters, March 31, 2006

A leading Iraqi Shi'ite cleric demanded on Friday that the United States sack its ambassador, accusing Zalmay Khalilzad of siding with his fellow Sunni Muslims in the sectarian conflict gripping the country.

In a sermon read out at mosques for Friday prayers, Ayatollah Mohammed al-Yacoubi said Washington had underestimated the bloody conflict between Shi'ites and the once dominant Sunni Arab minority, which many fear threatens to trigger a civil war.

"By this, they are either misled by reports, which lack objectivity and credibility, submitted to the United States by their sectarian ambassador to Iraq ... or they are denying this fact," Yacoubi said in the message, later issued as a statement.

"It (the United States) should not yield to terrorist blackmail and should not be deluded or misled by spiteful sectarians. It should replace its ambassador to Iraq if it wants to protect itself from further failures." [complete article]

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Iraq's top Shiite Muslim leader shuns Bush
AP (via CBC), March 30, 2006

A letter from President George W. Bush to Iraq's supreme Shiite Muslim spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was hand-delivered earlier this week but sits unread and untranslated in the top religious figure's office, a key al-Sistani aide said Thursday.

The aide - who has never allowed use of his name in news reports, citing al-Sistani's refusal to make any public statements himself - said the ayatollah set the letter aside and did not ask for a translation because of increasing "unhappiness" over what senior Shiite leaders see as U.S. meddling in Iraqi attempts to form their first, permanent post-invasion government.

The aide said the person who delivered the Bush letter - he would not identify the messenger by name or nationality - said it carried Bush's thanks to al-Sistani for calling for calm among his followers in preventing the outbreak of civil war after a Shiite shrine was bombed late last month. [complete article]

Comment -- Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani meets personally with Muqtada al-Sadr but won't even look at a letter from President Bush. I guess that pretty much sums up the extent of Bush's influence in Iraq. But perhaps the most interesting question is: who feels the greater need to stay in close communication? Sadr with Sistani, or Sistani with Sadr?

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Mosul slips out of control as the bombers move in
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, March 31, 2006

When the 3,000 men of the mainly Kurdish 3rd Brigade of the 2nd Division of the Iraqi Army go on patrol it is at night, after the rigorously enforced curfew starts at 8pm. Their vehicles, bristling with heavy machine guns, race through the empty streets of the city, splashing through pools of sewage, always trying to take different routes to avoid roadside bombs. "The government cannot control the city," said Hamid Effendi, an experienced ex-soldier who is Minister for Peshmerga Affairs in the Kurdistan Regional Government.

He is influential in the military affairs of Mosul province with its large Kurdish minority, although it is outside the Kurdish region. He believes: "The Iraqi Army is only a small force in Mosul, the Americans do not leave their bases much and some of the police are connected to the terrorists." In the days since a suicide bomber killed 43 young men waiting to join the Iraqi army at a recruitment centre near Mosul last week soldiers in the city have been expecting a second attack. [complete article]

See also, Eight oil workers killed in N. Iraq (WP).

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Finished with Likud
By Graham Usher,Al-Ahram Weekly, March 30, 2006

...were Israel's 17th elections a "referendum" on "convergence", the euphemism for Olmert's plan to consolidate Israel's permanent rule over Jerusalem and the West Bank? The answer is only a little.

There was no doubt one of the deepest sentiments in the elections was most Israeli Jews desire to "separate" from the Palestinians as well as to give up on futile attempts to resolve the conflict through negotiation. This was most clearly seen in the 12 seats won by Avigdor Lieberman's racist Yisrael Beiteinu Party. Lieberman seeks not only separation from the Palestinians in the occupied territories but also from the 1.3 million Palestinian citizens of Israel, either through transfer or redrawing Israel's borders "demographically" to exclude them.

But separation has been a feature of Israeli policy since at least the Gaza disengagement last year. The elections merely confirmed it. More than separation these elections were a referendum on Netanyahu's economic policies during his tenure as finance minister in the last Israeli government. These enhanced Israel's growth rates and created an investor- friendly economy. But they also pushed 1.4 million Israelis into poverty, devastated entire towns and massively increased the disparity between Israel's rich elite and mass poor. It was "swinish capitalism" of the worst kind and Likud's traditional constituencies rejected it in droves. [complete article]

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How environmentalists lost the battle over TCE
By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times, March 29, 2006

After massive underground plumes of an industrial solvent were discovered in the nation's water supplies, the Environmental Protection Agency mounted a major effort in the 1990s to assess how dangerous the chemical was to human health.

Following four years of study, senior EPA scientists came to an alarming conclusion: The solvent, trichloroethylene, or TCE, was as much as 40 times more likely to cause cancer than the EPA had previously believed.

The preliminary report in 2001 laid the groundwork for tough new standards to limit public exposure to TCE. Instead of triggering any action, however, the assessment set off a high-stakes battle between the EPA and Defense Department, which had more than 1,000 military properties nationwide polluted with TCE.

By 2003, after a prolonged challenge orchestrated by the Pentagon, the EPA lost control of the issue and its TCE assessment was cast aside. As a result, any conclusion about whether millions of Americans were being contaminated by TCE was delayed indefinitely.

What happened with TCE is a stark illustration of a power shift that has badly damaged the EPA's ability to carry out one of its essential missions: assessing the health risks of toxic chemicals.

The agency's authority and its scientific stature have been eroded under a withering attack on its technical staff by the military and its contractors. Indeed, the Bush administration leadership at the EPA ultimately sided with the military. [complete article]

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At Sept. 11 trial, tale of missteps and management
By Scott Shane and Neil A.Lewis, New York Times, March 31, 2006

Three weeks of testimony and dozens of documents released in the sentencing of Zacarias Moussaoui have offered an eerie parallel view of two organizations, Al Qaeda and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and how they pursued their missions before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Al Qaeda, according to a newly revealed account from the chief plotter, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, took its time in choosing targets — attack the White House or perhaps a nuclear plant in Pennsylvania? Organizers sized up and selected operatives, teaching them how to apply for a visa and how to cut a throat, a skill they practiced on sheep and camels. Despite the mistakes of careless subordinates and an erratic boss, Osama bin Laden, Mr. Mohammed tried to keep the plot on course.

Mr. Mohammed, a Pakistani-born, American-trained engineer, "thought simplicity was the key to success," says the summary of his interrogation by the Central Intelligence Agency. It is all the more chilling for the banal managerial skills it ascribes to the man who devised the simultaneous air attacks. [complete article]

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Wis. communities will vote on whether to get out of Iraq
By Judy Keen, USA Today, March 31, 2006

Cheryl Hurst doesn't hesitate when asked whether U.S. troops should be withdrawn from
Iraq. "Bring them home," the 47-year-old restaurant manager says. "They've been there long enough."

Matthew Persons, 30, is just as emphatic. "Leave them there until the job is done," says the Air Force veteran, who works for an aviation company. "Pulling out won't solve anything and will let the terrorists know that what they do works."

On Tuesday, they can express their disparate opinions in a voting booth. People in 32 communities across Wisconsin, including Evansville, will vote on referendums calling for the "orderly and rapid" withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. This town of 4,000 is the only place where residents also will vote on a separate referendum stating that U.S. forces should remain until "unquestioned victory is clearly won." [complete article]

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G.O.P. is taking aim at advocacy groups
By Carl Hulse and Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, March 31, 2006

To many Republicans, the liberal activist organization is a political boogeyman that they hope to chase off with new restrictions on so-called 527 groups.

But the pursuit may turn out to be fruitless. Like other major groups planning to inject themselves aggressively into the midterm elections through advertisements, voter drives and issue fights, has already figured out what it thinks is a better, and less controversial, way to spend its millions. Its 527 -- named for a section of the tax code -- is being put on ice.

"Our 527 is dormant," said Eli Pariser, executive director of He said his group would predominantly operate as a conventional political action committee, allowing it to more freely mix explicit political support and issue advocacy in a way that Mr. Pariser described as "squeaky clean." [complete article]

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Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies
By Declan McCullagh, CNET, March 29, 2006

Unmanned aerial vehicles have soared the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq for years, spotting enemy encampments, protecting military bases, and even launching missile attacks against suspected terrorists.

Now UAVs may be landing in the United States.

A House of Representatives panel on Wednesday heard testimony from police agencies that envision using UAVs for everything from border security to domestic surveillance high above American cities. Private companies also hope to use UAVs for tasks such as aerial photography and pipeline monitoring. [complete article]

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Pentagon to test a huge conventional bomb
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, March 31, 2006

A huge mushroom cloud of dust is expected to rise over Nevada's desert in June when the Pentagon plans to detonate a gigantic 700-ton explosive -- the biggest open-air chemical blast ever at the Nevada Test Site -- as part of the research into developing weapons that can destroy deeply buried military targets, officials said yesterday.

The test, code-named "Divine Strake," will occur on June 2 about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas in a high desert valley bounded by mountains, according to Pentagon and Energy Department officials.

"This is the largest single explosive we could imagine doing," said James A. Tegnelia, director of the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency, which is conducting the test. [complete article]

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First Amendment issues raised about Espionage Act
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 31, 2006

The federal judge overseeing prosecution of two former lobbyists charged with receiving and transmitting national defense information under the 1917 Espionage Act has given the government until today to respond to defense claims that the statute is unconstitutionally vague and overbroad and may violate the First Amendment.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III ordered the government to provide the additional support for the charges filed last August against Steven J. Rosen and Keith Weissman, former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). The two were accused of receiving classified information during conversations with government officials, one of whom, then-Pentagon employee Lawrence A. Franklin, warned Weissman that the information he was giving was highly classified.

At a hearing last Friday on the defendants' motion to dismiss the indictments, Ellis directed a series of questions to Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin DiGregory expressing concern that the government had not dealt with constitutional issues raised by the defense. [complete article]

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How the Sunnis will use Jill Carroll's release
By Christopher Allbritton, Time, March 30, 2006

U.S. hostage Jill Carroll's unexpected release in Baghdad on Thursday was a welcome departure from the usual round of bloody bad news coming out of Iraq these days. But the circumstances of her release can hardly be divorced from the sectarian strife and political jockeying that is currently gripping the country. It didn't seem to be an accident, after all, that Carroll, looking hale and well, was turned over to the Iraqi Islamic Party, a Sunni political group, whose secretary general, Tariq al-Hashimi, greeted the freelance journalist for the Christian Science Monitor with gifts, including a plaque with the party's logo on it, and a boxed copy of the Koran. "What you have received today from the Iraqi Islamic Party is exactly the teachings of the Koran," said Hashimi.

In the past, al-Hashimi's group has claimed to speak for the Sunni insurgency and it still has ties to myriad groups, so his photo op with Carroll, 28, was somewhat predictable. Sunni groups are in a political knife-fight with the dominant Shi'ite groups, who have claimed that only they can provide security and, as a result, must retain control of the ministries of Interior and Defense. Al-Hashimi's public presentation of Carroll, who was kidnapped Jan. 7 in western Baghdad, seemed to be his way of saying that while Sunnis may have taken her, they were also the ones who got her freed. [complete article]

See also, Statements from the Monitor and the Carrolls: 'Today is a day of rejoicing' (CSM) and Strategic appeals may have freed Carroll (ABC).

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IAEA's ElBaradei says Iran sanctions "bad idea"
Reuters (via Yahoo), March 30, 2006

U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei said on Thursday Iran posed no imminent threat and imposing sanctions on Tehran would be a "bad idea."

Iran says it wants only civilian nuclear power and rejected a U.N. Security Council statement adopted on Wednesday calling for a freeze on uranium enrichment and a report from the U.N. nuclear agency on Iranian compliance in 30 days.

"Sanctions are a bad idea. We are not facing an imminent threat. We need to lower the pitch," ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, told a forum in the Qatari capital, Doha. [complete article]

See also, Big powers fail to agree next move on Iran (FT) and Security Council Pressures Tehran(WP).

The key lies in Iran's history
By Charles A. Kupchan and Ray Takeyh, International Herald Tribune, March 30, 2006

After years of indecision and internal squabbling, the Bush administration has finally settled on an Iran policy: Washington will rely on coercive diplomacy - sanctions backed by the threat of military strikes - to rid Iran of its nuclear program, while simultaneously seeking to foment regime change in Tehran.

This approach is ill-advised and based on a fundamental misreading of Iran's perception of the current standoff.

For the Bush administration, the confrontation is all about Tehran's nuclear ambitions and fears that Iran is seeking to build the bomb.

But for the Iranian government and the vast majority of its citizens, the nuclear issue has become larger than life, a nationalist cause that is all about defending the country's sovereignty and dignity. [complete article]

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Insulating Bush
By Murray Waas, National Journal, March 30, 2006

Karl Rove, President Bush's chief political adviser, cautioned other White House aides in the summer of 2003 that Bush's 2004 re-election prospects would be severely damaged if it was publicly disclosed that he had been personally warned that a key rationale for going to war had been challenged within the administration. Rove expressed his concerns shortly after an informal review of classified government records by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen J. Hadley determined that Bush had been specifically advised that claims he later made in his 2003 State of the Union address -- that Iraq was procuring high-strength aluminum tubes to build a nuclear weapon -- might not be true, according to government records and interviews. [complete article]

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Can Turkey bridge the gap between Islam and the West?
By Yigal Schleifer, Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 2006

After decades of keeping the Arab and Muslim countries of the Middle East at arm's length, Turkey is trying to strengthen relations with its neighbors while at the same time recasting itself as a mediator in the region.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered a speech at the opening of the Arab League summit in Khartoum, Sudan, where Turkey for the first time was given the status of "permanent guest" by the organization.

The prime minister's appearance at the summit - the first time a Turkish leader has done so - is the latest in a string of eyebrow-raising foreign policy moves: In February, a top Hamas official visited the capital, Ankara; soon after, Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jafaari made a bridge-building trip; and the Turkish government recently announced that it was planning to host firebrand Shiite Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr for an official visit - since put on hold. [complete article]

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Afghan convert arrives in Italy as protests mount in homeland
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, March 30, 2006

Abdul Rahman, the Afghan convert to Christianity who faced a possible death sentence in his homeland for rejecting Islam, has arrived in Italy and will be granted political asylum here, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said Wednesday.

Berlusconi told Italian journalists that Rahman, 41, had probably arrived overnight and was now in the hands of the Interior Ministry. It was not immediately clear how he had traveled to Italy from Afghanistan, and his exact whereabouts were being kept secret. [complete article]

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Taliban continue attacks in Afghanistan
AP (via NYT), March 30, 2006

Suspected Taliban militants killed a district chief and three of his staff in an ambush in eastern Afghanistan on Thursday, while in the south rebels killed a police commander and his brother, officials said.

Separately, a suicide car bomber killed himself and wounded six Afghans in a botched attack on a U.S.-led coalition convoy in Kandahar city, the former Taliban stronghold in the country's south, police said.

Thursday's violence followed a rare attack a day earlier on a coalition military base in Helmand's Sangin district, which killed an American and a Canadian soldier and sparked fierce U.S.-led retaliation that left 32 insurgents dead in the bloodiest fighting in months. [complete article]

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Pakistani militant leader is beaten
By Mubashir Zaidi and Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2006

Gunmen on Wednesday attacked and seriously injured a longtime ally of Osama bin Laden whom U.S. authorities have linked to an alleged terrorist sleeper cell in California.

Fazlur Rehman Khalil, a signatory to Bin Laden's 1998 declaration of war on the United States and its allies, was severely beaten by eight armed men, supporters said.

The assailants dragged Khalil and his driver from a mosque in Tarnol, about three miles northwest of Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, as they attended evening prayers, said his spokesman, Sultan Zia. [complete article]

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Talking with the 'terrorists'
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, March 31, 2006

Seventy-two hours before the Iraqi people voted on a new parliament, on December 12, 2005, we were told by a senior US administration official that "detailed data received by the White House" pointed to a "decisive win" for Ayad Allawi's Iraqi National List. "Allawi's victory turns the tables on the insurgents," this official said gleefully. "Sectarianism will be the big loser."

Allawi's prospective triumph was trumpeted repeatedly over the next two days by US news networks quoting administration officials. Weeks later, after the results of the election became known, it was clear that the White House had overestimated Allawi's popularity: his party received just over 5% of the vote.

On the eve of the Palestinian parliamentary elections in late January, US-funded Palestinian polls suggested that while the mainstream Fatah movement had lost much of its popular support, Hamas was expected to win no more than "a third of the legislature's 132 seats". On January 27, when the results of the polling were complete, it was clear not only that Fatah had been defeated, but that Hamas had swept into office in a landslide. A prominent front-page article in the Washington Post stated that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was "stunned" by the results, as the Hamas victory contradicted everything the administration of President George W Bush believed about Palestinian society.

Just two weeks after the Hamas victory, on February 6, Lebanese Maronite leader Michel Aoun and Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah appeared together in Beirut to sign a memorandum of understanding between the Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah. The Aoun-Nasrallah agreement shook the State Department, which had worked for years to isolate Hezbollah.

The US had underscored its anti-Hezbollah strategy as recently as November 23, when Aoun met with State Department officials in Washington. The State Department blithely discounted the importance of the talks that Aoun's movement had been having with Hezbollah and reassured the press that Aoun would remain a staunch supporter of the United States' Lebanon policy. Certainly, it was believed, the leader of Lebanon's Maronite Christians would never tie the future of his own movement to that of a group allied with Damascus and Tehran.

In the aftermath of the Aoun-Nasrallah agreement, however, all of that changed: not only was Aoun's support for the US-led program against Syria in question, his agreement with Hezbollah meant that he was justifying Hezbollah's alleged kidnapping of Americans in Lebanon during the 1980s. Overnight, it seemed, Aoun had gone from being a friend of the US to a man allied with terrorists.

Allawi's failure, Hamas' success, the Aoun-Nasrallah agreement - and the inability of the West to predict, shape or even understand these seminal events - have been variously interpreted: as a signal that the US intelligence community needs increased resources, that the West has not been doing enough to sell its "program" in the region, that the US and its allies have not been harsh enough in their condemnation of "radicalism", that the West has underestimated the amount of support its secular allies need, and (in the case of the Palestinian elections) that Hamas didn't really win at all - "Fatah lost."

We have reached a much more fundamental and alarming conclusion: Western governments are frighteningly out of touch with the principal political currents in the Middle East. The US and its allies overestimated Ayad Allawi's strength, were "stunned" by Hamas' win, and were surprised by the Aoun-Nasrallah agreement because they don't have a clue about what's really going on in the region. [complete article]

U.S. bans meetings with Hamas
By Sharmila Devi, Financial Times, March 29, 2006

The US administration banned its officials on Wednesday night from meeting the Islamist group Hamas, as the new Palestinian government was sworn in and while Israel’s centrist Kadima party opened talks to form a coalition after winning the largest number of seats in Knesset elections.

US officials in the region were instructed by e-mail on Wednesday to have no contacts with Palestinian ministries from 6pm last night. [complete article]

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Jill Carroll released
Jonathan Finer and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 30, 2006

American journalist Jill Carroll, abducted in early January by gunmen in Baghdad, was released to a Sunni Arab political party in the capital Thursday morning after 82 days in captivity.

"I was never hurt, ever hit," she told a Washington Post reporter. "I was kept in a safe place and treated very well."

Carroll, 28, a freelance reporter working for the Christian Science Monitor, arrived safely at the party headquarters just after 1 p.m.

"Unknown people," released Carroll to the Iraqi Islamic Party's branch office in Amariyah in the western part of the city, Tariq al-Hashimi, the party's secretary general, said in a telephone conversation at 12:30 p.m. local time. The party then transported her by armed convoy to its headquarters in the Yarmouk district.

"She is OK. She is safe. She is more or less scared," Hashimi said. "I told her calm down and we would take care of her."

David Cook, the Monitor's Washington bureau chief, said he was in touch early this morning with Carroll's father, who had talked with Carroll after her release. [complete article]

See also, update from Christian Science Monitor.

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Hamas warns of return to violence
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, March 30, 2006

Hamas warned yesterday that if the new Israeli government did not begin peace negotiations and end the confiscation of Palestinian land it would revert to "armed resistance" to the occupation of the West Bank.

Hamas declared a ceasefire more than a year ago and has renewed it for another year. But Mahmoud Ramahi, Hamas's spokesman in the Palestinian parliament, said Palestinians had the right to renew hostilities within the West Bank if the occupation continued, although he ruled out a renewal of suicide attacks within Israel. Such attacks were part of a policy of retaliation for the killing of Palestinian civilians by the Israeli army, a policy which had now ended, he said. [complete article]

Pullout won't bring Palestinian state soon
By Steven Gutkin, AP (via Yahoo), March 29, 2006

Fresh off its election victory, the Kadima Party is already hard at work devising a plan to pull 70,000 of 250,000 Jewish settlers out of the West Bank. But in the absence of negotiations with a Hamas-run Palestinian government, no one should expect a new country called "Palestine" any time soon.

Israel's plan, senior officials say, includes holding onto large swaths of West Bank territory housing tens of thousands of settlers, maintaining a military presence in most of the area and keeping the holy city of Jerusalem for itself. [complete article]

The New Israel: Plans to redraw border on West Bank
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, March 30, 2006

Otiniel Scheller, a Kadima Knesset member said yesterday that Kadima would need at least a year to finalise a detailed plan to withdraw from parts of the West Bank. Mr Scheller, a settler who said he been drawing up the plan over the past few weeks said that, for the first year or so, the government would wait to see whether the new Hamas-led Palestinian government would recognise Israel, accept past agreements, and renounce violence. In the meantime, Mr Olmert would talk to Jewish settlers about alternative places to live, he said. The present barrier cuts into the West Bank to the east of the 1949-1967 "green line" between Israel and the Palestinian territories, leaving former Palestinian agricultural land as well as the biggest settlement blocks on the Israeli side of the barrier.

In the following two to three years, Israel would build alternative communities for the settlers, either in the big West Bank settlement blocs that Israel intends to retain between the pre-1967 border and the 450-mile separation barrier or in areas in Israel. Mr Scheller insisted the new borders would allow a contiguous Palestinian state, though in the absence of a peace deal the Army would remain in the evacuated areas. "The wisdom of the plan is that there is no precise timetable," he added. [complete article]

Rice contrasts Abbas with Hamas-led gov't
By Anne Gearan, AP (via The Guardian), March 30, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pointing to the secular Palestinian president as a figure of moral authority in contrast to the rest of the new Islamist-led government, and she is not ruling out U.S. support for territorial choices that Israel may make without consulting the Palestinians.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains in office despite the defeat of his moderate Fatah Party in Palestinian elections. He swore in 24 new Cabinet ministers from the militant Islamist group Hamas on Wednesday, including 14 who served time in Israeli prisons. [complete article]

Arabs ponder reaction to Kadima victory
By Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, March 29, 2006

Arab officials on Wednesday expressed alarm at the unilateral approach promised by Israel’s centrist Kadima party, which won the largest number of parliament seats in Tuesday’s elections. But the outcome of the elections was widely welcomed in the west, with European diplomats expressing disappointment that Kadima did not perform better, as opinion polls had suggested. [complete article]

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The U.S. propaganda machine: Oh, what a lovely war
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, March 30, 2006

This is the news from Iraq according to Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration.

A week after the US Defence Secretary criticised the media for " exaggerating" reports of violence in Iraq, The Independent has obtained examples of newspaper reports the Bush administration want Iraqis to read.

They were prepared by specially trained American "psy-ops" troops who paid thousands of dollars to Iraqi newspaper editors to run these unattributed reports in their publications. In order to hide its involvement, the Pentagon hired the Lincoln Group to act as a liaison between troops and journalists. The Lincoln Group was at the centre of controversy last year when it was revealed the company was being paid more than $100m (£58m) for various contracts, including the planting of such stories.

The Pentagon - which recently announced that an internal investigation had cleared the Lincoln Group of breaching military rules by planting these stories - has claimed these new reports did not constitute propaganda because they were factually correct. But a military specialist has questioned some of the information contained within their reports while describing their rhetorical style as "comical". Furthermore, it has been alleged that quotations contained within these reports and others - attributed to anonymous Iraqi officials or citizens - were routinely made up by US troops who never went beyond the perimeter of the Green Zone. [complete article]

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Iraq leader warns U.S. to stop interfering
By Edward Wong, New York Times, March 30, 2006

In the face of growing pressure from the Bush administration for him to step down, Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari of Iraq on Wednesday vigorously asserted his right to stay in office and warned the Americans against undue interference in Iraq's political process.

Jaafari also defended his recent political alliance with the radical anti- American Shiite cleric Moktada al- Sadr, now the prime minister's most powerful backer, saying in an interview that Sadr and his thousands-strong militia were a fact of life in Iraq and needed to be accepted into mainstream politics. [complete article]

Iraq mosque crisis highlights Shi'ite militia role
By Michael Georgy, Reuters (via Yahoo), March 29, 2006

The bloodshed at the Mustafa mosque has again highlighted Sadr's ambivalence about whether he can wield more power through politics or through paramilitary muscle on the streets.

After leading two revolts against U.S. and Iraqi troops in 2004, Sadr has kept a lower profile, but his fighters control many Shi'ite areas, such as the one around the Mustafa mosque.

Once a building owned by Saddam Hussein's Baath party, the compound also serves as a centre for services for the poor.

Mehdi army fighters run a virtual state-within-a-state for Iraqis plagued by divided leaders, violence and economic hardship since a U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam in 2003. [complete article]

See also, Sadr clash ominous for U.S. (UPI) and 'Get governing,' Bush tells Iraqis (WP).

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Iraq war changing with attacks on businesses
By Steven R. Hurst, AP (via Mercury News), March 29, 2006

Fourteen shot at a trading company. At least 90 kidnapped at other businesses. Bodies dumped nightly, bound hand and foot, some tortured. A new brand of violence - a deadly mix of organized crime and sectarian murder - is tearing at Iraq.

Its origins are murky. But the savagery has turned March into a pivotal month in the three-year war - a month of gruesome news, mixed with some good. A sharp decline in American deaths appears to be the payoff for handing more duties to the Iraqi army, leaving U.S. forces less exposed to attack. [complete article]

See also, Eight dead as gunmen hit another business (WP).

Comment -- The "exit strategy" -- we'll stand down as the Iraqis stand up -- always sounded more like a PR devise than a military plan. The underlying assumption would appear to have been that if there was a steady decline in US casualties then bad news coming out of Iraq would also steadily decline and if that happened, then however badly things were going, the domestic political price for the Bush administration would be diminished. It turns out, however, that domestic perceptions are being shaped more by the level of violence in Iraq than by whether it is resulting in the loss of Iraqi or American blood. Indeed, the White House might have overestimated the degree to which ordinary Americans can ignore human suffering, and underestimated the degree to which people empathize with other people, irrespective of their nationality or ethnicity.

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In Iraq, frontline patience wears thin
By Charles Levinson, Christian Science Monitor, March 30, 2006

For those soldiers with years left on their contracts, for young fathers, and newlyweds, the prospect of the war dragging on is disconcerting. Divorce rates in the Army have risen at least 25 percent since the war began.

"In the back of your mind you wonder how much longer is this going to go on, how many more times am I going to have to come back over here," says 1st Lt. Michael McCasland of Spokane, Wash., who spent just two weeks with his newborn daughter before returning to Iraq. "There has to be a point when Iraqis take responsibility for their own country." [complete article]

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Iraq bases spur questions over U.S. plans
By Becky Branford, BBC News, March 30, 2006

The Pentagon has requested hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency funds for military construction in Iraq, fanning the debate about US long-term intentions there. The money will add to an existing bill of $1.3bn for military construction in the Middle East and South Asia - primarily Iraq and Afghanistan - in the last five years. Much of the 2006 emergency funding is earmarked for beefing up security and facilities at just a handful of large airbases in Iraq. [complete article]

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After Iraq, Arabs wary of 'Western' democracy
By Meena Janardhan, IPS (via, March 29, 2006

In the evolving debate on reforms, Arab intellectuals and common people continue to emphasize the need for culture- and region-specific democratic reforms in the Middle East, and strongly oppose the imposition of Western models.

Highlighting the difficulty of implementing a Western tailor-made process without heeding local and regional circumstances, Omro Hamzawi, senior fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "The availability of a democratic model that can be exported everywhere is nonsense and has no moral credibility because of the U.S. tragedies and disasters in Iraq."

"Democracy," said Hamzawi, "is a popular demand in some countries [but] not so in the Gulf region, as the people don't suffer severe economic problems and have different concerns. The situation here is completely different, and each case should be handled separately. Democracy is unacceptable if it affects the culture it is meant to govern in a negative way." [complete article]

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In Khartoum, the refrain of Arab failure
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, March 29, 2006

Somebody should remind the few Arab heads of state who attended the Arab League summit in Khartoum on Tuesday that we have just had our first modern slave revolt in the Arab region. Well, "slave revolt" may be too harsh a description of the actions of hundreds of mostly South Asian construction workers in Dubai last week. The workers stopped work and went on a minor rampage for two days to protest their harsh working and living conditions, low pay, delayed pay, and general lack of rights.

This should catch the attention of the few Arab heads of state who bothered to go to Khartoum, because it reflects the sad situation that defines much of the Middle East. Arab leaders have conspicuously failed to resolve any significant regional issue in the last half-century or so, while allowing their countries to degenerate into increasingly inequitable and abusive systems of exploitation and corruption, often enforced by militia power. [complete article]

See also, In Dubai, an outcry from Asians for workplace rights (NYT) and Dubai is enjoying a construction boom, at the expense of many immigrant laborers (KR).

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The situation in Baghdad
By The Mesopotamian, March 28, 2006

The confusion and conflict between the Americans, the army and the Ministry of interior is producing a situation where the citizens don't know anymore whether the security personel in the street are friends, enemies, terrorists or simply criminals and thieves. Everybody is wearing the same uniforms. Whole sections of the city have virtually fallen to gangs and terrorists, and this is sepecially true for the "Sunni" dominated neighborhoods. People and businesses are being robbed and the employees kidnapped en mass in broad daylight and with complete ease as though security forces are non-existent, although we see them everwhere.

I don't know anymore what can be done to rescue the situation. At least, those who are supposed to be in positions of responsibility should stop lying and painting a false picture. It has to be admitted that the city is under siege and has become the front battle line. [complete article]

Uncertainty... (Riverbend)

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Olmert's challenge for the U.S.
By Tony Karon,, March 29, 2006 the dust settles on the Palestinian and Israeli elections, the question is less whether Israel and the Palestinians can negotiate but whether or not they can agree. Presently, there's little reason to be expect that they can, and Sharon's unilateral course is likely to be continued by Olmert. Well, not entirely unilateral: Olmert will be looking to Washington to bless his version of "final borders" in the West Bank, making the U.S. a partner in Israel's permanent acquisition of West Bank land without Palestinian consent -- and in bearing the attendant baggage of Arab and Palestinian enmity. [complete article]

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Fool me twice
By Joseph Cirincione, Foreign Policy, March 27, 2006

Does this story line sound familiar? The vice president of the United States gives a major speech focused on the threat from an oil-rich nation in the Middle East. The U.S. secretary of state tells congress that the same nation is our most serious global challenge. The secretary of defense calls that nation the leading supporter of global terrorism. The president blames it for attacks on U.S. troops. The intelligence agencies say the nuclear threat from this nation is 10 years away, but the director of intelligence paints a more ominous picture. A new U.S. national security strategy trumpets preemptive attacks and highlights the country as a major threat. And neoconservatives beat the war drums, as the cable media banner their stories with words like "countdown" and "showdown."

The nation making headlines today, of course, is Iran, not Iraq. But the parallels are striking. Three years after senior administration officials systematically misled the nation into a disastrous war, they could well be trying to do it again.

Nothing is clear, yet. For months, I have told interviewers that no senior political or military official was seriously considering a military attack on Iran. In the last few weeks, I have changed my view. In part, this shift was triggered by colleagues with close ties to the Pentagon and the executive branch who have convinced me that some senior officials have already made up their minds: They want to hit Iran. [complete article]

See also, Neocons blocked 2003 nuclear talks with Iran (IPS).

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The attorney-general comes to town
By Fred Halliday, Open Democracy, March 28, 2006

Alberto Gonzales, the attorney-general of the United States, is all that the modern state would wish to have as its representative: detached in the fulfilment of his bureaucratic obligations; obedient to, if not obsequious towards, his boss; wordy and word-twisting in matters of legal definition; stonewalling on matters of substance; and, above all, distinctly cold in matters of human concern.

When he took the stage at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on 7 March 2006, to speak on anti-terrorism policy and the need for international cooperation, Gonzales – the highest legal authority in the executive branch of the world's leading democracy – did not immediately command attention. Yet the attorney general, a former White House counsel, is the man who presided over (and to a considerable degree served to authorize) a range of contentious US detention policies, from Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, from "rendition" to "stress positions".

Gonzales was evasive on matters of substance, jocular in response to questions touching on matters of human suffering. Asked if he thought that setting dogs on naked prisoners was a form of torture, he said he did not give opinions on individual detention practices. He shifted responsibility – and hence blame – from the department of justice to the department of defence when it suited him. Above all, he was apparently oblivious and indifferent to the consternation, rage and concern which recent US policies – enacted following the 11 September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington – have occasioned. [complete article]

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Case tests power of judiciary, president
By Charles Lane, Washington Post, March 29, 2006

A long-awaited test of the judiciary's power during wartime came to the Supreme Court yesterday, and, contrary to the urgings of the Bush administration, the justices did not seem inclined to duck it.

During a 90-minute oral argument on the legality of the military commissions President Bush has set up to try terrorism suspects, most members of the court resisted -- sometimes sharply -- the administration's request to dismiss the case because of a new federal law circumscribing appeals by terrorism suspects. [complete article]

What's at stake in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (ACLU blog)

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Judges on secretive panel speak out on spy program
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, March 29, 2006

Five former judges on the nation's most secretive court, including one who resigned in apparent protest over President Bush's domestic eavesdropping, urged Congress on Tuesday to give the court a formal role in overseeing the surveillance program.

In a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the secretive court, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, several former judges who served on the panel also voiced skepticism at a Senate hearing about the president's constitutional authority to order wiretapping on Americans without a court order. They also suggested that the program could imperil criminal prosecutions that grew out of the wiretaps.

Judge Harold A. Baker, a sitting federal judge in Illinois who served on the intelligence court until last year, said the president was bound by the law "like everyone else." If a law like the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act is duly enacted by Congress and considered constitutional, Judge Baker said, "the president ignores it at the president's peril." [complete article]

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'War' on Christians is alleged
By Alan Cooperman, Washington Post, March 29, 2006

The "War on Christmas" has morphed into a "War on Christians."

Last December, some evangelical Christian groups declared that the religious celebration of Christmas -- and even the phrase "Merry Christmas" -- was under attack by the forces of secularism.

This week, radio commentator Rick Scarborough convened a two-day conference in Washington on the "War on Christians and the Values Voters in 2006." The opening session was devoted to "reports from the frontlines" on "persecution" of Christians in the United States and Canada, including an artist whose paintings were barred from a municipal art show in Deltona, Fla., because they contained religious themes. [complete article]

Comment -- The world population just passed 6.5 billion and only 2.1 billion identify themselves as Christians. I guess technically that makes Christians a minority, but then again, every member of every other religion belongs to an even smaller minority. And the smallest minority of all (as far as religion goes) is those of us who profess no faith.

The question is, how many people (religious or not) believe in tolerance? Are we a majority or a minority? Is live-and-let-live a rather basic and universal human attitude, or is it this very attitude that risks being crushed by the force of inflexible religious and secular convictions?

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Mayor of London - "just too honest to be a politician"
By Mary Jordan, Washington Post, March 29, 2006

The mayor of London considered the virtues of the U.S. ambassador to Britain: "A chiseling little crook," Ken Livingstone concluded of Robert Holmes Tuttle on Monday, further dismissing the colonials' latest representative to Her Majesty's realm as a "car salesman." [complete article]

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U.S. appeals to Iraq's top cleric to help end political impasse
By Nancy A. Youssef and Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, March 28, 2006

U.S. officials sent a message this week to Iraq's senior religious cleric asking that he help end the impasse over forming a new Iraqi government and strongly implying that the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jafaari, should withdraw his candidacy for re-election, according to American officials.

The unusual decision by the White House to reach out to Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani suggested how eager the Bush administration is to jump-start negotiations that have failed to produce Iraq's first permanent postwar government more than three months after national elections.

But by contacting the revered Shiite Muslim leader, the administration risks further angering Iraqi leaders, who already complain that the United States is interfering too much with the process. [complete article]

Comment -- Knight Ridder reporters are just being diplomatic when they say the administration is "eager" to jump-start negotiations. In fact, this is a clear measure of the White House's desperation. Kurdish and Sunni leaders already appealed to Sistani to intercede earlier this month. Although at that time Sistani was reported to have "indirectly suggested Jaafari should step aside," it's hardly likely that he'll be more responsive to an American request than one from Iraqi leaders. On the contrary, the very fact that this appeal comes from Washington pretty much compels him to turn it down. What the administration is grappling with is its own powerlessness, but rather than confront the fact that it is embroiled in a situation that has spun way out its control, it persists down its interventionist path even though almost every intervention seems to make matters worse.

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Thousands of Iraqis flee to avoid spread of violence
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, March 29, 2006

Sectarian violence has displaced more than 25,000 Iraqis since the Feb. 22 bombing of a Shiite Muslim shrine, a U.N.-affiliated agency said Tuesday, and shelters and tent cities are springing up across central and southern Iraq to house homeless Sunni and Shiite families.

The flight is continuing, according to the International Organization for Migration, which works closely with the United Nations and other groups. The result has been a population exchange as Sunni and Shiite families flee mixed communities for the safety of areas where their own sects predominate.

"I definitely wouldn't say the displacement has peaked," said Dana Graber, an official of the migration agency in Amman, Jordan. "It's continuous." [complete article]

True or not, report of 'massacre' angers Iraqis
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, March 29, 2006

Iraqi units "told us point blank that this was not a mosque," said Lt. Gen. Chiarelli, noting that, on US military maps, the Mustafa Mosque was in fact six blocks north of their target. He said that Iraqi forces "did the fighting," and there was "gunfire from every room."

"After the fact someone went in and made the scene look different than it was. There's been huge misinformation," Chiarelli said. "I think the [anti-US] backlash has been caused by the folks who set the scene up."

That explanation did not wash Tuesday in the angry Ur neighborhood of northeast Baghdad, near the poor Shiite enclave of Sadr City, where witnesses and residents said the bloodshed has boosted their support of Sadr and his Mahdi Army.

"I need the government that I voted for to protect us, but they failed," says Souad Mohammad, the deputy director of a school, whose second-floor apartment, across the street from the mosque, is riven with holes from small-caliber US armor-piercing rounds.

"They came and killed the young people, and we want the Imam Mahdi Army to protect us, because they are from us, they are Iraqi people," says Mrs. Mohammad. "When the Mahdi Army is here, it's very quiet, no one is assassinated in this area, there are no car bombs, and at night there are checkpoints to protect us." [complete article]

U.S. admits attack target contained a mosque
By Francis Harris, The Telegraph, March 29, 2006

Iraqi and American special forces who attacked an insurgent headquarters in Baghdad were not aware that their target contained a mosque until after the battle, America's most senior soldier said yesterday.

General Peter Pace, chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, was responding to 48 hours of unremitting criticism over the controversial raid, which Iraqi radicals claim resulted in the deaths of 21 unarmed worshippers and an imam. [complete article]

Report adds to criticism of Halliburton's Iraq role
By James Glanz, New York Times, March 29, 2006

Even as a Halliburton subsidiary was absorbing harsh criticism of its costs on a 2003 no-bid contract for work in Iraq, the government officials overseeing a second contract wrote that the company was running up exorbitant new expenses on similar work, according to a report issued yesterday by the staff for the Democrats on the House Government Reform Committee. [complete article]

Ex-Saddam aide 'issues Iraq tape'
BBC News, March 27, 2006

Arabic television channel al-Jazeera has broadcast an audiotape purportedly from Saddam Hussein's former deputy Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri.

The voice on the tape urges Arab leaders due to meet in Sudan to boycott the Iraqi government and recognise what he calls the "Iraqi resistance". [complete article]

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Anti-Arab hardliners find favour with Israel's immigrants
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, March 29, 2006

In the seaside town of Bat Yam, you are as likely to hear Russian as Hebrew and it was the Russians here that helped provide the biggest shock of yesterday's Israeli election.

The Yisrael Beiteinu - Israel, Our Home - party took nearly half the votes of the one million or more Russian speakers in Israel and drove the once mighty Likud into fourth place.

Yisrael Beiteinu is virulently anti-Arab although it has watered down calls for forced removals to merely advocating redrawing Israel's borders to move 500,000 Arab citizens into a Palestinian state. [complete article]

Sharon's party is winner in Israel
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, March 29, 2006

The Kadima party led by acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert won the most seats in Israel's parliamentary elections Tuesday, in a vote that hinged on his plan to draw the country's final borders through unilateral withdrawals from the Palestinian territories.

But the election, which drew one of the lowest voter turnouts in Israeli history, left Kadima with an uncertain mandate to move ahead with a program that once appeared to have clear support from Israelis. [complete article]

U.S. likely to back Olmert's border plan as 'Road Map' shelved
Bloomberg, March 29, 2006

The Bush administration likely will back Israeli leader Ehud Olmert's plan to withdraw settlers from the West Bank and set borders because it is consumed with Iraq and wary of peacemaking while Hamas is governing the Palestinians, analysts said.

Olmert, 60, will try to carry out his disengagement strategy "and I think the administration will buy into that," said Edward Walker, a former U.S. assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs and now head of the Washington-based Middle East Institute. [complete article]

The first Israelis speak
By Linda Grant, The Guardian, March 29, 2006

"The Israelis say; the Zionists think ..." What the Israelis say and think is not a single, homogeneous bloc of ideas, as many of its critics imagine.

Last night's election results demonstrate the baffling complexity of a country that over the past two decades has become more and more of a society and less and less of an ideology. It is a place that can only be understood if you pay close attention to the family history and immediate personal experience of the man and woman on the street. [complete article]

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Intertwined debates on two sides
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, March 29, 2006

There is logic behind the coincidence that involved the establishment of the Palestinian cabinet just a few days before the elections were held in Israel. No matter how much both sides declare that there are not, and will not, be talks between them - the two peoples, occupier and occupied, are intertwined. At the temporal juncture created by the elections in Israel and the creation of the Palestinian cabinet, the two internal debates within the two societies are themselves meeting and "speaking."

The internal debate regarding the composition of a cabinet headed by Hamas prompted an open clash between two types of legitimacy to rule. It was Hamas, which Israel and the United States define as a terror organization, that relies on legitimacy of the liberal-democratic kind. Most of the citizenry voted for it and it was allowed, it believed, to determine policies on the basis of that electoral achievement, while rejecting the demand to pay any attention to previous decisions made in the PLO regarding negotiations with Israel (which are what brought about the establishment of the Palestinian Authority).

The PLO leadership and its activists, on the other hand, present the cumulative historic legitimacy of those who have held the reins of the national liberation struggle. Mahmoud Abbas and Nabil Sha'ath are the darlings of the West. As PA leaders they clearly represented the interests of Palestinian business people and the nouveaux riches, which led Palestinian voters to dislike them. They rely on the legitimacy of a national liberation organization that sees itself as revolutionary. That legitimacy does not depend on elections, but on the voice of the masses, which makes itself heard at demonstrations and meetings, and is manifested by membership in PLO organizations, by life-endangering acts, by loss of life and by hundreds of thousands of prisoners. [complete article]

See also, Hamas-led cabinet is approved (WP).

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Shiites say U.S. is pressuring Iraqi leader to step aside
By Edward Wong, New York Times, March 28, 2006

Senior Shiite politicians said today that the American ambassador has told Shiite officials to inform the Iraqi prime minister that President Bush does not want him to remain the country's leader in the next government.

It is the first time the Americans have directly intervened in the furious debate over the country's top job, the politicians said, and it is inflaming tensions between the Americans and some Shiite leaders.

The ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the head of the main Shiite political bloc at a meeting last Saturday to pass a "personal message from President Bush" on to the prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, who the Shiites insist should stay in his post for four more years, said Redha Jowad Taki, a Shiite politician and member of Parliament who was at the meeting.

Ambassador Khalilzad said that President Bush "doesn't want, doesn't support, doesn't accept" Mr. Jaafari to be the next prime minister, according to Mr. Taki, a senior aide to Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim, the head of the Shiite bloc. It was the first "clear and direct message" from the Americans on the issue of the candidate for prime minister, Mr. Taki said.
At least 21 people were abducted in four separate incidents in Baghdad today, in the biggest wave of kidnappings in a month, an Interior Ministry official and a hospital guard said. In one incident, 15 men in Iraqi Army uniforms dragged at least six people from a money exchange shop and stole nearly $60,000 of currency. The other cases involved people dressed as Interior Ministry commandos snatching people from two electronics shops, and criminals abducting two hospital workers.

Last month, gunmen in commando uniforms kidnapped 35 people from the offices of an Iraqi security company. A handful have been released.

Also today, the police discovered 14 bodies in western Baghdad, all executed with gunshot wounds to the head, apparently the latest victims of sectarian bloodletting. Iraqi forces on Monday found 18 bodies near Baquba of people who had been killed in a similar manner. Earlier reports of 30 beheaded bodies discovered in the same area were wrong, the Interior Ministry official said.

The Iraqi national security minister, Abdul Karim al-Enizi, said on the state-run Iraqiya network tonight that the Iraqi forces who had raided the Shiite mosque in Baghdad were not part of the Interior or Defense Ministries. A survivor said the soldiers did not speak Arabic well, implying they may have been Kurdish militiamen working with Americans, Mr. Enizi said. [complete article]

Comment -- Bush might be frustrated that Jaafari appears incapable of reining in the Shia militias, but the so-called "Iraqi" security forces are themselves militia based. If, as this report suggests, the U.S. was using peshmurga fighters to clamp down on Sadr's militia, the Shia are likely to conclude that their own militias are more essential than ever. And if Bush really thinks he can have a veto over who gets to become Iraq's next prime minister, it only makes it that much more clear what his legacy will be: that he succeeded in turning "democracy" into a dirty word.

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Angered by fatal raid, Shiites exit unity talks
By Richard Boudreaux and Zainab Hussein, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2006

As coffins of shooting victims rolled past wailing mourners, Iraq's dominant Shiite Muslim political alliance Monday condemned the United States for a weekend raid that left at least 16 people dead in a Shiite neighborhood and said it was for now dropping out of U.S.-guided talks aimed at forming a unity government.

Shiite political leaders and U.S. military commanders gave wildly contradictory accounts of the Sunday evening raid in northeast Baghdad, evidence of a growing rift between the United States and the Shiite-led government that came to power after the 2003 ouster of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

Fighting with friends
By Ehsan Ahrari, Asia Times, March 29, 2006

The US military is now fighting with Shi'ite militias, raising the question of whether this is a deliberate attempt by the Bush administration to diminish the power of these militias, or an unwitting consequence of appearing to be impartial in the growing sectarian violence in the country. Either way, the result is that the US is alienating Shi'ites, on whom they have, up to now, pinned most of their hopes for stabilizing the country. [complete article]

Comment -- Americans so easily fall victim to the naive assumption that their good intentions are as transparent to others as they appear to themselves. That the U.S. military in Baghdad would protest so vigorously that it is the target of a misinformation campaign overlooks the fact that it is already perceived by many as being duplicitous in its dealings with the Shia majority. Moreover, the dispute over what really happened on Sunday provides yet another demonstration why soldiers often make the worst diplomats. Diplomatically, attack is the worst form of defense. Rather than protesting that they had been framed, the military should have been trying to defuse the conflict by promising that they would assist the Iraqis in their inquiry.

The problem now is that American patience with Shia politicians appears to have worn so thin that the U.S. seems utterly incapable of brokering a deal between the Shia, Sunni and Kurdish factions. Its willingness to turn to Iran shows just how desperate the U.S. has become, yet it's far from clear whether the Iranians have any real desire to help. As Asia Times reports, quoting a former deputy foreign minister, it is "neither in Iran's interest to have a stable Iraq, nor do we want a fragmented Iraq. Ambiguity is the cornerstone of the policy."

The New York Times reports that, "American officials are now saying that Shiite militias are the No. 1 problem in Iraq," yet American-backed efforts to clamp down on these militias are clearly backfiring. Far from marginalizing the militias, rival Shia groups are now uniting, and while the U.S. military presence might have once been regarded by the Shia as a necessary evil, the U.S.'s last tenuous claim to legitimacy is quickly evaporating. Hussein Tah-an, the govenor of Baghdad has already cut ties to the U.S. military and diplomatic mission. Now all it would take is for the Shia leadership to say that it's time for the U.S. to start withdrawing and the enterprise is finished - in no way, shape or form, George Bush's "plan for victory."

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Does the media have it right on the war?
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, March 28, 2006

The claim that the war has an economic foundation may sound strange in the context of American media coverage, because it is so unfamiliar. So let me begin by agreeing with two key points in the currently fashionable media analysis: The initial attack on Saddam Hussein's regime was a success and there was a moment -- just after the fall of Baghdad -- when the Bush administration might have avoided triggering a formidable armed resistance. The war and proto-civil war of the present moment were not the inevitable result of the invasion, but of Bush administration actions taken afterwards.

We do not remember much of this now, but just after Saddam was toppled the American victors announced that a sweeping reform of Iraqi society would take place. The only part of this still much mentioned today -- the now widely regretted dismantling of the Iraqi military -- was but one aspect of a far larger effort to dismantle the entire Baathist state apparatus, most notably the government-owned factories and other enterprises that constituted just about 40% of the Iraqi economy. This process of dismantling included attempts, still ongoing, to remove various food, product, and fuel subsidies that guaranteed low-income Iraqis basic staples, even when they had no gainful employment. [complete article]

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Iraqi documents are put on Web, and search is on
By Scott Shane, New York Times, March 28, 2006

American intelligence agencies and presidential commissions long ago concluded that Saddam Hussein had no unconventional weapons and no substantive ties to Al Qaeda before the 2003 invasion.

But now, an unusual experiment in public access is giving anyone with a computer a chance to play intelligence analyst and second-guess the government.

Under pressure from Congressional Republicans, the director of national intelligence has begun a yearlong process of posting on the Web 48,000 boxes of Arabic-language Iraqi documents captured by American troops. [complete article]

Enemy of our enemy
By Peter Bergen, New York Times, March 28, 2006

Bush administration defenders, right-wing bloggers and neoconservative publications are crowing about Iraqi documents newly released by the Pentagon that, they say, prove that Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein were in league.

Even though the 9/11 commission found no "collaborative relationship" between the ultrafundamentalist Osama bin Laden and the secular Saddam Hussein, the administration's reiterations of a supposed connection -- Vice President Dick Cheney has argued that the evidence for such an alliance was "overwhelming" -- have convinced two out of three Americans that they had "strong" links.

Some administration supporters have drawn an analogy to the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, in which Stalin and Hitler put aside ideology in favor of pragmatic goals (carving up the Baltic states, Poland and Finland). But history is not a good guide here: not only was the ideological divide between Al Qaeda and Baathist Iraq far greater than that between the two 20th-century dictators, but unlike Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, the two sides had nothing practical to gain by working together. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld grades U.S. poor in global debate
AP (via The Guardian), March 27, 2006

The United States is faring poorly in its effort to counter ideological support for terrorism, in part because the government does not communicate effectively, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said Monday.

Rumsfeld made the remark in response to a question from a member of his audience at the Army War College, where he delivered a speech on the challenges facing the country in fighting a global war on terrorism.

"If I were grading I would say we probably deserve a 'D' or a 'D-plus' as a country as to how well we're doing in the battle of ideas that's taking place in the world today," Rumsfeld told his questioner. "I'm not going to suggest that it's easy, but we have not found the formula as a country" for countering the extremists' message. [complete article]

Comment -- The nub of the problem isn't the lack of a formula; it's the belief that any kind of formulaic communications strategy could work. Whatever the terrorists can be accused of, they can't be accused of lacking conviction.

Holding up "democracy" as the countervailing force in a battle of ideas is bound to fail when the proponents so often appear to lack faith in the practice even while they uphold the principle. If Americans celebrate the results of free and fair elections in Iraq, while condemning the results of free and fair elections in Palestine, they end up simply sounding like hypocrites -- not the champions of democracy. This why we don't get a 'D' -- we get an 'F.'

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Revolution is reversed with a little spin from the West
By Jeremy Page, The Times, March 28, 2006

"Welcome to the Blue Revolution!" joked a Russian reporter yesterday as staff at Viktor Yanukovych's campaign headquarters celebrated their electoral comeback.

Around the refurbished press room, aides in blue scarves networked slickly beneath plasma screens showing images of massive crowds waving blue flags.

It is ironic enough that Mr Yanukovych's pro-Russian Party of the Regions won a third of the seats in parliament with the sort of Western-style campaign that the Orange Revolution leaders used to unseat him in 2004. But a greater irony is that the spin doctors behind this image revamp were not Russian or Ukrainian but American. [complete article]

Comment -- Here are the real true-believers at work. The Western Way -- the way that the rest of the world is emulating -- demonstrates the power of public relations; not the value of democracy. And what's the essence of this message? The art of deception is the key to success!

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Italian official asks to grant asylum to Afghan convert
AP (via USA Today), March 28, 2006

An Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity quickly vanished Tuesday after he was released from prison, apparently out of fear for his life with Muslim clerics still demanding his death.

An Afghan man who had faced the death penalty for converting from Islam to Christianity quickly vanished Tuesday after he was released from prison, apparently out of fear for his life with Muslim clerics still demanding his death. [complete article]

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Government investigators smuggled radioactive materials into U.S.
By David de Sola, CNN, March 27, 2006

Two teams of government investigators using fake documents were able to enter the United States with enough radioactive sources to make two dirty bombs, according to a federal report made available Monday.

The investigators purchased a "small quantity" of radioactive materials from a commercial source, according to a Government Accountability Office report prepared for Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations Chairman Norm Coleman, a Minnesota Republican. [complete article]

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Shiite leaders suspend talks over government
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, March 28, 2006

Frayed relations between Iraq's Shiite leadership and the American authorities came under increased strain on Monday as Shiite leaders angrily denounced a joint American-Iraqi raid on a Shiite compound and suspended negotiations over a new government.

The raid on Sunday evening, which killed at least 16 people, also prompted the governor of Baghdad to announce a halt in cooperation with the American authorities, and Shiite militiamen to brandish their weapons in the streets of eastern Baghdad and declare their readiness to retaliate against American troops. [complete article]

U.S. officials defend raid following Shiite backlash
By Jonathan Finer and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, March 28, 2006

Facing a scathing backlash from Shiite Muslim leaders a day after a deadly U.S.-Iraqi raid in Baghdad, top U.S. military officials defended the mission Monday, saying it was a "hugely successful" operation against an insurgent hideout packed with weapons used against soldiers and civilians. [complete article]

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Iraqi doctor says he killed patients
By John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, March 27, 2006

A doctor has admitted killing at least 35 Iraqi police officers and army soldiers by giving them lethal injections, reopening their wounds or engaging in other deadly acts while they were being treated at a hospital in the northern city of Kirkuk, according to Kurdish security sources and Kurdish television.

Kurdish television broadcast on Sunday what it said was the doctor's taped confession, in which he told police that he sympathized with the radical Sunni Arab insurgent group Ansar al-Sunna. He said that the group paid him to kill the men and that he did it because "I hate the Americans and what they've done to Iraq."

"I injected more than 35 policemen and soldiers, including officers and some who were slightly injured," the doctor, identified by a Kurdish security official as Luay Omar Taie, said in the taped statement. "I used to stop the breathing machines or cut the electricity in the operations room or reopen the wounds." [complete article]

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Free press stumbles in Kurdistan
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2006

A court in Irbil sentenced a writer to 18 months in prison Sunday for an accusatory article about Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani, in a case that has raised doubts about the judiciary's independence here.

Kamal Karim Qadir, an Iraqi-born Kurd with Austrian citizenship, was arrested last fall and charged with threatening the national security of Kurdistan, a semiautonomous region of northern Iraq that is predominantly Kurdish. The charges came after he wrote a series of controversial articles in 2004 that were critical of the Barzanis, one of Kurdistan's most powerful families. [complete article]

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In Iran, even some on right warning against extremes
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, March 27, 2006

Nine months after the election of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president, Iranian politics has shifted so sharply to the right that some traditional conservatives are warning of the dangers of radicalism.

With reformists sidelined and Ahmadinejad setting a strident new tone on the global stage, figures from the extreme right of Iran's political spectrum are defining the terms of political debate in the country. In remarks that set off a domestic firestorm, a senior cleric close to the new president suggested in January that Iranian voters were largely irrelevant because the government requires only the approval of God.

The remarks by Ayatollah Taqi Mesbah, and similar comments by an aide, were roundly criticized, even on the editorial page of Kayhan, a traditional showcase for hard-line thinking. Iranian political insiders said the flap offered a window on intense infighting at the highest reaches of Iran's theocracy just as world attention is focused on the government's determination to proceed with a nuclear program that skeptics call a cover for atomic weapons. [complete article]

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Supreme Court: Detainees' rights - Scalia speaks his mind
By Michael Isikoff, Newsweek, April 3, 2006

The Supreme Court this week will hear arguments in a big case: whether to allow the Bush administration to try Guantanamo detainees in special military tribunals with limited rights for the accused. But Justice Antonin Scalia has already spoken his mind about some of the issues in the matter. During an unpublicized March 8 talk at the University of Freiburg in Switzerland, Scalia dismissed the idea that the detainees have rights under the U.S. Constitution or international conventions, adding he was "astounded" at the "hypocritical" reaction in Europe to Gitmo. "War is war, and it has never been the case that when you captured a combatant you have to give them a jury trial in your civil courts," he says on a tape of the talk reviewed by NEWSWEEK. "Give me a break." Challenged by one audience member about whether the Gitmo detainees don't have protections under the Geneva or human-rights conventions, Scalia shot back: "If he was captured by my army on a battlefield, that is where he belongs. I had a son on that battlefield and they were shooting at my son and I'm not about to give this man who was captured in a war a full jury trial. I mean it's crazy." Scalia was apparently referring to his son Matthew, who served with the U.S. Army in Iraq. Scalia did say, though, that he was concerned "there may be no end to this war." [complete article]

See also, Retired generals want Scalia off Gitmo case (AP).

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MI5 enabled UK pair's 'rendition'
BBC News, March 28, 2006

Telegrams sent by British intelligence led to the "extraordinary rendition" of two UK residents now in Guantanamo Bay, BBC News has learned.

Flight details sent to US authorities allowed Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil al-Banna to be arrested in Gambia.

The UK government has always said it opposes "extraordinary rendition" - secret flights taking terror suspects for interrogation in other countries.

The Foreign Office denies requesting the men's detention. [complete article]

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FBI keeps watch on activists
By Nicholas Riccardi, Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2006

The FBI, while waging a highly publicized war against terrorism, has spent resources gathering information on antiwar and environmental protesters and on activists who feed vegetarian meals to the homeless, the agency's internal memos show.

For years, the FBI's definition of terrorism has included violence against property, such as the window-smashing during the 1999 Seattle protests against the World Trade Organization. That definition has led FBI investigations to online discussion boards, organizing meetings and demonstrations of a wide range of activist groups. Officials say that international terrorists pose the greatest threat to the nation but that they cannot ignore crimes committed by some activists. [complete article]

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Moussaoui, undermining case, now ties himself to 9/11 plot
By Neil A.Lewis, New York Times, March 28, 2006

Zacarias Moussaoui, who is facing the death penalty for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, took the witness stand in his own defense Monday, only to bolster the government's case by unhesitatingly acknowledging the charges in the indictment against him and adding a few new, self-incriminating statements.

Mr. Moussaoui said he knew in advance of Al Qaeda's plans to fly jetliners into the World Trade Center and asserted that his role on that day was to have been to fly another plane into the White House. He said he was to have been accompanied on the suicidal mission by Richard C. Reid, the so-called shoe bomber who was convicted in a separate failed effort to blow up a plane in flight.

Although Mr. Moussaoui had said over the last few years that he was a member of Al Qaeda and was learning to fly a plane to participate in some "second wave" of terrorist attacks, until now he had always insisted that he knew little of the plot for the attacks and vowed to fight the death penalty to the last of his strength. [complete article]

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Shiite fighters clash with G.I.'s and Iraqi forces
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, March 27, 2006

American and Iraqi government forces clashed with Shiite militiamen in Baghdad on Sunday night in the most serious confrontation in months, and Iraqi security officials said 17 people had been killed in a mosque, including its 80-year-old imam.

The American military, clearly worried about exacerbating a combustible situation that many Iraqis are already describing as civil war, denied that American forces had entered the mosque. But it said in a statement that 16 insurgents had been killed and 15 captured in a nearby combat operation against a terrorist cell.

The differing versions of what happened seemed to raise a broader question about who is in control of Iraq's security at a time when Iraqi politicians still have not formed a unified government, sectarian tensions are higher than ever and mutilated bodies keep surfacing on the streets. On Sunday, Iraqi authorities found 10 bodies in Baghdad and said they were investigating a report that 30 men were beheaded near Baquba.

American officials are now saying that Shiite militias are the No. 1 problem in Iraq, more dangerous than the Sunni-led insurgents who for nearly the past three years have been branded the gravest security threat. [complete article]

Juan Cole writes:
...somehow the joint US-Iraqi force ended up north, at the Shiite Shaab district. They say that they took fire from Mahdi Army militiamen. But there aren't any such Mahdi Army men in Adhamiyah. I have a sinking feeling that instead of raiding a Sunni Arab building in Adhamiyah, they got disoriented and attacked a Shiite religious center in nearby Shaab instead.

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40 dead after blast at U.S.-Iraqi base
By Philippe Naughton, The Times, March 27, 2006

As many as 40 people were killed today when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid a group of men queueing at an army recruitment centre outside a joint US-Iraqi military base in northwest Iraq.

The attack was at the Tamarat base near Tal Afar, a town near the city of Mosul held up in a recent speech by President Bush as a success story for American and Iraqi forces in the drive to quell the insurgency. The US military said there were no American casualties from the blast. [complete article]

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Shiite leader: Iran not interfering in Iraq
CNN, March 26, 2006

Iran isn't interfering in internal Iraqi affairs as some U.S. officials have contended, the head of one of Iraq's top Shiite parties told CNN Sunday.

Abdel-Aziz al-Hakim leads the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the Iraqi party most closely associated with Iran.

"They always accuse Iran of such things, and they told us about such things even from the first month that we've been here until now," he told CNN through a translator. "And we were always asking for evidence, but nobody came with evidence." [complete article]

See also, America puts talks with Tehran on hold (The Guardian).

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Bush was set on path to war, memo by British adviser says
By Don Van Natta Jr., New York Times, March 27, 2006

In the weeks before the United States-led invasion of Iraq, as the United States and Britain pressed for a second United Nations resolution condemning Iraq, President Bush's public ultimatum to Saddam Hussein was blunt: Disarm or face war. But behind closed doors, the president was certain that war was inevitable. During a private two-hour meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 31, 2003, he made clear to Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain that he was determined to invade Iraq without the second resolution, or even if international arms inspectors failed to find unconventional weapons, said a confidential memo about the meeting written by Mr. Blair's top foreign policy adviser and reviewed by The New York Times. [complete article]

In an election year, a shift in public opinion on the war
By David D. Kirkpatrick and Adam Nagourney, New York Times, March 27, 2006

Mr. Bush is pressing ahead with an intensified effort to shore up support for the war, but an increasingly skeptical and pessimistic public is putting pressure on Congress about the wisdom behind it, testing the political support for the White House's determination to remain in Iraq. [complete article]

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Hamas: We need peace more than any nation
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, March 27, 2006

The Hamas militant group on Monday said it was prepared for dialogue with the Quartet of international mediators to try to end conflict in the Middle East.

"Our people are in need more than any other nation on earth for peace, for security and stability. Our government will not spare any effort to achieve a just peace in the region," Hamas prime minister designate Ismail Haniyeh told the Palestinian parliament as he presented his governing agenda.

"We have never been seekers of war. We have never been callers for terrorism and bloodshed," he said.

Speaking of his diplomatic intentions the Hamas prime minister designate said "our government will be ready for a dialogue with the Quartet committee to look into all ways to end the state of struggle and achieve calm in the region." The Quartet comprises the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Haniyeh's statement came a day after stating that Hamas is not interested in a confrontation with Israel. [complete article]

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The Afghan Christian: Freed but not free
By Tony Karon,, March 26, 2006

The dismissal of a case against an Afghan citizen for converting from Islam to Christianity has saved Afghanistan's government a damaging showdown with its primary patron, the United States. Under mounting pressure from Washington and other Western backers, President Hamid Karzai is reported to have intervened personally to have the case of Abdul Rahman, 41, who converted to Christianity 16 years ago, dismissed. But the grounds on which the case was thrown out -- insufficient evidence and other technicalities, as well as questions over the sanity of the accused -- do not change the basic problem that had put both Karzai and his Western backers in a tight spot. [complete article]

Conversion a thorny issue in Muslim world
By Rachel Morarjee and Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, March 27, 2006

In Pakistan, while apostasy cases are rare, vigilante attacks against alleged apostates and others thought to offend Islam are common. "There's not been a single case of apostasy in Pakistan in the last 10 to 15 years, at least not one that has attracted a lot of attention," says Najam Sethi, editor of the liberal Lahore-based newspaper, Daily Times.

But as much of the Muslim world, including Pakistan, takes a more negative view of America and its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there has been greater popular pressure on religious freedoms, with courts and governments usually reluctant to intervene. [complete article]

See also, Afghans protest against convert (BBC).

Comment -- The case of Abdul Rahman is one of those instances where the fate of one individual could have extraordinary consequences. This presents the quintessential image of a clash of cultures and there's no doubt that both the Karzai and Bush administrations might hope (and perhaps try to make sure) that Rahman now becomes even more elusive than Osama bin Laden. When asked whether he would leave Afghanistan if he's released, Rahman says, "Perhaps. But if I were to flee again it would mean my country had not changed. It would mean that the Taliban had won." Yet if he shows his face anywhere in Kabul, it seems certain that he'll be lynched. Nevertheless, if authorities help him avoid that fate they will thereby thwart a popular drive to exact "justice." Indeed, it will only serve to reinforce the impression that the government of Afghanistan is more responsive to Washington and the West than it is to its own people and culture. As thousands of youths descend on the capital demanding a hanging, the case of Rahman could easily become the spark for a conflagration.

Though the world's attention remains fixed on Iraq, it seems increasingly likely that turmoil in Afghanistan is again about to grab the headlines. Across the border, the upturning of a centuries-old social order has planted the seeds of revolution in the Taliban-stronghold of the Pakistani tribal areas of North and South Waziristan. Meanwhile, the "senior Taliban commander of Afghanistan's lawless Helmand province has vowed to unleash a brigade of 600 suicide bombers against the British Army when it arrives in the area this summer."

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One racist nation
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, March 26, 2006

Contrary to appearances, the elections this week are important, because they will expose the true face of Israeli society and its hidden ambitions. More than 100 elected candidates will be sent to the Knesset on the basis of one ticket - the racism ticket. If we used to think that every two Israelis have three opinions, now it will be evident that nearly every Israeli has one opinion - racism. Elections 2006 will make this much clearer than ever before. An absolute majority of the MKs in the 17th Knesset will hold a position based on a lie: that Israel does not have a partner for peace. An absolute majority of MKs in the next Knesset do not believe in peace, nor do they even want it - just like their voters - and worse than that, don't regard Palestinians as equal human beings. Racism has never had so many open supporters. It's the real hit of this election campaign.

One does not have to be Avigdor Lieberman to be a racist. The "peace" proposed by Ehud Olmert is no less racist. Lieberman wants to distance them from our borders, Olmert and his ilk want to distance them from out consciousness. Nobody is speaking about peace with them, nobody really wants it. Only one ambition unites everyone - to get rid of them, one way or another. Transfer or wall, "disengagement" or "convergence" - the point is that they should get out of our sight. The only game in town, the 'unilateral arrangement," is not only based on the lie that there is no partner, is not only based exclusively on our "needs" because of a sense of superiority, but also leads to a dangerous pattern of behavior that totally ignores the existence of the other nation. [complete article]

In Israel, the odor of corruption
By Greg Myre, New York Times, March 26, 2006

How pervasive were the misdeeds of Israel's departing legislators?

At least 15 lawmakers have been investigated, indicted or convicted in the Parliament that is leaving, accounting for more than 10 percent of the legislature. If they banded together, they would constitute one of the largest legislative factions.

As Israel prepares for elections Tuesday, the departing legislature is being described as perhaps the most ethically challenged in the country's history. And while the conflict with the Palestinians has been the dominant campaign theme, corruption has become a major issue for voters. [complete article]

See also, Olmert hopes to become first Israeli leader to define permanent borders (KR), Olmert: Talks with U.S., Israelis to precede pullout(Haaretz), and Sharon just a shadow now, but a big one (NYT).

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Of Israel, Harvard and David Duke
Washington Post, March 26, 2006

International relations scholars John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen M. Walt of Harvard University ignited a furious debate last week with their lengthy essay "The Israel Lobby," appearing in the London Review of Books. Their argument -- that the influence of a powerful pro-Israel lobby in the United States threatens U.S. national security -- has reverberated through academic and policy circles, the media and the blogosphere. [complete article]

Comment -- Not surprisingly, the "furious debate" turns out to have been no such thing. The most substantive debate has been in the Israeli press, while in the United States, what is being called "debate" has been near universal denouncement. So-called liberal outlets, such as the Washington Post editorialize by choosing headlines such as the one above and make rabid criticism -- such as that coming from Alan M. Dershowitz -- sound sober. Doesn't, "These are two serious scholars and you need to expose what they have done as ignorant propaganda," have much more gravitas than, "It could have been written by... some of the less intelligent members of Hamas"! The Los Angeles Times notes that, "Support for Walt and Mearsheimer has been somewhat muted, perhaps not surprisingly." This comes under a headline, "Who's afraid of the 'Israel Lobby'?" Are we supposed to conclude that support is muted because of fear of the lobby, or because sensible people would find little in the thesis that is worthy of support? From this op-ed's conclusion, it's obviously the latter.
"The allegations of this disproportionate influence of the Jewish community reminds me of the 92-year-old man sued in a paternity suit," [former chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, Mortimer] Zuckerman told the New York Sun. "He said he was so proud, he pleaded guilty."
Right. The need for the existence of AIPAC is altogether superfluous given the natural depth of popular support for Israel, the length and breadth of America. What's behind the Congressional-AIPAC lovefests? Nothing more than a celebration of the enduring relationship between two nations. If most Americans knew that Israel receives 20% of all foreign aid, surely they'd wonder why it's so little!

Judging from the reaction to "The Israel Lobby," it seems as though a single paper by two Goliaths from academia (or is it intellectual pygmies? -- it's hard to tell from the scorn of commentators whether Mearsheimer and Walt represent a mighty force or a lunatic fringe) has greater potential to affect American public opinion, than has the lobby itself. Does AIPAC struggle so hard to exert so little influence?

Still, I reserve my contempt for those who remain silent. Does their silence mean that they are content to let the pro-Israel lobby be the only voice that gets heard? Maybe, or maybe not. For as long as the silence persists, we'll never know.

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Wave of violence kills at least 69 Iraqis
By Steven R. Hurst, AP (via Yahoo), March 26, 2006

Police found 30 more victims of the sectarian slaughter ravaging Iraq -- most of them beheaded -- dumped on a village road north of Baghdad on Sunday. At least 16 other Iraqis were killed in a U.S.-backed raid in a Shiite neighborhood of the capital.

Accounts of the raid varied. Aides to the Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr and Iraqi police both said it took place at a mosque, with police claiming 22 bystanders died and al-Sadr's aides saying 18 innocent men were killed.

The Americans said Iraqi special forces backed by U.S. troops killed 16 "insurgents" in a raid on a community meeting hall after gunmen opened fire on approaching troops. [complete article]

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Fear casts a shadow on 'free city' touted by Bush
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, March 26, 2006

Last fall, thousands of U.S. and Iraqi troops descended on this ancient city close to the border with Syria. In the shadow of an Ottoman-era castle, they fought in narrow alleyways to clear the city of insurgents.

Last week, President Bush held up Tall Afar as an example of success in the country, calling it "a free city that gives reason for hope for a free Iraq."

The large-scale offensive in September, dubbed "Restoring Rights," may have rid Tall Afar of hard-core insurgent cells. But today this ethnically mixed city has become mired in the same sectarian strife and economic problems that afflict much of the rest of the country. [complete article]

See also, Rice suggests possible large drawdown in Iraq (AP).

Comment -- Even if violence was not on the increase in Tal Afar and Bush thus had some justification for citing this city's experience as a reason for hope, it's worth noting what it would take for this to be replicated in Baghdad. An equivalent force size in the capital would mean 114,000 U.S. troops patrolling the streets (there are currently 133,000 in the whole country), 228,000 Iraqi troops (actual number of "operational" Iraqi troops for all of Iraq currently stands at 113,000), and 48,000 police (while there are currently 128,000 nationally).* In other words, if Tal Afar really demonstrates that Bush has a strategy for victory, it also demonstrates that for the administration to pursue that strategy, it would need to deploy at least double or treble the number of troops currently deployed in Iraq. Is anyone in the Pentagon, the White House, or Congress calling for massive troop increases? Of course not, because there is no real "plan for victory." The only thing Bush is sure about is that by January 2009 he won't be president.

* Current figures all come from the Brookings Iraq Index.

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Redirecting bullets in Baghdad
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, March 26, 2006

I got back to Iraq two weeks ago, having been away more than a year. The first story I covered began with a tip that vigilantes had hanged four suspected terrorists from lamp posts in Sadr City, a Shiite slum. The minute I got to the scene, I realized I was stepping into a new Iraq. Another new Iraq, really; maybe even the third Iraq I have seen since I began reporting here in 2003.

Gone were the American tanks that used to guard the intersections. Instead, aggressive teenagers with machine guns and shiny soccer jerseys ruled the streets. They poked their heads into cars and detained whomever they wanted. There were even 8-year-olds running checkpoints, some toting toy pistols, others toting real ones. Whatever they carried, 4-foot-tall militias made me nervous. The streets now had a truly Liberian feel.

The episode was oddly symmetrical with a moment in 2004 when mobs in Falluja swarmed four American contractors and hung the bodies from a bridge. But there were a few big differences. For one, this wasn't Falluja, angry heart of the insurgency. This was Baghdad. And these weren't Americans dangling from rope. They were Sunni Arab Iraqis. [complete article]

See also, Ancient rift brings fear on streets of Baghdad (NYT).

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Iraqis killed by U.S. troops 'on rampage'
By Hala Jaber and Tony Allen-Mills, The Sunday Times, March 26, 2006

The Pentagon claims to have investigated at least 600 cases of alleged abuse by American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to have disciplined or punished 230 soldiers for improper behaviour. But a study by three New York-based human rights groups, due to be published next month, will claim that most soldiers found guilty of abuse received only "administrative" discipline such as loss of rank or pay, confinement to base or periods of extra duty.

Of the 76 courts martial that the Pentagon is believed to have initiated, only a handful are known to have resulted in jail sentences of more than a year -- notably including the architects of detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison.

Most other cases ended with sentences of two, three or four months. "That's not punishment, and that's the problem," said John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, which is compiling the study with two other groups. [complete article]

See also, Did American Marines murder 23 Iraqi civilians? (The Independent on Sunday), and 'Heavy-handed' US to adopt British softly-softly line (Sunday Telegraph).

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War without end
By Joan Ryan, San Francisco Chronicle, March 26, 2006

Michael's first memory after the blast was of seeing [his wife] Carrie standing over him. He wondered why she was in Iraq. His legs felt as if they were on fire. There were tubes snaking from his arms and an oxygen mask over his mouth. Every part of his body hurt, and later he would learn that the explosion had broken every rib on his left side, ruptured his spleen, collapsed his lungs, burned his hands and torso and cracked open his skull.

Carrie told him he was at Walter Reed in Washington, D.C. He had been in a coma for 12 days. He tried to say "pain," but he couldn't speak. He fell back to sleep.

When he woke again, he saw his father. He was in his red beret and Army jacket, the left sleeve loose over his atrophied arm. The elbow had been shattered in Vietnam. Michael thought he was dreaming. He couldn't feel his toes. He pulled the mask from his mouth.

"Are my legs OK?" he rasped.

"You're going to be fine."

When his father left and Carrie returned, he asked her the same question.

Carrie saw no reason to lie.

"Your legs are gone." [complete article]

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McCain, Feingold air views in Iraq
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, March 26, 2006

The increasingly rancorous public debate in the United States over the war spilled into Iraq during a news conference Saturday with two visiting lawmakers who are outspoken in their opposing stands on the issue.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.), a longtime supporter of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, and Russell Feingold (D-Wis.), who voted against the invasion and has spoken out against the war ever since, said they had come not to air their divergent views but to urge Iraqi politicians to speed up the process of forming a government. But during questions from reporters, they argued -- cordially and pointedly -- over such issues as the timing of any withdrawal of U.S. troops and whether their continued presence is doing more harm than good. [complete article]

See also, U.S. again presses Iraqis on task (LAT).

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The word at war
By Lynne Duke, Washington Post, March 26, 2006

Words can change what people think. Add some emotional punch and piercing imagery, and words can change how people behave. Repeat these words and images over and over, and they can define a culture.

That's the info war -- far more intense than mere "spin" -- and it's been raging in the United States since the words "war on terror" were uttered in public and the national zeitgeist became one of fear. With the body politic and the vox populi deeply polarized before and after the war started, "we look at everything in terms of propaganda," says Nancy Snow, a former State Department official and author of "Information War."

Think of all the big-ticket war issues that still are contested: WMD, aluminum tubes, uranium, the spurious Saddam-9/11 connection, the Iraqis whom U.S. officials said would greet U.S. troops as liberators, the good news that allegedly is being ignored by all those journalists who keep writing about the bombs still exploding, the bodies still falling.

In the most recent burst of concern about disinformation and the war, enter the Lincoln Group and accusations that its packaging of an American point of view is just propaganda. [complete article]

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A bellwether for the power of a president
By Jonathan Mahler, New York Times, March 26, 2006

Take a good look at the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, an admitted member of Al Qaeda who may soon be sentenced to death, after pleading guilty to conspiracy in connection with the Sept. 11 attacks. It may be the last time a suspected terrorist will enjoy the full panoply of rights -- a jury of civilians, an independent judge, the guarantee of an open trial -- accorded to criminal defendants in the United States.

Instead, the government plans to try accused terrorists before special tribunals in which the judge is appointed by the Pentagon, the jurors are military officers and certain canonical rights in our civil system -- like the right to be present at all sessions of the trial -- are absent. The future of the tribunals will be up to the Supreme Court, which will rule on their legality in Salim Hamdan v. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, which is to be argued on Tuesday. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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