The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
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Would President Bush go to war to stop Tehran from getting the bomb?
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, April 10, 2006

The Bush Administration, while publicly advocating diplomacy in order to stop Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon, has increased clandestine activities inside Iran and intensified planning for a possible major air attack. Current and former American military and intelligence officials said that Air Force planning groups are drawing up lists of targets, and teams of American combat troops have been ordered into Iran, under cover, to collect targeting data and to establish contact with anti-government ethnic-minority groups. The officials say that President Bush is determined to deny the Iranian regime the opportunity to begin a pilot program, planned for this spring, to enrich uranium.

American and European intelligence agencies, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), agree that Iran is intent on developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons. But there are widely differing estimates of how long that will take, and whether diplomacy, sanctions, or military action is the best way to prevent it. Iran insists that its research is for peaceful use only, in keeping with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it will not be delayed or deterred.

There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush's ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran's President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be "wiped off the map." Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. "That's the name they're using. They say, 'Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?'"

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was "absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb" if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do "what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do," and "that saving Iran is going to be his legacy."

One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that "a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government." He added, "I was shocked when I heard it, and asked myself, 'What are they smoking?'"
One of the military's initial option plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for the use of a bunker-buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against underground nuclear sites. One target is Iran's main centrifuge plant, at Natanz, nearly two hundred miles south of Tehran. Natanz, which is no longer under I.A.E.A. safeguards, reportedly has underground floor space to hold fifty thousand centrifuges, and laboratories and workspaces buried approximately seventy-five feet beneath the surface. That number of centrifuges could provide enough enriched uranium for about twenty nuclear warheads a year. (Iran has acknowledged that it initially kept the existence of its enrichment program hidden from I.A.E.A. inspectors, but claims that none of its current activity is barred by the Non-Proliferation Treaty.) The elimination of Natanz would be a major setback for Iran's nuclear ambitions, but the conventional weapons in the American arsenal could not insure the destruction of facilities under seventy-five feet of earth and rock, especially if they are reinforced with concrete.
The lack of reliable intelligence leaves military planners, given the goal of totally destroying the sites, little choice but to consider the use of tactical nuclear weapons. "Every other option, in the view of the nuclear weaponeers, would leave a gap," the former senior intelligence official said. "'Decisive' is the key word of the Air Force's planning. It's a tough decision. But we made it in Japan."

He went on, "Nuclear planners go through extensive training and learn the technical details of damage and fallout -- we're talking about mushroom clouds, radiation, mass casualties, and contamination over years. This is not an underground nuclear test, where all you see is the earth raised a little bit. These politicians don't have a clue, and whenever anybody tries to get it out" -- remove the nuclear option -- "they're shouted down."

The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran -- without success, the former intelligence official said. "The White House said, 'Why are you challenging this? The option came from you.'"

The Pentagon adviser on the war on terror confirmed that some in the Administration were looking seriously at this option, which he linked to a resurgence of interest in tactical nuclear weapons among Pentagon civilians and in policy circles. He called it "a juggernaut that has to be stopped." He also confirmed that some senior officers and officials were considering resigning over the issue. "There are very strong sentiments within the military against brandishing nuclear weapons against other countries," the adviser told me. "This goes to high levels." The matter may soon reach a decisive point, he said, because the Joint Chiefs had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran. "The internal debate on this has hardened in recent weeks," the adviser said. "And, if senior Pentagon officers express their opposition to the use of offensive nuclear weapons, then it will never happen." [complete article]

Comment -- According to
The B61-11 can penetrate and detonate below the earth's surface, creating a massive shock wave capable of destroying underground targets. In tests the bomb penetrates only 20 feet into dry earth, even when dropped from altitudes above 40,000 feet. But even this shallow penetration before detonation allows a much higher proportion of the explosion to transferred into ground shock relative to a surface burst. It is not able to counter targets deeply buried under granite rock. Moreover, it has a high yield, in the hundreds of kilotons. If used in North Korea, the radioactive fallout could drift over nearby countries such as Japan.
For more information on the B61-11, see Low-yield earth-penetrating nuclear weapons (Federation of American Scientists), Shades of Dr. Strangelove: Will we learn to love the B61-11? (Los Alamos Study Group), and Debunking the nuclear "bunker buster" (Benjamin Phelan).

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Iran's nukes: Are the U.S. and Europe out of sync?
By Tony Karon,, April 6, 2006

Fresh bomb targets Iraq's Shias
BBC News, April 8, 2006

Iraqis mourn victims of mosque bombing
By Edward Wong, New York Times, April 8, 2006

Iraqi Shi'ite leader warns against civil war
Reuters, April 8, 2006

Threat of Shiite militias now seen as Iraq's most critical challenge
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, April 8, 2006

Iraq three years on: Don't look away
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 8, 2006

Disclosures are called unrelated to Plame case
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Jim VandeHei, Washington Post, April 8, 2006

Libby testimony shows a White House pattern of intelligence leaks
By Warren P. Strobel and Ron Hutcheson, Knight Ridder, April 7, 2006

$100 million in anti-terror military aid urged
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, April 8, 2006

Special Operations: need to know
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, April 7, 2006

Fighters cross the divide for peace in Middle East
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, April 8, 2006

Israeli attack in Gaza Strip kills 4 militants and a child
By Greg Myre, New York Times, April 8, 2006

Abbas says Hamas will likely soften stance on Israel
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, April 8, 2006

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Dozens die in Iraq mosque attack
BBC News, April 7, 2006

An apparent triple suicide bomb attack on a key Shia mosque in Baghdad has left at least 79 people dead and 160 injured, Iraqi police have said. The blasts happened as worshippers were leaving the Buratha mosque in the north of the city after Friday prayers.
The mosque is one of the most important for Shia Muslims in the Iraqi capital and can hold hundreds of people, the BBC's Andrew North in Baghdad says. Its imam, Sheikh Jalaluddin al-Saghir, is a member of parliament and an important figure in Iraq's largest Shia political party, the United Iraqi Alliance. [complete article]

U.S. 'in talks with Iraq militants'
BBC News, April 7, 2006

The US ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, has said US officials have held talks with some groups linked to the Sunni-led Iraqi insurgency. Mr Khalilzad told the BBC that he believed the talks had had an impact, as the number of attacks on US troops by Iraqi militants had fallen. [complete article]

Those ungrateful Iraqis!
By Rosa Brooks, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2006

At last, there's consensus on who's to blame for the mess in Iraq: the Iraqis!

From the beginning, there were ominous signs that the Iraqis weren't going to play the game right. More than a few neocon hearts were broken by the Iraqi refusal to greet us with flowers and champagne as we marched into Baghdad, and the snub still hurts. Just this week, Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum and an unrepentant hawk, complained about "the ingratitude of the Iraqis for the extraordinary favor we gave them: to release them from the bondage of Saddam Hussein's tyranny." [complete article]

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Hamas hints it may be ready to talk about a two-state solution
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, April 7, 2006

Hamas went further than ever before yesterday towards accepting a two-state solution with Israel.

Speaking to The Times, Mahmoud al-Zahar, the new Foreign Minister, repeatedly refused to rule out that possibility and even raised the prospect of his Hamas-led Government putting the issue to the Palestinian people in a referendum. [complete article]

Hamas gov't offers Israel 'quiet for quiet'
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, April 7, 2006

Hamas has been sending go-betweens to Israel recently with an offer to reach an unofficial understanding on "quiet in return for quiet." According to the proposal, conveyed to Israel by, among others, Egyptian envoys, Hamas would pledge not to carry out any violent actions against Israel and would even prevent other Palestinian organizations from doing so. Israel, for its part, would pledge by means of a third party not to take action against the organizations operating in the territories. Hamas is even prepared to declare a unilateral hudna (cease-fire), should Israel not want to appear to be maintaining contact with a body that calls for its destruction. According to this offer, Israel is supposed to respond with positive measures of its own. [complete article]

Israeli army escalates shelling of Gaza launch sites
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, April 7, 2006

The Israel Defense Forces has racheted up artillery fire along on the Gaza Strip in response to continued Qassam attacks, military sources told Haaretz yesterday. On the average, the sources said, the IDF is now firing some 300 shells a day at the Strip. It has also greatly reduced the safety zone around Palestinian communities. The IDF conceded this step could result in loss of civilian life, as in the beginning of the week when a Beit Lahia farmer was killed and some of his relatives were injured. [complete article]

E.U. suspends aid to Palestinians
BBC News, April 7, 2006

The European Commission has temporarily halted direct aid payments to the Palestinian government, which is now led by militant group Hamas. European Union foreign ministers are due to meet next week to discuss what to do about future aid. The EU is the largest donor to the Palestinian Authority, which is reliant on foreign aid. [complete article]

U.S. to redirect aid for Palestinians
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, April 7, 2006

After an exhaustive review, the United States plans to terminate assistance for building projects in Palestinian territories and redirect much of its annual aid to the Palestinians toward basic humanitarian needs, such as education, health and food, as well as increased assistance for democracy promotion, Bush administration officials said yesterday. [complete article]

Alone and broke, Hamas struggles to rule
By John Kifner and Greg Myre, New York Times, April 7, 2006

Barely a week in office, the Palestinian prime minister from Hamas faces not only diplomatic isolation and a bankrupt treasury but also an intense rivalry with Fatah, the longtime Palestinian power, over control of the heavily armed security agencies.

In an interview at his office here on Thursday, the prime minister, Ismail Haniya, said he hoped the Arab League would come through with $50 million a month for his government. He also complained about efforts by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president from Fatah, to compete for control of crucial agencies. [complete article]

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Iran ready for high-level talks, U.S. resists
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, April 7, 2006

Iran has prepared a high-level delegation to hold wide-ranging talks with the US, but the Bush administration is resisting the agenda suggested by Tehran despite pressure from European allies to engage the Islamic republic, Iranian politicians have told the Financial Times.

A senior Iranian official, Mohammad Nahavandian, has flown to Washington to "lobby" over the issue, aaccording to a top Iranian adviser outside the US. However, the Iranian mission to the United Nations insisted he was in Washington on private business.

Iran's willingness to engage the US on Iraq, regional security and the nuclear issue, is believed to have the approval of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It represents the most serious attempt by the Islamic republic to reach out to the US since the 1979 Islamic revolution. [complete article]

U.S., allies seek a way outside U.N. to press Iran
By Paul Richter and Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, April 7, 2006

With hopes dimming for tough U.N. action against Iran's nuclear program, U.S. officials and allies are talking about forming a smaller "coalition of the willing" to bring pressure on Tehran.

The coalition, which could include Britain and France, would exert economic and diplomatic -- although not military -- leverage against Iran's rulers to comply with international demands to halt uranium enrichment activities and cooperate with international inspectors. [complete article]

Cooling the Iran crisis
By Dilip Hiro,, April 6, 2006

President George W. Bush's dogged refusal to rule out a military option to resolving Iran's nuclear issue along with his thinly disguised attempts to foment "regime change" in Tehran by bankrolling opposition is leading to a dangerous impasse. [complete article]

We do not have a nuclear weapons program
By Javad Zarif, New York Times, April 6, 2006

The controversy over Iran's peaceful nuclear program has obscured one point in particular: There need not be a crisis. A solution to the situation is possible and eminently within reach.

Lost amid the rhetoric is this: Iran has a strong interest in enhancing the integrity and authority of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. It has been in the forefront of efforts to ensure the treaty's universality. Iran's reliance on the nonproliferation regime is based on legal commitments, sober strategic calculations and spiritual and ideological doctrine. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the Islamic Republic, has issued a decree against the development, production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. [complete article]

Iran reports 3rd successful missile test
AP (via LAT), April 6, 2006

Iran said Wednesday that it had successfully test-fired a "top secret" missile, the third in a week, state-run television reported. The report called the missile an "ultra-horizon" weapon and said it could be fired from all military helicopters and jet fighters. It gave no other details. [complete article]

Comment -- Steve Clemons suggests that the U.S. should be making better use of Israeli intelligence assessments on the level of threat that Iran currently poses -- "Israeli national security bureaucrats -- diplomats and generals -- have far greater confidence that there are numerous potential solutions to the growing Iran crisis short of bombing them in an invasive, hot attack." William Arkin considers the media's role in pumping up the Iran "threat" rhetoric, and the American Jewish Committee plays its part in fueling fear by running full-page advertisements (PDF).

Fear is of course one of the most reliable ways of short-circuiting logic -- I guess that's why the AJC feels no need to explain the rationale for state-sponsored nuclear terrorism. We're supposed to believe that Iran (or any other nuclear wannabe) is going to invest decades and billions in creating its own bomb and then hand it over to some stateless terrorist group that's ultimately answerable to no one? If Iran is really the "central banker of terrorism" (as Condoleezza Rice recently said), wouldn't that be like the bank handing over the vault keys to one of its customers?

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Why the U.S. may be acting against its own interests in the Middle East
By Michael Neumann, Counterpunch, April 4, 2006

What really matters is whether support for Israel serves US interests. If it does, why on earth would we care about a pro-Israel lobby? If it doesn't, then the lobby is a bad thing even if it didn't conspire to get us into Iraq.

Walt and Mearsheimer are among the very few to address this important question head-on. They say: "Israel is in fact a liability in the war on terror and the broader effort to deal with rogue states." They argue forcefully for their claim. They also bear some of the blame for failing to get this message across, because this material doesn't deserve the second-billing they gave it.

Not that the message should need much getting across; it really is a no-brainer. No doubt the US is very concerned about Middle East oil; it's often suggested that this is America's main interest in the region. Well, how is that interest served by cozying up to the one country in the area that all its oil-producers love to hate? Some pundits tell us, with an air of sagacity, that Israel is useful for controlling the oil, and suggest the Big Oil Companies benefit from the arrangement. But how exactly does Israel help control the oil? [complete article]

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U.S. rolls out nuclear plan
By Ralph Vartabedian, Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2006

The Bush administration Wednesday unveiled a blueprint for rebuilding the nation's decrepit nuclear weapons complex, including restoration of a large-scale bomb manufacturing capacity.

The plan calls for the most sweeping realignment and modernization of the nation's massive system of laboratories and factories for nuclear bombs since the end of the Cold War. [complete article]

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Air Force contract questioned
By Walter F. Roche Jr., Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2006

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles) asked the Pentagon on Wednesday to release details of a $47-million Air Force contract that an inspector general's report has found was awarded improperly.

In a letter to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Waxman cited the March 3 report, which says the no-bid contract to a subsidiary of Engineered Support Systems Inc., or ESSI, came as a result of intervention by Darlene A. Druyun.

A former Air Force procurement official, Druyun pleaded guilty in 2004 to improperly favoring another contractor and served a nine-month prison sentence.

Waxman noted in his letter that President Bush's uncle, William H.T. Bush, was an ESSI shareholder when the vehicle maintenance contract was awarded. [complete article]

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Teen detainee boycotts his war crimes trial
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, April 6, 2006

Canadian teenager Omar Khadr refused Wednesday to participate in the war crimes case against him, in protest of being moved to what was described as solitary confinement.

The military tribunal's presiding officer, Col. Robert S. Chester, put off a defense motion seeking Khadr's return to the least restrictive holding facility, but he did agree to consider hearing testimony on the highly secretive detention procedures. [complete article]

See also, At Guantanamo, treatment may be a nice word for torture (Cesar Chelala).

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Argentina and Uruguay shun U.S. military academy
By Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, April 6, 2006

Two Latin American countries are to stop sending troops for training to a controversial military academy in the US.

The move was welcomed by groups that have been campaigning against the academy since it was accused, in its previous incarnation, of training Latin American soldiers in illegal interrogation techniques.

The defence ministers of Argentina and Uruguay have decided to stop sending soldiers to train at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (Whinsec), the military academy based at Fort Benning, Georgia, according to a statement by a Washington-based organisation, School of the Americas Watch. In the past both countries regularly sent soldiers to Fort Benning for training. [complete article]

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Hopes wither for resumption of nuclear talks
By Tim Johnson, Knight Ridder, April 5, 2006

As U.S. financial sanctions bite hard into North Korea, prospects have faded sharply for a diplomatic resolution to the peninsula's nuclear crisis.

Diplomatic talks hosted by China broke up about six months ago for a short "recess." The negotiations, among envoys of six countries, never got going again.

The impasse is partly the fallout from U.S. financial sanctions to combat North Korea's alleged efforts to counterfeit American currency and proliferate weapons. The latest U.S. sanctions came last week, against a Swiss company with links to Pyongyang. [complete article]

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Testimony adds new element to probe of CIA leak
By Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, April 7, 2006

The allegation that President Bush authorized the dissemination of secret intelligence as part of an effort to buttress his case for war with Iraq introduces a new dimension to the long-running CIA leak investigation, while posing troubling new political problems for the administration.

Until now, the investigation had been about aides to Bush and their alleged efforts to attack the credibility of a vocal administration critic, including by possibly leaking classified information. Bush cast himself as a disinterested observer, eager to resolve the case and hold those responsible accountable.

But court papers filed late Wednesday night by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald, in the perjury case of former White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, implicate Bush as knowing about efforts to disseminate sensitive information -- and also as orchestrating them. [complete article]

See also, Murray Waas, Glenn Greenwald, and Kevin Drum.

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From road-map to road-blocks: Kadima goes "forward"
By John F. Robertson, The War in Context, April 6, 2006

Last week the citizens of Israel -- excepting those thousands who'd made straightaway for the beach on what is a legal holiday there -- went to the polls in what amounted to a referendum on the policies and leadership of the Kadima ("Forward") Party and its prime-minister-in-waiting, Ehud Olmert. Well before the vote, many observers were looking forward to a new government that would pave the way to a long hoped for (though hardly optimal) resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian issue: the unilateral separation of Israel from the Palestinians and a unilateral finalization of the borders between the two peoples. The Oslo Accords and the road map were to be shredded and consigned to the trash bin of oblivion, Israel would make "painful compromises," the US president would sign on, and the Palestinians would emerge from the commotion with at least the beginnings of a "state" that it would be up to them eventually (inshallah) to fashion. Many would see in all this a promise of progress and reason for hope.

It's not going to be that easy. In fact, there may be a lot of places along the path "forward" where the wheels of the unilateral separation band-wagon may begin to spin off the axles.

One can go broke betting on predicting the twists and turns of Israeli party politics. The current indications are that the left-leaning Labor and Meretz parties, as well as the newly emergent Pensioners party, will join Kadima in a coalition. However, the new prime minister will still need to bring on board a couple of smaller right-wing parties (perhaps Shas and United Torah Judaism) in order to command a workable majority in the Knesset and, in so doing, claim the allegiance of an acceptably broad spectrum of the Israeli electorate. That kind of match-making may entail some wheeling and dealing that could undercut Olmert's ambitions down the line. Meanwhile, the party that is being acclaimed as one of the big winners of the elections is Yisrael Beitenu ("Israel Our Home"). Led by the an Arab-dissing xenophobe (Avigdor Lieberman) and with a core constituency comprising thousands of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, Yisrael Beitenu is even farther to the right than the hard-line, pro-settler Likud party in terms of its (palpably racist) attitudes toward the Palestinian Arabs. It will almost surely join up with Likud and smaller nationalist-religious, pro-settler parties to form a significant opposition in the Knesset. They may not have the votes to thwart Kadima's coalition, but they will be well placed to criticize vociferously.

They will also be well poised to encourage, even provoke, extremist religious and pro-settler elements who are sure to emerge wrathfully if Olmert begins to roll forward along his announced path to removing Jewish settlements from those parts of the West Bank that lie beyond the "separation fence/wall." The well-publicized (in the eyes of some, rehearsed) pain of last summer's evacuations of the Gaza settlements paled into virtual disappearance in contrast to the acrimony and violence that characterized the subsequent evacuation of only a few dozen settlers from a relatively isolated West Bank outpost several weeks ago. If Olmert begins to force up to 70,000 settlers out of the Biblically freighted "Judaea and Samaria," he quite conceivably will ignite the most dire internal -- perhaps even existential -- crisis in Israel's history. The parliamentary and logistical run-up to the evacuations will receive intense, even provocative media coverage. The emotional and physical violence will be brutal and heart-wrenching. Settler groups will likely exact a toll for their grief on local Arab communities, who likely will find themselves with inadequate protection and little avenue for redress. As anger and reprisals mount, people are going to get killed and maimed; homes and livelihoods will be destroyed; and the searing images broadcast around the world will elicit responses from many quarters. Many, both in Israel and beyond, will cry of a "new holocaust" and plead prayerfully for divine intercession.

Others, however, will likely demand intercession of a more terrestrial nature. Most assuredly among them will be the leaders of the various major Zionist organizations of the US, as well as representatives of the powerful American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC), whose opposition to the removal of even the Gaza settlements is a matter of public record. They will be joined by thousands of American evangelical Christian Zionists inspired by the likes of the Rev. Pat Robertson (who insured a very durable infamy for himself when he publicly ascribed Ariel Sharon's stroke to divine vengeance for abrogating the biblical promise to the people of Israel when Sharon forced them out of Gaza). They were the soil in which George W. Bush's election to office was rooted, and they have remained the unwavering core of support for his policies and his vision both domestically and in the Middle East. (Indeed, many of them see in Bush's invasion of Iraq and Israel's ongoing dispossession of the Palestinians the hand of the Almighty, as well as a portent of the Biblically predicted "end of Days.")

Bush has signalled through Secretary of State Rice his likely support for Olmert's plans to pull settlers from the West Bank. If Olmert moves too quickly, however, and the settlers and their supporters begin to appeal to Bush's "higher father", the Republican political tacticians may be very hard pressed to keep on-side this vital electoral support as the November elections approach. In the months ahead, don't be surprised to see the Bush administration quietly pressure Olmert to hold off on major announcements of impending settlement evacuation. On the other hand, will the Knesset and the Israeli public even let Olmert and Kadima move that far "forward"?

John F. Robertson is Professor of Middle Eastern history at Central Michigan University.

This article is an original opinion - a new feature at The War in Context. If you are interested in submitting an article you can find out more here.

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Olmert invited to form next government
By Akiva Eldar and Yossi Verter, Haaretz, April 6, 2006

President Moshe Katsav on Thursday formally asked Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to form the next government, officially making the Kadima leader the prime minister-designate.
Coalition talks between Kadima and other parties began days ago, and on Tuesday Olmert and Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz announced that they had held several secret meetings on the issue.

The coalition agreement between Olmert and Peretz prevents Labor from vetoing Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman as a partner in the government, despite a Peretz pre-election pledge that Labor would not join a coalition that included the far-right party.

But a senior Labor official warned Wednesday that the emerging government under Olmert, with Yisrael Beiteinu faction, "will crumble the moment the 'convergence plan' begins."

According to the Labor official, the moment a large-scale evacuation from the West Bank begins, Lieberman will resign and drag the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism in his wake. [complete article]

New evangelical group could buck promised West Bank pullouts
By James D. Besser, Jewish Week, April 7, 2006

A newly created Evangelical pro-Israel lobby group could clash head-on with an Israeli government determined to pull out from 90 percent of the West Bank by 2010 and with the Jewish groups that will line up to support it. [complete article]

Israel considers holding limited ties with Hamas government
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, April 6, 2006

Israel is considering limited contact with the Hamas-led Palestinian government as part of efforts to prevent a humanitarian crisis in the territories, senior government officials in Jerusalem said Wednesday. [complete article]

Israeli police hold Hamas minister
BBC News, April 6, 2006

Israeli police have released a Hamas cabinet minister, several hours after detaining him at a checkpoint on the outskirts of East Jerusalem. Khaled Abu Arafa, minister of Jerusalem affairs, was stopped on his way to open a new office, Hamas officials said. [complete article]

Fatah legacy puts Hamas under financial pressure
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, April 6, 2006

The Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, already facing a tightening diplomatic and economic squeeze, is having to decide whether to confirm the recruitment of 18,000 security service personnel [many of whom are thought to be members of Fatah-linked armed groups] enacted in the three months before it took office. [complete article]

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Bomb explodes near Shiite shrine in Najaf
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, April 6, 2006

Striking at the heart of Shiite Islam, a car bomb ripped through a crowd of worshippers and pedestrians near the Imam Ali mosque in Najaf, one of the most sacred Shiite shrines in the world, killing at least ten people and wounding at least 42, according to hospital officials.

Iraqi security forces immediately sealed off the neighborhood and medical authorities issued an emergency call for blood donations, officials said.

The attack, occuring in the geographical and spiritual center of the predominantly Shiite holy city, seemed calculated to stir sectarian fury. The headquarters of both the powerful Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr and Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the country's most revered Shiite leader, are located within several blocks of the site. [complete article]

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Iraqi says visit by two diplomats backfired
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, April 6, 2006

A top adviser to Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said Wednesday that the visit this week by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain had backfired, prolonging a deadlock over a new government and strengthening Mr. Jaafari's resolve to keep his post.

"Pressure from outside is not helping to speed up any solution," said the adviser, Haider al-Abadi. "All it's doing is hardening the position of people who are supporting Jaafari."

He added, "They shouldn't have come to Baghdad." [complete article]

See also, Iraq's ruling Shiite bloc could rupture (LAT).

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Food rations cut hurting poor
By Daud Salman, IWPR, March 29, 2006

A government decision to cut food rations has hurt poor Iraqis who cannot afford high prices on the open market, say economists and Baghdad residents.

Despite rising poverty, the government has decided to cut the food ration budget from four to three billion US dollars in 2006, as the country shifts from a socialist to a free market economy.

The Iraqi government has provided subsidies on basic food items such as flour and sugar for decades. The United Nations expanded the programme when the country was under crippling economic sanctions. [complete article]

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Debate in Congress over Iraq war grows louder
By Steven Thomma, Tim Funk and James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder, April 5, 2006

If Congress ever turns against the war in Iraq, analysts may look back at this week as a turning point.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., on Wednesday urged setting a May 15 deadline to withdraw U.S. troops unless Iraq forms a unity government, and even if Iraq does form a government, Kerry urged complete American withdrawal by year's end. His twin-deadline proposal makes the 2004 presidential nominee the most prominent Democrat pushing for early full withdrawal.

At the same time, three Republicans in the House of Representatives endorsed a resolution calling for a robust and lengthy congressional debate on Iraq. While they're far short of the votes needed to force such a debate, a coalition of 40 anti-war activist groups is mounting a national campaign to drum up public pressure behind the resolution. That campaign targets lawmakers as they head home for a two-week Easter recess to listen to constituents in this election year, when Republicans are already anxious that they might lose control of Congress in November. [complete article]

See also, Centrist faces the GOP's Iraq problem (WP).

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Clash of ideas
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, April 5, 2006

There are presently two sectarian wars under way that will decide America's future: one in Iraq, and one inside the Republican Party. The issues are intimately related. If Iraq erupts into full-blown civil war or breaks up, the war within the GOP will be effectively settled. The last ounce of credibility will be drained from George W. Bush's great revolution over the use of American power. The neoconservative program that Bush adopted will instantly become an odd historical footnote, going the way of the Know-Nothings and the Mugwumps. Bush will find himself lumped in the rankings with Warren Harding, or worse. America will go through another post-Vietnam-like period of drift, overhanging debt and self-doubt. And the GOP, having exorcised the alien neocon demon that possessed it, will pretty much revert to its origins, adopting a Jeffersonian caution about world affairs that will hand the reins back to the realists (who, in truth -- with the possible exception of Henry Kissinger -- were never pure hard-power realists anyway; they were always the "Wilsonian realists" that pundits like Francis Fukuyama now argue they should become again). [complete article]

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The Israel Lobby - open to debate
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 6, 2006

When I first wrote about Mearsheimer and Walt's article, I rebuked the American Left for its silence about the influence of the Israel lobby. Since then, in response to "many requests to comment on the article," Noam Chomsky has jotted down "a few thoughts on the matter." He thinks that Mearsheimer and Walt "deserve credit for taking a position that is sure to elicit tantrums and fanatical lies and denunciations". He continues by saying that though he recognizes that the paper's authors:
...took a courageous stand, which merits praise, we still have to ask how convincing their thesis is. Not very, in my opinion. I've reviewed elsewhere what the record (historical and documentary) seems to me to show about the main sources of US ME policy, in books and articles for the past 40 years, and can't try to repeat here. M-W make as good a case as one can, I suppose, for the power of the Lobby, but I don't think it provides any reason to modify what has always seemed to me a more plausible interpretation. Notice incidentally that what is at stake is a rather subtle matter: weighing the impact of several factors which (all agree) interact in determining state policy: in particular, (A) strategic-economic interests of concentrations of domestic power in the tight state-corporate linkage, and (B) the Lobby.
Debate thus far in response to "The Israel Lobby" has tended to follow two tracks. Pro-Israeli commentators contend that the lobby as a unified force in American politics doesn't exist, while asserting that the visible components of this non-existent entity -- in particular AIPAC -- exerts much less influence than is claimed. Others, who are not self-declared pro-Israeli, tend to argue -- as does Chomsky -- that although there is an Israel lobby, it is only one among many and has less influence than, say, the energy corporations or the defense industry.

On each side of this debate, there is one gaping omission: serious consideration of the lobby's influence, not in determining American foreign policy, but in shaping and controlling political debate. Those who, while not supporting the lobby's agenda, nevertheless play down its influence on policy are also thereby shifting attention away from what I would argue is the lobby's greatest and most insidious influence: its impact on American political discourse. It seems that those willing to discuss the lobby's influence also want to present themselves as being impervious to that influence. Anyone who identifies themselves as an authoratative participant in mainstream discourse, can't acknowledge that that discourse is being contrained by the lobby without either ejecting themselves from the mainstream or otherwise undermining their own integrity.

The Israel Lobby will persist in its efforts to shut down debate about its influence. The latest attempt comes from Eliot A. Cohen. The principle tool of intimidation continues to be the accusation of anti-Semiticism. But while the Lobby's representatives vent, slowly but surely the silence is being broken -- but no credit can go to Chomsky for helping that happen.

The editor of the London Review of Books has spoken out. Now National Public Radio offers one of the most thoughtful discussions so far.

Yesterday, on Open Source, Christopher Lydon hosted a conversation between Washington Note's, Steven Clemons, blogger and assistant professor of political science, Daniel Drezner, and policy and international director of the Geneva Initiative, Daniel Levy.

It's worth listening to the whole conversation (MP3 audio file), but this passage from Levy stands out:
Christopher Lydon: How do you measure the reaction -- on American campuses, in American establishment -- when you say, "Listen here, I'm from Israel and I'm telling you that the Lobby can't be your only source here," what comes back at you?

Daniel Levy: What I'm saying to people is, don't leave your critical faculties for thought behind when it comes to Israel. If you feel passionately about Israel -- and I encourage people to get involved and get engaged and feel passionate about Israel -- then embrace what is the healthy debate that is going on in Israel and take a position on it and don't blindly follow a position that you are given.

And I'll tell you, some people kick back and say, "No, we have to support Israel. We don't wash our dirty laundry in public. That's not helpful." And some people say, "Thank you! We've been waiting for that voice. We haven't found our place and actually, we've simply turned our back on the whole debate."

What I hear from students time and again -- including last night at Yale -- there was an incredibly intelligent woman in that audience, she had been chair of the college Democrats, and she said to me, "I didn't know what to do with myself in this debate, because I felt that if I got involved, either, I had to take on board hook line and sinker the whole -- everything they were telling me -- and I didn't feel comfortable with that. And yet of course, I didn't want to join the anti-Israel brigade because I'm not there at all."

And there's a place that you can feel comfortable having a critical debate, caring about Israel, loving Israel, caring about Israel's security interests -- but following essentially what half of the Israeli public are saying and probably what a majority of the members of the next Israeli government are going to be saying, which is, this occupation is bad for Israel, it's bad for our security, it's bad for our morality, it's bad for our interests -- we need out!
As Lydon says, "Let's hope the whole debate will open up and that this is just the beginning."

Of course, if the debate does open up, then Levy's passionate declaration, "We need out!", demands careful scrutiny. "Out" from where? The whole of the occupied territories or simply those areas that the Israelis choose to abandon?

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Convergence to a border of convenience
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, April 5, 2006

For the "convergence" plan to be presented to the Western world as a giant concession worthy of praise, the dimensions of Jewish support for the "vision of the Greater Land of Israel" must be inflated. But if the Greater Land of Israel really were the top priority for the Jewish citizenry of Israel, then there wouldn't be fewer than 10,000 settlers in the Jordan Valley. Tens of thousands would be rushing to expand Ma'aleh Ephraim and the farming settlements, so the lights of the eastern sector of the Greater Land would shine and twinkle like the lights of the western sector of the Jordanian kingdom.

Israel made sure during the years of the Oslo negotiations, as in the preceding years, to leave that enormous area blocked to any Palestinian development and wide open to any Israeli development. The somewhat difficult living conditions (heat, distance to the center of the country) would not have deterred the masses of Israelis. If every clod of the Greater Land of Israel indeed held an impassioned emotional attraction for the Jewish citizens of Israel, they would not have needed economic incentives to live in the areas conquered in 1967. They would have gone to settle the most distant hilltops and not made do with settlements "five minutes from Kfar Sava." They would not have needed seductive advertising about one-family villas on their own plot of land. On the contrary, they would have encouraged the state and the contractors to build apartment blocs. There wouldn't be 420,000 Jewish setters (including occupied East Jerusalem) but rather 2 million.

What drew the Jewish Israelis - and turned nearly half a million of them into outlaws under international law - were not the clods of holy land but comfortable lives promised to them by Israeli military supremacy, the spacious inexpensive housing and the improved infrastructure. Those were precisely the subsidies and incentives that they didn't get inside the sovereign state. The convergence, therefore, is the borders drawn by the average Israeli Jew's aspirations for comfort and convenience. [complete article]

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Haniyeh: Cabinet to forgo salaries until PA employees paid
Haaretz, April 4, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told the first full meeting of his Hamas-led government Wednesday that the Palestinian Authority's treasury was empty. He later added that the entire PA cabinet will forgo their salaries until the financial crisis is resolved.

"We are not going to receive our salaries until everyone from the Palestinian Authority is paid," he said in comments to the families of prisoners held by Israel. He pledged to pay monthly subsidies to the families within two days.

Speaking earlier from Gaza by video-link with ministers in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Haniyeh said, "The Ministry of Finance has inherited an entirely empty treasury in addition to the debts of the ministry and the government in general." [complete article]

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Evangelicals rally their flocks behind Israel
By Bill Berkowitz, IPS, April 5, 2006

Charismatic televangelist John Hagee thinks that the Rev. Pat Robertson's suggestion that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was payback from God for withdrawing from Gaza was "insensitive and unnecessary". But he nevertheless appears to share Robertson's concern that Israel may be giving up too much land to the Palestinians.

To prevent the George W. Bush administration from pressuring the Israelis into turning over even more land, Hagee, the pastor of San Antonio's Cornerstone Church and the head of a multi-million-dollar evangelical enterprise, recently brought together 400 Christian evangelical leaders -- representing as many as 30 million Christians -- for an invitation-only "Summit on Israel".

The result was the launch of a new pro-Israel lobbying group called Christians United for Israel (CUFI).

By 2002, a number of veteran Christian conservative evangelical leaders and Republican Party power brokers had joined forces with conservative Jewish leaders to launch several pro-Israel organisations. But the history of Jewish-evangelical involvement goes back several decades. [complete article]

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Israelis ponder a land swap
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2006

Nabil Saad's roadside restaurant "Hilmi," or "My Dream," attracts hungry travelers - Arabs and Jews alike - who are passing through this Arab town inside Israel.

But if rising nationalist politician Avigdor Lieberman has his way, the land on which Mr. Saad's restaurant sits - and Umm el-Fahm's population of 45,000 - will simply be transferred from Israel to a future Palestinian state without moving an inch.

That is, if they want to actually stay in Umm el-Fahm. According to Lieberman, whose party suddenly emerged from last week's elections as Israel's fifth-biggest party, residents who wanted to maintain Israeli citizenship could relocate within Israel. But their land would be annexed to the Palestinian West Bank.

A unilateral land swap - trading Israeli-Arab towns inside Israel for Israeli settlements in the West Bank - is based on a perception that this may be crucial to the survival of a Jewish state. It's less about security from suicide attacks, and more about a demographic battle with as many as 1 million Arab citizens of Israel, many who view themselves as Palestinians. [complete article]

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A marriage made in hell
By Gamil Mattar, Al-Ahram Weekly, March 30, 2006

Have the brakes been put on the progress of democracy? Is, indeed, the process actually moving in reverse? To ask such questions would once have seemed implausible to the positivists who, with a sweep of the hand across a map of the world, pointed complacently to the countries that were advancing by leaps and bounds towards democracy or, if not by leaps and bounds, at least moving inexorably forward.

The train has started moving and has picked up too much speed to stop, they insisted. Democratisation is both a pledge and an imperative, they said. It was a pledge on the part of Third World governments to the international community which had declared it would no longer put up with non-democratic regimes. And it was a prerequisite for world peace. Peace is only possible between democratic nations which don't go around attacking other nations, said Bush. With Sharansky's book on democracy firmly tucked beneath his arm the US president promised that peace in the Middle East would follow in the wake of democracy. In so saying he raised the neo-conservatives' romantic, if not entirely innocent, banner, "make democracy not war", launched a campaign to impose democracy on the region using all the violence and coercion available to the world's only superpower, and drove the Middle East further away from peace than it has been for centuries.

The Arab public quickly sniffed out the hypocrisy in the Bush administration's appeals. There was too much wavering, procrastination and lack of coordination, and it was not long before the people lost whatever confidence they had in the efficacy of American support for democratisation in the region. This erosion of confidence occurred a time when voices from within America's ruling conservative right began to protest against the squandering of US material and political resources on policies that only seemed to augment the power and influence of Muslim fundamentalists in the Middle East. Washington stopped talking about democracy as a condition for peace and Bush stopped citing Sharansky as one of his primary sources of inspiration. [complete article]

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Democracy in Iraq not a priority in U.S. budget
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, April 5, 2006

While President Bush vows to transform Iraq into a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, his administration has been scaling back funding for the main organizations trying to carry out his vision by building democratic institutions such as political parties and civil society groups.

The administration has included limited new money for traditional democracy promotion in budget requests to Congress. Some organizations face funding cutoffs this month, while others struggle to stretch resources through the summer. The shortfall threatens projects that teach Iraqis how to create and sustain political parties, think tanks, human rights groups, independent media outlets, trade unions and other elements of democratic society. [complete article]

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Real men go to Khuzestan
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 6, 2006

When it comes to Iran, the widespread belief is that the United States cannot possibly occupy the country - it's the size of France, Britain, Italy and Spain combined - and thus exercise the avowed White House goal of regime change.

The next best thing - from the point of view of armchair warriors - would be subversion from within. Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld, in a widely distributed opinion piece a few months ago, stated that should the US attack Iran, ethnic minorities "might welcome the humiliation of their oppressors", that is, the Persians. Nonsense replays itself, as in the US supposedly being greeted as the "liberator" of Iraq.

In the overdrive run-up to the attack on Iraq in 2003, the ultimate neo-conservative mantra was "Real men go to Khuzestan." Indeed, some of of these "real men" may already have been there. The Iranian government is convinced US, British and/or Israeli special ops have been conducted on Iran's western and southeastern borders, at least since early 2005. [complete article]

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Iran says it can handle any invasion
By Ali Akbar Dareini, AP (via The State), April 4, 2006

A top Iranian military official said Tuesday the country can now defend itself against any invasion originating from outside the region - a clear reference to the United States - as it tested a second new radar-avoiding missile.

The new surface-to-sea missile is equipped with remote-control and searching systems, state-run television reported. It said the new missile, called Kowsar after the name of a river in paradise, was a medium-range weapon that Iran had the capability to mass-produce.

It also asserted that the Kowsar's guidance system could not be scrambled, and it had been designed to sink ships.

Shortly after the test, the chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, warned that Iran was now able to "confront any extra-regional invasion," referring to the United States without mentioning it by name. [complete article]

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Arab diplomats: Mideast nations holding secret talks on Iraq
AP (via Haaretz), April 5, 2006

Top intelligence officers from several Arab countries and Turkey have been meeting secretly to coordinate their governments' strategies in case civil war erupts in Iraq and in an attempt to block Iran's interference in the war-torn nation, Arab diplomats said Tuesday.

The four diplomats said intelligence chiefs from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and non-Arab Turkey held a series of meetings over the last few weeks to assess the situation in Iraq and work out plans to avoid any regional backlash that may result from sectarian conflict in Iraq.

The diplomats in several Middle Eastern capitals, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said Iran and Syria have been excluded from the talks. [complete article]

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Syria imposing stronger curbs on opposition
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, April 5, 2006

Just months ago, under intense international pressure to ease its stranglehold on neighboring Lebanon, the Syrian government was talking about ending the ruling Baath Party's grip on Syrian power and paving the way for a multiparty system.

But things have moved in the opposite direction. Syrian officials are aggressively silencing domestic political opposition while accommodating religious conservatives to shore up support across the country.

Security forces have detained human rights workers and political leaders, and in some cases their family members as well. They have barred travel abroad for political conferences and shut down a human rights center financed by the European Union. And the government has delivered a stern message to the national news media demanding that they promote -- not challenge -- the official agenda. [complete article]

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Biden seeks review of State Department screening
By Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, April 4, 2006

A senior Democratic senator has asked the State Department's inspector general to determine whether the department has been using a political litmus test to screen private American citizens before sending them abroad to represent the United States.

Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said in a letter to the inspector general that he was requesting the review in part because of a Dec. 2 Knight Ridder report that such a test was being used to weed out critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

"If these allegations are true, such a policy appears to be inconsistent" with a State Department requirement "that speakers must be `representative of a broad range of responsible and informed opinion' in the United States," Biden said in the letter, which was dated Monday and sent to State Department Inspector General Howard J. Krongard. [complete article]

Yo-Yo Ma says visa precautions stifle cultural exchanges
By Christopher Lee, Washington Post, April 5, 2006

Federal officials, worried about letting terrorists into the country, are doing a pretty good job of keeping musicians and other artists out, virtuoso cellist Yo-Yo Ma told a House panel yesterday.

The performer, whose Silk Road Project organizes international tours of musicians from all over the world, urged the House Government Reform Committee to simplify a visa process that he says has stifled cultural exchanges by creating "extraordinarily high" barriers to bringing artists to the United States. [complete article]

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Al-Qaida's Gomer Pyle
By Timothy Noah, Slate, April 4, 2006

On April 3, a jury ruled that Zacharias Moussoui was eligible for the death penalty for his role in the Sept. 11 bombings. But the weight of evidence continues to show that, despite Moussaoui's own claim that he was originally tasked that day with crashing a fifth plane into the White House -- a mission he couldn't carry out because he was in jail -- Moussaoui really didn't have any role in the Sept. 11 bombings. Anyone even casually familiar with Moussaoui's case has surely noticed that Moussaoui is mentally unstable, and eager to die for his cause. That doesn't oblige a United States court to grant his wish. [complete article]

Chief 9/11 architect critical of Bin Laden
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2006

To hear Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed tell it, Osama bin Laden was a meddling boss whose indiscretion and poor judgment threatened to derail the terrorist attacks.

He also saddled Mohammed with at least four would-be hijackers who the ringleader thought were ill-equipped for the job. And he carelessly dropped hints about the imminent attacks, violating Mohammed's cardinal rule against discussing the suicide hijacking plot. [complete article]

Guantanamo judge delays suspect's tribunal 3 months
By Carol J. Williams, Los Angeles Times, April 5, 2006

Whether the soft-spoken man with an easy smile and a posture of compliance is an Al Qaeda bagman or a hapless hotel worker wrongly ensnared in the post-Sept. 11 panic was no clearer after his Tuesday tribunal appearance than when he was arrested four years ago.

The case against Abdul Zahir, who never traveled outside his native Afghanistan before being flown to the U.S. detention site for terrorism suspects here, was suspended until July to give his Army defense lawyer time to travel to the scene of the crimes with which Zahir is charged.

That means by the time his tribunal resumes, the Supreme Court will have ruled on the question of whether the Bush administration's effort to prosecute terrorism suspects here is legal. [complete article]

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Hussein charged with genocide in 50,000 deaths
By Edward Wong, New York Times, April 5, 2006

The Iraqi court trying Saddam Hussein announced Tuesday that it had charged him with genocide, saying he sought to annihilate the Kurdish people in 1988, when the military killed at least 50,000 Kurdish civilians and destroyed 2,000 villages.

The case is the first against Mr. Hussein to address the large-scale human rights violations committed during his decades in power, the same acts the Bush administration has publicized in explaining the American invasion of Iraq. Six other defendants also face charges. Mr. Hussein is already being tried for the torture and killings of 148 men and boys in the Shiite village of Dujail.

Since the United Nations adopted the genocide convention in 1948, very few courts have charged defendants with genocide, the attempt to annihilate an ethnic, religious, national or political group in whole or in part. [complete article]

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"The war is bad for the economy"
Joseph Stiglitz interviewed by Der Spiegel, April 5, 2006

SPIEGEL: Professor Stiglitz, at the beginning of the Iraq war, the United States administration was hoping to almost break even in terms of the costs ...

Stiglitz: ... they truly believed the Iraqi people could use their oil revenues to pay for reconstruction.

SPIEGEL: And now you are estimating the cost of war at levels between $1 trillion and $2 trillion. How do you explain this difference?

Stiglitz: First, the war was much more difficult than President Bush and his government expected. They thought they were going to walk in, everybody would say thank you, and they would set up a democratic government and leave. Now that this war is lasting so much longer, they constantly have to adapt their budget. It rose from $50 billion to $250 billion. Today, the Congressional Budget Office talks about $500 billion or more for this adventure.

SPIEGEL: That's still by far lower than your own calculations.

Stiglitz: The reported numbers do not even include the full budgetary costs to the government. And the budgetary costs are but a fraction of the costs to the economy as a whole. And compare this to Gulf War number one, where America almost made a profit! [complete article]

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Majority of 32 Wisconsin towns vote for Iraq pullout
By Kari Kydersen, Washington Post, April 5, 2006

Voters in the majority of 32 Wisconsin towns with local referendums on the Iraq war voted Tuesday to bring the troops home.

A call to withdraw from Iraq by the end of the year passed overwhelmingly in the liberal Milwaukee suburb of Shorewood, while in conservative Watertown, where the City Council had opposed having the referendum, it was voted down by 75 percent.

Although the referendums are nonbinding, organizers with the Green Party and other antiwar groups said they hope they send a message to Washington. [complete article]

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I will not be forced out by U.S. and U.K., says Jaafari
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, April 5, 2006

Iraq's embattled prime minister has defiantly refused to give up his claim to head the country's next government in spite of strong American and British pleas for an end to a deadlock which has paralysed the country for almost four months.

In an exclusive interview with the Guardian in Baghdad - his first since Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw pleaded with him and his rivals for an immediate agreement to prevent a slide to civil war - Ibrahim Jaafari insisted he would continue to carry out his duties.

"I heard their points of view even though I disagree with them," he said, referring to Ms Rice and Mr Straw's hectic arm-twisting visit to the Iraqi capital which ended on Monday. [complete article]

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Revealed: the plight of prisoners caught up in U.S. rendition
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, April 5, 2006

Three Yemeni prisoners who were apparently seized and held in secret jails by the CIA for 18 months have spoken for the first time about their detention - providing important new details about the systematic "rendition" of prisoners.

The three men, none of whom was ever charged with any terrorism-related offence, were seized in 2003 and then held in four secret locations by "black-masked ninja" US operatives who made considerable efforts to ensure the prisoners did not know where they were being held. They were eventually released about a month ago. [complete article]

See also, Below the radar: Secret flights to torture and 'disappearance' (Amnesty International).

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Germany urges U.S. to hold talks with Iran
By Guy Dinmore, Hubert Wetzel and Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, April 4, 2006

Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany's foreign minister, has urged the Bush administration to hold direct talks with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Mr Steinmeier said on Tuesday he had made the proposal, which he said had UK support, to Stephen Hadley, US national security adviser, in Washington on Monday.

The Bush administration quickly shot down a similar suggestion floated by a UK official last month. Mr Steinmeier admitted he saw no signs that the US would enter into such talks, although Washington has agreed to meet Iranian officials to discuss the security situation in Iraq.

A White House spokesman flatly rejected Germany’s proposal of direct talks. "This is not between the US and Iran, but between Iran and the whole international community," he told the FT.

Germany's backing for the UK suggestion was evidence, analysts said, that the European powers are not hopeful that the nuclear crisis will be resolved through the action being taken in the UN Security Council. [complete article]

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Turkish Kurds see Iraq as an inspiration
By Selcan Hacaoglu, AP (via The Guardian), April 4, 2006

For Ramazan, an elderly Kurdish businessman, the recent battles between masked Kurdish youths and Turkish police have rekindled a dream - the creation of an autonomous zone for his people in Turkey, much like the one carved out of Iraq. But that dream is Turkey's worst nightmare.

While Kurds look to northern Iraq for inspiration, Turks see it as an example of what the future could bring: a collapsed central state and a brewing ethnic civil war.

Iran and Syria also are concerned that Kurds in Iraq's oil-rich north could set up an independent state if the Iraqi central government collapses - serving as a rallying call for their own restless Kurdish minorities and destabilize the entire region. [complete article]

See also, Iraq shelves political talks despite U.S. pressure (AFP).

Comment -- While the repercussions of Kurdish autonomy have been a danger lurking on the horizon since even before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, the threat has now moved much closer. As much as the impasse around the choice of a new Iraqi prime minister often seems characterized as a personality issue -- Jaafari isn't capable of reining in the militias -- the real impasse is Kirkuk. Herein lies the axis of burgeoning Kurdish power and they have no intention of letting it slip out of their grasp.

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Clipped wings and a triumph for realism
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via Asia Times), April 5, 2006

Although still united in pushing for confrontation with Iran, the coalition of hawks that propelled US troops toward Baghdad three years ago appears to have finally run out of steam. Demoralized by the quagmire in Iraq, as well as President George W Bush's still falling approval and credibility ratings, the coalition of aggressive nationalists, neo-conservatives and the Christian Right that promoted the belligerent, neo-imperial trajectory in US foreign policy has lost both its coherence and its power to dominate the political agenda in Washington. [complete article]

See also, The end of neoconservatism (Joseph Cirincione).

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The Federal Bureau of Luddites
By Noah Shachtman, Slate, April 4, 2006

Two weeks ago, the FBI's chief information officer admitted that the bureau couldn't afford to provide e-mail addresses for 8,000 of its 30,000 employees. The e-mail shortfall is only the latest in a series of embarrassed confessions the FBI has made about its information technology. The most significant mea culpa came when an attempt to upgrade the bureau's case-management software had to be scrapped last year after $170 million had already been spent. A Justice Department report listed all kinds of excuses, from poor "enterprise architecture" planning to shifting design requirements. But behind the management analysis is a more implacable problem. Until very recently, being computer-savvy hasn't been considered much of an asset in the FBI, and clues were something you kept to yourself. [complete article]

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United States' soul on a downward slide
By Sandip Roy, San Franciso Chronicle, April 2, 2006

What shall it profit a superpower to gain the whole world and lose his soul? In the new world order, the United States seems to be poised to do just that, argues social critic Theodore Roszak in his anguished, impassioned book "World, Beware! American Triumphalism in an Age of Terror." Roszak claims the United States is sliding rapidly into the thrall of an Axis of Evil: triumphalists, "corporados" and fundamentalists whose idea of freedom is a worldwide market economy under corporate control. No debate, no dissent, only profits.

Roszak says a highly energized set of right-wing ideologues now dominate the think tanks with the main goal of "electoral supremacy at home, military supremacy abroad." The corporados, epitomized by super CEOs, provide the money, he argues, because they want to be unencumbered by any government regulation or concern for social justice. Forty percent of the nation's wealth is already owned by 1 percent of the population. And the fundamentalists provide the dependable electoral muscle.

It's a grim portrait, but it gets bleaker still. Roszak finds no comfort in the Michael Moore-ish pin-the-tail-on-the-president games that make George W. Bush the butt of jokes. Roszak sees Bush as just a product, the pinup president of this unholy alliance of religion, corporate greed and neoconservative world-shaping zeal that will outlast any presidency. He finds no comfort in the notion that fair-minded Americans are just being hoodwinked. As if, once the truth really comes out, (and if they could only stop watching "Extreme Makeover" and "Desperate Housewives"), they will rise and throw the rascals out. What if the people are not deceived? In Roszak's mind: "They know exactly what Bush is up to -- and they approve." [complete article]

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Iraq's interior ministry refusing to deploy US-trained police
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, April 4, 2006

Iraq's interior ministry is refusing to deploy thousands of police recruits who have been trained by the US and the UK and is hiring its own men and putting them on the streets, according to western security advisers.

The move is frustrating US and British efforts to build up a non-sectarian Iraqi police force which would not be infiltrated by partisan militias.

The disclosure highlights growing US and British concern about the role of militias in sectarian killings, and their links to senior Iraqi politicians. "You can't have in a democracy various groups with arms - you have to have the state with a monopoly on power," Condoleeza Rice, the US secretary of state, said at the end of her two-day visit to Baghdad yesterday. [complete article]

See also, Civilians take up arms amid Iraqi violence (USA Today).

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U.S. anti-militia strategy another wrong Iraq move
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, April 5, 2006

Last week's attack by US-led Iraqi paramilitary forces on a building that Shi'ite leaders claim was a mosque may have marked the beginning of a new stage of US policy in which Iraqi forces are used to carry out military operations against Shi'ite militia forces - especially those loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr.

However, such a strategy risks uniting the Shi'ites against the US military occupation and leading to a showdown that makes that presence politically untenable. [complete article]

See also, The trouble with ousting Jaafari (Tony Karon).

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Americans in Iraq face their deadliest day in months
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, April 4, 2006

In the deadliest day for American forces since the beginning of the year, at least nine members of the military were killed in the insurgent stronghold of Anbar Province, including four in a rebel attack and at least five when their truck accidentally flipped over, the American military command said Monday.

Three marines and one sailor were killed Sunday in the rebel assault, the military reported, offering no further information. It was the largest number of American deaths in a single attack in more than a month.

In another part of Anbar on Sunday, a flash flood toppled a seven-ton truck, killing five marines riding inside it and wounding one, the military said. Two marines and one Navy corpsman in the truck were missing, officials said. [complete article]

See also, New battle on the home front (LAT).

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Suicide bomber hits Baghdad mosque
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, April 4, 2006

A suicide bomber rammed a pickup truck filled with explosives into a Shiite mosque here Monday, killing at least 10 Iraqis, while the U.S. military reported the deaths of nine Americans on Sunday in this country's volatile Al Anbar province.
Panicked bystanders helped emergency workers load nearly 40 wounded people into ambulances.

Some witnesses described the mosque as a bastion of followers of the cleric Muqtada Sadr, whose militia has been accused of kidnapping Sunni Arabs and attacking Sunni mosques in retaliation for attacks against Shiites. [complete article]

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Disintegration of Iraq would pose multiple problems for Israel
By Asher Susser, Daily Star, April 4, 2006

The possible fragmentation of Iraq is a most unwelcome prospect from the Israeli point of view. Some observers, locked in perceptions of a bygone era, might still think otherwise. In the 1960s and 1970s, when Israel was deeply involved in conflict with core Middle Eastern states - Egypt, Syria and Jordan - it was extremely apprehensive about possible Iraqi wartime military assistance to its Arab enemies. Israel consequently developed a particularly friendly relationship with the non-Arab periphery of the region, particularly Iran, and actively pursued a covert relationship with the Kurds in Iraq in support of their secessionist struggle against the central government in Baghdad. Israel's interests have, however, radically changed since then, as have the concepts of core and periphery in the Middle East. [complete article]

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A two-track path to dialogue with Iran
By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Boston Globe, April 3, 2006

The United States is poised to engage Iran on Iraq just as its UN representatives are working overtime at the UN Security Council to censure and isolate Iran on the nuclear standoff, yet there may be a path out of this quandary through prudent diplomacy by both sides.

An important prerequisite for a successful US-Iran dialogue, which has been blessed by Iran's spiritual leader, is to apply lessons from the failure of previous half-steps stretching back to the hostage crisis of 1979 and to focus on Iraq without disentangling it altogether from other issues hitherto blocking a rapprochement.

There is a complex interaction between the two issues. Progress on the nuclear crisis engulfing the UN must proceed in tandem with the bilateral dialogue on Iraq. Spillover from failure on one issue can have adverse effect on the other.

With respect to Iraq, both Tehran and Washington have a shared interest in halting Iraq's descent toward a civil war. [complete article]

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The troubled odyssey of Abdul Rahman
Der Spiegel, April 3, 2006

For two weeks, Rahman has been at the center of world politics. The possibility that Rahman could be put to death for apostasy made Western nations realize that despite the massive amounts of reconstruction aid they have pumped into Afghanistan, human rights remain by no means guaranteed in the country. And in Afghanistan, Islamists accused President Hamid Karzai's government of caving in to pressure from the West by allowing Rahman to be released and taken to Italy. All of this is now known, as are the geopolitical aspects of the Rahman case.

Less known is the foreign nationals file on Rahman that has been kept by German authorities since he applied for asylum here in February 2000 -- an application that was rejected two months later, on April 21, 2000.

The German Rahman file, together with statements made by his brother, who has lived near Stuttgart since 1993, and a patient file from a clinic in Pakistan, tell a different story: that of the odyssey of a severely emotionally disturbed man who has been wandering aimlessly through the world for years, a man without a goal or a foothold. The file casts significant doubt on widely propagated theories that Rahman is a man driven by his faith and willingness to become a martyr. Instead, the file depicts a man driven by his psychoses and paranoia. [complete article]

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U.N. aid workers: Gaza on verge of disaster
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, April 4, 2006

United Nations aid organizations are warning that the Gaza Strip is on the verge of a humanitarian disaster due to a lack of money and food.

David Shearer, head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told Foreign Ministry officials that if there is no significant change in the situation, Gaza will face a humanitarian crisis as bad as the one in Kosovo.

A report by the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) warns of a lack of basic food supplies due to the frequent closures of the Karni crossing that are preventing goods from reaching Gaza from Egypt. The report also said there has been a significant increase in the number of hungry people since financial aid has been halted. [complete article]

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Sectarian strife fuels gun sales in Baghdad
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, April 3, 2006

With chipped, painted fingernails, Nahrawan al-Janabi picked up a cartridge and slid it into the chamber.

"Like this," she said, loading her new Glock pistol with a loud, satisfying click. "You see, like this."

Akram Abdulzahra now keeps his revolver handy at his job in an Internet cafe. Haidar Hussein, a Baghdad bookseller, just bought a fully automatic assault rifle and has been teaching his wife how to shoot.

Iraq has long been awash in guns. But after the bombing of a sacred Shiite shrine in Samarra in late February, sectarian tensions exploded, and more Iraqis than ever have been buying, carrying and stockpiling weapons, adding an unnerving level of firepower to Baghdad's streets. [complete article]

See also, Figures show that Iraq's civil war is underway (UPI).

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Nationalism vs. globalization in the Jihadist camp
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, April 3, 2006

The regional "export" of terror, as well as the grisly televised beheadings and the sectarian dimension of Zarqawi's takfiri ideology that declares Shiites apostates, and therefore fair game -- a position that drew public criticism even from Ayman Zawahiri -- appear to have prompted even some of his jihadist allies in Iraq to downsize his role.

After all, the Sunni insurgents' claim to regional support has never been greater, because of what the Arab regimes perceive as the turnover of Baghdad to proxies of Tehran. Allowing Zawahiri to be perceived as the leader of the "resistance" was counterproductive. Indeed, if the reports prove true, they're an indication that the Sunni insurgency, even in its Islamist form, is insisting on its nationalist rather than transnational-jihadi character.

The implications of this shift correspond with an under-reported and -explored dimension of Islamist politics. Western news media and politicians often lump together all groups proclaiming Islamist ideologies as simply part of a global movement to restore Islam's lost caliphate. But it's far more complex than that, obviously, and there's a fascinating -- and strategically very important -- distinction to be made between nationally-based political movements and insurgencies whose orientation and demands are national in character and the sort of Jihadi Comintern that Bin Laden and Zawahiri (and lately Zarqawi, too) have tried to create. [complete article]

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U.S. plan to build Iraq clinics falters
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, April 3, 2006

A reconstruction contract for the building of 142 primary health centers across Iraq is running out of money, after two years and roughly $200 million, with no more than 20 clinics now expected to be completed, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says.

The contract, awarded to U.S. construction giant Parsons Inc. in the flush, early days of reconstruction in Iraq, was expected to lay the foundation of a modern health care system for the country, putting quality medical care within reach of all Iraqis.

Parsons, according to the Corps, will walk away from more than 120 clinics that on average are two-thirds finished. Auditors say the project serves as a warning for other U.S. reconstruction efforts due to be completed this year. [complete article]

See also, West accused of fiddling figures on Iraq aid (The Independent).

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9/11 detainees in New Jersey say they were abused with dogs
By Nina Bernstein, New York Times, April 3, 2006

The photograph, seen worldwide, is one of the defining images from Abu Ghraib: a dog strains at its leash, lunging at a terrified prisoner in an orange jumpsuit. One United States military dog handler was recently convicted of abusing detainees at Abu Ghraib, the prison in Iraq, and the court-martial of another is to start in May.

But for Ibrahim Turkmen and Akhil Sachdeva, the image evokes something closer to home: the dogs used inside the Passaic County Jail in New Jersey. The two men, plaintiffs in a pending class-action lawsuit known as Turkmen v. Ashcroft, were among hundreds of immigrant detainees held in the Passaic jail for months after 9/11 before they were cleared of links to terrorism and deported on visa violations.

Until now, lawsuits brought by former detainees against top American officials have focused attention on the maximum security unit of a federal detention center in Brooklyn where the Justice Department's inspector general found widespread abuse. But today in Toronto, as Mr. Sachdeva, a Canadian citizen born in India, gives his first deposition for the class-action lawsuit, the spotlight will shift to the New Jersey jail. [complete article]

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Iran says it test-fired underwater missile
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, April 3, 2006

Iran said Sunday that it had test-fired what it described as a sonar-evading underwater missile just two days after it announced that it had fired a new missile that could carry multiple warheads and evade radar systems.

The new missile is among the world's fastest and can outpace an enemy warship, Gen. Ali Fadavi of the country's elite Revolutionary Guards told state television.

General Fadavi said only one other country, Russia, had a missile that moved underwater as fast as the Iranian one, which he said had a speed of about 225 miles per hour. State television showed what it described as the missile being fired. [complete article]

See also, Iran's war games see oil futures rise by $2 (FT).

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Russians sense the heat of Cold War
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, April 3, 2006

In this city, it's beginning to feel like a new Cold War, driven by what many people here see as an old American impulse: to encircle, weaken or even destroy Russia, just as the country is emerging from post-Soviet ruins as a cohesive, self-confident and global power.

The specter of a U.S. nuclear first strike even resurfaced this month. An article in Foreign Affairs magazine, published by the Council on Foreign Relations, suggested that the United States could hit Russia and China without serious risk of retaliation. That sent heads spinning here with visions of Dr. Strangelove.

"The publication of these ideas in a respectable American journal has had an explosive effect," former Russian prime minister Yegor Gaidar wrote in an article in London's Financial Times newspaper. "Even those Russian journalists and analysts who are not prone to hysteria or anti-Americanism took it as an outline of the official position of the U.S. Administration." [complete article]

See also, The rise of U.S. nuclear primacy (Foreign Affairs).

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New Christian pro-Israel lobby aims to be stronger than AIPAC
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, April 3, 2006

Televangelist John Hagee told Jewish community leaders over the weekend that the 40 million evangelical Christians in the United States support Israel and that he plans to utilize this power to help Israel by launching a Christian pro-Israel lobby.

The lobby, called [Christians United for Israel], is slated to launch in July, during a Washington conference in which hundreds of American evangelicals are slated to participate, Hagee said at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which represents 52 national Jewish groups. He also discussed the lobby with Israel's consul general in New York, Aryeh Mekel.

Hagee said his group would be a Christian - and more powerful - version of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a large pro-Israel lobby, and would target senators and congressmen on Capitol Hill. A quarter of congressmen are evangelicals, and many American legislators represent regions that include a large evangelical population, he said. [complete article]

Earlier: Christian evangelicals waving the Israeli flag
By Mark I. Pinsky, Orlando Sentinel, January 15, 2006

From the lectern, the charismatic speaker delivers the rousing declarations the audience has come to hear:
Palestinians never owned the Land of Israel -- they have no legitimate claim to the land whatsoever!

I call upon the U.S. State Department to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem -- the eternal and undivided capital of Israel!

The president of Iran has called for the destruction of Israel. He has pledged to share Iran's nuclear weapons with the Islamic world! There is no compromise with fanatics that call for Israel to be blown off the map!
Each statement is greeted by thunderous applause. If you didn't know better, you'd think the event was a campaign rally for Israel's hard-line Likud Party. But this night the packed ballroom is at the Altamonte Springs Hilton. And the speaker is the Rev. John Hagee, foremost exponent of "Christian Zionism," who repeatedly brings nearly 1,000 cheering evangelicals to their feet. [complete article]

See also, Christians United for Israel and When U.S. foreign policy meets Biblical prophecy (Paul S. Boyer).

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Can Iraq's militias be tamed?
By Michael Ware, Time, April 2, 2006

As he steps onto the streets of Baghdad's Shi'ite slum Sadr City, Saed Salah chambers a round into his pistol and shoves it into the back of his pants. A mid-ranking commander in the Mahdi Army, one of the most potent of the armed militias that have carved Baghdad into fiefdoms, Saed Salah has little to fear from the authorities. The whole neighborhood knows who he is. Motorists are aware that his fighters man the makeshift checkpoints that dot the neighborhood. Even though he has attacked U.S. troops countless times, no one will touch him. If the G.I.s could find him, they would slap him straight into Abu Ghraib prison. But that's not likely to happen. The American military may occupy Iraq, Saed Salah says, and an Iraqi Prime Minister may be in power, but neither owns these streets.

He's right. Iraqi army troops set checkpoints on the main thoroughfares in and out of Sadr City, but they are powerless in the face of the Mahdi Army. "They do nothing. They can't even stop a vehicle," says a member of a separate unit of the fractious militia as he speeds past one of the checkpoints. A pickup truck overflowing with gunmen toting AK-47s roars up from behind. Their shirts are emblazoned with the name of one of the country's most formidable armed groups: MAHDI ARMY, PROTECTION COMMITTEE, 2ND BRIGADE. As they approach the army checkpoint, no one makes a move; instead of confrontation, there is acknowledgment. A militia member waves from the pickup, and a soldier sheepishly waves back. With that, the gunmen barrel through. [complete article]

See also, Iraq militias' wave of death (Boston Globe).

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Sadr strikes
By Rod Nordland, Newsweek, April 10, 2006

At one time -- it seems like a bloody eternity ago -- there was a murder warrant out for the arrest of Moqtada al-Sadr, on the charge of killing an ayatollah in 2003. U.S. Army Gen. Ricardo Sanchez later publicly vowed that coalition troops in Iraq would "kill or capture" Sadr, and not rest until they had destroyed his militia. American diplomats routinely dismissed him as a no-account thug, a minor cleric with a ragtag band of undisciplined followers. He could get a few thousand angry young Shiites into the streets, demanding immediate U.S. withdrawal. But ultimately, that didn't matter. All the Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani had to do was lift a little finger, and hundreds of thousands of Shiites would turn out.

Those were the days. The moderate Shia political leadership of the country, with Sistani's support, was all for a long-term U.S. presence. Sadr, pudgy and histrionic but a poor public speaker, was only 32 years old -- a cleric of minor standing in a society that reveres its seniors, especially the learned ones. He was a sideshow, and little more. After fighting to a standstill in two engagements with the Americans, Sadr was forced to stand down by Sistani, and his militiamen began obediently turning in their weapons. Sadr had so faded from the scene by early 2005 that moderate Shiites joked he spent his days playing video soccer on his PlayStation.

Today his militia is back, and bigger than ever: He is now estimated to have 15,000 armed followers, three times as many as when he fought U.S. forces in 2004. He still espouses an Iranian style of theocratic government, with Sharia courts and Islamic law. He's so reflexively anti-American that he even blamed the United States for allowing the terrorist bombing of the revered Al Askari mosque in Samarra, which set off a wave of sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shiites. Much of that violence seemed to be carried out by Sadr's Mahdi Army, which occupied Sunni mosques. As for the old murder warrant: it was never formally dismissed, but no one mentions it anymore. (Spokesmen for the Iraqi court concerned did not reply to queries about what had happened to it.) [complete article]

See also, Interview: 'He is not an ogre' (Newsweek).

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Iraq's premier is asked to quit as Shiites split
By Edward Wong and Joel Brinkley, New York Times, April 3, 2006

Iraq's dominant Shiite political bloc fractured Sunday when its most powerful faction publicly demanded that the incumbent Shiite prime minister resign over his inability to form a unified government. The split came as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Jack Straw, the British foreign minister, paid an urgent visit to Iraqi leaders here to convey in the most forceful terms yet that their patience for the country's political paralysis was wearing thin.

It was not clear whether the joint visit by Ms. Rice and Mr. Straw, the top emissaries of the two countries that led the invasion of Iraq three years ago, played a direct role in the splintering of the Shiite bloc, and whether that schism would lead to forward movement on forming a new government, which has been stalled for months.

The developments suggested that a new phase in Iraq's convulsions might have started by opening a possibly violent battle for the country's top job between rival Shiite factions, which both have militias backing them. The incumbent prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, has said he will fight to keep his job, and his principal supporter is Moktada al-Sadr, a rebellious cleric whose Mahdi Army militia has resorted to violence many times to enforce his wishes. [complete article]

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Zarqawi 'replaced at head of Iraq resistance'
AFP (via Ninemsn), April 3, 2006

Iraq's resistance has replaced Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as political head of the rebels, confining him to a military role, the son of Osama bin Laden's mentor has said.

"The Iraqi resistance's high command asked Zarqawi to give up his political role and replaced him with an Iraqi, because of several mistakes he made," said Hudayf Azzam, who claims close contacts with the rebels.

"Zarqawi's role has been limited to military action," said Azzam, whose late father Abdullah Azzam was the mentor of bin Laden, the Al-Qaeda boss. [complete article]

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The end of Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn, London Review of Books, April 6, 2006

The differences between Shia and Kurd explain why Iraq still doesn't have a new government three months after last December's elections. The current government is the one that took office in January 2005; based on a Kurdish-Shia alliance, it's headed by Ibrahim al-Jaafari of the Shia Dawa Party. Over the past year, Kurdish leaders have come to detest him and are refusing to agree to a new government with him at its head. They were enraged when he made a surprise visit to Turkey in early March in order (they feared) to enlist Turkish support in his bid to rob them of their quasi-independence within Iraq. Above all, the Kurdish leaders fear that Jaafari is manoeuvring to avoid implementing an agreement under which they would gain permanent control of the oil province of Kirkuk, which they captured at the start of the war.

Kirkuk, beneath which lie ten billion barrels of oil reserves, is a prize well worth fighting for. It is also, even by Iraqi standards, a depressing and dangerous city. It sits on the plain 150 miles north of Baghdad, overlooked by a citadel whose ancient houses were wrecked by Saddam Hussein after the failed Kurdish uprising of 1991. There are heaps of rubbish everywhere. Despite the oil reserves, there are mile-long queues of vehicles waiting to get petrol. Shops are small and mean. In the centre of the city a cluster of dilapidated market stalls sell fruit and bread. 'Kirkuk is a ruin, it is the most ruined city in Iraq,' a Kurdish official said, with bitter pride, as we drove through the city. Over the past fifty years the Kurds have been systematically expelled from Kirkuk. After 1991, a full-scale programme of ethnic cleansing began: between 120,000 and 200,000 Kurds and Turkomans were forced from their homes by Saddam. Almost all the small towns and villages in the province were bulldozed to reduce the Kurdish population and to prevent the buildings being used by guerrillas. The Iraqi constitution, along with the Shia-Kurdish agreement, promised to remove Arab settlers and return Kurds to Kirkuk. Grim place though it is, undisputed possession of the province and its oilfields is vital to the Kurds if they are to get close to self-determination.

Under the new constitution, the fate of Kirkuk will be decided by 31 December 2007. If Kirkuk joins the Kurdish region, the Kurds will have first rights to new oil discoveries. Saddam had not only denied them a share in oil revenues: any Kurd found working in the oil industry was sacked. 'Of the 9000 employees working for the Northern Oil Company in 2003, only 18 were Kurds, and they were mostly servants,' said Rezgar Ali Hamajan, the chief of Kirkuk's provincial council. Now the Kurds are intent on having their own oil. Given that the need to share oil income is almost the only thing holding Iraq together, the secession of Kirkuk to join the Kurdish Regional Government could be the decisive moment in the dissolution of the country. [complete article]

Comment -- Iraq's descent into civil war seems locked in a future tense. To those who say that the brink has yet to be crossed, the situation must appear like a validation of Zeno's paradox. Apparently, however close to the brink the country edges, it can still move one inch closer yet somehow avoid crossing that ominous threshold.

The threshold, however, is in truth not the threshold of civil war - the only question about that is when it was crossed; not whether it has begun. The "civil war" that vexes Washington is not the one raging in Iraq; it is instead an unambiguous and highly symbolic marker: it stands on the wrong side of the dividing line between success and failure. If and when the administration finally concedes that Iraq has entered a civil war, the political debate will suddenly be reduced to a single issue: how does the U.S. pull out? For as long as that debate is postponed, civil war will remain an actuality disguised as a possibility.

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Civilians in Iraq flee mixed areas as attacks shift
By Edward Wong and Kirk Semple, New York Times, April 2, 2006

The Iraqi public's reaction to the violence has been dramatic. Since the shrine bombing, 30,000 to 36,000 Iraqis have fled their homes because of sectarian violence or fear of reprisals, say officials at the International Organization for Migration, based in Geneva. The Iraqi Ministry of Displacement and Migration estimated that at least 5,500 families have moved, with the biggest group being 1,250 families settling in the Shiite holy city of Najaf after leaving Baghdad and Sunni-dominated towns in central Iraq. The families are living with relatives or in abandoned buildings, and a crisis of food and water shortages is starting to build, officials say.

"We lived in Latifiya for 30 years," said Abu Hussein al-Ramahi, a Shiite farmer with a family of seven, referring to a village south of Baghdad that is a stronghold of the Sunni Arab insurgency. "But a month ago, two armed people with masks on their faces said if I stayed in this area, my family and I would no longer remain alive. They shot bullets near my feet. I went back home immediately and we left the area early next morning for Najaf." Mr. Ramahi's family and other migrants are now squatting in a derelict hotel in the holy city.

"It's almost a creeping polarization of Iraq along ethnic and sectarian lines," said Anthony H. Cordesman, a military expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In the chaos, he said, "We see a slow, steady loss of confidence, a growing process of distrust which you see day by day as people at the political level bicker. Everything has become sectarian and ethnic." [complete article]

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Shiites call on premier to quit
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2006

Prominent Shiite politicians deserted beleaguered Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari on Saturday and revealed that they had started looking for a less polarizing figure who could help overcome differences blocking the formation of a unity government. [complete article]

U.S. and U.K. forces establish 'enduring bases' in Iraq
By Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, April 2, 2006

The Pentagon has revealed that coalition forces are spending millions of dollars establishing at least six "enduring" bases in Iraq - raising the prospect that US and UK forces could be involved in a long-term deployment in the country. It said it assumed British troops would operate one of the bases. [complete article]

Iraq terror backlash in U.K. 'for years'
By David Leppard, The Sunday Times, April 2, 2006

Spy chiefs have warned Tony Blair that the war in Iraq has made Britain the target of a terror campaign by Al-Qaeda that will last "for many years to come." A leaked top-secret memo from the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) says the war in Iraq has "exacerbated" the threat by radicalising British Muslims and attracting new recruits to anti-western terror attacks. The four-page memo, entitled International Terrorism: Impact of Iraq, contradicts Blair's public assurances by concluding that the invasion of Iraq has fomented a jihad or holy war against Britain. [complete article]

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Surviving is also part of the job
By John F. Burns, New York Times, April 2, 2006

For Western reporters who cover the war in Iraq, the television images of Jill Carroll after she was freed by her captors in Baghdad evoked an array of feelings. There was relief, of course, that the 28-year-old freelancer for The Christian Science Monitor was safe, after 83 days as a hostage.

It was a moment, too, for reflection of a more autobiographical kind, on the hazards Ms. Carroll survived, which so many other kidnapping victims in Iraq have not. Where Ms. Carroll had been, to the edge of oblivion, is a place carved into the psyche of every reporter in Iraq. [complete article]

See also, Hostage (Phil Sands).

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Bringing back the wounded with heart, soul and surgery
By David Zucchino, Los Angeles Times, April 2, 2006

After three years of war, the military has honed a highly efficient lifesaving process that moves the wounded swiftly from the battlefield to emergency surgery in the combat zone, and on to military hospitals in Germany and the U.S. The approximately 17,400 troops wounded since March 2003 have been swept up in a medical effort unmatched in any previous war. [complete article]

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Attacking Iran may trigger terrorism
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, April 2, 2006

As tensions increase between the United States and Iran, U.S. intelligence and terrorism experts say they believe Iran would respond to U.S. military strikes on its nuclear sites by deploying its intelligence operatives and Hezbollah teams to carry out terrorist attacks worldwide.

Iran would mount attacks against U.S. targets inside Iraq, where Iranian intelligence agents are already plentiful, predicted these experts. There is also a growing consensus that Iran's agents would target civilians in the United States, Europe and elsewhere, they said.

U.S. officials would not discuss what evidence they have indicating Iran would undertake terrorist action, but the matter "is consuming a lot of time" throughout the U.S. intelligence apparatus, one senior official said. "It's a huge issue," another said. [complete article]

See also, British government in secret talks about strike against Iran (Sunday Telegraph) and Iran: Options for a face-saving solution (Asia Times).

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Afghanistan: The long road ahead
By Richard Holbrooke, Washington Post, April 2, 2006

In a region of Pakistan almost unknown to most Americans, a sort of failed ministate offering sanctuary to our greatest enemies has arisen. It is a smaller version of what Afghanistan was before Sept. 11, 2001, and it poses a direct threat to vital American national security interests.

Waziristan and North-West Frontier Province, where Osama bin Laden and the Taliban leader Mullah Omar are hiding, have become a major sanctuary in which the Taliban and al-Qaeda train, recruit, rest and prepare for the next attacks on U.S., NATO and Afghan forces inside Afghanistan. The most recent, on March 29, resulted in the deaths of one American and one Canadian soldier. More attacks must be expected.

For the United States, the dilemma is huge. There is no chance that the training of the Afghan army and police will produce a force able to defend itself as long as the Taliban has sanctuary in Pakistan. Other than "hot pursuit," which is already permitted, the United States cannot invade Waziristan; such an operation would have little chance of success and would create an enormous crisis in U.S. relations with Pakistan. Leave Afghanistan, and the Taliban will return, along with bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The only viable choice is to stay, in order to deny most of the country to the enemy. That means an indefinite U.S. and NATO military presence in Afghanistan. No U.S.official will say it publicly, but the conclusion is clear: We will be in Afghanistan for a very long time, much longer than we will remain in Iraq. [complete article]

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Hamas leader urges int'l community to respect Palestinian people's choice
Xinhua, April 1, 2006

New Palestinian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mahmoud al-Zahar urged the international community on Saturday to respect the Palestinian people's choice in electing the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in the January legislative ballot.

Al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader who was sworn in as the new Palestinian top diplomat on Wednesday, also called upon the international community in an exclusive interview with Xinhua to give the Hamas cabinet a chance to show it was "clean and transparent."

He also said that the United States should abandon its long-time partial policy that favors Israel and should not act in a hurry to pressure the new Hamas government politically and economically. [complete article]

See also, A just peace or no peace (Ismail Haniyeh).

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The hyperpower hype and where it took us
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, April 2, 2006

Just last week, a jury began to deliberate on the fate of Zacarias Moussaoui, who may or may not have been the missing 20th hijacker in the September 11th attacks. At the same time, newly released recordings of 911 operators responding to calls from those about to die that day in the two towers were splashed across front pages nationwide. ("All I can tell you to do is sit tight. All right? Because I got almost every fireman in the city coming…")

Over four and a half years later, September 11, 2001 won't go away. And little wonder. It remains the defining moment in our recent lives, the moment that turned us from a country into a "homeland." With Iraq in a state of ever-devolving deconstruction, the President's and Vice President's polling figures in tatters, Karl Rove (Bush's "brain") again threatened with indictment, the Republican Party in disarray, and New Orleans as well as the Mississippi coast still largely unreconstructed ruins, perhaps it's worth revisiting just what exactly was defined in that moment. [complete article]

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How the GOP became God's own party
By Kevin Phillips, Washington Post, April 2, 2006

Now that the GOP has been transformed by the rise of the South, the trauma of terrorism and George W. Bush's conviction that God wanted him to be president, a deeper conclusion can be drawn: The Republican Party has become the first religious party in U.S. history.

We have had small-scale theocracies in North America before -- in Puritan New England and later in Mormon Utah. Today, a leading power such as the United States approaches theocracy when it meets the conditions currently on display: an elected leader who believes himself to speak for the Almighty, a ruling political party that represents religious true believers, the certainty of many Republican voters that government should be guided by religion and, on top of it all, a White House that adopts agendas seemingly animated by biblical worldviews.

Indeed, there is a potent change taking place in this country's domestic and foreign policy, driven by religion's new political prowess and its role in projecting military power in the Mideast. [complete article]

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Accountability office finds itself accused
By William J. Broad, New York Times, April 2, 2006

A senior Congressional investigator has accused his agency of covering up a scientific fraud among builders of a $26 billion system meant to shield the nation from nuclear attack. The disputed weapon is the centerpiece of the Bush administration's antimissile plan, which is expected to cost more than $250 billion over the next two decades.

The investigator, Subrata Ghoshroy of the Government Accountability Office, led technical analyses of a prototype warhead for the antimissile weapon in an 18-month study, winning awards for his "great care" and "tremendous skill and patience."

Mr. Ghoshroy now says his agency ignored evidence that the two main contractors had doctored data, skewed test results and made false statements in a 2002 report that credited the contractors with revealing the warhead's failings to the government.

The agency strongly denied his accusations, insisting that its antimissile report was impartial and that it was right to exonerate the contractors of a coverup. [complete article]

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Courted as spies, held as combatants
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, April 2, 2006

As they tried to board a flight at Gatwick Airport in November 2002, three Arab residents of Britain were pulled aside by security agents. Police had questions about their luggage and ties to a radical Islamic cleric. After four days in custody, the men were cleared of suspicion and resumed their trip.

But British intelligence officials weren't ready to drop their interest in the men. Before the three flew out of the country, the MI5 security service sent cables to a "foreign intelligence agency," according to court testimony and newly declassified MI5 documents, calling the men Islamic extremists and disclosing their destination: Gambia, a tiny West African country.

When they arrived on Nov. 8, they were detained by Gambian and U.S. intelligence operatives, who interrogated them again, this time for a month, British and U.S. documents show. Then two of the men, Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, disappeared into the netherworld of the U.S. government's battle against terrorism, taken first to a prison in Afghanistan, then to the Naval detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

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

How to lose the 'war on terror' (Part 1): Talking with the 'terrorists'
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, March 31, 2006

How to lose the 'war on terror' (Part 2): Handing victory to the extremists
By Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, Asia Times, April 1, 2006

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

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

Historical sensitivity and judicious diplomacy needed to steer Iran in right direction
By Charles A. Kupchan and Ray Takeyh, International Herald Tribune, March 30, 2006

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

Insulating Bush - keeping the wraps on a potentially damaging memo
By Murray Waas, National Journal, March 30, 2006

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

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

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

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