The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Rumsfeld potentially liable for torture
Human Rights Watch, April 14, 2006

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld could be criminally liable for the torture of a detainee at Guantanamo Bay in late 2002 and early 2003, Human Rights Watch said today.

A December 20, 2005 Army Inspector General's report, obtained by this week, contains a sworn statement by Lt. Gen. Randall M. Schmidt that implicates Secretary Rumsfeld in the abuse of detainee Mohammad al-Qahtani. Based on an investigation that he carried out in early 2005, which included two interviews with Rumsfeld, Gen. Schmidt describes the defense secretary as being "personally involved" in al-Qahtani's interrogation.

Human Rights Watch urges the United States to name a special prosecutor to investigate the culpability of Rumsfeld and others in the al-Qahtani case.

"The question at this point is not whether Secretary Rumsfeld should resign, it's whether he should be indicted," said Joanne Mariner, Terrorism and Counterterrorism Program director at Human Rights Watch. "General Schmidt's sworn statement suggests that Rumsfeld may have been perfectly aware of the abuses inflicted on al-Qahtani." [complete article]

See also, What Rumsfeld knew (Salon).

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Tehran mocks U.S. ability to win military action
By Stefan Smith, AFP (via Washington Times), April 15, 2006

Iran boasted yesterday it could defeat any American military action over its nuclear drive, in one of the Islamic regime's boldest challenges yet to the United States.

"You can start a war but it won't be you who finishes it," said Gen. Yahya Rahim Safavi, the head of the Revolutionary Guards and among the regime's most powerful figures.

"The Americans know better than anyone that their troops in the region and in Iraq are vulnerable. I would advise them not to commit such a strategic error," he told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in Tehran.

"I would advise them to first get out of their quagmire in Iraq before getting into an even bigger one," Gen. Safavi said with a grin. [complete article]

See also, There's little agreement on what to do about Iran (KR).

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Despite denials, U.S. plans for Iran war
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, April 13, 2006

The U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has been conducting theater campaign analysis for a full scale war with Iran since at least May 2003, responding to Pentagon directions to prepare for potential operations in the "near term."

The campaign analysis, called TIRANNT, for "theater Iran near term," posits an Iraq-like maneuver war between U.S. and Iranian ground forces and incorporates lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom.

In addition to the TIRANNT effort and the Marine Corps Karona invasion scenario I discussed yesterday, the military has also completed an analysis of Iran's missile force (the "BMD-I" study), the Defense Intelligence Agency has updated "threat data" for Iranian forces, and Air Force planners have modeled attacks against "real world" Iranian air defenses and targets to establish new metrics. What is more, the United States and Britain have been conducting war games and contingency planning under a Caspian Sea scenario that could also pave the way for northern operations against Iran. [complete article]

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On the ground, it's a civil war
By Aamer Madhani, Chicago Tribune (via Newsday), April 14, 2006

The conflict in Iraq is not marked by front lines or raging battles between warring Iraqi factions. There is no Green Line separating sectarian militias, as in Beirut in the 1970s and 1980s, nor are there clearly defined armies and commanders. But by any measure, Iraqis will tell you that their country is embroiled in what amounts to civil war.

Since the Feb. 22 bombing of the al-Askari mosque, a Shiite shrine in the city of Samarra, waves of suicide bombers have struck other Shiite targets, killing hundreds of civilians. They have been followed by reprisals in the forms of assassinations and kidnappings, with hundreds of Sunni Muslims bound, gagged and shot in the head across Baghdad and surrounding towns.

"We are losing each day, as an average, 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more," former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi told the British Broadcasting Corp. last month. "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is." [complete article]

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Unlikely candidate for car bomber
By H.G. Reza, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2006

A hand chained to a steering wheel revealed fingerprints that identified [Raed Mansour Albanna] as the bomber. It was the only body part that remained.

While the unlikely background of the bomber was made public in media accounts, recent interviews offer a clearer view of how Albanna's initial anguish over the 2001 terrorist attacks seemed to degenerate to a deep anger and frustration.

At the time of the bombing, Albanna's friends in Southern California found it unthinkable that a man who had embraced the United States with such gusto would trigger such carnage in the name of Al Qaeda. [complete article]

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Dust bowl uncertainty grows in Iraq
By Doug Smith and Raheem Salman, Los Angeles Times, April 15, 2006

Three years after the invasion, Iraq still imports about three-quarters of the wheat its population consumes, said Jamil Dabagh, economist for the Ministry of Agriculture.

The agricultural decline began under the centrally controlled economic system of Saddam Hussein's Baath regime. Neglect of the intricate system of irrigation canals that crisscross Iraq aggravated centuries-old problems with salt buildup and poor drainage. As the land deteriorated, free fertilizer and guaranteed prices kept farms going, Dabagh said.

Yet agriculture, which has provided the primary means of support for more than a third of Iraq's population, was an afterthought in U.S. rebuilding efforts, which concentrated on oil, electricity and municipal water systems. [complete article]

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Top generals in Israel warn Gaza invasion is possible
By John Kifner, New York Times, April 15, 2006

Israeli generals threatened Friday to re-invade the Gaza Strip if Palestinian rocket attacks continued, keeping up a war of words and weapons even as Jews, Muslims and Christians celebrated their holy days.

"I do not rule out ground operations if requested by the southern command of Israel," the army deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Moshe Kaplinski, told the nation's biggest selling daily, Yediot Aharonot, in one of a spate of bellicose interviews in weekend newspapers. "If the time comes, we will launch them."

As thousands of Palestinians rallied after Friday Prayer to protest Israeli shelling and the cutoff of international aid, the new Hamas leadership was no less adamant. [complete article]

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41 Taliban killed in intense fighting
AP (via NYT), April 15, 2006

Afghan security forces backed by coalition helicopters attacked a suspected Taliban hideout in southern Afghanistan, setting off an intense gunbattle that killed 41 rebels, a provincial governor said Saturday.

Six Afghan police officers also died in Friday's fighting in Sangisar, a town 25 miles southwest of Kandahar, said Asadullah Khalid, the provincial governor. Nine police and several militants were wounded. [complete article]

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U.S. ban on Tariq Ramadan still a puzzle
By Julia Preston, New York Times, April 15, 2006

U.S. government lawyers clarified some mysteries and deepened others in the case of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss Muslim scholar and leading European theologian of Islam who has been barred by the Bush administration from traveling to the United States since July 2004.

Papers the government presented at a court hearing Thursday in New York revealed that, contrary to officials' statements, a clause in the Patriot Act that bans any foreigner who "endorses or espouses terrorist activity" was not the reason Ramadan's U.S. visa had been revoked. The government said it did not intend to bar Ramadan in the future based on that clause.

But the government also said that Ramadan's case remained a national security matter and that statements he had made in recent interviews with U.S. consular officials in Switzerland had raised new questions about whether he should be allowed to enter the United States.

Neither the government's documents nor its lawyer, David Jones, explained why Ramadan had been banned or provided any detail about the administration's new concerns in his case. [complete article]

See also, ACLU urges federal court to lift ban blocking Muslim scholar from United States (ACLU).

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Back to the future: the cartoons, liberalism, and global Islam
By Faisal Devji, Open Democracy, April 13, 2006

Muslim protests over the caricatures of Muhammad published in Jyllands-Posten did not pose any threat to the freedom of expression in liberal democracies. They presented a challenge to liberal democracy itself as a political form that is being made parochial within a new global arena. And if this challenge by no means spells the doom of nation-states, it does force them into new shapes that put liberalism's premises and foundations into question. What could be more indicative of this than the erosion of civil liberties in such states as part of the global war on terror? Liberal democracies today are increasingly shot through with new global vectors, running the gamut from immigrants to multinational corporations. Islam provides only one, though perhaps the most interesting one, of these vectors.

While Islam is certainly not the only global movement around, nor the only one to issue challenges to liberal democracy, its geopolitical situation has made of this populous religion the most volatile phenomenon of our times. Islam's globalisation is possible because it is anchored neither in an institutionalised religious authority like a church, nor in an institutionalised political authority like a state. Indeed it is the continuing fragmentation and thus democratisation of authority in the world of Islam that might account for the militancy of its globalisation. [complete article]

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One more job for immigrants
By Rosa Brooks, Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2006

Over the last few weeks, it's become obvious that the immigrant community is seriously out of the American cultural mainstream.

Mainstream Americans don't go in for protest marches anymore (mass protests are so '60s). But demonstrating a mind-boggling degree of cultural obtuseness, hundreds of thousands of immigrants turned out for nationwide rallies opposing the punitive Republican-sponsored immigration bill passed by the House in December.

Maybe it's a language problem. This nation's immigrant communities must have taken literally those lines in the Constitution about the right to assemble peaceably and petition the government for the redress of grievances.

Whatever. Real Americans -- that is, those of us whose immigrant ancestors made it to the United States more than a generation or two ago -- gave up on that sort of foolishness long ago. (The Bill of Rights is so 1791.)

When we Americans have a grievance we want redressed, we don't assemble. Assembling en masse is a sweaty, fatiguing enterprise requiring the purchase of lots of poster board and the occasional use of Porta Potties. Yuck.

Instead, real Americans sulk and whine. What's more, because we take pride in individualism, we mostly do our whining and sulking alone. As a result, even when we're really, really mad at our government, an outside observer would be hard-pressed to notice. [complete article]

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More say U.S. focus should be home
By Susan Page and David Jackson, USA Today, April 14, 2006

Americans, anxious about the costs of the Iraq war and the impact of a global economy, are increasingly wary of engagement in the world.

In a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll, nearly half of those surveyed said the United States "should mind its own business internationally and let other countries get along as best they can on their own." Three years ago, just one-third felt that way.

"There seems to be a turning inward across the American spectrum," says Charles Kupchan, a former State Department and National Security Council aide who now teaches at Georgetown University. He calls it "an inevitable consequence of Iraq." [complete article]

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More retired generals call for Rumsfeld's resignation
By David S. Cloud and Eric Schmitt, New York Times, April 14, 2006

The widening circle of retired generals who have stepped forward to call for Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's resignation is shaping up as an unusual outcry that could pose a significant challenge to Mr. Rumsfeld's leadership, current and former generals said on Thursday. [complete article]

Replace Rumsfeld
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, April 14, 2006

With luck, Iraq will make a fresh start soon with the formation of a new government. The Bush administration should do the same thing by replacing Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary.

Rumsfeld has lost the support of the uniformed military officers who work for him. Make no mistake: The retired generals who are speaking out against Rumsfeld in interviews and op-ed pieces express the views of hundreds of other officers on active duty. When I recently asked an Army officer with extensive Iraq combat experience how many of his colleagues wanted Rumsfeld out, he guessed 75 percent. Based on my own conversations with senior officers over the past three years, I suspect that figure may be low. [complete article]

See also, White House defends Rumsfeld's tenure (WP).

Comment -- If Rumsfeld steps down, I have little doubt it'll be his choice rather than a push from above. But those in the White House, always keen to pick up the scent of an opportunity, might seize on the idea that if they want to sabotage Sen. John McCain's chances of becoming a GOP presidential nominee, there'd be no better way than by locking him in the Pentagon.

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Neocons turn up heat for Iran attack
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via, April 14, 2006

Led by a familiar clutch of neoconservative hawks, major right-wing publications are calling on the administration of President George W. Bush to urgently plan for military strikes -- and possibly a wider war -- against Iran in the wake of its announcement this week that it has successfully enriched uranium to a purity necessary to fuel nuclear reactors.

In a veritable blitz of editorials and opinion pieces published Wednesday and Thursday, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, and National Review warned that Tehran had passed a significant benchmark in what they declared was its quest for nuclear weapons and that the administration must now plan in earnest to destroy Iran's known nuclear facilities, as well as possible military targets, to prevent it from retaliating.

Comparing Iran's alleged push to gain a nuclear weapon to Adolf Hitler's 1936 march on the Rhineland, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol called for undertaking "serious preparation for possible military action -- including real and urgent operational planning for bombing strikes and for the consequences of such strikes." [complete article]

See also, Meeting yields no progress on curbing Iran nuclear bid (NYT) Russian nuclear chief says Iran far from industrial-scale uranium enrichment (AP), Behind Bush's hard line on Iran (CSM), and Work through the NPT to address concerns about Iranian nukes (Helena Cobban).

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Down a dangerous road
By David Hirst, Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2006

Ever since the U.S. invasion, Arab commentators, alarmed at where Iraq is headed, have searched for parallels -- in Vietnam, Somalia, Algeria, Cyprus, the Balkans -- but their favorite by far is Lebanon. And when they forecast the "Lebanonization" of Iraq, they also, as an almost automatic corollary, consider its implications for the entire Arab world. For it is all but axiomatic: Fire in one Arab country is liable to spread elsewhere.

In the end, the Lebanese fire didn't spread; it was contained, instead, and ultimately extinguished by the Arab League with help from the rest of the world.

But will we be so lucky again, in the case of so weighty and pivotal a country as Iraq?

"Iraq," wrote Ghassan Charbel in the pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat, "resides in the Arabs' very conscience and in their calculations for the future. Its very veins are interlinked with the Arabs'. Its pains and hopes cross borders on the map. Many factors prevent Iraq from being able to commit suicide on its own."

Lebanon didn't spread, in part, because it was not a typical Arab state. In its main axis, the Lebanese civil war was fought between traditionally militant Maronite Christians and other sects in turn -- Sunnis, Druzes, Shiites. But there are so few Christians (and hardly any Maronites) in the Arab world at large that it was never going to trigger a similar confrontation there.

By contrast, both in its ruling system and the identity of the protagonists, Iraq is -- or was -- far more representative of the wider Arab world. Saddam Hussein was the very model of the Arab tyrant, with sectarianism, in the shape of Sunni domination, as his chief instrument. At bloody loggerheads with itself, Iraq would become the model of Arab anarchy, embodying the two most disruptive, retrogressive yet popularly mobilizing forces in the Middle East today — sectarianism and ideologically driven Islamism. [complete article]

See also, Sunnis allege more deaths, abductions (LAT), 17 Iraqi officers are killed in ambush of police convoy (WP), and Iran's man in Iraq: "We do not take orders from the Americans" (Time).

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Hamas 'willing' to recognise Israel
By Khalid Amayreh, Aljazeera, April 12, 2006

The Hamas-led Palestinian government is willing to recognise Israel if the latter withdraws fully from West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, Al Jazeera. net has reliably learnt.

Sources close to Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister, described the Hamas decision as a "significant change in policy".

"What it means is that the Palestinian government is willing to recognise Israel if Israel met certain conditions, including a complete withdrawal from the territories Israel occupied in 1967," a source told Al on Wednesday. [complete article]
See also, Rival armed factions seizing pieces of Gaza (CSM).

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Terrorism and delusion
By Fred Halliday, Open Democracy, April 12, 2006

An undeserved benefactor of 9/11 and all that has followed has been the "terrorism industry" -- the group of experts from universities, government and policy institutes who combine entirely legitimate and necessary comment and analysis of events with the far more dubious claim of specialist understanding derived from the study of terrorism itself.

The flaw in this claim is that those who advance it too often focus on terror as an entity or a movement in itself, usually in abstraction from the historical, political or social context of the violent events under scrutiny. Further, they tend to have little or no regard for the fact that if the use of terror for political purposes is the subject of analysis, then it must on any explanatory or moral grounds also include the use of terror by states. [complete article]

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A history of the car bomb (Part 2)
By Mike Davis, TomDispatch, April 14, 2006

"The CIA officers that Yousef worked with closely impressed upon him one rule: never use the terms sabotage or assassination when speaking with visiting congressmen."

-- Steve Coll, Ghost Wars

Gunboat diplomacy had been defeated by car bombs in Lebanon, but the Reagan administration and, above all, CIA Director William Casey were left thirsting for revenge against Hezbollah. "Finally in 1985," according to the Washington Post's Bob Woodward in Veil, his book on Casey's career, "he worked out with the Saudis a plan to use a car bomb to kill [Hezbollah leader] Sheikh Fadlallah who they determined was one of the people behind, not only the Marine barracks, but was involved in the taking of American hostages in Beirut... It was Casey on his own, saying, 'I'm going to solve the big problem by essentially getting tougher or as tough as the terrorists in using their weapon -- the car bomb.'" [complete article]

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Will Iraq follow Lebanon's path to war?
By Sam F.Ghattas, AP (via Newsday), April 12, 2006

It started gradually -- an assassination, then a bus ambush. Slowly, gunmen took to the streets and sporadic fighting erupted.

Then the tit-for-tat kidnappings broke out, and the "liquidations" and the car bombs. Those lucky enough to survive quickly picked up and moved -- to another part of town or away altogether.

For many months starting in the spring of 1975, the citizens of Beirut did not know for sure if they were living through a civil war or just something that was awful but would -- they hoped -- end soon. But then the government split. The army disintegrated, businesses were looted and hotels sacked. Armed militias took over.

In the end, Lebanon's civil lasted 15 years. When the fighting between Muslims and Christians and among those groups themselves finally ended in 1990, the toll was colossal: 150,000 people killed, about half a million wounded and nearly a similar number displaced. One quarter of the population, or about 900,000 people, had left the tiny Arab country. [complete article]

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Iraq unrest forces 65,000 to flee
By Andrew North, BBC news, April 13, 2006

At least 65,000 Iraqis have fled their homes as a result of sectarian violence and intimidation, according to new figures from the Iraqi government.

And the rate at which Iraqis are being displaced is increasing.

Figures given to the BBC by the Ministry for Displacement and Migration show a doubling in the last two weeks of the number of Iraqis forced to move. [complete article]

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Retired generals speak out to oppose Rumsfeld
By Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, April 14, 2006

A growing number of retired generals are publicly opposing US conduct of the war in Iraq, breaking a decades-old tradition of not criticizing ongoing military operations.

The focus of their ire: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Four generals have called for his resignation, saying he ignored military advice and made key strategic mistakes.

The Pentagon needs a fresh start, retired Army Maj. Gen. John Batiste said in several interviews Thursday. "We need a leader who understands teamwork, a leader who knows how to build teams, a leader that does it without intimidation," he told CNN. [complete article]

See also, The revolt against Rumsfeld (Fred Kaplan), Gen. Riggs joins in calling for Rumsfeld to quit (NPR), and Rumsfeld's management style(Pamela Hess).

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White House decries report on Iraqi trailers
By Joby Warrick, Washington Post, April 13, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday denounced a Washington Post report that questioned the handling of postwar intelligence on alleged Iraqi biological weapons labs. A White House spokesman acknowledged that President Bush's assertions about the suspected labs were in error but said this was caused by flawed intelligence work rather than an effort to mislead.

Bush press secretary Scott McClellan criticized the article as "reckless" for what he said was an "impression" that Bush had knowingly misled the American public about the two Iraqi trailers seized by U.S. and Kurdish fighters weeks after the Iraqi invasion began. On May 29, 2003, Bush described the trailers in a television interview as "biological laboratories" and said, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction." [complete article]

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Pressure on Shiites is giving the U.S. new ally in Sunnis
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, April 13, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's trip here this month to pressure Iraqi leaders to form a new government sparked a slew of familiar complaints about U.S. meddling in Iraqi affairs.

One party official described the visit as "manipulation" that cheated the politicians out of exercising their newly won democratic rights.

The spokesman for an influential cleric called her presence "unwelcome" and accused her of "suspicious intentions."

Less familiar, however, was the source of the charges: Iraq's Shiite Muslim leaders, close U.S. allies since the 2003 invasion. Meanwhile, Sunni Arab politicians, some of whom dined with Rice on her only night in Baghdad, made a point of thanking her and Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad for what they called their newfound evenhandedness. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi forces fail to recruit Sunnis (Boston Globe).

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Jill Carroll middle man says kidnappers demanded $8 million
ABC News, April 12, 2006

The man behind Jill Carroll's release tells ABC News in an exclusive interview that kidnapping the American journalist was a mistake. Sheikh Sattam al-Gaaod reveals what it took to free her — and why he supports the resistance.

Al-Gaaod was one of three people specifically thanked by Carroll's family after her release.

"They are defending their country," he said in an interview at his summer house outside Amman, Jordan. "They are an honest resistance. And sometimes they do mistakes."

One mistake, he said, was kidnapping Carroll. Al-Gaaod said he used his influence to help free her, even refusing kidnappers' demands for a huge ransom. [complete article]

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Amid border shelling, Palestinian rifts show
By John Kifner, New York Times, April 12, 2006

A deadly, uneven artillery duel across the northern border of the Gaza Strip has been raging for the past few days with a murky political subtext, and 16 Palestinians have been killed.

Since the Hamas government took office a little more than a week ago, Israeli officials say, there has been an increase in the number of homemade Qassam rockets fired from the northern Gaza Strip into Israel.

But in Gaza it is clear that the rockets are being launched not by Hamas, but by militants from factions associated with the once dominant Fatah organization - the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade and the Abu Rish Brigade - and the Popular Resistance Committees, an amalgam of gunmen that does include some Hamas adherents and Islamic Jihad. [complete article]

See also, Palestinians feel pinch (CSM).

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Data leaks persist from Afghan base
By Paul Watson, Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2006

A computer drive sold openly Wednesday at a bazaar outside the U.S. air base here holds what appears to be a trove of potentially sensitive American intelligence data, including the names, photographs and telephone numbers of Afghan spies informing on the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

The flash memory drive, which a teenager sold for $40, holds scores of military documents marked "secret," describing intelligence-gathering methods and information -- including escape routes into Pakistan and the location of a suspected safe house there, and the payment of $50 bounties for each Taliban or Al Qaeda fighter apprehended based on the source's intelligence. [complete article]

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New attacks foment fear in Afghanistan
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, April 13, 2006

A spate of terrorist attacks, from the murders of five medical workers in Badghis province in the north to bombings in the opium poppy region of Helmand in the south, is expanding a climate of insecurity across Afghanistan as NATO forces prepare to take over most military duties from the U.S.-led coalition.

Afghan officials vaguely blame the attacks on "enemies of Afghanistan" and denounce neighboring Pakistan for harboring Islamic insurgents bent on destroying this fragile new democracy. The reinvigorated Taliban militia, for its part, has vowed to wage a bloody spring and summer offensive against the Afghan state.

But a variety of foreign analysts and military officials here offer a different explanation: a vast canvas of weakly governed and unprotected territory in which drug traffickers, feuding tribesmen and opportunistic criminals -- as well as Taliban gunmen on motorbikes and mysterious suicide bombers -- operate with increasing ease, despite the presence of tens of thousands of foreign troops in the country. [complete article]

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Political Islam's opportunity in Jordan
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, April 13, 2006

In line with the speedy evolution in three nearby countries, Islam as a political force is moving to center stage in Jordan, where the government is a cooperative U.S. ally but where Muslim activists are cool both to Washington and Israel.

The path to greater influence and perhaps dominant political power may be through municipal elections that are supposed to take place this year and balloting for parliament in 2007, independent political observers say. However, rules for each vote have yet to be set, and the conditions will go a long way in revealing how quickly the country's ruler, King Abdullah, is willing to democratize in the face of the Islamic surge.

On Sunday, police briefly detained dozens of activists from Jordan's only legal Muslim party, the Islamic Action Front, who were handing out leaflets to protest rising fuel prices. The leaflets called for shops to close, but the response was negligible. [complete article]

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America's secret police?
By Mark Hosenball, Newsweek, April 13, 2006

A threatened turf grab by a controversial Pentagon intelligence unit is causing concern among both privacy experts and some of the Defense Department's own personnel.

An informal panel of senior Pentagon officials has been holding a series of unannounced private meetings during the past several weeks about how to proceed with a possible merger between the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), a post-9/11 Pentagon creation that has been accused of domestic spying, and the Defense Security Service (DSS), a well-established older agency responsible for inspecting the security arrangements of defense contractors. DSS also maintains millions of confidential files containing the results of background investigations on defense contractor' employees. [complete article]

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At trial, Flight 93 myth finally becomes reality
By Jerry Markon and Timothy Dwyer, Washington Post, April 13, 2006

It began with a muted series of thumps from a sharp knife or maybe clenched fists. The sounds were muffled but unmistakable, one body blow after another, ending with a squishy thud.

"No, no, no, no, no. No," came the high-pitched voice of a crew member or flight attendant being subdued. " ... Please, please don't hurt me," the person said later. " ... I don't want to die." The desperate plea, captured by the cockpit voice recorder of United Airlines Flight 93 on Sept. 11, 2001, was played to a transfixed jury yesterday at the death penalty trial of Zacarias Moussaoui.

A foreign-accented voice, increasingly agitated, screamed: "Down. Down. Down!" as the whacking sound continued. Then there was silence. "That's it. Go back," a hijacker said calmly. "Everything is fine. I finished." [complete article]

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Libby wasn't ordered to leak name, papers say
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, April 13, 2006

In grand jury testimony two years ago, former White House aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby did not assert that President Bush or Vice President Cheney instructed him to disclose the name of CIA officer Valerie Plame to reporters as part of an effort to rebut criticism of the Iraq war, Libby's lawyers said in a court filing late yesterday.

A court filing last week by the special federal prosecutor investigating the disclosure of Plame's identity had highlighted the fact that Bush and Cheney ordered Libby to disclose details of a previously classified intelligence report as part of an effort to rebut criticism by her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV. This disclosure provoked speculation that Bush or Cheney had instructed Libby to disclose Plame's identity.

But the lawyers asserted that White House documents outlining what Libby was to say in conversations with reporters did not mention Plame's name. They said this supports Libby's contention that he did not participate in a campaign to damage Wilson by disclosing Plame's CIA employment or in a coverup of the episode. [complete article]

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AT&T seeks to hide spy docs
By Ryan Singel, Wired, April 12, 2006

AT&T is seeking the return of technical documents presented in a lawsuit that allegedly detail how the telecom giant helped the government set up a massive internet wiretap operation in its San Francisco facilities.

In papers filed late Monday, AT&T argued that confidential technical documents provided by an ex-AT&T technician to the Electronic Frontier Foundation shouldn't be used as evidence in the case and should be returned.

The documents, which the EFF filed under a temporary seal last Wednesday, purportedly detail how AT&T diverts internet traffic to the National Security Agency via a secret room in San Francisco and allege that such rooms exist in other AT&T switching centers. [complete article]

See also, Documents show link between AT&T and agency in eavesdropping case (NYT).

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Analysts say a nuclear Iran is years away
By William J. Broad, Nazila Fathi, and Joel Brinkley, New York Times, April 13, 2006

Western nuclear analysts said yesterday that Tehran lacked the skills, materials and equipment to make good on its immediate nuclear ambitions, even as a senior Iranian official said Iran would defy international pressure and rapidly expand its ability to enrich uranium for fuel.

The official, Muhammad Saeedi, the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organization, said Iran would push quickly to put 54,000 centrifuges on line — a vast increase from the 164 the Iranians said Tuesday that they had used to enrich uranium to levels that could fuel a nuclear reactor.

Still, nuclear analysts called the claims exaggerated. They said nothing had changed to alter current estimates of when Iran might be able to make a single nuclear weapon, assuming that is its ultimate goal. The United States government has put that at 5 to 10 years, and some analysts have said it could come as late as 2020. [complete article]

Comment -- Will it take Iran 5, 10, or 15 years to acquire nuclear weapons, or, as Stephen Rademaker, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told reporters yesterday in Moscow, 16 days? Well, "16 days" doesn't mean by April 28, 2006. It means 16 days once the Iranians have 50,000 centrifuges. Iran so far has 164 centrifuges and has told the IAEA that it plans to construct 3,000 more next year. Rademaker thus went on to say, "We calculate that a 3,000-machine cascade could produce enough uranium to build a nuclear weapon within 271 days." Still, "16 days" was good for a headline.

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Armitage urges talks with Iran
By Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, April 12, 2006

Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state during President George W. Bush's first term, has urged the Bush administration to hold talks with Iran over its nuclear programme.

Mr Armitage said Washington would benefit from talking to Tehran on a range of issues, including Iran's nuclear aspirations. The Bush administration has so far resisted calls from its European allies to engage Iran directly over its alleged nuclear weapons programme.

"It merits talking to the Iranians about the full range of our relationship...everything from energy to terrorism to weapons to Iraq," Mr Armitage told the Financial Times in an interview. "We can be diplomatically astute enough to do it without giving anything away." [complete article]

See also, Iran's defiance narrows U.S. options for response (WP) and Americans have doubts about taking on Tehran(LAT).

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Nuclear 'breakthrough' may help Iran to compromise
By Tony Karon, Time, April 12, 2006

Iran's announcement that it has mastered the art of enriching uranium was greeted with a predictable chorus of alarm. But despite expressions of grave concern from Washington and London to Moscow and Beijing, Tehran's nuclear "breakthrough" doesn't necessarily diminish chances for a diplomatic solution. On the contrary, Tehran has long insisted it wants a compromise that both addresses Western concerns and upholds what it says is its "right" to enrich uranium, particularly in a research setting. The latest announcement may well give the Iranians room to show greater flexibility at the bargaining table without appearing to back down.

Iran's defiance of Western demands over its nuclear program is far more popular at home than the regime itself is. But having assured its public that Western efforts to prevent Iran from mastering the fuel cycle have failed, the Iranian leadership may have actually given itself some new room to compromise. The regime reportedly wants a compromise that accepts that Iran's nuclear reactor fuel will be enriched in Russia or elsewhere abroad, but allows it to maintain, under international scrutiny, the small research facility that completed this week's experiment. The U.S. and Europe have flatly rejected that proposal, because they had hoped to deny Iran the means of attaining even the know-how to enrich uranium for fear that this would be used in a covert bomb program. Now, Iran appears to have already achieved that milestone -- even though it remains years away from being able to manufacture its own reactor fuel on an industrial scale or create bomb material -- which could render that objection moot. [complete article]

See also, Ordinary Iranians not preoccupied with new nuclear role (KR).

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Nuclear watchdog met by wall of rhetoric on arrival in Iran
By Simon Freeman, The Times, April 13, 2006

Mohamed ElBaradei arrived in Tehran for new talks to resolve the stand-off over Iran's nuclear project today as the country pledged to advance to a new phase in uranium enrichment.

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's atomic energy guardian, said that he remained hopeful Iran could still be persuaded to suspend its research through diplomacy.

His optimism met an early setback this morning, when the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad pledged that Iran would not "retreat". [complete article]

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Iran showdown tests power of Israel Lobby
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via, April 12, 2006

One month after the publication by two of the most influential international relations scholars in the United States of a highly controversial essay on the so-called "Israel Lobby," their thesis that the lobby exercises "unmatched power" in Washington is being tested by rapidly rising tensions with Iran.

Far more visibly than any other domestic constituency, the Israel Lobby, defined by Profs. John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt, academic dean of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, as "the loose coalition of individuals and organizations who actively work to shape U.S. foreign policy in a pro-Israel direction," has pushed the government – both Congress and the George W. Bush administration – toward confrontation with Tehran.

Leading the charge has been a familiar group of neoconservatives, such as former Defense Policy Board (DPB) chairman Richard Perle and former Central Intelligence Agency director James Woolsey, who championed the war in Iraq but who have increasingly focused their energies over the past year on building support for "regime change" and, if necessary, military action against Iran if it does not abandon its nuclear program. [complete article]

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How to get out of the Iran trap
By Anatol Lieven, Washington Post, April 12, 2006

The way out of this particular trap is to accept limited Iranian uranium enrichment under strict supervision and focus instead on creating really tough and effective barriers to armament. We need to verifiably freeze Iranian enrichment and other nuclear capabilities at least 18 months short of weapons capacity. This time lag should be sufficient for the U.S. and the international community to receive sufficient warning of Iran's moves and to respond accordingly.

This approach would have a number of great advantages. It would return the U.S. and Europe to the terms of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) signed by Iran, and prevent the Iranians from claiming that they are being subjected to unfair and illegal discrimination. It would hold the Iranian government to its own repeated public statements that it is not seeking nuclear weapons. And in return for bowing to Russian and Chinese concerns about the present U.S. course, it would allow us to bind these states and the rest of the international community to impose extremely tough sanctions on Iran if that country did in fact violate this agreement and move towards armament. [complete article]

See also, The nuclear fuel cycle (BBC).

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An Iranian missile crisis?
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, April 12, 2006

The emerging confrontation between the United States and Iran is "the Cuban missile crisis in slow motion," argues Graham Allison, the Harvard University professor who wrote the classic study of President John F. Kennedy's 1962 showdown with the Soviet Union that narrowly averted nuclear war. If anything, that analogy understates the potential risks here.

President Bush tried to calm the war fever Monday, describing stories about military contingency plans for bombing Iran that appeared last weekend in The Post and the New Yorker as "wild speculation." But those stories did no more than flesh out the strategic options that might be necessary to back up the administration's public pledge, in its National Security Strategy, "to block the threats posed" by Iran and its nuclear program.

The administration insists that it wants diplomacy to do the preemption, even as its military planners are studying how to take out Iran's nuclear facilities if diplomacy should fail. Iran, meanwhile, is pursuing its own version of preemption, announcing yesterday that it has begun enriching uranium -- a crucial first step toward making a bomb. Neither side wants war -- who in his right mind would? -- but both frame choices in ways that make war increasingly likely. [complete article]

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The human costs of bombing Iran
By Matthew Rothschild, The Progressive, April 11, 2006

George Bush didn't exactly deny Seymour Hersh's report in The New Yorker that the Administration is considering using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.

Neither did Scott McClellan.

Bush called it "wild speculation," and McClellan said the United States would go ahead with "normal military contingency planning."

Those are hardly categorical denials.

So let's look at what the human costs of dropping a tactical nuclear weapon on Iran might entail.

They are astronomical.

"The number of deaths could exceed a million, and the number of people with increased cancer risks could exceed 10 million," according to a backgrounder by the Union of Concerned Scientists from May 2005. [complete article]

Comment -- MoveOn has already started its "Don't Nuke Iran" campaign. Does that mean a conventional bombing's OK -- just no nukes? Maybe they can craft a slogan: Bi-partisan bombers say "yes" to conventional bunker busters; "no" to nukes!

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U.S. options on confronting Iran limited
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, April 12, 2006

President Bush, who has defined his dealings with Iran in terms of confrontation since the early days of his administration, may have been drawn one step closer to a showdown after Tehran asserted Tuesday that it had successfully produced enriched uranium that can be used as nuclear fuel.

Through years of tough talk and veiled threats, Bush and members of his administration have been the chief proponents of ratcheting up international pressure to persuade Iran's leaders to accede to demands that they forswear atomic weapons and steer clear of nuclear enrichment work. In its new national security manifesto, the White House warned in stark terms last month that diplomatic efforts to halt Iran's nuclear program must succeed "if confrontation is to be avoided." [complete article]

See also, Riyadh seeks Russian help to prevent U.S. strike on Iran (AFP), Iran: Send in the Marines? (William M. Arkin), and Wild speculation and the nuclear option (William M. Arkin).

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Iran flaunts its nuclear achievement
By Alissa J. Rubin and Kasra Naji, Los Angeles Times, April, 2006

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday announced success in Iran's efforts to enrich uranium and he demanded respect for the nation's right to peaceful atomic energy, upping the ante in Tehran's dispute with the West about its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials said the country's scientists had enriched uranium to the level needed for civilian purposes using 164 linked centrifuges and intended to increase the number of linked centrifuges to 3,000 by year's end. [complete article]

See also, As Iran celebrates, Europe worries (WP).

Comment -- Though Iran's latest move has been widely characterized as an act of defiance, it seems worth paying attention to the Iranian regime's choice of iconography as it communicates its policies to the domestice audience. President Ahmadinejad surrounds himself with flowers and traditionally-dressed performers, with doves in the backdrop, hold aloft their atomic Aladdin's lamp. There's a certain Maoist flavor to the imagery, but this doesn't look like a government preparing its people for war. (Perhaps there's a lesson for George Bush here if he wants to improve his image at home and abroad -- more flowers, fewer flags! It could work wonders ;))

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Lacking biolabs, trailers carried case for war
By Joby Warrick, Washington Post, April 12, 2006

On May 29, 2003, 50 days after the fall of Baghdad, President Bush proclaimed a fresh victory for his administration in Iraq: Two small trailers captured by U.S. and Kurdish troops had turned out to be long-sought mobile "biological laboratories." He declared, "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

The claim, repeated by top administration officials for months afterward, was hailed at the time as a vindication of the decision to go to war. But even as Bush spoke, U.S. intelligence officials possessed powerful evidence that it was not true.

A secret fact-finding mission to Iraq -- not made public until now -- had already concluded that the trailers had nothing to do with biological weapons. Leaders of the Pentagon-sponsored mission transmitted their unanimous findings to Washington in a field report on May 27, 2003, two days before the president's statement.

The three-page field report and a 122-page final report three weeks later were stamped "secret" and shelved. Meanwhile, for nearly a year, administration and intelligence officials continued to publicly assert that the trailers were weapons factories. [complete article]

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The poor man's air force
By Mike Davis, TomDispatch, April 12, 2006

On a warm September day in 1920, a few months after the arrest of his comrades Sacco and Vanzetti, a vengeful Italian anarchist named Mario Buda parked his horse-drawn wagon near the corner of Wall and Broad Streets, directly across from J. P. Morgan Company. He nonchalantly climbed down and disappeared, unnoticed, into the lunchtime crowd. A few blocks away, a startled postal worker found strange leaflets warning: "Free the Political Prisoners or it will be Sure Death for All of You!" They were signed: "American Anarchist Fighters." The bells of nearby Trinity Church began to toll at noon. When they stopped, the wagon -- packed with dynamite and iron slugs -- exploded in a fireball of shrapnel.

"The horse and wagon were blown to bits," writes Paul Avrich, the celebrated historian of American anarchism who uncovered the true story. "Glass showered down from office windows, and awnings twelve stories above the street burst into flames. People fled in terror as a great cloud of dust enveloped the area. In Morgan's offices, Thomas Joyce of the securities department fell dead on his desk amid a rubble of plaster and walls. Outside scores of bodies littered the streets."

Buda was undoubtedly disappointed when he learned that J.P. Morgan himself was not among the 40 dead and more than 200 wounded -- the great robber baron was away in Scotland at his hunting lodge. Nonetheless, a poor immigrant with some stolen dynamite, a pile of scrap metal, and an old horse had managed to bring unprecedented terror to the inner sanctum of American capitalism.
In the new millennium, 85 years after that first massacre on Wall Street, car bombs have become almost as generically global as iPods and HIV-AIDS, cratering the streets of cities from Bogota to Bali. Suicide truck bombs, once the distinctive signature of Hezbollah, have been franchised to Sri Lanka, Chechnya/Russia, Turkey, Egypt, Kuwait, and Indonesia. On any graph of urban terrorism, the curve representing car bombs is rising steeply, almost exponentially. U.S.-occupied Iraq, of course, is a relentless inferno with more than 9,000 casualties -- mainly civilian -- attributed to vehicle bombs in the two-year period between July 2003 and June 2005. Since then, the frequency of car-bomb attacks has dramatically increased: 140 per month in the fall of 2005, 13 in Baghdad on New Year's Day 2006 alone. If roadside bombs or IEDs are the most effective device against American armored vehicles, car bombs are the weapon of choice for slaughtering Shiite civilians in front of mosques and markets and instigating an apocalyptic sectarian war. [complete article]

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Gaza families watch in awe and fear as Israelis pour in 300 shells a day
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, April 12, 2006

The Israeli government said yesterday it would continue its bombardment of northern Gaza with an estimated 300 shells a day despite international criticism over the death of a young girl.

Shaul Mofaz, the defence minister who is touring Israel's borders with Gaza, said: "As long as it's not quiet here [in Israel], it won't be quiet there [in Gaza]."

Israeli forces have been firing shells close to Palestinian communities to stop militants from firing rockets at Israeli communities. The army continued to bombard the outskirts of Beit Lahiya yesterday, but Palestinian militants fired their homemade missiles from different residential areas, which they believe are safe from Israeli reprisals. [complete article]

Comment -- I can't help wondering whether the Israeli government issues the Israeli army with daily bombing "weather reports." These would be assessments of international media "meteorology" that simply make one determination: is there enough going on elsewhere in the world today for the press to ignore Israel bombarding Palestinian territory with shells? Iran makes a nuclear announcement -- it's fine weather for bombing Palestinians! Another particularly bloody day in Iraq -- it's fine weather for bombing Palestinians! There are demonstrations in Washington -- it's fine weather for bombing Palestinians!

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Olmert: No problem with appointing Lieberman public security minister
By Mazal Mualem, Haaretz, April 12, 2006

Prime Minister-designate Ehud Olmert told Kadima leaders Tuesday that he sees no problem with appointing Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman public security minister, as long as there is no legal reason not do so.

Such an appointment could create a conflict between the police force and the minister responsible for it.

Lieberman is under police investigation on suspicion of involvement in illicit business dealings in Russia and corruption offenses related to election campaign funding in 1998 and 1999. Lieberman has been investigated several other times as well, and for years has waged a public campaign against the Police Investigations Department. [complete article]

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A rush to the Taliban's call
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, April 13, 2006

The Taliban's spring offensive is in full swing, with almost daily attacks, including suicide bombings, in Afghanistan. More than 200 people, including 14 American soldiers, have lost their lives in the Taliban-led insurgency this year.

This toll - and the damage caused - is small in relation to the insurgency in Iraq, though the techniques applied have been modeled on those used by the Iraqi resistance. What the Afghan resistance lacks in expertise and sophistication, though, it is making up in numbers - to a scale not seen since the Taliban were driven from power in 2001.

Thousands of new volunteers are pouring into the mountainous regions on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to combat Pakistani troops on the one side and US-led allied forces on the other side. The volunteers include local Waziristanis from the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, Afghans and a small number Central Asian fighters. The vast majority, though, come from North West Frontier Province, Punjab and Karachi. [complete article]

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Mobs riot after blast kills 56 Pakistanis
AP (via IHT), April 12, 2006

Security forces blocked roads and shut schools Wednesday in Karachi to prevent rioting as mass funerals were held for many of the 56 people killed by a suicide bomber at a Sunni Muslim prayer service.

Many businesses were closed and public transportation was shut down Tuesday after the bombing and subsequent rioting. Mobs burned cars and buses, and hurled stones at the police to protest the attack.

The blast took place as Sunni religious dignitaries and worshippers gathered among 10,000 people in a park celebrating the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad.

The event was organized by an umbrella organization of moderate Sunni groups, led by the Tehrik movement, whose three top leaders were among those killed. About 100 people were wounded, officials said. [complete article]

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National Archives agreed to coverup
AP (via, April 12, 2006

Previously public intelligence documents, some more than 50 years old, have been sealed under a secret agreement between the National Archives and three federal agencies, according to records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

The 2002 agreement, obtained by The Associated Press and released by archivists this week, shows the agency agreed to keep quiet about U.S. intelligence's role in the deal that shut off access to thousands of previously unclassified CIA and Pentagon documents.

The agreement, which the AP requested three years ago, shows archivists were concerned about reclassifying previously available documents but still agreed to keep mum about the arrangement.

The deal said the archives "will not acknowledge the role of (intelligence agencies) in the review of these documents or the withholding of any documents determined to need continued protection from unauthorized disclosure." [complete article]

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Iran marks step in nuclear development
By Nazila Fathi and Christine Hauser, New York Times, April 11, 2006

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said today that Iranian scientists had achieved the goal of enriching uranium for its nuclear power program and that the nation was determined to develop production on an industrial scale.

"The nuclear fuel cycle at the laboratory level has been completed, and uranium with the desired enrichment for nuclear power plants was achieved," Mr. Ahmedinejad said in a speech that was broadcast live from the city of Mashad.

"Iran has joined the nuclear countries of the world," he later added. "This is a starting point for more major points of success for the Iranian nation." [complete article]

Is Iran next? The calculus of military strike
By Mark Sappenfield, Christian Science Monitor, April 12, 2006

Time and again this week, President Bush and his team reiterated their position on Iran's nuclear program: America wants a diplomatic solution, and any suggestion it is moving toward an inevitable strike on Iran is "wild speculation."

At the same time, however, Mr. Bush has remained steadfast in his statements that a nuclear Iran is unacceptable and "no option is off the table" to prevent it.

The news Tuesday that Iran is now producing enriched uranium for atomic reactors - considered a first step toward nuclear weapons - has heightened the sense that America and Iran are on a collision course. A new article in The New Yorker claims that the administration is again on a path to war.

Yet amid the tumult is an effort to shape a debate that's more robust than the one before the Iraq war. While military action doesn't appear certain, the hint of it raises questions on the use of force, and what it might - and might not - accomplish. [complete article]

European ministers consider possible actions against Iran (NYT).

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Iraqi PM clings to political life
By David Fickling, The Guardian, April 11, 2006

The embattled Iraqi prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, was clinging to his political life today after a meeting of the country's governing Shia coalition failed to agree a replacement candidate.

The meeting of the United Iraqi Alliance had been widely expected to appoint a new candidate to end months of political deadlock brought on by Mr Jaafari's nomination as prime minister last December.

He was selected for the post by members the alliance, which won 40% of the votes in last December's elections, but his candidacy has been rejected by Sunni and Kurdish parties, which need to join the Shia coalition if it is to form a workable unity government.

A divisive figure, he is accused by Kurds of being autocratic and unresponsive, and he is disliked by many Sunnis, who accuse him of backing Shia death squads blamed for a string of attacks on Sunnis.

But he has refused to stand down in the face of calls from both home and abroad to make way for a unity candidate, and following today's meeting, he called on the factions to fall behind him. [complete article]

See also, Sunnis and Kurds stand firm on opposition to Jaafari as Iraqi prime minister (NYT).

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Oil to flow from Iraqi Kurdistan
By Carl Mortished, The Times, April 11, 2006

Plans by a Norwegian energy company to produce oil in Iraqi Kurdistan early next year have raised questions over who controls Iraq's vast petroleum resources.

DNO, an independent company based in Oslo, said that a well drilled near Zakho in the Kurdish-controlled northern region of Iraq had shown the presence of oil. Further well tests are planned, which, if successful, could lead to the first barrels produced by a foreign oil operator in Iraq.

The Norwegian firm signed a deal in June 2004 with the Kurdistan regional government, a production-sharing agreement covering an area 250 miles north of Baghdad close to the Turkish border.

Stepping briskly into a potential legal and political quagmire, the Norwegian firm's gamble has, so far, come good and preliminary studies of the results from drilling the Tawke, No 1 well showed five reservoir levels of oil. [complete article]

In stock market, the bears gnaw at Iraq's confidence
By Edward Wong, New York Times, April 11, 2006

If stock markets are any measure of a nation's confidence, then the numbers at the nascent Iraq Stock Exchange show that faith in the country may be at its lowest ebb.

The bear has dug its claws in deep: the market index has lost almost two-thirds of its value in the past year, closing these days below 30, from a high of 74 in March 2005. [complete article]

Iraqi institutions drifting in a postelection limbo
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2006

Gunmen waving their weapons out the windows of unmarked cars are the most distinct sign of what it's like to live in political limbo. They've been roaming the streets freely in the four months since Iraqis elected a parliament that has failed to form a permanent government.

There are other hints too: The squatters who've taken over an old air force building. The armed, illegal vendors who've staked out claims to sidewalks. The prospect of another hot summer with no new power plants to drive air conditioners. [complete article]

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A path to success in Iraq
By Zalmay Khalilzad and George W. Casey Jr., Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2006

Three years after U.S. Marines and Iraqis toppled the huge statue of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square, Americans and Iraqis can be proud of what our common efforts and sacrifices have achieved since that day, even as we acknowledge that challenges remain to reaching the goal of a stable and democratic Iraq. [complete article]

3 U.S. commanders relieved of duty as Iraqi town mourns its dead
By Nancy A. Youssef, Knight Ridder, April 8, 2006

In the middle of methodically recalling the day his brother's family was killed, Yaseen's monotone voice and stream of tears suddenly stopped. He looked up, paused and pleaded: "Please don't let me say anything that will get me killed by the Americans. My family can't handle any more." [complete article]

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Iranian, Arab roles in peace talks urged
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, April 12, 2006

Foreign-policy circles in Washington, including some figures considered close to the George W Bush administration, have begun talking privately and in off-the-record meetings about the need to give Iran as well as Iraq's Arab neighbors key roles in peace negotiations, according to Middle East experts.

This new support for Iranian-Arab participation in negotiations on Iraq parallels the position reportedly taken privately by US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad.

Steven Cook, a Middle East specialist and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said some foreign-policy specialists "close to the administration" have been saying in private conversations that the US will need to bring Iran and the Arab states into Iraqi peace negotiations. [complete article]

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Taliban 'hard to combat'
AP (via, April 11, 2006

The U.S. military said Monday that increased militant violence in Afghanistan was proving "very hard to combat" as separate attacks killed two police officers and a truck driver delivering food to coalition forces in a former Taliban stronghold in the south.

Gunmen also killed five medical workers before burning down their clinic late Sunday in a rare attack in the normally calm northwest.

The violence follows threats by Taliban militants to intensify attacks against U.S.-led coalition forces and Afghan troops during the spring and summer months.

In Kabul, U.S. military spokesman Col. James Yonts said Taliban forces have increased their attacks and changed tactics to spread a campaign of fear across the country rather than try to defeat the security forces militarily. [complete article]

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With one filing, prosecutor puts Bush in spotlight
By David E. Sanger and David Johnston, New York Times, April 11, 2006

From the early days of the C.I.A. leak investigation in 2003, the Bush White House has insisted there was no effort to discredit Joseph C. Wilson IV, the man who emerged as the most damaging critic of the administration's case that Saddam Hussein was seeking to build nuclear weapons.

But now White House officials, and specifically President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, have been pitched back into the center of the nearly three-year controversy, this time because of a prosecutor's court filing in the case that asserts there was "a strong desire by many, including multiple people in the White House," to undermine Mr. Wilson.

The new assertions by the special prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, have put administration officials on the spot in a way they have not been for months, as attention in the leak case seems to be shifting away from the White House to the pretrial procedural skirmishing in the perjury and obstruction charges against Mr. Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr. [complete article]

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How U.S. foreign policies fuel anti-American feelings abroad
By Linda Heard, Arab News, April 11, 2006

The US is hardly winning friends or influencing anybody, except negatively, these days. Certainly, within my lifetime, anti-American feeling has never been as rife or on such a worldwide scale. At the same time, the Bush administration is spending billions on propaganda so as to run TV and radio stations directed at altering the perceptions of peoples of the Middle East, while the Pentagon has actually paid journalists in the region to append their bylines to US-generated stories.

But can such tactics work while US troops still occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, Palestinians are being punished for making the "wrong" democratic choices and war drums are beating against Iran and Syria? [complete article]

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Leak reveals official story of London bombings
By Mark Townsend, The Observer, April 9, 2006

The official inquiry into the 7 July London bombings will say the attack was planned on a shoestring budget from information on the internet, that there was no 'fifth-bomber' and no direct support from al-Qaeda, although two of the bombers had visited Pakistan.

The first forensic account of the atrocity that claimed the lives of 52 people, which will be published in the next few weeks, will say that attacks were the product of a 'simple and inexpensive' plot hatched by four British suicide bombers bent on martyrdom.

Far from being the work of an international terror network, as originally suspected, the attack was carried out by four men who had scoured terror sites on the internet. Their knapsack bombs cost only a few hundred pounds, according to the first completed draft of the government's definitive report into the blasts. [complete article]

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Activist was unlawfully killed in Israel, says inquest jury
By Terri Judd, The Independent, April 11, 2006

"April 6 2003. I have been shot at, gassed, chased by soldiers, had sound grenades thrown within metres of me, been hit by falling debris and been in the way of a 10-tonne D-9 that didn't stop. As we approached, I kept expecting a part of my body to be hit by an 'invisible' force and shot of pain. It took a huge amoung of will to continue. I wondered what it would be like to be shot, and strangely I wasn't too scared. It is strange to know that each night people are shot and killed for breaking military curfew, and in the darkness on the north west side there is an Israeli settlement and a few hundred metres away with military snipers in between and any one of the four of us could be being watched through a sniper's sights at this moment. The certainty is that they are watching, and it is in the decision of any one Israeli soldier or settler that my life depends. I know that I'd probably never know what hit me, but it's part of the job to be as visible as possible." Five days after he wrote these words, Tom Hurndall was shot by Israeli forces and later died. [complete article]

See also, Calls for UK to act over Britons shot dead in Gaza (The Guardian).

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Tehran 2006, is not Munich 1938
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 10, 2006

In the pantheon of venerable progressive sources, Seymour Hersh occupies a place second to none. This is an unenviable position for an investigative journalist. Hersh has often been exemplary in raising critical awareness about the operations of government, yet that same awareness is rarely applied with as much focus when it comes to assessing the strength of his own reporting.

Hersh must have been perfectly aware of the conclusions that would be drawn from his 7,000 word article: that the White House regards military action against Iran as inevitable; that US military planning includes the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons; and that American combat troops are already operating in Iran.

According to Hersh, "If the order were to be given for an attack, the American combat troops now operating in Iran would be in position to mark the critical targets with laser beams, to insure bombing accuracy and to minimize civilian casualties." And on CNN, he said, "we're not saying any more specifically about where they are or what they're doing. Nobody wants to see anybody get hurt. But they are there and the American public should know it because, I assure you, the Iranian government knows it."

He might not be naming the sites, but Hersh seems to be saying quite specifically where the troops would be going and what they would be doing. And if they're there to point lasers, can we not assume that they'd be close enough to be counting on conventional bombs being used? In which case the nuclear component in the planning starts sounding very much like we're-not-ruling-anything-out rhetoric.

The Iranian government "knows" that US troops are already operating on its territory and Hersh underlines that these are regular troops ("They're not Special Forces; they're regular military. And that's part of the Rumsfeld notion that all military guys are potentially Special Forces. And I think it's fraught with danger. But they're there"). And the Iranians are aware of this yet haven't laid hands on any of these guys?! I'd have to say that the Iranians' own claim that this report is a joke, has slightly more credibility. (When Hersh says "there", I guess he might mean virtually, rather than literally -- as in the US flying unmanned surveillance planes over Iran. But if that's the case, it's probably not quite as high risk an operation as Hersh suggests.)

The ultimate irony in all of this is that by calling the alarm on the possibility of the US using tactical nuclear weapons, Seymour Hersh might have actually helped the administration in advancing some of its public relations goals: reinforce the expectation that military action is inevitable, and make that action appear measured and responsible if it only involves conventional weapons.

Meantime, while focusing attention on the question of whether or not this administration is reckless enough to use nuclear weapons, Hersh's article raises another issue that -- at least to my mind -- is in the immediate term more critical: the fact that the White House views (or at least claims that it views) Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as a potential Hitler.

This is a wild claim -- though of course we're now used to the administration seeing new Hitlers on the rise wherever it looks. Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Hugo Chavez, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- each, according to Bush, Rumsfeld and co., has the potential or aspiration to become the new global tyrant.

To assess whether the Ahmadinejad-potential-Hitler claim has any merit, it's worth looking back at Germany, 1933, during Hitler's first year as Reich Chancellor. Within two months of being sworn in, Hitler had opened Dachau concentration camp to house mostly communist political prisoners who were soon being tortured and murdered. By the summer of 1933, 2 million brownshirts (stormtroopers) were terrorizing Germany and effectively shut down all political opposition. Within a year, through a national campaign of violence and intimidation, the Nazis had won the overwhelming support of the German people.

Three quarters of the way through his first year in office, does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran in 2006, look anything like Germany in 1933?

Mahan Abedin, editor of the Jamestown Foundation's, Terrorism Monitor, provides one of the most informative analyses I've come across in recent months.
Contrary to Western reporting, Ahmadinejad's performance has generated more controversy and ill-feeling within the corridors of power in Tehran than in the crucible of Western public opinion. Arguably, the most surprising development in the past six months is the extent of Ahmadinejad's independence and freedom of action.

Originally dismissed as the lackey of the clerical establishment, Ahmadinejad has proved time and again that the only agenda that drives him is his own. In the space of a few months the former IRGC commander has emerged as certainly the most independent and arguably the most powerful president in the republic's 27-year history. Even the Islamic Republic's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, does not seem to have any appreciable influence over Ahmadinejad and his inner circle.

While liberals and reformists are, broadly speaking, in opposition to the Ahmadinejad government, it is the conservative establishment that has emerged as the second-generation revolutionaries' most formidable adversary. This is not surprising, given that the latter aspire to reorder fundamentally the socio-economic system in the Islamic Republic, changes that would fatally weaken the conservatives. Asia Times, 2/18/06
There is no evidence that Ahmadinejad has anything approaching the power base that Hitler exploited and each should be compared not on the basis of their rhetoric but their actions. Indeed, Ahmadinejad arguably draws most of his strength from the reactions he is able to provoke outside Iran, rather than any mass appeal he has among Iranians.

At the same time, rhetoric is of great consequence. It goes without saying that the Bush administration will not talk with any leader who it likens to Hitler and its willingness to freely use such comparisons is a sign of recklessness and stupidity. The Iranians fortunately have enough sophistication to take much of this rhetoric lightly. The Bush administration, for its part, needs to stop jamming itself in traps of its own making.

The possibility that an American president and vice-president (neither of whom will ever face another election) might consider crossing a nuclear threshold that has never previously been crossed, is undoubtedly a serious issue. America, already the only nation to have ever used strategic nuclear weapons in warfare, would then become the first to use battlefield nuclear weapons. It would thereby destroy the bedrock of nuclear deterrence -- the notion that the use of nuclear weapons is the worst imaginable last resort.

Nevertheless, the more fundamental question right now is this: Irrespective of whether it is willing to use nuclear weapons, is this an administration that in spite of the mess it has created in Iraq is still willing to start another war?

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Bush calls Iran talk 'wild speculation'
By Nedrer Pickler, AP (via Yahoo), April 10, 2006

President Bush said Monday that force is not necessarily required to stop
Iran from having a nuclear weapon, and he dismissed reports of plans for a military attack against Tehran as "wild speculation." Bush said his goal is to keep the Iranians from having the capability or the knowledge to have a nuclear weapon. [complete article]

Straw uses tough language to rule out Iran strike
By Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, April 10, 2006

Jack Straw yesterday used his toughest language yet to rule out any military strike against Iran, highlighting the growing divide on the issue between the Foreign Office and Downing Street. "The reason why we're opposed to military action is because it's an infinitely worse option [than diplomacy] and there's no justification for it," the foreign secretary said. [complete article]

E.U. paper outlines tough action on Tehran
By Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, April 9, 2006

Companies doing business in Iran face the prospect of a crackdown on export credits unless Tehran’s co-operation with the United Nations over its nuclear programme is improved, according to a confidential European Union paper. [complete article]

"Israel should not be on the forefront of a war against Iran"
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert interviewed by Romesh Ratnesar, Time, April 9, 2006

Olmert: As the one who has to take the decision, I can tell you that I genuinely don't think Israel should be on the forefront of this war. I don't know why people think this is first and foremost a war for Israel. It's a problem for every civilized country. Iran is a major threat to the well-being of Europe and America just as much as it is for the state of Israel. I don't think America can tolerate the idea of a leader of nation of 30 million people who can openly speak of the liquidation of another country. And therefore it is incumbent upon America and Europeans to form a strategy and implement it to remove this danger of unconventional weapons in Iran. To assume that Israel would be the first to go into a military confrontation with Iran represents a misunderstanding of this issue.
[complete article]

Iran's weapons pose little threat but are a political boon, experts say
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, April 9, 2006

Iran probably couldn't mount much of a defense against a U.S. air attack on its nuclear sites, but such action would likely rally moderate Iranians around their ultra-conservative leaders and strengthen Iranian resolve to resist efforts to make it give up its nuclear program, Iranian and Western analysts here believe. Iran trumpeted the debut of new missiles during war games it conducted last week in the Persian Gulf as evidence that it's updated its military and that American attackers would face difficult odds if they were to try to bomb research centers. [complete article]

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Why Iraq was a mistake
By Lieut. Gen. Greg Newbold (Ret.), Time, April 9, 2006

In 1971, the rock group The Who released the antiwar anthem Won't Get Fooled Again. To most in my generation, the song conveyed a sense of betrayal by the nation's leaders, who had led our country into a costly and unnecessary war in Vietnam. To those of us who were truly counterculture--who became career members of the military during those rough times--the song conveyed a very different message. To us, its lyrics evoked a feeling that we must never again stand by quietly while those ignorant of and casual about war lead us into another one and then mismanage the conduct of it. Never again, we thought, would our military's senior leaders remain silent as American troops were marched off to an ill-considered engagement. It's 35 years later, and the judgment is in: the Who had it wrong. We have been fooled again.

From 2000 until October 2002, I was a Marine Corps lieutenant general and director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. After 9/11, I was a witness and therefore a party to the actions that led us to the invasion of Iraq--an unnecessary war. Inside the military family, I made no secret of my view that the zealots' rationale for war made no sense. And I think I was outspoken enough to make those senior to me uncomfortable. But I now regret that I did not more openly challenge those who were determined to invade a country whose actions were peripheral to the real threat--al-Qaeda. I retired from the military four months before the invasion, in part because of my opposition to those who had used 9/11's tragedy to hijack our security policy. Until now, I have resisted speaking out in public. I've been silent long enough. [complete article]

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Military plays up role of Zarqawi
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, April 10, 2006

The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

The documents state that the U.S. campaign aims to turn Iraqis against Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian, by playing on their perceived dislike of foreigners. U.S. authorities claim some success with that effort, noting that some tribal Iraqi insurgents have attacked Zarqawi loyalists.

For the past two years, U.S. military leaders have been using Iraqi media and other outlets in Baghdad to publicize Zarqawi's role in the insurgency. The documents explicitly list the "U.S. Home Audience" as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign. [complete article]

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How predictions for Iraq came true
By John Simpson, BBC News, April 9, 2006

It was a few weeks before the invasion of Iraq, three years ago. I was interviewing the Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, in the ballroom of a big hotel in Cairo.

Shrewd, amusing, bulky in his superb white robes, he described to me all the disasters he was certain would follow the invasion.

The US and British troops would be bogged down in Iraq for years. There would be civil war between Sunnis and Shias. The real beneficiary would be the government in Iran.

"And what do the Americans say when you tell them this," I asked? "They don't even listen," he said. [complete article]

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Democracy in the Arab world, a U.S. goal, falters
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, April 10, 2006

Steps toward democracy in the Arab world, a crucial American goal that just months ago was cause for optimism — with elections held in Iraq, Egypt and the Palestinian areas — are slowing, blocked by legal maneuvers and official changes of heart throughout the Middle East.

Analysts and officials say the political rise of Islamists, the chaos in Iraq, the newfound Shiite power in Iraq with its implication for growing Iranian influence, and the sense among some rulers that they can wait out the end of the Bush administration have put the brakes on democratization.

"It feels like everything is going back to the bad old days, as if we never went through any changes at all," said Sulaiman al-Hattlan, editor in chief of Forbes Arabia and a prominent Saudi columnist and advocate. "Everyone is convinced now that there was no serious or genuine belief in change from the governments. It was just a reaction to pressure by the international media and the U.S." [complete article]

See also, Top Iraqis assail Egyptian leader's talk of civil war.

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Hamas in call to end suicide bombings
By Conal Urquhart, The Observer, April 9, 2006

Hamas is to abandon its use of suicide bombers, who have killed almost 300 Israelis, in any future confrontations with Israel, its activists have told The Observer. The Islamic group, which leads the Palestinian Authority, says, however, that it may resort to other forms of violence if there is no progress towards Palestinian statehood. Yihiyeh Musa, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said Hamas had moved into a 'new era' which did not require suicide attacks. [complete article]

Abbas: our sons will fight Israelis for a just deal
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, April 8, 2006

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, says Israel's plan to impose its final borders deep inside the occupied territories while expropriating large areas of Palestinian land for Jewish settlers will lead to another war in a decade. Speaking in Gaza City as Israel dropped scores of artillery shells in and around the city, Mr Abbas told the Guardian that the newly elected Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, would jeopardise the possibility of long-term peace if he refused to negotiate an agreement that ordinary Palestinians considered just. [complete article]

Israel to boycott diplomats who meet Hamas officials
AFP (via Yahoo), April 9, 2006

Israel's Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has announced that his government would boycott foreign diplomats who meet with members of the new Hamas-led Palestinian government. [complete article]

Palestinian prime minister calls Western aid cutoff 'blackmail'
By John Kifner, New York Times, April 9, 2006

The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniya, called a cutoff in foreign aid "blackmail" on Saturday, and said his government would not bow to international pressure and recognize Israel. "The attempts to strangle the government have one aim," Mr. Haniya told reporters in Gaza City. "They will not extract political concessions from us that will harm the rights of the Palestinian people. [complete article]

Al-Qaeda goes recruiting in festering Gaza
By Marie Colvin, The Sunday Times, April 9, 2006

The festering refugee camp of Khan Yunis, where the stench of sewage hangs over potholed dirt roads and concrete blockhouses crowded with 270,000 Palestinians, has long been fertile soil for radical groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Now there are growing indications it is also becoming a breeding ground for Al-Qaeda. [complete article]

Hamas: The last chance for peace?
By Henry Siegman, New York Review of Books, April 27, 2006

Israel is facing not only the threats of Hamas, an organization that has affirmed the right to violently resist Israel's occupation and has denied Israel's right to exist, but also the more general anger from the larger Muslim world toward the West. The two are often conflated, but it is a dangerously misleading conflation, for it gives a confused view of both the dangers and the opportunities created by Hamas's election victory, however meager the latter may appear to be. [complete article]

There is no hunger in Gaza
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, April 9, 2006

The real humanitarian disaster in the territories began a long time ago, and it is not hunger. Those who regard the neighboring people as human beings know this very well. It is true that the dimensions of the disaster are worsening, but that's been taking place over years, and the food index is not the only measure. The cessation of the flow of funding since the rise of Hamas might threaten to depress the economic situation even further, but the thought that if they only have enough food, their needs will be satisfied and our conscience can be clear, is outrageous. [complete article]

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Whistle-blower outs NSA spy room
By Ryan Singel, Wired News, April 7, 2006

AT&T provided National Security Agency eavesdroppers with full access to its customers' phone calls, and shunted its customers' internet traffic to data-mining equipment installed in a secret room in its San Francisco switching center, according to a former AT&T worker cooperating in the Electronic Frontier Foundation's lawsuit against the company.

Mark Klein, a retired AT&T communications technician, submitted an affidavit in support of the EFF's lawsuit this week. That class action lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco last January, alleges that AT&T violated federal and state laws by surreptitiously allowing the government to monitor phone and internet communications of AT&T customers without warrants. [complete article]

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A nuclear reality check
By Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek, April 9, 2006

Many of the Bush administration's critics argue, with some merit, that it has often pursued a foreign policy based on ideology and fantasy, not the realities of the world. But now the critics are lost in their own reveries. They fantasize that the United States and India will sign a nuclear agreement in which the latter renounces its nuclear weapons. They criticize the Bush administration's proposed deal with India because it does no such thing. (Instead, India commits to placing 14 of its 22 reactors under permanent inspections, and retains eight for its weapons program.) But this is a dream, not a deal. India has spent 32 years under American sanctions without budging -- even when it was a much poorer country than it is today -- and it would happily spend 32 more before it signed such a deal. The choice we face is the proposed deal with India or no deal at all. [complete article]

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Gunning for Iran
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, April 9, 2006

It is seven o'clock in the morning eastern standard time when the news comes through to Americans at their breakfast tables. President George W Bush will shortly be addressing the nation live from the Oval Office. Moments later he is on air, announcing in a sombre drawl that Iran's nuclear sites have been struck during the night by American bombers.

"You can see the shape of the speech the president will give," said Richard Perle, a leading American neo-conservative. "He will cite the Iranians' past pattern of deception, their support for terrorism and the unacceptable menace the nation would present if it had nuclear weapons.

"The attack would be over before anybody knew what had happened. The only question would be what the Iranians might do in retaliation."

Sounds far-fetched? Think again. The unthinkable, or what Jack Straw, the foreign secretary, described only a few weeks ago as "inconceivable", is now being actively planned in the Pentagon. [complete article]

The countdown to war
By Paul Rogers, OpenDemocracy, April 6, 2006

The prospect of an Iran war leading to even greater problems than those faced in Iraq might be thought to be recommend caution to the George W Bush administration, especially in light of the widespread view – reinforced by the flurry of discussion around Francis Fukuyama's new book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy – that the broader neo-conservative agenda is in retreat.

But this commonly stated position fails to recognise that the concern about Iran as a threat to United States security stretches well beyond the neo-conservatives. A much wider swathe of foreign-policy opinion, often termed the "assertive nationalists", sees Iran as a consistent threat to US interests in the immensely important, oil-bearing Persian Gulf region. This outlook includes significant figures within the Democratic Party such as Hillary Clinton, and it links up with the pro-Israel lobby whose interest-base encompasses millions of evangelical Christians. [complete article]

U.S. is studying military strike options on Iran
By Peter Baker, Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, April 9, 2006

The Bush administration is studying options for military strikes against Iran as part of a broader strategy of coercive diplomacy to pressure Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear development program, according to U.S. officials and independent analysts.

No attack appears likely in the short term, and many specialists inside and outside the U.S. government harbor serious doubts about whether an armed response would be effective. But administration officials are preparing for it as a possible option and using the threat "to convince them this is more and more serious," as a senior official put it. [complete article]

See also, Iran's nukes in a power game (Ehsan Ahrari), Iran and the bomb (Christopher de Bellaigue), and A moment of hope for Iran's beleaguered democrats (Nazila Fathi).

Comment -- It's possible that Seymour Hersh's latest article amounts to a kind of journalistic pre-emptive attack on the Bush administration's Iran planning. In other words, making public the grave misgivings that Pentagon planners have about the recklessness of a bombing campaign against Iran -- even using tactical nuclear weapons -- might serve to diminish the chance of that happening as the administration gets an earful of editorial outrage. At the same time, the press is treading a fine line as it reports the current "attack Iran" planning. Willingly or not, the media is making itself part of the administration's propaganda campaign intended to make the Iranians believe that the mess in Iraq won't inhibit this administration from military action against Iran. Perhaps the White House really doesn't feel constrained, but it's hard right now to tell whether the media is functioning as a watchdog alerting the public to the administration's wild ambitions or as an attack dog under the administration's command. It seems like a bit of both.

Let's say that this media-enabled saber rattling has the desired effect and the Iranians back down on their nuclear ambitions. All's well that ends well? Not exactly, because the hidden partnership between journalists and government officials will have become that much cozzier, and a willingness from either side to reveal the relationship's inner workings that much less likely. Just imagine reading an article in which a reporter said, "A senior administration official who called me..." -- but of course, no one will ever spill the beans like that and reveal that "information" is actively been shunted in their direction. If they did, that'd be the last call they got!

As for the likelihood of an attack on Iran, it's tempting to say that the more we hear about it, the less likely it is that it's about to happen. At the same time, it's very easy for rational observers to underestimate the Bush administration's capacity for irrational behaviour.

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U.S. study paints somber portrait of Iraqi discord
By Eric Schmitt and Edward Wong, New York Times, April 9, 2006

An internal staff report by the United States Embassy and the military command in Baghdad provides a sobering province-by-province snapshot of Iraq's political, economic and security situation, rating the overall stability of 6 of the 18 provinces "serious" and one "critical." The report is a counterpoint to some recent upbeat public statements by top American politicians and military officials.

The report, 10 pages of briefing points titled "Provincial Stability Assessment," underscores the shift in the nature of the Iraq war three years after the toppling of Saddam Hussein. Warnings of sectarian and ethnic frictions are raised in many regions, even in those provinces generally described as nonviolent by American officials.

There are alerts about the growing power of Iranian-backed religious Shiite parties, several of which the United States helped put into power, and rival militias in the south. The authors also point to the Arab-Kurdish fault line in the north as a major concern, with the two ethnicities vying for power in Mosul, where violence is rampant, and Kirkuk, whose oil fields are critical for jump-starting economic growth in Iraq.

The patterns of discord mapped by the report confirm that ethnic and religious schisms have become entrenched across much of the country, even as monthly American fatalities have fallen. Those indications, taken with recent reports of mass migrations from mixed Sunni-Shiite areas, show that Iraq is undergoing a de facto partitioning along ethnic and sectarian lines, with clashes -- sometimes political, sometimes violent -- taking place in those mixed areas where different groups meet. [complete article]

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The battle for Baghdad's future
By John Ward Anderson and Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, April 9, 2006

Three years after U.S. forces swept Saddam Hussein's government from power, car bombings and political assassination are near-daily occurrences. Neighborhoods, now torn along sectarian lines, are plagued by increasingly violent militias and dysfunctional public services, and occupied by tens of thousands of foreign troops. Some analysts are beginning to compare Baghdad with another Middle Eastern capital that was synonymous with anarchy and bloodshed in the 1970s and '80s.

"In Beirut when the civil war began, you had electricity 24 hours a day and running water all the time, and the air conditioning was working, and so were the elevators," said Francois Heisbourg, a French military analyst. "In the case of Baghdad, it looks like Beirut after 10 years of civil war." [complete article]

See also, Civil war (James Fearon).

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Ending the deadlock
By Michael Hirsh and Scott Johnson, Newsweek, April 8, 2006

As angry Iraqi Shiites demanded vengeance after Friday's devastating mosque bombing, the country's most influential cleric appeared to take pre-emptive action. Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani called upon the fractious United Iraqi Alliance (UIA), the dominant political faction, to come together for a meeting Sunday morning and to form a unity government very quickly, according to a leading Shiite politician who is considered very close to Sistani.

In an interview with NEWSWEEK on Saturday, the politician, Hussein al Shahristani, also suggested that the current prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jafari, might agree to step aside because all the UIA politicians were committed "to respect alliance decisions" at Sistani's urging. "They were [stalled] until Thursday," Shahristani said. "Some parties were seeking alternative arrangements to reach a plan of action with other blocks in the parliament. Sistani's advice to them was go back to the alliance and find a solution." [complete article]

See also, Disunities (Noah Feldman).

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Why shouldn't I change my mind?
By Francis Fukuyama, Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2006

I published my case against the Iraq war. I wrote that although I had originally advocated military intervention in Iraq, and had even signed a letter to that effect shortly after the 9/11 attacks, I had since changed my mind.

But apparently this kind of honest acknowledgment is verboten. In the weeks since my book came out, I've been challenged, attacked and vilified from both ends of the ideological spectrum. From the right, columnist Charles Krauthammer has accused me of being an opportunistic traitor to the neoconservative cause -- and a coward to boot. From the left, I've been told that I have "blood on my hands" for having initially favored toppling Saddam Hussein and that my "apology" won't be accepted.

In our ever-more-polarized political debate, it appears that it is now wrong to ever change your mind, even if empirical evidence from the real world suggests you ought to. I find this a strange and disturbing conclusion. [complete article]

Comment -- The taboo on changing ones mind is mostly nothing more than a product of arrogance and vanity. It's worth remembering Gandhi's words: "My aim is not to be consistent with my previous statements on a given question, but to be consistent with truth as it may present itself to me at a given moment."

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'Forgers' of key Iraq war contract named
By Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, April 9, 2006

Two employees of the Niger embassy in Rome were responsible for the forgery of a notorious set of documents used to help justify the Iraq war, an official investigation has allegedly found.

According to Nato sources, the investigation has evidence that Niger's consul and its ambassador's personal assistant faked a contract to show Saddam Hussein had bought uranium ore from the impoverished west African country.

The documents, which emerged in 2002, were used in a US State Department fact sheet on Iraq's weapons programme to build the case for war. They were denounced as forgeries by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) shortly before the 2003 invasion. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

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

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

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

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

Israel's convergence to a border of convenience
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, April 5, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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