The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Pumping irony
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, April 21, 2006

[Iran's president, Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad has a reputation as a wild-eyed provocateur. (How often has he said, in various ways, he'd like to see Israel wiped off the map?) And nothing drives up prices like rumors of war. But it's the United States and Israel cranking up the volume at the moment. After a Palestinian blew himself up in front of a Tel Aviv falafel stand this week, killing nine people and wounding dozens, Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations Dan Gillerman told the press there's a new "axis of terror" in the Middle East. "A dark cloud is looming over our region, and it is metastasizing as a result of the statements and actions by leaders of Iran, Syria and the newly elected [Hamas] government of the Palestinian Authority," said Gillerman, that amount to "clear declarations of war."

President George W. Bush, meanwhile, remains coy about what military options he may or may not use, eventually, to try to eliminate Iran's rapidly progressing nuclear research, which Iran says is purely for peaceful purposes -- even as it perfects possible bomb-related technologies. And while the clock ticks, every dollar increase in the price of oil brings the Iranian government an extra dividend of roughly $2 million a day, plus the tens of billions reaped in rising prices since 2003.

None of these apparent ironies should be surprising. Iran, the second largest petroleum producer in the Persian Gulf, has sometimes been a frustrating ally and sometimes an avowed enemy of the United States. But it has always been the epicenter of major oil shocks. [complete article]

U.S. and U.K. develop democracy strategy for Iran
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, April 21, 2006

The US and UK are working on a strategy to promote democratic change in Iran, according to officials who see the joint effort as the start of a new phase in the diplomatic campaign to counter the Islamic republic's nuclear programme without resorting to military intervention.

A newly created Iran Syria Operations Group inside the State Department is co-ordinating the work and reporting to Elizabeth Cheney, the senior US official leading democracy promotion in the broader Middle East.

"Democracy promotion is a rubric to get the Europeans behind a more robust policy without calling it regime change," a former Bush administration official commented. [complete article]

The nuclear option and Iran
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, April 19, 2006

President Bush yesterday refused to rule out a U.S. nuclear strike to prevent Iran from developing its own nuclear weapons, saying that "all options are on the table."

It is a confusing and harmful ambiguity given that just a week ago, the President was dismissing as "wild speculation" New Yorker reports that his administration was considering nuclear options for Iran.

In the world of great nuclear minds -- self declared that is -- ambiguity is central to American nuclear weapons: We never rule anything out or in, we never say never, the threat of nuclear annihilation is always in the air. [complete article]

See also, Russia toughens opposition to Iran sanctions (Reuters).

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CIA fires senior officer over leaks
By David Johnston and Scott Shane, New York Times, April 22, 2006

The Central Intelligence Agency has dismissed a senior career officer for disclosing classified information to reporters, including material for Pulitzer Prize-winning articles in The Washington Post about the agency's secret overseas prisons for terror suspects, intelligence officials said Friday.

The C.I.A. would not identify the officer, but several government officials said it was Mary O. McCarthy, a veteran intelligence analyst who until 2001 was senior director for intelligence programs at the National Security Council, where she served under President Bill Clinton and into the Bush administration.

At the time of her dismissal, Ms. McCarthy was working in the agency's inspector general's office, after a stint at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an organization in Washington that examines global security issues.

The dismissal of Ms. McCarthy provided fresh evidence of the Bush administration's determined efforts to stanch leaks of classified information. [complete article]

Comment -- That is to say, to stanch leaks of classified information that hasn't been declassifed by President Bush when he thinks that the information is particularly leak-worthy.

The NYT reports that, "In January, current and former government officials said, Mr. Goss ordered polygraphs for intelligence officers who knew about certain "compartmented" programs, including the secret detention centers for terrorist suspects." That seems to amount to further confirmation that the leak was factual. Can't very easily polygraph the people who know about the secret detention centers if they don't exist, can you? What would the EU's, Gijs de Vries' explanation for this be? That Mary McCarthy got fired for spread a classified baseless rumor?

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Lawyer: Rice allegedly leaked defense info
By Matthew Barakat, AP (via WP), April 22, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaked national defense information to a pro-Israel lobbyist in the same manner that landed a lower-level Pentagon official a 12-year prison sentence, the lobbyist's lawyer said Friday.

Prosecutors disputed the claim.

The allegations against Rice came as a federal judge granted a defense request to issue subpoenas sought by the defense for Rice and three other government officials in the trial of Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman. The two are former lobbyists with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who are charged with receiving and disclosing national defense information. [complete article]

Comment -- I'm sure this must be an unfortunate misunderstanding. Condoleezza Rice probably had one of George Bush's handy leak-when-it's-useful passes like the one he gave to Lewis Libby. Either that, or this is a hint that AIPAC is willing to threaten the Bush administration with mutually assured destruction.

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The power player who faces charges for talking
By Jeffrey H. Birnbaum, Washington Post, April 21, 2006

For more than two decades, Steven J. Rosen sleuthed the tight-lipped government back channels of the United States and Israel for tidbits he could quietly pass to his powerful employer, the pro-Israel lobby called AIPAC. As a result, he would joke over restaurant tables that he was glad the United States did not have an Official Secrets Act that would render his vocation a crime.

But his quip turned out to be prescient. The FBI placed him and a junior colleague under surveillance -- listening to their phone calls and watching their meetings, including those with a Pentagon official who was cooperating with authorities. Last year, Rosen and Keith Weissman were fired by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and then indicted on charges of receiving and transmitting national defense information in violation of the Espionage Act. [complete article]

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Fatah, Hamas supporters exchange fire in Gaza
By Amos Harel and Arnon Regular, Haaretz, April 22, 2006

Supporters of the rival Fatah and Hamas groups exchanged fire and hurled Molotov cocktails at each other on Saturday after Hamas' political chief accused Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah of being a traitor.

Three people were wounded in the clashes, which began as stone-throwing incidents. It was not clear how badly they were hurt.

Thousands of Fatah backers protested across the West Bank and Gaza throughout the day to demand that Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal apologize for his remarks. But violence was only reported in Gaza City. [complete article]

Comment -- As Fatah accuses Hamas of "igniting and preparing for civil war," are they forgetting that for some Israelis this would be a dream come true?

Israel preparing to retake Gaza Strip
By Josef Federman, AP (via The Guardian), April 21, 2006

In a growing barrage of Israeli pressure against Hamas, a senior military commander said Israel is actively preparing to reoccupy the Gaza Strip and a powerful lawmaker said the entire Palestinian Cabinet could be targeted for assassination after the appointment of a wanted militant to head a new security force.

Officials said there were no immediate plans to strike at the Hamas-led government. But the comments reflected rising Israeli impatience with the Islamic militant group, which has refused to renounce violence, defended a suicide bombing in Tel Aviv this week and failed to halt militant rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. [complete article]

Abbas and Hamas clash over militant in security post
By Greg Myre, New York Times, April 22, 2006

The president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, vowed Friday to block the Hamas-led government from installing a prominent militant in a senior security position. But the new government said the appointment would stand.

It was the most public clash to date between Mr. Abbas and the Hamas leadership, who have been jockeying to establish their authority since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January. The question of how to divide control of the security forces has been one of the most volatile issues. [complete article]

See also, Barghouti plans Palestinian ceasefire (Jerusalem Post).

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Top Shiites nominate a premier for Iraq
By Nelson Hernandez and K.I. Ibrahim, Washington Post, April 22, 2006

Jawad al-Maliki, an experienced political operator and advocate for Iraq's Shiite Muslims, won the approval of Shiite party leaders for the post of prime minister on Friday, a day after the parties' original nominee bowed out under political pressure.

The move could end the political paralysis that has gripped Iraq since national elections were held on Dec. 15. Maliki, a senior member of the coalition of Shiite parties that holds the largest number of seats in Iraq's parliament, is now on course to lead Iraq's first long-term government since the fall of Saddam Hussein. If ultimately chosen, the former exile would inherit grave challenges, among them an economy in tatters, an insurgent movement that continues to attack Iraq's government and its U.S. backers, and ethnic and sectarian tensions that threaten to tear the country apart. [complete article]

See also, Profile: Jawad al-Maliki (BBC).

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Prewar intelligence ignored, former CIA official says
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, April 22, 2006

A former top official of the Central Intelligence Agency has accused the Bush administration of ignoring intelligence assessments about Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction programs in the months leading up to the Iraq war.

Tyler Drumheller, the former head of the C.I.A.'s European operations, is the second C.I.A. veteran in recent weeks to attack the White House's handling of prewar intelligence. The criticism comes as the administration is already facing complaints from retired generals who have criticized the decision to go to war in Iraq and charged that civilian policy makers at the Pentagon ignored the advice of uniformed officers.

In an interview on the CBS News television program "60 Minutes" that will be broadcast Sunday evening, Mr. Drumheller said that White House officials had repeatedly ignored the intelligence community's assessments about the state of Iraq's chemical, biological and nuclear weapons programs. Mr. Drumheller declined an interview request on Friday, citing an agreement with CBS that he not make public comments until the television interview is shown. A CBS news release issued on Friday included excerpts from the interview. [complete article]

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Report documents major increase in terrorist incidents
By Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, April 21, 2006

The number of terrorist attacks documented by U.S. intelligence agencies jumped sharply in 2005, crossing the 10,000 mark for the first time, according to U.S. counterterrorism officials and documents obtained by Knight Ridder Newspapers.

Officials caution that much of the increase, due to be reported publicly next week, stems from a change last year in how terror attacks are counted, coupled with a more aggressive effort to tally such violence worldwide.

But the documents say, and officials confirm, that some of the rise is traceable to the war in Iraq, where foreign terrorists, a homegrown insurgency and sectarian strife have all contributed to political bloodshed. [complete article]

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Iraq after Jaafari
By Tony Karon, Time, April 20, 2006

More than four months after the election, a shift in the position of incumbent prime minister may finally open the way for the creation of a new Iraqi government. But expectations that the formation of such a government will do much to reverse the country's sectarian drift are diminishing. [complete article]

Baghdad mosques become vigilante forts as sectarianism divides suburbs
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, April 21, 2006

In the wave of sectarian violence that has hit Iraq since the destruction of one of the country's holiest shrines in February, many mosques around Baghdad have become training grounds and weapons stores as much as places of prayer.
As Baghdad splits up into no-go areas for the Iraqi police, the danger is that the groundwork is being laid for a civil war in the city. If sectarian violence increased, the separate mosque defenders could start coordinating, turning the city into a jigsaw of no-go areas, like Beirut in the 1980s. They could also make common cause with the insurgents and turn against the Americans. [complete article]

The one certainty about Iraq: spiraling costs for Americans
By Keith Garvin, ABC News, April 20, 2006

[Anthony Cordesman, from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, says,] "When the administration submitted its original budget for the Iraq war, it didn't provide money for continuing the war this year or any other. We could end up spending up to $1 trillion in supplemental budgets for this war."

According to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, the United States spent $48 billion for Iraq in 2003, $59 billion in 2004, and $81 billion in 2005. The center predicts the figure will balloon to $94 billion for 2006. That equates to a $1,205 bill for each of America's 78 million families, on top of taxes they already pay. [complete article]

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A 4-star defense of the republic
By Rosa Brooks, Los Angeles Times, April 21, 2006

In the looking-glass world the Bush administration has brought us, it's the civilians in the White House and the Pentagon who have been eager to embrace the values normally exemplified by military juntas, while many uniformed military personnel have struggled to insist on values that are supposed to characterize democratic civil society. [complete article]

See also, Criticizing an agent of change as failing to adapt (NYT).

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Bush approval at new low
By Dana Blanton, Fox News, April 21, 2006

More Americans disapprove than approve of how George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Congress are doing their jobs, while a majority approves of Condoleezza Rice. President Bush's approval hits a record low of 33 percent this week, clearly damaged by sinking support among Republicans. [complete article]

Comment -- It sounds like it's time for Dick Cheney to make room for Bush in his secret bunker. Security on Air Force One compromised, Marine One not fit for flying, and popularity sinking like lead - it's definitely time to duck for cover.

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Rove's new mission: survival
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, April 21, 2006

Here's the real meaning of the White House shake-up and the redefinition of Karl Rove's role in the Bush presidency: The administration's one and only domestic priority in 2006 is hanging on to control of Congress.

That, in turn, means that all the spin about Rove's power being diminished is simply wrong. Yes, Rove is giving up some policy responsibilities to concentrate on politics, but guess what: The possibility of President Bush's winning enactment of any major new policy initiative this year is zero. Rove is simply moving to where all the action will, of necessity, be.

As one outside adviser to the administration said, the danger of a Democratic takeover of at least one house of Congress looms large and would carry huge penalties for Bush. The administration fears "investigations of everything" by congressional committees, this adviser said, and the "possibility of a forced withdrawal from Iraq" through legislative action. [complete article]

See also, Rove's loss (Dan Froomkin).

Comment -- Let's be honest: "demotion" was just an easy headline. As for the likelihood that Rove is going to get indicted between now and November, it seems apparent that the White House is assuming this won't happen.

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In terror war, not all names are equal
By William Fisher, IPS (via, April 21, 2006

A major government watchdog group is charging that Muslim charities are being shut down for supposedly backing terrorist causes, while giant firms like Halliburton are receiving the full protection of U.S. law for allegedly breaking government sanctions against doing business with Iran – a country designated as a sponsor of terrorism.

"There is unequal enforcement of anti-terrorist financing laws," says the Washington-based nonprofit OMB Watch.

The group says the USA PATRIOT Act gives the government "largely unchecked power to designate any group as a terrorist organization." And once a charitable organization is so designated, all of its materials and property may be seized and its assets frozen. The charity is unable to see the government's evidence and thus understand the basis for the charges. [complete article]

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Guantanamo: Many 'small fry'
AFP (via News24), April 20, 2006

Most of the 558 people named in a Pentagon list of inmates at the US base in Guantanamo, Cuba, are small fry, figures of little value in the international "war on terror", experts said on Thursday.

The names released on Thursday by the US defence department did not include a single senior figure from al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups, nor from Afghanistan's ousted Taliban regime, experts stressed.

"It's nonsense. Guantanamo is a gigantic failure," charged the French analyst Olivier Roy, a leading specialist on central Asia.

"Even setting aside the question of international law, these guys don't know anything.

"Even for those who do know a little, after four years what can their information be worth?" he asked. [complete article]

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In new job, spymaster draws bipartisan criticism
By Scott Shane, New York Times, April 20, 2006

The top Republican and the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee have disagreed publicly about many things, but on one issue they have recently come together. Both are disquieted by the first-year performance of John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence.

The fear expressed by the two lawmakers, Representatives Peter Hoekstra, Republican of Michigan, and Jane Harman, Democrat of California, is that Mr. Negroponte, the nation's overseer of spy agencies, is creating just another blanket of bureaucracy, muffling rather than clarifying the dangers lurking in the world.

In an April 6 report, the Intelligence Committee warned that Mr. Negroponte's office could end up not as a streamlined coordinator but as "another layer of large, unintended and unnecessary bureaucracy." The committee went so far as to withhold part of Mr. Negroponte's budget request until he convinced members he had a workable plan. [complete article]

See also, Intelligence director's budget may near $1 billion, report finds (WP).

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European 'rendition' investigation: "evasive and inadequate"
DPA (via Expatica), April 20, 2006

European Union lawmakers on Thursday slammed the bloc's counter-terrorism chief Gijs De Vries for providing what they described as "totally useless and senseless" information on alleged CIA detention camps and flights across Europe.

The parliament's committee investigating the charges against the CIA also heard evidence from Britain's former envoy to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, who said western secret services, including Germany's, were obtaining intelligence under torture from foreign detainees in Uzbekistan.

Members of the EU assembly questioned De Vries statement to the committee that he had no proof European governments had aided the US in transporting terrorist
suspects to other countries for interrogation. [complete article]

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Mideast money pinch
By Yasmine El-Rashidi, Wall Street Journal, April 21, 2006

A hallmark of past oil booms was that money America spends on oil and gas gets cycled back into the U.S. economy as investment and spending on U.S. goods and services. Middle Eastern investors and consumers aren't completely ignoring the U.S. this time: They are major buyers of U.S. government bonds, and have purchased U.S. hotels, such as New York's Essex House, and real estate in the South.

But America's allure appears to be waning, and travel to the U.S. from the Mideast has dropped. U.S. visits by Saudi Arabians, for example, fell to 18,573 in 2004, the last year for which statistics are available, from 72,891 in 1999, Commerce Department figures show. That represents an especially pronounced drop in tourist dollars because Saudi visitors spend three times as much per person as any other group of U.S. tourists, $9,368 per trip to the U.S., the Commerce Department says. [complete article]

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Global Imbalances: Is globalization destined to fail?
By Thomas Palley, YaleGlobal Online (via IHT), April 20, 2006

Around the world, rumbles of complaint about globalization are growing louder - and these rumbles are not confined to activist movements.

In East Asia, the financial crisis of 1997 left a jaundiced sense of what globalization entails, though robust economic recovery has tempered that. Globalization's standing has also been badly damaged in Latin America by the meltdown of the Argentine economy in 2000 and financial crises in Brazil in 1999 and 2001.

New fears about globalization are surfacing in Europe, too. In Poland these have taken the form of concern about foreign capital taking over the Polish banking system; takeover fears also permeate France and Italy. In France and Germany, working people link globalization with pressures to dismantle the social democratic state. [complete article]

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Pakistan Taleban vow more attacks
By Aamer Ahmed Khan, BBC News, April 20, 2006

The head of the Taleban in Pakistan's tribal areas has warned that there can be no peace in Afghanistan for as long as US forces remain in that country. "We will not stop our jihad [holy war] against the Americans," Haji Omar told the BBC News website.

The Afghan government has repeatedly complained that militants in Pakistan are freely crossing the border to carry out attacks. [complete article]

Pakistani troops die in 'ambush'
By Barbara Plett, BBC News, April 20, 2006

Seven Pakistani paramilitary troops have been killed and 22 others wounded in an ambush by militants near the Afghan border, military officials say. They were on a routine mission in North Waziristan tribal region, military spokesman Maj-Gen Shaukat Sultan said. [complete article]

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Iran president's bark may be worse than his bite
By Tony Karon, Time, April 20, 2006

Iran's rhetoric on the nuclear standoff may be sounding increasingly confrontational, but the headline-grabbing saber-rattling of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad often masks an important reality: Ahmedinajad is not in charge of Iran's foreign or security policy, and his sentiments may not be entirely shared by those who are. [complete article]

Understanding Iran: people, politics and power (PDF)
By Hugh Barnes and Mark Fitzpatrick, The Foreign Policy Centre, April 19, 2006

The diplomatic crisis sparked by Iran's nuclear programme has focussed attention on the balance of forces within the Islamic Republic. Some people argue that the level of disaffection and contradictoriness at the heart of the Iranian regime puts its long-term sustainability in serious doubt. Yet this point of view can often lead to bafflement and incomprehension because it divides the various factions too simplistically into conservatives and reformers – the modernist right, Islamic left and technocrats – plus a handful of intellectual and religious dissenters, some nationalists and some students. The reality of today's Iran is more complex. This pamphlet argues that the West's failure to engage successfully with Iran is due to a failure to understand the structure of the regime and the background to recent political changes. Therefore it provides a map of the various power bases, political and theocratic, using diagrams as well as text, and assesses the strength of the opposition and civil society in order to ask whether the real divide in Iran lies between the hardliners and the reformers, as commonly believed, or between
the people and the regime. [complete article - PDF]

Time for clear public understanding of Iranian threat
Joseph Cirincione interviewed by Bernard Gwertzman, Council on Foreign Relations, April 4, 2006

Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says that if the UN Security Council does not impose sanctions on Iran, "at least some in the administration have already made up their minds that they would like to launch a military strike against Iran." Cirincione says of the possibility of air attacks: "I can't think of any more counterproductive move if you have the goal of enabling the Iranian people to choose their own government, than to launch a military strike against Iran now."

He called on the Bush administration to make public its intelligence analyses, which he says argue that Iran is far from having the ability to build nuclear weapons. "Let's get all the facts out on the table," Cirincione says. "Let's examine this evidence in public, as to what Iran's capabilities are and what various estimates are as to the nuclear timeline. If those intelligence estimates are wrong, let's find out why." [complete article]

Envoys remain split on plan against Iran
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, April 20, 2006

Senior diplomats from the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members ended two days of talks about Iran's nuclear program Wednesday with consensus for action against the Islamic state, but they continued to be divided as to what form it should take, U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said.

"Nearly every country is considering some form of sanctions, and this is a new development," Burns told reporters after the meeting. "Every country said that some type of action had to be taken . . . to, in effect, erect a barrier to Iran's progress. So the challenge for us will be what can we all agree on." [complete article]

Mideast 'axis' forms against West
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, April 20, 2006

Rising tension between the West and Iran is coinciding with the emergence of a loose anti-Western alliance - Israel now dubs it an "axis of terror" - spanning the Middle East, presenting a new challenge to the US's regional ambitions.

Centered on Iran, this alignment has hardened in recent months, analysts say, with Tehran shoring up old alliances and strengthening ties with countries (Syria and Iraq) and with groups (Hizbullah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad) that share its hostility toward Israel and the US.

"The alliance that is emerging in this part of the world is a creation of Iran," says Sami Moubayed, a Syrian political analyst. "It wants to bolster its position by allying itself with countries or groups that can temporarily enhance its regional role and influence." [complete article]

Kicking off a new era of bad feelings
By Michael Young, Daily Star, April 20, 2006

If any period had to qualify as the starting point for the Middle East's impending expedition into prolonged volatility, these past 10 days could be it. The suicide attack in Tel Aviv on Monday, Iran's earlier announcement that it had enriched uranium, whatever its real or imagined importance, the resurrected link between Iranian and Palestinian militancy, and the ongoing stalemate in Iraq, all suggest dark times ahead. The logic of the emerging disputes in Palestine and the Gulf leaves little room for creative diplomacy, though nowhere is war truly irreversible.

At the heart of the new tension is Iran's apparent bid to build a nuclear device, itself a facet of the Islamic Republic's broader ambition to play a regionally dominant role. The irony of this is that it's the American invasion of Iraq, particularly the Bush administration's blunders and subsequent lack of decisiveness there, that virtually invited Iran to inherit the aftermath. Iran's Iraqi Shiite allies have become the dominant force in Baghdad, where the United States is still stumbling, its public eager for a military withdrawal. Elsewhere, America's Arab allies, with sclerotic leaderships fixated on political survival, have become almost irrelevant in setting the region's agenda. [complete article]

The tragedy that followed Hillary Clinton's bombing of Iran in 2009
By Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, April 20, 2006

May 7 2009 will surely go down in history alongside September 11 2001. "5/7", as it inevitably became known, saw massive suicide bombings in Tel Aviv, London and New York, as well as simultaneous attacks on the remaining western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Total casualties were estimated at around 10,000 dead and many more wounded. The attacks, which included the explosion of a so-called dirty bomb in London, were orchestrated by a Tehran-based organisation for "martyrdom-seeking operations" established in 2004. "5/7" was the Islamic Republic of Iran's response to the bombing of its nuclear facilities, which President Hillary Clinton had ordered in March 2009. [complete article]

Blair and Straw at odds over U.S. action in Iran
By Colin Brown and Andy McSmith, The Independent, April 20, 2006

[British foreign secretary] Jack Straw has warned Cabinet colleagues that it would be illegal for Britain to support the United States in military action against Iran. But Tony Blair has backed President George Bush by warning that ruling out military action would send out a "message of weakness" to Iran.

Differences opened up yesterday between Mr Blair and the Foreign Secretary over growing alarm in the US at the refusal of Mr Bush to rule out military action. Mr Straw said on BBC Radio 4 that it was "inconceivable" that Britain would support a military strike against Tehran. Four hours later, Mr Blair refused to go that far when challenged to do so at Prime Minister's questions by the former minister, Michael Meacher. [complete article]

Police in Tehran ordered to arrest women in 'un-Islamic' dress
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, April 20, 2006

Iran's Islamic authorities are preparing a crackdown on women flouting the stringent dress code in the clearest sign yet of social and political repression under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

From today police in Tehran will be under orders to arrest women failing to conform to the regime's definition of Islamic morals by wearing loose-fitting hijab, or headscarves, tight jackets and shortened trousers exposing skin.

Offenders could be punished with £30 fines or two months in jail. Officers will also be authorised to confront men with outlandish hairstyles and people walking pet dogs, an activity long denounced as un-Islamic by the religious rulers. [complete article]

See also, Fashion still a passion for some Iranians (KR).

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Iraqi premier says he may step down
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, April 20, 2006

In a sudden reversal, embattled Iraqi prime minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said today that he was willing to relinquish his job, a move that could help break the political stalemate has fueled the country's bitter sectarian violence.

Despite strong opposition from the two of Iraq's three main political blocs -- the Sunni Arabs and Kurds -- Mr. Jaafari had refused as recently as Wednesday to even consider stepping down. But with pressure building from within his own Shiite political alliance as well as from American officials, Mr. Jaafari released a letter today stating that he would quit if Shiite officials now "deem appropriate" another candidate.

Shiite leaders are "highly likely" to choose another candidate for prime minister in the next few days, a senior Shiite alliance official said this afternoon. The candidate may come from Mr. Jaafari's Islamic Dawa Party, the official said. "There are many stories circulating and the field is opening up, but it will still likely be someone from Dawa," he said. [complete article]

Nearly 20,000 people kidnapped in Iraq in 2006
By Abdelamir Hanun, AFP (via Middle East Online), April 20, 2006

Nearly 20,000 people have been kidnapped in Iraq since the beginning of 2006 alone, according to a report Wednesday on violence in a country scarred by three years of conflict.

The survey, which underscores the massive social upheaval caused by rebel activity and increasing sectarian conflict, does not give the number of people killed. However, it says 15,462 people have been wounded.

The 19,548 people kidnapped includes 4,959 women and 2,350 children, according to the report prepared by a group of 125 non-governmental organisations and made public in the Shiite holy city of Karbala. [complete article]

Baghdad slipping into civil war
By Dahr Jamail and Arkan Hamed, IPS (via, April 20, 2006

The new clashes between Shia militiamen dressed in Iraqi military and police uniforms and resistance fighters and residents from the Sunni Adhamiya district of Baghdad have convinced many that what Baghdad is witnessing is no less than a civil war. [complete article]

See also, Militias roil Baghdad streets (CSM).

Iraq civil war could spread, say Saudis
By Anton La Guardia, The Telegraph, April 20, 2006

Saudi Arabia issued a stark warning yesterday that Iraq was in the grip of civil war which threatened to "suck in" neighbouring countries.

On a day when at least 17 more people were killed across Iraq, Riyadh expressed alarm that events were spiralling out of control.

"Civil war is a war between civilians and there is already war between civilians," Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, said.

"The threat of break-up in Iraq is a huge problem for the countries of the region, especially if the fighting is on a sectarian basis. This type of fighting sucks in other countries." [complete article]

See also, Saudis mull electric fence on Iraqi border (CSM).

Unforeseen spending on materiel pumps up Iraq war bill
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, April 20, 2006

With the expected passage this spring of the largest emergency spending bill in history, annual war expenditures in Iraq will have nearly doubled since the U.S. invasion, as the military confronts the rapidly escalating cost of repairing, rebuilding and replacing equipment chewed up by three years of combat.

The cost of the war in U.S. fatalities has declined this year, but the cost in treasure continues to rise, from $48 billion in 2003 to $59 billion in 2004 to $81 billion in 2005 to an anticipated $94 billion in 2006, according to the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. The U.S. government is now spending nearly $10 billion a month in Iraq and Afghanistan, up from $8.2 billion a year ago, a new Congressional Research Service report found. [complete article]

Rumsfeld allies launch counterattack
By Gordon Trowbridge, Army Times, April 20, 2006

From think-tank analysts to angry retired generals to Capitol Hill lawmakers, it has become nearly universal conventional wisdom that the U.S. invasion force that conquered Iraq in 2003 lacked the manpower to secure the country after Saddam's fall.

But the Pentagon's civilian policymakers have learned a much different lesson. According to a senior civilian who played a crucial role in developing the just-released Quadrennial Defense Review, the problem with Operation Iraqi Freedom was not too few U.S. troops, but too many.

"You could have adopted a radically different concept of operations," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "You could have trained free forces in various parts of Iraq and over time they could have gained greater control of the country.

"We've heard a lot of calls with people saying they would like to have seen a much larger force, especially for stability tasks. ... What is in some ways just as interesting ... is what if we had gone in with a much smaller force, but from the get-go leveraged the capabilities of the Iraqis?"

People with ties to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had pushed such a plan in the months before the invasion, but military planners ultimately rejected it as unrealistic, and the defense official said the assumption that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction made such an approach impractical. [complete article]

Comment -- It's a shame that Army Times reporter, Gordon Trowbridge, didn't consider bucking a journalistic principle himself and "out" his source. Of course Rumsfeld wouldn't have the guts to argue this case himself -- he'll stick with his Goldilocks position that they got the troop numbers just right -- but the underlying message here is supposed to be that if Rumsfeld actually got anything wrong, it was because he got bad advice from the generals.

Trowbridge is helpful enough to identify his source as "a senior civilian who played a crucial role in developing the just-released Quadrennial Defense Review" -- that probably means, Ryan Henry, who used to be Douglas Feith's principal deputy for policy (before Feith walked the plank) and is now Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy.

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After the Israel bombing: fumbling for a response
By Tony Karon, Time, April 18, 2006

The expressions of outrage or approval to Monday's Palestinian suicide bombing in Tel Aviv were grimly predictable. But deep down the respective comments reveal the extent to which all the main players in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- including Hamas itself -- continue to search for a coherent response to the intractable reality that Hamas now runs the Palestinian government.

Hamas's Prime Minister Ismail Haniya called the bombing "a legitimate act of self-defense" for which he blamed Israel. Yet Hamas itself has refrained from such "acts of self-defense" over the past year, and indications are that it will continue to do so because a terror campaign would likely force economic and perhaps military measures by Israel and the donor community that would wreck its prospects as a government. The movement may be internally divided by the demands of its unexpected ascent to power, but its rivals -- both Islamic Jihad, which took responsibility for Monday's attack, and also factions of the Fatah party of President Mahmoud Abbas -- have sought to claim the mantle of militancy and undermine the new government's authority by continuing to launch attacks on Israelis. In fact, the political purpose of the Tel Aviv bombing was as much to undermine Hamas as it was to hurt Israel. And Hamas's own public statements justifying the attack actually played to the advantage of Israeli and U.S. efforts to isolate Hamas. [complete article]

See also, Israel plans response to Tel Aviv bombing (NYT), Abbas denounces bombing ; Hamas sees it as legitimate (Haaretz), It is either us or them, leaders of Islamic Jihad say (The Times), Hamas anger over Jordan boycott (BBC), and Hamas and Israel: partners in stalemate (Rami G. Khouri).

Comment -- I know nothing about the personalities of Hamas' leaders but I hope that they have been blessed with a sense of irony.

What could be more ironic for these neophytes in political leadership than that they are now judged more severely for their words than their actions?

Hamas' critics, who are already doing everything in their power to undermine the new Palestinian government, nevertheless want that government to make gestures of contrition even while its legitimacy continues being denied. In other words, those who deny that Hamas is capable of governing, at the same time want Hamas to demonstrate that it is qualified for the task.

Let's just suppose that Hamas had echoed Palestinian Authority chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, who called the attack in Tel Aviv "an act of terror and a despicable act that is also beyond the national Palestinian consensus and causes damage to Palestinian national interests." Would Israel and the West have then done anything to loosen its stranglehold on the Palestinian government? Of course not! Instead, Israeli and American officials would have been solemnly expressing their doubts about whether Hamas' condemnation was in fact sincere.

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The Israeli election and the 'demographic problem'
By Ilan Pappe, London Review of Books, April 20, 2006

The population problem was identified as the major obstacle in the way of Zionist fulfilment in the late 19th century, and David Ben-Gurion said in December 1947 that 'there can be no stable and strong Jewish state so long as it has a Jewish majority of only 60 per cent.' Israel, he warned on the same occasion, would have to deal with this 'severe' problem with 'a new approach'. The following year, ethnic cleansing meant that the number of Palestinians dropped below 20 per cent of the Jewish state's overall population (in the area allocated to Israel by the UN plus the area it occupied in 1948, the Palestinians would originally have made up around 60 per cent of the population). Interestingly, but not surprisingly, in December 2003 Binyamin Netanyahu recycled Ben-Gurion's magic number – the undesirable 60 per cent. 'If the Arabs in Israel form 40 per cent of the population,' Netanyahu said, 'this is the end of the Jewish state.' 'But 20 per cent is also a problem,' he added. 'If the relationship with these 20 per cent is problematic, the state is entitled to employ extreme measures.' He did not elaborate.

Israel boosted its population with two massive Jewish immigrations, each of about a million people, in 1949 and in the 1980s. This kept the Palestinian proportion of the population down and today Palestinians account for nearly 20 per cent of the population of Israel (not counting the Occupied Territories). Ehud Olmert, the leader of Kadima and acting prime minister, thinks that if Israel stays in the Occupied Territories and its inhabitants are included in the Israeli population, Palestinians will outnumber Jews within 15 years. So he advocates hitkansut – meaning 'convergence' or, better, 'ingathering' – a policy that would leave several populous Palestinian areas outside direct Israeli control. But even if this consolidation takes place, there will still be a very large Palestinian population inside the 88 per cent of Palestine in which Olmert hopes to build the future, stable Jewish state. How large exactly we don't know: demographers in Israel belonging to the centre or the left provide a low estimate, which makes disengagement seem a reasonable solution, while those on the right tend to exaggerate the figure. But they all seem to agree that the demographic balance will not stay the same, given the higher birth-rate of Palestinians compared to Jews. Thus Olmert may well come to the conclusion that pull-outs are not the solution. [complete article]

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A lobby, not a conspiracy
By Tony Judt, New York Times, April 19, 2006

How are we to explain the fact that it is in Israel itself that the uncomfortable issues raised by Professors Mearsheimer and Walt have been most thoroughly aired? It was an Israeli columnist in the liberal daily Haaretz who described the American foreign policy advisers Richard Perle and Douglas Feith as "walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments ...and Israeli interests." It was Israel's impeccably conservative Jerusalem Post that described Paul Wolfowitz, the deputy secretary of defense, as "devoutly pro-Israel." Are we to accuse Israelis, too, of "anti-Zionism"?

The damage that is done by America's fear of anti-Semitism when discussing Israel is threefold. It is bad for Jews: anti-Semitism is real enough (I know something about it, growing up Jewish in 1950's Britain), but for just that reason it should not be confused with political criticisms of Israel or its American supporters. It is bad for Israel: by guaranteeing it unconditional support, Americans encourage Israel to act heedless of consequences. The Israeli journalist Tom Segev described the Mearsheimer-Walt essay as "arrogant" but also acknowledged ruefully: "They are right. Had the United States saved Israel from itself, life today would be better ...the Israel Lobby in the United States harms Israel's true interests." [complete article]

See also, Breaking the silence (Juan Cole).

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Iran: Cooler heads urge Bush to talk
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times, April 20, 2006

Amid a new escalation in threats between the United States and Iran over Tehran's nuclear program, some prominent US Republicans are calling for President George W Bush to engage Tehran in direct talks.

At the same time, indications that Tehran may itself be hoping to engage Washington have been growing steadily, despite the incendiary rhetoric of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad directed primarily against Israel, which Bush has pledged to defend.

Whether moderate voices in both capitals, as well as similar urgings by foreign powers that are increasingly worried about the regional and global repercussions of a possible US attack on Iran, will prevail remains very uncertain, particularly given their history of mutual demonization since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. [complete article]

Iranian group seeks British suicide bombers
By Robert Tait and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, April 19, 2006

Relations between the west and the hardline Iranian regime are set to worsen after a Tehran-based group claimed yesterday it was trying to recruit Iranians and other Muslims in Britain to carry out suicide bombings against Israel.

The Committee for the Commemoration of Martyrs of the Global Islamic Campaign, which claims to be independent but has the backing of the regime, said it is targeting potential recruits in Britain because of the relative ease with which UK passport-holders can enter Israel. [complete article]

Many Arabs favor nuclear Iran
By Jonathan Wright, Reuters, April 18, 2006

The United States found little support in the Arab world when it invaded Iraq in 2003.

In a military confrontation with Tehran over Iran's nuclear program, it should not expect any more.

Some Arabs, mainly outside the Gulf, are positively enthusiastic about Iran's program, even if it acquires nuclear weapons, if only because it would be a poke in the eye or a counterweight to Israel and the United States. [complete article]

'Pakistan not to abandon gas pipeline despite U.S. protest'
Times of India, April 19, 2006

Asserting that it has no plans to abandon the Iran-Pakistan-India (IPI) gas pipeline project despite strong objections from the US, Islamabad has said it is the "most feasible option" to import cheap gas.

"We are talking to the Iranians about the price along with the Indians who are still on board. Once the issue of price is settled with Iran and India, we will move ahead on the project," Foreign Minister Khurshid M Kasuri told reporters in Lahore on Tuesday before leaving for a tour of Turkey and Germany. [complete article]

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Rumsfeld undone
By H.D.S. Greenway, Boston Globe(via IHT), April 19, 2006

President George W. Bush's loyalty to Rumsfeld may seem admirable, but it is politically foolish and dishonorable. After the spectacular failure of Iraq - not to mention the horrors of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo - it's time for the old Republican virtues of personal responsibility and accountability. The continued presence of Rumsfeld in the administration decreases the chances that Bush can keep public support for the war. For the American people have lost faith in Bush's judgment, and Rumsfeld is a prime example of the president's lack of judgment. [complete article]

A case for accountability
By John Batiste, Washington Post, April 19, 2006

We have the best military in the world, hands down. We must complete what we started in Iraq, and there is no doubt in my mind that we have the military capacity to do that, provided the political will is there. Our success in Iraq is due to the incredible performance of our servicemen and women. I believe that I have an obligation and a duty to speak out.

I had the opportunity to observe high-level policy formulation in the Pentagon and experience firsthand its impact on the ground. I have concluded that we need new leadership in the Defense Department because of a pattern of poor strategic decisions and a leadership style that is contemptuous, dismissive, arrogant and abusive. This dismissive attitude has frayed long-standing alliances with our allies inside and outside NATO, alliances that are fundamental to our security and to building strong coalitions. It is time to hold our leaders accountable. A leader is responsible for everything an organization does or fails to do. It is time to address the axis of arrogance and the reinforcing of strategic failures in decision-making. [complete article]

See also, Here's Donny! In his defense, a show is born (NYT).

Comment -- The loyalty that Bush shows towards his subordinates is nothing less than the loyalty he expects from them. Once he loses that, this whole charade will rapidly unravel.

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At heart of Iraqi impasse, a family feud
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, April 19, 2006

On one side of the grinding political deadlock over who should lead Iraq's next government is a plain-spoken cleric with the puffed cheeks and patchy beard of youth, a fiery icon of the downtrodden with an exalted family name: al-Sadr.

On the other is a wizened mullah from the clerical old guard, whose al-Hakim clan founded Iraq's largest political party and whose scholarly air belies a reputation for ruthlessness.

Moqtada al-Sadr and Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim head the two leading dynasties of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, whose spiritual home is this ancient southern city. They operate the country's two largest Shiite militias -- the Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigade, respectively -- each with more than 10,000 men under arms. And they are heirs to rival movements that for generations have competed, sometimes violently, for supremacy in the hearts and minds of their long-persecuted people. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi politicians blame each other for lack of new government (KR).

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Fears grow over Sunni backing for Iraq insurgency
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, April 18, 2006

Sunni politicians on Tuesday condemned government forces who battled guerillas in a Baghdad neighbourhood, feeding fears that rising sectarian violence and Shia militia activity may be pushing Iraq's Sunni population toward supporting the insurgency.

"What happened in Adhamiya is an evil act by an armed militia backed by security and government operatives," said Dhafer al-Ani, a member of the Sunni-led Iraqi Consensus Front, the largest Sunni block in parliament. Mr Ani was one of several politicians who on Tuesday condemned an early Monday morning raid by Iraqi security forces into the Sunni district that was attacked by rebels.

The prominent Iraqi newspaper al-Zaman claimed that the "people of Adhamiya had foiled a night assault" by a "'death squad' whose members were disguised as police" and quoted members of the "Adhamiya Defense Committees." [complete article]

See also, Baghdad street battle smacks of open civil war and Mystery hangs over Baghdad battle (WP).

Militias force thousands of Iraqis to flee
By Sharon Behn, Washington Times, April 19, 2006

Tens of thousands of Iraqis have abandoned their homes and moved into makeshift housing in the last few weeks because of death threats from organized Sunni and Shi'ite militias and gangs, the president of the Iraqi Red Crescent Society said yesterday.

"Some [militia] members come with leaflets and envelopes with blood-stained bullets and tell them to leave," Said Hakki said in a telephone interview from Baghdad. "These numbers are rising and rising at an alarming rate."

Caught up in a surge of brutal sectarian killings since an attack on a Shi'ite shrine in February, these families are now living in tent camps, schools and mosques scattered around Baghdad, Iraq's southern and western provinces, and along the Jordanian border. [complete article]

See also, Signs of panic in mixed Iraq neighborhood.

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Iraq's Kurds aim for own oil ministry
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, April 19, 2006

Leaders of Iraq's Kurdish north have unveiled a controversial plan to consolidate their hold on the region's future petroleum resources, raising concerns about how the ethnically divided nation will share its oil revenue.

The Kurdish parliament will be asked to vote on the creation of a Ministry of Natural Resources that would regulate potentially lucrative energy projects in newly discovered oil and natural gas fields within the three provinces of Iraqi Kurdistan.

The new ministry, if established, would be another step in the Kurds' gradual retreat from the Baghdad government, as well as a potentially destabilizing development in a country already on the verge of fragmenting along ethnic and religious lines. [complete article]

See also, External forces on Iraq's new government (Joost Hiltermann).

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GAO faults agencies' sharing of terror data
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, April 19, 2006

Despite more than four years of legislation, executive orders and presidential directives, the Bush administration has yet to comprehensively improve sharing of counterterrorism information among dozens of federal agencies -- and between them and thousands of nonfederal partners, government investigators have concluded.

Repeated deadlines set by both President Bush and Congress have not been met, according to a 34-page report issued late Monday by the Government Accountability Office. While acknowledging the "complexity of the task," the report notes that responsibility for the effort has shifted since late 2001 from the White House to the Office of Management and Budget to the Department of Homeland Security, and now resides with the director of national intelligence. "None has yet completed the task," the report noted. [complete article]

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America meets the new superpower
By Clifford Coonan, The Independent, April 19, 2006

When President Hu Jintao of China shakes hands with President George Bush in Washington tomorrow and gives one of his fixed grins for photographers, it will not be just another meeting between the leader of a large developing country and the chief executive of the richest nation on earth.

China is rising fast and is expected to eclipse the United States economically in the future - its gross domestic product is tipped to overtake that of America by 2045.

While Mr Bush has only given Mr Hu an hour of his time for a state lunch, the global balance of power is changing and in future meetings, the Chinese will set the timetable. [complete article]

See also, Containing China (Michael T. Klare).

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Hughes tries fine-tuning to improve diplomatic picture
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, April 19, 2006

Seven months ago, Undersecretary of State Karen P. Hughes began her job to improve the United States' "public diplomacy" with an ill-fated splash -- a "listening tour" of the Middle East that earned negative reviews from the Arab media and catcalls from domestic critics. But since that diplomatic debut, Hughes has managed to set in motion substantial changes in the ways an often lumbering government bureaucracy reacts to the swirl of news, gossip and rumors that make up today's 24-hour news cycle.

"I am trying to lay the foundation for a dramatically different 21st-century diplomacy," Hughes, a former longtime adviser to President Bush, said in an interview last week. "This is a long-term endeavor. You can compare it to the Cold War, in the sense that it is an effort that will take years, as the Cold War did." [complete article]

Comment -- The problem with this whole "public diplomacy" enterprise is that its focus on "getting the message out" presupposes that America is the victim of being misunderstood.

Instead of confining herself to this PR role, Hughes needs to think more about quality assurance and customer relations. Much of the hostility towards America comes from angry consumers who regard the product (US foreign policy) as dangerous, defective and misleadingly advertised.

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Bush: 'All options on table' for Iran
CBS/AP, April 18, 2006

President Bush said Tuesday that "all options are on the table" to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons, but said he will continue to focus on the international diplomatic option to persuade Tehran to drop its nuclear ambitions.

"We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so," Mr. Bush told reporters in the Rose Garden.

Mr. Bush also said there should be a unified effort involving countries "who recognize the danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon," and he noted that U.S. officials are working closely nations such as Great Britain, France and Germany on the issue." [complete article]

Comment -- When President Bush says "all options are on the table," he shouldn't be taken literally. Face-to-face talks with Iran on the nuclear issue is one of many options that the Bush administration studiously refuses to consider. So when Bush says, "all options", we need to understand that this is really just a figure of speech -- something to be taken no more literally than President Ahmadinejad's threat that Iran will "cut off the hands of any aggressor."

Bush's problem is that he is now grappling with the unintended but very real consequences of having adopted a national security strategy based on the principle of pre-emptive war. The way pre-emption was supposed to work was that Iraq was going to be the demonstration case -- the shockingly awesome reason why every rogue nation would fall in line with the rest of the world in accepting American hegemony.

Now the Bush administration is desperate to convince the Iranians that America is ready, willing and capable of doing whatever it takes to curtail Iran's nuclear program. The trouble is, the Iranians simply don't believe that the U.S. is making credible threats -- hence Iran's increasingly provocative taunts. Indeed, the chickenhawks are up against a war-hardened regime that, far from appearing threatened, seems to relish the opportunity for another fight.

So, what to do now? If the U.S. continues down a diplomatic path that's nothing more than a preparation for military action, it will very likely end up having to go it alone without even the fig leaf of British support. With no international support, this time around there would also likely be very little domestic support.

Alternatively, the administration could start getting serious about diplomacy and take the risk of publicly entering into direct talks. While that might be the sensible thing to do, it also seems like a bridge too far for this particular administration.

That leaves the Reagan option -- back-channel talks and a secret deal. The very thought would no doubt sicken Cheney, Ledeen, Perle and all the other neocons who are now fantasizing about another regime change.

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Inside the real Iran
By Angus McDowall and Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, April 18, 2006

Many years and much technological development lie between enriching uranium by 3.5 per cent for use in nuclear reactors, which is what Iran claims to have done, and the 90 per cent enrichment needed for warheads. But the more extravagant the Iranian President's language, the less doubt there appears to be that his country will inevitably get nuclear weapons.

What may be less obvious is that as Mr Ahmadinejad is using the issue to overshadow his unpopularity on other matters. Four months ago he was in crisis, reeling from stinging attacks made by critics within and outside his regime. But as he confronts the West with ever greater brio, his domestic opponents find it harder to challenge him in public since to do so looks unpatriotic and divisive.

Behind this façade of togetherness, however, the cracks are very real. The firebrand President has already faced several revolts in a parliament controlled by members of what should be his own faction. And the pragmatic former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, his defeated rival in the elections last year, remains an influential opponent. [complete article]

See also, Iran claim on nuclear plan raises new fears (NYT), Crude prices at record levels on Iran fears (FT), and China, Russia welcome Iran into the fold (Asia Times).

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Insecurity with insolvency
By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, April 24, 2006

Taken at face value as an actual blueprint for policy, President Bush's new National Security Strategy, which appeared last month, flunks. It fails because it disregards the first principle of strategy: the imperative of balancing means and ends. The president's latest effort to define America's purpose in the world comes chock-full of declarations, exhortations, and gaseous generalities, many of them lifted from the 2002 version of this document. But this 49-page report, which is almost entirely devoid of facts, never bothers to consider how we got into our current mess in the first place or how we're going to pay for the "Long War" that the president has contrived as the best way to get us out. [complete article]

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U.S. knew Shiite militias were a threat but took no action largely because they were focused on Sunni insurgency
By Tom Lasseter, Knight Ridder, April 17, 2006

U.S. officials were warned for more than two years that Shiite Muslim militias were infiltrating Iraq's security forces and taking control of neighborhoods, but they failed to take action to counteract it, Iraqi and American officials said.

Now American officials call the militias the primary security concern in Iraq, blaming them for more civilian deaths than the Sunni Muslim-based insurgency and demanding that the Iraqi government move quickly to stem their influence. [complete article]

General reveals rift with Rumsfeld on insurgents
By Gareth Porter, IPS (via Asia Times), April 17, 2006

A military assessment of the Iraqi insurgency in late 2004 concluded that it had the active support of millions of Sunnis who rejected the legitimacy of a US installed government, according to Lt Gen John R Vines, who led all coalition forces in Iraq from January 2005 to January 2006.

That analysis conflicted with the view of Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney, who believed the insurgents represented only Saddam loyalists and foreign jihadis and could be defeated by a combination of force and free elections.

Vines' revelation thus provides the first serious evidence of past differences between the US command in Iraq and top US policymakers over the nature of the insurgency and what to do about it. [complete article]

Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad sealed after gun battles
By Edward Wong, New York Times, April 18, 2006

American and Iraqi troops sealed off one of Baghdad's most prominent Sunni Arab neighborhoods today after overnight gun battles raged through the streets there, leaving homes and storefronts riddled with bullets and at least one civilian dead, Iraqi officials and witnesses said.

The closure of Adhamiya, in northern Baghdad, could signal a deteriorating security situation in a neighborhood where attacks on American and Iraqi forces had been on a relative ebb for many months. The area is home to hard-line Sunni Arabs who largely remain hostile to the Shiite-led government and American presence. At its center is the well-known Abu Hanifa Mosque, outside of which Saddam Hussein made his final public appearance in April 2003 before fleeing Baghdad and the American invasion force. [complete article]

Sectarian violence continues to spur displacement
IRIN (via Reuters), April 17, 2006

Up to 35,000 more individuals have been displaced in the past two weeks due to ongoing sectarian violence, said officials from the Ministry of Displacement and Migration.

"Nearly 70,000 displaced Iraqis, especially from the capital, are living in deteriorating conditions," said ministry spokesman Sattar Nawruz.

According to ministry officials, the government is providing displaced families with essential materials, including food and medical supplies. Nevertheless, officials express alarm over a rising rate of displacement in recent weeks. "Families are leaving their homes every day because they're afraid of becoming the next victims of violence," Nawruz pointed out. [complete article]

Ruined treasures in Babylon await an Iraq without fighting
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, April 18, 2006

Babylon, the mud-brick city with the million-dollar name, has paid the price of war. It has been ransacked, looted, torn up, paved over, neglected and roughly occupied. Archaeologists said American soldiers even used soil thick with priceless artifacts to stuff sandbags.

But Iraqi leaders and United Nations officials are not giving up on it. They are working assiduously to restore Babylon, home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World, and turn it into a cultural center and possibly even an Iraqi theme park.

No one is saying this is going to happen anytime soon, but what makes the project even conceivable is that the area around Babylon is one of the safest in Iraq, a beacon of civilization, once again, in a land of chaos. [complete article]

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Vice squad
By Robert Dreyfuss, The American Prospect, April 17, 2006

Bad heart, errant shotgun, and Halliburton stock options in tow, Dick Cheney has ruled the White House roost for the past five years, amassing enough power to give rise to the joke that George W. Bush is "a heartbeat away from the presidency."

Yet, despite the fact that hundreds of thousands of words have been written on Cheney's role in the Bush administration, most of what's been written fails to explain how the vice president wields his extraordinary authority. Notoriously opaque, the Office of the Vice President (OVP) is very difficult for journalists to penetrate. But a Prospect investigation shows that the key to Cheney's influence lies with the corps of hard-line acolytes he assembled in 2001. They serve not only as his eyes and ears, monitoring a federal bureaucracy that resists many of Cheney's pet initiatives, but sometimes serve as his fists, too, when the man from Wyoming feels that the passive-aggressive bureaucrats need bullying. Like disciplined Bolsheviks slicing through a fractious opposition, Cheney's team operates with a single-minded, ideological focus on the exercise of American military power, a belief in the untrammeled power of the presidency, and a fierce penchant for secrecy. [complete article]

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Former Fla. professor to be deported
By Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, April 18, 2006

Former Florida professor Sami al-Arian pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to provide support to a Palestinian terrorist organization and agreed to be deported from the United States in a deal with federal prosecutors, unsealed in federal court yesterday, that ends one of the nation's highest profile terrorism cases.

By entering a guilty plea Friday at a closed hearing in Tampa, al-Arian, 48, appears likely to soon win his release from prison, where he has spent most of his time in solitary confinement since his Feb. 20, 2003, arrest, and be reunited with his wife and five children, said his lawyer, Linda G. Moreno.

The U.S. government claimed a measure of vindication after suffering a stunning setback in December, when a federal jury in Tampa deadlocked on nine charges that al-Arian aided terrorists, found him not guilty of eight other counts -- including conspiracy to maim or murder, perjury, and immigration violations -- and acquitted three co-defendants on all 34 charges against them.

The 15-page deal, accepted yesterday by U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr., leaves a murky outcome for the first criminal prosecution that relied mainly on vast amounts of secretly gathered intelligence against terrorism suspects collected under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. [complete article]

Comment -- It's ironic that while there has been so much FISA-related venting on the blogosphere, this is a case about which bloggers on the Left have been rather muted. The Hamas connection clearly makes it too hot to handle, yet the reality of surveillance is that it will impinge very little on those who steer clear of controversy. John Sugg, senior editor for the Creative Loafing group of alternative newsweeklies, has followed this case closely and writes:
For such an allegedly bad guy, the government is willing to accept a very mild end-game. The agreement calls for Al-Arian to receive a punishment at the "low end" of sentencing guidelines of 46-57 months. With time already served, Al-Arian should be out no later than next March. He'll then be deported.

However, lawyers and his family wonder about another one of the government's many tricks. If no country will accept Al-Arian, he could stay in jail. The government previously, in the case of Al-Arian's brother-in-law, Mazen Al-Najjar, agreed to deportation and then sought to undermine attempts to find a country that would accept him.

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The horror of Hamas
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, April 18, 2006

The horror of Monday's suicide bombing in Tel Aviv, which killed the bomber and nine other people and wounded scores more, presented Hamas with an opportunity to break from its history as a supporter of terrorism. Instead, a spokesman for Hamas, which formed a Palestinian parliamentary government last month, described the attack carried out by another group, Islamic Jihad, as an act of self-defense.

If there was any lingering doubt that the U.S. and Europe were right to ostracize the Hamas government and cut off economic aid, it has been dramatically dispelled. It remains part of the problem, not part of any Arab-Israeli solution.

That doesn't mean Israel should respond to the attack with self-defeating actions, such as a wholesale reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. It does mean that Israel has cause to crack down anew on Islamic Jihad and institute stronger security measures along the "Green Line" separating Israel and the West Bank -- even if that means injuring and inconveniencing innocent Palestinians. As always, they are hostages to the extremists. [complete article]

Comment -- Suicide bombing is undoubtedly horrific, yet the grossly distorted American news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict again conjures up an image of carnage striking Israelis with the unpredictability of lightening. Perhaps if the media had given more attention to the fact that Israel has been firing as many as 300 shells a day into Gaza in recent weeks, or that so far this month 28 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank and Gaza, or that during the course of the intifada that began in September 2000, more than 160 Palestinian children under 12 years old have been killed and the total number of Palestinians killed exceeds 3,800 - perhaps if any of these statistics had been deemed worthy of more attention, then the latest suicide bombing would seem no less horrific, yet certainly less shocking.

As for the fact that Gaza is under siege, food is running out, and Israel and the West are intent on destroying the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority - I guess none of that has any relevance when it comes to understanding what might have precipitated the terror. And the idea that Islamic Jihad is viciously (if unintentionally) serving the interests of those who want to see Hamas fail - that doesn't even come into the picture.

Israel's response to yesterday's bombing is being couched in terms of restraint. The BBC reports that Israel 'will not strike at Hamas' even though the bombing campaign on Gaza continues, while Israel's UN ambassador suggests that we are witnessing nothing less that the seeds of world war. All the while, the moral sanctuary inside which most observers this side of the fence takes refuge is this: evil attaches only to those who intentionally take innocent life.

The Los Angeles Times' editorial is matter of fact in observing that an Israeli "crack down" will injure and inconvenience innocent Palestinians but blame will of course rest solely with the extremists. The crack down will necessarily involve what in some measure is an indiscriminate use of violence - if it did not, there would in fact be little risk to innocent people. But we can be assured: when innocent people are killed by good people, it's always with a sense of regret.

Meanwhile, another question that should be raised by yesterday's bombing, yet will predictably be ignored is about the credibility of Israel's ongoing security strategy. After how many more suicide bombings will the function of Israel's so-called security barrier come into question, or can we already conclude that this is first and foremost a unilateral border; a border that makes a feeble claim of legitimacy in the name of a security.

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Senior Hamas official holds Israel responsible for violence
AP (via IHT), April 18, 2006

A senior Hamas official on Tuesday held Israel responsible for the latest suicide bombing in Tel Aviv and was sharply critical of the Palestinian president for issuing a condemnation of the attack that killed nine people and wounded dozens.

"Israel alone is responsible for the current escalation," Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, told The Associated Press.

Israel said Tuesday that it held the Hamas-led Palestinian government responsible for the deadliest suicide bombing in 20 months - even though the attack was carried out by Islamic Jihad, a different militant group. [complete article]

See also, 9 killed by suicide bomber in Tel Aviv (NYT).

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The last conquest of Jerusalem
The Economist, April 12, 2006

After millennia of violent conquest and reconquest, Jerusalem, centre of pilgrimage, crucible of history and the world's oldest international melting-pot, is changing hands once more, but with a slow and quiet finality. Israel redrew the municipal boundary after the 1967 war to enclose some of the West Bank land that it had occupied, a de facto (though not internationally recognised) annexation.
East (Arab) and West (Jewish) Jerusalem functioned as two cities between 1948 and 1967, when the east was under Jordanian occupation. After 1967, Palestinians living within the expanded Jerusalem got blue Israeli identity cards. These give them the right to move freely within Israel, collect social benefits and vote in municipal elections. They do not bestow citizenship.

Yet Jerusalem is still essentially two cities—not just in population and economic ties, but also in municipal policy. In a recent book ("Discrimination in the Heart of the Holy City", International Peace and Co-operation Centre, Jerusalem, 2006), Meir Margalit, an Israeli peace activist and former city councillor, has detailed the differences. Arab Jerusalemites, now about 33% of the city's residents, get just 12% of its welfare budget, even though their poverty rate is more than double that of Jewish residents. They get 15% of the education budget, 8% of engineering services, just 1.2% of the culture and art, and so on. Overall, their share of the services' budget is under 12%, meaning a four-to-one difference in spending per person between Jews and Palestinians. In countless other things, from the number of garbage containers on the streets to the employment rates at city hall, there is a massive disparity in favour of the city's Jews.

Arab Jerusalemites share some blame for their disenfranchisement. They tend to boycott local elections in protest at the occupation, so that the city council is now dominated by ultra-Orthodox Jews. But the bias in policies is too blatant and too long-standing to be down to that alone. [complete article]

See also, Jerusalem: Where armies and souls contend (NYT).

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Iran, not Iraq, fuels the 'Rumsfeld rebellion'
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, April 17, 2006

While we may all enjoy the spectacle of the most stupendously arrogant member of Bush's cabinet being taken down by those entrusted with defending America -- even as a couple of generals he appointed rush to his defense, along with President Bush ("You're doing a heck of a job, Rummy..."), we still need to ask why this is happening, and why now.

After all, the egregious errors of which Rumsfeld is being accused were made in 2003, and America has chafed under the burden in blood and treasure that the Iraq misadventure has cost for at least the past two years. So why have the military men chosen this moment to break their silence? And, for that matter, why have they chosen Rummy as their target? [complete article]

See also, Anatomy of a revolt (Newsweek), Generals break code of silence (NYT), New worry rises after Iran claims nuclear steps (NYT).

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Time's Joe Klein: Keep nukes on table in Iran negotiations
ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Raw Story, April 16, 2006

[Time Magazine's columnist, Joe] Klein: And, by the way, we're very much well liked among the young, educated Iranians. But this is not Iraq we're dealing with here. This is an ancient country, a very strong country, and a very proud country. And so, yeah, by all means, we should talk to them, but, on the other hand, we should not take any option, including the use of nuclea-....tactical nuclear weapons off the table.

Stephanopoulos: Keep that on the table?

Klein: It's absolutely stupid not to.

Stephanopoulos: That's insane.

Klein: Well I don't think we should ever use tac-...I think that...

Stephanopoulos: Well, then why should they be on the table?

Klein: Why?

Stephanopoulos: Why do we want that specter of crossing that line?

Klein: Because we don't know what the options on the other side...what their options are on the table.

Stephanopoulos: Well we know that they've got 40,000 possible suicide bombers but I also think that line is one that we have to be very, very careful to cross.

Klein: Listen. I don't think. I think the use of force here would be counterproductive. But I think that when you're dealing in a negotiation you can't take stuff off the table before it starts. [complete article]

Comment -- It's curious how no one in these types of discussion questions the idea that the threat of violence is a legitimate, necessary or productive element in "negotiations" between countries. A bank robber doesn't carry a gun to put himself in a better negotiating position; he's armed so that he can impose his will. Real negotiation, on the other hand, is based on the willingness to compromise - the understanding that an acceptable conclusion won't necessarily include everything you want.

Right now, there aren't any negotiations going on directly between the United States and Iran. Indeed, the U.S.'s commitment to regime change in Iran and its willingness to use military force have probably done more to undercut than advance the negotiations with Iran that have involved the IAEA and the EU trio.

As for the idea that "nothing can be taken off the table" - that might be true if you happen to be a mafia godfather, but it doesn't apply to the president. George Bush could threaten to wipe Iran off the map by using nuclear ballistic missiles. The U.S. has the capacity to do this, but I don't think Joe Klein or any other sane American would say that this is one of those options that can't be taken off the table.

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On Iran, Arab heads should come out of the sand
By Khalid Hroub, Daily Star, April 15, 2006

At the popular level in the region, Iran's radical discourse, unfolding against a background of increasingly hostile feelings toward American and Western policies in the region, is seen as an assertive response to American and Western arrogance. Given the accumulation of despair and anger, Arab and Islamic public opinion is unwilling to consider that extremist discourse or behavior only leads to catastrophe, as was proven in the cases of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. As long as rage continues to control the public's mood, populist discourse will be received with enthusiasm by the angry majority.

What worries Arab states even more, is that Iran is not viewed in the region as an ordinary state. Its aspirations and religious discourse are seen by neighboring Arab regimes to be trespassing on their borders, and influencing Arab Shiites. Last week, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was blunt, if foolishly provocative, when he said that Arab Shiites gave more allegiance to Iran than to their own countries. In this he spoke for many Gulf and Lebanese politicians. They all fear that Iran is capable of mobilizing local Shiites against their regimes. [complete article]

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Six killed, dozens hurt in Tel Aviv suicide bombing
By Amos Harel, Arnon Regular, and Ran Reznik, Haaretz, April 17, 2006

A Palestinian suicide bomber killed at least six people and wounded at least 40 others, eight of them seriously, in an explosion near the old central bus station in south Tel Aviv Monday afternoon, police and rescue workers said. Two of the wounded were in extremely critical condition. Security sources said the bomber, who was also killed, may have been a woman.

The attack came just over two hours before a special session of Knesset to inaugurate the new parliament elected last month. It also came at the height of holiday travel during the week-long Passover holiday. [complete article]

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Who is a terrorist?
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, April 16, 2006

Israel is dropping thousands of bombs on towns and villages, on the "the launching pads" of the Qassams - another dubious term created by the defense establishment and blindly adopted by the press - and only the Palestinians, whose Qassam rockets haven't killed anyone since the disengagement, are called "terrorists."

Nor was there any substantive debate after a possible slip of the tongue by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in an interview to the BBC, in which she said that there was a difference between attacking civilians and attacking soldiers. Even though she did not resolutely stand by her own words in an interview with Channel 10, Livni dared to speak the truth: If harming civilians is a measure of terror, then Israel is a terror state. With 18 killed in Gaza alone in 12 days, three of them children, the absence of intent cannot suffice for us. Someone who uses artillery to shell population centers and says with horrific indifference that this is "just a preview," as if it were another reality show on TV, cannot claim that he does not intend to kill children. [complete article]

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Najaf's elite clerics playing key role in Iraq now
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, April 17, 2006

Long gone are the days when the clergy and students in this city of shrines and seminaries confined their debates and studies to arcane questions of Islamic jurisprudence.

Now the talk in the libraries, teahouses and Internet cafes is almost always about politics: the deadlock over government formation in Baghdad, the violence between Shiite and Sunni Muslims, when to get American troops out of the country.

Most often, discussion turns to how much this city's Shiite clerical establishment should participate in the governing of Iraq. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi bid to end impasse stalls (WP).

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U.S. probes 'friendly fire' deaths
BBC News, April 17, 2006

US-led forces in Afghanistan say they are investigating two separate incidents in which they may have killed civilians and Afghan policemen.

Seven civilians died during a battle with insurgents in the eastern province of Kunar on Saturday. A US statement regretted the "loss of innocent life" in that incident. [complete article]

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Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in security tie-up
By Farhan Bokhari, Financial Times, April 16, 2006

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have agreed to broaden their security ties after a visit to Pakistan at the weekend by Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi crown prince.

Plans include fresh deployments of Pakistani troops to the oil rich kingdom for security duties; training of Saudi military troops by Pakistan; and the possible first purchase of Pakistani-assembled tanks by the Saudis.

Prince Sultan's meeting with General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's military ruler, was preceded by reports that the Saudi military had this month begun carrying out tests of the Pakistan-assembled 'Al Khalid' tank. Western diplomats said discussions were continuing for the sale of up to 150 tanks in a deal which could be worth up to U$600m. [complete article]

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Russia, U.S. slipping into familiar 'chill'?
By Fred Weir, Christian Science Monitor, April 17, 2006

An intensifying shouting match between the US and Russia has stirred fears that the two former adversaries could be drifting back to a familiar ideologically charged rivalry.

Most experts play down the new mood as a worrisome "chill," and some suggest that a change in leadership - slated for 2008 in both countries - might reverse the slide in mutual ties. But many Russians, who have watched as Western influence has thrust decisively into the former Soviet heartland since the USSR's 1991 demise, see it in darker, more visceral tones.

The US is bent on spreading its power by "buying leaders and organizing state coups" throughout the former USSR, says Yevgeny Ivanov, chief ideologist for the pro-Kremlin group Nashi, Russia's biggest political youth movement. He's referring to the recent wave of pro-democracy "colored revolutions" that wrenched Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan from Moscow's orbit. "Their type of globalization is aimed at having the right to decide the world's destiny," he says. [complete article]

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The meddlesome Uncle Sam
By Julia E. Sweig, Washington Post, April 16, 2006

Review: Overthrow -- America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, by Stephen Kinzer

Do you think George W. Bush and the neoconservatives inducted "regime change" into American foreign policy's hall of fame? Think again. Long before Iraq, U.S. presidents, spies, corporate types and their acolytes abroad had honed the art of deposing foreign governments.

As Stephen Kinzer tells the story in Overthrow, America's century of regime changing began not in Iraq but Hawaii. Hawaii ? Indeed. Kinzer explains that Hawaii's white haole minority -- in cahoots with the U.S. Navy, the White House and Washington's local representative -- conspired to remove Queen Liliuokalani from her throne in 1893 as a step toward annexing the islands. The haole plantation owners believed that by removing the queen (who planned to expand the rights of Hawaii's native majority) and making Hawaii part of the United States, they could get in on a lucrative but protected mainland sugar market. Ever wonder why free trade has such a bad name?

Over the decades, a version of this story repeats, and repeats. Kinzer, a New York Times reporter, writes that the United States has thwarted independence movements in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Nicaragua; staged covert actions and coups d'etat in Iran, Guatemala, South Vietnam and Chile; and invaded Grenada, Panama and obviously Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 110 years, Kinzer argues, the United States has deployed its power to gain access to natural resources, stifle dissent and control the nationalism of newly independent states or political movements. [complete article]

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So how close is a showdown over Iran?
By Paul Harris, Gaby Hinsliff, and Robert Tait, The Observer, April 16, 2006

It would seem, to Middle Eastern eyes scanning the latest headlines online yesterday, yet further evidence of secret plans for the conflict that everyone is now dreading. Britain, it was suggested, had taken part in an American war game that simulated an invasion of Iran, in an apparent mockery of both countries' insistence that they want a diplomatic - not a military - solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

But in the overheated atmosphere of current debate over Iran, nothing is quite what it seems. The simulated battle, fought in 2004 and codenamed Hotspur, was in fact one of a series of 'paper exercises' that have been conducted every few weeks by senior military planners on both sides of the Atlantic since the Sixties to test strategic readiness. Each time, a different country is invaded.

To save inventing new topography every time, maps of real countries around the world are used in strict rotation. In July 2004 - before the current president came to power in Tehran - it happened to be Iran. A few weeks ago, it was Scotland. If Tehran is panicking as a result of the story, so too should Edinburgh.

For all that, the story on the front page of yesterday's Guardian is an indication, if not of imminent invasion, of an intense period of smoke and mirrors both in Washington and Tehran: of posturing, lobbying and hyperbole that is as much to do with the domestic politics of the US and Iran, as with the threat posed by either country. [complete article]

Bombs that would backfire
By Richard Clarke and Steven Simon, New York Times, April 16, 2006

No matter how Iran responded [to U.S. bombing], the question that would face American planners would be, "What's our next move?" How do we achieve so-called escalation dominance, the condition in which the other side fears responding because they know that the next round of American attacks would be too lethal for the regime to survive?

Bloodied by Iranian retaliation, President Bush would most likely authorize wider and more intensive bombing. Non-military Iranian government targets would probably be struck in a vain hope that the Iranian people would seize the opportunity to overthrow the government. More likely, the American war against Iran would guarantee the regime decades more of control. [complete article]

Drumbeat of war is drowning out wiser counsels
By Hugh Barnes, The Observer, April 16, 2006

The neo-con regimes in Washington and Tehran are on collision course after last week's announcement by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that his country has 'joined the nuclear club'.

Being able to enrich uranium to a low level of 3.5 per cent is a significant breakthrough for the Islamic Republic, but it still leaves the mullahs a long way from the 93 per cent-plus needed to make a bomb. In the United States, however, the doom-sayers and war-mongers - who often overlap - reacted with a hardening of rhetoric. The fundamentalists on both sides are in danger of talking themselves into a war. [complete article]

Iran's president reiterates threat against Israel
AP (via WP),April 15, 2006

The president of Iran again lashed out at Israel on Friday and said the Jewish state was "heading toward annihilation," days after Tehran raised fears about its nuclear activities by saying it had advanced its efforts to enrich uranium.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called Israel a "permanent threat" to the Middle East and said it would soon be liberated. He also appeared to again question whether the Holocaust took place. [complete article]

Iran suicide bombers 'ready to hit America and Britain'
By Marie Colvin, Michael Smith and Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, April 16, 2006

Iran has formed battalions of suicide bombers to strike at British and American targets if the nation's nuclear sites are attacked. According to Iranian officials, 40,000 trained suicide bombers are ready for action.

The main force, named the Special Unit of Martyr Seekers in the Revolutionary Guards, was first seen last month when members marched in a military parade, dressed in olive-green uniforms with explosive packs around their waists and detonators held high.

Dr Hassan Abbasi, head of the Centre for Doctrinal Strategic Studies in the Revolutionary Guards, said in a speech that 29 western targets had been identified: "We are ready to attack American and British sensitive points if they attack Iran's nuclear facilities." He added that some of them were "quite close" to the Iranian border in Iraq. [complete article]

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Way upstairs, downstairs
By Walter Kir, New York Times, April 16, 2006

There are studies that prove it, but I don't need to read them. I've seen the prices on the menus. I've also seen the pay stubs of the cooks. I've stood in the mansions, let in by the maids, and listened to the string quartets, whose players I've met in the coat aisle at Goodwill. I know what's going on. As predicted, but much faster than anticipated, the rich in America are getting richer (at rates that favor the very rich and the superrich). And at the same time, as wasn't quite predicted but still seems faster than anticipated, the nonrich are getting almost nowhere.

What I didn't know was that my knowledge shouldn't bother me.

Not according to John Snow, still, at this writing, secretary of the U.S. Treasury, who nonchalantly told a journalist recently, "What's been happening in the United States for about 20 years is" a "long-term trend to differentiate compensation." "Long-term," when used this way by this sort of official, tends to mean "fundamentally unstoppable." And, in this case, inexplicable, like a sort of financial global-warming process that may be man-made or (who knows?) a natural cycle that we would welcome if only we knew its function. Snow, a trained economist and former corporate C.E.O., doesn't pretend to be able to explain what's causing this whole compensation differential. Nor does he seem tortured by his ignorance. "We've moved into a star system for some reason," he said, "which is not fully understood." [complete article]

Oil mogul on $144,000 a day sparks anger
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, April 16, 2006

Ever since the soap opera Dallas, the exploits of Texas oilmen have fascinated America. But the disclosure that one of oil's most powerful figures earned $144,000 (£82,000) a day -- that's £57 a minute -- for his time at the helm of the world's biggest oil company, has prompted a row about whether corporate fat cattery has been taken to new heights.

Lee R Raymond, the recently retired chairman and chief executive of Exxon Mobil -- owners of the Esso chain in Britain -- was paid more than £391m from 1993 to 2005, according to figures released last week. It dwarfs the salaries of other high earners in the oil business. Last year alone he made more than £228m. [complete article]

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Going nuclear
By Patrick Moore, Washington Post, April 16, 2006

In the early 1970s when I helped found Greenpeace, I believed that nuclear energy was synonymous with nuclear holocaust, as did most of my compatriots. That's the conviction that inspired Greenpeace's first voyage up the spectacular rocky northwest coast to protest the testing of U.S. hydrogen bombs in Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Thirty years on, my views have changed, and the rest of the environmental movement needs to update its views, too, because nuclear energy may just be the energy source that can save our planet from another possible disaster: catastrophic climate change.

Look at it this way: More than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United States produce 36 percent of U.S. emissions -- or nearly 10 percent of global emissions -- of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power. And these days it can do so safely. [complete article]

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Gaza on brink of implosion as aid cut-off starts to bite
By Conal Urquhart, The Observer, April 16, 2006

An empty watchtower overlooks a deserted road lined with rusting vehicle parts. The only traffic is a pregnant bitch and a mule and cart. This is Gaza's economic lifeline, the Karni crossing into Israel, which is supposed to handle 1,300 containers of merchandise and food per day in order to sustain 1.3 million people.

But nothing is entering or leaving Gaza, and now the funds to purchase what is available there are also drying up, bringing the dire situation of its people to a new and febrile crisis.

Karni is officially closed because the Israeli army has declared a security alert for the Jewish Passover holiday. Yet it has barely been open this year. The effect is a paralysis of Gaza's commerce and severe shortages of basic foods. Not that the locals are in a position to buy what food there is. There is little money because the European Union, Canada and the United States have stopped funding the aid-dependent Palestinian Authority, which can no longer pay its staff's wages. [complete article]

Russia promises urgent aid to Hamas-led PA
Reuters, April 15, 2006

Russia said on Saturday it had promised emergency aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority which warns it faces economic collapse after direct funding was cut off by the United States and the European Union. [complete article]

Hamas tells Arabs to keep aid pledge
Aljazeera, April 16, 2006

The Palestinian foreign minister has called on Arabs to fulfil their promises of financial assistance to the Palestinian government.

For their part, Arab officials, at a meeting between Mahmoud al-Zahar and the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Saturday, urged the Hamas-led Palestinian government to consider an Arab plan to end the conflict with Israel that calls for exchanging land for peace. [complete article]

Iran pledges $50m Palestinian aid
BBC News, April 16, 2006

Iran will donate $50m (£28m) to help fund the Palestinian Authority, after the withdrawal of aid from the West, the Iranian government has announced.

The US and EU cut funding after Hamas - which they consider a terrorist group - won Palestinian elections in January.

Iran's pledge followed a visit from top Hamas official Khaled Meshaal, after the group appealed to Muslim nations to help make up the shortfall. [complete article]

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Keeping al-Qaeda in his grip
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, April 16, 2006

In January 2003, one of the two most wanted men in the world couldn't contain his frustration. From a hiding place probably somewhere in South Asia, he tapped out two lengthy e-mails to a fellow Egyptian who'd been criticizing him in public.

"I beg you, don't stop the Muslim souls who trust your opinions from joining the jihad against the Americans," wrote Ayman al-Zawahiri, deputy leader of al-Qaeda. He fired off the message even though it risked exposing him.

"Let's put it this way: Tensions had been building up between us for a long time," explained the e-mail's recipient, Montasser el-Zayat, a Cairo lawyer who shared a prison cell with Zawahiri in the 1980s and provided this account. "He always thinks he is right, even if he is alone." [complete article]

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Hezbollah links plot to clashes in Iraq
By Hamza Hendawi, AP (via WP), April 15, 2006

A senior Hezbollah official said nine men charged with plotting to assassinate the Shiite Muslim group's leader wanted to avenge killings of fellow Sunnis in Iraq, an ominous sign that the sectarian bloodshed may be spilling over into the region.

Government officials declined Saturday to confirm the report, but such a spillover would be particularly worrisome in Lebanon, where a fragile balance among Shiites, Sunnis, Christians and other sects is already under strain from tensions over relations with neighboring Syria. [complete article]

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Phantom force
By Scott Johnson, Newsweek, April 24, 2006

The terrorists trying to drive Iraq toward full-scale civil war have put sacred shrines at the top of their target list. So who, then, is protecting Iraq's most revered holy sites these days? The answer might tell us something about where real power lies in Iraq -- or at least how it's divvied up by rival factions competing for power and authority. With that aim in mind, Iraqi reporters for Newsweek set off last week to visit some of the country's most sacred sites. They didn't get far. At the first stop on their list -- the 10th-century Kadhimiya shrine in Baghdad -- two reporters were detained and questioned. The armed men who held them were from an obscure security force called the Facilities Protection Services, which now apparently numbers a staggering 146,000 men. [complete article]

U.S. arming of Iraqi police skates close to legal line
By Cam Simpson and Liz Sly, Chicago Tribune (via Mercury News), April 15, 2006

U.S. officials are doling out millions of dollars of arms and ammunition to Iraqi police units without safeguards required to ensure they are complying with American laws that ban taxpayer-financed assistance for foreign security forces engaged in human-rights violations, according to an internal State Department review.

The previously undisclosed review shows that officials failed to take steps to comply with the laws over the past two years, amid mounting reports of torture and murder by Shiite-dominated Iraqi security forces. The review comes at a time when the U.S. military emphasis in Iraq has switched to training and equipping Iraqi forces to replace American troops. [complete article]

U.S. plots 'new liberation of Baghdad'
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, April 16, 2006

The American military is planning a “second liberation of Baghdad” to be carried out with the Iraqi army when a new government is installed.

Pacifying the lawless capital is regarded as essential to establishing the authority of the incoming government and preparing for a significant withdrawal of American troops.

Strategic and tactical plans are being laid by US commanders in Iraq and at the US army base in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, under Lieutenant- General David Petraeus. He is regarded as an innovative officer and was formerly responsible for training Iraqi troops. [complete article]

Secular Iraqis propose emergency government
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, April 16, 2006

Iraqi leaders worked Saturday to resolve their impasse over who will rule the country, with a secular coalition proposing an emergency government that would supersede election results and Shiite clerics conferring on how best to preserve their sect's newfound power.

Politicians remained deadlocked over Sunni Arab and Kurdish opposition to Ibrahim Jafari, the main Shiite Muslim coalition's nominee for prime minister. The crisis has created a political vacuum, stalling crucial reconstruction projects and contributing to the country's security woes. [complete article]

In Iraqi divide, echoes of Bosnia for U.S. troops
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, April 16, 2006

As Lt. Col. Patrick Donahoe scans the horizon through the mud-splattered, inch-thick windows of his armored Humvee, he can almost see Bosnia through the palm trees.

It is not there yet, Colonel Donahoe said, but the communal hatred he has witnessed in this area of Iraq, the blindingly ignorant things people say, the pulling apart of Shiite and Sunni towns that were once tightly intertwined are all reminiscent of what he saw years ago as a young Army captain on a peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia. [complete article]

U.S .firms suspected of bilking Iraq funds
By Farah Stockman, Boston Globe, April 16, 2006

American contractors swindled hundreds of millions of dollars in Iraqi funds, but so far there is no way for Iraq's government to recoup the money, according to US investigators and civil attorneys tracking fraud claims against contractors.

Courts in the United States are beginning to force contractors to repay reconstruction funds stolen from the American government. But legal roadblocks have prevented Iraq from recovering funds that were seized from the Iraqi government by the US-led coalition and then paid to contractors who failed to do the work.

A US law that allows citizens to recover money from dishonest contractors protects only the US government, not foreign governments. [complete article]

Billion-dollar start falls short in Iraq
By John Ward Anderson and Bassam Sebti, Washington Post, April 16, 2006

On the southern outskirts of Baghdad, a sewage treatment plant that was repaired with $13.5 million in U.S. funds sits idle while all of the raw waste from the western half of Baghdad is dumped into the Tigris River, where many of the capital's 7 million residents get their drinking water.

Adjacent to the Karkh sewage plant is Iraq's most advanced sanitary landfill, a new, 20-acre, $32 million dump -- also paid for by the United States -- with a liner to prevent groundwater contamination. It has not had a load of garbage dropped off since the manager of the sewer plant was killed four months ago. Iraqis consider the access roads too dangerous, and Iraqi police rarely venture into the area, a haven for insurgents who regularly lob mortar shells across the city into the Green Zone less than six miles away.

The mothballed projects highlight a growing concern among U.S. officials here: whether Iraqis have the capacity to maintain, operate and protect the more than 8,000 reconstruction projects, costing $18.4 billion, that the United States has completed or plans to finish in the next few years, which include digging roadside drainage ditches, refurbishing hospitals and schools, and constructing electric power plants. [complete article]

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Behind the military revolt
By Richard Holbrooke, Washington Post, April 16, 2006

The calls by a growing number of recently retired generals for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld have created the most serious public confrontation between the military and an administration since President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1951. In that epic drama, Truman was unquestionably correct -- MacArthur, the commanding general in Korea and a towering World War II hero, publicly challenged Truman's authority and had to be removed. Most Americans rightly revere the principle that was at stake: civilian control over the military. But this situation is quite different. [complete article]

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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

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

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

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

Iraq's descent into civil war threatens the region
By David Hirst, Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2006

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

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

A history of the car bomb (Part 1)
By Mike Davis, TomDispatch, April 12, 2006

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

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

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

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