The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Telephone records are just the tip of NSA's iceberg
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, May 12, 2006

The National Security Agency and other U.S. government organizations have developed hundreds of software programs and analytic tools to "harvest" intelligence, and they've created dozens of gigantic databases designed to discover potential terrorist activity both inside the United States and overseas.

These cutting edge tools -- some highly classified because of their functions and capabilities -- continually process hundreds of billions of what are called "structured" data records, including telephone call records and e-mail headers contained in information "feeds" that have been established to flow into the intelligence agencies.

The multi-billion dollar program, which began before 9/11 but has been accelerated since then. Well over 100 government contractors have participated, including both small boutique companies whose products include commercial off-the-shelf software and some of the largest defense contractors, who have developed specialized software and tools exclusively for government use. [complete article]

Questions raised for phone giants in spy data furor
By John Markoff, New York Times, May 13, 2006

The former chief executive of Qwest, the nation's fourth-largest phone company, rebuffed government requests for the company's calling records after 9/11 because of "a disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process," his lawyer said yesterday.

The statement on behalf of the former Qwest executive, Joseph P. Nacchio, followed a report that the other big phone companies — AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon — had complied with an effort by the National Security Agency to build a vast database of calling records, without warrants, to increase its surveillance capabilities after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Those companies insisted yesterday that they were vigilant about their customers' privacy, but did not directly address their cooperation with the government effort, which was reported on Thursday by USA Today. Verizon said that it provided customer information to a government agency "only where authorized by law for appropriately defined and focused purposes," but that it could not comment on any relationship with a national security program that was "highly classified."

Legal experts said the companies faced the prospect of lawsuits seeking billions of dollars in damages over cooperation in the program, citing communications privacy legislation stretching back to the 1930's. A federal lawsuit was filed in Manhattan yesterday seeking as much as $50 billion in civil damages against Verizon on behalf of its subscribers. [complete article]

Qwest's refusal of NSA query is explained
By John O'Neil and Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, May 12, 2006

The telecommunications company Qwest turned down requests by the National Security Agency for private telephone records because it concluded that doing so would violate federal privacy laws, a lawyer for the telephone company's former chief executive said today.

In a statement released this morning, the lawyer said that the former chief executive, Joseph N. Nacchio, made the decision after asking whether "a warrant or other legal process had been secured in support of that request."

Mr. Nacchio learned that no warrant had been granted and that there was a "disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process," said the lawyer, Herbert J. Stern. As a result, the statement said, Mr. Nacchio concluded that "the requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act." [complete article]
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Rove informs White House he will be indicted
By Jason Leopold, truthout, May 12, 2006

Within the last week, Karl Rove told President Bush and Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten, as well as a few other high level administration officials, that he will be indicted in the CIA leak case and will immediately resign his White House job when the special counsel publicly announces the charges against him, according to sources.

Details of Rove's discussions with the president and Bolten have spread through the corridors of the White House where low-level staffers and senior officials were trying to determine how the indictment would impact an administration that has been mired in a number of high-profile political scandals for nearly a year, said a half-dozen White House aides and two senior officials who work at the Republican National Committee.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, sources confirmed Rove's indictment is imminent. These individuals requested anonymity saying they were not authorized to speak publicly about Rove's situation. A spokesman in the White House press office said they would not comment on "wildly speculative rumors." [complete article]
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Ousted CIA no. 3 is target of raids
By Dafna Linzer and Charles R. Babcock, Washington Post, May 13, 2006

Federal agents yesterday searched the CIA offices and Northern Virginia home of Kyle "Dusty" Foggo, the spy agency's No. 3 official who was forced to resign this week amid a widening criminal investigation into allegations of government corruption and bribery.

Officials inside CIA headquarters saw agents hauling away items from Foggo's seventh-floor suite, and neighbors outside his rented house in the Oakdale Park section of Vienna said officers, some wearing plastic gloves, placed materials in vans parked at the front and rear of the split-level brick home.

Aside from well-publicized espionage cases, veteran intelligence officers said they could not recall another time when FBI agents picked through offices at the CIA's Langley headquarters. [complete article]
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Secrecy privilege invoked in fighting ex-detainee's lawsuit
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, May 13, 2006

For at least the fifth time in the past year, the Justice Department yesterday invoked the once rarely cited state secrets privilege to argue that a lawsuit alleging government wrongdoing should be dismissed without an airing, this time in the case of a German citizen seeking an apology and monetary compensation for having been wrongfully imprisoned by the CIA.

Assistant U.S. Attorney R. Joseph Sher said yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia that the government cannot confirm or deny the allegations made by Khaled al-Masri, who sources have said was held by the CIA for five months in Afghanistan. His allegations, Sher contended, "clearly involve clandestine activity abroad." Therefore, he said, "there is no way that the case can go forward without causing the damage to the national security."

Ben Wizner, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing Masri in his lawsuit against former CIA director George J. Tenet and 10 unnamed CIA officials, said "the government is moving to dismiss this case at the outset on the basis of a fiction: that discussion in this courtroom of the very same facts being discussed throughout the world will harm the nation." Granting the motion, he argued, would amount "to giving a broad immunity to the government to shield even the most egregious activities." [complete article]
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U.S. rejects Annan appeal on Iran
BBC News, May 13, 2006

The US has rejected an appeal by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to talk directly to Iran about its disputed nuclear programme. The US said the issue was not bilateral but between Iran and the world.

Mr Annan had said the US needed to talk directly as Iran would not properly negotiate unless the US was involved. [complete article]

U.N. finds new uranium traces in Iran
By William J. Broad, New York Times, May 13, 2006

Atomic inspectors have found traces of highly enriched uranium on equipment linked to an Iranian military base, raising new questions about whether Iran harbors a clandestine program to make nuclear bombs, diplomats said yesterday.

It is the second such discovery in three years of United Nations inspections in Iran. As the Security Council debates how to handle the atomic impasse with Tehran, the finding is likely to deepen skepticism about Iran's claims that its program is entirely peaceful.

Yesterday, diplomats familiar with the discovery said its ultimate significance was unclear. "There are still lots of questions," a senior European diplomat said. "So it's not a smoking gun." They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. [complete article]
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Joint Hamas-Fatah plan implies acceptance of 1967 borders
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, May 12, 2006

A document drafted by Hamas and Fatah leaders imprisoned in Israel implies Hamas's acceptance of a potential agreement with Israel based on the 1967 borders. The document, which has been accepted by the leadership of both organizations, is the first one signed by a senior Hamas official that recognizes those borders.

"The Palestinian people, in the homeland and in the diaspora, aspires to liberate its land and realize its self-determination, including the establishment of an independent state on all the land occupied in 1967, and to assure the right of return for refugees and the liberation of all prisoners and detainees," reads the first section of the document.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the document yesterday, calling it an "important plan" that constitutes a basis for future Palestinian policy. [complete article]
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Clashes erupt between two Iraqi army units
AP (via The State), May 12, 2006

Clashes erupted Friday between two Iraqi army units following a roadside bombing north of the capital, and Iraqi police said a Shiite solder was killed in an exchange of fire with a Kurdish unit.

The U.S. military and Iraqi police provided differing accounts of the incident, which began with a roadside bombing near Duluiyah, about 45 miles north of Baghdad.

The Americans said one soldier from the Iraqi army's 1st Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 4th Division was killed and 12 were wounded in the attack.

But Iraqi police 1st Lt. Ali Ibrahim said four were killed and three others wounded. He identified the soldiers as Kurdish but did not specify their unit. [complete article]
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U.S. in secret gun deal
By Ian Traynor, The Guardian, May 12, 2006

The Pentagon has secretly shipped tens of thousands of small arms from Bosnia to Iraq in the past two years, using a web of private companies, at least one of which is a noted arms smuggler blacklisted by Washington and the UN.

According to a report by Amnesty International, which investigated the sales, the US government arranged for the delivery of at least 200,000 Kalashnikov machine guns from Bosnia to Iraq in 2004-05. But though the weaponry was said to be for arming the fledgling Iraqi military, there is no evidence of the guns reaching their recipient.

Senior western officials in the Balkans fear that some of the guns may have fallen into the wrong hands. [complete article]
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Jordan's Islamists reap inspiration from Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times (IHT), May 12, 2006

Emboldened by the Muslim Brotherhood's electoral gains in Egypt last year and by the rise to power of Hamas in the Palestinian elections in February, Islamists in Jordan have raised their sights, preparing to take part in possible council elections this year and parliamentary elections next year.

The Islamic Action Front, the Muslim Brotherhood's political party, which controls 17 of the 110 seats in Parliament, is betting that it can now ride a popular wave to win a significant majority and maybe even form a government some day.

"We are a political party and it is natural for us to seek to come to power one day," said Rohile Ghraibeh, deputy secretary general of the Islamic Action Front. "If we were to win, is that worthy of any fear? We would consider it a blessing from God."

There is little chance of an Islamist government under this nation's current political system: King Abdullah has the power to bypass lawmakers in forming a government and can dissolve Parliament by decree. [complete article]
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No proof of al-Qaeda in '05 London transit blasts
By Kevin Sullivan, Washington Post, May 12, 2006

Two of the four suicide bombers who killed 52 people on the London public transit system last July 7 probably had contact with al-Qaeda operatives during visits to Pakistan, but there is no proof that the international terrorist network planned or directed the attack, according to two reports released Thursday.

The reports concluded that the bombers, all young British Muslims who mixed chemicals for their crude bombs in a bathtub, were probably inspired by al-Qaeda but acted on their own, motivated by "fierce antagonism to perceived injustices by the West against Muslims."

In the run-up to the attack, the bombers were frequently contacted by at least one unidentified person in Pakistan, Home Secretary John Reid told the House of Commons on Thursday after the reports were released. Reid also said authorities had thwarted three other attacks since the July 7 explosions. [complete article]
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Italy probes agency's link to CIA in cleric's abduction
By Daniel Williams, Washington Post, May 12, 2006

Italian prosecutors are investigating whether Italy's military intelligence agency had a role in the kidnapping by CIA agents of an Egyptian Muslim cleric in Milan and his dispatch to prison in Egypt, government officials said Thursday.

The February 2003 seizure of Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar, on a street in Milan was part of an American-orchestrated practice known as "extraordinary rendition," in which terrorist suspects are rounded up without judicial recourse and sent on clandestine flights to their home countries for imprisonment and questioning.

Human rights groups say the transfers are illegal and subject the prisoners to possible torture once they reach their destinations. [complete article]
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Displaced Iraqis 'living like animals'
By Oliver Poole and Ahmad Ali, The Telegraph, May 12, 2006

The spiralling violence in Iraq has led to sustained "sectarian cleansing" with many families forced to take refuge in squalid camps.

The Red Crescent says more than 100,000 people - equally Sunni and Shia Muslim - living in mixed areas have fled their homes since the February bombing of the Golden mosque in Samarra, a revered Shia shrine, which led to a frenzy of tit-for-tat killings.

Those with nowhere to stay find themselves reduced to tent cities like Shu'lah in Baghdad, where 800 families now live. [complete article]

See also, Sectarian killings 'destabilize' Iraq unity (LAT).
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Iran nuclear conflict is about U.S. dominance
By Gareth Porter, IPS (via, May 12, 2006

As the George W. Bush administration pushes for a showdown over Iran's nuclear program in the UN Security Council, it has presented the issue as a matter of global security – an Iranian nuclear threat in defiance of the international community.

But the history of the conflict and the private strategic thinking of both sides reveal that the dispute is really about the administration's drive for greater dominance in the Middle East and Iran's demand for recognition as a regional power.

It is now known that the Iranian leadership, which was convinced that Bush was planning to move against Iran after toppling Saddam Hussein in Iraq, proposed in April 2003 to negotiate with the United States on the very issues that the administration had claimed were the basis for its hostile posture toward Tehran: its nuclear program, its support for Hezbollah and other anti-Israeli armed groups, and its hostility to Israel's existence.

Tehran offered concrete, substantive concessions on those issues. But on the advice of U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Bush refused to respond to the negotiating proposal. Nuclear weapons were not, therefore, the primary U.S. concern about Iran. In the hierarchy of the administration's interests, the denial of legitimacy to the Islamic Republic trumped a deal that could provide assurances against an Iranian nuclear weapon. [complete article]

Iran leader says he'll talk to U.S.
AP (via IHT), May 12, 2006

The president of Iran said Thursday that he was ready to hold talks with the United States and its allies over his country's nuclear ambitions, but he warned that efforts to force Tehran to the negotiating table by threatening economic sanctions or military action would backfire. [complete article]

Military action in Iran could make region 'explode': Russia
AFP (via Yahoo), May 11, 2006

Any military action against Iran could cause the regional situation to "explode", according to the head of Russia's Security Council Igor Ivanov. [complete article]

"Ahmadinejad isn't bluffing"
By Wahied Wahdat-Hagh interviewed by Der Spiegel, May 9, 2006

Wahied Wahdat-Hagh: Since the 1979 revolution, it has become clear that Iranian policy has two faces: a pragmatic one and an apocalyptic one. On the one hand, Iran is smart enough not to endanger itself. That's why I don't think the country is trying to obtain a nuclear weapon in order to carry out a first strike on Israel -- they are all too aware of what the consequences would be. But even Khatami said, "if we are attacked, we will turn the region into hell." One has to take such a threat seriously. Seventy percent of the world's oil supply passes through the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf. The Iranian defense minister calls it the "world's throat" -- and it's in Iranian hands. To block the straits, all you need is three divers, a couple of mines and a ship. With incalucuable consequences. Furthermore, 40,000 people have already volunteered as jihadis. Ahmadinejad's position is: We'll fight with everything we've got if we're attacked. If we have to, we'll destroy you and ourselves together. [complete article]
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NSA secret database report triggers fierce debate in Washington
By Susan Page, USA Today, May 11, 2006

A massive government database containing the phone records of tens of millions of Americans -- reported by USA TODAY on Thursday -- marks the modern intersection of two powerful emerging forces: terrorism and technology.

And the firestorm sparked by disclosure of the National Security Agency project mirrors a debate that dates to the nation's founding, and before, over balancing the interests of the government with the rights of individuals. [complete article]

Data on phone calls monitored
By Barton Gellman and Arshad Mohammed, Washington Post, May 12, 2006

Neither Bush nor his subordinates denied any factual statement in the USA Today report, which said AT&T Inc., Verizon Communications Inc. and BellSouth Corp. have provided customer calling records to the NSA since shortly after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Together those companies serve about 224 million conventional and cellular telephone customers -- about four-fifths of the wired market and more than half of the wireless market. According to data provided by the research group TeleGeography, the three companies connected nearly 500 billion telephone calls in 2005 and nearly 2 trillion calls since late 2001. [complete article]

Security issue kills domestic spying inquiry
AP (via USA Today), May 11, 2006

The government has abruptly ended an inquiry into the warrantless eavesdropping program because the National Security Agency refused to grant Justice Department lawyers the necessary security clearance to probe the matter.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility, or OPR, sent a fax to Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., on Wednesday saying they were closing their inquiry because without clearance their lawyers cannot examine Justice lawyers' role in the program.

"We have been unable to make any meaningful progress in our investigation because OPR has been denied security clearances for access to information about the NSA program," OPR counsel H. Marshall Jarrett wrote to Hinchey. Hinchey's office shared the letter with The Associated Press. [complete article]

Bush is pressed over new report on surveillance
By Eric Lichblau and Scott Shane, New York Times, May 12, 2006

Congressional Republicans and Democrats alike demanded answers from the Bush administration on Thursday about a report that the National Security Agency had collected records of millions of domestic phone calls, even as President Bush assured Americans that their privacy is "fiercely protected." [complete article]

Lawmakers call for hearings
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, May 12, 2006

A report on extensive government collection of Americans' telephone data roiled Congress yesterday, with many Republicans rallying to the president's defense while one key GOP chairman and many Democrats called for hearings, new restrictions and the possible subpoenaing of telephone company executives. [complete article]
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Killing the CIA
By Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, May 11, 2006

The moment that the destruction of the Central Intelligence Agency began can be pinpointed to a time, a place and even a memo. On Aug. 6, 2001, CIA director George Tenet presented to President Bush his presidential daily briefing, a startling document titled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S." Bush did nothing, asked for no further briefings on the issue, and returned to cutting brush at his Crawford, Texas, compound.

In Bush's denial of responsibility after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the search for scapegoats inevitably focused on the lapse in intelligence and therefore on the CIA, though it was the FBI whose egregious incompetence permitted the plotters to escape apprehension. Bush's intent to invade Iraq set up the battle royal that followed. [complete article]

How the CIA came unglued
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, May 12, 2006

To understand what went so badly wrong at the CIA under Porter Goss, it's worth examining the career of his executive director, the onomatopoetic Kyle "Dusty" Foggo. His rise illustrates the conservative cronyism, leak paranoia and political vendettas that undermined Goss's tenure.

Foggo was an affable employee of the CIA's Directorate of Support, managing logistical activities in Germany, when he came to the attention of then-Rep. Goss and his aides on the House intelligence committee. Foggo is said to have endeared himself to Goss and his staff director, Patrick Murray, by facilitating trips overseas for members of the House panel.

When Goss and Murray arrived at the CIA in the fall of 2004, their first choice for the agency's No. 3 job of executive director was a former CIA officer named Michael Kostiw, who had many friends in conservative political circles. But Kostiw's nomination was sabotaged when a CIA insider leaked the fact that he had once been accused of shoplifting. The charges were dropped after Kostiw resigned and agreed to seek counseling. Kostiw's past made him an inappropriate choice for such a senior position, in the view of many career CIA officers, but to Murray the leak was evidence of a liberal cabal at the CIA that was determined to obstruct the Bush administration's agenda. [complete article]
See also, 'Foot-dragging' (Mark Hosenball).
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Putin versus Cheney
By Anatol Lieven, International Herald Tribune, May 11, 2006

In many ways, Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney are rather similar characters. Both are highly intelligent, but both see the world above all through the restrictive prisms of security and national power.

Both are patriots, but - like so many leaders - with a tendency to see national power and their own power as one and the same thing. Both are capable of great ruthlessness in defending what they see as the vital interests of their countries. Both are publicly committed to democracy and human rights, but both have been responsible for policies that have called this commitment into question.

But to judge by their records, and especially their speeches of the past week, there is also an important difference between them. Putin is a statesman, and Cheney is not.

Cheney's tub-thumping speech in Vilnius, Lithuania, attacking Russia for lack of democracy and energy "blackmail," coupled with his attempts to create an energy alliance against Russia, invited a blistering response from the Russian president. With perfect fairness, and with the approval - in this case - of most of humanity, Putin could have torn Cheney's speech apart on a whole range of issues.

These include the hypocrisy of denouncing Russia over democracy and going straight on to lavish praise on the oil- rich dictators of Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan; the general weirdness of Cheney talking about human rights at all; the insolence of an administration with the Bush-Cheney team's record in the Middle East daring to demand automatic Russian support against Iran in the name of "the international community," and so on. [complete article]
See also, Enough megaphone diplomacy (Samuel Charap and Johannes Hecker) and Russia aims to counter U.S. with bigger arsenal (LAT).
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From jail, Palestinians offer plan for their state
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times (IHT), May 12, 2006

Imprisoned members of the Fatah and Hamas factions have drafted a joint platform that calls for a Palestinian state within the 1967 boundaries alongside Israel, according to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who supported the idea, saying: "I adopt the position of those heroes."

The draft platform also says that Palestinians should "focus their resistance on lands occupied in 1967" - in other words, stop attacking Israelis inside the 1967 boundaries, but continue to attack those in the occupied West Bank. [complete article]

Hamas wants to work with Fatah to fight Israel
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, May 12, 2006

The document drafted by the imprisoned officials, including Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti, implies Hamas' acceptance of a potential agreement with Israel based on the 1967 borders. The plan, which has been accepted by the leadership of both organizations, is the first one signed by a senior Hamas official - Sheikh Abdel Halek Natshe of Hebron - that recognizes those borders. [complete article]

Islamic leaders call for aid to Palestinians
By Hassan M. Fatah, New York Times, May 12, 2006

Religious leaders from a number of Muslim countries issued a joint statement here on Thursday calling on Muslims to support the Palestinian people financially and morally, and declaring that no part of historic Palestine could be ceded or negotiated away.

The high-profile entry of the religious leaders fuels rising popular pressure on Arab governments to break the American and European boycott on the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority and seeks to turn a political issue into a pan-Islamic one.

In a closing statement after their two-day meeting, the scholars, who hold sway over a wide swath of the Muslim world, appear to have raised the stakes over the Palestinian Authority, issuing a surprisingly strong statement against negotiating land for peace in the future. [complete article]

Israel to free millions in funds for Palestinians
AP (via IHT), May 11, 2006

Israel, pressured by international alarm over a brewing Palestinian humanitarian crisis, has agreed to release millions of dollars in funds it has withheld from the Palestinians and is considering easing restrictions on the transport of goods between Israel and the Gaza Strip, officials said Thursday. [complete article]
See also, With aid cut off, Palestinians turn to each other to get by (WP), West Bank travel restrictions make life difficult for Palestinians (KR), and Talk radio gives Palestinians a voice (CSM).
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The knot in the lifeline
By Israel Harel, Haaretz, May 12, 2006

Enlightened Israel is in shock: According to the Israel Democracy Institute, 62 percent of the public believes that the government should encourage Arabs to emigrate from Israel. The Jews, who suffered so much from racism, are becoming racist, many observe painfully.

Most of those criticizing Jewish racism have an aura of sanctimonious hypocrisy about them. The same people who spread demographic paranoia now condemn the way the public is reacting to it.

The demographic prophets of doom are the ministers, headed by the prime minister, Knesset members (especially from the shocked left) and academics. The media, which has been bewailing the racism displayed by Jews in recent days, has also given in to Ariel Sharon's false propaganda. Sharon claimed that he was uprooting Gush Katif due to the "demographic danger." Sharon's demographic propaganda, harping on the dangers inherent in the expected Arab majority, made Kadima into a ruling party and altered the natural laws of Israeli politics. [complete article]
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U.S. under pressure to talk to Tehran
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 11, 2006

The Bush administration is facing pressure both in the United States and overseas to drop its long-standing refusal to talk directly with Iran about its nuclear program, particularly in the wake of the unusual 18-page letter sent this week to President Bush by Iran's president.

Foreign policy moderates from both parties have spoken out in recent days, including Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a potential GOP presidential candidate; former secretary of state Madeleine K. Albright; former national security adviser Samuel R. "Sandy" Berger; and former Middle East negotiator Dennis Ross. All have published sharply worded opinion articles questioning the administration's stance, and Albright was joined in her commentary by five former European foreign ministers who said they were told by Iranian officials in recent months that there is "widespread interest" in holding a dialogue with Washington.

Germany is one of the three European Union countries that have jointly held inconclusive talks with Tehran. German officials have made little secret of their belief that diplomacy will not succeed without direct U.S. intervention. Ruprecht Polenz, the influential chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the German parliament and an ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, lashed out last Friday against the administration's policy after returning from a two-day visit to Iran. "Washington's refusal to join direct talks with Iran won't make it any easier to achieve a diplomatic solution to the current nuclear dispute," he said. [complete article]

Comment -- Here's my two cents of cultural analysis: Americans are by nature literalists so the reflexive response to Ahmadinejad's letter has been to focus on its content. President Bush says that it misses the point, while commentators such as William Arkin view it as a window into the Iranian president's mindset. Without any intention of dismissing these finer analytical interpretations of the letter or suggestions about what would be a sensible tactical response, I'm more inclined to attach significance to the letter's public existence than its contents.

The Iranians are well aware that in spite of American expressions of a committment to diplomacy, the Bush administration's stated positions leave it with little room for maneuver. Ahmadinejad's diplomatic overture thus seems geared towards trying to make him look statesmanlike, while Bush frets in his corner.

The fact that the administration has already stated its commitment to regime change makes it extremely difficult to enter into dialogue without implicitly granting the regime's legitimacy. At the same time, pragmatists the world over are clamoring for the U.S. and Iran to start talking. Ahmadinejad thus easily gains the upper hand by presenting the appearance of being diplomatically flexible. It serves him well in the eyes of Bush skeptics, even if it doesn't sound particularly convincing to parts of the Iranian domestic audience. At the end of the day, the issue the Bush administration has to come to terms with, is whether -- as Rumsfeld might put it -- they can deal with Iran as it is rather than Iran as they might wish it to be.
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Iranian dissident to seek support for opposition
By Eli Lake, New York Sun, May 9, 2006

Less than 24 hours after one of Iran's leading dissidents and authors escaped to a neighboring state, the former chairman of the Pentagon's Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, interrupted his trip to central Asia to meet with him in a cramped hotel room.

The meeting between Mr. Perle and Amir Abbas Fakhravar on April 29, in a location both men have asked not appear in print, may end up being as important as the first contacts between Mr. Perle and the ex-Soviet dissident Natan Sharansky in the 1980s.
Mr.Fakhravar yesterday was effusive in his praise of Mr. Perle, who has been a target of anti-war critics who have dubbed him the "prince of darkness" for his part in conceiving the intellectual foundations of the Iraq war.

The Iranian author does not share this view. "In my eyes I saw the prince of light, not the prince of darkness," Mr. Fakhravar said. "I could see in his eyes he is worried for our people as well as the American people and this is very important and this is very special. Of course, Mr. Perle has the interest of the American people at heart. And I have the interest of the Iranian people at heart. But there is a common goal and interest."

The admiration is mutual. Of Mr. Fakhravar, Mr. Perle said, "He is very impressive. I formed that opinion by talking to him on the telephone. It is even more evident in person. He is obviously a man of great courage and conviction. He has been enormously frustrated at the lack of outside support, not just from the United States but the free world generally." [complete article]

Comment -- Neocon fantasist-at-large, Richard Perle is at it again! Even so, I don't think we should be getting quite as excited about this as New York Sun's Eli Lake clearly is. And since Perle no doubt has little interest in disabusing his admirers of the misconception, he wasn't first dubbed "The Prince of Darkness" by opponents of the war in Iraq. It was actually a name coined by fellow Republicans, back in the days of the Reagan administration when Perle vigorously opposed nuclear arms control agreements.
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Iran president says ready for dialogue, brands Israel 'evil regime'
Haaretz, May 11, 2006

Iran is "ready to engage in dialogue with anybody," Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said during a live interview with Indonesia's Metro television Thursday, in response to a question about a letter he wrote to U.S. President George W. Bush.

But a short time later, Ahmadinejad, who has previously expressed doubt that the Holocast took place and said Israel should be wiped off the map, told cheering students in Jakarta that Israel is "a regime based on evil that cannot continue and one day will vanish."

The Iranian president also told the television station that any threats against his country would make talks difficult. [complete article]

Israeli army chief cools Iran debate
AFP (via Iranmania), May 10, 2006

Israel's chief of staff reacted cautiously to Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres's warning that Iran risked its own destruction with its threats to wipe the Jewish state off the map, AFP reported.

General Dan Halutz said during a conference that Peres's comments should not be further discussed in Israel, which needs to play its cards close to the chest when it comes to Iran.

"The volume of our comments to the Iranian question has become excessive, especially after what Deputy Prime Minister Shimon Peres said in his statement yesterday," army radio quoted Halutz as saying at a seminar in Ashkelon.

"Anything we add would subtract" from the statement, Halutz said. "He (Peres) said almost the maximum that the state of Israel could say. It was clear enough and vague enough." [complete article]

U.S. accepts Iran U.N. nuclear delay
BBC News, May 11, 2006

The US Secretary of State has said that efforts to pursue a tough UN Security Council resolution on Iran's nuclear programme will be delayed. Condoleezza Rice said European countries would resume diplomatic efforts to persuade Tehran to change its position. [complete article]

U.S. presses China to toughen stance on Iran
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, May 11, 2006

China’s relationship with the US will be determined by how it responds to Iran’s nuclear programme, a senior Bush administration official warned on Wednesday as Washington continued to press Beijing and Moscow to back a tough UN Security Council resolution against Tehran.

Robert Zoellick, deputy secretary of state, elevated Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons development to the single most important issue at stake in US-China relations rather than the usual concerns over the strength of China’s currency and its ballooning trade surplus.

Although less blunt, Mr Zoellick’s prepared remarks on China mirrored those voiced by Dick Cheney, US vice-president, towards Russia last week when he berated Moscow for using its oil and gas as a tool of blackmail and intimidation on the international stage. [complete article]

How Iran will win a sanctions war
By Jephraim P Gundzik, Asia Times, May 11, 2006

Over the past two months US President George W Bush and officials of his administration have repeatedly asserted that diplomacy is crucial to resolving the Iran nuclear issue. But rather than focusing on relations between Washington and Tehran, this diplomacy has been fixated on gaining international support for US-led economic sanctions against Iran.

With Russia and China unwilling to play along, economic sanctions against Iran will be imposed by a small group of key US allies without the United Nations' imprimatur. These sanctions will prove much more damaging to those countries applying them than to Iran. [complete article]

Iran's nuclear program: the way out
By Hassan Rohani, Time, May 9, 2006

A nuclear weaponized Iran destabilizes the region, prompts a regional arms race, and wastes the scarce resources in the region. And taking account of U.S. nuclear arsenal and its policy of ensuring a strategic edge for Israel, an Iranian bomb will accord Iran no security dividends. There are also some Islamic and developmental reasons why Iran as an Islamic and developing state must not develop and use weapons of mass destruction.

Three years of robust inspection of Iranian nuclear and non-nuclear facilities by the IAEA inspectors led Dr. El-Baradi to conclude and certify that to date there are no indications of any diversion of nuclear material and activities toward making a bomb. At the same time, El-Baradi has pointed out that the IAEA cannot certify that Iran's program is exclusively peaceful. But the fact is that few among many states with a nuclear program have received such a clean bill of health from the IAEA. Such certification by the IAEA does and should take time and effort. Iran is prepared and willing to invest the time and effort necessary to receive the IAEA clean bill of health. The IAEA is also ready to pursue its investigation of Iran's nuclear activities. So should the states that have concern about it. [complete article]

In Iran, apocalypse vs. reform
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, May 11, 2006

In a dusty brown village outside this Shiite holy city, a once-humble yellow-brick mosque is undergoing a furious expansion. Cranes hover over two soaring concrete minarets and the pointed arches of a vast new enclosure. Buses pour into a freshly asphalted parking lot to deliver waves of pilgrims.

The expansion is driven by an apocalyptic vision: that Shiite Islam's long-hidden 12th Imam, or Mahdi, will soon emerge -- possibly at the mosque of Jamkaran -- to inaugurate the end of the world. The man who provided $20 million to prepare the shrine for that moment, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has reportedly told his cabinet that he expects the Mahdi to arrive within the next two years. Mehdi Karrubi, a rival cleric, has reported that Ahmadinejad ordered that his government's platform be deposited in a well at Jamkaran where the faithful leave messages for the hidden imam.

Such gestures are one reason some Iranian clerics quietly say they are worried about a leader who has become the foremost public advocate of Iran's nuclear program. "Some of us can understand why you in the West would be concerned," a young mullah here told me last week. "We, too, wonder about the intentions of those who are controlling this nuclear work." [complete article]
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Putin raises spectre of Cold War with threat of arms race
By Nick Allen and Alec Russell, The Telegraph, May 11, 2006

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, raised the spectre of the Cold War yesterday, likening the United States to a voracious wolf and declaring that the arms race was not yet over.

With relations between Moscow and Washington at their most strained in many years, Mr Putin used his annual state of the nation speech to revive Russia's military rivalry with the United States.

"It is premature to speak of the end of the arms race," he said in his televised address to the Russian people. "Moreover, it is going faster today. It is rising to a new technological level."

Seeking to portray the United States as Russia's main adversary, Mr Putin pointed out that Moscow's military budget was 25 times lower than Washington's. He said that would have to change if foreign attempts to interfere in Russian policy were to be warded off. [complete article]
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All the president's books (minding history's whys and wherefores)
By Michiko Kakutani, New York Times, May 11, 2006

In recent months a floodlet of books has been published about President Bush, his administration and the war in Iraq. They range widely in perspective: there are books by reporters, by administration insiders and by counterterrorism and economic experts; books with conservative, liberal and nonpartisan points of view; books that offer a wide-angle window on the administration; and books that zero in on particular aspects of the war in Iraq.

Yet taken together with earlier volumes, these books create a cumulative and, in many respects, surprisingly coherent portrait of the Bush White House and its management style. Authors as disparate as the Reagan administration economist Bruce Bartlett, the New Yorker investigative reporter Seymour M. Hersh, the Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes and the New York Times reporter James Risen point to ways in which this administration has discarded past precedent, and illuminate its penchant for circumventing traditional processes of policy development and policy review. [complete article]

The USDA on Iraq: Everything's coming up rosy
By Al Kamen, Washington Post, May 8, 2006

Career appointees at the Department of Agriculture were stunned last week to receive e-mailed instructions that include Bush administration "talking points" -- saying things such as "President Bush has a clear strategy for victory in Iraq" -- in every speech they give for the department.

"The President has requested that all members of his cabinet and sub-cabinet incorporate message points on the Global War on Terror into speeches, including specific examples of what each agency is doing to aid the reconstruction of Iraq," the May 2 e-mail from USDA speechwriter Heather Vaughn began. [complete article]
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NSA has massive database of Americans' phone calls
By Leslie Cauley, USA Today, May 11, 2006

The National Security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth, people with direct knowledge of the arrangement told USA TODAY.

The NSA program reaches into homes and businesses across the nation by amassing information about the calls of ordinary Americans — most of whom aren't suspected of any crime. This program does not involve the NSA listening to or recording conversations. But the spy agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity, sources said in separate interviews.

"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added. [complete article]

CIA pick open to wiretap oversight
By Charles Babington, Washington Post, May 11, 2006

President Bush's choice to head the CIA told senators yesterday that he would consider retiring from the military and bringing a controversial surveillance program "under federal law," senators and aides said.

Air Force Gen. Michael V. Hayden continued to meet privately with senators, including some on the intelligence committee, which will begin confirmation hearings on his nomination May 18. Several asked Hayden, who once headed the National Security Agency, about the agency's program that eavesdrops on Americans without obtaining warrants. [complete article]
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Clash foreseen between CIA and Pentagon
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, May 11, 2006

President Bush's selection of Gen. Michael V. Hayden to be the next director of the Central Intelligence Agency sets the stage for new wrangling with the Pentagon, which is rapidly expanding its own global spying and terrorist-tracking operations, both long considered C.I.A. roles.

Overseeing Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's drive to broaden the military's clandestine reconnaissance and man-hunting missions is Stephen A. Cambone, the Pentagon's intelligence czar and one of Mr. Rumsfeld's most trusted aides, whose low public profile masks his influence as one of the nation's most powerful intelligence officials. [complete article]
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As Gazans wait for aid, their situation is dire
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, May 11, 2006

Tension is palpable between armed groups of supporters of Hamas, which runs the new government, and Fatah, the faction of the longtime leaders, who lost power in elections in January.

Gazans are wary, watchful and increasingly angry at their plight. For now they are angry at the United States for withholding financial support over the Hamas victory. But their anger may also turn against Hamas, whose refusal to recognize Israel has isolated its government, some Fatah leaders warn. [complete article]

Western diplomats worried by prospect of Israeli unilateralism
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, May 11, 2006

Western diplomats dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict expressed concern Wednesday that Israel would carry out a rapid unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank, thereby creating a new reality in the area, without first exhausting the possibility of serious diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert out his "convergence" plan for unilateral withdrawal from parts of the West Bank at the center of his campaign in the March Knesset elections. In 2005, Israel carried out a similar unilateral withdrawal from the entire Gaza Strip and parts of the northern West Bank.

But some of the diplomats involved in talks held by the Quartet of Middle East peace brokers in New York on Tuesday said that they intend to apply pressure on Israel not to make any decisions on the matter in the near future. [complete article]
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U.S. foreign policy positions may bend on Iran and Palestinian aid
By Warren P. Strobel and Jonathan S. Landay, Knight Ridder, May 10, 2006

Working to hold together an increasingly tenuous international alliance, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice executed tactical retreats this week on two major issues, Iran's nuclear program and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to U.S. and European officials.

On Iran, Rice agreed to go beyond threatened punishments and consider a revised potpourri of incentives that Europe favors to get Tehran to halt its enrichment of uranium, a process that can produce fuel for nuclear weapons.

She also agreed to parts of British and French proposals to create a fund to channel international aid to the Palestinians. The aid would help alleviate a social crisis made worse by an international cut-off of aid to the Palestinian Authority because it's led by Hamas. The United States and the European Union view Hamas as a terrorist group. [complete article]
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U.K. told U.S. won't shut Guantanamo
BBC News, May 11, 2006

The US has rejected the UK government's calls for closing down the Guantanamo Bay prison camp for terror suspects.

US officials said the camp housed dangerous people who could pose a fresh threat if they were released.

The UK Attorney General Lord Goldsmith said on Wednesday the camp's existence was "unacceptable" and tarnished the US traditions of liberty and justice. [complete article]

Army jailers' rules on hold
By Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2006

The Pentagon has been forced to delay the release of its updated Army Field Manual on interrogation because of congressional opposition to several provisions, including one that would allow tougher techniques for unlawful combatants than for traditional prisoners of war.

The Defense Department's civilian leaders, who are overseeing the process of rewriting the manual, have long argued -- along with the Bush administration -- that the Geneva Convention does not apply to terrorists or irregular fighters. The United States needs greater flexibility when interrogating people who refuse to fight by the rules, they have said.

But some lawmakers think that creating different rules for enemy prisoners of war and irregular fighters contradicts the torture ban passed by Congress last year, which requires a "uniform standard" for treating detainees. [complete article]
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Iraq set to unify security forces to battle chaos
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, May 11, 2006

Senior Iraqi leaders are preparing a major restructuring of the capital's security brigades that would place all police officers and paramilitary soldiers under a single commander and in one uniform, in hopes of curtailing the sectarian chaos that is ravaging the city.

The reorganization calls for a substantially reduced presence of American soldiers on the capital's streets, although not necessarily in their numbers nationwide.

The plan, disclosed Wednesday in interviews with senior Iraqi leaders, would substantially alter Baghdad's landscape, now permeated by tens of thousands of police officers, soldiers and paramilitary troops whose identities and allegiances are not always clear. [complete article]

Adviser: Iraq 'civil war' places U.S. in reactive role
By Robin Hindery, AP (via Marine Times), May 11, 2006

Iraq is embroiled in a "low-level civil war" that is forcing the United States to react to events on the ground rather than shape them, according to a former U.S. military adviser who spent two years there studying the insurgency.

"Once you start reacting to events, you cannot impose a solution," said Ahmed Hashim, a professor at the Naval War College who worked with U.S. troops in Iraq from November 2003 to September 2005 in an effort to understand the emotions and loyalties driving Iraq's insurgents. "You go along with the flow."

Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations on Tuesday, Hashim said the most powerful force behind Iraq's chaotic downward spiral in recent months is "the identity issue" dividing Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.

"What's happened over the past several months is that Iraqi communities have created a narrative of one another that is exclusionary," he said, pointing to the rise of sectarian militias such as the Mahdi Army, the powerful militia loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr. [complete article]

Exodus of the Iraqi middle class
By Daniel McGrory, The Times, May 11, 2006

Colleagues were astonished when Hussain, a nurse at Kadimiyah Hospital in Baghdad, turned up for work in a new suit with a pistol strapped around his waist and announced that he was now in charge.

A doctor who ridiculed the idea of this 34-year-old appointing himself administrator of the 700-bed hospital was slapped across the face by his new boss, who ordered armed security guards to escort the medic from the building.

The expulsion was a brutal warning to other staff who might question the right of the al-Mahdi Army, a Shia militia, to install one of their own to run the hospital.

The same is happening in schools and colleges, the Civil Service and government ministries and leading businesses as Baghdad's middle classes are sacked to make way for militia apparatchiks. For many professionals this assault on their livelihoods and expertise is the final straw, and they are leaving Baghdad in droves. [complete article]

Iraqi leader calls for peace
By Nelson Hernandez and Saad al-Izzi, Washington Post, May 11, 2006

Iraq's president made an impassioned plea Wednesday for peace and swift political action, saying the country had been shaken to its foundations by acts of sectarian violence that killed at least 1,091 Iraqis in Baghdad alone last month.

"We feel shocked, sad and angry when we receive almost daily reports of finding unidentified bodies and others who were killed on the basis of their identity," President Jalal Talabani said in a written statement. Such acts, he said, are "contradictory to the divine and human laws." [complete article]
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U.S. freeze on medical aid takes its toll
By Tim Butcher, The Telegraph, May 10, 2006

The United States has stopped providing medical supplies to Palestinian hospitals as part of Washington's sanctions against Hamas.

The decision is believed to be dramatically lowering the standard of health care in Gaza and the West Bank where patients are going untreated because of a lack of essential medical supplies.

Three leading British charities have urged the US to reinstate aid to essential Palestinian government services such as hospitals. [complete article]

PA health care teeters on total collapse
By Rafael D. Frankel, Jerusalem Post, May 9, 2006

Israel must immediately lift its economic siege of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority if a total collapse of the Palestinian health care system is to be avoided, according to a position paper released by Physicians for Human Rights Tuesday.

Thousands of people are likely to die in the short term if funds are not transferred to the PA Ministry of Health to pay for medicine and other supplies, as well as the salaries of doctors and nurses, according to the paper. [complete article]

Punishing the innocent is a crime
By Jimmy Carter, IHT, May 7, 2006

Innocent Palestinian people are being treated like animals, with the presumption that they are guilty of some crime. Because they voted for candidates who are members of Hamas, the United States government has become the driving force behind an apparently effective scheme of depriving the general public of income, access to the outside world and the necessities of life. [complete article]

See also, Patients die as doctors run out of drugs to treat them (The Guardian).
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More than half of Israelis want gov't to help Arabs emigrate
By Amiram Barkat, Haaretz, May 9, 2006

More than half of Israelis think the government should encourage its Arab citizens to emigrate from Israel, according to an annual survey by the Israel Democracy Institute.

A poll published Tuesday on the state of democracy in Israel found that 62 percent of Israelis support government-backed Arab emigration, compared to the 40 percent detailed by Geocartography Institute poll in March.

The annual survey of the status of democracy in Israel was published Tuesday morning, in preparation for the Israel Democracy Institute conference to be held Wednesday sponsored by President Moshe Katzav. [complete article]

Comment -- A notion of equal rights independent of religion or ethnicity has to be the foundation of democracy yet the majority of Israelis want to see 20% of Israel's population renounce their right to live in Israel. To speak of "encouraging" rather than forcing Israeli Arabs to leave, is nothing more than a salve to the conscience of those Jewish Israelis who express this desire. Many of the same Israelis also claim that democracy is the ideal form of government for Israel! The truth is that Israel can either endeavor to be a democratic state or a Jewish state - it cannot be both. Those outside the state who refuse to point out the incompatibility of these aspirations are simply afraid of exposing a lie. Of course, for many such outsiders they are motivated by a similar sentiment - the desire to establish America as a Christian state.
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Muslims and Jews: common ground
By Robert Eisen, Washington Post, May 9, 2006

It's been often noted that a key reason for the intractability of the conflict between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East is that both sides operate with a mutually exclusive set of assumptions about the history of the dispute.

Jews view the state of Israel as the triumph of a dispossessed people who waited 2,000 years for a return to their homeland. If violence has accompanied that return, it is solely because of Arab intransigence; Jews were willing to settle peacefully among their Arab neighbors, but the latter were hostile to a sovereign Jewish entity in the Middle East and declared war against it from its inception.

Muslims view the state of Israel as the most egregious example of Western colonialism and imperialism, a foreign body inserted into the Middle East for the purpose of furthering Western domination. Any violence is solely the fault of the Jews and their Western allies. The Jews were able to take possession of the land by violently displacing its inhabitants, and they have succeeded in holding on to it with the help of Western military support.

What has been lost is the fact that both Jews and Muslims have a great deal in common in the way they perceive their respective histories. Each community has an understanding of its history that is much broader than that defined by this conflict, and we gain much insight into the nature of the dispute by comprehending those larger frameworks. [complete article]
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Plan would provide aid to Palestinians
By Glenn Kessler and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, May 10, 2006

With the Palestinian economy collapsing, the United States yesterday tentatively agreed to consider supporting a vague international plan that would temporarily provide direct aid to critical areas but bypass the Hamas-led government.

Since Hamas formed a cabinet two months ago, donor payments have halted, leaving the Palestinian Authority unable to continue its monthly payroll of $130 million to 165,000 civil servants. The Bush administration has taken a hard line against Hamas as long it refuses to recognize Israel, essentially blocking banks in Cairo from transferring $70 million in Arab League funds to the authority and opposing a British proposal to pay the salaries of government workers in essential areas such as health care and education. [complete article]

Inside Hamas
PBS Frontline, May 9, 2006

FRONTLINE/World correspondent Kate Seelye travels across the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to investigate Hamas, the militant Islamist group responsible for scores of suicide bombings and missile attacks on Israel -- and the surprise winner of January’s Palestinian elections. Gaining access to Hamas’s political leadership and to its secretive military wing, Seelye builds a portrait of an organization teetering between a political awakening and a familiar cycle of bloody resistance. [complete article]
(This Frontline report can be viewed in full online from May 16.)

Second day of clashes in Gaza despite appeals for calm
By Harvey Morris, Financial Times, May 10, 2006

Nine people, including five schoolchildren, were wounded in Gaza City yesterday as Fatah and Hamas militants clashed for thesecond day, despite calls for calm from leaders of the two Palestinian factions.

Each side blamed the other for the exchange of fire between Hamas gunmen and bodyguards protecting the home of Samir Masharawi, a Fatah leader close to Mohamed Dahlan, the party's Gaza strongman. [complete article]
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Behind Ahmedinajad's letter
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, May 9, 2006

As we've been saying for a while now, President Mahmoud Ahmedinajad does not speak for the regime in Tehran. So what, then, to make of his rambling 18-page letter to President Bush?

The most notable thing about Ahmedinajad's letter was not that it was the first communication between Iranian leaders and the U.S. since 1979, but that it was the first public communication between Tehran and Washington since the hostage crisis. It was less significant for its content -- a longwinded scolding of the Bush administration that could be bluntly translated as "here's why we think you suck" -- than the fact that Ahmedinajad sent it, and in grandstanding fashion. All previous attempts by Iran to engage the U.S. have been delivered discreetly via back channels, and Iran has long maintained a preference for secret talks to manage the relationship. Ahmedinajad would have no role in such negotiations, which would have to involve emissaries answerable to and speaking for the executive branch in Tehran, which is not Ahmedinajad but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Given his previous inclination to scupper such rapproachment between the regime in Tehran and the West -- but also the populist instinct he has displayed by his efforts to buck the clerics by allowing women into soccer matches -- I'd say that Ahmedinajad is acting to preempt a far more serious negotiating initiative from Tehran. [complete article]
See also, Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush (CNN), Iranian Letter: using religion to lecture Bush (NYT), U.S., Iran standoff grows tenser (CSM), and Experts: U.S. hasty in brushoff of Iran (AP).

The United States's double-vision in Iran
By Trita Parsi, openDemocracy, May 9, 2006

For the last five years, the George W Bush administration has often been accused of lacking an Iran policy. While all eyes were on Iraq, Washington did little to seriously address the challenge posed by Iran. More recently, however, Washington has overcompensated for these years of negligence by adopting not one, but two foreign policies on Iran: non-proliferation of nuclear materials, and regime change. The problem is that these policies tend to undermine each other in the short term and risk embroiling the United States in yet another war in the middle east. [complete article]
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Will we hit $100?
By Karen Lowry Miller, Newsweek, May 7, 2006

The first oil shock of the 21st century is now upon us, even if it has not (yet) hit the global economy. This time, the early fallout is measured in largely political terms—in the growing cockiness of oil states like Venezuela, the defiance of Iran, the expansion of state oil companies from producing nations like Russia, the backlash against hugely profitable oil giants and the near desperation of incumbent politicians in consuming nations like the United States and Germany. In recent weeks, as the price of oil passed $70 a barrel, the price of gas topped $3 a gallon in the United States and ex-oilman George W. Bush unleashed an investigation into possible price manipulation by Big Oil, the old power relations of our oil-based world were clearly being turned upside down.

It may be only a matter of time before the economic shock arrives. Predictions that a $10 hike in the price per barrel of oil would shave half a point off world growth rates have yet to pan out, but that doesn't mean they won't. Our happy surprise that global growth has yet to slow misses the catch: if the economy can run with a $70-a-barrel burden on its back, the price is less likely to fall. More and more companies are tacking on fuel surcharges, and the specter of petrol-fueled inflation is rearing its ugly head. [complete article]

Why Iran is driving oil up
By Christopher Dickey and Maziar Bahari, Newsweek, May 15, 2006

Shahpour Madani, feeling flush, was cruising electronics shops on Tehran's Jomhuri Street earlier this month for a flat-screen digital television. He figured he could afford either a sleek new Sony, or a refrigerator for his wife. Decisions, decisions. "I haven't had so much money in a long time," said Madani, an accountant at the Ministry of Agriculture who got a raise last month and bonuses in March. "It's really fun to watch soccer games on a big TV." And there were so many home-entertainment possibilities to choose from. Up and down Jomhuri Street, you see masses of Malaysian DVD players, Japanese sound systems, Chinese VCRs, a consumer paradise the likes of which Iranians haven't come across for decades.

Of course, what you're really looking at is oil money that's been turned into the kinds of goods that keep people happy, or quiet, or both. While cutting back controls on imports, Tehran has jacked up salaries, pumped up pensions and doled out extra benefits from charities like the Imam Khomeini foundation. For Iran's body politic, the cash infusion is like a drug. With the enormous surge in world petroleum prices, about $50 billion was injected into the country last year alone. And if the government's spending has created a kind of public euphoria, it's also creating an addiction. Some Iranian economists talk of a "disease." What's certain is that the regime's pathological craving for continued high oil prices has become a key factor in the crises that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is helping to fuel, from the showdown at the United Nations over Iran's nuclear program to the exploding cost of a gallon of gas. Many factors are to blame for high oil prices -- but Iran's increasing dependence on those revenues looms large among them. [complete article]
See also, Iran woos Muslims with $5bn Indonesian oil deal (FT).
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Ex-NSA chief assails Bush taps
By Noah Shachtman, Wired News, May 9, 2006

Former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman lashed out at the Bush administration Monday night over its continued use of warrantless domestic wiretaps, making him one of the highest-ranking former intelligence officials to criticize the program in public, analysts say.

"This activity is not authorized," Inman said, as part of a panel discussion on eavesdropping that was sponsored by The New York Public Library. The Bush administration "need(s) to get away from the idea that they can continue doing it." [complete article]
See also, Spy vs. spy (Thomas Powers).
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Alarmed by raids, neighbors stand guard in Iraq
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 10, 2006

It was almost 3 a.m. in Zubaida Square in central Baghdad last week when headlights signaled one flash, then two, then one again.

From the darkness, someone signaled back. The watchers were there.

As evidence mounts that Shiite police commandos are carrying out secret killings, Sunni Arab neighborhoods across Baghdad have begun forming citizen groups to keep the paramilitary forces out of their areas entirely. In large swaths of western Baghdad, and in at least six majority Sunni areas in its center, young men take turns standing in streets after the 11 p.m. curfew, to send out signals by flashlights and cellphones if strangers approach.

In some cases, the Sunnis have set up barricades and have taken up arms against Shiite-led commando raids into their neighborhoods. In other cases, residents have tipped off Sunni insurgents. Watch groups have been assembled in other mixed areas, including Baquba to the north and Mahmudiya to the south, residents and officials said. [complete article]
See also, Attacker posing as vendor kills 19 in city called model by Bush (WP).
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Three Iraqs would be one big problem
By Anthony H. Cordesman, New York Times, May 9, 2006

Some pundits and politicians have been floating the idea that America consider dividing Iraq into three ethno-religious entities, saying this would not only stem the insurgency but also allow our troops an earlier exit. They are wrong: fracturing the country would not serve either Iraqi or United States interests, and would make life for average Iraqis even worse.

The first problem is that Iraq does not have a neat set of ethnic dividing lines. There has never been a meaningful census of Iraq showing exactly how its Arab Sunnis, Arab Shiites, Kurds and other factions are divided or where they live. The two elections held since the toppling of Saddam Hussein have made it clear, however, that Iraq's cities and 18 governorates all have significant minorities.

Thus any effort to divide the country along sectarian and ethnic lines would require widespread "relocations." This would probably be violent and impoverish those forced to move, leave a legacy of fear and hatred, and further delay Iraq's political and economic recovery. [complete article]
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Terror suspect was beaten while in custody, lawyer says
By Hannah Allam, Knight Ridder, May 9, 2006

A militant Egyptian cleric who allegedly was abducted from an Italian street by CIA officers and turned over to Egypt in 2003 has met with his lawyer for the first time and said he was beaten repeatedly in the early stages of his imprisonment, including while he was in U.S. custody.

Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, who's also known as Abu Omar, met with his attorney three times between mid-March and late April at Tura prison just south of Cairo, his lawyer, Montasser Zayat, told Knight Ridder on Tuesday.

The meetings were the first allowed by Egyptian authorities since Nasr, who's being held without charge in solitary confinement, was seized three years ago.

Nasr aroused Italian authorities' suspicion by handing out anti-American pamphlets and preaching jihad, or holy war, at a mosque in Milan. Italian police had placed him under surveillance and had tapped his phone when he disappeared on Feb. 17, 2003.

The kidnapping strained relations between the United States and Italy, where authorities have charged 22 Americans with the abduction - including the former head of the CIA base in Milan. Italian authorities have denied that they knew of the abduction beforehand, but former CIA officers have voiced skepticism, noting that the Americans appeared to have made no efforts to disguise their identities and used their real names, passports and personal cell phones while allegedly conducting the operation. [complete article]
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Egyptian forces kill man said to be behind attacks
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, May 10, 2006

Egyptian security forces said today that they had killed a man identified as the leader of a terrorist cell responsible for 5 suicide bombing attacks in the Sinai over the past 18 months that killed more than 110 people, left many more seriously injured and exposed a growing threat of Islamic extremism in the Sinai.

Police and counterterrorism forces cornered the man, Nasser el-Khamis Melahy, at an olive farm south of his home town of El Arish in northern Sinai, killing him and arresting an accomplice, after the pair opened fire on the police and tried to escape, the Ministry of the Interior announced today.

"We knew that Khamis was there after tips from local people," said a general with the Interior Ministry, who asked not to be identified because he is involved in security operations. "We surrounded the place and the suspects started firing at us."

Egyptian security forces have so far reported killing seven suspects in shootouts since a triple bombing in the southern Sinai resort town of Dahab at the end of April, which killed nearly two-dozen people. [complete article]
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'Iran can also be wiped off the map'
By Nathan Guttman, Jerusalem Post, May 8, 2006

Vice Premier Shimon Peres said Monday that "the president of Iran should remember that Iran can also be wiped off the map."

"Teheran is making a mockery of the international community's efforts to solve the crisis surrounding Iran's nuclear program," Peres told Reuters, adding that "Iran presents a danger to the entire world, not just to us." [complete article]

Comment -- Of course Peres should not have said also, since Iran at this time does not have the weaponry to back up its threats while Israel has the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East. Which is the more reckless threat: the one that can be acted on, or the one that can't?

Iran plays to the middle ground
By Tony Karon, Time, May 8, 2006

Iran's fire-breathing president took time off between threats to annihilate Israel and make life hell for America to dash off a letter to President Bush proposing "new solutions" to "the current fragile situation in the world." As improbable as the conciliatory tone may sound from the usually bellicose Ahmadinejad, it represents a smart diplomatic strategy at a moment when the U.S. is struggling to forge an international consensus to turn up the heat on Tehran. [complete article]

Major powers fail to agree over Iran strategy
By Carol Giacomo and Sue Pleming, Reuters, May 9, 2006

Skeptical U.S. officials dismissed the 18-page letter as a diversionary tactic that did not address the crucial problem of Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

But a European diplomat who works on the Iran issue but was not authorized to speak publicly called the letter "another tactical masterstroke that was deliberately timed to come out today (ahead of the ministers' meeting) and has made administration officials very nervous." [complete article]

No proposals in Iranian's letter to Bush, U.S. says
By Karl Vick and Colum Lynch, Washington Post, May 9, 2006

Rather than specific proposals, [the letter] was more in line with an unsolicited epistle Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran's theocratic system, dispatched to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in January 1989 that urged him to study Islam. Ahmadinejad, in his letter, implored Bush to return to the teachings of Christianity.

Ahmadinejad's writing and rhetoric is typically laced with ardent calls for "spirituality." With such a letter, he is following the example of the prophet Muhammad, who was known to write even to his enemies.

"Domestically, it's extremely important," said Nasser Hadian-Jazy, a political scientist at Tehran University. "He's taking the initiative. And though it may not be important outside Iran, the leader has designated this year the Year of the Prophet." [complete article]
See also, Bush dismisses Iranian leader's overture (LAT).

Why Iran is driving oil up
By Christopher Dickey and Maziar Bahari, Newsweek, May 15, 2006

Shahpour Madani, feeling flush, was cruising electronics shops on Tehran's Jomhuri Street earlier this month for a flat-screen digital television. He figured he could afford either a sleek new Sony, or a refrigerator for his wife. Decisions, decisions. "I haven't had so much money in a long time," said Madani, an accountant at the Ministry of Agriculture who got a raise last month and bonuses in March. "It's really fun to watch soccer games on a big TV." And there were so many home-entertainment possibilities to choose from. Up and down Jomhuri Street, you see masses of Malaysian DVD players, Japanese sound systems, Chinese VCRs, a consumer paradise the likes of which Iranians haven't come across for decades.

Of course, what you're really looking at is oil money that's been turned into the kinds of goods that keep people happy, or quiet, or both. While cutting back controls on imports, Tehran has jacked up salaries, pumped up pensions and doled out extra benefits from charities like the Imam Khomeini foundation. For Iran's body politic, the cash infusion is like a drug. With the enormous surge in world petroleum prices, about $50 billion was injected into the country last year alone. And if the government's spending has created a kind of public euphoria, it's also creating an addiction. Some Iranian economists talk of a "disease." What's certain is that the regime's pathological craving for continued high oil prices has become a key factor in the crises that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is helping to fuel, from the showdown at the United Nations over Iran's nuclear program to the exploding cost of a gallon of gas. Many factors are to blame for high oil prices -- but Iran's increasing dependence on those revenues looms large among them. [complete article]

Exiles in 'Tehrangeles' are split on how U.S. should sway Iran
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, May 9, 2006

The debate over whether the United States could better influence events in Tehran by using diplomacy or by flexing its muscle, taking military action to try to knock out the Islamic republic's growing nuclear program, rages with particular ferocity in this city [Los Angeles] as well as in academic exile circles across the country.

After weeks of heated arguments, a distinct split has emerged. A majority oppose any military attack, convinced that it would only cement the mullahs in power and repeat the chaos in Iraq on a far bloodier scale. Some people in this group push a more subtle approach that they hope will collapse the government from within, while fretting aloud that subtle diplomacy has become something of a lost art in Washington.

"The Iranians see the failure of the Bush government in Iraq, so they can see for themselves that this is not the solution," said Homa Sarshar, a freelance journalist and the founder of a center that collects oral histories of Iran's once thriving Jewish community. "Trying to promote democracy would be better than spending money on an invasion or another war."

Some Iranian exiles relish the thought of any military attack. But they tend to be those who lost property in the revolution or aging members of the ancien régime who describe themselves without irony as de Gaulles awaiting a triumphant return. [complete article]

BACKGROUND: Iran's nuclear gambit - the basics (CSM).
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Sources: CIA's No. 3 official to quit
CNN, May 8, 2006

The third-highest official at the CIA, under investigation over ties to a defense contractor linked to a Capitol Hill bribery inquiry, has decided to step down, intelligence sources told CNN Monday.

Kyle "Dusty" Foggo was plucked from relative obscurity by CIA Director Porter Goss to become the CIA's executive director, the agency's No. 3 position. As such, Foggo was in charge of day-to-day operations at the spy agency.
Foggo is being investigated by both the FBI and the CIA's inspector general over ties to a defense contractor linked to the bribery case against former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California.

The investigations stem from Foggo's relationship with defense contractor Brent Wilkes. The two men have reportedly been friends since childhood.

Legal filings in the Cunningham case allege that an unindicted co-conspirator gave Cunningham $525,000 in bribes in return for $6 million in government contracts. Officials have identified the unindicted co-conspirator as Wilkes. [complete article]

Fight brews over CIA choice
By Greg Miller, Los Angele Times, May 8, 2006

Ignoring opposition from Congress, President Bush nominated Gen. Michael V. Hayden on Monday to be the next CIA director, setting the stage for a confirmation struggle that is certain to focus on Hayden's military background and his role in a controversial domestic eavesdropping operation. [complete article]

Official who quit under Goss would be Hayden's No. 2
By Peter Baker and Charles Babington, Washington Post, May 9, 2006

The White House moved quickly yesterday to defuse concern over the nomination of Gen. Michael V. Hayden for CIA director, promising to balance the leadership of the nation's premier civilian spy agency with a well-known and popular veteran of the organization in the No. 2 position.

In a highly unorthodox move, the White House disclosed the plan shortly after President Bush's formal announcement of Hayden's nomination in the Oval Office, in hopes of reassuring those worried about too much military influence over the intelligence community.

Under the plan, Vice Adm. Albert M. Calland III would be replaced as deputy director by retired CIA official Stephen R. Kappes, who quit in November 2004 in a dispute with then-Director Porter J. Goss.

The move was seen as a direct repudiation of Goss's leadership and as an olive branch to CIA veterans disaffected by his 18-month tenure, during which many other senior officials followed Kappes out the door. The White House was so eager to get out the news of Kappes's likely appointment that it was announced from the lectern in the briefing room, even though the Senate has not yet confirmed Hayden and Kappes was officially described as "the leading contender" for the job. [complete article]

Experts see a strategy behind CIA shuffle
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, May 9, 2006

Gen. Michael V. Hayden isn't the first active-duty military officer tapped to lead the CIA -- he is in fact the fifth -- but many intelligence experts and officers have bemoaned the idea of a general leading the agency at a time when the Pentagon is expanding its ability to engage in global spying and man-hunting, traditional realms of the CIA.

Despite such qualms, intelligence specialists say Hayden's appointment may turn out to be a clever move by intelligence czar John D. Negroponte to help him assert authority over Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his burgeoning intelligence bureaucracy. Negroponte, who by law oversees all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, has expressed frustration that he has not made more progress in managing the agencies under the Defense Department's jurisdiction.

Negroponte was mindful of the issue yesterday as Hayden was officially nominated. "To those who raise a question about the fact that Mike Hayden wears the uniform," Negroponte said in announcing his nomination, "I think they can also be assured that Mike Hayden is a very, very independent-minded person, blunt-spoken. . . . I don't think [he] will have any difficulty whatsoever staking out positions that are independent." [complete article]

It may not matter who runs the CIA
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, , 2006

If we face an intelligence "crisis," it isn't because Jimmy Carter fired all of the case officers or the Clinton administration hand cuffed human intelligence with legal restrictions. It is because we have built a voracious and expensive intelligence infrastructure to support the survival of American society against the Soviet Union, an infrastructure, a "community," a bureaucracy, an establishment, that not only doesn't have its traditional enemy but is at the same time unable to stuff the threat of "terrorism" into the old ways and the old models of doing things.

I know government officials insist that they are working to change from those old ways to that they can address the new enemy and the new war. Beltway narcissism also depends on the daydream that all of the reorganization and those commissions and the inquiries and the directives are addressing and solving the problems.

The problem though is that American society is neither mobilized nor particularly motivated to seriously fight the enemy the government has designated.

This says to me that American society can see clearer than either the administration or the intelligence analysts. Since people intuitively know that a few thousand terrorists, even with endless rolling recruitment ranks, can't destroy our society or the West, people go about their day-to-day business while at the same time being profoundly unhappy with government and unsatisfied by the characterization of the threat. [complete article]
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Potential evidence surfaces of Bush's illegal spying
By Onnesha Roychoudhuri, AlterNet, May 8, 2006

Five months after news of the NSA's warrantless spying program broke, and after we've learned numerous details of the program's extent, a Portland, Ore., attorney may have finally obtained hard evidence of illegal wiretaps by the government.

Thomas Nelson has been practicing administrative law for most of his professional life, but after Sept. 11 he first began offering pro bono work for immigrants detained in broad FBI terrorism sweeps. He is currently leading a little-discussed case that may contain the first documented evidence of an illegal wiretap and believes that, as a result, he himself has been subjected to warrantless -- and therefore illegal -- wiretaps and physical searches, the kind of clandestine operation that Nixon referred to as "black bag jobs." And as a result of extreme carelessness by the FBI, Nelson may have his hands on the only solid evidence of these searches. [complete article]
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U.S. holds back troops, mulls broader Iraq force cut
By Will Dunham, Reuters (via Yahoo), May 8, 2006

The Pentagon announced on Monday it was putting off next month's scheduled deployment of a Germany-based Army brigade to Iraq, as officials pondered a broader cut in the U.S. force in the second half of the year.

The decision to keep the roughly 3,500 soldiers of the 2nd Brigade of the Army's 1st Infantry Division at their base in Schweinfurt, Germany, comes as Pentagon leaders work toward a decision in a few weeks on a blueprint for U.S. troop levels, defense officials said.

Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman, cautioned against interpreting this as a harbinger of larger force cuts. [complete article]

Despite general's arrest, kidnappings continue in Iraq
By Leila Fadel, Knight Ridder, May 8, 2006

The Iraqi Ministry of Interior has made little headway in curbing the kidnappings and killings tied to Iraq's own security forces, despite recent actions against some of its own top commanders.

A Shiite Muslim general, Hunain Hamoud, who commanded the police force in the mostly Sunni areas of west Baghdad, was fired six weeks ago on suspicion of kidnapping for ransom.

Officials at the ministries of interior and defense said that an arrest warrant was issued by an Iraqi judge for Brig. Gen. Khamis al-Jubouri, a Sunni commander of oil protection forces who's accused of murder, kidnappings and terrorist acts.

But the killings continue. Every day, bodies bearing signs of torture are discovered throughout Iraq. At least 190 were found in Baghdad alone in the last month, according to a Knight Ridder count. In a 24-hour period Saturday and Sunday, 43 tortured corpses with gunshots to their heads were discovered. On Monday, 13 more were added to the list. [complete article]

2 years later, slayings in Iraq and lost cash are mysteries
By James Glanz, New York Times, May 9, 2006

The killing of Fern Holland, a human rights worker from Oklahoma, remains unsolved and as mysterious as it was when her body was found riddled with bullets on a desolate stretch of road near one of Iraq's southern holy cities in March 2004.

Now, federal investigators are grappling with a second mystery: what happened to hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash issued by American authorities to Ms. Holland and Robert J. Zangas, a press officer who died in the same attack near Karbala, in the days before their deaths? [complete article]
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Palestinian says ban could lead to chaos
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 9, 2006

The Palestinian prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, warned Monday on the eve of a key international donors meeting that the Palestinian Authority, cut off from most foreign aid since his Hamas movement took office five weeks ago, could founder unless new money arrives.

"If the siege continues, the whole authority will be facing collapse," Haniyeh said in an interview in his office here. "And if there is a collapse, there will be chaos in the region." [complete article]

Palestinians see no way out in standoff
By Karin Laub, AP (via Seattle P-I), May 8, 2006

With Hamas and the West locked in a standoff, the Palestinians are hurtling toward an abyss of poverty and chaos, and there seems to be no way to pull back.

On the eve of a meeting of top Mideast mediators, the World Bank warned Monday that a humanitarian crisis in the West Bank and Gaza is rapidly approaching, and deadly street clashes erupted in Gaza. [complete article]

Palestinian leaders urge end to fighting between factions
By Greg Myre, New York Times, May 8, 2006

The two main Palestinian political rivals, Hamas and Fatah, sought to reduce tensions today after a predawn shootout left three gunmen dead and 10 people injured in the southern Gaza Strip.

The gun battle was the most intense of the periodic clashes between the two sides since Hamas won the Palestinian elections in January, ending decades of political dominance by Fatah. [complete article]

Israel intent on keeping Jordan Valley
By Laurie Copans, AP (via WP), May 8, 2006

Ilan Peretz is taking a gamble. Forced out of his home last summer when Israel left the Gaza Strip, he has moved to the Jordan Valley, along the eastern edge of the West Bank.

Given the area's strategic value, he doesn't think Israel will ever leave it.

But even when Prime Minister Ehud Olmert speaks of keeping the valley as Israel establishes its final borders, he refrains from mentioning Jewish settlements there. The Gaza experience has taught many Israelis that settlements don't necessarily add to security.

Olmert has announced plans to withdraw from much of the West Bank within the next four years. But with Hamas militants in charge of the Palestinian Authority, it appears increasingly likely that Israel will draw its borders on its own, keeping major Jewish settlement blocs to the west and the Jordan Valley as a security zone in the east. [complete article]
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By Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, May 8, 2006

Against the background of the chronic miasma of fear, tension, suffering, and sporadic but horrifying violence that envelops the world on account of Islamist fundamentalist terrorism and the reaction to it, the fate of Zacarias Moussaoui, the self-proclaimed, wanted-to-be, wasn't-there twentieth hijacker of September 11, 2001, is of relatively small moment. Nevertheless, a debt of gratitude is owed to the nine men and three women of the jury in Alexandria, Virginia, that, last Wednesday, declined to direct that Moussaoui be put to death. The calm seriousness with which these anonymous citizens approached their task has reassured many of us that our federal criminal-court system, even in the face of the extraordinary pressures generated by the exigencies (and the politics) of the "war on terror," remains capable of rendering justice in which sternness is guided by wisdom. And the jurors' civic courage has probably made all of us a little -- only a little, but still -- safer. [complete article]
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The energy wars
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, May 7, 2006

It is a mantra of the globalization crowd. In today's global economy, we are told, all that really matters is which country produces the best brains and skills. The world is flat, after all. The playing field is leveled. Wrong, wrong and wrong. What also matters, we are learning, is who controls the world's energy resources. Evo Morales's abrupt decision earlier this week to nationalize Bolivia's natural-gas industry was only the latest worrisome move in a long-term trend. Morales, a leftist elected president last December, was apparently influenced by a meeting he had in Havana last Saturday with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who's rocketed to international prominence by doing much the same thing to his country's oil industry. President Chavez, sitting atop his growing pile of petrodollars, has gleefully thumbed his nose at Washington's efforts to rein him in. Similarly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is defiantly enriching uranium and sneering at Western threats of sanctions. And he obviously thinks he can, perhaps because no one is threatening to cut off Iran's oil exports as part of the forthcoming sanctions plan. [complete article]
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Israel's personal superpower
By William Pfaff, IHT, May 6, 2006

Israel lives with existential realities. Its primordial interest is survival in a hostile region, where its presence was established and is maintained by violence, and where it has never been fully accepted.

Hamas speaks for many in the region when it says that Israel is illegitimate and must eventually disappear. This probably seems to Hamas more a historical inevitability than a declaration of policy.

Israeli interest thus is served when the Arabs are politically disorganized and conventionally powerless, as the Palestinians are now. Its interest is also served when the Arabs are divided along sectarian or ethnic lines, as is happening in Iraq, as a result of the American invasion, with the emergence of rival Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish entities.

If a unified Iraq disappears, Iran will remain the only major Muslim state in the immediate region, with Syria a minor, if influential, actor. Hence it is in Israel's interest that the United States bring about regime change in Iran. Israelis know that such an effort could produce the same consequences as in Iraq, which could be to their advantage - although not to Washington's. [complete article]

The authors of 'The Israel Lobby' respond to their critics
By John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, London Review of Books, May 11, 2006

We wrote 'The Israel Lobby' in order to begin a discussion of a subject that had become difficult to address openly in the United States (LRB, 23 March). We knew it was likely to generate a strong reaction, and we are not surprised that some of our critics have chosen to attack our characters or misrepresent our arguments. We have also been gratified by the many positive responses we have received, and by the thoughtful commentary that has begun to emerge in the media and the blogosphere. It is clear that many people -- including Jews and Israelis -- believe that it is time to have a candid discussion of the US relationship with Israel. It is in that spirit that we engage with the letters responding to our article. We confine ourselves here to the most salient points of dispute. [complete article]
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Palestinian pain, one kid at a time
By Fareed Taamallah, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2006

Every day, world leaders think of new ways to punish the Palestinians for electing Hamas. But the people who suffer most are children like my daughter, Lina.

Lina was less than 1 year old when she caught a virus that gave her a high fever and caused diarrhea and vomiting. We live in a small West Bank village in the occupied territories. In the winter of 2003, when Lina got sick, Qira was under curfew, and we couldn't reach a doctor. We tried to take her to the hospital in the nearby city of Nablus. But Nablus was also under curfew. The Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint on the outskirts of Nablus refused to let us in.

Eventually, on a rainy, cold day, my wife, Amina, carried Lina three miles on mountainous roads into Nablus to reach a doctor. One year later, we learned that the infection had caused renal failure and that Lina would eventually need a kidney transplant to survive. [complete article]

Hamas sanctions squeeze the life out of West Bank
By Jane Flanagan, The Sunday Telegraph, May 7, 2006

Afrah Jowdad, 32, toyed forlornly with her four prized bracelets for the last time before handing them over to the merchant in the ancient West Bank gold market of Nablus yesterday.

"They were given to me by my husband as a dowry on my wedding day, so to lose them is to lose my best-loved memories," she said. "But I have six children and no other way to pay for food, so I have no option other than selling my bracelets."

Outside the Star Display jewellery emporium, a line of Palestinian women, in traditional hijab dress, queued patiently to sell rings, necklaces and other finery. To sell one's dowry brings shame on Palestinian families but these are such desperate days in Gaza and the West Bank that basic needs prevail over social mores.

"I have never seen anything like this: I am averaging 400,000 shekels [£50,000] of gold purchases every day," said the merchant, Abdel Hakim Hawari, 40.

The rush to sell family heirlooms in the occupied territories is the starkest proof yet of the imminent economic meltdown faced by 3.5 million Palestinians, as sanctions against the new Hamas government begin to bite. [complete article]
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On the brink: the Great Satan vs the Axis of Evil
By Kaveh Ehsani, openDemocracy, May 3, 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's outrageous comments about the holocaust and empty threats against Israel cannot conceal a simple fact: as a conventional military power, Iran is no threat to the US or its neighbours. In fact, the reverse is true. The US state department estimates that Iran's annual military expenditure is around $4 billion, a puny figure compared to countries it borders: Turkey ($10 billion), Saudi Arabia ($20 billion), and the tiny city-states of the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain ($9 billion in all); the figure is only slightly ahead of nuclear-armed Pakistan ($3.3 billion). All of these states, it should be recalled, are under the protective umbrella of the awesome US military.

The issue of quality as well as of spending is relevant. Many prominent American military experts regard Iran's conventional military as ill-trained and its equipment obsolete. In this light, the Iranian regime's overdependence on its domestic missile programme can only be understood as the search for a minimal deterrent; and Iran's dogged pursuit of its uranium enrichment programme can be seen as a defensive response to mounting US threats, especially since President Bush's infamous "axis of evil" speech of January 2002.

Meanwhile, the US tilt toward a strategy of regime destabilisation or change in Iran has had dire consequences for the democratic movement in the country. It convinced even the reformist president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) and his followers that US threats posed an existential national threat that could not be ignored, and led to their de facto surrender in the face of a mounting conservative onslaught. [complete article]
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Deft demagoguery in Iran
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, May 7, 2006

The world may be focused on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's declamations on the Holocaust and Iran's nuclear "rights," but as spring and its heat spread through this traffic-clogged city, the popular buzz is about the president's unlikely pronouncements on the rights of women. Having campaigned on a platform of restoring Islamic morality and won the endorsement of the country's most reactionary clerics, Ahmadinejad abruptly announced a couple of weeks ago that it was time to allow women to attend soccer matches. What's more, it would not be the business of his government to enforce dress restrictions. "Certain prejudices against women have nothing to do with Islam," the newly minted social liberal declared.

Mullahs were outraged: A couple issued fatwas that Ahmadinejad studiedly ignored. Liberals, closeted in their parlors since their exclusion from the political system, quietly gloated. After just nine months in office, they pointed out, the president had been forced to acknowledge Iran's dominant political reality: a population fed up with the strictures, corruption and economic failure of Islamic rule. [complete article]
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The fall and fall of Afghanistan
By William Fisher, IPS (via Asia Times), May 6, 2006

"Contractors in Afghanistan are making big money for bad work." That is the conclusion reached in a new report from CorpWatch written by an Afghan-American journalist who returned to her native country to examine the progress of reconstruction.

"The [George W] Bush administration touts the reconstruction effort in Afghanistan as a success story," the report said, but claimed that reconstruction has been "bungled" by "many of the same politically connected corporations which are doing similar work in Iraq", receiving "massive open-ended contracts" without competitive bidding or with limited competition.

"These companies are pocketing millions, and leaving behind a people increasingly frustrated and angry with the results," the report said. Foreign contractors "make as much as US$1,000 a day, while the Afghans they employ make $5 per day," the report charged. [complete article]

See also, Afghanistan, Inc.: A CorpWatch investigative report.
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The new opium war
By Paul Rogers, openDemocracy, May 4, 2006

On 1 May, British troops assumed control of security operations in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan. More than 2,000 troops are now in the province after the transfer of authority from the United States, a figure that will rise to 3,300 by June. They join the further contingent of 2,000 British soldiers in other parts of Afghanistan, but the significance of Helmand is that it is one of the least stable parts of the country. An early indication of what the troops may face is a comment from a local militia leader that Britain is "an old enemy of Afghanistan".

Several opposition politicians in Britain have questioned the nature of the British military role, specifically whether the forces' function is to aid reconstruction and development, conduct counter-narcotics actions or engage in counter-insurgency against the Taliban and other militias. The defence secretary, John Reid, has described the mission as "to protect the reconstruction and development of the Afghan economy, democratic government and security forces", but he added: "However, it will be necessary to protect that development against terrorists who seek to destroy all three of those elements, or to attack British troops."

The warning is apt. March was a particularly violent month in the ongoing war in Afghanistan; there were numerous attacks on Afghan police and security forces and government offices, assassinations of government officials and murders of aid and construction workers. [complete article]
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Pakistan a haven for militants, U.S. says
By Jason Straziuso, AP (via WP), May 7, 2006

A top U.S. counterterrorism official said Saturday that parts of Pakistan were a "safe haven" for militants and that Osama bin Laden was more likely to be hiding there than in Afghanistan.

Henry Crumpton, the U.S. ambassador in charge of counterterrorism, lauded Pakistan for arresting "hundreds and hundreds" of al-Qaeda figures but said it needed to do more.

"Has Pakistan done enough? I think the answer is no. I have conveyed that to them; other U.S. officials have conveyed that to them," he told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul after talks with Afghan officials. [complete article]
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Brazil joins world's nuclear club
By Steve Kingstone, BBC News, May 6, 2006

Brazil has joined the select group of countries with the capability of enriching uranium as a means of generating energy. A new centrifuge facility was formally opened on Friday at the Resende nuclear plant in the state of Rio de Janeiro.

The Brazilian government says its technology is some of the most advanced in the world. The official opening follows lengthy negotiations with the United Nations nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. [complete article]
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Targeted killings surge in Baghdad
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, May 7, 2006

More Iraqi civilians were killed in Baghdad during the first three months of this year than at any time since the toppling of Saddam Hussein's regime -- at least 3,800, many of them found hogtied and shot execution-style.

Others were strangled, electrocuted, stabbed, garroted or hanged. Some died in bombings. Many bore signs of torture such as bruises, drill holes, burn marks, gouged eyes or severed limbs.

Every day, about 40 bodies arrive at the central Baghdad morgue, an official said. The numbers demonstrate a shift in the nature of the violence, which increasingly has targeted both sides of the country's SunniShiite sectarian divide. [complete article]
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Through a Syrian lens -- is the U.S. provoking civil war in Iraq?
By Robert Fisk, The Independent (via Counterpunch), May 6, 2006

In Syria, the world appears through a glass, darkly. As dark as the smoked windows of the car which takes me to a building on the western side of Damascus where a man I have known for 15 years - we shall call him a "security source", which is the name given by American correspondents to their own powerful intelligence officers - waits with his own ferocious narrative of disaster in Iraq and dangers in the Middle East.

His is a fearful portrait of an America trapped in the bloody sands of Iraq, desperately trying to provoke a civil war around Baghdad in order to reduce its own military casualties. It is a scenario in which Saddam Hussein remains Washington's best friend, in which Syria has struck at the Iraqi insurgents with a ruthlessness that the United States wilfully ignores. And in which Syria's Interior Minister, found shot dead in his office last year, committed suicide because of his own mental instability. [complete article]
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Series of attacks kills more than 30 in Iraq
By Bassam Sebti, Saad Sarhan and Salih Saif Aldin, Washington Post, May 7, 2006

A series of nearly simultaneous car bomb attacks struck Baghdad and the Shiite Muslim holy city of Karbala Sunday morning, killing more than 30 Iraqis, police and eyewitnesses said.

The first two car bombs detonated in two Sunni Muslim neighborhoods in northern Baghdad. The third went off near the provincial government building in Karbala about 50 miles south of the capital.

A suicide car bomb exploded at an Iraqi army checkpoint near Ibn al-Haitham College of Education in Adhamiya in northern Baghdad, killing at least three civilians and six Iraqi soldiers, hospital and defense ministry officials said. [complete article]
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Kidnapped in Iraq: victim's tale of clockwork death and ransom
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, May 7, 2006

New victims arrived every day, blindfolded and terrified. The kidnappers would shove them into the small, unfurnished room where Issam Mofak Jassem sat on the concrete floor awaiting his fate.

The fresh captives would be pulled from the room, sometimes within hours, and Mr. Jassem would hear them being led down the hall. Gunshots would follow quickly, and he would never see the men again.

This was the pattern for three days, until, Mr. Jassem said, he was ordered to join three men hauled in the previous night.

Gunmen blindfolded and marched them down the hall, then made them kneel in a row. The first gunshot was deafening, and Mr. Jassem heard a man's body slump to the floor. One more to go, he thought, and it would be his turn. He worried for his three young daughters, wife and mother, and he prepared to die. [complete article]
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Saudi effort draws on radical clerics to combat lure of al-Qaeda
By David B. Ottaway, Washington Post, May 7, 2006

Saudi Arabia has mobilized some of its most militant clerics, including one Osama bin Laden sought to recruit as his spiritual guide, in a campaign to combat the continuing appeal of al-Qaeda's ideology in the kingdom.

The effort has targeted hundreds of young Saudis whom security forces here have tracked down and arrested as sympathizers or potential recruits. They are then subjected to an intense program of religious reeducation by clerics that sometimes lasts for months.

Saudi authorities say that about 500 youths have completed the program and been freed since it began in 2004. They remain under close surveillance. "None has been found to get reinvolved in terrorism so far," said Lt. Gen. Mansour al-Turki, spokesman for the Saudi Interior Ministry, which runs the program together with the Islamic Affairs Ministry. "Their ideology has changed, and they are convinced they were wrong." [complete article]
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Clashes roil Basra after deadly British copter crash
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 6, 2006

A British military helicopter crashed in the southern city of Basra on Saturday, apparently after being hit by a rocket, drawing crowds of cheering local residents who threw stones and Molotov cocktails, Iraqi officials said. As many as five service members were killed, and at least four Iraqis died in the ensuing chaos, witnesses and hospital officials said.

An official in the Basra governor's office said the helicopter had been struck by an antiaircraft rocket and crashed into three residential buildings in the Saee neighborhood about 1:50 p.m. Witnesses, including an owner of one of the houses, reported seeing five bodies, though Maj. Sebastian Muntz, a spokesman for the British military in Basra, did not confirm the number of casualties or say how many people were on board. Defense Secretary Des Browne of Britain later confirmed that "a number of British service personnel" had been killed in the crash.

News of the crash comes at an already tense time for Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Labor government, who have been hurt by the war's unpopularity in Britain and just went through a poor election showing and cabinet shuffling. [complete article]
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Not all see video mockery of Zarqawi as good strategy
By C.J. Chivers, New York Times, May 6, 2006

An effort by the American military to discredit the terrorist leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi by showing video outtakes of him fumbling with a machine gun — suggesting that he lacks real fighting skill — was questioned yesterday by retired and active American military officers.

The video clips, released on Thursday to news organizations in Baghdad, show the terrorist leader confused about how to handle an M-249 squad automatic weapon, known as an S.A.W., which is part of the American inventory of infantry weapons.

The American military, which said it captured the videotapes in a recent raid, released selected outtakes in an effort to undermine Mr. Zarqawi's image as leader of the Council of Holy Warriors, formerly Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, and suggested that his fighting talents and experience were less than his propaganda portrays. But several veterans of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, as well as active-duty officers, said in telephone interviews yesterday that the clips of Mr. Zarqawi's supposed martial incompetence were unconvincing. [complete article]

Comment -- The problem with this kind of propaganda is that much as the U.S. military might wish to mock Zarqawi, it is Zarqawi who is mocking the Americans by the simple fact that he remains illusive.
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10 U.S. soldiers are killed in Afghan helicopter crash
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, May 6, 2006

Ten American soldiers were killed when their helicopter crashed Friday in eastern Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border, the United States military said Saturday.

The crash took place close to a landing zone and was not caused by hostile fire, a military spokeswoman, Lt. Tamara Lawrence, said. The bodies were being recovered Saturday, she said, and an investigation into the cause was under way.

The soldiers were among 2,500 coalition and Afghan forces taking part in an offensive operation in a remote part of Kunar Province, about 150 miles east of the capital, Kabul. Insurgents are known to be based in the region, and the military has been flying soldiers into high mountain ridges there to cut off escape routes. [complete article]
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Iran MPs threaten nuclear treaty
BBC News, May 7, 2006

Iran's parliament has threatened to force a withdrawal from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if Western pressure over its programme increases. The threat came in a letter to the UN a day before key UN members discuss a tough draft resolution on the issue.

Pulling out of the NPT is the ultimate threat of non-cooperation by Iran, says our Tehran correspondent. A withdrawal would mean the country's programme could no longer be inspected by the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. [complete article]
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The CIA at rock bottom
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, May 7, 2006

CIA employees were sitting at their computers Friday afternoon when they saw a message advising them to toggle to the agency's in-house television channel. On their screens they saw CIA Director Porter Goss abruptly announcing his resignation. In at least one office at the agency, and I suspect many more, there were quiet cheers. The Goss years have not been happy ones at the CIA.

Goss was dumped by a president who doesn't like to fire anyone. That was a sign of how badly off track things had gotten at the CIA. Goss and his aides were feuding with the agency's staff and with officials of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI), the new bureaucratic canopy that overlays the CIA and 14 other intelligence agencies. One of Goss's senior aides was facing potential legal troubles in a bribery investigation; another he had brought over from Capitol Hill was scrambling to submit his resume to investment banks and other potential employers. Against this background, a White House emboldened by new chief of staff Josh Bolten decided it was time for "executive action," the euphemism the CIA once used for taking someone out. [complete article]
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Lawmakers want more data on contracting out intelligence
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, May 7, 2006

Congress is taking its first steps to oversee the Defense Department's rapidly growing activities in the foreign and domestic intelligence fields, focusing also on the growing practice of contracting out intelligence analysis to former military personnel.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, in its version of the fiscal 2007 intelligence authorization bill, has called for enhanced reporting requirements on the Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the Pentagon's newest and fastest-growing intelligence agency.

While the House Armed Services Committee approved an unusually large Pentagon request to increase by 50 the number of supergrade defense intelligence Senior Executive Service personnel, the Senate Armed Services Committee last week ordered expanded reporting on defense contractor employment of former senior Defense Department officials and interagency contracting. [complete article]

The intelligence business
Editorial, New York Times, May 7, 2006

We've been waiting for well over two years for the Senate Intelligence Committee to finally hold the Bush administration accountable for the fairy tales it told about Saddam Hussein's weapons. Republican leaders keep saying it is a waste of time to find out whether President Bush and other top officials deliberately misled the world. But Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's bizarre responses the other day to questions about that very issue were a timely reminder of why this investigation needs to be completed promptly, thoroughly and fairly.

Unfortunately, Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate panel, is running it in a way that makes it unlikely that anything useful will come of it.

It is bad enough that Mr. Rumsfeld and others did not tell Americans the full truth -- to take the best-case situation -- before the war. But they are still doing it. Just look at the profoundly twisted version of events that the defense secretary offered last week at a public event in Atlanta. [complete article]
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Hayden faces Senate and CIA hurdles if named
By Thomas E. Ricks and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, May 7, 2006

Agency insiders probably will be suspicious of Hayden, a career military man. They also will be skeptical that the mild-mannered Hayden can protect them from the bureaucratic maneuverings of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who in recent years has built up military intelligence and made it more independent of CIA oversight.

"Mike Hayden will have his work cut out for him," said Michael Vickers, a former CIA officer who now consults with the Pentagon. "If nominated and confirmed, he will assume the most important job in the U.S. government when it comes to fighting the global war on terrorism." That will be especially difficult for someone such as Hayden, who comes out of the technical side of intelligence, not the more hands-on area of clandestine operations. Nor have military officers had much success leading the CIA in recent decades.

Even securing Senate confirmation could be tough, especially during a midterm election year in which Democrats will be seeking to regain control of Congress. Hayden has long worked at developing good relationships with members of Congress, but those ties have frayed lately, mainly because of the NSA's domestic surveillance program. [complete article]

See also, White House set to fight for Hayden (WP).
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Exit of CIA chief viewed as move to recast agency
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, May 7, 2006

The choice of Gen. Michael V. Hayden of the Air Force as the new director of the Central Intelligence Agency is only a first step in a planned overhaul to permanently change the mission and functions of the legendary spy agency, intelligence officials said Saturday.

Porter J. Goss, who was forced to resign Friday, was seen as an obstacle to an effort by John D. Negroponte, the director of national intelligence, to focus the agency on its core mission of combating terrorism and stealing secrets abroad. General Hayden, who will be nominated to the post on Monday, is currently Mr. Negroponte's deputy, and he is regarded as an enthusiastic champion of the agency's adoption of that narrower role.

A senior intelligence official said that General Hayden, in a recent presentation to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, had sharply criticized Mr. Goss for resisting that transformation. Mr. Goss was seen as trying to protect the C.I.A.'s longtime role as government's premier center for intelligence analysis, but under General Hayden, who is currently Mr. Negroponte's top deputy, much of that function is intended to move elsewhere. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Iraq's Shiites now chafe at American presence
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, May 6, 2006

Iraq at the mercy of 'kingmaker' Muqtada
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, May 6, 2006

Cut and run from Iraq? You bet
By Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, Foreign Policy, May/June, 2006

Bush administration refuses to talk directly with its main foes
By Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel, Knight Ridder, May 5, 2006

No trials for 9/11 key players
By David G. Savage, Los Angeles Times, May 4, 2006

How to think about terrorism
By Richard K. Betts, Wilson Quarterly, Winter, 2006

How not to fight terrorism
By David Cole, Washington Post, May 5, 2006

Good timing for another Gore run
By Clarence Page, Baltimore Sun, May 5, 2006

Ferment over 'The Israel Lobby'
By Philip Weiss, The Nation, May 15, 2006

Is the hard line against Hamas working?
By Tony Karon, Time, May 4, 2006

Israel's blueprint for future draws a line under 60 years of growth
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, May 5, 2006

Israel: The country that wouldn't grow up
By Tony Judt, Haaretz, May 4, 2006

The untold story of Israel's bomb
By Avner Cohen and William Burr, Washington Post, April 30, 2006
See also, Israel crosses the threshold (National Security Archive).

What's behind Iran's nuclear bluster
By Tony Karon, Time, May 2, 2006

Iranian cries in the wilderness
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, May 2, 2006

The case against sanctions on Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, May 2, 2006

After the nuclear non-proliferation treaty
By Richard Falk and David Krieger, Open Democracy, April 27, 2006
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