The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
In Haditha, memories of a massacre
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, May 27, 2006

Witnesses to the slaying of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in the western town of Haditha say the Americans shot men, women and children at close range in retaliation for the death of a Marine lance corporal in a roadside bombing.

Aws Fahmi, a Haditha resident who said he watched and listened from his home as Marines went from house to house killing members of three families, recalled hearing his neighbor across the street, Younis Salim Khafif, plead in English for his life and the lives of his family members. "I heard Younis speaking to the Americans, saying: 'I am a friend. I am good,' " Fahmi said. "But they killed him, and his wife and daughters."

The 24 Iraqi civilians killed on Nov. 19 included children and the women who were trying to shield them, witnesses told a Washington Post special correspondent in Haditha this week and U.S. investigators said in Washington. The girls killed inside Khafif's house were ages 14, 10, 5, 3 and 1, according to death certificates. [complete article]
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A Taliban comeback?
By Ahmed Rashid, YaleGlobal, May 23, 2006

As unprecedented Taliban violence sweeps across southern Afghanistan, four players in the region -- Afghanistan, Pakistan, the US and NATO -- are locked in a tense standoff rather than cooperating to defeat the terrorists. At stake is the future survival of Afghanistan's moderate government and stability in Pakistan.

To prop up Afghanistan and combat the Taliban, the US and NATO may have to make major concessions to Pakistan's military regime, but any concessions would anger the Afghans, encourage the extremists and allow the unpopular military to dominate Pakistan’s political scene for another five years. [complete article]

The battle spreads in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, May 26, 2006

The bulk of the fighting in Afghanistan in the past week, which has claimed more than 300 lives among the Taliban, US-led forces, the Afghan National Army (ANA) and civilians, has taken place in the southern Pashtun heartland of the country.

However, the Taliban's spring offensive is fast turning into a massive resistance against the foreign presence all over Afghanistan, and already some influential characters are jockeying for a post-spring role.

And the indications are that the resistance could transcend a simple Taliban-led insurgency to evolve into a powerful Islamic movement. [complete article]

Civilians face dilemma as violence rises in Afghanistan
By Rachel Morarjee, Financial Times, May 26, 2006

Last week Mohammed Mir packed up his home, left his mulberry orchards and wheat fields in Panjwai district on the outskirts of the city, and moved his family back into Kandahar.

He no longer knew who the enemy were: the police who ransacked the village houses for valuables, or the Taliban who asked for food and shelter at gunpoint.

"One night the Taliban is coming, the next the police are coming. Both of them are asking for food and bribes and if there is a fight the government will blame me for sheltering the Taliban or vice-versa," he explained.

He got out just in time.

On Monday, days after the elderly man left, Panjwai was the scene of some of the fiercest fighting since 2001, as US gunships supporting Canadian ground troops pounded villages in the district where the Taliban were taking refuge. [complete article]

Afghans flee fighting, airstrikes in South
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, May 26, 2006

Several thousand people were reported Thursday to have fled into this southern city from fierce fighting between Taliban insurgents and U.S.-led forces in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province.

In the capital, Kabul, officials of the Organization for International Migration said that between 2,000 and 3,000 people had escaped from the continuing combat, fearful both of attacks by Taliban forces and further assaults by U.S. warplanes, which killed at least 16 civilians Monday when they strafed village compounds where Taliban fighters had taken shelter.

"Entire families, including women and children, fled after days of some of the heaviest fighting," said an official of the group, which helps refugees and migrants.

The aid officials said some refugees were sleeping in tents and others had moved in with relatives in Kandahar, the capital of this conflicted southern province. Several hundred people have been reported killed in intense fighting in Panjwai and other districts in the past week. [complete article]
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Iran says rejects Iraq talks with U.S. for now
By Mariam Karouny and Omar al-Ibadi, Reuters, May 26, 2006

Iran has decided not to take up an offer from Washington of direct talks over the future of Iraq for the time being, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on a visit to Baghdad on Friday.

Iran's initial acceptance of talks had been exploited for propaganda by the United States, and Tehran had therefore decided to suspend its decision to take part, he told a news conference.

"Unfortunately, the American side tried to use this decision as propaganda and they raised some other issues. They tried to create a negative atmosphere and that's why the decision which was taken for the time being is suspended," Mottaki said.

He was speaking after meeting his Iraqi counterpart during a visit to Baghdad that turned attention on Tehran's role in its U.S.-occupied neighbour hours after President George W. Bush admitted mistakes in his Iraq policy. [complete article]
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Blair and Bush are duo even in descent
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 26, 2006

President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair once bestrode the globe as powerful leaders who spoke boldly of bringing democracy to the Middle East. Now, dragged down by popular discontent over their adventure in Iraq, both have reached the lowest point of their careers.

On May 4, Blair's Labor Party suffered its worst defeats since 1997 in elections for seats on local governing boards, forcing the prime minister to shake up his cabinet amid calls that he step aside soon in favor of Gordon Brown, his expected successor. Bush, with his approval ratings hovering just above 30 percent, has also tried to reinvigorate his sagging popularity by reshuffling top aides.

Blair, desperate to hang on for at least another year, is already viewed as a lame duck -- and Bush also is increasingly seen as one, even though he has nearly three years left in his term.

As the Economist magazine put it earlier this month, the Bush-Blair partnership has become the "axis of feeble." [complete article]

See also, Blair is accused of new cover-up over Attorney General's advice on Iraq war (The Telegraph).
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Top Marine visits Iraq as probe of deaths widens
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, May 26, 2006

The commandant of the Marine Corps flew to Iraq to address his troops yesterday, and members of the Senate Armed Services Committee were briefed on allegations that Marines had purposely killed as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians in November.

The two developments were indications of the growing seriousness of two investigations into the incident in Haditha that has led to charges from a congressman that Marines killed civilians "in cold blood."

"When these investigations come out, there's going to be a firestorm," said retired Brig. Gen. David M. Brahms, formerly a top lawyer for the Marine Corps. "It will be worse than Abu Ghraib -- nobody was killed at Abu Ghraib." [complete article]

See also, General will examine 'indifference' to death (AP).

Comment -- Perhaps Brig. Gen. Brahms is forgettting the case of Manadel al-Jamadi?
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Drifting down the path to perdition
Andrew Bacevich interviewed by Tom Engelhardt (part 2), TomDispatch, May 25, 2006

Andrew Bacevich:...I became convinced that what we saw in the 90s from both Democrats and Republicans was an effort to expand an informal American empire. Fast forward to 9/11 and its aftermath, and the Bush doctrine of preventive war as implemented in Iraq, and the full dimensions of our imperial ambitions become evident for all to see.

I have to say, I certainly supported the Afghanistan War. I emphatically believed that we had no choice but to take down the Taliban regime in order to demonstrate clearly the consequences of any nation tolerating, housing, supporting terrorists who attack us. But the Iraq War just struck me as so unnecessary, unjustifiable, and reckless that... I don't know how to articulate its impact except that it put me unalterably in the camp of those who had come to see American power as the problem, not the solution. And it brought me close to despair that the response of the internal opposition and of the American people generally proved to be so tepid, so ineffective. It led me to conclude that we are in deep, deep trouble. [complete article]
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Hizbullah factor in Iran fray
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 2006

In the spring sunshine, the 70-mile Lebanon-Israel frontier of olive groves and fields of bright green tobacco appears a picture of rural calm. But the looming confrontation between the West and Tehran ensures that tensions linger here, with Iran-backed Hizbullah fortifying its frontline observation posts and Israel recently increasing its aerial reconnaissance patrols over Lebanon.

One alarming scenario gaining attention is if Iran's nuclear facilities come under attack by the US or Israel, it could inadvertently trigger a violent confrontation between Lebanon's Hizbullah and the Israeli military.

Hizbullah this week aired fresh warnings on the extent of its massive rocket arsenal, reinforcing concerns in Israel that it will be targeted as part of Tehran's retaliation to a strike against its nuclear sites. [complete article]

U.S. debates carrots, sticks for Iran's nuclear program
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, May 26, 2006

Amid a din of uncompromising rhetoric from and about Iran, the UN's permanent five powers and Germany this week worked to hammer out a package of incentives and threats they hope will ensure the Islamic Republic's nuclear program is limited to peaceful purposes.

On the table: giving Iran nuclear reactors and providing fuel for energy production, as well as economic and security incentives. In exchange, Iran would have to give up uranium enrichment - a step that can lead to weapons production - or face UN sanctions or even an arms embargo.

Cutting through layers of mistrust to determine any US role - as well as Iran's ultimate goals - will not be easy, given a relationship calcified by more than 25 years of hostile rhetoric and official silence. But increasingly, analysts say that any deal ultimately depends on direct talks between the US and Iran - and possibly a US "security guarantee" that it will not attack Iran. [complete article]
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Hands-off or not? Saudis wring theirs over Iraq
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, May 24, 2006

A stark dilemma lies before the rulers of this desert kingdom: how to insulate their land from the sectarian fighting in neighboring Iraq yet find a way to counter Iran's swelling influence there.

Though Saudi rulers might prefer to avoid involvement in Iraq, there is a growing sense here that of all the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia is the most likely to be sucked in if the violence doesn't slow. A host of ideas, virtually all of them controversial, are swirling around Riyadh, including funneling arms to Iraq's Sunni Arabs and improving ties with Iran.

As growing numbers of Iraq's minority Sunni Muslims are killed in their conflict with Shiite Muslims, Sunnis in Saudi Arabia — the cradle of Islam — are watching with alarm. Many are keen to protect their fellow Sunnis across the border, a desire intensified by the tribal and family links that bind the countries.

At the same time, Saudi rulers are deeply nervous about the growing power of Iran, a long-distrusted neighbor. To them, the U.S.-led war in Iraq has been a strategic disaster. The resulting power shift to Shiite politicians in Iraq, many of whom lived for years in Iran and received money and other support from that government, has placed Baghdad under the sway of Iranian clerics, they say, and that threatens to destabilize Saudi Arabia.

Violence and Iranian influence in Iraq "will shake the base of society and drive Saudi Arabia to enter the war, with the United States or without," said Abdullah Askar, a columnist and political science professor at King Saud University. "There is a misconception that we have a solid social base. We don't. There are deep roots and viruses just waiting for the time to erupt and rise up." [complete article]
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What would Cheney say?
By Dan Froomkin, Washington Post, May 25, 2006

Vice President Cheney's testimony in the criminal trial of his chief of staff -- suddenly a distinct possibility -- would appear to be crucial to the case.

The more we learn, the clearer it becomes that Cheney was at the epicenter of a White House campaign to discredit administration critic Joseph Wilson -- a campaign that ultimately included the outing of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame , as a CIA operative.

Cheney is obviously the person in the best position to either confirm or contradict one of the hardest-to-swallow elements of Scooter Libby's defense: That Libby and Cheney specifically discussed Valerie Plame's status as a CIA operative in early June 2003, and then again after columnist Robert Novak publicly outed her on July 14 -- but not in between.

This is a key element of Libby's defense, because in between, Libby has argued, he "forgot" that he knew. [complete article]

See also, Experts say Cheney can't avoid testifying (AP).
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PA Prime Minister defiant on Abbas referendum
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, May 26, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Friday vowed the Hamas-led government would make no concessions despite a threat by Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to call a referendum on a plan that would implicitly recognise Israel .

"We will not make political concessions," Haniyeh told worshippers at a Gaza mosque in response to Abbas's surprise ultimatum for the militant group to back the proposal for Palestinian statehood or face a referendum on the issue.

"Even if they besiege us from all directions, they should not dream that we will make any political concessions," added Haniyeh. [complete article]
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Olmert's profound ethics and deep lies
By Rami G. Khouri, Jordan Times, May 26, 2006

I must, reluctantly, tip my cap to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and his propaganda machine for their sheer audacity. The more the Israeli troops, settlers and Israel&rsquos official occupation policies injure and kill Palestinians and make life miserable for the whole population the more eloquently Israeli officials praise their own humanitarianism in front of the world.

This is a high watermark of Israeli mendacity, in view of the statement issued by the Israeli government and Olmert after their Cabinet meeting on May 21, when they decided to release some of the Palestinian tax money they have withheld, to finance purchases of medicines by Palestinian hospitals that are running out of essential needs.

The Israeli government statement said: "The state of Israel feels bound -- above and beyond its formal obligations -- to see to humanitarian concerns, and to the health of those who are ill anywhere. We cannot, under any circumstances, bear the thought of a sick child without medical assistance, solely because of a shortage of drugs, and this has nothing to do with any kind of formal obligation. This is a moral and fundamentally Jewish concern that we want to uphold. We have no intention of helping the Palestinian government, we will not transfer so much as a penny to any Palestinian official, but I say, we will render such assistance as may be necessary for humanitarian needs. This is, has been, and will be, the way of the state of Israel." [complete article]
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Interview with Prof. Norman Finkelstein
Electronic Intifada, May 25, 2006

Christopher Brown: Prof. Finkelstein, in your estimation why does it seem that when someone challenges Israel on its policies towards the Palestinians they are accused of anti-Semitism?

Norman Finkelstein: I think the answer is that in the past, if you take the 1960s. 1970s and early 80s, the scholarly record and the documentary record, it seemed to be supporting Israel's position. And so Israelis and their supporters didn't typically charge anti-Semitism. What they did was tell you to look at the record, look at the history and see that it supports their claims. Beginning in the late 1980s and 1990s the work of important Israeli historians as well as the documentary record of human rights organizations, Israel's record not as good as it once did. And it turned out that many of the things that people thought were the case when they came to Israel actually turned out not to be the case. Thus Israel's position both historically and in terms of its current human rights record as that position became more indefensible; it was then that the charges of anti-Semitism began to be hurled with reckless abandon. Because there was no other way to respond to the charges that Israel has done and is doing. It's wrong. [complete article]
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Iran offered 'to make peace with Israel'
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, May 26, 2006

Iran offered in 2003 to accept peace with Israel and cut off material assistance to Palestinian armed groups and to pressure them to halt terrorist attacks within Israel's 1967 borders, according to a secret Iranian proposal to the United States.

The two-page proposal for a broad Iran-US agreement covering all the issues separating the two countries, a copy of which was obtained by Inter Press Service (IPS), was conveyed to the US in late April or early May 2003.

Trita Parsi, a specialist on Iranian foreign policy at Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies who provided the document to IPS, says he got it from an Iranian official this year but is not at liberty to reveal the source.
An Iranian threat to destroy Israel has been a major propaganda theme of the Bush administration for months. On March 10, President George W Bush said, "The Iranian president has stated his desire to destroy our ally, Israel. So when you start listening to what he has said to their desire to develop a nuclear weapon, then you begin to see an issue of grave national-security concern."

But in 2003, Bush refused to allow any response to the Iranian offer to negotiate an agreement that would have accepted the existence of Israel. Flynt Leverett, then the senior specialist on the Middle East on the National Security Council staff, recalled in an interview that it was "literally a few days" between the receipt of the Iranian proposal and the dispatch of a message to the Swiss ambassador expressing displeasure that he had forwarded it to Washington. [complete article]
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U-turn by White House as it blocks direct talks with Iran
By Julian Borger and Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, May 25, 2006

The White House yesterday ruled out previously authorised direct talks between Tehran and the US ambassador in Baghdad, which were to have focused on the situation in Iraq. The move marks a hardening of the Bush administration's position, despite pressure from the international community to enter into direct dialogue with Iran.

A White House official said that although the US envoy had originally been granted a mandate for talks with Iran, "we have decided not to pursue it."

Western diplomats hoped that talks on Iraq could have widened into a discussion of Iran's alleged nuclear arms programme. Iran has been asking in recent weeks for direct talks with Washington on the nuclear issue and the Bush administration had come under pressure from Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general, and countries such as Germany to hold direct talks.

Washington's decision not to pursue the talks with Iran on Iraq, which would have been conducted by the American ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, came as the US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China concluded a meeting in London last night to discuss a new offer to Iran. The Foreign Office reported progress on agreeing on a combination of sticks and carrots to try to entice Iran into suspending its uranium-enrichment programme, which is seen by the west as a step towards achieving a nuclear weapons capability. [complete article]
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False report triggers rush of Iranian-Nazi comparisons
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, May 26, 2006

It was not exactly up there with the failure to uncover weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but the effort to discredit the Iranian regime took an embarrassing turn this week with a false media report claiming that Tehran had passed a law requiring Jews and other religious minorities to wear special badges.

The report and a related column by Iranian opposition pundit Amir Taheri ran in the May 19 edition of the National Post, a Canadian daily, promptly setting off a media feeding frenzy. The Simon Wiesenthal Center immediately called on the United Nations to open an investigation; other Jewish groups issued their own condemnations; Israeli papers picked up the story and the Big Apple tabloids feasted on it the next day, with the New York Post splashing a "Fourth Reich" headline on its front page and the Daily News penning a damning editorial. For good measure, Canada's and Australia's prime ministers expressed outrage; Senator Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, fired off a news release calling the Iranian regime "lunatic" and "pernicious," and State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said such a measure would be "despicable" and "carry clear echoes of Germany under Hitler."

There was just one problem: The report was, for the most part, false. No bill containing such measures was introduced or discussed in parliament, several experts said, prompting the National Post to retract the story. [complete article]

See also, Harper comments spark rebuke from Tehran (Toronto Star).
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The Persian complex
By Abbas Amanat, New York Times, May 25, 2006

It is easy to label Iran's quest for nuclear energy a dangerous adventure with grave regional and international repercussions. It is also comforting to heap scorn on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his earlier denial of the Holocaust and his odious call for the obliteration of the state of Israel. The rambling intransigence expressed in his recent letter to President Bush offers ample insight into this twisted mindset. Yet there is something deeper in Iran's story than the extremist utterances of a messianic president and the calculated maneuvering of the hard-line clerical leadership that stands behind him.

We tend to forget that Iran's insistence on its sovereign right to develop nuclear power is in effect a national pursuit for empowerment, a pursuit informed by at least two centuries of military aggression, domestic meddling, skullduggery and, not least, technological denial by the West. Every schoolchild in Iran knows about the C.I.A.-sponsored 1953 coup that toppled Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh. Even an Iranian with little interest in his or her past is conscious of how Iran throughout the 19th and 20th centuries served as a playground for the Great Game. [complete article]
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Olmert to U.S.: Nuclear Iran cannot be permitted to materialize
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, May 25, 2006

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a joint meeting of the United States Houses of Congress on Wednesday that a "nuclear armed Iran is an intolerable threat to the peace and security of the world," which "cannot be permitted to materialize."

Olmert drew long applause from the members of the House of Representatives and Senate gathered in the House chamber for tough words condemning what he said is Iran's drive to build nuclear weapons and the escalating anti-Semitic rhetoric from its leader.

He said that Iran poses a threat to Israel's existence and urged immediate international action to curb its nuclear program. [complete article]
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'Garbage time' for the U.S.
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, May 25, 2006

Half an hour after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ended his speech, Congressman Eliot Engel of New York was still excited. "It may be the best speech I've ever heard," he told Haaretz, in what one hopes is a slight exaggeration.

Speeches, like the visits of Israeli prime ministers in the United States, have an immediate impression and a long term impression. Olmert, it appeared yesterday, passed the first test with flying colors. The administration embraced him, Congress applauded him. In principle everyone supported him. One could not expect more. The long-term test will come down to the particulars.

Lowering expectations is the shortest way to success. When one waits for crumbs, even a humble meal is seen as a feast. Olmert cleverly lowered expectations and the American administration cooperated by displaying lack of enthusiasm. This helped Olmert both persuade the Israeli public not to expect too much and signal to the American president that he needs more to succeed politically.

Careful planning and suitable circumstances played into Olmert's hands. American officials who only wanted to "examine" Olmert's ideas moved to calling them "interesting" and then "bold."

In any case, all that was left for everyone to do was to pretend that "first we'll try every way to negotiate with the Palestinians" as long as they fulfill all their commitments from Olso to the road map and beyond. [complete article]
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Right-wing Israel Lobby seizes on Olmert visit
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via, May 25, 2006

On his maiden visit to the United States as Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert received a firsthand look at the political muscle of the right-wing "Israel Lobby," part of which used the occasion to launch a campaign to deter him from following through on plans to unilaterally evacuate tens of thousands of settlers living in the occupied West Bank.

Even as Olmert met with President George W. Bush at the White House Tuesday, the House of Representatives voted by an overwhelming 361-37 margin to impose strict conditions on aid to Palestinians, as demanded by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Washington's most powerful pro-Israel lobby.

Bush had opposed the measure on the grounds that it reduced his administration's flexibility in dealing with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and prodding its Hamas-led government to meet conditions for the resumption of direct aid and diplomatic exchanges. Administration officials said they will support a less draconian Senate version of the bill.

Other, more evenhanded Zionist groups, including Americans for Peace Now (APN) and the Israel Policy Forum (IPF), also opposed the measure, arguing that its conditions for restoring aid to the PA were likely to increase the chances of a humanitarian disaster in both Gaza and the West Bank and strengthen hardliners in the PA's Hamas-led government. [complete article]
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Abbas: All factions agree on a Palestinian state on 1967 borders
By Arnon Regular, Haaretz, May 25, 2006

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas told a national conference of Palestinian leaders on Thursday that a national consensus exists on the borders of a future Palestinian state.

"All the Palestinians, from Hamas to the Communists, all of us agree we want a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders," he said. "This is what we have, we cannot talk about dreams."

Commenting on the backing the Palestinians would need for establishing their independent state, Abbas said The Arab countries are waiting for this realistic position, to work in harmony, to push the Palestinian cause ahead. They cannot do anything for the Palestinian cause if the [Palestinians] are rejecting everything." [complete article]

Ramallah erupts after a long lull
By Laura King and Maher Abukhater, Los Angeles Times, May 25, 2006

Violence spread Wednesday from the volatile Gaza Strip to the West Bank, where Israeli troops shot and killed four Palestinians in this usually placid city after a riot broke out during an Israeli arrest raid.

The fighting in Ramallah, the Palestinians' administrative and commercial capital, was the most intense in the city since the Israelis launched a massive military incursion into the West Bank four years ago, when they laid siege to the late Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat's compound. Forays by Israeli troops into the city center now are rare, particularly in daylight.

As bullets whizzed over the main Manara Square and an adjacent shopping mall, Palestinians dropped their bags and scrambled for cover. The acrid scent of tear gas hung in the air.

For Palestinians already anxious about lawlessness and infighting in Gaza, the spread of violence into Ramallah represents a further erosion of security in daily life. Unlike Gaza, which is a deeply impoverished and devoutly religious stronghold of militants, Ramallah is a secular and cosmopolitan city. It is home to a large middle class, including many intellectuals and Palestinians who hold U.S. citizenship. [complete article]
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Sadr's militia tightens grip on healthcare
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, May 25, 2006

After being sworn in last week, Iraq's Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki outlined two big priorities: reasserting a government monopoly on lethal force by disbanding militias and ending rampant political corruption.

But a day spent at Iraq's Health Ministry shows how big a task Mr. Maliki has set for himself.

On one recent morning, six men were loading a simple wooden coffin bearing their relative onto a beat-up Toyota pickup as a female relative in a billowing black abaya choked back tears. Nearby guards barely cast a second glance at the all too common scene.

The ministry is run by the militant Shiite movement led by cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, one of Maliki's key backers. Under the political spoils system that has emerged since the US invaded Iraq, the ministry has provided a jobs program for his militiamen and revenue generating opportunities for loyalists. [complete article]

Zarqawi backers lay down Shariah rules
By Sharon Behn, Washington Times, May 25, 2006

Imams loyal to terrorist leader Abu Musab Zarqawi have issued threats in mosques in a western Baghdad neighborhood against anyone who does not follow Islamic law, terrified residents are saying.

"They announced their loyalty to Zarqawi and put their rules on the street," said Sabah, 31, adding that supporters of the Jordanian-born leader of al Qaeda in Iraq had killed six men for wearing knee-length shorts in another Baghdad neighborhood on Tuesday.

"Everyone is talking about it," he said, adding that a friend of his had forbidden his brothers to go outside in shorts, despite the 106-degree weather. [complete article]

Violence aside, Baghdad is broken
By Anna Badkhen, San Francisco Chronicle, May 24, 2006

"Leaving aside security," Kassim the carpet salesman asked rhetorically, "when you come home, what do you need?" He ticked off the answers on the fingers on his right hand: "Electricity. Water. Food."

"Getting any of this in Baghdad is a problem," he said.

The Iraqi Shiite's elegant, two-story house in the busy central Baghdad district of Karrada gets power four hours a day -- "one hour on, six hours off," said Kassim, a divorced father of three.

Running water is available for one hour, between 1 and 2 in the morning. Kassim pours the water into giant plastic jugs he stores in his bathroom, kitchen and on the rooftop.

"It's a good thing that I go to bed late," he said.

Three years after the U.S. invasion, during which most of the Iraqi capital's infrastructure collapsed, rudimentary services here remain sporadic at best. [complete article]

Editor at conservative magazine to be top policy adviser to Bush
By Michael A. Fletcher, Washington Post, May 25, 2006

President Bush appointed a longtime scholar at the American Enterprise Institute yesterday to be his top domestic policy adviser, a post that has been vacant since February, when Claude A. Allen stepped down after being charged with stealing more than $5,000 in a phony refund scheme.

Karl Zinsmeister, who has worked the past 12 years as editor in chief of the American Enterprise magazine, is slated to assume his White House post June 12. At the institute, he focused on examining cultural issues, as well as social and economic trends. His columns for the magazine included pieces praising Wal-Mart's efficiency and extolling the role of religion in forming the glue that bonds communities.

Zinsmeister, 47, also has written three books defending the war in Iraq, a nation he has visited four times as an embedded journalist. His books focus on the everyday work of U.S. troops, whose progress in fulfilling a noble mission, he argues, is often overlooked by much of the media.

"What the establishment media covering Iraq have utterly failed to make clear today is this central reality: With the exception of periodic flare-ups in isolated corners, our struggle in Iraq as warfare is over," Zinsmeister wrote in his column last June. "Egregious acts of terror will continue -- in Iraq as in many other parts of the world. But there is now no chance whatever of the U.S. losing this critical guerrilla war." [complete article]
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Murder charges likely in Iraq raid
By Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, May 25, 2006

Defense attorneys expect the Marine Corps to file murder charges against one or more Marines who conducted raids in Haditha in November that resulted in the deaths of more than 20 Iraqi civilians, according to sources close to the investigation.

The sources said agents of the Naval Criminal Investigative Services (NCIS) have been interviewing members of the 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Attorneys there are mobilizing for the possible defense of a dozen Marines. [complete article]
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Gonzales's rationale on phone data disputed
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, May 25, 2006

Civil liberties lawyers yesterday questioned the legal basis that Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales used Tuesday to justify the constitutionality of collecting domestic telephone records as part of the Bush administration's anti-terrorism program.

While not confirming a USA Today report May 11 saying the National Security Agency has been collecting phone-call records of millions of Americans, Gonzales said such an activity would not require a court warrant under a 1979 Supreme Court ruling because it involved obtaining "business records." Under the 27-year-old court ruling in Smith v. Maryland, "those kinds of records do not enjoy Fourth Amendment protection," Gonzales said. "There is no reasonable expectation of privacy in those kinds of records," he added. [complete article]

See also, Gonzales defends phone-data collection (WP).
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Libby told grand jury Cheney spoke of Plame
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, May 25, 2006

Vice President Cheney was personally angered by a former U.S. ambassador's newspaper column attacking a key rationale for the war in Iraq and repeatedly directed I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, then his chief of staff, to "get all the facts out" related to the critique, according to excerpts from Libby's 2004 grand jury testimony released late yesterday by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald.

Libby also told the grand jury that Cheney raised as an issue that the former ambassador's wife worked at the CIA and that she allegedly played a role in sending him to investigate the Iraqi government's interest in acquiring nuclear weapons materials. That issue formed the basis of former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV's published critique.

In the court filing that included the formerly secret testimony, Fitzgerald did not assert that Cheney instructed Libby to tell reporters the name and role of Valerie Plame, Wilson's wife. But he said Cheney's interactions with Libby on that topic were a key part of the reason Libby allegedly made false statements to the FBI about his conversations with reporters around the time her name was disclosed in news accounts. [complete article]
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A new rival to 'regime change'
By Howard LaFranchi, Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 2006

Ever since President Bush's "axis of evil" speech in 2002, US policy for dealing with the nuclear programs of what it considers to be "rogue states" has rested on one cornerstone: regime change.

Iraq cemented the widely held estimation that for the Bush administration, the only way to satisfactorily deal with a hostile regime's weapons-of-mass-destruction aspirations was to change the regime.

But now, recent developments involving Libya and North Korea suggest that a new tack is at least under consideration - one that could have profound impact on the crisis with Iran over its nuclear ambitions.

In the White House, on Capitol Hill, and among influential deans of US foreign policy, this new rival to the doctrine of regime change appears to be: The international security priority is such that we are prepared to hold our noses and accept your existence, if you forgo nuclear armament. [complete article]

Comment -- "Regime change" is a phrase that's as strong as Dick Cheney's heart, but before it gets pulled off the shelves where the Bush administration stores its foreign-policy stock phrases, it needs a replacement.

John Bolton was quoted Monday using the clumsy "the 'regime stay' strategy", but that clearly has no sound-bite viability. At least one commentator believes that "containment" is making a comeback, but while that would accurately reflect the revival of foreign policy realism, the current administration would obviously be much more comfortable with a phrase that carries a note of optimism. Containment is too close to resignation. The war in Iraq was after all conceived as a refusal to accept a policy of containment.

Since the pitfall of being committed to regime change is that it provides little if any room for flexibility, it needs to be replaced by a concept and a phrase that connotes flexibility.

The problem with any kind of policy that amounts to U.S.-dictated behavior modification is that we now live in a world that is allergic to America's diktats. The way forward will have to be cooperative.

Realignment is a useful idea and perhaps a viable phrase. America and Iran have a relationship that requires realignment. So do the Israelis and Palestinians. To speak of realignment is to imply that both sides need to adapt because both are out of alignment.

OK. Since this is a blog, everyone should understand I'm making this up as I go along, and I have to admit I'm feeling rather satisfied with myself having just resolved a major foreign policy conundrum, but just to be sure that my thinking isn't way out of alignment, I first check with Google.

Ha! I must unconsciously be in telepathic communication with the Israelis now in Washington. Hitkansut, which until this week was being translated as "convergence" has just been re-launched as "realignment." A unilaterally imposed land grab - a realignment. Not quite what I had in mind. Let's hope that yet another good word doesn't lose its life because it got put to bad use.
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Iran requests direct talks on nuclear program
By Karl Vick and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, May 24, 2006

Iran has followed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's recent letter to President Bush with explicit requests for direct talks on its nuclear program, according to U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.

The eagerness for talks demonstrates a profound change in Iran's political orthodoxy, emphatically erasing a taboo against contact with Washington that has both defined and confined Tehran's public foreign policy for more than a quarter-century, they said.

Though the Tehran government in the past has routinely jailed its citizens on charges of contact with the country it calls the "Great Satan," Ahmadinejad's May 8 letter was implicitly endorsed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and lavished with praise by perhaps the most conservative ayatollah in the theocratic government.

"You know, two months ago nobody would believe that Mr. Khamenei and Mr. Ahmadinejad together would be trying to get George W. Bush to begin negotiations," said Saeed Laylaz, a former government official and prominent analyst in Tehran. "This is a sign of changing strategy. They realize the situation is dangerous and they should not waste time, that they should reach out." [complete article]
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Iran nuclear offer bid 'progress'
BBC News, May 24, 2006

Talks on a package of incentives for Iran to give up its controversial nuclear programme are reported to have made "good progress" in London.

The package was "coming into form both on the incentive side and the disincentive side," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. [complete article]

Washington 'hawks' oppose EU3 plan for Iran
By Guy Dinmore and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, May 23, 2006

Condoleezza Rice, secretary of state, was said by one diplomat to have "gone out on a limb" in an attempt to back the EU3's package of incentives but was facing resistance from Mr Cheney who is playing a more visible role in US foreign policy. Another diplomat said US internal divisions were holding up an agreement with the Europeans.

Some European diplomats believe that Washington will back the package -- which includes guarantees for the construction of light-water reactors in Iran, promises of nuclear fuel and a new regional security forum -- if Moscow endorses a tough chapter seven United Nations Security Council resolution that would require Iran to suspend uranium enrichment. [complete article]
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Iran deploys its war machine
By Iason Athanasiadis, Asia Times, May 24, 2006

...Iran's strategic planners are acutely aware that a military confrontation with the technologically more advanced US Army would be as rapid and multi-fronted as the Iran-Iraq War was static and slow-paced. Quite simply, there would not be a single front.

Neither the US nor Israel has ruled out taking military action against nuclear-related targets in Iran if ongoing diplomatic efforts to freeze Tehran's nuclear program do not prove successful.

Accordingly, Iran has been quietly restructuring its military, while carrying out a series of military exercises testing its new military dogma. In December, more than 15,000 members of the regular armed forces participated in war games in northwestern Iran's strategically sensitive East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan border provinces that focused on irregular warfare carried out by highly mobile and speedy army units. [complete article]

Springtime for Ahmadinejad
By Claude Salhani, UPI (via Washington Times), May 23, 2006

Mr. Ahmadinejad has soared to great popularity, both in Iran and in the Arab world, an anomaly for a Persian Shi'ite leader to find such support among Arabs and Sunnis.

The Iranian president found support at home when he abolished the change every spring to daylight savings time that Iran had adopted since 1990. His antics of "wiping Israel off the map" and denying the existence of the Holocaust won him points among certain Muslim circles.

But it is his defiant stance over Iran's nuclear ambitions, his facing up to the U.S. and major European powers, which gained him much popular support in the Arab and Islamic world. "Ahmadinejad is popular in the whole Muslim world, from Indonesia to Nigeria, as the man who says 'No' to the West," a senior diplomat told UPI.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's meteoric rise to political stardom "is something that went beyond his wildest dreams," said a diplomat. Khomeini was popular only among Shi'ites, whereas Mr. Ahmadinejad's popularity has spread beyond Shi'ites, into the majority mainstream Sunni branch of Islam.

"No one in Iran dares to challenge him," a senior diplomat told UPI. His popularity does not mean the regime is popular. That in turn should not be misinterpreted to think Iranians would applaud military action against their country. To believe aggressive U.S. and/or Israeli action against Iran will solve the problem is not only erroneous, but naive. [complete article]
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Olmert: Bush and I are in full agreement on how to confront Iran
By Aluf Benn and Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, May 24, 2006

There is full agreement between Israel and the U.S. on how to confront the Iranian nuclear issue, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told Israeli journalists early Wednesday, hours after his White House meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush.

"We extensively discussed the Iranian issue," Olmert said. "There is a full understanding between the president and myself on how to deal with this matter."

Olmert said he was "very satisfied" with the discussion he held with Bush on Iran.

Olmert said he believes Iran will cross "the technological threshold" on its path to nuclear capability in about a year. [complete article]
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George Bush wants the convergence plan too
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, May 24, 2006

In anticipation of the visit, Olmert, his cabinet and the White House had all lowered their respective expectations - effectively convincing the media that Bush's support for the convergence plan would be lukewarm, and that Iran would be the central topic of the meeting.

These lowered expectations served as an agreeable backdrop for Bush's supportive statements, fortified by Olmert's allusion to the fact that Bush had been the first world leader to support former prime minister Ariel Sharon's disengagement plan. [complete article]

Olmert comes calling
By Tony Karon, Time, May 23, 2006

By urging Olmert to try and negotiate a deal with Abbas before moving ahead on a unilateral basis, President Bush postpones a tricky political choice. Even if Abbas were able to negotiate a deal with Israel, it would only be a meaningful exercise if he had the consent of the Hamas-led government. And Bush himself has maintained that Hamas does not constitute a viable negotiating partner.

Currently, the U.S. and Israel are maintaining an economic blockade of Palestinian territories in the hope of forcing Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel. But the resulting deterioration of the humanitarian situation is fueling mounting chaos in Gaza as rival security forces battle for control over the streets -- raising the specter of the complete collapse of the Palestinian Authority and even outright civil war. [complete article]

Comment -- Bush's urging negotiations with Abbas notwithstanding, the Israelis got what they wanted: An endorsement for their convergence/realignment-land-grab plan.
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Israeli general: Sanctions won't topple Hamas
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, May 24, 2006

The head of the Israeli military told a legislative committee Tuesday that economic sanctions imposed on the Palestinian Authority following Hamas's parliamentary election victory this year would not topple its government nor diminish support for the radical Islamic movement in the occupied territories.

Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, the military chief of staff, also said he did not believe recent skirmishing in the Gaza Strip between Hamas gunmen and security forces controlled by the rival Fatah movement would lead to a broader civil conflict.

Halutz made his comments in a closed session of the foreign affairs and defense committee of Israel's parliament on the same day Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was scheduled to meet President Bush and other senior U.S. officials in Washington.

According to parliamentary spokesman Giora Pordes, who attended the committee meeting, Halutz said that "the international community united against the transferring of monies to the Hamas government, and there are signs of this on the ground."

"The fact is that the monies are not being funneled in, but the economic pressure in my view will not accelerate the collapse of the Hamas government," Halutz said, according to Pordes's notes of the meeting. "The economic pressure will not necessarily reduce the public support for the Hamas government. The Palestinian public opinion polls do not indicate a weakening in support for Hamas."

Halutz's assessment is perhaps the most critical yet delivered by a senior security official regarding Israel's policy toward the Palestinian Authority since Hamas's election victory four months ago. But it reflects growing concern inside Israel's security establishment that the nearly 4 million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, facing hardships many of them attribute to outside pressure, may be strengthening the Hamas government. [complete article]
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Whose missile shield is it, anyway?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, May 23, 2006

The Bush administration's ballistic-missile-defense program -- wildly expensive and no less ineffective -- has a new mission, it seems. Monday's New York Times reports that the Pentagon plans to build a new site of interceptors in Europe, probably in Poland or the Czech Republic, for the purpose of shooting down nuclear missiles launched by Iran.

At the moment Iran has neither nuclear weapons nor long-range missiles, but the U.S. anti-missile missiles -- a battery of 10 -- won't be in place until 2011, so that's not an issue. Two critical points are worth making, though:

First, contrary to impressions, the main mission of these interceptors is to block an Iranian attack not against Europe but rather against the United States. [complete article]

See also, Moscow angered by U.S. plan for 'star wars' bases in Europe to counter threat of Iran (The Independent).
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Pentagon finds China fortifying its long-range military arsenal
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, May 24, 2006

China's military buildup is increasingly aimed at projecting power far beyond its shores into the western Pacific to be able to interdict U.S. aircraft carriers and other nations' military forces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday that outlines continued concerns over China's rising strategic influence in Asia.

Chinese military planners are focusing to a greater degree than in the past on targeting ships and submarines at long ranges using anti-ship cruise missiles, partly in reaction to Taiwan Strait crises in 1995 and 1996 that saw the U.S. military intervene with carrier battle groups, the report said.

The People's Liberation Army "is engaged in a sustained effort to interdict, at long ranges, aircraft carrier and expeditionary strike groups that might deploy to the western Pacific," the report said. Long-term trends in China's development of nuclear and conventional weapons "have the potential to pose credible threats to modern militaries operating in the region," it said.

The annual report to Congress on China's military power also highlighted Beijing's purchases of Russian weapons, its positioning of as many as 790 Chinese short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan and its nuclear weapons modernization. It warned that advances in nuclear missiles are spurring a debate among some high-ranking Chinese strategists over whether Beijing should change its "no first use" doctrine that bars using nuclear weapons except in response to a nuclear attack. [complete article]
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A new Trident II is an illusion of defense
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, May 22, 2006

Two former Secretaries of Defense argue in today's Washington Post that the United States should procure conventional warheads for Trident II submarine-launched missiles, a capability, they argue, that someday could be the only defense standing between us and terrorists with nuclear weapons.

These two big brains would have us accept a scenario in which a terrorist organization acquires "several" nuclear weapons, that somehow in this scenario we have been so blind, so negligent or so stupid to have allowed this to happen, that we will wake up one morning facing this mortal threat hanging over our heads, and that when all of this happens, we should just be thankful that the super heroes perfect-intelligence and instant weapon will appear to zap the bad guys and make us safe.

I don't know which is more disheartening: that two grand pooh bahs of national security could weave such a vague, hopeless and contradictory scenario; or that so many Americans could accept that our national security establishment could be so incompetent in execution, thus necessitating our only defense being a magical missile. [complete article]
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Armed groups propel Iraq toward chaos
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, May 24, 2006

The armed groups operating across Iraq include not just the 145,000 officially sanctioned police officers and commandos who have come under scrutiny for widespread human rights violations. They also include thousands of armed guards and militia gunmen: some Shiite, some Sunni; some, like the 145,000-member Facilities Protection Service, operating with official backing; and some, like the Shiite-led Badr Brigade militia, conducting operations with the government's tacit approval, sometimes even wearing government uniforms.

Some of these armed groups, like the Iraqi Army and the Iraqi police, often carry out legitimate missions to combat crime and the insurgency. Others, like members of another Shiite militia, the Mahdi Army, specialize in torture, murder, kidnapping and the settling of scores for political parties.

Reining in Iraq's official and unofficial armies is the most urgent task confronting Iraq's new leaders. In speeches and private conversations, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki says he intends to clamp down on the death squads operating within the Iraqi government, and to disarm the militias that provide the street muscle for Iraq's political parties.

That presages an enormous political battle, one that extends beyond the Interior Ministry's police officers and paramilitary soldiers.

A larger and possibly more decisive struggle looms to disarm myriad other armed groups, including the Shiite militias, most of them answerable to the Shiite political parties that dominate the new government.

The outcome of the struggle has far-reaching implications for Iraq's future, as Iraqi and American officials try to curb the abuses that threaten to push the country closer to a sectarian war without impeding the government's ability to fight the Sunni-led guerrilla insurgency.

"I think they have the evidence now as to who is doing most of the killing," said an American official in Baghdad who is not authorized to speak publicly. "It's a question of political will, the political will to do what needs to be done."

"I have just not seen it yet," the official said. [complete article]

See also, Critique of U.S. policy in Iraq (Juan Cole).

Comment -- Sometimes, when you read "official not authorized to speak publicly," it'd be worth keeping in mind that that lack of authorization might not be for the sake of guarding inside information -- it might be because many an official has no great insight on matters about which they will gladly speak.

"Lack of will" is one of those ubiquitous explanations for a political impasse that should be taken no more seriously than the platitude that where there's a will there's a way.

The problem facing the new Iraqi government isn't simply that some of its members might lack the will to do what needs to be done; it is that a weak government cannot assert governmental power once that power has already become dispersed.
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Iraq faces clash with Kurds over oil deals
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, May 23, 2006

Iraq's newly appointed oil minister said on Tuesday that the central government should handle all contracts related to petroleum exploration and production, putting him on a potential collision course with the autonomous Kurdish region which has recently begun to develop its own oil resources.

Hussein al-Shahristani also said at a Baghdad news conference that the country hoped to pass an investment law soon to bring in foreign investment to upgrade the country's battered oil infrastructure.
Under their own interpretation of the constitutional articles governing oil resources, the northern Kurdistan regional government signed an agreement in November with a Norwegian company to begin the first new drilling in post-invasion Iraq. Since then, a Canadian and a Turkish company have also began drilling in the north. [complete article]
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Stalled at the Iraqi-Turkish border, a truck becomes home
By Ariel Sabar, Christian Science Monitor, May 24, 2006

The Habur Border Gate, at the northern fringe of this fast-growing Kurdish city, is a magnet for truckers for a simple reason: it is the safest way in and out of Iraq. But The Line, or, in Turkish, Kuyruk, [-- a line in which drivers wait for three weeks to cross the border --] also reflects a bitter irony of postwar Iraq: One of the world's most oil-rich nations has so few working refineries and pipelines that it has to truck crude oil out, only to truck it back in as gasoline, propane, and other fuel.

Iraq imports at least a third of the 5.5 million gallons of gasoline it consumes daily, and has set aside $2.4 billion for the import of petroleum products this year, says Ehsan Ulhaq, head of research at PVM Oil Associates, an energy consulting firm in Vienna. [complete article]
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U.S. urged to stop paying Iraqi reporters
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, May 24, 2006

A Defense Department investigation of Pentagon-financed propaganda efforts in Iraq warns that paying Iraqi journalists to produce positive stories could damage American credibility and calls for an end to military payments to a group of Iraqi journalists in Baghdad, according to a summary of the investigation.

The review, by Rear Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, was ordered after the disclosure last November that the military had paid the Lincoln Group, a Washington-based Pentagon contractor, to plant articles written by American soldiers in Iraqi publications, without disclosing the source of the articles. The contractor's work also included paying Iraqi journalists for favorable treatment.

Though the document does not mention the Lincoln Group, Admiral Van Buskirk concluded that the military should scrutinize contractors involved in the propaganda effort more closely "to ensure proper oversight is in place." He also faulted the military for failing to examine whether paying for placement for articles would "undermine the concept of a free press," in Iraq, according to the summary. [complete article]
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Rights under assault in Iraq, U.N. unit says
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, May 24, 2006

Human rights in Iraq are being "severely undermined" by growing insecurity, violence and a "breakdown of law and order" caused by militias and criminal gangs, the U.N. mission here said Tuesday.

The human rights update, issued every two months by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq, cited soaring numbers of execution-style killings in Baghdad. Such slayings have increased during a surge of sectarian violence that followed the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra on Feb. 22.

Baghdad's main morgue -- which handles only the remains of victims of violent or suspicious deaths, not including bombing victims -- issued 1,155 death certificates in April, the U.N. agency reported.

The count corroborated a statement by Iraqi President Jalal Talabani, who this month cited morgue figures in saying 1,091 people had been killed in April in Baghdad alone. Iraq's Shiite Muslim-controlled Health Ministry had denied the figure almost as soon as Talabani made it public, saying morgue officials had accidentally given him the wrong tally.

The morgue issued even more death certificates for killings in Baghdad in March -- 1,294, the U.N. report said. Most of the victims were shot to death. [complete article]

Rights group faults U.S. for 'war outsourcing'
By Alan Cowell, New York Times, May 23, 2006

Amnesty International today assailed the United States' use of military contractors in Iraq as "war outsourcing" and said the behavior of some contractors had diminished America's moral standing.

"War outsourcing is creating the corporate equivalent of Guantanamo Bay -- a virtual rules-free zone in which perpetrators are not likely to be held accountable for breaking the law," Larry Cox, the executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in Washington as the human rights body presented its annual report in London. [complete article]
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Iraqi insurgent gives chilling confession
By Nelson Hernandez and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, May 24, 2006

An alleged agent of the group al-Qaeda in Iraq told a chilling story of hijacking, kidnapping and murder in the name of holy war Tuesday, a day after the Jordanian government announced his arrest in an operation carried out in Iraq.

In a videotaped confession broadcast on Jordanian state television, Ziad Khalaf al-Kerbouly related his deeds without a trace of emotion. Though Jordan's government billed him as a high-ranking al-Qaeda operative arrested in the murder of a Jordanian citizen, Kerbouly's account made him sound more like a simple foot soldier for Iraq's most prominent insurgent organization. [complete article]
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In corruption, new government of Iraq faces a tough old foe
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, May 23, 2006

Each day hundreds of visitors fly into this war-ravaged capital aboard state-owned Iraqi Airways planes that Transportation Ministry officials say were purchased for $3 million apiece.

Anti-corruption officials contend that they should not have cost more than $600,000 each and wonder where the rest of the money went.

Inside the airport terminal, customs officials routinely hassle disembarking passengers for a "customs fee." The price is often negotiable.

Outside, a passenger can find a ride with one of the waiting taxis, many of them fueled with smuggled gasoline.

Beyond the airport, city streets teem with cars. A good portion of them -- 17,000, according to anti-corruption officials -- were stolen from the government after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.

Corruption is among the most critical problems facing Iraq's newly formed government, U.S. and Iraqi officials say. Moments after announcing most of his new Cabinet on Saturday, Prime Minister Nouri Maliki declared that fighting corruption would be one of his main priorities. U.S. and Iraqi officials say endemic graft and conflicts of interest await Maliki everywhere he turns. [complete article]

Iraqi charities plant seed of civil society
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 23, 2006

Since 2003 the government has registered 5,000 private organizations, including charities, human rights groups, medical assistance agencies and literacy projects. Officials estimate that an additional 7,000 groups are working unofficially. The efforts show that even as violence and sectarian hatred tear Iraq's mixed cities apart, a growing number of Iraqis are trying to bring them together. "Iraqis were thirsty for such experiences," said Khadija Tuma, director of the office in the Ministry of Civil Society Affairs that now works with the private aid groups. "It was as if they already had it inside themselves."

The new charity groups offer bits of relief in the sea of poverty that swept Iraq during the economic embargo of the 1990's and has worsened with the pervasive lawlessness that followed the American invasion. [complete article]
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VOA's Baghdad bureau still closed after six months
By Howard Kurtz, Washington Post, May 23, 2006

The Voice of America's bureau in Baghdad has been closed for the past six months, ever since the government-funded agency withdrew its only reporter in Iraq after she was fired upon in an ambush and her security guard was later killed.

All Western news organizations have struggled with the dangerous conditions in Iraq, which have led to such high-profile incidents as the kidnapping of Christian Science Monitor reporter Jill Carroll and the wounding of ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff. But for a federally funded information service to pull out of Baghdad for such a prolonged period raises questions about the Bush administration's insistence that conditions there are gradually improving. [complete article]
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Dozens are killed in Afghan fighting
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, May 23, 2006

As many as 80 Taliban fighters and 16 civilians were reported killed early Monday by U.S.-led forces attacking from the ground and air in Kandahar province, the epicenter of a broadening swath of fighting in southern Afghanistan.

The clash -- part of the bloodiest surge of combat since the U.S.-led military ouster of Taliban rule in late 2001 -- raised the death toll from attacks across the country since Wednesday to almost 250. The fighting has included the torching of a district headquarters in Helmand province and a suicide bombing outside Kabul, the capital.

U.S. military commanders and the Afghan government are expressing new concerns about the strength and determination of the revived Taliban movement, whose purported spokesman, Mohammed Hanif, vowed two weeks ago that "our sacred land is going to turn into an inferno" unless international military forces withdraw from Afghanistan. [complete article]

Security slipping around Kandahar
By Rachel Morarjee, Christian Science Monitor, May 23, 2006

Last summer, Shahida Hussain was pounding the dusty streets of Kandahar campaigning for Parliament in defiance of Taliban threats. Now this outspoken woman rarely leaves her house for fear of getting caught up in the violence engulfing Afghanistan's southern city.

"Six months ago things were better, but security gets worse day after day. Our children cannot go to school and we've stopped going out," says Ms. Hussain, who would only agree to an interview at a hotel for fear of having foreign visitors at her home.

Her family is no longer sending her granddaughter to school because they are afraid she will be attacked en route, if not by the Taliban then by criminals who are in league with an increasingly corrupt government that is profiting from the country's rampant drug trade. "Corruption is the number one reason behind the rising violence," says Hussain.

As violence in southern Afghanistan reaches its worst levels since 2001, a chorus of Afghan officials, security experts, and Coalition commanders share Hussain's basic assessment. While the Taliban are fighting with greater vigor, the violence ultimately has more to do with the failures of government, they say. [complete article]
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Amnesty attacks U.S. 'disappearances'
By Peter Walker, The Guardian, May 23, 2006

The United States' reported use of secret CIA-run prisons for terrorism suspects amounts to a policy of "disappearances", human rights watchdog Amnesty International said today in its annual report.

In a sometimes scathing assessment of Washington's rights record, the London-based group also raised serious concerns about detainees held without trial in Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Washington had failed to bring to account those potentially guilty of war crimes or crimes against humanity, it added. [complete article]
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The new secrecy doctrine so secret you don't even know about it
By Henry Lanman, Slate, May 22, 2006

Last Thursday, a federal court in Virginia threw out a lawsuit against the government that had been brought by a German citizen named Khalid el-Masri. El-Masri alleged that the government had violated U.S. law when—as part if its "extraordinary rendition" program -- it authorized his abduction, drugging, confinement, and torture. His captors allegedly shuttled him on clandestine flights to and from places like Kabul, Baghdad, and Skopje, Macedonia, during the five months of his detention. He was released only when the government realized it had kidnapped the wrong man. El-Masri has substantial evidence to back up his story, and German prosecutors have verified much of it. And, while the government has not confirmed that it took el-Masri as part of its extraordinary rendition program, it has not shied away from admitting the program exists; it has in fact trumpeted it as an effective tool in the "war on terror." So why then was el-Masri's lawsuit thrown out? Because the judge accepted the government's claim that any alleged activities relating to el-Masri were "state secrets."

Never heard of the "state secrets" privilege? You're not alone. But the Bush administration sure has. Before Sept. 11, this obscure privilege was invoked only rarely. Since then, the administration has dramatically increased its use. [complete article]
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Jessie Macbeth update

Regular readers are probably thinking, enough already! But for those of you who just landed here in quest of more information about the infamous Jessie Macbeth video, here's the latest!

Iraq Veterans Against the War say (via email): "The film needs to come down now if it hasn't already. No one checked with IVAW before using our logo, no one did any kind of fact checking, and Jesse wasn't authorized to speak like that on our behalf." have in fact removed the video and replaced it with a nice topographical image of the world.
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Architect of new war on the West
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, May 23, 2006

From secret hideouts in South Asia, the Spanish-Syrian al-Qaeda strategist published thousands of pages of Internet tracts on how small teams of Islamic extremists could wage a decentralized global war against the United States and its allies.

With the Afghanistan base lost, he argued, radicals would need to shift their approach and work primarily on their own, though sometimes with guidance from roving operatives acting on behalf of the broader movement.

Last October, the writing career of Mustafa Setmariam Nasar came to an abrupt end when Pakistani agents seized him in a friend's house in the border city of Quetta and turned him over to U.S. intelligence operatives, according to two senior Pakistani intelligence officials.

With Spanish, British and Syrian interrogators lining up with requests to question him, he has turned out to be a prize catch, a man who is not a bombmaker or operational planner but one of the jihad movement's prime theorists for the post-Sept. 11, 2001, world. [complete article]

Comment -- In and of themselves, the 9/11 attacks were not a world-changing event. What defined the pre/post watershed was the Bush administration's response to the attacks. If the administration had not seen itself as so acutely enfeebled on that day and had it not treated the event as an opportunity to push an otherwise unpopular agenda, it might have responded with a more modest and realistic goal -- that of shutting down al Qaeda. Instead, it declared a war on jihad and did more to ideologically empower its opponents than anything they could ever have accomplished themselves. That a jihadist ideologue such as Mustafa Setmariam Nasar is now in custody, probably does more to burnish his reputation than count as a real success in "defeating terrorism." As intelligence officials concede, "his capture... has only added to his mystique."
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The delusions of global hegemony
Andrew Bacevich interviewed by Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, May 23, 2006

Andrew's become incontrovertible that the Iraq War is not going to end happily. Even if we manage to extricate ourselves and some sort of stable Iraq emerges from the present chaos, arguing that the war lived up to the expectations of the Bush administration is going to be very difficult. My own sense is that the officer corps -- and this probably reflects my personal experience to a great degree -- is fixated on Vietnam and still believes the military was hung out to dry there. The officer corps came out of the Vietnam War determined never to repeat that experience and some officers are now angry to discover that the Army is once again stuck in a quagmire. So we are in the early stages of a long argument about who is to be blamed for the Iraq debacle. I think, to some degree, the revolt of the generals reflects an effort on the part of senior military officers to weigh in, to lay out the military's case. And the military's case is: We're not at fault. They are; and, more specifically, he is -- with Rumsfeld being the stand-in for [Vietnam-era Secretary of Defense] Robert McNamara.

Having said that, with all the speculation about Bush administration interest in expanding the Global War on Terror to include Iran, I suspect the officer corps, already seeing the military badly overstretched, doesn't want to have any part of such a war. Going public with attacks on Rumsfeld is one way of trying to slow whatever momentum there is toward an Iran war. [complete article]
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Yellow journalism and chicken hawks
By Jm Lobe, Asia Times, May 23, 2006

A story authored by a prominent US neo-conservative regarding new legislation in Iran allegedly requiring Jews and other religious minorities to wear distinctive colored badges circulated around the world last weekend before it was exposed as extremely dubious.

The article by a frequent contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Iranian-American Amir Taheri, was initially published in last Friday's edition of Canada's National Post, which ran alongside the story a 1935 photograph of a Jewish businessman in Berlin with a yellow six-pointed star sewn on his overcoat, as required by Nazi legislation at the time. The Post subsequently noted denials of the story.

Taheri's story, however, was reprinted by the New York Post, which is owned by media baron Rupert Murdoch, and picked up by the Jerusalem Post, which also featured a photo of a yellow star from the Nazi era over a photo of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad. [complete article]

See also, Press release: Amir Taheri addresses queries and Black Psy-Ops campaign against Iran (Juan Cole).
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Bolton: Iran regime can stay if ends arms pursuit
By Irwin Arieff, Reuters, May 22, 2006

John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Monday that Iran's leaders could stay in power and improve their ties with Washington if they ended their pursuit of nuclear arms.

He later insisted, however, that he had not meant to threaten Tehran with regime change if its leaders failed to do so.

Bolton, addressing a meeting of B'nai B'rith International, a Jewish humanitarian organisation, cited Washington's move last week to normalise relations with Libya after that country gave up its pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and said Iran's leaders faced a similar "clear choice."

"This is a sign to the rulers in Tehran that if they give up their long-standing support for terrorism and they give up their pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, that their regime can stay in place and that they can have a different relationship with the United States and the rest of the world," he said.

Asked by reporters afterward about those comments, he said he did not mean to imply the United States would seek a change in the Iranian regime if Tehran refused to suspend its enrichment of uranium, as the U.N. Security Council has demanded.

"What it says is, if you do what Libya did, the same thing will happen," he said. "The 'regime stay' strategy is following the Libyan example." [complete article]

Comment -- What clearer indication can there be that the Bush administration is desperate to back its way out of its Iranian cul-de-sac than for John Bolton to utter the phrase, "regime stay"?!
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House wants to block aid to Palestinian government
By James Kuhnhenn, Knight Ridder, May 23, 2006

Defying the Bush administration, the House of Representatives is set to pass legislation Tuesday that would ban direct U.S. economic assistance to the Palestinian government and restrict money to private aid groups that operate in Gaza and the West Bank.

The measure is intended to isolate Hamas, which won parliamentary elections in the Palestinian Authority last January. The United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization. The House measure has widespread bipartisan support.

The White House objects to the bill on the ground that it wants to retain flexibility in Middle East diplomacy. The measure has also split the Israeli lobby in Washington.

The House vote is scheduled for the day that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is to meet with President Bush during a three-day Washington visit and one day before Olmert is to address a joint session of Congress.
The House bill, introduced by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Tom Lantos, D-Calif., has 295 sponsors from both parties and has been vigorously supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the powerful pro-Israel lobby. [complete article]

Comment -- And to those who argue that AIPAC does not have as much influence as its critics assert, I have to ask: How would things look different now if AIPAC really did represent the most powerful lobby in Congress?
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Hamas PM Haniyeh: Retreat to 1967 borders will bring peace
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, May 23, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh told Haaretz Monday that the Hamas government is prepared to agree to an extended cease-fire if Israel withdraws to the 1967 lines.

"If Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, peace will prevail and we will implement a cease-fire [hudna] for many years," Haniyeh said during an interview in his south Gaza office. "Our government is prepared to maintain a long-term cease-fire with Israel."

Palestinian Transportation Minister Ziad Zaza described the hudna during the interview as "the cease-fire that will be renewed automatically each time." [complete article]

Israel arrests Hamas chief as Olmert prepares to meet Bush
By Edna Fernandes, The Times, May 23, 2006

Israeli troops captured the West Bank commander of the military wing of Hamas in an early morning raid on Ramallah, as Ehud Olmert, the Israeli Prime Minister, prepared to meet President Bush in Washington later today.

Ibrahim Hamed, 41, who Israel holds responsible for a series of suicide bombs that have killed more than 60 Israelis, was forced to surrender after troops, police and special forces surrounded a building near his home in the West Bank capital. [complete article]

Grief over innocent victims of Israeli missile
By Tim Butcher, The Telegraph, May 23, 2006

What started as an outing for Nahed Mahani and his relatives to celebrate the purchase of his new car ended in carnage when the vehicle was hit by shrapnel from an Israeli missile, wiping out three generations of one family.

While civilians are routinely killed on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, there was something shocking about the loss of grandmother, mother and son from the same family.

A three-year-old girl was also paralysed in the blast. "I have lost the greatest things I had," Hamdi Amen said between outbursts of grief as his family members were buried yesterday. [complete article]

Fighting breaks out between rival security forces in Gaza
By Dion Nissenbaum, Knight Ridder, May 22, 2006

The Gaza Strip's new Hamas police force clashed Monday afternoon with Palestinian security rivals in a fierce battle that left a Jordanian diplomatic aide dead.

At least eight people were wounded in the confusing firefight near the Palestinian parliament building. The clash erupted as negotiators were searching for ways to resolve a growing power struggle that threatens to pull the Palestinian government apart. [complete article]

U.S. uneasy about Israel's plans for West Bank
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 23, 2006

Bush administration officials have been reluctant to provide a full-throated endorsement of Olmert's ideas -- but also are not closing off options. In the view of some of them, Olmert's plan contains the seeds of a potential Palestinian state, since it would result in the end of much of the settlement activity on the West Bank.

But the notion of such an outcome by fiat makes U.S. officials uneasy, because it may appear as though the United States is endorsing a land grab. Olmert has pledged to retain significant settlements near Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank. [complete article]

Comment -- When Bush couldn't stand up to Sharon, some people might have thought he was intimidated by the infamous "Bulldozer." What's his excuse with Olmert - fear of being lashed by a silver tongue?
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Jessie Macbeth video update
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, May 23, 2006

On Sunday evening in a comment of mine under an article on the Haditha massacre (or "incident" as it is still being called), I posted a link to the video of "former Army Ranger" Jessie Macbeth that has since been viewed widely on the Internet. Yesterday, observations made by others who know much more about the military than I do, raised serious questions about the veracity of Macbeth's story and his claim to have been an Army Ranger. I have since contacted Terry Portinga, the person who put the interview on the web site. In my email to him I wrote:
I posted a link to your interview of Jessie Macbeth on The War in Context yesterday. I did so, based on a gut reaction to the interview even though I was aware that he provided virtually no factual information that could be corroborated or refuted. Based on what I've read subsequently I'm very skeptical about his whole story - there are just too many discrepancies: the fact that he says he was a Ranger but in the photo his beret flash is for 1st Special Forces Group; that he told the Eastern Arizona Courier in November 2003 that he "returned to the States two-and-a-half months ago after sustaining an injury in his back" yet in your interview claims he was in Iraq for 16 months, etc..

If Jessie Macbeth is a fake, he needs to be exposed by the antiwar movement itself if its members want to maintain any credibility. There's been no shortage of horrific stories that have come out of Iraq in the last three years without any need for anyone's embellishment.

I hope you can get to the bottom of this FAST!
Terry now informs me that Randy Rowland -- a Vietnam veteran and peace activist who produced the Macbeth interview -- is "100% behind Jessie," and that Randy's "reputation is on the line and he is not wavering one bit." However, according to Portinga, it is not Rowland's intention to try and verify Macbeth's information, even though Portinga himself believes that "verification is the only sure route to go." In my response to Terry's email, I wrote, "If Jessie Macbeth's story is true, Randy Rowland is doing Jessie a huge disservice by not giving him the opportunity to respond to the accusations that are being made against him. The issue here for everyone is having the courage to find out the truth."
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An anti-Bush alliance
Editorial, Boston Globe, May 21, 2006

Countries large and small are rejecting President Bush's foreign policy by intimidation, and are banding together to counter the US superpower. The next example may come from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional grouping that is considering adding Iran to its membership.

The Bush administration pretended to ignore last year's organization summit, at which the members -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan -- called for the United States to withdraw the troops it had stationed in Central Asia for the war that toppled the Taliban in Afghanistan. But the organization's foreign ministers meeting in Shanghai last week discussed a plan to accept four new members: India, Pakistan, Mongolia, and Iran. After that meeting, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Iran's belligerent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be attending a summit meeting on June 15 in Shanghai, along with the leaders of China, Russia, and the four Central Asian member states. That should get the Bush administration's attention.

Acceptance of Iran by the organization at the very moment when the Islamic Republic is defying the International Atomic Energy Agency -- and when China and Russia are blocking US efforts to have the United Nations Security Council approve sanctions on Iran -- suggests a tectonic shift in geopolitics. This is not merely a tactic to enhance Chinese and Russian relations with Tehran. Nor is it simply an annoying ploy to protect Iran as a seller of energy to China and a buyer of nuclear plants and conventional weapons from Russia.

Bringing Iran into the organization portends a dramatic new stage of strategic coordination between Russia and China. The purpose of this collaboration is to give form to a common policy of resisting what the governments in Beijing and Moscow have come to see as an aggressive, overbearing America. [complete article]

See also, America Against the World: How We Are Different and Why We Are Disliked (Andrew Kohut and Bruce Stokes) and What the world really wants (Fareed Zakaria).
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Iraq's partition fantasy
By Reidar Visser, OpenDemocracy, May 19, 2006

A feature of political discussion of Iraq in recent weeks has been another flurry of propaganda by United States politicians in favour of dividing Iraq into three statelets or semi-independent federal entities. "Soft partition", "controlled division" or an "extension of the federal idea to the Sunni community" are but a few of the euphemisms that have been marshalled in support of this sort of exercise.

The schemes are strikingly similar, and their proponents indefatigable: Iraq is dismissed as an "artificial entity"; its "proper" and "natural" constituent components are instead identified as three ethno-religious communities – Shi'a Arabs, Sunni Arabs and Kurds.

In fact, Iraqi history fails to support such ideas – and particularly the notion that it should be necessary to enforce barriers between the Sunni and Shi'a Arabs. Quite the contrary, if the pundits who urge partition had bothered to check what actually happened when centrifugal forces were pushed to the maximum in the south of Iraq in the 1920s, they would have seen that regionalism, not sectarianism, has historically been the main competitor to Iraqi nationalism south of Baghdad – and a feeble one at that. [complete article]

Comment -- The most recent call for partition comes from British commentator, Simon Jenkins.
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How Iraq police reform became casualty of war
By Michael Moss, New York Times, May 22, 2006

Jon Villanova had just arrived in Basra last spring to help build a police force in southern Iraq when bodies began piling up. Twenty or more Iraqi civilians were dragged from their homes, shot in the head and dumped in the streets.

The evidence pointed to some of the very people he and his team of foreign police advisers were struggling to train: a cluster of senior officers working out of a station called Jamiat.

But local officials resisted efforts to prosecute the officers. By the time officials in Baghdad intervened nine months later, the corruption in Basra had gotten so bad that the 135-member internal affairs unit, set up to police the police, was operating as a ring of extortionists, kidnappers and killers, American and Iraqi officials said.

"There we are, trying to build a police force that people can believe in, and they are committing murders," Mr. Villanova said. "It was a quagmire."

So was much of the rest of Iraq. An initial effort by American civilians to rebuild the police, slow to get started and undermanned, had become overwhelmed by corruption, political vengeance and lawlessness unleashed by the toppling of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]
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Abuse trial revives old questions
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Josh White, Washington Post, May 22, 2006

As the Iraq insurgency grew rapidly in the spring of 2003, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld complained to Lt. Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez, the commander of U.S. forces in the country, that he was not seeing results from the interrogations of Iraqis held at Abu Ghraib and other detention centers.

"Why can't we figure this enemy out?" Sanchez recalled Rumsfeld asking in frustration, according to a previously unreleased transcript of a July 2005 interview by senior Army investigators. "Was there intense pressure? You bet. You bet there was intense pressure" to extract more from the interrogations, Sanchez said -- some of it self-imposed and some of it emanating from "different levels of the chain of command."

The involvement of senior Pentagon officials in policymaking associated with the abuse of Iraqi detainees at Abu Ghraib later in 2003 will once again be debated in a military court at Fort McNair beginning today, during one of the last two trials involving Army personnel accused of the abuse recorded in photos circulated around the world. [complete article]
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The incredible shrinking Palestine
By Sandy Tolan, Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2006

When Ehud Olmert meets with President Bush on Tuesday, he will present a new page for the Middle East atlas, in which, according to recent reports, Israel will have pulled up stakes from some of the occupied West Bank but will still control large portions of it. Palestinians would end up with less than 20% of their original dream for the whole of Palestine.

Olmert will try to convince the White House that in the absence of a "partner for peace," this Israeli plan to draw its final borders, and to wall off his people from the Palestinians, is in the best interests of peace and stability in the region.

Yet the implementation of Olmert's unilateral "convergence" plan could have the opposite effect. By annexing West Bank lands (including the giant, densely populated settlements in Palestinian territory outside Jerusalem), claiming Jerusalem's Old City and its holy sites exclusively as Israel's own, drawing a new "security border" along the Jordan Valley and, according to David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, keeping the military occupation in place in the West Bank at least for the time being, convergence would essentially kill the Palestinian dream of self-determination. Given the history of the last six decades, this plan is unlikely to lead to peace or stability. [complete article]
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Prosecution of journalists is possible in NSA leaks
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, May 22, 2006

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales raised the possibility yesterday that New York Times journalists could be prosecuted for publishing classified information based on the outcome of the criminal investigation underway into leaks to the Times of data about the National Security Agency's surveillance of terrorist-related calls between the United States and abroad.

"We are engaged now in an investigation about what would be the appropriate course of action in that particular case, so I'm not going to talk about it specifically," he said on ABC's "This Week." [complete article]
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The lie behind the secrets
By Tom Blanton, Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2006

When the government claims the "state secrets privilege," the courts tend to look no further, and the cases are dismissed. It was invoked only four times in the first 23 years after the U.S. Supreme Court created the privilege in 1953, but now the government is claiming the privilege to dismiss lawsuits at a rate of more than three a year. The Justice Department describes this tactic as an "absolute privilege" -- in effect, a neutron bomb that leaves no plaintiff standing.

But can we trust the government when it tells us that national security is at stake? Should the government's claim of secrecy result in an immediate, no-questions-asked dismissal? Probably not, given the government's track record. When it comes to classified documents, for example, at least half the time the government claims that something is secret for national security reasons, that official line is not the truth. I say "at least" because I believe the number is even bigger -- 75% or more -- but 50% is what the Bush administration has admitted. [complete article]
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A Nuremberg for our time
By Dahlia Lithwick, Washington Post, May 21, 2006

Four-and-a-half years after the Sept. 11 attacks, we are still struggling to decide whether this "war on terror" should be fought in the courts, on a battlefield or in some black hole in between. The government uses courts to prosecute low-level terrorists -- the guys who trained at camps in Afghanistan, or played paintball in the Virginia woods. But it uses the rules of war, modified for its own convenience, to hold the ringleaders indefinitely either at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, or at "black sites" around the world. Those black sites were appealing precisely because the government intended to hold no trials. There was never a plan for what would happen next.

For years now, the government has been holding key plotters and participants in the attacks of 9/11. People such as Khalid Sheik Mohammed, considered by the 9/11 commission the "principal architect" of the attacks, and Ramzi Binalshibh, the alleged paymaster. And Abu Zubaida, one of Osama bin Laden's chief recruiters, and Mohamed al-Qahtani, the man alleged to be the real "20th hijacker." These men, and other big fish like them, have been held for interrogation that may have amounted to torture -- be it Mohammed's alleged water boarding, or sexual degradation and sleep deprivation. They long ago exhausted their intelligence value. And now, if the government is finished with them, we the people should get a crack at them. Americans are entitled to their Nuremberg. It's time for these men to be put on trial. [complete article]
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Al Qaeda agent's 9/11 role comes into focus
By Richard A. Serrano, Los Angeles Times, May 21, 2006

Until recently, Ammar al-Baluchi was considered a peripheral player in Al Qaeda, a functionary who made travel arrangements and wired money for terrorists.

But new government disclosures place Baluchi in a larger role in the Sept. 11 preparations and rank him No. 4 among the conspirators captured by U.S. forces after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

Indeed, investigators say he was instrumental in acquiring a Boeing 747 flight simulator and a Boeing 767 flight-deck video for the hijackers to practice on before heading to the United States.

"He was turning up everywhere we looked -- like a chameleon," recalled one federal agent who spoke on condition of anonymity because of ongoing investigations. [complete article
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U.S. is proposing European shield for Iran missiles
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, May 22, 2006

The Bush administration is moving to establish a new antimissile site in Europe that would be designed to stop attacks by Iran against the United States and its European allies.

The administration's proposal, which comes amid rising concerns about Iran's suspected program to develop nuclear weapons, calls for installing 10 antimissile interceptors at a European site by 2011. Poland and the Czech Republic are among the nations under consideration.

A recommendation on a European site is expected to be made this summer to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Pentagon officials say. The Pentagon has asked Congress for $56 million to begin initial work on the long-envisioned antimissile site, a request that has run into some opposition in Congress. The final cost, including the interceptors themselves, is estimated at $1.6 billion.

The establishment of an antimissile base in Eastern Europe would have enormous political implications. The deployment of interceptors in Poland, for example, would create the first permanent American military presence on that nation's soil and further solidify the close ties between the defense establishments of the two nations. [complete article]

Comment -- No doubt there are a few wackos in Washington who think that this is stroke of genius. It solves so many otherwise intractable problems.

How do you make missile defense look viable in the face of so much evidence that it can't be relied on? Construct a defense shield against a nuclear arsenal that hasn't been created.

In a post-Cold War world, how do you sustain a military-industrial complex that was designed for the Cold War? Start the Cold War again!

As for what the Iranians must conclude? It sure looks like America is reconciling itself to the inevitability of a nuclear-armed Iran.
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U.S. envoy wants talks with Iran over Iraq
By John Daniszewski, AP (via San Jose Mercury), May 22, 2006

Formation of a national unity government in Baghdad has cleared the way for proposed direct talks between the United States and Iran about the situation inside Iraq, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said Sunday.

The Afghan-born, Farsi-speaking ambassador has been authorized to hold discussions with Iran. If the talks take place, they would amount to the most public bilateral exchanges by the countries since soon after the Iranian Revolution in 1979.

But the topic of the talks from the U.S. viewpoint is supposed to be an exchange of views on the situation in Iraq, rather than broader subjects like Iran's controversial nuclear program or Iran's renewed verbal hostility to Israel since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power last summer. [complete article]
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Israel: Iran 'months' from making nukes
CNN, May 21, 2006

Iran is only months away from joining the club of nations that can make a nuclear weapon, Israel's prime minister said in a recent interview. "The technological threshold is very close," Ehud Olmert said on CNN's "Late Edition" in an interview taped Thursday and broadcast Sunday. "It can be measured by months rather than years." [complete article]

Iran's Iraq strategy
By Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh, Washington Post, May 21, 2006

From the moment the first U.S. warheads detonate over an Iranian nuclear installation, the United States will be at war with the Islamic Republic. A vast tableau of American facilities around the world -- as well as the streets of U.S. cities -- could be targets for retaliation by Iran's agents and surrogates. "The Americans should know that if they assault Iran, their interests will be harmed anywhere in the world that is possible," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, warned last month.

The most likely theater of operations in the initial stages of a U.S.-Iranian conflict, however, would be next door -- in Iraq. Since the collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime, Iran has methodically built and strengthened its military, political and religious influence in Iraq. Iran's Revolutionary Guard has extensively infiltrated Iraq's Ministry of the Interior and police force, both mainstays of Shiite power. The hundreds of Iranian mullahs and businessmen who have slipped across the border have a commanding presence in southern Iraq's commercial and religious sectors. [complete article]

U.S. pressure yields curbs on Iran in Europe
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, May 22, 2006

Prodded by the United States with threats of fines and lost business, four of the biggest European banks have started curbing their activities in Iran, even in the absence of a Security Council resolution imposing economic sanctions on Iran for its suspected nuclear weapons program.

Top Treasury and State Department officials have intensified their efforts to limit Iran-related activities of major banks in Europe, the United States and the Middle East in the past six months, invoking antiterrorism and banking laws. They have also traveled to Europe and the Middle East to drive home the risky nature of dealing with a country that has repeatedly rebuffed Western demands over suspending uranium enrichment, and to urge European countries to take similar steps. [complete article]

U.S. exercise with Turkey is aimed at Iran
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, May 22, 2006

The United States will hold a joint military exercise using naval, army and air forces with Turkey next week aimed at demonstrating a determination to stop missile and nuclear technology from reaching Iran and other countries, Bush administration officials said Sunday. [complete article]
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The storm over the Israel Lobby
By Michael Massing, New York Review of Books, June 8, 2006

Hysterical does seem an apt word for the reaction to "The Israel Lobby." The paper seems to have brought out the worst in its critics, as when Eliot Cohen, rather than seriously discuss the issues at hand, makes a point of his son's military service. In The New Republic, Michael Oren, a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, pinned the blame for the essay on the late Edward Said, accusing him of creating a climate on college campuses in which such anti-Israel views could flourish. The coverage in the [New York] Sun has been particularly scurrilous in its attempt to blacken the authors' reputation while diverting attention from their ideas.
Overall, the lack of firsthand research in "The Israel Lobby" gives it a secondhand feel. Mearsheimer and Walt provide little sense of how AIPAC and other lobbying groups work, how they seek to influence policy, and what people in government have to say about them. The authors seem to have concluded that in view of the sensitivity of the subject, few people would talk frankly about it. In fact, many people are fed up with the lobby and eager to explain why (though often not on the record). Federal campaign documents offer another important source of information that the authors have ignored. Through such sources, it's possible to show that, on their central point -- the power of the Israel lobby and the negative effect it has had on US policy -- Mearsheimer and Walt are entirely correct. [complete article]

Comment -- Michael Massing's review is particularly informative on the internal workings of AIPAC. He writes:
Any discussion of AIPAC's activities must begin with the policy conference it sponsors each year in Washington, a combination of trade show, party convention, and Hollywood extravaganza that seems designed to show AIPAC's national power. On Sunday, March 5, 2006, the start of this year's gathering, five thousand pro-Israel activists from around the country crowded into the Washington Convention Center.[...] Speakers included a cross-section of Washington's political establishment -- John Bolton, Newt Gingrich, Senators Evan Bayh and Susan Collins, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt -- as well as all three Israeli candidates for prime minister (speaking via satellite from Israel, where they were campaigning).
The next day, members of the conference went to Capitol Hill to lobby for AIPAC's top legislative priority -- the Palestinian Anti-Terrorism Act of 2006. Drafted with AIPAC's help following Hamas's recent electoral victory, the bill placed so many restrictions on aid to, and contacts with, the Palestinian Authority that even the Israeli government, seeking more flexibility, had expressed some unease about it. Already, though, the bill had more than two hundred sponsors in the House; now, to press the point, supporters of AIPAC held meetings in more than 450 congressional offices. At dinner that night, AIPAC Executive Director Howard Kohr, as he does each year, read the "roll call" of dignitaries in attendance. It included a majority of the Senate, a quarter of the House, more than fifty ambassadors, and dozens of administration officials. Reciting the names took twenty-seven minutes in all, with each name greeted by a roar, the loudest going to Joe Lieberman.
If skeptics of the Mearsheimer-Walt thesis such as Stephen Zunes are to be believed, gatherings such as the one described above actually exert very little influence -- they are more like love feasts, celebrating the inevitable course of U.S. foreign policy:
If the agenda advocated by the Israel lobby was substantially at variance with U.S. foreign policy elsewhere in the world, one could make a strong case that these lobbyists were influential. However, that is simply not the case. This is why some of the most outspoken opponents of U.S. foreign policy in general and of U.S. support for Israel in particular -- such as Noam Chomsky, Phyllis Bennis, Mitchell Plitnick, Simona Sharoni, Joseph Massad, Steve Niva, and Norman Finkelstein -- have raised serious questions about the supposed power of the Israel lobby, noting that it is responsible, in the words of Professor Massad, for "the details and intensity but not the direction, content, or impact of such policies."
If AIPAC really is such a weak force, how come so many powerful people go out of their way to show that they are loyal friends not simply of Israel but of AIPAC itself? Which other political action committees come anywhere near commanding this level of support?

As for the criticism that has most frequently been flung at the authors of "The Israel Lobby" -- poor scholarship -- one fact gets repeatedly overlooked in this discussion: This was an article commissioned by Atlantic Monthly. Last time I checked, that publication retains its standards as a high-quality popular magazine -- not an academic journal. Its feature articles are not copiously sourced with footnotes. They merit publication based on their appeal to popular interest and their ability to serve as a springboard for thought and discussion. Had the Atlantic's editorial board not lost the courage to publish the article that they had solicited, it's conceivable that the debate which followed might in larger measure have been substantive.
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UPDATED COMMENT House to look into probe of Pendleton Marines
By Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2006

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Friday that he planned hearings into the military's investigation of whether Marines from Camp Pendleton brutally killed two dozen Iraqi civilians and lied to cover up possible war crimes.

Although the administrative investigation into the Nov. 19 incident in Haditha, Iraq, has not been completed, the comments by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-El Cajon) suggested that its findings would be crucial.

"I don't want the actions of one squad in one city on one morning to be used to symbolize or characterize or tar the actions of our great troops," Hunter told a Washington news conference. [complete article]

Comment -- Now that there appears little doubt that a massacre took place in Haditha last November, the next logical question is: Was this event an aberration or might it represent the tip of the iceberg? Might it merely be one war crime among a multitude of others -- others that simply don't get spoken about or reported? The testimony of former Army Ranger, Jesse Macbeth, suggests that what happened in Haditha was far from unusual. To view this compelling 20-minute interview, you'll need the QuickTime 7 free player.

UPDATED COMMENT -- 24 hours later and having read the numerous comments on why Jessie Macbeth lacks credibility, I've concluded that it was misjudgement on my part to link to this interview.
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Iraq uncensored
By Katrina Vanden Heuvel, The Nation, May 20, 2006

Airing Sunday, May 21, at 8:00 PM on HBO, Baghdad ER examines the 86th Combat Support Hospital which the filmmakers chronicled for two months. One nurse, Specialist Saidet Lanier, describes life at the field hospital this way: "This is hard-core, raw, uncut trauma. Day after day, every day."

Initially, military officials were enthusiastic about the heroic portrayal of this medical staff which has – along with other trauma teams – somehow managed the highest survival rate for wounded soldiers during any war at a stunning 90 percent.

But the Pentagon's enthusiasm has soured. Many suspect it is for the simple reason that the truth will further erode the already radically diminished support for this war. Because despite the fact that Baghdad ER is widely hailed as a non-partisan tribute to both soldiers and medical personnel, as HBO president Sheila Evans told the New York Times, "Anything showing the grim realities of war is, in a sense, antiwar." [complete article]

Violence invades Baghdad's Emergency rooms
By Saad al-Izzi, Washington Post, May 21, 2006

Located in west Baghdad, the bloodiest half of the Iraqi capital, Yarmouk [hospital ER] has coped for three years with an unrelenting daily stream of wounded, dying and dead. The U.S. emergency room depicted in the HBO documentary "Baghdad ER," airing for the first time Sunday night, does similar work for wounded U.S. military personnel and Iraqi civilians, but compared to this one it's secure and well equipped.

"All the hot spots are around this hospital," Hussein said. By the end of his 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. shift, he had treated about 100 patients, he said -- a normal work day, but "an indescribable burden." [complete article]
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Inside Iraq's hidden war
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, May 20, 2006

After months of argument about whether Iraq is teetering on the verge of civil war, a "national unity" government is due to be inaugurated today. Legislators plan to swear in a new prime minister and cabinet, and much will be made in London and Washington of the fact that this completes a democratic transition that began in December with the election of its parliament. But the reality encountered during three weeks behind the barricades of Baghdad's increasingly bloody sectarian conflict has more in common with the "ethnic cleansing" of the Balkans than the optimistic rhetoric to be heard on the manicured lawns of the embassy compounds and in western capitals. [complete article]

See also, Iraq is disintegrating as ethnic cleansing takes hold (The Independent), New dawn for Iraq marked by bloodshed (The Observer), and Sectarian bickering over unfilled posts interrupts swearing-in ceremony (WP).
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A neglected linchpin: Iraqi police
By Michael Moss and David Rohde, New York Times, May 21, 2006

As chaos swept Iraq after the American invasion in 2003, the Pentagon began its effort to rebuild the Iraqi police with a mere dozen advisers. Overmatched from the start, one was sent to train a 4,000-officer unit to guard power plants and other utilities. A second to advise 500 commanders in Baghdad. Another to organize a border patrol for the entire country.

Three years later, the police are a battered and dysfunctional force that has helped bring Iraq to the brink of civil war. Police units stand accused of operating death squads for powerful political groups or simple profit. Citizens, deeply distrustful of the force, are setting up their own neighborhood security squads. Killings of police officers are rampant, with at least 547 slain this year, roughly as many as Iraqi and American soldiers combined, records show.

The police, initially envisioned by the Bush administration as a cornerstone in a new democracy, have instead become part of Iraq's grim constellation of shadowy commandos, ruthless political militias and other armed groups. Iraq's new prime minister and senior American officials now say the country's future -- and the ability of America to withdraw its troops -- rests in large measure on whether the police can be reformed and rogue groups reined in. [complete article]

Iraq: Basra breakdown
By Joshua Hammer, Newsweek, May 22, 2006

For the first two and a half years after British troops rolled into Basra in March 2003, Iraq's second-largest city provided a textbook case of Occupation Lite. As Baghdad turned into a cauldron of suicide attacks, drive-by shootings, roadside bombs and angry crowds, predominantly Shia Basra remained a gentler place. British officers contrasted their apparently successful methods to win the "hearts and minds" of wary Iraqis -- speaking a few words of Arabic, wearing berets instead of helmets, removing their sunglasses when talking to locals, driving in open vehicles with their weapons tucked out of sight -- with sometimes heavy-handed American tactics. British Brig. Nigel Aylwin-Foster attracted attention last year when he criticized American operations in Iraq, writing that unlike the British, U.S. troops were too inclined to carry out "offensive operations" against suspected insurgents and showed "cultural insensitivity" amounting to "institutional racism."

But now the British campaign isn't looking very effective, either. Militia groups have stepped up a campaign of guerrilla warfare against British troops: 30 roadside bomb attacks since January have killed 13 soldiers. Death squads, some apparently affiliated with the Iraqi police, carry out daily killings in Basra. According to the local independent daily Al-Zaman, Shia-on-Shia murders are taking place at the rate of one per hour. (British sources dispute that, saying the city has averaged about 100 murders a month.) Last week Basra's police chief Gen. Hassan al-Suadi narrowly escaped assassination when a roadside bomb hit his convoy as he was heading to work. [complete article]
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Taliban's new commander ready for a fight
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, May 20, 2006

The Taliban's military offensive has begun in earnest in southern Afghanistan, with many key districts already captured by the militia that retreated from power in 2001 after the US-led invasion.

The scale and frequency of the Taliban's revitalized insurgency can be attributed directly to the recent appointment by Taliban leader Mullah Omar of legendary mujahideen leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as overall military field commander.

In the latest action - the biggest since the Taliban's ousting - in Helmand province, between 300 and 400 heavily armed Taliban fighters stormed a remote village. At least 100 people were killed, including 15 or more Afghan police and a female Canadian soldier. Haqqani, a cleric, rose to fame during the decade of opposition to the Soviets in the 1980s. Coincidentally, at that time he was an ally of the United States. [complete article]

Taliban commander is believed to be in Afghan custody
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, May 20, 2006

Canadian and Afghan forces may have captured one of the most important and brutal Taliban commanders, Mullah Dadullah, during operations in the southern province of Kandahar, an Afghan general said Friday.

The governor of Kandahar confirmed that a very senior Taliban commander was among three members of the rebel group's leadership council who had been captured but said he could not identify him for reasons of security. Security forces continued hunting for insurgents after two days of fierce fighting in Kandahar and the adjoining province of Helmand that officials said had left scores dead. [complete article]
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Is Condi Rice finally growing up?
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, May 19, 2006

After five years of impotent hawkish posturing has done nothing to restrain North Korea's nuclear program, the Bush Administration is finally showing the maturity to admit defeat — by its actions, if not in as many words. It was reported this week that the Administration is planning to offer North Korea direct negotiations over a comprehensive peace treaty -- a longstanding demand of Pyongyang's -- if it agrees to return to the Six Party talks over its nuclear program. Not only would that reverse the position adopted at the behest of the hawks (and the occasion of Colin Powell’s first public humiliation as Secretary of State when Bush second-guessed him days after he announced that the new administration would follow the Clinton policy of engagement with North Korea) that no concessions could be offered to North Korea; it also effectively takes regime-change off the table. [complete article]
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Parsing message of Iran leader's letter to Bush
Mideast experts say it's savvy PR -- and starting point for talks

By Matthew B. Stannard, San Francisco Chronicle, May 21, 2006

In the two weeks since an unexpected letter from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrived at the White House, experts in and out of the government have been struggling to decode just what the hard-line leader was trying to say.

That debate continues, but there is broad agreement on two points. One is that Ahmadinejad's words, whatever their intent, resonate differently to different audiences in important ways. The other is that the war of rhetoric, particularly Ahmadinejad's letter to Bush, has opened a window of opportunity that should be pursued.

"Whatever you think of this letter, it is the first sentence in a conversation," said Vali Nasr, professor of Middle East and South Asia Politics at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey. "After 29 years of not wanting to touch the U.S. ... they have begun the conversation." [complete article]
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U.S. seeks to curb Iran with neighbors' help
By Paul Richter and Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, May 20, 2006

Opening a new front in its effort against Iran, the Bush administration has begun developing a containment strategy with the Islamic state's Persian Gulf neighbors that aims to spread sophisticated missile defense systems across the region and to interdict ships carrying nuclear technology to the country.

Although the primary goal is to keep Tehran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, the defense effort also reflects the administration's planning for a day when Iran becomes a nuclear state and, officials fear, more aggressive in a region that provides oil exports to the world. [complete article]
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Concern in Iran after a scholar is held 3 weeks
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, May 20, 2006

An Iranian philosopher and writer who also holds Canadian citizenship has been detained for three weeks without formal charges, raising concerns that his arrest could signal greater repression of intellectuals.

The scholar, Ramin Jahanbegloo, was arrested at the Tehran airport late last month as he headed to Brussels to attend a conference sponsored by the German Marshall Fund. He had just returned from a six-month teaching program in India. [complete article]
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Some ships get Coast Guard tip before searches
By Timothy Egan, New York Times, May 20, 2006

Under intense pressure from shipping companies concerned about costly delays, the Coast Guard is tipping off some large commercial ships about security searches that had been a surprise, according to high-ranking Coast Guard officials.

The searches began after the Sept. 11 attacks as part of a major revamping of the Coast Guard and its new antiterrorism mission. But shipping companies say the surprise boardings at sea cause unnecessary delays, costing up to $40,000 an hour. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

As death stalks Iraq, middle-class exodus begins
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 19, 2006

Back from Iraq to a homeland oblivious to the war
Washington Post, May 14, 2006

Israel cannot ensure Jewish survival
By Tony Karon, Haaretz, May 19, 2006

Managing cruelty in the occupied territories
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram, May 18, 2006

The billion-dollar gravestone
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, May 17, 2006

NSA surveillance is the president's Star Wars!
By William M. Arkin, Washington Post, May 17, 2006

U.S. secretly backing warlords in Somalia
By Emily Wax and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, May 17, 2006

U.S. history lesson: stop meddling
By Stephen Kinzer, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2006
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