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Israel warns: free soldier or PM dies
By Martin Chulov, The Australian, July 1, 2006

Israel last night threatened to assassinate Palestinian Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh if Hamas militants did not release a captured Israeli soldier unharmed.

The unprecedented warning was delivered to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in a letter as Israel debated a deal offered by Hamas to free Corporal Gilad Shalit. [complete article]

Hamas refuses to trade arrested ministers
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, July 1, 2006

Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Palestinian Prime Minister, has emerged from days of seclusion with a defiant message suggesting the faction would not trade its newly arrested politicians for the 19-year-old Israeli corporal abducted six days ago.

As the United Nations warned that the destruction of a power plant in Israeli air raids was posing an imminent humanitarian crisis, he said of the arrests of 63 ministers and parliamentarians on Thursday: "When they kidnapped the ministers they meant to hijack the government's position, but we say no positions will be hijacked, no governments will fall." [complete article]

Rift grows between Hamas leaders in Gaza and those in Syria
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, June 30, 2006

Three months after Hamas assumed the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, the Hamas-led government is in danger of disintegrating. The fatal blow may have come from within.

Analysts say the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier last Sunday by Hamas-led militants and the subsequent Israeli retaliation have laid bare the rift, seen, in its simplest terms, as a fight between Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, and Khaled Mashaal, the exiled Hamas leader in Syria. [complete article]

Comment -- If Israel succeeds in toppling the Hamas government it's hard to fathom that it is realistically contemplating the consequences. Forty years of bloody demonstrations of Israeli might have done much more to steel the Palestinian will than crush the resistance.

As for the Hamas leadership itself, it sounds as though it is victim to the age-old conflict between native pragmatism and exiled 'resolve.' No doubt it's much easier to assume an uncompromising posture from the relative safety of Damascus than it is while holed up in Gaza.
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Baghdad market blast kills scores
BBC News, July 1, 2006

A huge explosion has ripped though a busy Baghdad market, killing at least 66 people, officials say.

About 100 others were injured in the car bomb attack in Sadr City, a Shia area frequently targeted by insurgents.

The explosion left a scene of carnage and devastation, with the dead and injured lying amid the wreckage of cars, shops and market stalls. [complete article]
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Did Bush commit war crimes?
By Rosa Brooks, Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2006

Court on Thursday dealt the Bush administration a stinging rebuke, declaring in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld that military commissions for trying terrorist suspects violate both U.S. military law and the Geneva Convention.

But the real blockbuster in the Hamdan decision is the court's holding that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention applies to the conflict with Al Qaeda -- a holding that makes high-ranking Bush administration officials potentially subject to prosecution under the federal War Crimes Act. [complete article]
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Top Army official orders alleged rape investigation
By Jonathan Finer, Washington Post, June 30, 2006

A top Army commander has ordered an investigation into allegations that U.S. soldiers raped a woman and then killed her and three other members of her family south of Baghdad, initially reporting the incident as an insurgent attack, the military said Friday.

The alleged killings occurred in March in the insurgent hotbed of Mahmoudiyah. One of those killed was reportedly raped by American troops, according to a military official familiar with the investigation, who spoke on the condition that he not be named because he was providing details not released publicly.

The four soldiers involved, from the 502nd Infantry Regiment, attempted to burn the families' home to the ground to hide their role, he said. No charges have been filed in the case, which the official said was "in the very early stages." [complete article]
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Retaliation leads not to victory, but to death, destruction and stalemate
By Editorial, Daily Star, June 30, 2006

In the absence of a clear-headed political process, the relationship between the Palestinians and the Israelis has been left to deteriorate into a bilateral policy of primal reactions and responses. The parties on both sides of the current crisis maintain that their retaliatory actions are justifiable. One could argue that the Israelis have held the entire Palestinian nation hostage for almost 40 years. But does this crime justify the abduction of an Israeli soldier? And does the abduction of an Israeli soldier justify the decision to destroy infrastructure, threaten innocent civilians and take Palestinian ministers and lawmakers hostage? It does not. These unjustifiable retaliatory measures have only escalated the situation to a point of crisis. [complete article]

Goal of Israel's military action is questioned
Is it to free captive soldier, teach Hamas a lesson or topple Hamas government?

By Matthew Kalman, San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 2006

Israeli leaders found themselves under fire from all sides Thursday as the crisis over kidnapped soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit dragged into another day without any sign of a breakthrough.

"The purpose of our intended actions is not to punish the civilian Palestinian population, but to achieve the central aim right now -- to return our boy Gilad home," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Shimon Peres, the normally dovish deputy prime minister, said Israel was justified in sending troops to Gaza and staging mass arrests of Hamas politicians in the West Bank. The military operation had broader goals than just the return of the kidnapped soldier, he said.

The Palestinians "have to decide if they are a government or if they belong to a terroristic organization," said Peres. "There was a hidden hope that Hamas, once they built a government, they will change, they will improve their behavior, they will become responsible. To our great disappointment, they became part of their terroristic arm."

But across the Israeli political spectrum, critics wondered whether the military operation could succeed, or whether Olmert and his new, largely untested Kadima-led government would be unable to deliver his chief promise to voters -- a withdrawal from remote parts of the West Bank. [complete article]

See also, The government is losing its reason (Haaretz editorial) and Poll shows most Israelis prefer talks on captured soldier (Reuters).

Palestinian PM lashes out at Israelis
By Ibrahim Barzak, AP (via The Guardian), June 30, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that Israel's offensive in Gaza - including the kidnappings of some of his Cabinet ministers - was part of a premeditated plan to bring down the Hamas-led government.

In his first public comments since the Israeli offensive started, Haniyeh said Palestinian leaders were working hard to end the standoff but implied they would not trade a captive soldier for eight Cabinet ministers and 56 other Hamas officials arrested Thursday.

Also Friday, Palestinian officials said an Israeli airstrike hit a car driving down a main road in Gaza City, and two people were injured. The Israeli army said it was checking the report.

Israel's air force has struck more than 30 targets in Gaza - including the Palestinian Interior Ministry - in response to Sunday's kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, by Hamas-linked militants. Thousands of Israeli soldiers backed by tanks also have taken up positions in southern Gaza. [complete article]

Shalit seen as prisoner of war and bargaining chip
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, June 30, 2006

The terminology alone reflects the gulf of views over the plight of Corporal Gilad Shalit. To Israelis, the teenage soldier was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists and is a hostage just as much as foreigners held in Iraq. To Palestinians he is a prisoner of war - a legitimate target as a soldier in the uniform of an army that has killed dozens of civilians in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks - and a bargaining chip.

Then there is the difference of scale. In the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun, where the Israeli military dropped leaflets on Wednesday night warning its 42,000 residents that an assault was coming and to keep out of the way, they are baffled at the lengths Israel is going to over one man.

"Don't Israelis understand how many Palestinians are sitting in their prisons just for resisting the occupation?" said 60 year-old Khalil Naim, who has lost count of the number of Israeli attacks on his town in recent years. "For me, he [Cpl Shalit] is military. What was done was right. They have thousands of our prisoners in their prisons. The mistake will be if they are not behaving well with him. We want them to feed him and not hurt him."

Just as Israelis feel strongly about the fate of each soldier, Palestinians identify with the mass of security prisoners in Israeli jails, in part because so many families are affected.

Israel holds about 9,000 Palestinian prisoners. One thousand of them are detained without charge or trial, and often exist in a Kafkaesque world of having to prove their innocence without ever being told what it is they are accused of. Most of the remaining prisoners were tried by military courts that consider secret evidence. [complete article]

Gazans fear worse to come as power, water dwindle
By Charles Levinson, AFP, June 30, 2006

Palestinians lined up at public water fountains Thursday to fill up jugs after a second night of power cuts, under Israeli military pressure that has sparked fears of a humanitarian crisis in Gaza. "When the Israelis come maybe we'll be stuck in our homes for God knows how long," says Israa Abu Anza, a 16-year-old girl standing in a chaotic queue at one of the fountains.

Three younger siblings clutch her robe: "We need to drink, to wash, to bathe."

An Israeli missile took out a crucial power station late Tuesday. In Rafah, which relied on the destroyed power plant for half of its daily energy needs, residents are now left without power much of the day. [complete article]

See also, Gaza's infrastructure suffers (BBC).
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A governing philosophy rebuffed
By Peter Baker and Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, June 30, 2006

For five years, President Bush waged war as he saw fit. If intelligence officers needed to eavesdrop on overseas telephone calls without warrants, he authorized it. If the military wanted to hold terrorism suspects without trial, he let it.

Now the Supreme Court has struck at the core of his presidency and dismissed the notion that the president alone can determine how to defend the country. In rejecting Bush's military tribunals for terrorism suspects, the high court ruled that even a wartime commander in chief must govern within constitutional confines significantly tighter than this president has believed appropriate.

For many in Washington, the decision echoed not simply as a matter of law but as a rebuke of a governing philosophy of a leader who at repeated turns has operated on the principle that it is better to act than to ask permission. This ethos is why many supporters find Bush an inspiring leader, and why many critics in this country and abroad react so viscerally against him. [complete article]

The hidden - and obvious - lessons in the Supreme Court's divided ruling invalidating military commissions
By Michael C. Dorf, FindLaw, June 30, 2006

The Supreme Court's decision yesterday in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld is, to state the obvious, a major setback for the Bush Administration's bid for power to deal with foreign captives by whatever means it, and it alone, deems appropriate.

Less obviously, the case may have far-reaching implications for numerous fundamental questions of law. But much depends on how the Administration and Congress react to the decision. Congress' impact will be felt both through the laws it passes and through the Justices the Senate confirms--or refuses to confirm--in the future.

After summarizing the ruling, I'll highlight six important aspects of the decision.

The first three aspects suggest a far-reaching defeat for the President: (1) The decision treats World War II precedents upholding military commissions as all but dead letters, affirming the primacy of ordinary civilian courts and formally-constituted courts martial; (2) The decision utterly rejects the Bush Administration's frequently invoked and sweeping claim that there is "inherent Executive Authority" to act unilaterally in matters of national security, recognizing instead that the Constitution gives Congress the leading role in establishing the rules for treatment of captives; (3) The decision finds the Geneva Conventions applicable to suspected al Qaeda captives in Afghanistan, thus implying that methods of interrogation that have been used against them constitute war crimes.

But if the foregoing propositions suggest that the Court dealt the Administration's dreams of unfettered power a crippling blow in Hamdan, three additional aspects of the decision should give the reader pause: (4) The ruling in no way disturbs the authority of the Administration to hold captives at Guantanamo Bay, so long as it does not put them on trial; (5) The ruling can possibly be evaded with respect to captives detained in places beyond the reach of the writ of habeas corpus; and (6) The ruling was essentially 5-4, meaning that the long-term willingness of the Supreme Court to stand up to the President may well depend on the identity of the next Justice to be nominated and confirmed. [complete article]

See also, After ruling, uncertainty hovers at Cuba prison (NYT).
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Israel strikes new Gaza targets
BBC News, June 30, 2006

Israeli aircraft have launched a fresh wave of air strikes on Gaza, intensifying pressure on Palestinian militants to free a captured soldier. The Palestinian interior ministry was hit, while a militant was reported killed in an air strike - the first fatality since the offensive began. Meanwhile the UN has warned of an imminent humanitarian crisis in Gaza. [complete article]

Hamas says Israel is out to destroy its administration
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, June 30, 2006

The Hamas-led Palestinian government accused Israel of attempting to depose its administration after the army arrested eight cabinet ministers and 20 of its MPs as pressure increased for the release of a captured Israeli soldier believed to be held in a Gaza refugee camp.

Hamas leaders in the Gaza Strip went into hiding after the detention of the deputy prime minister, Nasser Shaer, as well as the finance and Jerusalem affairs ministers, in a raid that rounded up 64 Hamas officials in the West Bank.

Israel's defence minister, Amir Peretz, said the detained Hamas officials could be put on trial for involvement in "acts of terror", adding: "The masquerade ball is over. The suits and ties will not serve as cover to the involvement and support of kidnappings and terror."

Israeli artillery continued to shell the Gaza Strip, but a planned ground offensive by tanks and troops was reported to be on hold last night after appeals from the Egyptian government for Israel to give more time for diplomatic efforts to free 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit. If the moves fail, however, the army says a large force of tanks and troops is ready to move into the territory. [complete article]

Mubarak: Hamas offers terms for soldier's release
By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz, June 30, 2006

Palestinian militants have agreed to a conditional release of Shalit, but Israel has not yet accepted their terms, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said in remarks published Friday.

In an interview with Egypt's leading pro-government newspaper, Al-Ahram, Mubarak said "Egyptian contacts with several Hamas leaders resulted in preliminary, positive results in the shape of a conditional agreement to hand over the soldier as soon as possible to avoid an escalation.

"But agreement on this has not yet been reached with the Israeli side," Mubarak said. [complete article]

AG refuses to ok use of Hamas officials as 'bargaining chips'
By Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel, Haaretz, June 30, 2006

Attorney General Menachem Mazuz refused a request by the Shin Bet security service and the government to place dozens of senior Hamas officials under administrative detention or hold them as "bargaining chips" under the Unlawful Combatants Law.

Mazuz insisted that the arrests be carried out under ordinary criminal warrants that would require legal proceedings against the Hamas officials under the Prevention of Terror Ordinance. They will probably be charged with membership in or leadership of a terrorist organization. [complete article]

Israel strips four Hamas officials of Jerusalem residency
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, June 30, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Friday that his government would stand steadfast depite Israel's detention of Hamas ministers and parliamentarians.

In his first public remarks since the Israel Defense Forces launched its offensive in Gaza, Haniyeh ruled out negotiating the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit in exchange for the Hamas deputies.

The prime minister added that the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority is exerting intense efforts to defuse the crisis with Israel. [complete article]

In Gaza, seeking shelter from Israeli fire
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, June 30, 2006

Fatin Shabaat left home here Thursday with her three hip-high children, looking for safety from a slow-moving Israeli military assault launched to free a 19-year-old soldier being held by Palestinian gunmen.

Israeli artillery batteries lobbed shells around this farming community in the Gaza Strip's northeastern corner throughout the day, after leaflets dropped from the sky warned residents to remain clear of Israeli military operations. Shells whistled overhead, slamming into the fields and dunes where Palestinian gunmen regularly fire crude rockets at the Israeli city of Sderot, a white smudge along a ridgeline three miles away.

Although she never received one of the written warnings, Shabaat clutched her children, ages 2, 3 and 4, and headed to her father's home in the town center, far from the dirt paths that have served in the past as routes for Israeli tanks. An Israeli airstrike had already left her without electricity, along with about 700,000 other residents of the strip, and artillery shells were falling close to her back yard. [complete article]
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The rule of Order 17
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, June 29, 2006

Coalition Provisional Authority Order Number 17 -- that [proconsul Paul Bremer] signed on June 27, 2004, just one day before he scuttled out of [Iraq] ... is not a "Status of Forces Agreement" (SOFA) like the ones we have with our NATO allies or Japan or other countries where U.S. forces might be based. Those have to be negotiated, and the talks are tough, because truly sovereign countries think sovereignty truly is important. They never like the idea that American soldiers who commit crimes on their territory are not subject to their laws.

But Order 17 was not negotiated with the Iraqis, it was promulgated by the Americans, and it's purely of the people, by the people and for the people that the United States brought into Iraq. Under its provisions, they are exempt from Iraqi laws, cannot be arrested, prosecuted, tried or taxed. Nor do they have to pay rent for the buildings and land they turn into bases. Ambassador Barbara Bodine, who served in Baghdad immediately after the invasion and subsequently negotiated military agreements with other countries before leaving the State Department in 2004, describes what Bremer pulled off as "a SOFA on steroids." It's all about what the Americans get to do, and what the Iraqis get to do for them.

Order 17 applies not only to soldiers but to the rest of that vast, motley array of foreigners that originally came in with Bremer and stayed, under different guises and in ever-growing numbers, after he left: consultants, contractors and the "security contractors," known in other places and times as mercenaries. Under Order 17, as long as they're working on U.S. government contracts and subcontracts they are immune to arrest and prosecution, taxes and duties imposed by Iraqi law. (I would invite readers to look at the text.) Implicitly and in fact, Order 17 has given these characters a license to kill. [complete article]
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Iraq leader meets rebel groups to talk peace
By Ned Parker and Ali Hamdani, The Times, June 30, 2006

Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi Prime Minister, has held face-to-face talks with insurgent groups after he announced a reconciliation plan designed to bring an end to the violence in the country, his office told The Times last night.

"These have been direct and indirect contacts with Mr al-Maliki from different groups since the initiative was announced ... Part of it was direct and the other part was indirect through intermediaries," Yassin Majid, Mr al-Maliki's director of media relations, said.

He refused to name the groups, but the Shia leader's talks with the Sunni insurgents marked uncharted ground. The politician belongs to the Shia fundamentalist coalition that dominates parliament and includes many members opposed to offering the olive branch to Sunni fighters. [complete article]

Sunnis and Shiites clash north of Baghdad
By Edward Wong, New York Times, June 30, 2006

Pitched battles erupted Thursday between Shiite and Sunni Arab fighters in a village north of Baghdad, highlighting the sectarian violence that still plagues the country, even after the installation of a new government. American soldiers were involved in the fighting, but the role that they played was in dispute.
Gun battles also broke out Wednesday in the market in downtown Baquba, as Shiite militiamen fought with Sunni Arab insurgents, said a shopkeeper, Hassan Abdul Fattah, 25. The Shiite militiamen had distributed fliers in the morning warning Sunni store owners to keep their shops closed or face death, he said. Sunni Arab guerrillas then put out fliers telling the store owners to open their shops or risk death. The Shiite fighters, members of the Mahdi Army, arrived at noon, and "a battle took place with grenades and mortars," Mr. Abdul Fattah said.

Violence was not confined to the Baquba area, however, with at least 31 other people killed or found dead across the country on Thursday. [complete article]

Leader of Iraq's Badr group sees Baathists in police
By Mussab Al-Khairalla, Reuters, June 28, 2006

The head of the Badr movement, a Shi'ite group that Sunnis say runs sectarian militia units within Iraq's police and army, said those forces were in fact heavily infiltrated by Baathist followers of Saddam Hussein.

"Those who carry out attacks in uniforms are the remnants of Saddam's regime. They are present in the interior and defence ministries more than any other party," Hadi al-Amery told Reuters, trying to turn the tables on Sunni critics who accuse him of overseeing Badr death squads in the uniformed ranks.

"Badr only constitutes around a half of one percent of employees of the Interior Ministry," he said this week after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki unveiled a national reconciliation plan that calls for pro-government militias to be disbanded. [complete article]
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Filmmaker puts movie in hands of soldiers
Documentary gives unique angle on war

By Joe Garofoli, San Francisco Chronicle, June 30, 2006

A buzz-generating documentary opening today in the Bay Area presents a new way to approach the national conversation about the Iraq war, a debate that often gets derailed over whether the real story is being told there.

The filmmaker's solution: Give video cameras to the soldiers on the ground and let them roll tape for a year, nearly uncensored.

The result is "The War Tapes," a 94-minute film culled from 1,100 hours of footage that is revolutionary on several levels. Not only is the film created in the same raw, user-generated manner that is powering the explosion of blogs and video-sharing sites on the Internet, it is bypassing the traditional media gatekeepers who some soldiers -- and, for different reasons, anti-war activists -- think are not telling the war's true stories. [complete article]
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History fuels Tehran's vision for Iraq
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 30, 2006

Vast war cemeteries on the outskirts of Tehran bear silent witness to Iran's complex relationship with neighbouring Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians died in the 1980-88 war with Saddam Hussein's regime. Now their well-ordered graves are adorned with plastic flowers, flags and personal mementoes. Each has a glass display case containing a photograph of the "martyr" beneath. They all look so terribly young.

The Iran-Iraq war, in which the US, Britain and others quietly sided with Saddam against the Islamic revolution, is mostly forgotten in the west. Not so in Tehran, where, for example, the UN security council's failure to condemn Iraq's initial aggression or use of chemical weapons has fed an abiding distrust of a body that now lectures Iran on the perils of weapons of mass destruction.

The survivors of the war generation, including president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was a revolutionary guard, are now in power. And it is memories of this conflict that help drive Iran's bid for influence and control in post-Saddam Iraq. Officials argue that more than any other country Iran has a legitimate interest in ensuring that those who rule in Baghdad do not threaten their neighbours again. [complete article]
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Diplomats push Iran to reply soon to incentives offer
By Helene Cooper, New York Times, June 30, 2006

Diplomats from the world's richest countries said Thursday that they expected to receive a "clear and substantive" response from Iran by next Wednesday to the package of incentives offered by major powers in exchange for suspending its activities relating to enrichment of uranium.

The statement from the foreign ministers of the Group of 8 industrialized countries was the first reference to an explicit deadline for Iran to respond formally. "We are disappointed in the absence of an official Iranian response to this positive proposal," their statement said.

The statement said Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, and the European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who presented the proposals to Iran on June 6, would meet Wednesday, adding that the Group of 8 expects "to bring these discussions to a rapid conclusion."

It is unclear, however, whether Iran will meet the deadline. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said his government will not respond until late August. [complete article]
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Car bomb is marker of Taliban presence
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, June 30, 2006

...the first suicide bombing in Qalat was a dramatic sign that the Taliban, ousted from national power by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, is far from defeated here in Zabol province. The region has been virtually paralyzed by insurgent attacks and threats despite intensive military operations and U.S. and Afghan efforts to make it a showcase for development projects.

Qalat, the provincial capital, is a major stop on the U.S.-rebuilt north-south highway and a strategic spot in the campaign against the Taliban. It boasts a U.S. military base and an Afghan army base, and the U.S. military runs a center here that offers free classes in computer skills, carpentry, welding, nursing and other fields.

Also in Qalat, the United States, Japan and the United Arab Emirates have financed a new teaching hospital, new schools, a government compound now under construction, and radio and TV towers. There are plans for a new national bank, a women's bathhouse and a tearoom on a scenic hilltop where Alexander the Great's fortress once stood.

But the Taliban is never far away, and everyone in Qalat feels the intimidating, shadowy presence. At the U.S. military compound, students in the all-male nursing class Thursday said their female classmates had stopped attending after their families received threatening letters. The welding teacher said that he had not received any direct threats but that someone had spread warnings that no one should teach there. [complete article]
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U.S. seeking to bolster foes of Islamists in Somalia
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, June 30, 2006

The Bush administration will work to bolster the police force and other security troops of Somalia's government in exile in the hope of marginalizing the Islamic militias now controlling much of the war-torn country, a senior American official told Congress on Thursday.

Jendayi E. Frazer, the State Department's top Africa official, said the United States had no intention of holding direct talks with the leaders of the Council of the Islamic Courts, which took control of Mogadishu, the capital, earlier this month after prolonged clashes with Somali warlords secretly backed by the C.I.A.

Instead, Ms. Frazer said the United States and its allies would push to strengthen the security troops of Somalia's largely powerless interim government, which she called "the only legitimate framework for governance in Somalia."

Ms. Frazer made the comments before the House subcommittee on international terrorism and nonproliferation. She did not give specifics about how much money the United States would devote to the effort to strengthen the interim government, which American officials are hoping can take control over Somalia.

Ms. Frazer admitted this would be a tall order. The Islamic militias have expanded their power base beyond Mogadishu, and Ms. Frazer said the interim government was not even able to control the town of Baidoa, the site of its headquarters. On Thursday, the Islamic group said it was expanding its authority to the entire country, Reuters reported. [complete article]
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No women chosen in Kuwait vote
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Washington Post, June 30, 2006

Despite braving searing heat and turning up in the tens of thousands, Kuwaiti women, voting for the first time, chose not to put a woman in parliament in Thursday's elections.

According to partial returns reported Friday morning, none of the 27 women in the field of 250 candidates won a seat -- a result that was not unexpected, even though nearly 60 percent of the Kuwaiti electorate is female.

Originally scheduled for next year, the elections were brought forward in May after Kuwait's emir, Sheik Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, dissolved parliament following widespread calls for electoral reform. As a result, the women "had no political experience, no political groups backing them, and only one month to prepare their campaigns," said Madi al-Khamees, owner of al-Hadath newspaper. [complete article]
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Supreme Court rejects Guantanamo war crimes trials
By William Branigin, Washington Post, June 29, 2006

The Supreme Court today delivered a stunning rebuke to the Bush administration over its plans to try Guantanamo detainees before military commissions, ruling that the commissions are unconstitutional.

In a 5-3 decision, the court said the trials were not authorized under U.S. law or the Geneva Conventions. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote the opinion in the case, called Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. recused himself from the case.

The ruling, which overturned a federal appeals court decision in which Roberts had participated, represented a defeat for President Bush, who had ordered military trials for detainees at the Guantanamo Bay naval base. About 450 detainees captured in the war on terrorism are currently held at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

The case of Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a 36-year-old Yemeni with links to al-Qaeda, was considered a key test of the judiciary's power during wartime and carried the potential to make a lasting impact on American law. It challenged the very legality of the military commissions established by President Bush to try terrorism suspects. [complete article]

Glenn Greenwald
See also, Salim Ahmed Hamdan (LAT).
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Israeli missiles pound Gaza into new Dark Age in 'collective punishment'
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, June 29, 2006

As a textbook example of hi-tech precision bombardment it could hardly be improved. Smoke was still rising yesterday from the scorched wreckage of the six transformers at Gaza's only power station, each destroyed by a single missile fired by an Israeli warplane some 10 hours earlier.

Had they hit the huge cylindrical diesel tank 100 metres away they would have set the whole power station alight. But the strike was clinically effective, cutting all the electricity to 700,000 Gaza consumers, threatening water supplies and depriving its public of light, cooking, broadcast news, and ­ a crucial issue in scorching summer temperatures ­ fans.

"I'm so surprised that they did this," said Dr Derar Abu Sisi, the operations manager at the Al Nusirat power station. "We have been right through the worst of the intifada but this didn't happen." It would, Dr Abu Sisi said, take a "minimum of three to six months" to restore supplies at a cost between $5m (£2.8m) and $7m. "The Geneva Convention says it is not allowed to attack infrastructure for the civilian people," he added. "You might expect that economic infrastructure could be a target in the last stages of a war. But this is not like that." [complete article]

Israeli tanks turn screw on besieged Gaza Strip (The Guardian).

Israel holds Hamas leaders amid crisis
By Ferry Biedermann, Financial Times, June 29, 2006

Israel has started targeting the political structure of the ruling Palestinian Hamas movement as the crisis over the kidnapped soldier in Gaza escalates. Overnight the Israeli army arrested at least 64 Hamas representatives, 38 of them MPs, in the West Bank.

Israel said that the Hamas officials were not held in order to serve as bargaining chips for the release of the soldier seized on Sunday in an attack in the border between Israel and Gaza in which Hamas participated.

"These are people with terrorist records, with allegations and charges pending against them," an army spokesperson said. [complete article]

What Israel could learn from the Gaza kidnap drama
By Tony Karon, Time, June 28, 2006

The Gaza kidnapping drama highlights a problem facing Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert reminiscent of the famous complaint of fictional Godfather Michael Corleone: "Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in."

In fact, it took less than a year for Olmert to send the Israeli military back in to Gaza after withdrawing from the territory last August. They're not planning to stay, of course — the army is there in response to the kidnapping of a 19-year-old corporal, and also to put a stop to rocket fire from northern Gaza into Israeli territory. But Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon started with similarly limited goals, and events conspired to keep the Israelis there for 18 years. Even if they do retreat again from Gaza in a matter of days or weeks, the current dynamic in the Palestinian territories suggests they'll inevitably be back.

The kidnap drama has simply highlighted a fundamental flaw in the policy of unilateral withdrawal on which Olmert based his election campaign. Absent any agreement with a Palestinian government that is willing and able to enforce order, militants will continue to attack Israel. The idea that Israel can "disengage" from the Palestinians without their cooperation is wishful thinking. [complete article]

The weapon of last resort
By Azzam Tamimi, The Guardian, June 29, 2006

Rather than negotiate to free its 19-year-old solider Gilad Shalit, the Israeli government seems to have decided that he is worth more dead than alive.

Both the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, and his defence minister, who do not hail from the Israeli military, feel they are being tested. Their priority, it would seem, is to prove that they are as tough and fearsome as their military predecessors were.

Shimon Peres knows all about this. His Grapes of Wrath adventure in Lebanon in 1996 was motivated by a similar drive, and so was his decision earlier that year to liquidate Hamas's chief bomb-maker, Yahya Ayyash. He and Israel paid dearly for both actions. [complete article]

A sick situation
Editorial, Jordan Times, June 29, 2006

One Israeli soldier is kidnapped. But some 8,000 Palestinians are in Israeli prisons, and not because they are thieves. Some 400 of those 8,000 are women and children under 18. The vast majority of those 8,000 people have not stood any trial. Is that not a form of kidnapping?

There is an illusion afoot in the world that Israel is somehow civilised and the Palestinians are somehow not. It is an illusion that is fostered by a strange belief that if murder is committed by men in uniform under orders from other men in uniform it is somehow legitimate.

It is an illusion that, in a move unprecedented in history, has led the world to sanction a people under occupation mainly for refusing to accept that occupation. [complete article]

Settler's body believed found
CNN, June 29, 2006

A body found near Ramallah appears to be that of an 18-year-old West Bank settler abducted by Palestinian militants last weekend, Israeli security sources said Thursday.

During the day, the Popular Resistance Committees displayed the identity card of a Jewish settler the group said it kidnapped Sunday, and said the captive would be "butchered" unless Israel stopped its incursion into Gaza. [complete article]

Israeli jets 'in warning to Damascus'
By Ferry Biedermann and Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, June 28, 2006

The crisis over the kidnapped Israeli soldier escalated on Wednesday as Israeli troops started shelling the northern Gaza Strip in apparent preparation for a second incursion in as many days.

The army said four fighter aircraft had flown over the palace of Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, near the coastal town of Latakia. [complete article]
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The myth of al Qaeda
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, June 28, 2006

The capture of Ibn Al-Shaykhal-Libi was said to be one of the first big breakthroughs in the war against Al Qaeda. It was also the start of the post-9/11 mythologizing of the terror group. According to the official history of the Bush administration, al-Libi (a nom de guerre meaning "the Libyan") was the most senior Al Qaeda leader captured during the war in Afghanistan after running a training camp there for Osama bin Laden. Al-Libi was sent on to Egypt, where under interrogation he was said to have given up crucial information linking Saddam Hussein to the training of Al Qaeda operatives in chemical and biological warfare. His story was later used publicly by Secretary of State Colin Powell to justify the war in Iraq to the world.

The reality, as we have learned since -- far too late, of course, to avert the war in Iraq -- is that al-Libi made up that story of Iraq connections, probably because he was tortured by the Egyptians (or possibly Libyan intelligence officers who worked with them). But there's even more to this strange tale that hasn't been revealed. According to Numan bin-Uthman, a former fellow jihadi of al-Libi's who has left the movement and is based in London, al-Libi was never a member of Al Qaeda at all. Moreover, Uthman says, he's "90 percent sure" that al-Libi, who he says is dying of tuberculosis, has been released by the United States to Libya. (A CIA spokesman said he could not comment.) According to Uthman, al-Libi was a small-time member of a broader movement of jihadists who -- inspired by Abdullah Azzam, a Palestinian killed during the CIA-backed mujahedin fight against the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan -- came to fight the Soviets in the 1980s and later, trained, to redirect jihad back to their home regimes. The so-called Khaldin camp that al-Libi helped run dated from this movement. "I know him personally. He's not a member of Al Qaeda," Uthman, an anti-Kaddafi political activist who is considered credible by other Libyan exiles, told Newsweek by phone from London. [complete article]
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Prisoner links Iraqi to attack on Shiite shrine, official says
By Edward Wong, New York Times, June 29, 2006

An Iraqi affiliated with Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia led the team that carried out the February bombing of a golden-domed Shiite shrine, unleashing waves of sectarian violence that still convulse Iraq today, an Iraqi security official said on Wednesday.

The insurgent, Haitham al-Badri, is in hiding in Iraq and being sought by government forces, said the official, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, the national security adviser.

Mr. Badri also personally killed Atwar Bahjat, an Iraqi reporter for the network Al Arabiya who was abducted and murdered after traveling to Samarra, the site of the Askariya shrine, on the day it was bombed, Mr. Rubaie said. Two of Ms. Bahjat's colleagues were also killed in that ambush. [complete article]
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'Oath Betrayed' questions doctors' roles in torture
By Steve Inskeep, NPR, June 29, 2006

In the spring of 2004, when Americans were horrified by the pictures of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, medical ethics expert Steven Miles had just one question: Where were the doctors?

Miles, a doctor and medical ethics expert who has treated victims of torture throughout the world, had just one question: Where were the doctors?

To answer that question he poured through records of army criminal investigations, FBI notes on debriefings of prisoners, autopsy reports, and prisoners' medical records.

The result is his new book -- Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity and the War on Terror, in which Miles -– who has treated victims of torture throughout the world -- indicts the medical profession for failing to perform its role as protector. [complete article]

See also, An interview with Steven Miles: The torture-endangered society (Thiemeworks).
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U.S. cybersecurity chief may have a conflict of interest
AP (via WP), June 29, 2006

The Bush administration's cybersecurity chief is a contract employee who earns $577,000 under an agreement with a private university that does extensive business with the federal office he manages.

Donald "Andy" Purdy Jr. has been acting director of the Homeland Security Department's National Cyber Security Division for 21 months. His two-year contract with Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh has drawn attention from members of Congress. By comparison, the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, is paid $175,000 annually.

Purdy is on loan from the school to the government, which is paying nearly all his salary. Meanwhile, Purdy's cybersecurity division has paid Carnegie Mellon $19 million in contracts this year, almost one-fifth of the unit's total budget. [complete article]
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The occupation of Iraqi hearts and minds
By Nir Rosen, Truthdig, June 27, 2006

Three years into an occupation of Iraq replete with so-called milestones, turning points and individual events hailed as "sea changes" that would "break the back" of the insurgency, a different type of incident received an intense, if ephemeral, amount of attention. A local human rights worker and aspiring journalist in the western Iraqi town of Haditha filmed the aftermath of the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians. The video made its way to an Iraqi working for Time magazine, and the story was finally publicized months later. The Haditha massacre was compared to the Vietnam War's My Lai massacre, and like the well-publicized and embarrassing Abu Ghraib scandal two years earlier, the attention it received made it seem as if it were a horrible aberration perpetrated by a few bad apples who might have overreacted to the stress they endured as occupiers.

In reality both Abu Ghraib and Haditha were merely more extreme versions of the day-to-day workings of the American occupation in Iraq, and what makes them unique is not so much how bad they were, or how embarrassing, but the fact that they made their way to the media and were publicized despite attempts to cover them up. Focusing on Abu Ghraib and Haditha distracts us from the daily, little Abu Ghraibs and small-scale Hadithas that have made up the occupation. The occupation has been one vast extended crime against the Iraqi people, and most of it has occurred unnoticed by the American people and the media. [complete article]

Ugly Americans in Iraq
By Nir Rosen, Truthdig, June 27, 2006

My friend [who served during 2003 and 2004 as part of a Special Forces unit] wanted to begin his recounting of his time in Iraq by discussing "the character of the American men fighting this war." He joked that "it might be a shock to some of the architects of this war that our fighters don't read magazines like The Weekly Standard or The New Republic or give a rat's ass about where our occupation in Iraq is headed." He continued: "The reason most of them signed up for service (me included) was to get some action, destroy Al Qaeda and come home with a body count to brag about at a local bar. Who gives a fuck about the rest? I think it can be best summed up in a conversation I overheard at my recruitment station. When one kid was asked why he joined the infantry, he didn't have any doubts: 'I enlisted to kill towelheads.'" [complete article]
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Insurgents offer to halt attacks in Iraq
By Steven R. Hurst and Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP (via Yahoo), June 28, 2006

Eleven Sunni insurgent groups have offered an immediate halt to all attacks -- including those on American troops -- if the United States agrees to withdraw foreign forces from Iraq in two years, insurgent and government officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Withdrawal is the centerpiece of a set of demands from the groups, which operate north of Baghdad in the heavily Sunni Arab provinces of Salahuddin and Diyala. Although much of the fighting has been to the west, those provinces are increasingly violent and attacks there have crippled oil and commerce routes.

The groups who've made contact have largely shunned attacks on Iraqi civilians, focusing instead on the U.S.-led coalition forces. Their offer coincides with Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's decision to reach out to the Sunni insurgency with a reconciliation plan that includes an amnesty for fighters.

The Islamic Army in Iraq, Muhammad Army and the Mujahedeen Shura Council -- the umbrella group that covers eight militant groups including al-Qaida in Iraq -- were not party to any offers to the government. [complete article]

Iraq leader says no pardons for attacks on soldiers
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, June 28, 2006

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq said today that attacks on American soldiers would not be pardoned under the rules of a new Iraqi amnesty plan.

In his first meeting with Western reporters since becoming prime minister last month, Mr. Maliki sought to allay concerns raised by many in the United States that the plan, which he unveiled Sunday as part of a broad effort to draw down insurgent violence, would essentially allow attacks on Americans.

"There will be no amnesty for those who have killed Americans," Mr. Maliki said during the briefing, which lasted almost an hour and was held in a conference room in his office. "I think this would bring a very negative reaction among Iraqis who are related to those who were killed and among Americans who are related to these people." [complete article]

U.N. says 150,000 Iraqis recently displaced
By Nick Wadhams, AP (via The State), June 27, 2006

Some 150,000 Iraqis have been displaced in a surge of sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of a Shiite shrine four months ago, the United Nations said Tuesday.

The U.N. office in Baghdad said it now estimates that 1.3 million people are displaced in Iraq, about five percent of the population of 25 million.

"While many were displaced as long ago as the early 1980s, the last four months of increasing violence and relentless sectarian tensions have resulted in the displacement of a further 150,000 individuals," the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq said. [complete article]

Man held over Iraq shrine bomb
BBC News, June 28, 2006

Iraqi officials say they have arrested a key al-Qaeda member for the bombing of a revered Shia shrine in Samarra.

National security adviser Mowaffaq Al-Rubaie said the man, a Tunisian identified as Abu Qudama, was one of seven men wanted for the attack. [complete article]

Russia 'to kill Iraq kidnappers'
BBC News, June 28, 2006

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered special services to "find and destroy" the killers of four Russian diplomats taken hostage in Iraq. The head of Russia's security services immediately pledged to see Putin's order carried out. [complete article]
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The U.S. proxies who haunt Washington
By Jason Motlagh, Asia Times, June 29, 2006

After four months of bloody gun battles shook the streets of the Somali capital Mogadishu, jihadist militias loyal to a union of Islamic courts preside over a tense calm and a routed alliance of US-backed warlords is on the run.

Now that the dust has cleared, however, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is under fire for its clandestine support of secular fighters in a thorny conflict critics say it has failed to grasp, and inadvertently fueled. Worse still, it appears to have chosen the losing side.

But as the United States' messy history of using proxy forces in Africa and elsewhere shows, short-term victories in such dubious dealings assure little.

The most successful campaign to date, the CIA-sponsored Afghan war against the Soviets, has in fact also been the most destructive: a Faustian pact with Islamist militants that helped end the Cold War while cultivating the "terror" in the global "war on terror" that will consume the foreseeable future. [complete article]
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Terrorist funds-tracking no secret, some say
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, June 28, 2006

... a search of public records -- government documents posted on the Internet, congressional testimony, guidelines for bank examiners, and even an executive order President Bush signed in September 2001 -- describe how US authorities have openly sought new tools to track terrorist financing since 2001. That includes getting access to information about terrorist-linked wire transfers and other transactions, including those that travel through SWIFT.

"There have been public references to SWIFT before," said Roger Cressey, a senior White House counterterrorism official until 2003. "The White House is overreaching when they say [The New York Times committed] a crime against the war on terror. It has been in the public domain before."

Victor D. Comras , a former US diplomat who oversaw efforts at the United Nations to improve international measures to combat terror financing, said it was common knowledge that worldwide financial transactions were being closely monitored for links to terrorists. "A lot of people were aware that this was going on," said Comras, one of a half-dozen financial experts UN Secretary General Kofi Annan recruited for the task.

"Unless they were pretty dumb, they had to assume" their transactions were being monitored, Comras said of terrorist groups. "We have spent the last four years bragging how effective we have been in tracking terrorist financing." [complete article]

Damage study urged on surveillance reports
By Scott Shane, New York Times, June 28, 2006

Senator Pat Roberts, the chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, asked the director of national intelligence on Tuesday to assess any damage to American counterterrorism efforts caused by the disclosure of secret programs to monitor telephone calls and financial transactions.

Mr. Roberts, Republican of Kansas, singled out The New York Times for an article last week that reported that the government was tracking money transfers handled by a banking consortium based in Belgium. The targeting of the financial data, which includes some Americans' transactions, was also reported Thursday by The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.

In his letter to John D. Negroponte, director of national intelligence, Mr. Roberts wrote that "we have been unable to persuade the media to act responsibly and to protect the means by which we protect this nation." [complete article]

Group tries to block program giving data to U.S.
By Dan Bilefsky, IHT, June 27, 2006

A human rights group in London said today that it had lodged formal complaints in 32 countries against the Brussels-based banking consortium known as Swift, contending that it violated European and Asian data protection rules by providing the United States with confidential information about international money transfers.

Simon Davies, director of Privacy International, said the organization filed the complaints in the hope of halting what it called "illegal transfers" of private information by Swift, whose full name is the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.

The complaints were filed in all 25 member nations of the European Union, plus Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Switzerland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Iceland. The group said it also filed a complaint in the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong. [complete article]
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Victory for Abbas as Hamas gives in on peace talks
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, June 28, 2006

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, won his biggest political gamble yesterday when Hamas bowed to an ultimatum to accept the pursuit of a negotiated permanent peace with Israel or face a referendum on the issue.

If it had gone to a ballot and he had lost, Mr Abbas would have been out of power. But his closest aides said he had little to lose given his isolation by Israel and Hamas's insistence that it spoke for the people after its landslide election victory in January. Meanwhile, the Palestinian economy was rapidly collapsing under international sanctions in response to the Islamist government's refusal to recognise Israel.

Yesterday the gamble paid off as Hamas cut its losses and decided not to face the people. It surrendered the pretence of one day conquering Israel for the reality of keeping some political power by endorsing a document, drawn up by Palestinian security prisoners in Israeli jails, that requires the installation of a national unity government committed to a negotiated two-state solution. Under the agreement between Mr Abbas and Hamas, the new administration will probably be led by technocrats in order to win international recognition.

The document also endorses all existing agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel, some of which recognise the Jewish state and established the Palestinian Authority as a precursor to a two-state solution. [complete article]

Israel warns of 'extreme' action
BBC News, June 28, 2006

Israel's Prime Minister has warned of "extreme action" to free a soldier captured by Palestinian militants.

Soon afterwards, witnesses reported an air strike on a militant training camp in Gaza, after planes bombed a power station and three bridges overnight.

Tanks also moved into the southern Gaza Strip, in the first big incursion since the Israeli withdrawal last year. [complete article]

See also, Violence before diplomacy in Gaza (BBC).

For first time, Hamas-led government calls for prisoner swap
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, June 28, 2006

The Hamas-led Palestinian government on Wednesday called for a prisoner swap with Israel, saying Israel's invasion of Gaza would not secure the release of a captured soldier.

It was the first time the government has proposed exchanging the soldier for prisoners held by Israel, though militants holding the young man have made similar requests. [complete article]

See also, Palestinians back prisoner release call (BBC).

Terror group exhibits ID card of missing Itamar teenager
By Amos Harel, Avi Issacharof, Jonathan Lis and Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz, June 28, 2006

The Popular Resistance Committees held a press conference on Wednesday, during which a spokesman for the group displayed the national identification card of Itamar settler Eliyahu Yitzhak Asheri.

Asheri has been missing since Sunday, and the PRC has maintained for two days that it has abducted the youth.

Earlier Wednesday, a PRC spokesman told Al-Jazeera satellite TV that the settler would be "butchered in front of TV cameras" if doesn't stop its raid on the Gaza Strip, which began in the early hours of Wednesday morning. [complete article]

Ramon: Hamas leader Meshal is definitely assassination target
By Yuval Yoaz, Haaaretz, June 28, 2006

Justice Minister Haim Ramon said Wednesday that Hamas' Syria-based leader, Khaled Meshal, is a target for assassination for ordering the kidnapping of an Israel Defense Forces soldier in the Gaza Strip.

"He is definitely in our sights... he is a target," Ramon told Army Radio. "Khaled Meshal, as someone who is overseeing, actually commanding the terror acts, is definitely a target."

Meshal is responsible for the Sunday attack on an IDF base, in which two soldiers were killed and a third kidnapped, Ramon said. [complete article]

Powerless in Gaza
By Yossi Alpher, The Guardian, June 28, 2006

At the military level, we recall the dictum that Israel learned, or should have learned, in Lebanon: in chasing terrorists: it's easy to get in but hard to get out.

How and when will the Israeli defence force (IDF) withdraw if it does not recover Corporal Gilad Shalit? And what about the equally urgent task of silencing the firing of Qassam rockets from Gazan territory toward the Israeli town of Sderot and neighbouring kibbutzim?

The residents of Sderot are justified in demanding that the IDF protect them even as it searches for an abducted soldier. But how will this be accomplished, bearing in mind that Qassams were fired from Gaza with relative impunity for years before last August, when the IDF still occupied parts of the strip? [complete article]

See also, Kidnapped by emotions (Akiva Eldar).

Briefing: botched rescue attempt in 1994
By Lee Glendinning, The Times, June 28, 2006

Israeli troops aiming to rescue Corporal Gilad Shalit will be mindful of the fatal errors made the last time they tried to rescue an Israeli soldier taken hostage.

In 1994, Corporal Nachshon Waxman, a 19-year-old Israeli-American soldier, was kidnapped by the roadside by Hamas militants.

The young soldier's plight riveted the Israeli nation, when he appeared in a filmed appeal for rescue. [complete article]
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The Bush code of secrecy
By Mark Follman, Salon (via Der Spiegel), June 27, 2006

In the hands of the Bush administration, the baseline for state secrets is no longer scrubbing a case of sensitive evidence, but wiping the case away completely. Historically, most state secrets claims were about stopping the disclosure of specific evidence, and the cases proceeded with those limits in place. Particularly sensitive cases could even be conducted entirely under seal. Kroger points to the trial that followed the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. All the defense attorneys in the case had to get classified security clearance, and evidence was reviewed inside a secure facility.

"To prevent a case from going forward at all by claiming that the entire case itself would jeopardize national security," Kroger says, "is a really drastic remedy."

It's a remedy administration lawyers are using with progressively more brazen rationale. At issue in San Francisco, in Hepting v. AT&T, is whether the telecom company gave Uncle Sam access to customer phone calls with or without necessary court authorization. Yet, administration lawyers filed a brief late last week claiming that "the court -- even if it were to find unlawfulness upon in camera, ex parte review [a review done privately by the judge in chambers] -- could not then proceed to adjudicate the very question of awarding damages because to do so would confirm Plaintiffs' allegations."

In other words, the Bush lawyers argue that even if Walker determined behind tightly closed doors that the Bush government broke the law, he could do nothing -- because to continue with any court proceedings or ruling, they argue, would confirm the existence of domestic surveillance operations and thereby jeopardize national security. Apparently, they've taken that position even though domestic surveillance activity under Bush has been covered by every major news outlet and has been acknowledged, albeit only narrowly, by top Bush officials and the president himself.

"It would be hard to overstate the significance of this proceeding," Steven Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists, said in an e-mail. "It is not just a dispute over surveillance. It is a test of our whole system of government. They are not only arguing that the courts cannot adjudicate the matter, but that Congress is powerless to limit the government's activities. If the administration prevails, then we will be well on our way to a different form of government in which executive authority is effectively unchecked." [complete article]
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New York subway plot and al-Qaeda's WMD strategy
By Michael Scheuer, Jamestown Foundation, June 20, 2006

This week's issue of Time Magazine has caused a spike in U.S. and Western worries over al-Qaeda's intentions and capability to use weapons of mass destruction against the United States. Prompting the concern is Time's excerpt of journalist Ron Suskind's new book, The One Percent Doctrine, which describes al-Qaeda's apparently successful development of a portable device that can be used to disperse cyanide gas. The gas kills upon inhalation, and Suskind claims that a cyanide gas attack on New York City's subway system was within 45 days of occurring when al-Qaeda's deputy commander, Ayman al-Zawahiri, called off the attack. Media coverage of the book excerpt so far has focused on how many casualties such an attack might have caused -- first estimates are in the September 11 range of 3,000 dead -- and whether or not the dispersal device would have actually worked.

Suskind's book will provide grist for the media mill and WMD experts for weeks, but the more important issue to consider is why al-Zawahiri decided to call off the attack. Suskind's sources suggest that al-Zawahiri decided that the subway operation was not a sufficient follow-up to the September 11 attacks. This judgment seems to be on very solid ground. Since declaring war on the United States in 1996, Osama bin Laden has repeatedly underscored his preferred method of operation. Al-Qaeda, he says, will incrementally increase the pain that its attacks cause the United States until it forces Washington to change its policies toward Israel and the Muslim world. While the graphing of al-Qaeda attacks since 1996 would not display a straight ascending line, the clear trend of the line would be upward; each attack has indeed been more destructive to U.S. citizens and material interests than the last. [complete article]
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It's time to talk to Pyongyang
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, June 26, 2006

The hermit kingdom of Kim Jong-il has always sired odd political spectacles but few more startling than last week's Washington Post op-ed piece co-authored by William J. Perry -- secretary of defense in the Clinton administration -- urging President George W. Bush to attack North Korea's test site if Pyongyang continues its preparations to launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Even Vice President Dick Cheney was taken aback by Perry's proposal, dryly responding in a CNN interview: "I appreciate Bill's advice. ... I think the issue is being addressed appropriately." National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley concurred: "We think diplomacy is the right answer, and that is what we're pursuing."

All of which would be fine, end of story, if Bush, Cheney, and Hadley were pursuing diplomacy, but they're not. They're not doing anything—and haven't done anything for the past five and a half years -- either to cool down or heat up the situation. [complete article]
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Divided & conquered
By Scott McConnell, American Conservative, July 3, 2006

Officially, we were a delegation from Churches for Middle East Peace, a noble but desperately underfunded Washington group created to represent mainstream Christian churches on a vital issue. In more banal terms, we were 12 Americans following a tight schedule through Syria, Jordan, Israel, and "Palestine" -- forever getting on and off a bus, shepherded from one meeting to another, following a daily rhythm not unlike children on a long elementary-school fieldtrip.

The meetings devolved into a familiar pattern: CMEP's director Corinne Whitlatch described the group and its point of view -- boiled down to support for a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine and a status for Jerusalem that reflects the city's importance to two peoples and the three Abrahamic faiths -- our hosts made a presentation, we went through some questions, exchanged gifts, posed for a photograph. And then back on the bus, to the next place. Eventually one began to speculate how CMEP might appear to our hosts: why, they must have wondered, do America's most established churches have so little influence on America's actual policies? But they were never so tactless as to pose this question directly (though virtually every Arab intellectual we encountered brought up without prompting Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer's now famous essay). [complete article]
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Iraqi leader's offer said to spark interest
By Edward Wong, New York Times, June 26, 2006

Several Sunni-led insurgent groups have approached the Iraqi government to try to start serious negotiations, following the Iraqi prime minister's presentation on Sunday of a limited plan for reconciliation, a senior legislator from the prime minister's party said today.

The groups have made no demands yet, but want to express their views to top government officials, said the legislator, Hassan al-Suneid. "There are signals" from "some armed groups to sit at the negotiating table," said Mr. Suneid, who, like Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, belongs to the Islamic Dawa Party, a conservative Shiite group.

The groups are made up of Iraqi nationalist fighters and have floated their proposal through Sunni Arab negotiators, Mr. Suneid said in a telephone interview. They "are not implicated in the bloodletting of Iraqis," he added. Mr. Suneid declined to say how many groups want to open talks, who they are and how big or influential they are, though they supposedly have carried out little or no major violent operations. There are indications that seven insurgent factions are involved. [complete article]

See also,What's behind Iraq's 'amnesty' plan (Time).
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Nation is divided on drawdown of troops
By Dan Balz and Richard Morin, Washington Post, June 27, 2006

With military commanders weighing possible troop reductions in Iraq, Americans are sharply divided along partisan lines over whether to set a deadline for withdrawing all U.S. forces there, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

About half, 51 percent, oppose a deadline for getting out of Iraq, but the margin has dwindled as insurgents have continued to kill U.S. troops. The poll found that 47 percent now favor some kind of deadline, up eight percentage points since December. Two thirds of Democrats support setting a deadline, more than double the proportion of Republicans who want a timetable for withdrawal. Among independents, 44 percent support a deadline.

President Bush's approval rating rebounded from its lowest point a month ago and now stands at 38 percent. That is five points higher than it was in May, though still weak enough to cause Republicans to worry about their electoral chances in November. [complete article]
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Fallujah: A city still under siege
By Dahr Jamail and Ali Fadhil, Asia Times, June 27, 2006

One and a half years after the US assault on Fallujah, residents tell of ongoing suffering, lack of jobs, little reconstruction and continuing violence.

The US Marines Corps launched Operation Phantom Fury against the city of Fallujah in November 2004, destroying an estimated 70% of the buildings, homes and shops, and killing between 4,000 and 6,000 people, according to the Fallujah-based non-governmental organization (NGO) the Study Center for Human Rights and Democracy (SCHRD).

Inter Press Service (IPS) found that the city remains under draconian, biometric security, with retina scans, fingerprinting and X-raying required for anyone entering the city. Fallujah remains an island: not even the residents of the surrounding towns and villages such as Karma, Habbaniya, Khalidiya, which fall under Fallujah's administrative jurisdiction, are allowed in. [complete article]

Dozens are killed in violence across Iraq
By Joshua Partlow and Naseer Nouri, Washington Post, June 27, 2006

A series of explosions targeting crowded markets, police officers and military patrols killed at least 38 people one day after the Iraqi government proposed a national reconciliation plan aimed at undermining the insurgency.

A bomb loaded on a bicycle exploded in the central market in a small town near Baqubah, a Sunni insurgent stronghold north of Baghdad, killing 18 people and wounding 43, according to Laith Ali, an official at Baqubah General Hospital. The Associated Press cited a morgue official at the hospital who put the death toll at 25 people, with 33 others wounded.

A second crowded market was targeted in a blast in the predominantly Shiite Muslim city of Hilla, about 60 miles south of Baghdad. At least six people were killed and 56 others wounded in that incident, said Capt. Muthana Ahmad of the Babil province police. The Associated Press reported 15 people had died in the attack. [complete article]

U.S. and Iraq take Ramadi a neighborhood at a time
By Dexter Filkins, New York Times, June 27, 2006

American and Iraqi soldiers pushed deep into the heart of this contested city on Monday, the latest step in their plan to regain control of Ramadi from guerrillas and to hold onto it. The operation began late Sunday night, when about 400 American and Iraqi soldiers advanced into the west side of downtown, quickly taking over a number of houses and converting them into a small military base.

Ramadi, the capital of Anbar Province, has bedeviled American forces for months, making itself the toughest city in the most violent of Iraqi regions. Whole city blocks here look like a scene from some post-apocalyptic world: row after row of buildings shot up, boarded up, caved in, tumbled down.

Many neighborhoods are out of the control of either the American or Iraqi government forces; insurgents hold sway. In some areas, it is hard to spot any Iraqi police officers -- or any civilians or cars. Amid talk of timetables for reducing the number of American troops in Iraq, military commanders are not contemplating reducing the number in this part of the country. [complete article]
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Three days in Rome?
By Laura Rozen, Mother Jones, July/August, 2006

On December 21, 2001, military officials and intelligence operatives from three nations -- the United States, Italy, and Iran -- made their separate ways to a commercial building set anonymously amid the shops, cafes, and fountains of Rome’s bustling Piazza di Spagna, and disappeared inside. Among the tourists enjoying the famous Spanish Steps, and the Romans going about their Christmas shopping in the boutiques nearby, few would have had reason to wonder what was going on in the building, which held an unmarked office provided by the Italian military intelligence organization Servizio per le Informazioni e la Sicurezza Militare (sismi). Nor would passers-by have likely recognized among the men two Pentagon officials and key figures in the post-9/11 push to redraw the political map of the Middle East. Rome’s centro storico, locus of a few millennia of international intrigue, was the perfect setting for the business at hand.

Though little-known outside the Beltway, the Pentagon officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, were at the height of their powers among a small, tight-knit coterie of Washington Iran hawks determined, in the wake of 9/11, to push for regime change not just in Kabul and Baghdad, but in Tehran as well. Farsi speakers both, they had become increasingly influential as advisers to top Pentagon officials consumed with planning a response to the terror attacks. Franklin was the Iran desk officer in a Pentagon policy office that would eventually include the Office of special Plans, an alternative intelligence shop that became closely allied with Ahmed Chalabi and his band of Iraqi exile informants. Joining the pair in Rome was Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative historian and activist who is among the most impassioned advocates for overthrowing the Iranian regime. [complete article]
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U.S. underestimates Ahmadinejad at its peril
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 27, 2006

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the latest in a long line of bogeymen in the United States: Libya's Colonel Gadafy, Panama's Manuel Noriega, Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, Iraq's Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida's Osama bin Laden, to name a few.

But by casting Iran's president in the role of maverick evildoer, the Bush administration ignores the complex forces that brought him to power last year and his previously unsuspected political skills, both supporters and critics say. As domestic opponents have already discovered, underestimating Mr Ahmadinejad is tempting - and foolish.

The president's rising popularity owes as much to his common touch as US enmity. Many ordinary Iranians, while complaining about wages, inflation and restricted personal freedoms, approve of the Blair-like "national conversation" that Mr Ahmadinejad launched through fortnightly provincial tours and rallies. [complete article]

New Iran foreign policy body set
Reuters (via LAT), June 27, 2006

Iran's supreme leader has created a foreign policy body that includes former government ministers, a move analysts said indicates disquiet in the leadership over the country's growing isolation.

The committee will not have executive powers, but analysts said Monday that they believed it could influence foreign policy, including the dispute over Iran's nuclear activities, which is handled by the Supreme National Security Council.

The committee includes former Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi and other ministers from the reformist government of former President Mohammad Khatami, who sought a detente with the West and what he called "dialogue among civilizations." [complete article]

Iran sees 'no need' for nuke talks
Reuters (via CNN), June 27, 2006

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Tuesday that talks with the United States held no benefits for the Islamic Republic.

Washington has offered to join the European Union's direct talks with Iran if Tehran agrees to halt its uranium enrichment work, the key demand in a package that has the backing of six world powers. Iran has so far no replied to that offer.

"Negotiating with America does not have any benefit for us and we do not need such negotiations," Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television. [complete article]
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Hamas-Fatah to implicitly recognize Israel
By Ibrahim Barzak, AP (via Yahoo), June 27, 2006

The rival Hamas and Fatah movements agreed on a plan implicitly recognizing Israel, a top Palestinian official said Tuesday after weeks of acrimonious negotiations aiming to lift crippling international aid sanctions.

Moderate President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah has been trying to coax his Hamas rivals into endorsing the document, which calls for a Palestinian state alongside Israel, in effect recognizing the Jewish state. He has endorsed the plan as a way to end sanctions against the Hamas-led Palestinian government and pave the way to reopening peace talks with Israel.

"We have an agreement over the document," said Ibrahim Abu Najah, coordinator of the "national dialogue" over the proposal.

The plan also calls on militants to limit attacks to areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast War and calls for formation of a coalition Palestinian government. [complete article]
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Israeli hostage dilemma: negotiate with Hamas?
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, June 27, 2006

...Israel's history with its regional foes shows that the country's line on negotiating over hostages and prisoners of war is fuzzy and complex. And the hard-to-swallow reality, some observers here argue, is that negotiations may be the only route to ensuring the captive gets out alive.

"We can come to terms with Israeli soldiers being killed, but we can't come to terms with Israelis being taken as prisoners of war," explains Anshel Pfeffer, a senior analyst for the Jerusalem Post. The last time an Israeli soldier was kidnapped, in 1994, the army launched a rescue operation that ended in the death of both the kidnapped soldier, Nahshon Wachsman , and an officer involved in the failed rescue attempt.

"The popular feeling is that an Israeli citizen or soldier must not be in the hands of the enemy, so some impossible mission has to be done," says Mr. Pfeffer. "The reality is, grin and bear it, and deal with terrorists." [complete article]

Palestinian leader orders force to find Israeli
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, June 27, 2006

The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, ordered his security services on Monday to find a kidnapped Israeli soldier in the Gaza Strip. The Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, warned of "comprehensive and ongoing military action" in Gaza by the Israeli military, which massed troops and armor on the border.

Tensions were building over the fate of the soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, 19, who was captured early Sunday morning in a raid by Palestinians into Israel through a long tunnel from Gaza. The groups holding him said that before any information on him would be disclosed, Israel must release all Palestinian women in its jails and all Palestinian prisoners under the age of 18. [complete article]

Militant: Israeli soldier in secure place
By Ibrahim Barzak, AP (via Yahoo), June 27, 2006

A Palestinian militant leader said Tuesday a captured Israeli soldier was being held in a "secure place," and he claimed that his group also seized a Jewish settler in the West Bank.

The new claims came from the Popular Resistance Committees, a violent group with close ties to the Hamas-led Palestinian government. The PRC was one of three groups that participated in Sunday's cross-border infiltration near Gaza in which militants killed two Israeli soldiers and abducted Cpl. Gilad Shalit.

"The soldier is in a secure place that the Zionists cannot reach," PRC spokesman Mohammed Abdel Al said in the first acknowledgment by militants that Shalit was still alive. [complete article]

Israel 'will ensure Hamas govt toppled' if soldier slain
AFP (via Yahoo), June 26, 2006

Israel will work to ensure the Hamas-led government falls if a soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants is not released alive, a high-ranking security official said.

"We will make sure that the Hamas government ceases to operate if the kidnapped soldier is not returned to us alive," the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel's Shin Beth homeland security agency, made the threat in talks with Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas late Sunday, the source said. [complete article]

Abbas to Haniyeh: Israel will target you if kidnapped soldier comes to harm
By Avi Issacharof, Amos Harel and Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, June 27, 2006

Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas warned Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh that Israel will strike out at him if harm comes to the Israel Defense Forces soldier kidnapped by militants, the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper reported Tuesday.

During a particularly tense and hasty meeting held Monday night in Gaza, Abbas told Haniyeh that Israel would also strike out at his fellow Hamas members Palestinian Foreign Minister Mahmoud a-Zahar and Interior Minister Said Sayam if anything happens to Cpl. Gilad Shalit. [complete article]

Shouting not talking
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 27, 2006

As Israel's government edges towards the ultimate injustice - a unilateral delineation of its national borders and a concomitant, permanent expropriation of Palestinian land - its statements grow ever more shrill. It is as if it believes that by noisy remonstrance, exaggerated rhetoric and threats of ever greater violence, it can somehow conceal or disguise the intrinsic injustice of its adopted policy and the immorality of its daily actions.

Ehud Olmert, Israel's prime minister, turned up the volume again on Monday evening, sending barbed words crashing like unguided artillery shells into the grim, broken barrios of Gaza. The capture of the Israeli soldier, Corporal Gilad Shalit, and the Palestinian attack that preceded it were part and parcel of a "murderous, hateful, fanatical Islamic extremist desire to destroy that state of Israel," he said. In truth, the attack appears to have been belated, wrongheaded retaliation for the killing of nearly two dozen Palestinain civilians, including seven children, by Israel's army in the past four weeks. [complete article]
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Somalia to become an Islamic nation?
AP (via MSNBC), June 26, 2006

The radical cleric named to lead the Muslim militia controlling most of Somalia's south said Monday that he envisions an Islamic state, a stand likely to reinforce U.S. fears the nation could become a haven for extremists.

Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, who already was on the U.S. terrorist watch list as a suspected collaborator with al-Qaida, made the comment while discussing efforts to form a functioning central government in Somalia for the first time in 15 years.

"Somalia is a Muslim nation, and its people are also Muslim, 100 percent. Therefore any government we agree on would be based on the holy Quran and the teachings of our Prophet Muhammad," Aweys told The Associated Press in a telephone interview, his first comments to the media since being named head of the Islamic militia Saturday. [complete article]

See also, Profile: Somalia's Islamist leader (BBC).

Struggling under harsh rule in Somalia
By Robyn Dixon, Los Angeles Times, June 27, 2006

They have closed down makeshift cinemas showing World Cup soccer games. They have forcibly cut young men's hair if it is more than an inch long. Even before that, they banned a New Year's celebration on penalty of death.

Islamic militias have been a fact of life for several years amid the chaos of the Somalian capital. But after they took control of Mogadishu on June 6, the question has been whether they will consolidate a system of Taliban-style extremism here and extend it into the countryside. [complete article]

Islamists in Somalia say they plan to execute 5 rapists by stoning
Reuters (via NYT), June 27, 2006

Somalia's newly powerful Islamists said Monday that they would stone five rapists to death, in what some fear is the latest sign of a plan to install a severe religious authority like that of the former Taliban rulers in Afghanistan.

The rapists are to be executed in Jowhar, which the Islamists took in the last phase of a campaign in which they seized a strategic swath of the country, from Mogadishu, the capital, on the coast, northwest nearly to the Ethiopian border. [complete article]
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Mogadishu's miracle: peace in the world's most lawless city
By Xan Rice, The Guardian, June 26, 2006

Mohamed Abdullahi no longer shoves his mobile phone down his trousers when leaving the house. Abdulaziz Mohamed has dismissed the armed men that used to guard his stationery shop. Farh Dir enjoys a restaurant dinner with a childhood friend - the first time he has been out at night in years.

"What has happened in Mogadishu is a miracle," said Abdi Haji Gobdon, the 62-year-old director of Voice of Peace radio in the Somali capital. "We are still trying to take it all in."

Three weeks ago, the last of Mogadishu's warlords were chased from the city by a combination of Islamist militia firepower and what people here describe as a "societal uprising".

After 16 years of chaos, the world's most lawless city suddenly has a taste of peace and security. Almost overnight, the atmosphere has changed from one of fear and despair to euphoria and even cautious optimism about the future.

"Everybody is happy," said Ahmed Mohamed, a spectacled 41-year-old businessman. "We are only a short time into this revolution, but we all hope this could be the start of a new life."

While the west frets over the motives of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which now controls Mogadishu, there have been few, if any, signs of a Taliban-like agenda - even if the ICU did appoint a cleric wanted by the US to a top post on the weekend. There have been no lustrations - purification ceremonies, no public floggings, and no move to ban the use of khat, the narcotic leaf that is daily bread to many Somalis. [complete article]

See also, New militant leader emerges in Mogadishu (NYT) and Somali militia still ready to negotiate, despite new leadership (AP).
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Israeli tanks awaiting orders to attack Gaza
By Lee Glendinning and Stephen Farrell, The Times, June 26, 2006

The Israeli Prime Minister said this morning that he was ready to give the go-ahead for a full scale military operation against Gaza to free an Israeli soldier kidnapped by Palestinian militants.

As an Israeli deadline for the soldier's release approaches, Ehud Olmert ordered the army to prepare a "prolonged and extensive military operation" against militants in the Gaza Strip, saying that he held the entire Palestinian leadership responsible for the safety of Corporal Gilad Shalit.

The 20-year-old soldier was abducted when Palestinian fighters -- including members of groups linked to Hamas, the ruling Palestinian party -- launched an audacious pre-dawn raid on a military post on the Israeli side of the Gaza border yesterday. [complete article]

See also, Israel promises revenge for soldier deaths (The Guardian) and Split deepens between Hamas' political, military wings (Haaretz).
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Afghan leader losing support
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, June 26, 2006

Many Afghans and some foreign supporters say they are losing faith in President Hamid Karzai's government, which is besieged by an escalating insurgency and endemic corruption and is unable to protect or administer large areas of the country.

As a sense of insecurity spreads, a rift is growing between the president and some of the foreign civilian and military establishments whose money and firepower have helped rebuild and defend the country for nearly five years. While the U.S. commitment to Karzai appears solid, several European governments are expressing serious concerns about his leadership.

"The president had a window of opportunity to lead and make difficult decisions, but that window is closing fast," said one foreign military official in Kabul who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

"This is a crucial time, and there is frustration and finger-pointing on all sides," the official said. "President Karzai is the only alternative for this country, but if he attacks us, we can't help him project his vision. And if he goes down, we all go down with him." [complete article]

We'll beat you again, Afghans warn British
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, June 26, 2006

Many great armies have rolled through Maiwand. Over the centuries Persians, Moghuls and Russians have traversed the ramshackle hamlet on the sunbaked plains of western Kandahar. But nobody has forgotten the British.

"Even a child knows the history," snorted Muhammad Amman, an 85-yearold with a combed white beard, recalling a battle 126 years ago. "A king gathered the people to vanquish the British - a great victory." Other shoppers in the town bazaar nodded vigorously as he described Britons in derogatory terms, including one involving sexual relations with donkeys.

Anti-foreigner sentiment has risen sharply in southern Afghanistan as bloodshed intensifies. Over the weekend 45 Taliban militants and two soldiers from the US-led coalition were killed in Panjwayi district, near Maiwand, the coalition said. More than 250 people have died in Operation Mountain Thrust, a major anti- Taliban offensive launched 11 days ago.

Western commanders claim they are bringing the insurgency to heel, but there is growing resentment among Afghans at the high death toll. President Hamid Karzai acknowledged this last week, saying: "It is not acceptable for us that in all this fighting, Afghans are dying." [complete article]
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U.S. not expected to cut troops in western Iraq
By Eric Schmitt, New York Times, June 26, 2006

American troop levels in western Iraq, one of the most dangerous parts of the country, are not expected to decline as part of a plan to make sharp reductions in American forces in Iraq by the end of 2007, a top general said today.

"I see no reductions in American forces in Al Anbar into next year, at least through next summer, because of the restiveness there," said Lt. Gen. John F. Sattler, who oversees marines in the Middle East and Central Asia.

"Al Anbar is going to be one of the last provinces to be stabilized," General Sattler said in a telephone interview from western Iraq, where he is visiting marines as well as American and Iraqi commanders. [complete article]

Democrats cite report on troop cuts in Iraq
By Michael Abramowitz and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, June 26, 2006

Senate Democrats reacted angrily yesterday to a report that the U.S. commander in Iraq had privately presented a plan for significant troop reductions in the same week they came under attack by Republicans for trying to set a timetable for withdrawal.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said that the plan attributed to Gen. George W. Casey resembles the thinking of many Democrats who voted for a nonbinding resolution to begin a troop drawdown in December. That resolution was defeated Thursday on a largely party-line vote in the Senate.

"That means the only people who have fought us and fought us against the timetable, the only ones still saying there shouldn't be a timetable really are the Republicans in the United States Senate and in the Congress," Boxer said on CBS's "Face the Nation." "Now it turns out we're in sync with General Casey." [complete article]
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Amid Iraqi chaos, schools fill after long decline
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, June 26, 2006

Enrollment in Iraqi schools has risen every year since the American invasion, according to Iraqi government figures, reversing more than a decade of declines and offering evidence of increased prosperity for some Iraqis.

Despite the violence that has plagued Iraq since the American occupation began three years ago, its schools have been quietly filling. The number of children enrolled in schools nationwide rose by 7.4 percent from 2002 to 2005, and in middle schools and high schools by 27 percent in that time, according to figures from the Ministry of Education.

The increase, which has greatly outpaced modest population growth during the same period, is a bright spot in an otherwise gloomy landscape of bombs and killings that have shattered community life in many areas in western and central Iraq. And it is seen as an important indicator here in a country that used to pride itself on its education system, then saw enrollment and literacy fall during the later years of Saddam Hussein's rule. [complete article]

Electricity iffy, residents sweat the small stuff
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2006

With the heat soaring and the overtaxed and dilapidated power grid squeezing out barely a few hours of electricity a day in parts of the capital, sweaty Iraqis will remember this as the fourth simmering summer of their discontent.

It is more than 120 degrees outside and relief is nowhere in sight.

"We don't know how to deal with the electricity cuts," said Shama Adib, 37, a graphic designer and mother of three. "We don't know what to do." [complete article]

At least 23 killed in day's violence
By Saif Hameed, Los Angeles Times, June 26, 2006

Bombings and shootings killed at least 23 people in Iraq on Sunday as the U.S. military announced the death of another American soldier.

The military said the soldier, who was serving in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 4th Infantry Division, was killed a day earlier by an improvised explosive device south of Baqubah. [complete article]

Iraqi Qaeda-led group says Russian hostages killed
By Inal Ersan, Reuters, June 25, 2006

An al Qaeda-led group posted video footage on the Internet on Sunday showing the killing of three men it said were Russian hostages seized in Iraq earlier this month.

The images, posted on a Web site often used by militants, showed two masked militants beheading of a man and the "execution" of another by shooting. It also showed the beheaded body of a third. [complete article]
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U.S. military sees oil nationalism spectre
By Andy Webb-Vidal, Financial Times, June 25, 2006

Future supplies of oil from Latin America are at risk because of the spread of resource nationalism, a study by the US military that reflects growing concerns in the US administration over energy security has found.

An internal report prepared by the US military's Southern Command and obtained by the Financial Times follows a recent US congressional investigation that warned of the US's vulnerability to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's repeated threats to "cut off" oil shipments to the US.

The Southern Command analysis cautions that the extension of state control over energy production in several countries is deterring investment essential to increase and sustain oil output in the long term. [complete article]
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Lawmaker wants Times prosecuted
By Devlin Barrett, AP (via WP), June 26, 2006

The chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee urged the Bush administration yesterday to seek criminal charges against newspapers that reported on a secret financial-monitoring program used to trace terrorists.

Rep. Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) cited the New York Times in particular for publishing a report last week saying that the Treasury Department is working with the CIA to examine an international database of money-transfer records.

King said he will write Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, urging that the nation's chief law enforcer "begin an investigation and prosecution of the New York Times -- the reporters, the editors and the publisher." [complete article]
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How else would you spend $320 billion?
By Gene Sperling, Washington Post, June 25, 2006

Most policy wonks like me have had the disconcerting experience of mistakenly writing $200 million when we meant $200 billion. What a difference a "b" can make ($199,800,000,000, to be exact). Unfortunately, when it comes to the most expensive choices our nation faces -- highlighted most recently by the growing cost of the war in Iraq, but also by tax cuts and the new prescription drug benefit -- we have made many spending decisions where the b's seem to be there by accident, with little regard for the possible tradeoffs.

For all the talk of how much government spending has increased, the reality is that for many policies that should top our agenda -- such as health insurance and preschool for low-income kids; funding for science and basic research; and port security -- we have decided that the money simply isn't there. We fiercely debate how we can scrimp and save and cut in these areas while ignoring commitments that cost 10, 25 or 100 times more. The new prescription drug initiative, for instance, will cost $110 billion in 2012 alone. The tax cuts will cost $330 billion that same year. And, as we have recently learned, the war in Iraq has cost $320 billion so far and is projected to reach $800 billion by 2016. Even if one solidly supports each of these policies, the lack of national debate over what even a fraction of the costs might mean for deficit reduction or other programs we have squeezed, or neglected, is striking. [complete article]
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First time out, Kuwaiti women become a political force
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, June 26, 2006

They came, young and old, rich and poor, eager to hear the latest stump speech and even more eager to make their presence felt.

Hundreds of voters gathered Saturday night in a cavernous wedding hall in a conservative suburb of Kuwait City to hear Walid al-Tabtabaei, an incumbent Islamist candidate, give one of his last speeches before the parliamentary elections on Thursday. The voters compared notes on candidates and debated their merits.

One thing set them apart from the voters who attended political rallies in past elections here, though: almost all were women. [complete article]
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War's Iraqi death toll tops 50,000
By Louise Roug and Doug Smith, Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2006

At least 50,000 Iraqis have died violently since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, according to statistics from the Baghdad morgue, the Iraqi Health Ministry and other agencies -- a toll 20,000 higher than previously acknowledged by the Bush administration.

Many more Iraqis are believed to have been killed but not counted because of serious lapses in recording deaths in the chaotic first year after the invasion, when there was no functioning Iraqi government, and continued spotty reporting nationwide since.

The toll, which is mostly of civilians but probably also includes some security forces and insurgents, is daunting: Proportionately, it is equivalent to 570,000 Americans being killed nationwide in the last three years. [complete article]

Comment -- The rhetorical barricade behind which Bush and Blair have attempted to hide for the last three years is the claim that Iraq, the Middle East, and the World, are "better off" with Saddam out of power.

It has been a somewhat effective shield for the simple reason that anyone who challenges it is bound to sound like a Saddam apologist. Yet the truth that cannot be denied is quite simple: If the United States had not gone to war in Iraq in 2003, the vast majority of the tens of thousands of people who have been killed in the war, would still be alive. The dead and bereaved are not better off.
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U.S. general in Iraq outlines troop cuts
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, June 25, 2006

The top American commander in Iraq has drafted a plan that projects sharp reductions in the United States military presence there by the end of 2007, with the first cuts coming this September, American officials say.

According to a classified briefing at the Pentagon this week by the commander, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the number of American combat brigades in Iraq is projected to decrease to 5 or 6 from the current level of 14 by December 2007.

Under the plan, the first reductions would involve two combat brigades that would rotate out of Iraq in September without being replaced. Military officials do not typically characterize reductions by total troop numbers, but rather by brigades. Combat brigades, which generally have about 3,500 troops, do not make up the bulk of the 127,000-member American force in Iraq, and other kinds of units would not be pulled out as quickly. [complete article]
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Maliki's master plan
By Rod Nordland, Newsweek, June 24, 2006

A timetable for withdrawal of occupation troops from Iraq. Amnesty for all insurgents who attacked U.S. and Iraqi military targets. Release of all security detainees from U.S. and Iraqi prisons. Compensation for victims of coalition military operations.

Those sound like the demands of some of the insurgents themselves, and in fact they are. But they're also key clauses of a national reconciliation plan drafted by new Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who will unveil it Sunday. The provisions will spark sharp debate in Iraq -- but the fiercest opposition is likely to come from Washington, which has opposed any talk of timetables, or of amnesty for insurgents who have attacked American soldiers.

But in Iraq, even a senior military official in the U.S.-led coalition said Friday that the coalition might consider a timetable under certain circumstances. And the official was careful to point out that a distinction needs to be made between terrorists and the resistance. [complete article]

Key insurgents vow to reject Iraq peace plan
By Ali Rifat and Hala Jaber, The Sunday Times, June 25, 2006

Iraq's main insurgent groups intend to reject a peace plan that Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister, will present today in an attempt to halt the country’s spiral of violence.

Maliki is expected to go before parliament with a 28- point plan for national reconciliation aimed at defusing the Sunni insurgency and sectarian conflict in which thousands of people have died.

The prime minister is believed to be ready to offer the Iraqi insurgent groups inclusion in the political process and an amnesty for prisoners who renounce violence and give up their weapons.

His package of measures is also reported to include the promise of a United Nations- approved timetable for withdrawing the coalition forces and action to curb Shi'ite death squads.

Representatives of 11 Iraqi insurgent groups told The Sunday Times yesterday that they would reject the peace offer because they did not recognise the legitimacy of the government. [complete article]

See also, British 'helpless' as violence rises in southern Iraq (The Independent).
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The only exit strategy left
By Noah Feldman, New York Times, June 25, 2006

...the new politics-first exit narrative has nothing to do with American victory -- whether military or political -- and everything to do with American retreat. It accepts the undeniable reality that our armed forces have not established order in Iraq. Calling for more troops or for a different deployment of the troops already there won't work. Rather, we must look to Iraqi politicians to set the terms for our withdrawal. Only they can allow us to escape the scene without leaving behind a civil war that could destabilize the region even more than we have already done.

Even if Iraqi politicians do manage to save their country from its emerging chaos, the demonstration effect will have failed. The whole world knows that Iraq is teetering on the brink of civil war. If we get lucky, everyone will know that it was just luck, and that the result could easily have been Balkan-style breakup and disarray. Iraq will still be a one-off -- not a model for democratization and certainly not a lesson for others in the region who are trying to figure out how to improve their own countries.

To make matters worse, the odds are high and getting higher that a political solution on its own won't work. It sounds reasonable to say that the Iraqi political leadership must recognize that no one will benefit from a civil war. I have been saying it myself, to Iraqis and others, for three years now. Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, says it every day like a mantra, and President Bush must have said it to the Iraqis in private. But a congruence of elite interests need not lead to an agreement, and an agreement need not lead to actual peace. In Basra, where Iraqi politicians have been active since the invasion, politics has not prevented gunfights in the streets between militias allied with Shiite political parties. [complete article]
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Warnings on WMD 'fabricator' were ignored, ex-CIA aide says
By Joby Warrick, Washington Post, June 25, 2006

In late January 2003, as Secretary of State Colin Powell prepared to argue the Bush administration's case against Iraq at the United Nations, veteran CIA officer Tyler Drumheller sat down with a classified draft of Powell's speech to look for errors. He found a whopper: a claim about mobile biological labs built by Iraq for germ warfare.

Drumheller instantly recognized the source, an Iraqi defector suspected of being mentally unstable and a liar. The CIA officer took his pen, he recounted in an interview, and crossed out the whole paragraph.

A few days later, the lines were back in the speech. Powell stood before the U.N. Security Council on Feb. 5 and said: "We have first-hand descriptions of biological weapons factories on wheels and on rails."

The sentence took Drumheller completely by surprise.

"We thought we had taken care of the problem," said the man who was the CIA's European operations chief before retiring last year, "but I turn on the television and there it was, again." [complete article]
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The precision-made mine that has 'killed 17 British troops'
By Sean Rayment, The Sunday Telegraph, June 25, 2006

The first picture of an Iraqi insurgent mine, believed to have been responsible for the deaths of 17 British soldiers, has been obtained by The Sunday Telegraph.

The device, which has been used by insurgents throughout Iraq since May last year, fires an armour-piercing "explosively formed projectile" or EFP, also known as a shaped charge, directly into an armoured vehicle, inflicting death or terrible injuries on troops inside.

The weapon can penetrate the armour of British and American tanks and armoured personnel carriers and completely destroy armoured Land Rovers, which are used by the majority of British troops on operations in Iraq.

The device, described as an "off-route mine", was seized by British troops in Iraq earlier this year and brought back to Britain where it underwent detailed examination by scientists at Fort Halstead, the Government's forensic explosive laboratory in Kent.

The Ministry of Defence has attempted to play down the effectiveness of the weapons, suggesting that they are "crude" or "improvised" explosive devices which have killed British troops more out of luck than judgement.

However, this newspaper understands that Government scientists have established that the mines are precision-made weapons which have been turned on a lathe by craftsmen trained in the manufacture of munitions. [complete article]

Army wives get phone death threats from Iraq
By Sean Rayment, The Sunday Telegraph, June 25, 2006

Wives and family members of soldiers fighting in Iraq have received telephone calls, believed to include death threats, from insurgents, according to military documents seen by The Sunday Telegraph.

The "nuisance" calls have been made with increasing frequency over the past few weeks after insurgents managed to obtain home numbers from soldiers' mobile telephones.

The growing number of calls has led to an investigation by the Royal Military Police, which has issued a warning to all soldiers in Iraq to take great care when using mobile telephones to call home. [complete article]

U.S. detention of sheik angers Sunnis in Iraq
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, June 25, 2006

U.S. troops in the Iraqi city of Tikrit raided the house of a senior Sunni Muslim religious leader on Saturday and detained him for several hours, outraging Sunnis and sparking a protest in front of the governor's office.

The unrest over the detention of Jamal Abdel Karim al-Dabaan came on a day when the U.S. military announced that four of its soldiers had died in and around Baghdad despite a security crackdown in the city. [complete article]

Bomb kills 12 worshipers at Sunni mosque in Iraq near site of Zarqawi's death
By James Glanz, New York Times, June 25, 2006

At least 12 worshipers died Friday as they left prayers at a Sunni mosque when a bomb exploded in Hibhib, the northern town where Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, was killed on June 7 by a pair of 500-pound bombs dropped by American warplanes.

Neither eyewitnesses nor an Interior Ministry official who confirmed the bombing could say if there was any connection to Mr. Zarqawi. But officials have warned of increased violence in the aftermath of his death.

The bombing came as the Iraqi government declared an afternoon curfew that nearly emptied the streets of cars, after gun battles in central Baghdad among local militias and Iraqi and American forces.

At least four Iraqis were killed in that fighting, the official said.

Deadly violence also reached the Iraqi south, when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives in a line of people buying gasoline near a police station in Basra, killing four others, police officials there said. It was the fifth suicide bombing in Basra, a formerly placid port city, since the American-led invasion, and the second this month. [complete article]
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In the footsteps of Zarqawi
By Ron Moreau and Sami Yousafzai, Newsweek, July 3, 2006

If you hoped his June 7 death might be the end of the line for Abu Mussab al-Zarqawi, you really don't want to see the newest recruitment videos for the Taliban. Although they never mention the Jordanian-born terrorist by name, the echoes of his Internet videos -- and his sheer viciousness -- are unmistakable and chilling. The star is Mullah Dadullah Akhund, a one-legged guerrilla commander in southern Afghanistan who now seems bent on matching or exceeding Zarqawi's ugly reputation.

In one scene, the black-turbaned Taliban commander, posing for the camera in a southern Afghan moonscape, blasts away at an unseen target with a heavy machine gun. Another sequence has him doling out his blessings to a succession of young men being sent to carry out suicide bombings in Afghan cities and near military bases. The most revolting footage shows a gang of Dadullah's thugs slitting the throats, one by one, of six Afghans they accuse of spying for the Americans. As each head is severed, it is grabbed and placed facing the camera, atop the torso of the victim's sprawled corpse. [complete article]

Fear battles hope on the road to Kandahar
By Jason Burke, The Observer, June 25, 2006

The average life expectancy in Afghanistan is 45; the country produces most of the world's opium; it has harboured or produced hardline Islamic militants for three decades. No one doubts that now, nearly five years after the ousting of the 'Taliban Mk I', the critical moment has come. 'If we fail now we will have a narco-terror paradise and a population of 15 million people who will be even more miserably off than they are now, and a lot angrier to boot,' said one senior Western diplomat in Kabul last week. 'It will be a small chunk of hell on earth in the middle of Asia.'

The British operations in Helmand are, of course, only one part of a broader military strategy. From the end of next month, Nato will assume command of almost all combat operations in Afghanistan, except for the American-run hunt for Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda along the eastern border with Pakistan. Nato will have about 25,000 troops from 26 nations on service in the country. Helmand is the key test of a new more general approach aimed at bringing security through combat operations, winning local 'hearts and minds' and training Afghan security forces to a sufficient level to allow an eventual coalition withdrawal. Though Butler and other senior officers deny the application of an 'Iraq template,' the mantra 'we don't want to stay here a second longer than we have to' and the aim of promoting 'an Afghan face' are familiar. [complete article]

More than 100 Afghan rebels killed in southern provinces
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, June 25, 2006

Afghan and international troops have killed more than 100 Taliban insurgents in several battles in two southern provinces since Friday, each involving large groups of rebel fighters and lasting several hours, U.S. military officials reported.

In the most recent fighting, two soldiers in the U.S.-led coalition were killed late Saturday during a battle in the Panjwai district of Kandahar province, according to U.S. military officials quoted by the Associated Press. The soldiers' names or nationalities were not immediately released. [complete article]
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'The Great Satan' makes a comeback
By Azadeh Moaveni, Los Angeles Times, June 25, 2006

The last time I heard anyone here publicly say anything positive about the United States was in 2001. During the noontime rush at the bank on Vali Asr Street, a middle-aged woman grew furious at the teller who refused to cash her check and yelled out in frustration, "If the Americans come, I'll kiss their boots myself!" Everyone looked up momentarily and then went about their business.

Back in those days -- 2000 and 2001, when I first lived in Iran as a journalist -- Iranians were looking on jealously as U.S. soldiers removed the Taliban from power in neighboring Afghanistan; it was a moment when the United States competed with soccer for popularity. You could not buy a newspaper or ride a taxi without hearing the plaintive question: "When will Americans come to rescue us?"

Iranians romanticized the United States as a benevolent power at that time, and they were besotted with tokens of American popular culture. Young couples who could not even speak English celebrated Valentine's Day; U.S.-style fast-food places served hamburgers and shakes to endless lines; Barbie(smuggled in from Dubai despite the U.S. embargo) became the most coveted birthday gift of Iranian girls, and authentic Coke was the preferred beverage of Iranians under 30.

Bear in mind that in 2002, young Arabs in cities such as Cairo were burning down Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants and boycotting U.S. products in anger at American support for Israel, yet a poll conducted in 2001 found that 74% of Iranians supported restoring ties with the United States.

But today, the Great Satan is back to being, well, the Great Satan. Starcups, the Tehran coffee shop that in 2002 was packed with young people, sits deserted. The opening of a burger joint modeled on Carl's Jr. attracts just the neighborhood instead of the entire city. And in the evenings, if you catch young people at home, they are more likely to be watching reruns of the hit Iranian sitcom "Barareh" than the MTV they used to pick up on their illegal satellite dishes. Iranian young people's affection for things American has diminished dramatically, a reflection of the United States' substantial loss of political capital here in the last three years. [complete article]

Wary of U.S., Syria and Iran strengthen ties
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, June 25, 2006

For a long time, the top-selling poster in Hassan al-Sheikh's gift shop here showed President Bashar al-Assad of Syria seated beside the leader of Hezbollah in Lebanon. A few weeks ago a slightly different poster overtook it, this one with the Syrian president, the Hezbollah leader and Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Mr. Sheikh's shop is on a bustling street in Sayeda Zeinab beside the entrance to a Shiite shrine that shares a name with the town, and both have been packed with Iranian pilgrims, many more than in years past.

Those changes illustrate what may well be a worrying phenomenon for Washington as it seeks to contain Iran and isolate Syria: the two governments, and their people, are tightening relations on several fronts as power in the region shifts away from the once dominant Sunni to Shiites, led by Iran.

This is, in part, the result of the American installation of a Shiite-dominated government in Iraq after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and his Sunni-led government. But it is also spurred by the growing belief in Arab capitals that the Bush administration may soon negotiate a deal with Tehran over Iraq and nuclear weapons. [complete article]

See also, Misreading Tehran (Karl Vick), Inside Iran's fractured regime (Abbas Milani and Michael McFaul), and Iran on the Potomac (Laura Rozen).
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After the pharaoh
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, July 3, 2006

During his recent weeks in prison, one of Egypt's best-known bloggers, Alaa Abdel Fateh, had a terrible fantasy. What would happen to him if Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, 78, the man he loves to hate, passed away while Abdel Fateh was in the slammer? "I'm sure millions are actively praying for his sudden death," he wrote in one of several postings that were smuggled out. "Normally I'd be happy. But now that I'm in jail it's a scary thought."

His nightmare scenario? That it would take months for order to be established, with who knows what result. The 24-year-old blogger wrote from the four- by six-meter cell he shared with five other prisoners: "Most likely no one but our immediate family will remember us until it is over. In my mind most people will continue living their lives normally. The huge bureaucracy will chug along, but all security organs will be paralyzed. No officer will wake up the next day and head for his post. Which means [the] prison will be abandoned." What might follow, he dared not imagine.

The irony of Egypt today is that many people, even those who detest Mubarak, share Abdel Fateh's misgivings about a future without the man who has been their ruler, their protector and some would say their jailer for almost 25 years. No matter how much they want to be rid of him, they cannot imagine, quite, who will be in charge and how order will be maintained. Will they be liberated? Or locked down even tighter than they were before? Will power pass from the father to the son, the suave 42-year-old Gamal Mubarak, as many expect? Or to the military? Or to the Islamists? Or will the country descend into chaos as all the contenders compete? The stability of the region, and what's left of the fragile U.S. policy there, depends on an orderly transition. But so much political dust has gathered in Egypt that, once it's kicked up, years could pass before it settles. [complete article]
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Don't shoot. We're not ready.
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, June 25, 2006

So what if North Korea shoots off its newest missile and shows that even a starving, bankrupt country may soon be able to drop a warhead on Seattle?

The Bush administration seemed to be insisting last week that it would make little difference, after officials acknowledged that a long-range Taepodong 2 had been rolled out and appeared fueled for a test flight -- but then sat there, an enigma, for days.

In private, administration officials dismissed the threat the missile might pose even if it flew straight, asserting that the logic of deterrence that worked throughout the cold war would do just fine. The North Koreans know, they said, that a missile attack on the United States would result in the vaporization of Pyongyang. Even Vice President Dick Cheney, who three years ago was warning the world about the dire threat posed by Iraq -- which had neither nuclear weapons nor long-range missiles to launch them -- shrugged off the North's missile technology as "fairly rudimentary." [complete article]

North Korean Diplomatic Strategy Mirrors Iran's
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, June 25, 2006

For years North Korea has supplied Iran with missile technology, and late last year the White House told American intelligence agencies to evaluate the danger that the North Koreans might be tempted to sell their nuclear expertise -- or a bomb's worth of plutonium -- to the Iranians.

But in the past few days, it has become clear that the two countries are also pursuing similar diplomatic strategies. North Korea's threat to launch a long-range ballistic missile seems a clear echo of Iran's recent strategy of resuming production of nuclear fuel. Iran was aiming to extract concessions from the Bush administration, and it has already won some modest diplomatic gains.

But for North Korea, both the power and the risks of a move carried out in full view of commercial and spy satellites have now become evident. Either because of bad weather or sudden political indecision in the capital, Pyongyang, the missile has stayed on the launching pad. [complete article]

If we've got a missile, let's fire it into George Bush's window, say N Koreans
By Sergey Soukhorukov and Colin Freeman, The Sunday Telegraph, June 25, 2006

Most [North Koreans] have never heard of the regime's new Taephodong-2 long-range missile, which Washington claimed last week was being put in position for a test launch in the north east of the country, and which analysts fear is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to America's west coast. Nor, seemingly, are they aware of the dire consequences that such a strike would invite.

"How is it, we really have an intercontinental rocket?" asked one 50-year-old diner in a Pyongyang restaurant, sporting a lapel pin of North Korea's leader, Kim Jong-il.

When informed of the missile's existence, his face lit up in anger. "In this case we should fire it at United States, right to the White House, in Bush's window."

The restaurant's waitress also looked blank when asked why so few North Koreans knew that their country was at the centre of a nuclear standoff.

"We are at the state of war with USA, and there are a lot of spies, traitors and counter-revolutionaries around," she said. "Our Dear Leader knows what he does, and if it's necessary to keep something secret, we will". [complete article]
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'Big Brother' Bush and connecting the data dots
By Jonathan Turley, Los Angeles Times, June 24, 2006

The disclosure this week of a secret databank operation tracking international financial transactions has caused renewed concerns about civil liberties in the United States. But this program is just the latest in a series of secret surveillance programs, databanks and domestic operations justified as part of the war on terror.

Disclosed individually over the course of the last year, they have become almost routine. Yet, when considered collectively, they present a far more troubling picture, and one that should be vaguely familiar.

Civil liberty-minded citizens may recall the president's plan to create the Total Information Awareness program, a massive databank with the ability to follow citizens in real time by their check-card purchases, bank transactions, medical bills and other electronic means. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, or DARPA, was assigned this task, but after its work was made public, Congress put a stop to it in September 2003 as a danger to privacy and civil liberties.

However, when Congress disbanded the Total Information Awareness program, it did not prohibit further research on such databanks, or even the use of individual databanks.

And, according to a recent study by the National Journal, the Bush administration used that loophole to break the program into smaller parts, transferring some parts to the National Security Agency, classifying the work and renaming parts of it as the Research Development and Experimental Collaboration program. [complete article]
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Democrats dare to dream of recapturing the Bush heartland
By Paul Harris, The Observer, June 25, 2006

The squat, bunker-like building in a south Topeka suburb does not look like a place to turn American politics on its head. Nor does Mark Parkinson, a tall, affable man, look too much like a revolutionary. But here, deep in the American heartland, are the warning signs of a political earthquake.

The two-storey office block is Parkinson's campaign headquarters as he runs as Democrat candidate for deputy governor. So far, so normal. Except that only a few weeks ago Parkinson was a Republican. In fact, he was Kansas Republican party chairman.

His defection to the Democrats sent shockwaves through a state deeply associated with the national Republican cause and the evangelical conservatives at its base. Nor was it just Parkinson's leave-taking that left Republicans spluttering with rage and talking of betrayal. It was that as he left Parkinson lambasted his former party's obsession with conservative and religious issues such as gay marriage, evolution and abortion.

Sitting in his headquarters, the new Democrat is sticking to his guns. Republicans in Kansas, he says, have let down their own people. 'They were fixated on ideological issues that really don't matter to people's everyday lives. What matters is improving schools and creating jobs,' he said. 'I got tired of the theological debate over whether Charles Darwin was right.' [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The shadow war, in a surprising new light
Review of The One Percent Doctrine

By Barton Gellman, Washington Post, June 20, 2006

How U.S. hid the suicide secrets of Guantanamo
By David Rose, The Observer, June 18, 2006

Detainees not given access to witnesses
By Farah Stockman and Declan Walsh, Boston Globe, June 18, 2006

The great divide: How Westerners and Muslims view each other
Pew Global Attitudes Project, June 22, 2006

The ugly truth about everyday life in Baghdad (by the U.S. ambassador)
CONFIDENTIAL MEMO - FROM: US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, Baghdad TO: Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State, Common Dreams, June 20, 2006

Al Qaeda's Hydra head in Iraq
By Fawaz A. Gerges, Christian Science Monitor, June 22, 2006

The facade of Shi'ite unity crumbling
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, June 22, 2006

The power of the Israel Lobby
By Kathleen and Bill Christison, Counterpunch, June 16, 2006

Is it good for the Jews?
By Daniel Levy, The American Prospect, July 5, 2006

Israel can no longer rely on the support of Europe's Jews
By Max Hastings, The Guardian, June 20, 2006

Mind games - information warfare in America
By Daniel Schulman, Columbia Journalism Review, May/June, 2006

'End times' religious groups want apocalypse soon
By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2006

Revived Taliban waging 'full-blown insurgency'
By Paul Wiseman, USA Today, June 20, 2006

In tribal Pakistan, a tide of militancy
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, June 20, 2006

American Zeitgeist: war through a wide-angled lens
By Rob Cawston, openDemocracy, June 15, 2006

Ahmadinejad wins Arab embrace
By Dan Morrison, Christian Science Monitor, June 21, 2006

In 2003, U.S. spurned Iran's offer of dialogue
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 18, 2006

The United States vs China: the war for oil
By Paul Rogers, openDemocracy, June 15, 2006

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