The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
It's our war
By William Kristol, Weekly Standard, July 24, 2006

Why is this Arab-Israeli war different from all other Arab-Israeli wars? Because it's not an Arab-Israeli war. Most of Israel's traditional Arab enemies have checked out of the current conflict. The governments of Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia are, to say the least, indifferent to the fate of Hamas and Hezbollah. The Palestine Liberation Organization (Fatah) isn't a player. The prime mover behind the terrorist groups who have started this war is a non-Arab state, Iran, which wasn't involved in any of Israel's previous wars.

What's happening in the Middle East, then, isn't just another chapter in the Arab-Israeli conflict. What's happening is an Islamist-Israeli war. [complete article]

Comment -- And that's why it's our war?

After so much misery from Iraq, the neocons must have been popping open the champaigne bottles in Washington this week. Finally, the real war against Islamism is about to take off. Is it time to resuscitate that good old phrase moral clarity? Maybe not. Maybe we need a bit of cognitive clarity.

For starters, that the autocratic regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan, are not rooting for Hezbollah should hardly come as a surprise. Empowered Islamists in Lebanon or Palestine risk stirring up the Islamists (Shia or Sunni) at home. As for Kristol's Islamist domino theory - topple the Iranian regime and the incipient Islamist empire gets nipped in the bud - what would Syria's Islamists have to say? Topple Assad and we'll unget religion?

The trouble with this Kristolball gazing is - unless I'm mistaken - the Islamists are really here to stay even if Israel and America's "Iranian problem" is violently struck down. Any regime-toppling, terrorist-assassinating campaign is likely to create more Zarqawis and fewer Nasrallahs. Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah might not be the most popular man in the Western media right now, but the prospects for peace in the Middle East are virtually none existent if we imagine that killing him and destroying his organization will mean the end of Islamism. All it will mean is Israel and the West's message to the Islamists is this: you are permitted no place in politics. That's a very dangerous message!
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Hezbollah wields improved arsenal
By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2006

The first rocket from southern Lebanon to hit this bayside city [Haifa] has made it clear that Hezbollah now has missiles that can strike targets deep in Israel, and that the militant group is prepared to use them.

On Friday, a length of police tape marked the site where a rocket had slammed into a hill the night before in Israel's third-largest city.

The strike about 20 miles from the border with Lebanon caused no injuries, but officials said it brought into focus the worrisome improvement in the range of firepower that Hezbollah guerrillas had at their disposal. [complete article]

Comment -- As Mark Perry has pointed out:
When Hezbollah attacked Haifa Thursday, first Hezbollah said, "We didn't do it." Then they said, "We didn't target Haifa." No one picked up on it. Here's what they meant to say: "We understand hitting Haifia is a major escalation, and we didn't mean to do that."...

Olmert responded, "You get Haifa, we'll take down Beirut," and he went after Beirut. So far as I can tell, since then, Haifa has been off limits.
In the narrative within which this conflict is being reported, Hezbollah is the reckless party and Israel is responding with its overwhelming might. A more realistic narrative would begin by noting this sequence of events:

1. A flaky Israeli patrol operation along the Lebonese border on Wednesday left soldiers exposed to attack and abduction.
2. Hezbollah made good on a long-standing promise: they would capture Israel soldiers whenever they got the chance.
3. The Olmert government having gone ballistic in response to Gilad Shalit's abduction had no alternative but have a proportionately disproportionate response to the Wednesday's abductions.
4. Hezbollah marked a red line by saying that it would attack Haifa if South Beirut was bombed.
5. Missiles aimed at Haifa were fired prematurely, thus meaning that a subsequent strike could not as credibly be described as retaliation.
6. So, far, in spite of the bombing of South Beirut and Hezbullah's chief, Hassan Nasrallah's home, Haifa has not been attacked.

Are we to conclude that the original threat was a bluff? Probably not, since the city was already hit. Should we conclude that Hezbollah can be taken at their word? Maybe, but if they can be taken at their word, might we not also conclude that they may be worth talking to?
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Israel targets Hamas economy ministry
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, July 15, 2006

Israeli aircraft targeted the Palestinian Economy Ministry and a house in Gaza on Saturday, part of an offensive to free a captured soldier and prevent the functioning of the Hamas-led government.

Doctors said one person was killed in the attack on the house, which was in a densely populated neighbourhood, and eight people were wounded, included a baby and a child.

Israel said the house was targeted because it was being used as a place to manufacture and store weapons, including rockets.

"The explosion was very large from all the explosives inside," an army spokeswoman said. "We knew militants from Hamas were staying inside and were working to make a rocket."

Palestinian medics said it appeared most of the casaulties involved people who were outside the house at the time. [complete article]

See also, The Middle East's symbolic slugfest (David N. Myers).

Comment -- Whether in Gaza or Lebanon, the phrase, "an offensive to free a captured soldier (or soldiers)" has from the beginning been grotesquely absurd. The only plausible explanation for claiming that the goal is to free captured soldiers would be the same as the rationale for torture: make the victim suffer enough and he will talk. Yet it is clear that the real goal here is not to free prisoners; it is to cripple if not destroy Hamas and Hezbollah. The "rescue" charade in the first operation was sustained by the frequency with which Gilad Shalit's name was repeated, but now with the offensive in Lebanon the names Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev hardly get a mention. This is, as one CNN announcer said without a hint of irony, about "wiping Hezbollah off the map." Should this be dismissed as the passionate rhetoric of war? Or might we attach significance to the fact that in the post 9/11 world the leaders of the so-called civilized world speak not merely of defeating their enemies but seek their annihilation. The phrase "final solution" doesn't roll of anyone's lips, but there's more than a hint of that way of thinking in the air.
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Israel expands strikes on Lebanon
BBC News, July 15, 2006

Israel has expanded its bombardment of Lebanon, attacking a large number of targets across the country.

Warplanes fired rockets on the Lebanon-Syrian border and hit the centre of Beirut for the first time.

More than 80 Lebanese have died, including 18 fleeing border areas, in the strikes launched after Hezbollah militants seized two Israeli soldiers. [complete article]

Israel vowing to rout Hezbollah
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, July 15, 2006

The face-off between Israel and the Lebanese group Hezbollah escalated sharply on Friday as jets hit its Beirut headquarters and southern strongholds and Israeli news reports said that a Hezbollah guided missile struck an Israeli naval vessel, causing severe damage.

The Israeli military later reported four sailors were missing. Leaders of the two sides threatened a still more intense war as a barrage of more than 100 Hezbollah rockets flew into Israel, which said it would destroy the power of Hezbollah and drive it from Israel's border. [complete article]

Israel PM's bid to free 3 soldiers a gamble
By Steven Gutkin, AP (via WP), July 14, 2006

Ehud Olmert's effort to free three captured soldiers has become a broad campaign to alter the strategic balance of the Middle East -- an enormous gamble for an Israeli prime minister facing growing domestic pressure to hit Islamic militants hard.

Israel's assault on Lebanon, which has already killed 73 people and turned much of the country into a battlefield, could backfire if it becomes a protracted quagmire, provokes war with Syria or exposes Israelis to increasingly deadly attacks.

But Olmert --who replaced Ariel Sharon when he suffered a stroke seven month ago -- likely sees Israel's simultaneous offensives in the Gaza Strip and Lebanon as a way to strike a decisive blow not only against Hezbollah and Hamas but also against the interests of Syria and Iran, which bankroll and arm the militants.

Because of widespread Israeli support for strong action against Hezbollah, which penetrated Israel's northern border and captured two soldiers this week, Olmert could be in even bigger trouble if he backs down. [complete article]
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Bush blames Hezbollah for Mideast violence
By Tom Raun, AP (via WP), July 15, 2006

President Bush on Saturday blamed the Islamic militant group Hezbollah and a compliant Syria for the escalating violence in the Middle East, taking a sharper stance than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Bush held Israel blameless while Putin was also critical of Israel's military response.

"The best way to stop the violence is for Hezbollah to lay down its arms and to stop attacking. And therefore I call upon Syria to exert influence over Hezbollah," Bush said about the flare-up that could overshadow this weekend's meeting of world powers. [complete article]

See also, Syria says fully backs Hizbollah against Israel (Reuters).

Comment -- So this is Bush's idea of conflict resolution? He's supposed to be a "world leader" but he wouldn't even make the grade as a kindergarden teacher (no disrespect to kindergarden teachers intended!).
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An unseen lifeline in Iraq
By James Rainey, Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2006

Black smoke spirals skyward on the horizon, and swarms of Iraqi men in camouflage and dark masks tote rifles by the roadside.

But the driver puts me at ease.

He has driven other reporters down this road. He names them. They were brave. And all survived.

Then there is a sudden thud. The driver's eyes dart across the asphalt and along brown apartments lining both sides of the highway. He fumbles for a walkie-talkie, speaking in Arabic to bodyguards in another car. Even at a distance, the explosion creates a deep tremor.

He cranks the wheel to the right, making a hairpin turn.

Drivers shuttling Westerners around this beleaguered city change course frequently to throw off kidnappers. But this about-face is sudden and unnerving. Our driver is taking us the wrong way up a highway off-ramp.

Cars streak past in the opposite direction, a foot off our left front fender. My chest tightens.

"Is this normal?" I ask. "I mean, driving the wrong way like this?"

"In Iraq," the driver answers, "broken is the normal." [complete article]
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Gunmen abduct 50 in Baghdad
Reuters (via WP), July 15, 2006

Gunmen wearing camouflage uniforms abducted the head of Iraq's national Olympic committee and 50 other people including bodyguards and committee staff as they met in Baghdad on Saturday, police sources said.

Police said the body of one of the guards was found dumped in a street in Karrada in central Baghdad shortly afterwards, not far from the conference center where the officials had been meeting. The guard had been shot in the head.

Police and Interior Ministry sources said the well-known Olympic Committee chief Ahmed al-Hadjiya and about 20 bodyguards had been taken, along with other committee officials and the convention center's guards. [complete article]
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An American mediator with Hezbollah interprets the signals from Tel Aviv and the Lebanese militia group
Mark Perry interviewed by Laura Rozen, The American Prospect, July 14, 2006

Laura Rozen: We've been hearing the theory that the timing of Hezbollah's Tuesday kidnapping of the two Israeli Defense Force soldiers was planned well in advance and with coordination from Tehran or Damascus. Can you speak to that?

Mark Perry: Oy vey. There are a lot of people in Washington trying to walk that story back right now, because it's not true.

Hezbollah and Israel stand along this border every day observing each other through binoculars and waiting for an opportunity to kill each other. They are at war. They have been for 25 years, no one ever declared a cease-fire between them. ... They stand on the border every day and just wait for an opportunity. And on Tuesday morning there were two Humvees full of Israeli soldiers, not under observation from the Israeli side, not under covering fire, sitting out there all alone. The Hezbollah militia commander just couldn't believe it -- so he went and got them.

The Israeli captain in charge of that unit knew he had really screwed up, so he sent an armored personnel carrier to go get them in hot pursuit, and Hezbollah led them right through a minefield.

Now if you're sitting in Tehran or Damascus or Beirut, and you are part of the terrorist Politburo so to speak, you have a choice. With your head sunk in your hands, thinking "Oh my God," you can either give [the kidnapped soldiers] back and say "Oops, sorry, wrong time" or you can say, "Hey, this is war."

It is absolutely ridiculous to believe that the Hezbollah commander on the ground said Tuesday morning, "Go get two Israeli soldiers, would you please?" [complete article]

Comment -- Forget about Robert Fisk, or Anthony Shadid, or any of the other hotshot reporters - Mark Perry's got the inside story here.
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Hizbullah leader: 'You wanted open war. We are ready for an open war'
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, July 14, 2006

Hizbullah threatened "open war" last night as Israel ramped up its attacks on Lebanon, bombing roads and bridges in the centre of Beirut and warning that its fight would last until the militant group was destroyed.

Israeli politicians and army officers brushed aside international criticism and said their goal was to force Hizbullah's disarmament. So far at least 73 people, nearly all civilians, have been killed in Lebanon since the bombing began three days ago.

In response, Hizbullah's chief, Hassan Nasrallah, threatened "open war" against Israel, hinting at rocket attacks deep inside the country. He made his threat shortly after he survived an air raid on his home that appeared to be an assassination attempt. "You wanted an open war and we are ready for an open war," he said in a taped statement. [complete article]
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Bomb-laden drone believed to have hit ship
By Amos Harel and Yoav Stern, Haaretz, July 14, 2006

Four Israel Navy sailors were reported missing after an explosives-laden drone, apparently launched by Hezbollah, hit a naval vessel off the coast of Beirut Friday night.

The blast caused a fire on board the ship, which had been stationed 16 kilometers off of the coast of Lebanon. After the fire was extinguished, it became clear that four soldiers were missing. Their families were notified soon thereafter.

Israel Defense Forces teams, with the help of planes, helicopters and additional vessels, were searching for the missing troops at the site of the blast. The ship was towed back to Israel. [complete article]

See also, Defense Tech.
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A new war, but both sides recall old ones
By Brian Whitaker, Rory McCarthy, Conal Urquhart, Wendell Steavenson and Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian, July 14, 2006

The three Syrian guest-workers arrived before dawn yesterday, as they did every morning, to set up their coffee stall beneath the flyover, hoping to catch the breakfast trade from early risers in the southern suburbs of Beirut. That was when the bomb blew them away, along with a large section of the road above their heads. Nobody seemed to remember their names: they were just Syrians.

Kaseem Moqdad, who lives nearby, had woken in darkness to the sound of jets overhead. By the time the overpass was bombed he was out in the street in a crowd of people, looking up at the sky. In addition to those killed, he said, 20 people were injured by flying glass and rubble.

A former corporal in the Royal Fusiliers, Mr Moqdad had been back in his native Lebanon for only a year and a half, and Israel's assault on its capital left him with a sense of torn loyalties. "I don't like Hizbullah and I don't hate Hizbullah," he said, in an accent that was half Lebanese, half north London. "We have to fix why people get mad, and we're not treating the cause." He was proud to be British, he said. "But you do get angry with the west. The Israelis don't see that they kill children and women and innocent people." [complete article]
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From my home, I saw what the 'war on terror' meant
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, July 14, 2006

All night I heard the jets, whispering high above the Mediterranean. It lasted for hours, little fireflies that were watching Beirut, waiting for dawn perhaps, because it was then that they descended.

They came first to the little village of Dweir near Nabatiya in southern Lebanon where an Israeli plane dropped a bomb on to the home of a Shia Muslim cleric. He was killed. So was his wife. So were eight of his children. One was decapitated. All they could find of a baby was its head and torso which a young villager brandished in fury in front of the cameras. Then the planes visited another home in Dweir and disposed of a family of seven.

It was a brisk start to Day Two of Israel's latest "war on terror", a conflict that uses some of the same language - and a few of the same lies - as George Bush's larger "war on terror". For just as we "degraded" Iraq - in 1991 as well as 2003 - so yesterday it was Lebanon's turn to be "degraded". [complete article]
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Syria says fully backs Hizbollah against Israel
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis, Reuters, July 14, 2006

Syria will support Hizbollah and Lebanon against Israel's attacks on the country, the ruling Baath Party said on Friday, defying the Jewish state and its chief ally Washington.

"The Syrian people are ready to extend full support to the Lebanese people and their heroic resistance to remain steadfast and confront the barbaric Israeli aggression and its crimes," said a communiqu? from the party's national command issued after a meeting.

It said Israel and the United States "are trying to wipe out Arab resistance in every land under occupation" and that President Bashar al-Assad was aware of the seriousness of the situation in the region. [complete article]
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Chirac says Israel wants to 'destroy Lebanon'
By Philippe Naughton, The Times, July 14, 2006

President Chirac accused Israel today of wanting to "destroy Lebanon" as the United Nations sent a team of senior diplomats to the region to tackle the crisis caused by Hezbollah's abduction of two Israeli soldiers.

So far Israel has ignored international concerns about its widespread military offensive in Lebanon and also escaped a UN Security Council motion calling for it to halt its operations in Gaza last night when a draft resolution was vetoed as "unbalanced" by the United States. [complete article]
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Israel to bombard Hezbollah HQ in Beirut
Haaretz, July 14, 2006

The Israel Defense Forces is planning to bomb Hezbollah headquarters in a densely populated area of south Beirut on Friday, a senior General Staff official told Haaretz.

The IDF said it has dropped leaflets warning civilians of the impending attack and that many of them have left the Shi'ite Dahiya quarter of south Beirut, where thousands of people live in multi-story residential buildings.

"We will atack more significant targets than we have attacked until now," the officer said. "If we had chosen to bomb earlier, it would have ended with hundreds of civilians killed, and we took ethical considerations into account. On the other hand, we will not adopt a naive approach, and the model of terrorists hiding behind civilians will not be accepted." [complete article]

South Lebanon feels brunt of Israeli attacks
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, July 14, 2006

Mohammed Akkash's voice cracked as he listed the names of his 10 grandchildren who were killed just hours earlier in an Israeli air raid on his son's home.

"The youngest one, Safat, was just 6 months old. Is a 6-month-old baby a resistance fighter? What happened is a crime," he says, as other mourners sitting on plastic seats outside his home nodded quietly in agreement.

Throughout the dusty hill villages and deep valleys of south Lebanon, similar displays of grief and anger were evident Thursday as the district reeled beneath the most intensive series of Israeli airstrikes mounted in 10 years. Roads and bridges here were systematically blown up, part of Israel's strategy of targeting the militant group Hizbullah's infrastructure that has effectively cut off south Lebanon from the rest of the country. [complete article]

See also, Escalation ripples through Middle East (CSM).
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Leader who lacks the military pedigree
By Richard Beeston, The Times, July 14, 2006

With most of the country's history dominated by conflict with its neighbours, Israeli leaders are judged by their ability to provide security and to use force effectively when needed.

Many dominant figures of Israeli politics -- Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon -- had been generals. Their judgments were questioned, but no one could challenge their experience in the task of protecting Israel. This is not the case with Mr Olmert.

He left the army to become a lawyer and later entered politics, first as an MP for Likud, then as Mayor of Jerusalem and finally as Mr Sharon's deputy, assuming power when the leader had a stroke in January.

Mr Olmert is not alone in lacking military experience. Amir Peretz, the Defence Minister, and Tzipi Livni, the Foreign Minister, have none either. This has limited the Government's room to negotiate and compromise and made a strong military response politically imperative. "Clearly if Olmert and Peretz do not come out looking strong, their tenure is going to be short," Gerald Steinberg, of Bar-Ilan University, said.

Past leaders have conducted prisoner swaps, releasing hundreds of Palestinian and Lebanese in return for a few Israelis. Mr Olmert has ruled out this option, possibly under pressure from America, which does not want a precedent set for Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- In responding to the current crisis, President Bush has been described as "more timid and wishful than assertive." Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meekly requests "that the Israelis exercise restraint, be concerned about civilian casualties, be concerned of course about civilian infrastructure." And Israel expresses its "concern" by dropping leaflets in advance of bombs. Even so, this image of an emasculated America that twiddles its thumbs while Israel goes psychotic, might be keeping out of view the overriding demand from Washington: no deals with "terrorists." The message from Washington to Israel appears to be, you can do whatever you want and we won't do any more than express our concern about the suffering of civilians -- just don't swap any prisoners and don't talk to Hamas or Hezbollah.

Olmert, Bush, and Cheney, are each fearful men whose greatest fear is of looking weak. It's possible that this fear is Olmert's only constraint but it's not for the lack of a precident that the option of prisoner exchange is currently off the table. Less than three years ago, Ariel Sharon agreed to just such a deal and released over 400 prisoners in exchange for Israeli businessman, Elhanan Tannenbaum, who had been held by Hezbollah since October 2000. Whatever pathological tendencies Sharon might have displayed they did not seem to include a fear of looking weak.
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How about one for one?
By Yossi Alpher,, July 10, 2006

Israel has a rather peculiar record when it comes to freeing Palestinian prisoners. By the standard of prevailing Israeli cultural and political values, its approach is understandable, even laudable. But by any objective standard of realpolitik, the Israeli approach is counterproductive.

Israeli governments all too frequently refuse to free imprisoned Palestinian terrorists as confidence-building gestures aimed at relatively moderate Palestinian leaders like President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). They cite legitimate reasons like the Israeli "blood on the hands" of the terrorists and the reaction of the families of those killed by the prisoners. Then they release terrorists by the hundreds in return for small numbers of Israeli prisoners. When that happens, Israel's decision-makers once again cite as justification public pressures, this time by the families of the Israeli prisoners, along with the IDF's admirable ethos of returning every lost soldier. [complete article]
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Israel's monstrous legacy brings tumult a step closer
By David Hirst, The Guardian, July 14, 2006

The Lebanese people, habitues as few people are of the lethal, violent and unexpected, yesterday awoke to the kind of news they thought they had put behind them. Their brand-new airport, the pride of their postwar reconstruction, had been bombarded by Israeli war planes along with a host of other infrastructure projects, bringing death and devastation on a more than Gazan scale.

For some it inevitably brought to mind a bleak winter day in 1968 when, out of the blue, helicopter-borne Israeli commandos landed on the old airport and blew up 13 passenger jets, almost the entire fleet of the national carrier. The pretext: of two Palestinians who killed an Israeli at Athens airport, one came from a refugee camp in Lebanon, then an entirely peaceable country. The significance of this most spectacularly disproportionate reprisal was something the Lebanese could hardly even have guessed at then. But it was a very early portent of the long nightmare to come: military conflict with Israel, eventually to be compounded with an atrocious civil war that it did much to engender.

There is something ominously similar, in possible consequences, about yesterday's repeat Israeli performance. [complete article]

See also, Behind the crisis, a push toward war (David Ignatius).

Attacks could erode Hezbollah's support
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, July 14, 2006

The radical Shiite movement Hezbollah and its leader, Hasan Nasrallah, hold an effective veto in Lebanese politics, and the group's military prowess has heartened its supporters at home and abroad in the Arab world. But that same force of arms has begun to endanger Hezbollah's long-term standing in a country where critics accuse it of dragging Lebanon into an unwinnable conflict the government neither chose nor wants to fight.

"To a certain Arab audience and Arab elite, Nasrallah is a champion, but the price is high," said Walid Jumblatt, a member of parliament and leader of Lebanon's Druze community. "We are paying a high price."

The conflict will likely prove a turning point in the history of the movement, which was created with Iranian patronage in the wake of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. It has since evolved from a terrorist organization blamed for two attacks on the U.S. Embassy and the 1983 bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut, which killed 241 Marines, into a sprawling movement with a member and supporter in Lebanon's cabinet, a militia that effectively controls southern Lebanon, and an infrastructure that delivers welfare to its Shiite constituency, Lebanon's largest community. [complete article]
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Israel kills 23 in Gaza
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, July 12, 2006

Israel killed at least 23 Palestinians in Gaza on Wednesday, including nine members of one family in an air strike that destroyed a house where the army said senior Hamas commanders were meeting, witnesses said.

Wednesday's death toll was the highest in a single day since Israel on June 28 launched an offensive in the Gaza Strip to force militants to free an abducted soldier and halt rocket attacks on the Jewish state.

It was also the highest number of Palestinian deaths in one day since September 2004. [complete article]
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Baghdad starts to collapse as its people flee a life of death
By James Hider, The Times, July 14, 2006

As I hung up the phone, I wondered if I would ever see my friend Ali alive again. Ali, The Times translator for the past three years, lives in west Baghdad, an area that is now in meltdown as a bitter civil war rages between Sunni insurgents and Shia militias. It is, quite simply, out of control.

I returned to Baghdad on Monday after a break of several months, during which I too was guilty of glazing over every time I read another story of Iraqi violence. But two nights on the telephone, listening to my lost and frightened Iraqi staff facing death at any moment, persuaded me that Baghdad is now verging on total collapse.

Ali phoned me on Tuesday night, about 10.30pm. There were cars full of gunmen prowling his mixed neighbourhood, he said. He and his neighbours were frantically exchanging information, trying to identify the gunmen.

Were they the Mahdi Army, the Shia militia blamed for drilling holes in their victims' eyes and limbs before executing them by the dozen? Or were they Sunni insurgents hunting down Shias to avenge last Sunday's massacre, when Shia gunmen rampaged through an area called Jihad, pulling people from their cars and homes and shooting them in the streets? [complete article]

See also, 22 slain in raid at Iraqi bus station (WP).

Iraq and Afghanistan: Even out here, all politics is local
By Rory Stewart, New York Times, July 13, 2006

A great many of the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq arise from a single problem: the American-led coalitions' lack of trust in local politicians. Repeatedly the Western powers, irritated by a lack of progress, have overruled local leaders, rejected compromises and tried to force through their own strategies.

But the Westerners have little understanding of Afghan or Iraqi politics and rely too heavily on troops and money to solve what are fundamentally political and religious problems. [complete article]

Big Bang Theory in ruins
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, July 14, 2006

The most intellectually honest case for the war in Iraq was never about Saddam Hussein's alleged stockpiling of weapons of mass destruction. It was the Big Bang Theory.

Not to be confused with theories about the origins of the universe, the Middle East Big Bang idea was simple and seductive. Unlike other arguments for the war, it was based on some facts, though also on some wishful thinking. The point was that the Middle East was a mess. A nest of authoritarian regimes bred opposition movements rebelling against the conditions under which too many people lived and energized by a radical Islamist ideology. Some of them turned to terror. In this bog of failure, moderate Muslims were powerless. They were frequently jailed or killed.

The situation's hopelessness argued for a hard shove from the United States to create a new dynamic. Installing a democratic government in Iraq would force a new dawn. Newly empowered Muslim democrats would reform their societies, negotiate peace with Israel and get on with the business of building prosperous, middle-class societies.

It was a beautiful dream, and even when the administration was asserting things that turned out not to be true, it held the dream out there for all to contemplate. [complete article]
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Ice-cool under terror attack
By Anatole Kaletsky, The Times, July 13, 2006

We can draw lessons from India's cool, self-confident behaviour. The first lesson is that Indians, both politicians and ordinary people, seem to respond much more rationally than Americans to the risks of terrorism. While 170 deaths is a terrible tragedy, the Indians seem to recognise that terrorism remains a negligible risk in the greater scheme of things and need not unduly disrupt their lives.

Even if the bombings in Bombay were repeated weekly, they would represent a smaller risk than crossing an Indian road. Seen as a one-off event, this bombing was a far less destructive tragedy than the earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis and other natural disasters that regularly afflict southern Asia. This sense of proportion should allow Indians to get on with their lives after the bombings and discourage the overreaction, the inter-communal bloodshed and the Indo- Pakistani confrontation that the terrorists obviously want. [complete article]

Muslims and Hindus unite in backlash against terrorists who bombed Mumbai
By Justin Huggler, The Independent, July 13, 2006

The Mumbai bombings were more than just an attack on the India's financial capital. It is no coincidence that India has already started referring to the attacks as 7/11. Mumbai is India's New York, a city that, more than any other, defines the Indian dream. Every day, hundreds of migrants from the villages and rural hinterland arrive in Mumbai, hoping to make it big. The city has communities from every corner of India; every caste, every ethnic group, every religion is represented.

But it is also a city that has been riven by the Hindu-Muslim tensions that have haunted India over the past 15 years, with a history of riots, and bombings blamed on Muslim extremists. Whoever was behind the bombings appears to be trying to exploit those tensions. But this time, there have been extraordinary scenes as Mumbai's Muslims have come out in defiance to defend the unity of the city. Muslims queued for hours to give blood for Hindus injured in the bombings. Even the leaders of the hardline Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena, a party rarely given to praising Muslims, said they were "overwhelmed" by the reaction. "Hindus and Muslims walked hand in hand yesterday," said Manohar Kargaonkar, a party official. [complete article]

See also, 3 suspects sought in connection with India train blasts (NYT) and Pakistan-based group eyed after Mumbai (CSM).

Comment -- Survival in India requires what I'd call a healthy dose of fatalism. Most visiting Westerners who venture onto the public transportation system - including Mumbai's commuter trains with their open-doored second-class carriages - soon discover that an ordinary journey can seem like a life-threatening experience. Acquiring a philosophical fearlessness depends not so much on a leap of courage as a desire to remain sane.

On the other hand, we view the grisly sight of "global terror" from the frail sanctuary of a safety-obsessed society that promotes fear much more readily than fearlessness. India's response to terrorism is quite simple: it refuses to be terrorized.
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Incentives offered to Iran detailed at Security Council
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, July 14, 2006

The Bush administration agreed last month to consider lifting long-standing sanctions on the sale of commercial jets, agricultural equipment and telecommunications technology to Iran if it agreed to halt its enrichment of uranium and submit to more intrusive U.N. inspections of its nuclear program, according to a copy of the agreement made public Thursday. [complete article]

Iran demands patience from West on nuclear incentive offer
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, July 14, 2006

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran said in a defiant speech on Thursday that the West should be patient in awaiting his country's response to a package of proposed incentives in return for freezing its nuclear program.

"We have tried to be positive in our examination of the package," Mr. Ahmadinejad said in his speech in Mianeh, in northwestern Iran, the ISNA student news agency reported. He said again that Iran would announce a decision in late August. [complete article]
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Toying with terror alerts?
By Joshua Micah Marshall,, July 14, 2006

In these perilous days, we must be ready to think the unthinkable. No, I don't mean the possibility of a catastrophic terrorist attack. After 9/11, that's all too easy to imagine. No, I'm talking about a thought that even now seldom forces its way into respectable conversation: the quite reasonable suspicion that the Bush Administration orchestrates its terror alerts and arrests to goose the GOP's poll numbers. [complete article]
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Vice president sued by Plame and husband
By Eric M. Weiss and Charles Lane, Washington Post, July 14, 2006

Former CIA officer Valerie Plame and her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, filed a lawsuit yesterday against Vice President Cheney, presidential adviser Karl Rove and former vice presidential aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, accusing the three of violating their constitutional rights in retaliation for Wilson's criticism of President Bush. [complete article]

My leak case testimony
By Robert D. Novak, Washington Post, July 12, 2006

Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald has informed my attorneys that, after two and one-half years, his investigation of the CIA leak case concerning matters directly relating to me has been concluded. That frees me to reveal my role in the federal inquiry that, at the request of Fitzgerald, I have kept secret. [complete article]
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Policy rewrite reveals rift in administration
By R. Jeffrey Smith and Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, July 14, 2006

Three days of congressional testimony this week by senior Bush administration officials about U.S. treatment of detainees in the war on terrorism have made clear that the administration remains deeply divided on the issue and unsure how to replace a key policy that the Supreme Court declared illegal two weeks ago. [complete article]

Military lawyers urge protections for detainees
By Kate Zernike, New York Times, July 14, 2006

The top lawyers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines contradicted the Bush administration on Thursday on how to bring terror suspects to trial, endorsing an approach that extends more human and legal rights to detainees than one that administration lawyers have pressed Congress to authorize. [complete article]
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Bush would let secret court sift wiretap process
By Eric Lichtblau, New York Times, July 14, 2006

After months of resistance, the White House agreed Thursday to allow a secret intelligence court to review the legality of the National Security Agency's program to conduct wiretaps without warrants on Americans suspected of having ties to terrorists.

If approved by Congress, the deal would put the court, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, in the unusual position of deciding whether the wiretapping program is a legitimate use of the president's power to fight terrorism. The aim of the plan, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales told reporters, would be to "test the constitutionality" of the program.

The plan, brokered over the last three weeks in negotiations between Senator Arlen Specter and senior White House officials, including President Bush himself, would apparently leave the secretive intelligence court free to consider the case in closed proceedings, without the kind of briefs and oral arguments that are usually part of federal court consideration of constitutional issues. The court's ruling in the matter could also remain secret. [complete article]
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More troops may be needed in Baghdad, U.S. general says
By Paul von Zielbauer and David S. Cloud, New York Times, July 13, 2006

Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the senior American commander in Iraq, said Wednesday that "terrorists and death squads" were responsible for the surge in sectarian killings here in recent weeks, and that there might be a need to move more American forces into the capital to prevent the deadly cycle from worsening.

His remarks came on a day when at least 30 people were killed and 37 wounded in and around Baghdad, including 20 people who were kidnapped from a bus station 60 miles north of the city and killed, Iraqi officials said. A local police official offered a slightly different account of that episode. [complete article]
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22 slain in raid at Iraqi bus station
By Joshua Partlow and Josh White, Washington Post, July 13, 2006

Gunmen kidnapped a group of people in the parking lot of a bus station on Wednesday and killed 22 of them, according to Iraqi police and military officials. The execution-style slayings occurred on the same day Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld visited Iraq and stressed the need to stem the sectarian violence that has killed scores of civilians in recent days. [complete article]
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Army plans to end contentious Halliburton logistics pact and split work among companies
By James Glanz, New York Times, July 13, 2006

The Army plans to terminate and restructure a lucrative and enormously contentious logistics contract that has paid a single company, Halliburton, more than $15 billion to do jobs like deliver food and fuel and construct housing for American troops around the world since late 2001.

The changes, described in draft contracting documents on Army Web sites, await final Pentagon approval, said Linda K. Theis, a spokeswoman for the Army Field Support Command in Rock Island, Ill., which oversees the contract. But they have already received extensive review and are moving through the upper echelons of the Army, she said. [complete article]
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New North Korea resolution offered
By Warren Hoge and Joseph Kahn, 2006

China and Russia introduced a draft resolution on North Korea in the Security Council on Wednesday and asked the Council’s members to consider it in place of a Japanese-sponsored resolution, to which they both have objected, that would have allowed for military enforcement and sanctions.

In offering the new measure, Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador, said he had instructions from his government to veto the Japanese resolution if it were put to a vote. [complete article]
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Battle looms in Congress over military tribunals
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, July 13, 2006

House Republicans signaled a coming clash with the Senate over the future of military tribunals yesterday when Armed Service Committee members indicated they were inclined to give the Bush administration largely what it wants in the conduct of terrorism trials.

The tone at the first House hearing since the Supreme Court tossed out President Bush's tribunals last month was markedly different from Tuesday's Senate hearing, where lawmakers from both parties said they wanted to make significant changes to the White House's plans. [complete article]

More ambiguity about torture
By Dan Froomkin,, July 12, 2006

The White House spin yesterday on the reinstatement of Geneva Convention protections for all U.S. detainees -- that it's not a reversal, and won't really change anything -- is another example of the self-contradicting ambiguity that has been a hallmark of this administration's position on torture and inhumane conduct. [complete article]

White House prods Congress to curb detainee rights
By Kate Zernike, New York Times, July 13, 2006

A day after saying that terror suspects had a right to protections under the Geneva Conventions, the Bush administration said Wednesday that it wanted Congress to pass legislation that would limit the rights granted to detainees.

The earlier statement had been widely interpreted as a retreat, but testimony to Congress by administration lawyers on Wednesday made clear that the picture was more complicated. [complete article]
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By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, July 13, 2006

Ever since Ehud Olmert became Israeli prime minister, I imagine he has with some frequency been asking himself two questions: What would Sharon do? And what do most Israelis imagine Sharon would do? Who can say whether he gauges the answer to either question accurately, but I suspect that if Sharon was still in charge he'd actually be showing more restraint than his heir.

Beware the civilian who want to look like a general; the actions spawned by his fear of not looking strong are often more dangerous than the actions of those who are confident in their strength.

As the crisis is now being driven by its own internal logic, empty appeals for restraint mean nothing if the U.S. response goes no further than a State Department spokesman saying, "all sides must act with restraint to resolve this incident peacefully and to protect innocent life and civilian infrastructure." What's that supposed to mean when President Bush chimes in, but "Israel has the right to defend itself"?

Outside Washington and Tel Aviv it is transparent to the whole world right now that Israel is recklessly escalating the situation by over-reacting to every provocation. The U.S., like a fawning butler, might diffidently say to Olmert, "don't kill civilians or destroy the civilian infrastructure," but American duplicity is transparent if it does not vehemently condemn Israel's actions when Israel goes ahead and does exactly what it was asked not to do: target Lebanon's infrastructure. Destroying bridges, bombing Beirut's international airport and other parts of the Lebanese civilian infrastructure, starting a blockade and causing thousands of tourists to flee, is not the answer. We shouldn't forget, that it was Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon that resulted in the creation of Hezbollah in the first place.

On the blockade, Lebanese blogger, "Mustapha", writes:
Ships and planes will not be allowed to arrive to or leave Lebanon. Goods will not be imported or exported; Lebanese apples will rot in the harbor and Scottish salmons will have to wait. Our huge diaspora, unable to fly home, will be angry. We will always have food, but an extended blockade will turn industry groups, business and farmers against Hezbollah. Panicked businessmen will withdraw their money from banks, pushing hard on the lira. We've seen it all before.

The pressure will be intense on the government to release the soldiers. Will the plan work?

No it won't. Israel constantly underestimates the bonds common misery can create. They are using the wrong channels and are needlessly starving an entire nation and making it angrier.
While Israel, against all evidence and prior experience, seems convinced that it if it pounds its opponents hard enough they will bow in submission, Hezbollah is now threatening to escalate the violence even further by targeting Haifa. But as an editorial in Lebanon's Daily Star warns:
Whatever can be said about Hizbullah, one cannot deny that the party's leaders are true to their word. During a prisoner exchange between Hizbullah and Israel in 2004, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed that if all Lebanese detainees were not freed from Israeli jails, Hizbullah would eventually abduct more Israeli soldiers. Fulfiling this pledge, Hizbullah on Wednesday captured two Israeli soldiers in an operation dubbed "Truthful Promise."

During a news conference on Wednesday, Nasrallah made another vow: that "no military operation will return" the two soldiers, and that only another prisoner swap will secure their freedom. Only a fool would doubt that Nasrallah now means what he says. The Israelis must therefore carefully weigh two difficult questions. Is it really worth it for them to continue keeping three Lebanese prisoners in jail? And is the mere chance of saving two soldiers really worth spilling more Israeli blood in another deadly military adventure in Lebanon?
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Options for U.S. limited as Mideast crises spread
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 13, 2006

The Bush administration suddenly faces three rapidly expanding crises in the Middle East, but it has limited options to defuse tensions in any of them anytime soon, U.S. officials and Middle East experts say.

Israel has sent troops into Gaza and Lebanon over three captured soldiers -- one held by Hamas in Gaza and two seized yesterday by Hezbollah in Lebanon. The United States and its allies set a collision course with Iran over its nuclear program. And there is mounting concern that Iraq's sectarian violence is crossing the threshold to a full-blown civil war.

A common thread in the three crises is Iran -- for its support of the two Islamist groups, its alleged funding and arming of Iraqi militias and extremist groups, and its refusal to give a final response to the Western package of incentives designed to prevent it from converting a peaceful energy program into one to develop nuclear weapons. [complete article]

Israel's next war has begun
By Yossi Klein Halev, The New Republic, July 12, 2006

The next Middle East war -- Israel against genocidal Islamism -- has begun. The first stage of the war started two weeks ago, with the Israeli incursion into Gaza in response to the kidnapping of an Israeli soldier and the ongoing shelling of Israeli towns and kibbutzim; now, with Hezbollah's latest attack, the war has spread to southern Lebanon. Ultimately, though, Israel's antagonists won't be Hamas and Hezbollah but their patrons, Iran and Syria. The war will go on for months, perhaps several years. There may be lulls in the fighting, perhaps even temporary agreements and prisoner exchanges. But those periods of calm will be mere respites.

The goals of the war should be the destruction of the Hamas regime and the dismantling of the Hezbollah infrastructure in southern Lebanon. Israel cannot coexist with Iranian proxies pressing in on its borders. In particular, allowing Hamas to remain in power–and to run the Palestinian educational system -- will mean the end of hopes for Arab-Israeli reconciliation not only in this generation but in the next one too.

For the Israeli right, this is the moment of "We told you so." The fact that the kidnappings and missile attacks have come from southern Lebanon and Gaza -- precisely the areas from which Israel has unilaterally withdrawn -- is proof, for right-wingers, of the bankruptcy of unilateralism.

Yet the right has always misunderstood the meaning of unilateral withdrawal. Those of us who have supported unilateralism didn't expect a quiet border in return for our withdrawal but simply the creation of a border from which we could more vigorously defend ourselves, with greater domestic consensus and international understanding. The anticipated outcome, then, wasn't an illusory peace but a more effective way to fight the war. The question wasn't whether Hamas or Hezbollah would forswear aggression but whether Israel would act with appropriate vigor to their continued aggression. [complete article]

Comment -- Yossi Klein Halev is refreshingly honest (in a sickening way) by coming straight out and saying that "convergence" has nothing to do with a two-state solution and everything to do with defining battle lines. Yet the picture that he and Robin Wright paint of Iran as Israel and America's overarching nemesis, pulling all the strings, ignores one important fact in understanding the current crisis: It was Israel and America's choice to treat with contempt the Palestinians' expression of their democratic will. Iran didn't make the Palestinians vote for Hamas and Iran didn't prevent anyone else from recognizing the Hamas government. That choice -- to ignore democracy -- is the one that is now being overlooked in a crisis that supposedly revolves around the fate of three Israeli soldiers.
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IAF planes bomb PA foreign ministry building in Gaza City
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, July 13, 2006

An Israel Air Force airplane attacked the Palestinian Foreign Ministry in Gaza City early Thursday, severely damaging the building, witnesses said.

The building partially collapsed and the bomb caused widespread destruction in the area. Palestinian security officials said no one was hurt in the night-time raid.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed it carried out an airstrike on the Foreign Ministry, saying it is "led by Hamas" and has been used for the "planning of terror attacks." [complete article]
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A second front opens for Israel
By Orly Halpern and Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2006

Even as Israel dealt with an escalating crisis in Gaza over a captured soldier, Lebanon's Hizbullah militants captured two more soldiers Wednesday, opening a second Israeli front and raising the specter of a broader regional confrontation.

The engagement with the Syrian- and Iranian-backed Hizbullah began Wednesday, when militants fired dozens of Katyusha rockets into northern Israel, drawing the Israeli army into the most violent cross-border battle with the Shiite militia since 2000.

"Hizbullah has had several failed attempts to kidnap Israeli soldiers in the recent past, but the connection for this attack is clearly what's happening in Gaza," says Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, professor of politics at the Lebanese American University and author of "Hizbullah: Politics and Religion." "Many people will support this attack especially around the region." [complete article]

Hezbollah's strategic kidnapping
By Zvi Barel, Haaretz, July 12, 2006

Nasrallah is now presenting himself as the most earnest defender of Palestinian interests in the Arab world. One can assume that his demands, which have not yet been detailed, will include the release of Palestinian prisoners. Conversely, merging the fates of Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners will naturally obligate the Palestinians to coordinate their demands with Hezbollah.

The abduction on the Israel's northern border limits the Palestinians' bargaining room, because they never intended to turn Shalit's abduction into a regional affair.

Hezbollah has also become Syria's means of exacting revenge for the Israel Air Force's low-altitude flight over the palace of Syrian President Bashar Assad. However, Hezbollah's assumption of this role will not necessary work to the benefit of Damascus, which is under great pressure to help mediate Shalit's release.

Against the backdrop of the new abductions and the close relationship between Syria and Hezbollah, the public praise of the Lebanese guerilla group by Syrian officials is likely to turn Damascus into a direct target of an Israeli attack. [complete article]

See also, Nasrallah's gamble (Jerusalem Post).

Comment -- Ironically, it was only last week that Israeli commentator, Aluf Benn, wrote that the Palestinians needed their own Nasrallah. Now they have: in the form of Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah himself.

The prospect of hundreds of Katyusha rockets raining down on the cities of northern Israel clearly poses a much more serious threat than the Palestinians' homemade Qassam rockets ever could. Now, in the name of rescuing three captive Israeli soldiers, how many more people -- including Israeli soldiers themselves -- will die in a cycle of violence that is rapidly spinning out of control? But not only that -- how much longer will America confine itself to being an impotent bystander in an arena where until six years ago it generally took an active (if not even-handed) role?
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8 soldiers killed, 2 snatched in Hezbollah border attacks
By Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, Jack Khoury and Yoav Stern, Haaretz, July 12, 2006

Eight Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed and two others were abducted Wednesday in attacks by guerillas from the militant Hezbollah organization.

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah said Wednesday evening that a prisoner exchange was the only way to secure the release of the soldiers, who he said were being held in a "secure and remote" location.

"No military operation will return them," Nasrallah told a news conference in Beirut. "The prisoners will not be returned except through one way: indirect negotiations and a trade." [complete article]

Israel prepares for widespread military escalation
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, July 12, 2006

The attack on Israel's northern border was an impressive military achievement for Hezbollah and a ringing failure for the IDF. Despite Israel's intelligence analyses and despite wide operational deployment, Hezbollah has succeeded in carrying out what it has been threatening to do for more than two years - and it couldn't have happened at a more sensitive time.

Israel has until now responded with restraint by bombarding bridges in central Lebanon and attacking Hezbollah positions along the border. But considering the nature of the military high command's current evaluation of the situation, it is clear that the IDF is interested in inflicting a much sharper blow on Lebanon.

Senior officers in the IDF say that the Lebanese government is responsible for the soldiers' abduction. According to the officers, if the kidnapped soldiers are not returned alive and well, the Lebanese civilian infrastructures will regress 20, or even 50 years. [complete article]
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My life in Gaza
By Mona El-Farra, Boston Globe, July 10, 2006

The irony is almost beyond belief. Since the capture of an Israeli soldier on June 25, the Gaza Strip has been subjected to a large-scale military operation, what Israel calls "Summer Rain." Because Israel bombed the power plant, and the area needs electricity to pump water, most of Gaza now has almost no access to drinking water. In the heat of summer, rain would be a blessing far more welcome than the ongoing bombings.

I am already starting to lose track of days and nights, of how many bombs have dropped. Since the main power plant was destroyed, we have had to live with no electricity. What we do get is patchy, and barely enough to recharge our mobile phones and our laptops so that we do not lose all touch with each other and with the outside world.

As a physician, I fear for our patients. Twenty-two hospitals have no electricity. They have to rely on generators, but the generators need fuel. We have enough fuel to last a few days at most, because the borders are sealed so no fuel can get in. The shortage of power threatens the lives of patients on life-support machines and children in intensive care, as well as renal dialysis patients and others. Hundreds of operations have been postponed. The pharmacies were already nearly empty because of Israeli border closures and the cutoff of international aid. What little supplies were left have gone bad in the absence of refrigeration. [complete article]

See also, Once again, Gazans are displaced by Israeli occupiers (NYT).
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Revenge cycle fragments Iraqi capital
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, July 12, 2006

In the month since a new security plan was unveiled in the capital involving 10,000 Iraqi soldiers and police, sectarian murders and tit-for-tat mosque bombings by Shiite and Sunni militias have surged.

A visit to Baghdad's Yarmuk Hospital reveals how far the capital has been thrust into civil war. In a 30-minute period Tuesday, the stream of tragedy through its doors included both Shiite and Sunni victims of rival killing squads, civilians and soldiers gunned down at work, and a fiercely angry boy who had just lost both parents. [complete article]

See also, Sectarian fights pose risk to Iraq (WP) and Wave of violence in Baghdad puts 3-day death toll past 100 (NYT).
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New doctrine same as the old doctrine
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, July 11, 2006

Are we really witnessing a "seismic" shift in the Bush administration's foreign policy—"the end of cowboy diplomacy" and the substitution of "patience" for "pre-emption"? Such is the claim of two articles this week: the cover story of Time and a news analysis in the New York Times. Both pieces infer too much significance from the moderating tone in Bush's rhetoric -- and not enough from the fact that his actual policies have barely changed.

Yes, Bush talks more about diplomacy than he did in his first term (though he always paid it lip service, even while discussing Iraq in the run-up to the invasion, long after he'd secretly decided to go to war). But where is the actual diplomacy? Where are the results -- or even any serious efforts to achieve results? Where is the real, as opposed to the rhetorical, seismic shift? [complete article]
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Dogging the torture story
By Larry Wilkerson, Nieman Watchdog, July 11, 2006

Documents and memos that have already made their way into the public domain make it clear that the Office of the Vice President bears responsibility for creating an environment conducive to the acts of torture and murder committed by U.S. forces in the war on terror.

There is, in my view, insufficient evidence to walk into an American courtroom and win a legal case (though an international courtroom for war crimes might feel differently). But there is enough evidence for a soldier of long service -- someone like me with 31 years in the Army -- to know that what started with John Yoo, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes at the Pentagon, and several others, all under the watchful and willing eye of the Vice President, went down through the Secretary of Defense to the commanders in the field, and created two separate pressures that resulted in the violation of longstanding practice and law. [complete article]

By Timothy Noah, Slate, July 11, 2006

The Pentagon has sent out a directive ordering civilians and uniformed commanders in the field to review all practices and paperwork to ensure that they follow Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions -- that pesky one outlawing violence, torture, cruel treatment, and "humiliating and degrading treatment" of prisoners of war. The memo is a response to a recent Supreme Court decision affirming that Common Article 3 applies to the war on terrorism. The catch is that the Bush administration, against all evidence, maintains that it has been adhering to the Geneva Conventions in practice even as it's been arguing in court that doing so would make hunting down terrorists impossible. The logic seems to run something like this: 1) The United States is inherently good; 2) Inherently good countries don't violate the Geneva conventions; 3) Ergo, the United States can do anything it wants to suspected terrorists and it still won't be violating the Geneva Conventions. [complete article]
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Come one, come all, join the terror target list
By Eric Lipton, New York Times, July 12, 2006

It reads like a tally of terrorist targets that a child might have written: Old MacDonald's Petting Zoo, the Amish Country Popcorn factory, the Mule Day Parade, the Sweetwater Flea Market and an unspecified "Beach at End of a Street."

But the inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, in a report released Tuesday, found that the list was not child's play: all these "unusual or out-of-place" sites "whose criticality is not readily apparent" are inexplicably included in the federal antiterrorism database.

The National Asset Database, as it is known, is so flawed, the inspector general found, that as of January, Indiana, with 8,591 potential terrorist targets, had 50 percent more listed sites than New York (5,687) and more than twice as many as California (3,212), ranking the state the most target-rich place in the nation. [complete article]
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Train death toll climbs to 200
By Rahul Bedi,, July 13, 2006

Islamic militants may have placed bombs concealed in gift boxes on the luggage racks of Mumbai's packed commuter trains timed to detonate within minutes of each other during the rush-hour attacks that killed more than 200 people.

Investigators were last night picking through the mangled wreckage and debris of Tuesday's strikes seeking clues to the worst terrorist attack in India in more than a decade.

The blasts that struck seven trains within 15 minutes of each other were designed to cause maximum carnage and took aim at India's financial capital, a symbol of the growing economic power of the world's largest democracy.

The choice of first-class train cars and stations along the city's affluent western commuter line indicated the bombings were intended to hit people "who represented the face of globalising Mumbai", the Hindustan Times said. [complete article]

Comment -- For reasons I can't quite grasp, the conventional wisdom is that these bombings were not the work of al Qaeda. The prime suspect -- Kashmiri militant group, Lashkar-e-Toiba -- has, nevertheless, denied any involvement.

Reporting for Time, Alex Perry says, "Typically, a Bombay train carries around 4,500 people -- three times its official capacity -- and at rush hour, each carriage would have been stuffed, with passengers hanging onto doors and sitting on roofs. For terrorists looking to maximize carnage, it was an all too tempting target." Yet as he must have known when writing this, the bombs were not actually placed in the most crowded locations. On the contrary, the symbolic target of the attack has the appearance of being -- as the Hindustan Times suggests -- first and foremost economic.

Al Qaeda has in recent months seemed to be giving more attention to its communications productions than sponsoring spectacular acts of terrorism -- yesterday might have been intended to send the message that the organization remains as lethal as ever by striking a blow at what Bin Laden has termed the "Crusader-Jewish-Hindu conspiracy against Islam."

Meanwhile, the wonderful spirit of Mumbai endures, indomitable and undying.
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Al-Nakba: The Palestinian catastrophe that never ends
By Sandy Tolan, TomDispatch, July 11, 2006

Under the pretext of forcing the release of a single soldier "kidnapped by terrorists" (or, if you prefer, "captured by the resistance"), Israel has done the following: seized members of a democratically elected government; bombed its interior ministry, the prime minister's offices, and a school; threatened another sovereign state (Syria) with a menacing overflight; dropped leaflets from the air, warning of harm to the civilian population if it does not "follow all orders of the IDF" (Israel Defense Forces); loosed nocturnal "sound bombs" under orders from the Israeli prime minister to "make sure no one sleeps at night in Gaza"; fired missiles into residential areas, killing children; and demolished a power station that was the sole generator of electricity and running water for hundreds of thousands of Gazans.

Besieged Palestinian families, trapped in a locked-up Gaza, are in many cases down to one meal a day, eaten in candlelight. Yet their desperate conditions go largely ignored by a world accustomed to extreme Israeli measures in the name of security: nearly 10,000 Palestinians locked in Israeli jails, many without charge; 4,000 Gaza and West Bank homes demolished since 2000 and hundreds of acres of olive groves plowed under; three times as many civilians killed as in Israel, many due to "collateral damage" in operations involving the assassination of suspected militants.

"Wake up!" shouted the young Palestinian journalist Mohammed Omer from Gaza on San Francisco's "Arab Talk" radio in late June. "The Gaza people are starving. There is a real humanitarian crisis. Our children are born to live. Don't these people have any heart? No feelings at all? The world is silent!"

For the Palestinians, Omer's cry speaks to a collective understanding: That the world sees the life of an Arab as infinitely less valuable than that of an Israeli; that no amount of suffering by innocent Palestinians is too much to justify the return of a single Jewish soldier. This understanding, and the rage and humiliation it fuels, has been driven home again and again through decades of shellings, wars, and uprisings past. Indeed Omer's plaintive words form a mantra, echoing all the way back to the first war between the Arabs and the Jews, and especially to 5 searing mid-July days 58 years ago. [complete article]

Aggression under false pretenses
By Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Washington Post, July 11, 2006

As Americans commemorated their annual celebration of independence from colonial occupation, rejoicing in their democratic institutions, we Palestinians were yet again besieged by our occupiers, who destroy our roads and buildings, our power stations and water plants, and who attack our very means of civil administration. Our homes and government offices are shelled, our parliamentarians taken prisoner and threatened with prosecution.

The current Gaza invasion is only the latest effort to destroy the results of fair and free elections held early this year. It is the explosive follow-up to a five-month campaign of economic and diplomatic warfare directed by the United States and Israel. The stated intention of that strategy was to force the average Palestinian to "reconsider" her vote when faced with deepening hardship; its failure was predictable, and the new overt military aggression and collective punishment are its logical fulfillment. The "kidnapped" Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit is only a pretext for a job scheduled months ago.

In addition to removing our democratically elected government, Israel wants to sow dissent among Palestinians by claiming that there is a serious leadership rivalry among us. I am compelled to dispel this notion definitively. The Palestinian leadership is firmly embedded in the concept of Islamic shura , or mutual consultation; suffice it to say that while we may have differing opinions, we are united in mutual respect and focused on the goal of serving our people. Furthermore, the invasion of Gaza and the kidnapping of our leaders and government officials are meant to undermine the recent accords reached between the government party and our brothers and sisters in Fatah and other factions, on achieving consensus for resolving the conflict. Yet Israeli collective punishment only strengthens our collective resolve to work together.

As I inspect the ruins of our infrastructure -- the largess of donor nations and international efforts all turned to rubble once more by F-16s and American-made missiles -- my thoughts again turn to the minds of Americans. What do they think of this?

They think, doubtless, of the hostage soldier, taken in battle -- yet thousands of Palestinians, including hundreds of women and children, remain in Israeli jails for resisting the illegal, ongoing occupation that is condemned by international law. They think of the pluck and "toughness" of Israel, "standing up" to "terrorists." Yet a nuclear Israel possesses the 13th-largest military force on the planet, one that is used to rule an area about the size of New Jersey and whose adversaries there have no conventional armed forces. Who is the underdog, supposedly America's traditional favorite, in this case? [complete article]

Signs of humanitarian crisis grow in Gaza
By Thomas Wagner, AP (via Seattle P-I), July 11, 2006

The United Nations warns of food shortages. Hospitals refuse all non-emergency care to avoid running out of medicine. Power outages are widespread, and a lack of fuel for generators threatens water supplies.

Israel's military offensive, and its closure of the territory's border crossings, has worsened the plight of Palestinians in the already devastated Gaza Strip.

Signs of a humanitarian crisis are appearing in villages such as Beit Lahiya in northern Gaza, where Israeli tanks and bulldozers have damaged homes, leveled crops, toppled electricity poles and torn up underground water pipes while searching for tunnels and explosive devices used by militants to attack southern Israel.

"I am a nationalist, but this poverty - the fact that I cannot even feed my kids three meals a day - makes me hate myself," Musbah al-Sultan, 36, said in his bullet-ridden home, surrounded by his wife and seven children.

In the two-story house that he inherited from his father, the kitchen and refrigerator contained little food. Typical meals consist of water, tea and biscuits, he said. [complete article]
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U.S. reverses policy on military detainees
By Demetri Sevastopulo, Financial Times, July 11, 2006

The White House confirmed on Tuesday that the Pentagon had decided, in a major policy shift, that all detainees held in US military custody around the world are entitled to protection under the Geneva Conventions.

The FT learned that Gordon England, deputy defence secretary, sent a memo to senior defence officials and military officers last Friday, telling them that Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions -- which prohibits inhumane treatment of prisoners and requires certain basic legal rights at trial -- would apply to all detainees held in US military custody.

This reverses the policy outlined by President George W. Bush in 2002 when he decided members of al-Qaeda and the Taliban did not qualify for Geneva protections because the war on terrorism had ushered in a "new paradigm...[that] requires new thinking in the law of war". [complete article]

Comment -- This reversal seems to have less to do with the Supreme Court's ruling on military commissions than the fact that Admiral John D. Hutson, top uniformed lawyer in the Navy until 2000, has said, "We should be embracing Common Article 3 and shouting it from the rooftops." In the court of public opinion and with Congressional hearings through which they can deliver their message, the JAGs (current and former) have the power to wield more influence in this debate than perhaps anyone else.
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Rethinking embattled tactics in terror war
By Dana Priest, Washington Post, July 11, 2006

Five years after the attacks on the United States, the Bush administration faces the prospect of reworking key elements of its anti-terrorism effort in light of challenges from the courts, Congress and European allies crucial to counterterrorism operations.

The Republican chairman of the House intelligence committee and other members of Congress have complained about not being briefed on classified surveillance programs and huge unprecedented databases used to monitor domestic and international phone calls, faxes, e-mails and bank transfers.

European governments and three international bodies are investigating secret prisons run by the CIA, and some countries have pledged not to allow the transport of terrorism suspects through their airports.

Six European allies have demanded that President Bush shut down the prison for terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, citing violations of international law and mistreatment of detainees.

And the Supreme Court recently issued a rebuke of the military commissions created by the administration to try detainees, declaring that they violated the Geneva Conventions and were never properly authorized by Congress. [complete article]
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FBI to Muslims: 'Become informant or face deportation'
Raw Story, July 11, 2006

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been detaining Muslim immigrants, holding their green cards hostage, and threatening deportation unless the detainee agrees to become a government informant, today's WALL STREET JOURNAL is reporting.

In one case reported by the paper, a man was detained at a Canadian-U.S. border crossing and forced to travel to California by bus. He was given instructions on what he was to do after arriving in San Francisco. Once meeting an FBI agent, the gentleman was given the choice of becoming an informant or being deported back to Morocco. [complete article]
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Revenge killings terrorize Baghdad
By Sharon Behn, Washington Times, July 11, 2006

Dark smoke and gunfire rose from several Baghdad neighborhoods yesterday as Sunnis and Shi'ites carried out brazen revenge killings, defying a heavily publicized U.S-Iraqi security campaign that was supposed to contain violence in the capital.

Armed militias partially blocked the roads with burning tires, pulled people from their cars and shot them or released them depending on whether they were Sunni or Shi'ite, residents said. In some areas teenagers set up their own checkpoints in alleys, killing members of rival religious groups with impunity.

"This is civil war on a wide-screen, high-resolution TV," said one Iraqi doctor who crosses several districts every day to get to work. He asked that his name not be used for fear of retribution. [complete article]

See also, The most dangerous name in Iraq (Time).
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Insurgent group posts video of 2 mutilated U.S. soldiers
By Edward Wong, New York Times, July 11, 2006

Insurgents posted an Internet video on Monday showing the mutilated bodies of two American soldiers abducted in June and found murdered days later during a search by American and Iraqi forces south of Baghdad. A message with the video says the soldiers were killed out of revenge for the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl in March, a crime in which at least six American soldiers are suspects.

The video is the first released during the war that shows detailed and graphic mutilations of American soldiers. It also deepens the mystery surrounding the rape and killing of the Iraqi girl and the slayings of her parents and younger sister.

American officials have said that the soldiers implicated in that crime are from the same platoon of the 502nd Infantry as the two abducted soldiers, but investigators have yet to draw a direct link between the events. [complete article]

Comment -- The reaction among rightwing blogs is predictable, yet ironic. The Jawa Report writes, "If you do not have righteouss [sic] anger after seeing this, you are beyond hope. ... One Air Force officer told me he was about to do a brief and wanted to show it to his men. So, if POTUS [Bush] hasn't directly ordered revenge, I have a feeling the military is about to take it upon themselves to find and kill the AQ bastards who did this. Vengeance may not always be swift, but it is always sweet" -- a sentiment no doubt shared by every member of al Qaeda.
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Bush's North Korea meltdown: Japanese nukes next?
By Steven Clemons, The Washington Note, July 10, 2006

I think Asst. Secretary of State for East Asia and the Pacific and our chief envoy on North Korea negotiations Christopher Hill is one of the finest and most capable diplomats in America's foreign service -- but he not only has Kim Jong Il to outmaneuver but also has to outfox Vice President Cheney and his team who are always threatening to knife Hill from behind.

Hill has been close to some serious breakthrough deals with North Korea over the last 18 months, but each time Cheney and his team have unceremoniously and quietly strangled Hill's initiatives. Cheney's fervent opposition to negotiated outcomes with North Korea was more flamboyantly on display when his then State Department puppet John Bolton attacked and blew up the North Korea related initiatives of then Secretary of State Colin Powell and then chief North Korea negotiations envoy Jack Pritchard in 2001.

But Cheney has been at war with the Six Party Negotiations process throughout the entire Bush tenure. [complete article]

Why missile tests worked for Kim Jong Il
By Robert Marquand, Christian Science Monitor, July 11, 2006

It's summertime in Pyongyang, and if you are Dear Leader Kim Jong Il, life may be pretty good. The tension and crisis needed to keep your regime active and edgy are in full swing.

Certainly, Mr. Kim's thoughts and strategy are a mystery. But, longtime Pyongyang watchers say, it is clear that Kim does not want integration into the liberal, global order. Rather, his role is as a divinely mandated leader whose people live to serve him. In that role, Kim has much to be upbeat about in the past week after his missile test, and can tell himself a story such as this, they say:

You are supreme general of the fifth-largest army in the world, and your missile program just made a major military statement. You were told not to test missiles, and you did. As a result, the world jumped. You are getting more media than Iran. Most importantly, you provoked the Americans, your sworn enemy for 50 years - and they did nothing. Chinese envoys arrived Monday with a message from President Bush. Propaganda in the near term is easy: You show the Americans crawling to get you back to talks. You are the son of great leader Kim Il Sung, and you run the country, control the thoughts, and guide the people. Aides follow you with notepads, taking down every word, and publishing it as pure gold. You can go back to six-party talks, or not, depending on what's to get. [complete article]

Missile tests divide Seoul from Tokyo
By Norimitsu Onishi, New York Times, July 11, 2006

Soon after North Korea started launching missiles before dawn last Wednesday, Japan's television networks canceled their regular programming to broadcast the news and the government's quick response.

By contrast, except for very brief "news flashes," the networks here continued their World Cup soccer coverage until Italy beat Germany about 6:40 a.m.

The differences did not end there. Even as Christopher R. Hill, the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, crisscrossed this region emphasizing the importance of speaking with one voice against North Korea’s missile tests, South Korea and Japan, America's allies, were bickering.

On Sunday, the South Korean president's office issued a statement saying that overreacting to the tests would only heighten tensions on the Korean peninsula. "There is no reason to fuss over this from the break of dawn like Japan," it read. [complete article]

In Japan, tough talk about preemptive capability
By Anthony Faiola, Washington Post, July 11, 2006

In their toughest comments to date on North Korea's missile tests, Japanese officials on Monday called for a debate on whether Japan should pursue military capabilities that would enable preemptive strikes at North Korean missile bases. Japan currently does not possess such technology.

At the same time, Japan backed away from pushing for a vote at the U.N. Security Council on Monday on a measure to impose tough sanctions on North Korea. U.S. and Japanese diplomats have continued to face regional opposition to the plan, particularly from China and South Korea, the communist state's most important benefactors.

Seeking a diplomatic breakthrough, a Chinese delegation that included Deputy Foreign Minister Wu Dawei arrived in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, for an official six-day trip. China requested a postponement of the Security Council vote until Wu completed his visit. [complete article]
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Time up for Iran's answer on weapon
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 11, 2006

The Bush administration is poised to press the U.N. Security Council to begin the process of imposing punitive action against Iran, after signals over the weekend that Tehran will not provide the straightforward acceptance or rejection today of a U.S.-backed proposal designed to prevent it from developing a nuclear weapon, U.S. and European officials said yesterday.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana is scheduled to meet Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani today in Brussels to get an answer, a meeting that already had been delayed a week. But over the weekend, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Solana had not provided answers about what Iranian officials have termed ambiguities in the plan.

Meanwhile, the Iranian ambassador to Switzerland said Iran would not be ready to provide an answer until August. In a telephone interview, an Iranian official in Tehran said yesterday that the regime had been transparent about its concerns. [complete article]
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U.K. to send more troops to Afghanistan
By Matthew Tempest, The Guardian, July 10, 2006

Nearly 900 extra military personnel will be deployed to Afghanistan in the wake of the deaths of six British soldiers in the past month, the government announced today.

It will increase the size of the UK taskforce in the southern Helmand province to around 4,500 by October, from the current level of 3,600.

Additional support helicopters - probably Chinooks and Lynxs - will also be made available, the defence secretary, Des Browne, told MPs in an emergency statement on the state of Afghanistan.

The announcement came on the day that a former defence minister, Doug Henderson, broke ranks to criticise the lack of clarity of the UK mission, declaring British troops were a "sitting target" until clearer political objectives were set out. [complete article]
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Iraq says to ask U.N. to end U.S. immunity
By Mariam Karouny, Reuters, July 10, 2006

Iraq will ask the United Nations to end immunity from local law for U.S. troops, the government said on Monday, as the U.S. military named five soldiers charged in a rape-murder case that has outraged Iraqis.

In an interview a week after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki demanded a review of foreign troops' immunity, Human Rights Minister Wigdan Michael said work on it was now under way and a request could be ready by next month to go to the U.N. Security Council, under whose mandate U.S.-led forces operate in Iraq.

"We're very serious about this," she said, adding a lack of enforcement of U.S. military law in the past had encouraged soldiers to commit crimes against Iraqi civilians. [complete article]

Four more GIs charged with rape, murder
By Jonathan Finer and Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, July 10, 2006

Military investigators brought charges against four more American soldiers accused of taking part in the rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the killing of three members of her family, the U.S. military said Sunday.

The four active-duty soldiers from the Army's 502nd Infantry Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division are accused of conspiring with Steven D. Green, a former private, who was charged with rape and murder in federal court earlier this month.

A fifth soldier from the unit, who was not accused of direct involvement in the March 12 attack in the southern town of Mahmudiyah, was charged with dereliction of duty for failing to report the incident, the military said in a statement. It did not name the five soldiers. [complete article]
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Inside the anti-US resistance
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, July 8, 2006

Osama Bin Laden is ill and invisible, but five years after September 11, 2001, his al-Qaeda movement has become the fulcrum of a global, Islamic resistance against the United States.

Asia Times Online has learned from an operative close to the al-Qaeda leadership that bin Laden languishes on a dialysis machine, in rapidly declining health.

"Sheikh [Osama] was in a poor condition when my father last visited," said the operative, who uses the name "Abdullah". Abdullah's father, known as Sheikh Ibrahim, is number two after Tahir Yuldeshev in the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IUM), a group closely allied with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and operating in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. [complete article]
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Egyptian journalists go on strike
By Miret el Naggar, McClatchy, July 9, 2006

Twenty-five of Cairo's most venerable papers called a one-day strike and did not print Sunday editions in protest. Pro-government legislators could not be reached for comment Sunday evening. The government-backed Akhbar newspaper quoted majority leader Abdulahad Gamal el-Din as saying, "the constitution has always appreciated the press and the new law has granted the press even more freedom and guarantees."

The Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist opposition group that's officially banned but generally tolerated by the government, joined in the calls to block the bill. The group's leadership said its 88 members of the legislature were prepared to vote against the new press law introduced by Mubarak's ruling National Democratic Party.

Like Islamist groups in the Palestinian territories, Lebanon, Jordan and other parts of the Middle East, the Brotherhood is widely viewed by Egyptians as a force working against government corruption, cronyism and misuse of public funds. The bolder Egyptian press that emerged in the past year was a powerful tool for exposing such allegations, Brotherhood supporters said. [complete article]
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Amnesty accuses Algeria of torture
By Roula Khalaf and Heba Saleh, Financial Times, July 10, 2006

Amnesty International has accused Algeria’s secretive military security of torture and secret detentions in a report issued on Monday, ahead of a visit to London by President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

The UK-based human rights group says Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, should call on Mr Bouteflika to stamp out torture rather than agreeing deals that would enable the return of terrorist suspects.

The two governments are expected to sign a series of agreements this week to facilitate the deportation of Algerian terror suspects, based on diplomatic promises that they would not be badly treated. [complete article]
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Islamist leader slams Bush on Somalia policy
By Guled Mohamed, Reuters, July 10, 2006

The hardline leader of newly powerful Islamists said all of Somalia must be ruled by sharia law and U.S. President George W. Bush should be prosecuted for bankrolling defeated secular warlords.

"There is no Muslim nation that is safe from his (Bush's) oppression. He should stop his wrong leadership," Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, told Reuters by telephone from his rural base.

"He used the warlords to kill people. If it's possible for him to be charged, he deserves to be brought to justice," Aweys, an army colonel turned cleric, said. [complete article]

See also, At Least 20 Killed In Mogadishu Battles (Reuters).
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Dozens die as sectarian attacks escalate in Iraq
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, July 10, 2006

Iraq moved further towards all out sectarian civil war yesterday after Shia gunmen attacked a Sunni district in Baghdad, killing at least 42 people. Many were dragged from their cars at two fake police checkpoints and shot dead.
The slaughter of people with the "wrong" identity cards in the heart of the Iraqi capital has not happened on this scale before, and marks a serious escalation in sectarian hatred. Tit-for-tat mass killings are now commonplace. In an act of retaliation for the massacre of Sunnis in Jihad district, two car bombs exploded near a Shia mosque in the evening, killing 17 people and wounding 45.

Earlier in the day, Iraqi troops, backed by US forces, attacked the Shia stronghold of Qadamiya, killing nine people, wounding 30 and arresting seven.

Three Americans and one Iraqi government soldier were wounded. The US troops appear to have been looking for a Mehdi Army commander called Abu Diraa, accused of torturing and killing Sunnis. Local people said all those arrested were civilians, including a school teacher.

A savage sectarian conflict is now raging in Baghdad and nearby provinces in central Baghdad. Both the Shia and Sunni communities are turning districts in which they are a majority into bastions from which the minority is expelled. [complete article]

Sunni politicians call for U.N. peacekeepers
AP (via USA Today), July 10, 2006

Sunni politicians on Monday called on the U.N. Security Council to send peacekeepers to Iraq saying U.S.-led "occupation forces" cannot protect Iraqis.

A day earlier Shiite gunmen entered a Baghdad neighborhood and started killing members of the minority sect. Police said 41 people were killed in the dramatic escalation of sectarian violence.

Ayad al-Samaraie, a member of the Iraqi Accordance Front, the largest Sunni bloc in parliament, blamed the killings on militiamen loyal to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

He said U.S.-led forces have failed to provide security in the country. [complete article]
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Diplomacy is the only way out
Editorial, Haaretz, July 10, 2006

Israel's military operations in the Gaza Strip will almost certainly not topple the Hamas government. Furthermore, a severe crisis in Gaza could lead to the complete collapse of the PA, not just that of the Hamas regime. And responsibility for it would then fall on Israel.

It has been more than two weeks since Gilad Shalit was abducted, and it does not appear that the military operation, the siege and the severe collective punishment of Gaza residents have produced results. The army hasn't even managed to stop the Qassams. Now it looks like the only way to handle the crisis is through diplomacy. And the Egyptian proposal - together with Haniyeh's call for a cease-fire - mark a way out of the crisis. [complete article]

Meshal insists on prisoner swap for return of abducted soldier
By Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, Gideon Alon, Aluf Benn and Mijal Grinberg, Haaretz, July 10, 2006

Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based head of the Hamas political office, insisted Monday on a swap of Palestinian prisoners for the captured Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit.

"Our people... are united on the insistence to swap the captured soldier with prisoners in the jails of the Zionist enemy," said the exiled Hamas leader during a rare press conference from the Syrian capital.

He said that Shalit is a "prisoner of war and international conventions and laws should be applied to his case." [complete article]

Olmert threatens 'long war' to free Israeli soldier held in Gaza
By Harry de Quetteville, The Telegraph, July 10, 2006

Israel's prime minister Ehud Olmert insisted yesterday that a military operation in Gaza to free a captive soldier and end Palestinian rocket attacks could go on indefinitely.

He said the operation was not "on a timetable". "We're talking about a long war," he said, as the army's southern region commander threatened to pound Palestinian militants for "months".

Gen Yoav Galant said: "They will think twice about launching attacks when they see in a week, a month, or two months from now that hundreds of terrorists have been killed." [complete article]

See also, Israel's mixed messages in Gaza (CSM).
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A few bad men
By David Holthouse, Southern Poverty Law Center, July 7, 2006

Before the U.S. military made Matt Buschbacher a Navy SEAL, he made himself a soldier of the Fourth Reich.

Before Forrest Fogarty attended Military Police counter-insurgency training school, he attended Nazi skinhead festivals as lead singer for the hate rock band Attack.

And before Army engineer Jon Fain joined the invasion of Iraq to fight the War on Terror, the neo-Nazi National Alliance member fantasized about fighting a war on Jews.

"Ever since my youth -- when I watched WWII footage and saw how well-disciplined and sharply dressed the German forces were -- I have wanted to be a soldier," Fain said in a Winter 2004 interview with the National Alliance magazine Resistance. "Joining the American military was as close as I could get."

Ten years after Pentagon leaders toughened policies on extremist activities by active duty personnel -- a move that came in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing by decorated Gulf War combat veteran Timothy McVeigh and the murder of a black couple by members of a skinhead gang in the elite 82nd Airborne Division -- large numbers of neo-Nazis and skinhead extremists continue to infiltrate the ranks of the world's best-trained, best-equipped fighting force. Military recruiters and base commanders, under intense pressure from the war in Iraq to fill the ranks, often look the other way. [complete article]

See also, When the personality disorder wears camouflage (NYT).
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What's an Iraqi life worth?
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Post, July 9, 2006

In Iraq, lives differ in value -- and so do deaths. In this disparity lies an important reason why the United States has botched this war.

Last November in Haditha, a squad of Marines, outraged at the loss of a comrade, is said to have run amok, avenging his death by killing two dozen innocent bystanders. And in March, U.S. soldiers in Mahmudiyah allegedly raped a young Iraqi woman and killed her along with three of her relatives -- an apparently premeditated crime for which one former U.S. soldier has been charged . These incidents are among at least five recent cases of Iraqi civilian deaths that have triggered investigations of U.S. military personnel. If the allegations prove true, Haditha and Mahmudiyah will deservedly take their place alongside Sand Creek, Samar and My Lai in the unhappy catalogue of atrocities committed by American troops.

But recall a more recent incident, in Samarra . On May 30, U.S. soldiers manning a checkpoint there opened fire on a speeding vehicle that either did not see or failed to heed their command to stop. Two women in the vehicle were shot dead. One of them, Nahiba Husayif Jassim, 35, was pregnant. The baby was also killed. The driver, Jassim's brother, had been rushing her to a hospital to give birth. No one tried to cover up the incident: U.S. military representatives issued expressions of regret.

In all likelihood, we will be learning more about Haditha and Mahmudiyah for months to come, whereas the Samarra story has already been filed away and largely forgotten. And that's the problem.

The killing at the Samarra checkpoint was not an atrocity; most likely it was an accident, a mistake. Yet plenty of evidence suggests that in Iraq such mistakes have occurred routinely, with moral and political consequences that have been too long ignored. Indeed, conscious motivation is beside the point: Any action resulting in Iraqi civilian deaths, however inadvertent, undermines the Bush administration's narrative of liberation, and swells the ranks of those resisting the U.S. presence. [complete article]
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U.S. military braces for flurry of criminal cases in Iraq
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, July 9, 2006

No American serviceman has been executed since 1961. But in the past month, new cases in Iraq have led to charges against 12 American servicemen who may face the death penalty in connection with the killing of Iraqi civilians.

Military officials caution against seeing the cases as part of any broader pattern, noting that the incidents in question are isolated and rare. But the new charges represent an extraordinary flurry in a conflict that has had relatively few serious criminal cases so far.

As investigators complete their work, military officials say, the total of American servicemen charged with capital crimes in the new cases could grow substantially, perhaps exceeding the total of at least 16 other marines and soldiers charged with murdering Iraqis throughout the first three years of the war. [complete article]

See also, L.A. man detained in Iraq sues U.S. (LAT).
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Medical oaths betrayed
By Steven H. Miles, Washington Post, July 9, 2006

In November 2003, an Iraqi guard smuggled a pistol into the U.S. military prison at Abu Ghraib and gave it to a prisoner, Ameen Saeed al-Sheik. Tipped off, military police quickly began a cell-to-cell search. When they reached his cell, Sheik went for the hidden pistol; gunfire was exchanged and a sergeant was hit. According to sworn testimony, the soldiers wrestled the prisoner to the {fllig}oor and sent him to the hospital with a dislocated shoulder and shotgun wounds to his legs.

When Sheik returned to prison, he was beaten with a baton and his arms were handcuffed over his head, putting stress on his injured shoulder and leg. On a cold night, a medic, Sgt. Theresa Adams, saw Sheik naked and bleeding from a catheter that should have been connected to a bag to prevent infection. According to a sworn statement, the physician on call (who held the rank of colonel) agreed that the hospital had erred in leaving the catheter open but refused to remove it or to transfer Sheik to a hospital. When Adams asked him whether he had ever heard of the Geneva Conventions, the physician answered, "Fine, Sergeant, you do what you have to do; I am going back to bed."

In May 2004, photographs of prisoners being abused at Abu Ghraib shocked the world. When I saw the pictures, a simple question came to mind: Where were the prison doctors, nurses and medics while this abuse was happening? [complete article]
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Bush's unintended internationalism
By Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, July 9, 2006

In spite of itself, the Bush administration is reshaping and revitalizing international law as a governing concept and a force in world politics. This White House gives new meaning to the notion of unintended and devoutly unwanted consequences.

Its highhanded policies in the war on global terrorist networks and the occupation of Iraq have provoked sharp reaction at home and abroad. Over time, this reaction has turned into a search by others for legal and political frameworks to contain President Bush's campaign to concentrate national security power in his hands and shield it from even cursory scrutiny and consultation. [complete article]

The Gitmo fallout
By Michael Isikoff and Stuart Taylor Jr., Newsweek, July 17, 2006

David Bowker vividly remembers the first time he heard the phrase. A lawyer in the State Department, Bowker was part of a Bush administration "working group" assembled in the panicked aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Its task: figuring out what rights captured foreign fighters and terror suspects were entitled to while in U.S. custody. White House hard-liners, led by Vice President Dick Cheney and his uncompromising lawyer, David Addington, made it clear that there was only one acceptable answer. One day, Bowker recalls, a colleague explained the goal: to "find the legal equivalent of outer space" -- a "lawless" universe.
[complete article]

Recent arrests in terror plots yield debate on pre-emptive action by government
By Eric Lipton, New York Times, July 9, 2006

In Miami last month and now in New York, terror cases have unfolded in which suspects have been apprehended before they lined up the intended weapons and the necessary financing or figured out other central details necessary to carry out their plots.

For officials in Washington, it is a demonstration of the much-needed emphasis in this post-9/11 era for pre-emptive arrests.

"We don't wait until someone has lit the fuse to step in," Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Friday at a news conference about the New York plot.

But the Miami and New York cases are inspiring a new round of skepticism from some lawyers who are openly questioning whether the government, in its zeal to stop terrorism, is forgetting an element central to any case: the actual intent to commit a crime. [complete article]
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Ally warned Bush on keeping spying from Congress
By Eric Lichtblau and Scott Shane, New York Times, July 9, 2006

In a sharply worded letter to President Bush in May, an important Congressional ally charged that the administration might have violated the law by failing to inform Congress of some secret intelligence programs and risked losing Republican support on national security matters.

The letter from Representative Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, the Republican chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, did not specify the intelligence activities that he believed had been hidden from Congress.

But Mr. Hoekstra, who was briefed on and supported the National Security Agency's domestic surveillance program and the Treasury Department's tracking of international banking transactions, clearly was referring to programs that have not been publicly revealed. [complete article]
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West mounts 'secret war' to keep nuclear North Korea in check
By Michael Sheridan, The Sunday Times, July 9, 2006

A programme of covert action against nuclear and missile traffic to North Korea and Iran is to be intensified after last week's missile tests by the North Korean regime.

Intelligence agencies, navies and air forces from at least 13 nations are quietly co-operating in a "secret war" against Pyongyang and Tehran.

It has so far involved interceptions of North Korean ships at sea, US agents prowling the waterfronts in Taiwan, multinational naval and air surveillance missions out of Singapore, investigators poring over the books of dubious banks in the former Portuguese colony of Macau and a fleet of planes and ships eavesdropping on the "hermit kingdom" in the waters north of Japan.

Few details filter out from western officials about the programme, which has operated since 2003, or about the American financial sanctions that accompany it.

But together they have tightened a noose around Kim Jong-il's bankrupt, hungry nation. [complete article]

See also, Four scenarios, and not one ends happily (NYT).
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Dozens killed in Baghdad attack
BBC News, July 9, 2006

Gunmen in the Iraqi capital Baghdad have killed at least 40 people at a fake checkpoint, in an apparent sectarian attack against Sunni Muslims.

Police say Shia militants stopped cars in the western Jihad district, separated Sunnis and shot them. [complete article]

Police abuses in Iraq detailed
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, July 9, 2006

Brutality and corruption are rampant in Iraq's police force, with abuses including the rape of female prisoners, the release of terrorism suspects in exchange for bribes, assassinations of police officers and participation in insurgent bombings, according to confidential Iraqi government documents detailing more than 400 police corruption investigations.

A recent assessment by State Department police training contractors echoes the investigative documents, concluding that strong paramilitary and insurgent influences within the force and endemic corruption have undermined public confidence in the government.

Officers also have beaten prisoners to death, been involved in kidnapping rings, sold thousands of stolen and forged Iraqi passports and passed along vital information to insurgents, the Iraqi documents allege. [complete article]

Sunni politicians may expand boycott over kidnapping
By Edward Wong, New York Times, July 9, 2006

Sunni Arab politicians are considering withdrawing from executive offices in the Shiite-led government because militiamen have yet to free a Sunni legislator kidnapped this month, a Sunni leader said Saturday.

Adnan al-Dulaimi, a leader of the main Sunni Arab political group, which holds 44 of the 275 seats in Parliament, said the bloc would also continue its boycott of the legislature for a second week. [complete article]
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Who started?
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, July 9, 2006

"We left Gaza and they are firing Qassams" - there is no more precise a formulation of the prevailing view about the current round of the conflict. "They started," will be the routine response to anyone who tries to argue, for example, that a few hours before the first Qassam fell on the school in Ashkelon, causing no damage, Israel sowed destruction at the Islamic University in Gaza.

Israel is causing electricity blackouts, laying sieges, bombing and shelling, assassinating and imprisoning, killing and wounding civilians, including children and babies, in horrifying numbers, but "they started."

They are also "breaking the rules" laid down by Israel: We are allowed to bomb anything we want and they are not allowed to launch Qassams. When they fire a Qassam at Ashkelon, that's an "escalation of the conflict," and when we bomb a university and a school, it's perfectly alright. Why? Because they started. That's why the majority thinks that all the justice is on our side. Like in a schoolyard fight, the argument about who started is Israel's winning moral argument to justify every injustice. [complete article]

See also, Rockets create a 'balance of fear' with Israel, Gaza residents say (NYT).

Author Mario Vargas Llosa: I'm ashamed to be Israel's friend
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, July 9, 2006

Internationally acclaimed author and former Peruvian presidential candidate, Mario Vargas Llosa, over the weekend slammed Israel's "out of proportion" operation in the Gaza Strip, saying he was ashamed of being Israel's friend.

The Jerusalem Prize recipient rebuked Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's administration at a Madrid convention organized by the International Freedom Fund, a South American research fund headed by Vargas Llosa and based out of Argentina.

"Israel had become a powerful and arrogant country, and it is the role of its friends to be highly critical of its policies," Vargas Llosa said. [complete article]

See also, Anti-Zionist, pro-Israeli (Haaretz).

Annan warning on Gaza 'disaster'
BBC News, July 9, 2006

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has demanded that Israel take urgent action to prevent a humanitarian disaster in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli jets continued to pound Gaza targets on Sunday in operations aimed at securing the release of a soldier captured by Palestinian militants. [complete article]

Palestinian prime minister calls for a truce with Israel and new talks
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, July 9, 2006

The Palestinian prime minister from Hamas, Ismail Haniya, on Saturday called for a mutual cease-fire with Israel after Israeli forces pulled out of most of the northern Gaza Strip, perhaps responding to Israeli hints that a package deal might be possible to end a military and political crisis.

Eleven days after Israeli forces entered Gaza to free an abducted Israeli soldier and stop rocket fire by militants, they continued to hold territory in northern Gaza, east of Beit Hanun and the Erez crossing, and in the south, near Rafah. Early Saturday, the military also moved into eastern Gaza near the Karni crossing with Israel, where there were fierce clashes with militants on the eastern edge of Gaza City. [complete article]

A shaky unity among the ranks
By Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, July 9, 2006

On Friday, nearly two weeks after the abduction of Corporal Gilad Shalit, a watershed was marked on the Palestinian side: For the first time, an article criticizing the Palestinian Authority's handling of the crisis appeared in the Palestinian press.

In an article entitled "Who will save the people from the curse of Gilad?", Nasser al-Lahem, editor-in-chief of the independent Palestinian news agency, Maan, lists the damage since the abduction - nearly 60 fatalities, including those killed in incidents with the Israel Defense Forces in the West Bank, the complete siege of the Gaza Strip, and the detention of Hamas' political leadership in the West Bank.

This sort of criticism, at the zenith of the fighting, is an unusual phenomenon in the territories. The position expressed by Al-Lahem, a resident of the Dehaishe refugee camp near Bethlehem, appears to reflect the opinion of many Palestinians. The very high number of casualties (most of them armed) and the suffering of the population in the northern Gaza Strip are cause for questions regarding the wisdom behind the latest adventure into which Hamas has led the PA. [complete article]

Anger and grief amid Gaza rubble
By Martin Patience, BBC News, July 8, 2006

Ali Khatar, 71, opened his front door for the first time in two days to find his kitchen wall completely destroyed and the engine of his minibus sheared off by an Israeli tank.

For 48 hours, Mr Khatar, his wife, daughter, and two grandchildren, huddled in the back room of their house as Israeli tanks and soldiers fought Palestinian militants in the street outside.

Whenever the family heard gunfire they dived to the floor, fearful that a bullet would penetrate the house's breezeblock walls.

But by Saturday morning, the Israeli army had pulled out of Beit Lahiya, leaving churned-up roads and agricultural plots; damaged water pipes and electricity lines; and demolished walls and shattered windows.

"We were like prisoners. The children were living in fear," says Mr Khatar, standing beside his front door, which is now lying on the side of the road. [complete article]

See also, Girl killed as Israel tightens grip on Gaza (The Sunday Times).
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Death trap
By Christina Lamb, The Sunday Times, July 9, 2006

When you twice stare death in the face in ditches in southern Afghanistan, first with Afghans and then fighting Afghans, you start to wonder what it is about this country that keeps drawing us back.

The first time I was 22, in and out of love, and thought I was indestructible. I was with a young, chubby and then unknown Hamid Karzai and a band of turbanned mullahs who would later go on to become founding members of the Taliban.

Armed and funded by the Americans and British, they had gone on an ill-conceived operation to attack a Russian base at Kandahar airport that had ended with us pinned down in a trench by Soviet tanks with hot dust and rubble raining on us and several dead.

Had anyone told me then that 18 years later Karzai would be the president of Afghanistan and I would end up under fire in a similar ditch with British soldiers in the neighbouring province of Helmand fighting Afghans, I would never have believed it. [complete article]

Britain to put in more troops as attacks mount
By Marie Woolf and Raymond Whitaker, The Independent, July 9, 2006

Britain's beleaguered troops in southern Afghanistan are to be heavily reinforced after a request from defence chiefs. Des Browne, the Secretary of State for Defence, will tell the Commons this week that a force of up to 1,000 soldiers, including combat troops and logistical support, will be urgently sent to the country. [complete article]

Hunt for the Taliban trio intent on destruction
By Jason Burke, The Observer, July 9, 2006

The trio are known as 'the junta'. They live in the shadows of southern Afghanistan, masters of bands of determined fighters who want to destroy any outside military presence. And that means destroying the British army in Afghanistan.

Coalition intelligence officers in the country held an emergency meeting last week to co-ordinate the hunt for the three, who are believed to be behind much of the current upsurge in fighting.

As fears in London grew over the spiralling violence in southern Afghanistan, British, American and French officers discussed how to track down, capture and kill the Taliban leaders. They are: Jalaluddin Haqqani, a veteran tribal leader and guerrilla fighter; Mullah Mohammed Omar, the reclusive one-eyed cleric who led the Taliban regime when in power; and the lesser-known Mullah Mohammed Dadullah Akhund, an ultra-violent and media-savvy commander who is emerging as the number-one enemy of coalition and Afghan government forces. [complete article]
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Signs of detainees' planning alleged
By Josh White, Washington Post, July 8, 2006

Three suicides at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, may have been part of a broader plot by detainees who were using confidential lawyer-client papers and envelopes to pass handwritten notes their guards could not intercept, according to documents that government lawyers filed yesterday in federal court.

Detainees could apparently hide documents in their cells -- including instructions on how to tie knots and a classified U.S. military memo regarding cell locations of detainees and camp operational matters at Guantanamo -- by keeping the materials in envelopes labeled as lawyer-client communications. Notes that investigators found after the suicides on June 10 were apparently written on the back of notepaper stamped "Attorney Client Privilege," which allowed detainees to communicate secretly without interference, according to government officials.
Lawyers are permitted to share with detainees legal communications or publicly filed documents, but they are not allowed to pass classified or "protected" information to clients.

Barbara Olshansky of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents most of the Guantanamo detainees, said the allegations that lawyers could have played a role in the suicides are "patently offensive" and "outrageous." She said the government is again trying to make it difficult for lawyers to represent the 450 detainees held there.

"I can't imagine what they think they've found," Olshansky said last night. "All I can see this as is an elaborate ruse to take away whatever these people have so they have absolutely nothing, and to make these lawyers fight for yet another thing." [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Palestine: Hamas besieged
By Wendy Kristianasen, Le Monde diplomatique, June, 2006

Israel's actions in Gaza no different to those of a terror group
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, July 2, 2006

Israel is bogged down in Gaza. Where is the U.S.?
By Tony Karon, Time, July 7, 2006

Captive in Gaza
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 6, 2006

U.S. seen backing Israeli moves to topple Hamas
By Ori Nir, The Forward, July 7, 2006

Mistaken entry into clan dispute led to U.S. black eye in Somalia
By Craig Timberg, Washington Post, July 2, 2006

The legal mind behind the White House's war on terror
By Jane Meyer, The New Yorker, July 3, 2006

Al-Qaeda, still in business
By Peter Bergen, Washington Post, July 2, 2006

How to help Afghanistan
By Ahmed Rashid, Washington Post, July 3, 2006

The military's problem with the President's Iran policy
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, July 3, 2006

Ayatollah's moves hint Iran wants to engage
By Karl Vick, Washington Post, July 5, 2006

What does North Korea want?
By Bruce Cumings and Meredith Jung-En Woo, New York Times, July 7, 2006

Bush directed Cheney to counter war critic
By Murray Waas, National Journal, July 3, 2006

Oil rivalry rocks Basra
By Raheem Salman and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2006

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