The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     

Iraqi casualties are up sharply, study finds
New York Times
Sistani warns Iraq PM on security
Orphans in Iraq's storm
Washington Post

Rumsfeld has a short memory for who 'appeased'
Peter Galbraith
On terrorism, Bush maligns history and our intelligence
Rami G. Khouri
'Fascism' frame set up by neocon press
Jim Lobe

E.U. ready to talk to Syria and Hamas
Financial Times
Israel 'likely' to reopen talks with P.A.
Financial Times
Palestinians begin to direct blame inward
Los Angeles Times

N Korea accuses U.S. over missiles
$100bn later, Star Wars hits its first missile
The Guardian
Truces fueling resurgence of Taliban, critics say
FBI role in terror probe questioned
Washington Post
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Shiites warn against revenge after Baghdad bloodbath
By Ammar Karim, AFP, September 1, 2006

Muslim preachers have warned worshippers against carrying out reprisals that could push Iraq into civil war, after bombs and mortar shells killed 67 civilians in Shiite areas of Baghdad.

More than 400 Iraqis were killed this week as a surge of violence raged around Iraq, including scores slaughtered in insurgent bombings in Shiite markets and neighbourhoods of the strife-torn capital. [complete article]

See also, Pentagon says Iraq violence spreading (AP), Baker meets Sunni leaders in Iraq (Reuters), and Fleeing violence, Iraq's Arabs flock to Kurdistan (Reuters).
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Iran, ready for a test of wills
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, September 1, 2006

"Iran thinks in Iraq it has the upper hand -- that is the view of the Iranian military and political establishment," says Kayhan Barzegar, a professor of international relations here who advises some members of the leadership on Iraq. He prepared a recent paper, "Iran's Security Interest in the New Iraq," for Iran's Expediency Council, which is headed by former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and is the center point for the pragmatist faction. Barzegar says that it is precisely because the United States needs Iran's assistance that a dialogue between the two over Iraq makes sense.

"Iraq is the momentous moment, where the two countries can work with each other in tangible ways," argues Barzegar. Iran can play a decisive role not just because of its links with the Shiite-led government and militia groups, he says, but also because of what he calls its "soft power" as the dominant economic, political and cultural player in the region.

Iran officially embraced this idea of dialogue on Iraq early this year, in a statement from Ali Larijani, Iran's national security adviser. But the Bush administration pulled back, worried that talks with Tehran about Iraq would obstruct the administration's larger goal of containing the Iranian nuclear program. The failure of the initiative undercut the advocates of dialogue and emboldened the hard-liners. [complete article]

Former Iran president faces snub in U.S.
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, August 31, 2006

Mohammad Khatami, Iran's former president, embarks on a ground-breaking tour of the US this week to promote his vision of the role of religion in east-west reconciliation. But prospects for a breakthrough in US-Iranian relations appear bleak, with the Bush administration declaring it will not speak to him or attend his events. [complete article]

Highly enriched uranium found at Iranian plant
By Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, September 1, 2006

The global nuclear monitoring agency deepened suspicions on Thursday about Iran’s nuclear program, reporting that inspectors had discovered new traces of highly enriched uranium at an Iranian facility.

Inspectors have found such uranium, which at extreme enrichment levels can fuel bombs, twice in the past. The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that at least some of those samples came from contaminated equipment that Iran had obtained from Pakistan.

But in this case, the nuclear fingerprint of the particles did not match the other samples, an official familiar with the inspections said, raising questions about their origin. [complete article]

Gingrich opposed to U.S. strike on Iran
By Ralph Z. Hallow, Washington Times, September 1, 2006

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich this week moved a step further toward casting himself as the conservative alternative to Sen. John McCain in a possible run for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination.

In an impromptu speech during a Mediterranean cruise that hosted scores of conservative donors and activists, the Georgia Republican expressed unexpected skepticism about prospects of military intervention to halt Iran's nuclear program.

"I am opposed to a military strike on Iran because I don't think it accomplishes very much in the long run," said Mr. Gingrich, who supported the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and has been a strong defender of Israel.

"I think if this regime [in Iran] is so dangerous that we can't afford to let them have nuclear weapons, we need a strategy to replace the regime," Mr. Gingrich said. "And the first place you start is where Ronald Reagan did in Eastern Europe with a comprehensive strategy that relied on economic, political, diplomatic, information and intelligence" means.

The statement represented a significant modification of one of his most hawkish foreign-policy views.

Earlier this year, he said, "A nonviolent solution that allows the terrorists to become better trained, better organized, more numerous and better armed is a defeat. A nonviolent solution that leads to North Korean and Iranian nuclear weapons threatening us across the planet is a defeat." [complete article]

Comment -- A little over a month ago Gingrich and his croneys were celebrating the beginning of World War Three. Now there are those such as Charles Krauthammer who insist that Hezbollah lost the war against Israel, but since from their perspective this was always about Iran, which of them would be so bold as to say that Iran is worse off now than it was in early July?
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Criticize Israel? You're an anti-Semite!
By Rosa Brooks, Los Angeles Times, September 1, 2006

In a climate in which good-faith criticism of Israel is automatically denounced as anti-Semitic, everyone loses. Israeli policies are a major source of discord in the Islamic world, and anger at Israel usually spills over into anger at the U.S., Israel's biggest backer.

With resentment of Israeli policies fueling terrorism and instability both in the Middle East and around the globe, it's past time for Americans to have a serious national debate about how to bring a just peace to the Middle East. But if criticism of Israel is out of bounds, that debate can't occur -- and we'll all pay the price. [complete article]

Comment -- It's important to underline the fact that the effort to shut down debate on Israel is an American phenomenon in which a vociferous group of American Jews are betraying their own intellectual heritage and exploiting the deep currents of anti-intellectualism and xenophobia that so often shackle political debate in this country.

Vilification of ones opponents; a refusal to engage in honest debate; campaigns to exclude ones critics from political, media, and educational arenas; and ultimately the accusation that ones critics pose a threat to the existence of a nation and a people - this is the very stuff upon which fascism is built.

Their view of the world is through a bombsight
By Noam Chomsky, The Guardian, September 1, 2006

In Lebanon, a little-honoured truce remains in effect - yet another in a decades-long series of ceasefires between Israel and its adversaries in a cycle that, as if inevitably, returns to warfare, carnage and human misery. Let's describe the current crisis for what it is: a US-Israeli invasion of Lebanon, with only a cynical pretence to legitimacy. Amid all the charges and counter-charges, the most immediate factor behind the assault is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This is hardly the first time that Israel has invaded Lebanon to eliminate an alleged threat. The most important of the US-backed Israeli invasions of Lebanon, in 1982, was widely described in Israel as a war for the West Bank. It was undertaken to end the Palestinian Liberation Organisation's annoying calls for a diplomatic settlement. Despite many different circumstances, the July invasion falls into the same pattern. [complete article]

Israel's deceptions as a way of life
By Jonathan Cook, Electronic Intifada, August 31, 2006

In a state established on a founding myth -- that the native Palestinian population left of their own accord rather than that they were ethnically cleansed -- and in one that seeks its legitimacy through a host of other lies, such as that the occupation of the West Bank is benign and that Gaza's has ended, deception becomes a political way of life.

And so it is in the "relative calm" that has followed Israel's month-long pounding of Lebanon, a calm in which Israelis may no longer be dying but the Lebanese most assuredly are as explosions of US-made cluster bombs greet the south's returning refugees and the anonymous residents of Gaza perish by the dozens each and every week under the relentless and indiscriminate strikes of the Israeli air force while the rest slowly starve in their open-air prison.

Israeli leaders deceive as much in "peace" as they do in war, which is why it is worth examining the slow trickle of disinformation coming from Tel Aviv and reflecting on where it is leading. [complete article]
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Villagers see violations of a cease-fire that Israel says doesn't exist
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, September 1, 2006

A group of local men were unloading bags of donated food from a truck here Tuesday morning when the tok-tok-tok of heavy machine-gun fire rang out.

Men shouted; children screamed and ran. Then, as it became clear the firing was just the Israeli tanks again up on the hillside above town, they went back to their routines.

The shooting -- and occasional mortar fire -- goes on regularly around this village, a Hezbollah stronghold near the border.

To local people, it is sheer provocation, and a flagrant breach of the cease-fire that ended the fighting on Aug. 14. [complete article]

Donors pledge $940m to aid Lebanon
By David Ibison, Financial Times, August 31, 2006

International donors pledged $940m on Thursday to finance the near-term relief efforts for war-torn Lebanon, nearly double the sum originally targeted by organisers. However, it emerged on Thursday night that only $765m (€598m, £402m) was new money, as $175m of the total had been previously committed by the US. [complete article]

As Lebanon's troops deploy, Hezbollah stays put in south
By Edward Cody, Washington Post, September 1, 2006

Backed by an M113 armored personnel carrier, Lebanese soldiers wearing flak vests and carrying M16 automatic rifles manned a checkpoint at the little crossroads marking the entrance to Al Ghandouriyeh.

On a decorative archway nearby, the Lebanese flag with its distinctive green cedar flapped proudly, proclaiming restored national authority. Just above it on the pole, however, another flag flew: the yellow and green banner of Hezbollah, with an AK-47 assault rifle depicted atop the word "God." The arrangement seemed to illustrate popular sentiment in this heavily damaged village in southern Lebanon.

Heeding the U.N. cease-fire resolution that stopped the 33-day war between Israel and Hezbollah 2 1/2 weeks ago, the Lebanese army has deployed across the rocky hillsides and stone villages between the Litani River and the Israeli border. But to all appearances, the deployment has not displaced Hezbollah, the militant Islamic movement that Israel and the United States say must be destroyed as an armed force if peace is to return to this tortured land. [complete article]

See also, Israeli army quits occupied border area (AP) and Syria 'to enforce arms embargo' (BBC).
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E.U. urged to make contact with Hamas
By Fidelius Schmid and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, August 31, 2006

The European Union should establish contact with Hamas, the proscribed Islamist group, the holder of the EU's presidency has proposed.

Erkki Tuomioja, Finnish foreign minister, told FT Deutschland, the Financial Times' sister paper, that the EU would have to make an important shift in policy and be prepared to enter discussions with all "relevant" parties if it were to revive the stricken Middle East peace process.

"Hamas is not the same party it was before the elections," he said, referring to what he said were the group's encouraging but insufficient steps to moderate its stance after it won control of the Palestinian Authority this year. [complete article]

Report: Israel discusses freeing 1,000 Palestinians in Shalit swap
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, September 1, 2006

An Israeli delegation is visiting Egypt to discuss a proposed deal for the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israel Defense Forces soldier abducted by Hamas on June 25, a Saudi Arabian newspaper reported Friday.

The deal involves Hamas' release of Shalit in exchange for Israel's release of about 1,000 Palestinians held in Israeli jails, according to a senior Egyptian source quoted by the newspaper, Okaz. The paper said Egypt would help carry out the swap. [complete article]

A collapse of the Palestinian Authority would hurt Israel
By Gidi Grinstein and Eran Shayshon, Daily Star, September 1, 2006

In the midst of the recent war in Lebanon, the Israeli media and public almost completely disregarded an event that shook up Palestinian politics. In a session of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), Ismail Haniyya, called upon all Palestinian factions to evaluate the necessity of the PA.

The PLC session was convened a few days after Israel arrested the council's chairman, Abdul Aziz Dweik. Although it may have seemed that Haniyya's call was an attempt to draw international attention to the miseries of the PA, demands for dissolution of the PA have been a recurring theme in Palestinian politics and constitute a clear emerging trend. [complete article]

Donors pledge Palestinians $500m
BBC News, September 1, 2006

International donors have pledged $500m (£262m) towards aid and reconstruction for the Palestinian territories - well above the UN's target figure of $330m. [complete article]

Last ditch effort
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram Weekly, August 31, 2006

Palestinians, including nearly all political and resistance factions, have welcomed the prospect of the formation of a national unity government in the hope that it will succeed in overcoming the overwhelming present political-economic crisis facing Palestinian society. [complete article]

Palestinian PM urges govt workers not to strike
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, September 1, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas urged government workers on Friday to scrap plans for an open-ended strike set to cause chaos.

Civil servants demanding wages largely unpaid since March plan to stop work from Saturday which could paralyze government operations except for hospitals and border crossings. [complete article]
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The knife at Pakistan's throat
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, September 2, 2006

"I can see slit throats beneath these turbans and beards" were the words of Hajaj bin Yusuf, an 8th-century tyrant in what is now Iraq, as he witnessed a gathering of leading religious and political figures.

A similar thought occurred to this writer as he attended the largest ever gathering of Pakistani Taliban, tribal elders and politicians in Miranshah, the tribal capital of North Waziristan, on Wednesday. Fire and blood were in the air as momentous events loomed over the Pakistani tribal areas of North and South Waziristan, where the Taliban are in complete control.

The tribal areas bordering Afghanistan's volatile southern and southwestern provinces are once again a focus of the "war on terror" and are likely to soon become as significant to the United States as Afghanistan itself. [complete article]
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Bush escalates war-on-terror rhetoric
By Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 2006

As the nation fights wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and seeks to keep the American homeland safe, another sort of conflict is heating up: a war of rhetoric.

Thursday, President Bush launched a series of speeches aimed at building support for efforts to combat terrorism and for the Iraq war. His address before the American Legion in Salt Lake City followed tough speeches this week by other top administration officials that characterized Iraq war opponents as "defeatists" and "appeasers," likening the threat of Islamic fundamentalist-driven terrorism to "fascism."

With the death toll mounting in Iraq, Mr. Bush has moved away from trying to portray a sense of progress there to warning of the consequences of pulling out. On the eve of the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks - and a little more than two months before crucial congressional elections - Bush appears intent on framing all the wars as part of the larger war on terrorism. [complete article]

Comment -- George Bush is a man of great faith: faith in the power of fear, rooted in ignorance. He's banking on the assumption that the Republican Party can keep national fear simmering just long enough to squeeze through another election, and he's willing to insult the memory of everyone who lived through World War Two just so he and his cronies can continue exercising the power that they regard as their birthright.

Democrats target Rumsfeld
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, September 1, 2006

Under assault from Republicans on issues of national security, congressional Democrats are planning to push for a vote of no confidence in Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this month as part of a broad effort to stay on the offensive ahead of the November midterm elections.

In Rumsfeld, Democrats believe they have found both a useful antagonist and a stand-in for President Bush and what they see as his blunders in Iraq. This week, Democrats interpreted a speech of his as equating critics of the war in Iraq to appeasers of Adolf Hitler, an interpretation that Pentagon spokesman Eric Ruff disputed. But Democrats said the hyperbolic attack would backfire. [complete article]
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Saudi bid for influence shattered
By Mahan Abedin, Asia Times, September 2, 2006

The war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon has exposed deep rifts between Iran and Syria on the one hand and the conservative and US-friendly regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt on the other. This was dramatically underlined by Saudi Arabia's unusually tough stance against Hezbollah at the outset of the conflict.

It is well known that among the West's allies in the region, it is only the Saudis who can openly criticize US policy without risking their ties to Washington. Therefore, the fact they chose to chastise Hezbollah unequivocally (knowing full well what effect this will have on pro-Hezbollah public opinion in the Arab world) speaks volumes about growing Saudi desperation.

The Saudi stance against Hezbollah has less to do with fears of Iran's growing geopolitical weight than a demoralized reaction to the failure of its foreign policy in Lebanon. However, by choosing to side with the United States and Israel, the House of Saud risks deepening the dynamics that generate divisions and dissent in the kingdom. [complete article]
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Kyrgyzstan tries to squeeze Islamic extremists in Central Asia
By David Stern, Christian Science Monitor, September 1, 2006

Kyrgyz authorities have issued an ultimatum to Islamic extremists, including one Al Qaeda-linked group, to turn themselves in by Friday, in an effort to quash what they say is a growing militant threat in ex-Soviet Central Asia.

Authorities say that extremists are trying to set up a base here to overthrow Kyrgyzstan's secular post-Soviet government, as well as those in neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, and create an Islamic state.

But observers say that the government's harsh methods - in a country that has had a traditionally tolerant and secular Sunni Muslim population - are creating more radicals than they are eliminating, and igniting ethnic tensions in the Ferghana Valley, a volatile, diverse region shared by Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

The crackdown is also part of a series of incidents suggesting Kyrgyzstan's turn from the West, and the US in particular, and embrace of Russia and Uzbekistan. [complete article]
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Rabbis: Israel too worried over civilian deaths
By Rebecca Spence, The Forward, August 25, 2006

As international human rights organizations decry the high toll of civilian deaths suffered in the Lebanon war, America's main organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis is calling on the Israeli military to be less concerned with avoiding civilian casualties on the opposing side when carrying out future operations.

Following a solidarity mission to Israel last week, leaders of the Rabbinical Council of America issued a statement prodding the Israeli military to review its policy of taking pains to spare the lives of innocent civilians, in light of Hezbollah's tactic of hiding its fighters and weaponry among Lebanese civilians. Because Hezbollah "puts Israeli men and women at extraordinary risk of life and limb through unconscionably using their own civilians, hospitals, ambulances, mosques... as human shields, cannon fodder, and weapons of asymmetric warfare," the rabbinical council said in a statement, "we believe that Judaism would neither require nor permit a Jewish soldier to sacrifice himself in order to save deliberately endangered enemy civilians." [complete article]

Pressure for ban on cluster bombs as Israel is accused of targeting civilians
By Ben Russell, The Independent, August 31, 2006

Pressure for an international ban on cluster bombs has intensified as Israel stands accused of littering southern Lebanon with thousands of unexploded bombs in the final hours of its war against Hizbollah.

Campaigners yesterday accused the Israel Defence Force of leaving a "minefield" of deadly bomblets in villages and fields after firing hundreds of cluster shells, rockets and bombs across its northern border in the three days before hostilities ended earlier this month.

United Nations officials said that 12 people had been killed, and another 49 injured by such bombs since the war ended and that the casualty rate was likely to rise. [complete article]

U.N. denounces Israel cluster bombs
BBC News, August 31, 2006

The UN's humanitarian chief has accused Israel of "completely immoral" use of cluster bombs in Lebanon.

UN clearance experts had so far found 100,000 unexploded cluster bomblets at 359 separate sites, Jan Egeland said. [complete article]

U.S. may consider additional aid to IDF
By Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, August 31, 2006

If Israel asks, the US would "seriously consider" granting the Defense Ministry additional financial assistance because of the huge expenses incurred during the war in Lebanon, a high-ranking US diplomat revealed Wednesday.

According to ministry estimates, Israel spent close to NIS 30 billion on ammunition, fuel and other expenses during the war. The defense establishment has already asked the Treasury to be compensated for that amount. The US provides Israel with military assistance of more than $2b. annually.

"A request has not yet come," the US official said. "But we would consider it seriously."

According to diplomatic sources in Jerusalem, the government was considering asking for additional aid - one report said a request might be for $2b. There was also talk in Washington of a large-scale financial package to help rebuild southern Lebanon, in part to keep the Iranians out of the process. Israel was apparently hoping to fold its aid request into this package. [complete article]

Comment -- Military aid to Israel slipped into an aid package "for Lebanon" -- that'd be the U.S. Congress operating true to form. Maybe they'll include a provision for replenishing Israel's stockpile of cluster bombs just for good measure.
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Bush says Iran will face consequences for U.N. defiance
By Daniela Deane, Washington Post, August 31, 2006

President George W. Bush on Thursday declared that Iran had to face "consequences" for its failure to meet a United Nations deadline to scale back its nuclear programme.

But a report for the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog, confirmed that while the Islamic Republic was continuing to enrich uranium - a process that can generate both nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material - it was still making only halting progress. [complete article]

EU will continue nuclear talks with Tehran
By Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, August 30, 2006

The European Union is ready to continue discussions with Iran over its nuclear programme even though a United Nations deadline for Tehran to restrict its nuclear activities expires on Thursday, diplomats have told the Financial Times. [complete article]

Neo-cons denounce Khatami visit as "appeasement"
By Jim Lobe, IPS, August 30, 2006

Next week's visit to the United States of former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has been strongly denounced by hard-line neo-conservatives and other hawks here as "appeasement".

According to a consensus among nearly a dozen participants in a "Symposium" Wednesday on the website of the right-wing National Review Online, Khatami's presence here could make it more difficult to rally U.S. public opinion against the Islamic Republic and discourage democratic forces back in Tehran.

"Giving Khatami prestigious platforms all over America is a dumb move, and it will enormously discourage the Iranian people," according to Michael Ledeen, an influential neo-conservative based at the American Enterprise Institute. [complete article]

U.S. military sees Iran's nuke bomb 5 years away
By Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, August 31, 2006

The U.S. military is operating under the assumption that Iran is five to eight years away from being able to build its first nuclear weapon, a time span that explains a general lack of urgency within the Bush administration to use air strikes to disable Tehran's atomic program.

Defense sources familiar with discussions of senior military commanders say the five- to eight-year projection has been discussed inside the Pentagon, which is updating its war plan for Iran. The time frame is generally in line with last year's intelligence community estimate that Iran could have the capability to produce a nuclear weapon by the beginning or middle of the next decade. [complete article]

U.S. drafting sanctions as Iran ignores deadline
By Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, New York Times, August 31, 2006

With Iran defying a Thursday deadline to halt production of nuclear fuel, the United States and three European allies are assembling a list of sanctions they would seek in the United Nations Security Council, beginning with restrictions on imports of nuclear-related equipment and material.

Eventually, punitive measures might expand to restrict travel by Iran's leaders and limit the country’s access to global financial markets, according to diplomatic officials involved in the talks who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Aside from the effort in the Council, the Bush administration is also seeking to persuade European financial institutions to end new lending to Iran. Some Swiss banks have already quietly agreed to limit their lending, American officials say. [complete article]
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Lebanon offers aid for rebuilding
By Nora Boustany, Washington Post, August 31, 2006

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora on Wednesday unveiled a $33,000 compensation package for Lebanese whose homes were destroyed in the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel.

The announcement came on the eve of a donor conference in Stockholm aimed at raising $500 million to jump-start Lebanon's recovery. Siniora said the money would be used to rebuild roads and vital infrastructure damaged in southern Lebanon and in the southern suburbs of Beirut during the 33-day conflict. [complete article]

Israel says Syria, not just Iran, supplied missiles to Hezbollah
By Peter Spiegel and Laura King, Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2006

New postwar intelligence indicates that the militant group Hezbollah had broader access to sophisticated weaponry than was publicly known -- including large numbers of medium-range rockets made in Syria, said U.S. and Israeli government officials and military analysts.

The size of the Hezbollah arsenal and the direct role of Syria in supplying it will complicate the daunting task of keeping Hezbollah from rearming, the officials said.

Before the war, Hezbollah's access to weapons supplied by Iran and shipped through other countries was well documented. So was Syria's political support for Hezbollah and its role in allowing shipments of arms into Lebanon from Iran. But Washington thought Syria for the most part was not supplying munitions directly. [complete article]

In pro-Israel circles, doubts grow over U.S. policy
By Jim Lobe, IPS (via, August 31, 2006

A growing debate within Israel over whether United States President George W. Bush's Middle East policies really serve the interests of the Jewish state has spread to Washington, where influential voices within the U.S. Jewish community are questioning the administration's hard-line positions in the region.

Coming in the wake of the month-long war between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah, during which Washington provided virtually unconditional support and encouragement to Tel Aviv, the debate has focused initially on the wisdom of Bush's efforts to isolate rather than engage Syria, the indispensable link in the military supply chain between Iran and the Shia militia.

But the debate over Syria policy may mark the launch of a broader challenge among Israel's supporters here to the administration's reliance on unilateralism, military power, and "regime change" in the Middle East – whose most fervent champions have been neoconservatives and the right-wing leadership of the so-called "Israel lobby." [complete article]

Israeli leaders under fire -- from their own troops
By Alan Kaufman, Los Angeles Times, August 31, 2006

In the final days of the conflict, with a U.N. cease-fire resolution close to passage, Israel made one last push with ground troops. But just when the army seemed on the verge of headway, officials brought that drive to an abrupt halt. In this last abortion, at least 24 soldiers died. This is the equivalent, with Israel's small population, of 1,200 Americans killed: a full-blown catastrophe.

The soldiers want to know why. Indeed, the entire nation is asking how 12,000 missiles could be hidden by Hezbollah within a highly developed network of seemingly indestructible, perfectly camouflaged bunkers, and how so many fell unimpeded on the people of northern Israel. Israelis don't understand how the government could fail to know that Hezbollah was equipped with high-tech surveillance devices so accurate that, according to DEBKAfile (, a website run by former Israeli intelligence officials, Hebrew-speaking operatives of the terrorist militia would on occasion call to Israeli troops and use the names of a unit's commanding officers for taunts such as: "Hey, where's your Lt. Yoram today?" According to the website, Hezbollah even eavesdropped on frontline troops speed-dialing home on their cellphones, gleaning intelligence from these conversations.

Beyond fury at the utter lack of preparedness and the seeming callousness of decision makers, something else is lurking beneath the soldiers' protest: a feeling that the war illuminated an absence of genuine values within the heart of the nation itself, underscoring some of the broad changes that have taken place in Israel in recent years. [complete article]

See also, Wadi Saluki battle - microcosm of war's mistakes (Jerusalem Post).
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Firefights mark further splintering in Iraq
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, August 31, 2006

Two days this week of fierce firefights between a Shiite militia and government forces in a usually calm town south of Baghdad left at least 80 dead and an unknown number wounded.

While the top US commander in Iraq said the battle came as a "surprise," it underscores a proliferation of militia groups throughout the country that is making central government control in many places merely notional, many Iraqis and foreign experts say.

The fight in Diwaniyah, 80 miles south of Baghdad, between militiamen loyal to Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr and local forces led by the country's most powerful Shiite parties, demonstrates the growing atomization in Iraq's war. Local politicians, gangsters, and would-be warlords are emerging around the country and taking up arms in service of local ambitions that frequently have little to do with Iraq's sectarian war. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi defense chief calls off truce with Shiite militiamen over 'execution' of 13 troops (Daily Star) and Analysis: Taking on al-Sadr carries risk (AP).
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Positive press on Iraq is aim of U.S. contract
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, August 31, 2006

U.S. military leaders in Baghdad have put out for bid a two-year, $20 million public relations contract that calls for extensive monitoring of U.S. and Middle Eastern media in an effort to promote more positive coverage of news from Iraq.

The contract calls for assembling a database of selected news stories and assessing their tone as part of a program to provide "public relations products" that would improve coverage of the military command's performance, according to a statement of work attached to the proposal. [complete article]

Marine who led Haditha attack was recommended for a medal
By Josh White, Washington Post, August 30, 2006

The platoon commander for the squad of Marines who killed as many as two dozen Iraqi civilians during an attack in Haditha last year recommended later that the sergeant who led the attack receive a medal for his heroism that day, according to military documents.

Lt. William T. Kallop wrote in a praise-filled memo that the incident on Nov. 19, 2005, was part of a complex insurgent ambush that included a powerful roadside bomb followed by a high volume of automatic-weapons fire from several houses in the neighborhood. He lauded Sgt. Frank Wuterich for his leadership in the "counterattack" on three houses while the unit received sporadic enemy fire. [complete article]

Violence in Iraq kills 60 as market, recruits hit
By Amit R. Paley and Saad Sarhan, Washington Post, August 31, 2006

The Yogurt Father hawks his gloopy snack every day in the city's biggest market. No exceptions.

So when an enormous bomb exploded Wednesday 20 yards away from him at Shorja market, the largest and oldest bazaar in Baghdad, and killed 27 people, including several of his friends, he spent only a half-hour tending to the wounded and clearing debris. Then he washed the blood off his hands and resumed selling yogurt.

"We are used to seeing blood and death. It's routine now," said the 50-year-old Iraqi, who is known to customers as Abu Leben -- Yogurt Father -- and to friends and family as Abu Ali -- Father of Ali, his eldest son. He stirred a big vat of curdled milk as people nearby frantically sifted through blood-soaked rubble mixed with bits of human tissue. "I helped move some bodies," he explained, "but the only thing that I care about is how to get money for my family."

He scooped out a glass of yogurt for a customer. "If I don't die today, I might die tomorrow," he said.

The bloodshed in Iraq has become so common that it barely registers for some, even on a day like Wednesday, when violence across the country killed at least 60 people despite heightened efforts by the U.S. military to clamp down on sectarian strife. [complete article]

The U.S. view of Iraq: we can pull out in a year
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, August 31, 2006

The top US general in Iraq yesterday predicted that Iraqi forces would be able to take over security in the country with "very little coalition support" within a year to 18 months. General George Casey did not say anything specific about parallel withdrawals of US troops. Instead, he said American-led coalition forces would pull back into large bases and provide support before leaving.

Gen Casey's predictions earlier in the summer that the US military presence could be reduced from about 130,000 to 100,000 by the end of the year were proved overly optimistic by a surge in sectarian killing. Instead a combat brigade based in Mosul had its tour extended and was sent to Baghdad to help Iraqi troops keep a lid on the bloodshed there, and the overall American forces level rose to 138,000.

US officials pointed optimistically to statistics suggesting that the military focus on the capital had helped to curb sectarian killings between Sunni and Shia groups, though in the past few days the body count has again soared. [complete article]
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Growing fears over North Korea nuclear test
By Jonathan Watts, The Guardian, August 30, 2006

International concerns about a possible North Korean nuclear test increased today with reports that Kim Jong-il may have crossed the border into China to explain his military provocations to uneasy allies in Beijing.

According to the South Korean media, satellites have tracked a special North Korean train, the usual form of transport for Mr Kim, entering Chinese territory. If confirmed, it would be his second trip to Beijing in less than a year - an unheard-of flurry of diplomacy for a notoriously travel-shy figurehead.

The reports are impossible to verify, but they come amid growing signs of Chinese anger with Mr Kim over last month's missile tests, and regional anxiety about his next move. Earlier this month, the South Korean president, Roh Moo-hyun, requested an emergency summit with Beijing's leaders. [complete article]
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Memo to the president: Time for your performance review
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, August 31, 2006

Let's see if I've got it straight. The stalwart Churchillians (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld , et al) are alerting us to the fascist threat (from Muslim extremists), but the Chamberlain-like defeatists (Democrats, et al) want us to cut and run. So far, so good.

But just a minute! If Chamberlain was waving the white flag in 1938 and three-and-a-half years into the war in Iraq we're being told not to succumb to defeatism, wouldn't that imply World War Two had started in 1935?

I suppose a few neocons might view history this way, but since the war in Europe actually started in 1939 and the United States didn't enter the war until December 1941, this WW2 analogy would only work if, come 1944, the defeat of fascism had still have been nowhere in sight. (In reality, by that time, the unconditional surrender of the Nazis was only months away.)

If an administration had found itself in that situation, it would have been facing increasing criticism, not from defeatists, but from those who questioned its competence to achieve its stated aims -- the very circumstance in which the current administration now finds itself.

Bush says again and again, we can't leave Iraq "before the job is done," but it's time he re-read the job description. In a document written this month, the Pentagon provides a useful summary of the mission in Iraq:
a. Assist the people of Iraq in building a free, democratic nation at peace within its borders and with its neighbors;
b. Destroy or defeat insurgent forces;
c. Instill a broad respect for human rights throughout the country;
d. Assist the Iraqi government in building institutions, offices, bureaus, and agencies, that are effective, efficient, and free of corruption;
e. Rebuild modern, effective Iraqi security forces that respect human rights and have leaders at every level who have integrity and are loyal to the properly constituted Iraqi authorities;
f. Revive the economy of Iraq primarily by rebuilding infrastructure and the oil industry.
g. Ensure that members of the Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR) understand Coalition aims, goals and objectives
We all know the job is nowhere near completion, but three-and-a-half years into this war President Bush is way overdue in submitting himself for a performance review.

And, yes, we also know that being the president is really, really, really hard work, but really, Mr. Bush, no one forced you to accept the job. If you're not up to the task, stop whining, shape up or quit. You're not indispensable, nor is anyone in your administration, nor is anyone in Congress. Anyone who can't demonstrate their competence deserves to get fired.
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Iraqi hospitals are war's new 'killing fields'
By Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, August 30, 2006

In a city with few real refuges from sectarian violence -- not government offices, not military bases, not even mosques -- one place always emerged as a safe haven: hospitals.

So Mounthir Abbas Saud, whose right arm and jaw were ripped off when a car bomb exploded six months ago, must have thought the worst was over when he arrived at Ibn al-Nafis Hospital, a major medical center here.

Instead, it had just begun. A few days into his recovery at the facility, armed Shiite Muslim militiamen dragged the 43-year-old Sunni mason down the hallway floor, snapping intravenous needles and a breathing tube out of his body, and later riddled his body with bullets, family members said.

Authorities say it was not an isolated incident. In Baghdad these days, not even the hospitals are safe. In growing numbers, sick and wounded Sunnis have been abducted from public hospitals operated by Iraq's Shiite-run Health Ministry and later killed, according to patients, families of victims, doctors and government officials.

As a result, more and more Iraqis are avoiding hospitals, making it even harder to preserve life in a city where death is seemingly everywhere. Gunshot victims are now being treated by nurses in makeshift emergency rooms set up in homes. Women giving birth are smuggled out of Baghdad and into clinics in safer provinces.

In most cases, family members and hospital workers said, the motive for the abductions appeared to be nothing more than religious affiliation. Because public hospitals here are controlled by Shiites, the killings have raised questions about whether hospital staff have allowed Shiite death squads into their facilities to slaughter Sunni Arabs. [complete article]
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Lie by lie: chronicle of a war foretold: August 1990 to March 2003
Mother Jones, August 30, 2006

The first drafts of history are fragmentary. Important revelations arrive late, and out of order. In this timeline, we've assembled the history of the Iraq War to create a resource we hope will help resolve open questions of the Bush era. What did our leaders know and when did they know it? And, perhaps just as important, what red flags did we miss, and how could we have missed them? This is the first installment in our Iraq War timeline project. [complete article]
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Iranian president meets press and is challenged
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, August 30, 2006

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad meant to use Tuesday to focus attention on his challenge to the president of the United States: a face-off in a live televised debate.

But at a freewheeling two-hour news conference, Mr. Ahmadinejad also found himself challenged by local reporters who questioned the government’s economic program and its tolerance of a critical press.

The marathon question-and-answer session offered a window into one of the many contradictions of Iranian politics and governance: even as the government grows more authoritarian, it is openly criticized and challenged on its performance. [complete article]

Comment -- Ahmadinejad, demonstrating -- as Rumsfeld puts it -- that the "enemy is so much better at communicating," shows clear mastery of the narrative in the ongoing struggle between Iran and the United States. If we're willing to talk to you, but you simply threaten us, who's the aggressor?

The United States, on the other hand, seems to have a mugger's approach to diplomacy: Comply with my orders. Then we can talk.

Iran has been strengthened
By Avner Cohen, Haaretz, August 30, 2006

It is hard to imagine worse international timing for Israel's lack of success in Lebanon. Israel's inability to defeat Hezbollah contributed significantly to the atmosphere of powerlessness that has reigned in the international community over the Iranian nuclear issue. If, at the start of the summer, this issue was seen as a challenge for international diplomacy, today, it is considered an unadulterated headache. The results of the fighting in Lebanon greatly complicated the handling of this issue and significantly strengthened Iran's balance of deterrence with the West. [complete article]

Iran enriching more uranium
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, August 30, 2006

Iranian nuclear specialists have begun enriching a new batch of uranium in an apparent act of defiance just days ahead of a U.N. Security Council deadline for Tehran to stop such work or face the prospect of economic sanctions, officials in Washington and European capitals who have been monitoring Iran's efforts said yesterday.

Inspectors with the International Atomic Energy Agency plan to formally disclose the new enrichment work, as well as additional Iranian nuclear advances, in a report due out tomorrow, according to the officials, some of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. [complete article]

Carter agrees to hold talks with Khatami
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 30, 2006

For an event that would turn a page in American history, former president Jimmy Carter has agreed in principle to host former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami for talks during his visit to the United States starting this week.

Carter's term as president was dominated by the rupture in relations after the 1979 Iranian revolution and the takeover of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, where 52 Americans were held hostage for 444 days until the day he left office.

Iranians made the overture for the meeting, and the Carter Center in Atlanta is working on the possible timing, said Phil Wise, the former president's aide. [complete article]
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Diversionary strike on a rights group
By Kathleen Peratis, Washington Post, August 30, 2006

No one expected the Anti-Defamation League and others to applaud the Human Rights Watch report [on indiscriminate attacks against civilians in Lebanon], but one is entitled to expect something more serious by way of a response. "You're biased" is not a rebuttal.

At least some of the report's critics seem to believe that Israel should be exempted from the rules of war. Thus, Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, who has accused Human Rights Watch of "immorality at the highest level," says: "The moral issue, the human rights issue that overrides everything else in this conflict is that if Hezbollah, Syria and Iran don't understand that they will pay an overwhelming price for these rocket attacks on Israel, then eventually these rockets will be armed with chemical weapons and the warheads with nuclear weapons. In other words, the Holocaust would be in the works." [complete article]

Comment -- The coming Holocaust is a theme that Karl Rove is banking on as a winner in the upcoming Congressional elections. Don't expect to hear Republicans talking about the extermination of Jews but the code phrase signalling that threat now comes with a presidential seal. The campaign theme this Fall in the Republic of Fear appears to be, Islamic fascism. The fearmongers now pounding the fascist-threat drum, demonstrate what a keen understanding they have of the political tools of fascism.
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Siniora: Lebanon will be last country to make peace with Israel
Haaretz, August 30, 2006

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Wednesday that he refused to have any direct contact with Israel, and that Lebanon would be the last Arab country to ever sign a peace deal with it.

"Let it be clear, we are not seeking any agreement until there is just and comprehensive peace based on the Arab initiative," he said.

Siniora was referring to a plan that came out of a 2002 Arab League summit in Beirut. It calls for Israel to return all territories it conquered in the 1967 Six-Day War, the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem - all in exchange for peace and full normalization of Arab relations with Israel. [complete article]

Hezbollah rules out unconditional release of abducted soldiers
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, August 30, 2006

A Hezbollah cabinet minister said Wednesday that there will be no unconditional release of two captured Israel Defense Forces soldiers, and that the group will only free them as part of a prisoner exchange. [complete article]

Annan: Israel responsible for most truce violations
Haaretz, August 30, 2006

United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Tuesday that Israel was responsible for most of the violations of the UN-brokered cease-fire that ended the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah two weeks ago. [complete article]

U.N. faces rising anger in Lebanon
By Clancy Chassay, The Guardian, August 30, 2006

The UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, visited UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon yesterday, a day after he was met with protests by angry residents of Beirut's devastated southern suburbs.

Timur Goksel, the former senior adviser and spokesman for the UN interim force in Lebanon (Unifil), said the international organisation was now more unpopular in the region than at any point in its history. [complete article]

Israeli leader rebuffs Annan on blockade
By Warren Hoge and John O'Neil, New York Times, August 30, 2006

Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, today rebuffed a request from United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan for even a partial lifting of the seven-week old blockade of Lebanon.

Mr. Annan told reporters in an interview Tuesday night that while he would prefer that Israel completely lift its blockade of air, sea and land traffic into Lebanon, imposed to prevent the smuggling of arms to Hezbollah, he would ask Mr. Olmert to at least allow Beirut's airport to resume normal operations.

But Mr. Olmert rejected that idea today. In doing so, he made reference to Mr. Annan's previous insistence that all parties to the United Nations-brokered cease-fire abide by all of its provisions. [complete article]

U.S. freezes assets of Hezbollah unit
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, August 30, 2006

The Bush administration moved yesterday against a key fundraising arm of Hezbollah, the militant Shiite Muslim movement that is part of Lebanon's government, ordering a freeze on its assets in the United States and making it illegal for Americans to contribute to the organization.

Hezbollah seized two Israeli solders last month, sparking a war between Israel and the organization that left large parts of southern Lebanon devastated. The United States regards Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, but the European Union has refused to join in that designation, in part because of the group's vast array of social services. [complete article]
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Can you really not see?
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, August 30, 2006

Let us leave aside those Israelis whose ideology supports the dispossession of the Palestinian people because "God chose us." Leave aside the judges who whitewash every military policy of killing and destruction. Leave aside the military commanders who knowingly jail an entire nation in pens surrounded by walls, fortified observation towers, machine guns, barbed wire and blinding projectors. Leave aside the ministers. All of these are not counted among the collaborators. These are the architects, the planners, the designers, the executioners.

But there are others. Historians and mathematicians, senior editors, media stars, psychologists and family doctors, lawyers who do not support Gush Emunim and Kadima, teachers and educators, lovers of hiking trails and sing-alongs, high-tech wizards. Where are you? And what about you, researchers of Nazism, the Holocaust and Soviet gulags? Could you all be in favor of systematic discriminating laws? Laws stating that the Arabs of the Galilee will not even be compensated for the damages of the war by the same sums their Jewish neighbors are entitled to (Aryeh Dayan, Haaretz , August 21). [complete article]
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Source: Israel delaying deal on Shalit
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, August 30, 2006

A source involved in negotiations for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit told Haaretz that Israel was the one holding up the implementation of a deal that could lead to his release.

Shalit was abducted from inside Israel by Hamas on June 25.

The source, who is located in the Gaza Strip, said Israel and Hamas have agreed on the principle of exchanging Shalit for Palestinian prisoners, but that the two parties have not yet decided the exact nature of the deal or how it will be carried out.

He said the kidnappers, with whom he is in contact, have made realistic demands. The source would not say how many prisoners Hamas is demanding in the swap, but he did say the number is not in the thousands, as had previously been stated. [complete article]
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Afghans who fled conflict face cultural divide in U.S.
By Dina ElBoghdady, Washington Post, August 30, 2006

Aman Feda, an Afghan-born mortgage broker, cringed at his 13-year-old niece's choice of music, the hip-hop blaring from the car radio, the lyrics grating on his nerves as they drove home after shopping at Tysons Corner.

"Why not listen to some Afghan music?" Feda asked casually.

"What music?" he remembers her saying with a shrug of her shoulders. "There's nothing."

The exchange sparked Feda's first thought of creating a magazine that showcases Afghan musicians, poets and celebrities in a way that enlightens his niece's generation about Afghan culture and engages community elders eager to reconnect with their Afghan roots.

Feda and his wife, Samira, who live in Springfield, followed through on the idea three years later. They launched a magazine three months ago and found themselves negotiating what one Afghan native describes as the "cultural schizophrenia" that has plagued a community that began settling in large numbers in this country more than two decades ago, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. [complete article]
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Broadcast chief misused office, inquiry reports
By Stephen Labaton, New York Times, August 30, 2006

State Department investigators have found that the head of the agency overseeing most government broadcasts to foreign countries has used his office to run a "horse racing operation" and that he improperly put a friend on the payroll, according to a summary of a report made public on Tuesday by a Democratic lawmaker.

The report said that the official, Kenneth Y. Tomlinson, had repeatedly used government employees to perform personal errands and that he billed the government for more days of work than the rules permit.

The summary of the report, prepared by the State Department inspector general, said the United States attorney’s office here had been given the report and decided not to conduct a criminal inquiry.

The summary said the Justice Department was pursuing a civil inquiry focusing on the contract for Mr. Tomlinson’s friend.

Through his lawyer, James Hamilton, Mr. Tomlinson issued a statement denying that he had done anything improper.

The office of the State Department inspector general presented the findings from its yearlong inquiry last week to the White House and on Monday to some members of Congress.

Three Democratic lawmakers, Senator Christopher J. Dodd of Connecticut and Representatives Howard L. Berman and Tom Lantos of California, requested the inquiry after a whistle-blower from the agency had approached them about the possible misuse of federal money by Mr. Tomlinson and the possible hiring of phantom or unqualified employees.

Mr. Tomlinson, a Republican with close ties to the White House, was ousted last year from another post, at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, after another inquiry found evidence that he had violated rules meant to insulate public television and radio from political influence.

His renomination to a new term as chairman of the State Department office that oversees foreign broadcasts, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, is pending before the Senate.

Mr. Tomlinson's position at the broadcasting board makes him one of the administration's top officials overseeing public diplomacy and puts him in charge of the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. [complete article]
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First source of CIA leak admits role, lawyer says
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, August 30, 2006

Richard L. Armitage, a former deputy secretary of state, has acknowledged that he was the person whose conversation with a columnist in 2003 prompted a long, politically laden criminal investigation in what became known as the C.I.A. leak case, a lawyer involved in the case said on Tuesday.

Mr. Armitage did not return calls for comment. But the lawyer and other associates of Mr. Armitage have said he has confirmed that he was the initial and primary source for the columnist, Robert D. Novak, whose column of July 14, 2003, identified Valerie Wilson as a Central Intelligence Agency officer.

The identification of Mr. Armitage as the original leaker to Mr. Novak ends what has been a tantalizing mystery. In recent months, however, Mr. Armitage’s role had become clear to many, and it was recently reported by Newsweek magazine and The Washington Post. [complete article]
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The final destruction of Babylon
By John F. Robertson, The War in Context, August 30, 2006

Of the serial rationales that George W. Bush pushed for his invasion of Iraq, regime change -- "taking out" Saddam and his Baathist government -- was the least pseudo of them all, and probably the one on which he was most intent.

He probably never considered, though, that the blowback from violent regime-change would include the end of Babylon.

No, I don't mean the looting of the Iraq Museum, which the invading U.S. forces seem to have made virtually no effort to prevent in 2003. Nor do I mean the devastation of the ancient site of the city itself, where "coalition" forces established a base and tore up ancient remains with their Humvees and Bradleys. What I refer to is the just-reported decision by Dr. Donny George, the Director of the Baghdad Museum and a much respected authority on the archaeology and ancient history of Iraq, to leave the country, basically in fear of his life now that conservative Shiites linked to the cleric Muqtada al-Sadr have been given control of the museum and the Iraqi antiquities department. The news of Dr. George's departure is in and of itself terribly disheartening, for he is highly respected and admired in the archaeological community. His departure portends even greater catastrophe, however, not only for the museum itself but for the future of Iraq's most ancient past.

At most recent count, Iraq contained at least 10,000 mounds (tells, in Arabic) -- the vast majority of them unexplored -- representing the remains of its ancient cultures dating from as early as Neolithic times. These are the sources from which, since the mid-1800s, archaeologists from Iraq and all over the world have recovered the palaces, temples, cemeteries, and thousands of cuneiform tablets that revealed to the modern world the splendor and sophistication of Iraq's ancient past. After the Persian Gulf war of 1991, Iraq's sanction-riddled government lacked funds to ensure the proper preservation and protection of its ancient heritage, and archaeological excavation and research came almost to a standstill. With Bush's invasion of 2003, any bars to the ransacking of that heritage were effectively lifted, and archaeologists who had devoted their careers to its recovery could only read sadly of the tragic looting of the sites of ancient Babylonian cities where they themselves had once excavated, not to mention the devastation of previously unexcavated mounds by treasure-hunting looters equipped with backhoes. Since 2003, those who have hoped to safeguard and preserve Iraq's treasures have been fighting a losing battle against the wholesale dispersion of them via looting and sale on the illegal antiquities market.

Those efforts may now prove to have been pretty much in vain. The Shia conservatives who now control the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities evidently have no regard for the pre-Islamic civilizations of Iraq. This represents in fact the traditional conservative Islamic view, which holds that the era before Islam was one of corruption and barbarous ignorance (in Arabic, the era of jahiliyya) and is therefore not worthy of serious attention or study. From the beginning of Iraq's creation in the 1920s -- and especially in the Baath era -- the Iraqi government reached back into the greatness of Iraq's pre-Islamic civilizations (Sumerian, Babylonian, Assyrian) as a foundation of pride and unity upon which a new, distinctly Iraqi nationalism could be built that might unify Sunni Arabs, Shia Arabs, Kurds, Turkomans, Christians, Jews, Yazidis -- all the different ethnic and religious elements of the new country. Saddam even went as far as to rebuild parts of ancient Babylon, as a symbol of Iraq's ancient greatness as well as his own putative connection to it.

The conservative Shia-dominated government that has emerged in Baghdad now has turned its back on all of this, as part of its rejection of Saddam's and the Baath's Iraqi-nationalist, secularist agenda in favor of an emphasis on an Islamic heritage that, in places like Najaf and Karbala, will spotlight the Shia revival in Iraq and across much of the Middle East, including the rising regional power, Iran. One of the more devastating likely upshots will be the reduction -- or even the elimination -- of efforts to protect the remaining vestiges of the once-great ancient cities of pre-Islamic times, and a probable increase -- even acceptance, if not encouragement -- of looting by locals.

All of this has come courtesy of George Bush's invasion of Iraq, which brought this conservative Shia government to power. We can now add to the costs of that invasion the elimination of an important cultural element that might have helped salvage some sense of Iraqi national unity, at a time when that unity is direly threatened, if not irretrievable. But in the long view of humanity's sojourn on this planet, he may have imposed an even severer price: the lost legacy of several millennia of Iraq's great ancient civilizations.

The Bible to which Mr. Bush professes such great devotion portrays ancient Iraq's great ancient empires as epitomizing the devastation brought by invasion and conquest. The Assyrians sent into oblivion the "Ten Lost Tribes" of Israel, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar swept up the Jews of Jerusalem and brought them captive to Babylon. Arguably at least partly on behalf of the people of the new Israel, Mr. Bush tried to turn the tables by attacking and eliminating the ruler of the new Babylon, Saddam Hussein, and in the process devastated the new Babylon's people in a fashion that the Biblical authors could never have imagined. The empires of the Assyrians and Babylonians, of course, eventually were consigned to the dustbin of history's failures. Centuries (or perhaps only decades) from now, history may find it greatly ironic that the American empire that Mr. Bush tried to extend to Iraq -- in part to protect the people of the new Israel -- joined them there.

John F. Robertson is professor of Middle Eastern history at Central Michigan University. He is currently completing a book, Iraq: A Short History, to be published by OneWorld Publications (Oxford).
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Islamists: the tough move from guns to governance
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, August 30, 2006

The Arab world's two leading self-styled "Islamic resistance movements" - Hizbullah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine - seem to be moving in different directions, but there are lessons to be learned from both. The main one is that armed resistance is primarily a means for these groups. Their ultimate goal is a national order that reflects their society's valid concerns on political legitimacy, sovereignty, ideology and social values. Above all, their success reflects their ability to respond to the real needs of their constituents, rather than to promote any sort of ideal Islamic society or espouse revolutionary rhetoric and wage perpetual war.

As Hizbullah holds its own in Lebanon and the region, it also finds itself preoccupied with the challenges of shifting its center of gravity - or at least its international image - from guns to governance. After achieving the two striking feats of driving the Israeli Army out of South Lebanon in 2000 and fighting it to a draw in 2006, it has no room left for military endeavors, and nothing more to prove on the battlefield. [complete article]
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In war's dust, a new Arab 'lion' emerges
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 2006

To most of the Arab public, the debate over who won the war between Israel and Lebanon's Hizbullah is already settled.

Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah is being feted through song in Syrian nightclubs and on Palestinian radio. In Egypt, his name is being given to babies. On Baghdad streets, posters celebrate his "victory." Islamist and secular groups are united in declaring Mr. Nasrallah the new "lion" of Arab causes.

The long-term political fallout of this euphoria over Hizbullah's ability to withstand Israel's superior firepower is still uncertain. In Lebanon, suffering brought by the war has seen support for Hizbullah split along sectarian lines. But there are signs that opponents of authoritarian regimes in the region have been emboldened by Hizbullah's actions, linking their struggles against their own states to the Lebanese guerrillas' fight with Israel.

What's more, the perception of Nasrallah as the Arabs' new champion - replacing secular leaders of the past like Yasser Arafat - has accelerated the regional shift of support to Islamist leaders seen as less corrupt than their secular counterparts. [complete article]

Comment -- If anyone in the U.S. State Department bothers to reflect at all on Nasrallah's success they might discover that it has something to do with his candor. While he concedes that he would not have authorized the abduction of Israeli soldiers had he anticipated Israel's response, Ehud Olmert busies himself with damage control.
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Al-Qaeda (and U.S.) eclipsed by rise of Iran
By Mahan Abedin, Asia Times, August 30, 2006

One of the more interesting results of the Israel-Hezbollah War has been the sidelining of the global jihadi movement and the broader Salafi currents that sustain it. Despite all its rhetoric of a global jihad against the enemies of Islam, al-Qaeda and the broader Salafi-jihadi movement were reduced to mere spectators as Hezbollah, once again, dealt a serious blow to Israeli prestige.

While some analysts interpreted Ayman al-Zawahiri's latest message as an olive branch to Iran, Hezbollah and Shi'ite militants more broadly, it in fact was not a departure from the terror network's stance on sectarian relations in Islam. In any case, al-Qaeda is increasingly a marginal component of the Salafi-jihadi movement, and its ideological influence on the new generation of radicals is nowhere near as strong as is often assumed. [complete article]
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51% of Lebanese vote in favor of Hezbollah disarming
Cihan News Agency, Zaman, August 29, 2006

Amid discussions of whether the United Nations-led peacekeeping force will be charged with disarming Hezbollah after its deployment to Lebanon; at least half the Lebanese population called for disarmament of Hezbollah.

A recent survey conducted in Lebanon revealed that 51 percent of respondents were in favor of plans to disarm Hezbollah; however, there is a profound difference of opinion among religious and ethnic groups in the country over the issue.

Ipsos conducted the survey between August 14 and 17 and revealed agreement among 84 percent of Shiites against the disarmament of Hezbollah; however, disarmament of the group was supported by 79 percent of the Durzis, from 77 percent of Christians, and 54 percent of the Sunnites in the country. [complete article]

Hizbullah evacuates posts as Lebanese Army moves in
By Raed El Rafei and Mohammed Zaatari, Daily Star, August 29, 2006

Hizbullah has dismantled several of its military outposts in the Shebaa Farms area, security sources told The Daily Star on Monday. The sources said that Hizbullah had also evacuated positions in areas where the Lebanese Army recently deployed.

A Hizbullah source said the group was keen to conceal any military equipment in the South, but refused to elaborate.

Residents of the Arqoub region near the Shebaa Farms said Hizbullah had evacuated some of its rocket-launching locations, notably those near Kfar Shouba and Habbariyah. [complete article]

Lebanon insists it can control the Syrian border by itself
By Warren Hoge, New York Times, August 29, 2006

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said Monday that Lebanon could control its border with Syria without the assistance of international troops and had already confiscated illegal arms in the south.

In an interview in his Ottoman-era offices in downtown Beirut, Mr. Siniora said that he had deployed 8,600 Lebanese Army soldiers along the border and that he had accepted an offer from Germany for technical equipment and training to help prevent the entry of unauthorized weapons into Lebanon.

"The army will confiscate every piece of weapon that it finds, and that is what is happening now, in a firm but friendly manner," he said. [complete article]
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Hamas spokesman blames Palestinians for Gaza chaos
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, August 29, 2006

In an unusual instance of self-criticism, a well-known Hamas official has deplored the collapse of Gazan life into chaos and has said that much of the blame belongs to Palestinians themselves.

"Gaza is suffering under the yoke of anarchy and the swords of thugs," Ghazi Hamad, a former Hamas newspaper editor and the spokesman for the current Hamas government, wrote in an article published Sunday in Al Ayyam, the Palestinian newspaper.

After so much optimism when Israelis pulled out of Gaza a year ago, he wrote, "life became a nightmare and an intolerable burden."

He urged Palestinians to look to themselves, not to Israel, for the causes. But he appeared not to be placing the blame on Hamas or the Palestinian Authority's prime minister, Ismail Haniya of Hamas. He said various armed groups in the Gaza Strip -- most affiliated with Fatah, Hamas's rival -- were responsible for the chaos. [complete article]

See also, Uglier and uglier (Danny Rubinstein).
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Islamic revival in Syria is led by women
By Katherine Zoepf, New York Times, August 29, 2006

Enas al-Kaldi stops in the hallway of her Islamic school for girls and coaxes her 6-year-old schoolmate through a short recitation from the Koran.

"It's true that they don't understand what they are memorizing at this age, but we believe that the understanding comes when the Koran becomes part of you," Ms. Kaldi, 16, said proudly.

In other corners of Damascus, women who identify one another by the distinctive way they tie their head scarves gather for meetings of an exclusive and secret Islamic women's society known as the Qubaisiate.

At those meetings, participants say, they are tutored further in the faith and are even taught how to influence some of their well-connected fathers and husbands to accept a greater presence of Islam in public life.

These are the two faces of an Islamic revival for women in Syria, one that could add up to a potent challenge to this determinedly secular state. Though government officials vociferously deny it, Syria is becoming increasingly religious and its national identity is weakening. If Islam replaces that identity, it may undermine the unity of a society that is ruled by a Muslim religious minority, the Alawites, and includes many religious groups. [complete article]
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Kurdish group claims role in string of blasts
By Amberin Zaman, Los Angeles Times, August 29, 2006

As a Kurdish rebel group took responsibility for a string of weekend bombings, a new blast Monday killed three people and injured dozens in the southern Mediterranean resort of Antalya.

The explosion shook the main shopping area of a city especially popular with Russian and Israeli tourists, and Russia's vice consul, Sergey Koritsky, told the Reuters news agency that a Russian and an Israeli were among the injured.

Earlier Monday, three bombs detonated in Marmaris, another tourist destination on the Aegean coast. At least 20 people, including 10 Britons, were injured when one of the devices tore through the shuttle bus they were traveling in. [complete article]
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U.S. accused of bid to oust Chavez with secret funds
By Duncan Campbell, The Guardian, August 30, 2006

The US government has been accused of trying to undermine the Chavez government in Venezuela by funding anonymous groups via its main international aid agency.

Millions of dollars have been provided in a "pro-democracy programme" that Chavez supporters claim is a covert attempt to bankroll an opposition to defeat the government.

The money is being provided by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Office of Transition Initiatives. The row follows the recent announcement that the US had made $80m (£42m) available for groups seeking to bring about change in Cuba, whose leader, Fidel Castro, is a close ally of Mr Chavez.

Information about the grants has been obtained following a Freedom of Information request by the Associated Press. USAID released copies of 132 contracts but obscured the names and other identifying details of nearly half the organisations. [complete article]
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America's Rottweiler
By Uri Avnery, Gush Shalom, August 26, 2006

Fifty-nine years ago, two months before the outbreak of our War of Independence, I published a booklet entitled "War or Peace in the Semitic Region". Its opening words were:

"When our Zionist fathers decided to set up a 'safe haven' in Palestine, they had a choice between two ways:

"They could appear in West Asia as a European conqueror, who sees himself as a bridge-head of the 'white' race and a master of the 'natives', like the Spanish Conquistadores and the Anglo-Saxon colonists in America. That is what the Crusaders did in Palestine.

"The second way was to consider themselves as an Asian nation returning to its home - a nation that sees itself as an heir to the political and cultural heritage of the Semitic race, and which is prepared to join the peoples of the Semitic region in their war of liberation from European exploitation."

As is well known, the State of Israel, which was established a few months later, chose the first way. It gave its hand to colonial France, tried to help Britain to return to the Suez Canal and, since 1967, has become the little sister of the United States.

That was not inevitable. On the contrary, in the course of years there have been a growing number of indications that the immune system of the Arab-Muslim body is starting to incorporate the transplant - as a human body accepts the organ of a close relative - and is ready to accept us. Such an indication was the visit of Anwar Sadat to Jerusalem. Such was the peace treaty signed with us by King Hussein, a descendent of the Prophet. And, most importantly, the historic decision of Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian people, to make peace with Israel.

But after every huge step forward, there came an Israeli step backward. It is as if the transplant rejects the body's acceptance of it. As if it has become so accustomed to being rejected, that it does all it can to induce the body to reject it even more. [complete article]
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Iraq agree truce with militia after scores killed
By Jay Deshmukh, AFP (via Yahoo), August 29, 2006

Government forces struck a truce with Shiite militia fighters after violent clashes in a town south of Baghdad left at least 81 dead and as Iraq reeled from a three-day bout of bloodshed.

Meanwhile, a string of sectarian attacks killed at least 10 and a pipeline exploded near Diwaniyah, which bore the brunt of Monday's fighting, incinerating at least 36 civilians as they looted fuel.

Since Saturday -- when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki hosted a peace conference for tribal leaders -- Iraq has been battered by firefights, murders and bombings in one of the most violent periods of recent months. [complete article]

U.S. says Iraq poised to take control of its ground forces
By Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, August 29, 2006

The U.S. military in Iraq announced yesterday that an Iraqi ground-forces command will activate in early September, giving the U.S.-backed government direct control over army, police and border units throughout the country.

Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell, chief spokesman for the U.S. command, said the Iraqi ground headquarters eventually will take control of all 10 Iraqi army divisions. The first, the 8th Division, will be moved from coalition to Iraqi control this week.

The chain of command will run down from Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to the defense minister, to joint headquarters in Baghdad, and finally to the Iraqi ground-forces command. The United States says the emerging line of authority is crucial to having a self-sufficient Iraqi security force fight the insurgency and allowing many American troops to go home. [complete article]

Iraqi soldiers refuse duty
AP (via, August 29, 2006

About 100 Iraqi Shiite soldiers refused to go to Baghdad to support the security crackdown there, marking the second time a block of Iraqi soldiers have balked at following their unit's assignment, a U.S. general said Monday.

U.S. Brig. Gen. Dana Pittard, commander of the Iraqi Assistance Group, said the problems stem from the Iraqi Army's regional divide, because soldiers are recruited in their home area and expect to train and serve there. [complete article]

In Iraq, fewer Americans killed, more are wounded
By Brad Knickerbocker, Christian Science Monitor, August 29, 2006

As the controversial war in Iraq continues, Defense Department officials and civilian experts are getting a clearer picture of American combat casualties.

Among the emerging details: The fatality rate is markedly less than in previous conflicts. But while all wars are different, the nature of combat in Iraq, plus advances in battlefield medicine, mean that the number of wounded remains relatively high. Enlisted ground troops are most at risk, but the young lieutenants who lead them on patrol are even more likely to be killed or wounded. [complete article]

Slowly sidling to Iraq's exit
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, August 29, 2006

By Election Day, how many Republican candidates will have come out against the Iraq war or distanced themselves from the administration's policies?

August 2006 will be remembered as a watershed in the politics of Iraq. It is the month in which a majority of Americans told pollsters that the struggle for Iraq was not connected to the larger war on terrorism. They thus renounced a proposition the administration has pushed relentlessly since it began making the case four years ago to invade Iraq.

That poll finding, from a New York Times-CBS News survey, came to life on the campaign trail when Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), one of the most articulate supporters of the war, announced last Thursday that he favored a time frame for withdrawing troops. [complete article]
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Putting words in Ahmadinejad's mouth
By Virginia Tilley, Counterpunch, August 28, 2006

In this frightening mess in the Middle East, let's get one thing straight. Iran is not threatening Israel with destruction. Iran's president has not threatened any action against Israel. Over and over, we hear that Iran is clearly "committed to annihilating Israel" because the "mad" or "reckless" or "hard-line" President Ahmadinejad has repeatedly threatened to destroy Israel But every supposed quote, every supposed instance of his doing so, is wrong.

The most infamous quote, "Israel must be wiped off the map", is the most glaringly wrong. In his October 2005 speech, Mr. Ahmadinejad never used the word "map" or the term "wiped off". According to Farsi-language experts like Juan Cole and even right-wing services like MEMRI, what he actually said was "this regime that is occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time." [complete article]

Ahmadinejad wants to debate Bush
AP (via Jerusalem Post), August 29, 2006

Iran's hard-line president on Tuesday challenged the authority of the UN Security Council, two days before the council's deadline demanding Tehran stop uranium enrichment.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also proposed having a televised debate with US President George W. Bush on world issues.

"When we want to talk with a friendly country, we speak under clear circumstances. And talks with those who every day show an angry face to our nation requires other conditions. If conditions are met, yes," he said. [complete article]

Why Bush will choose war against Iran
By Ray Close, Counterpunch, August 26, 2006

Like many people, I find it extremely difficult to believe that President Bush could actually do anything so crazy as to launch a military attack against Iran, and that even if he wanted to, the Congress, the Pentagon, and the American public would ever countenance such action. But I remember in the spring of 2002 writing a "Dear Friends" memo just like this one predicting that the apparent intentions of the Bush Administration to invade Iraq would certainly turn out to be nothing but a bluff, and supporting that assertion by listing all the reasons why actually doing so would lead to utter disaster. Many of my friends told me at the time that I was missing the point --- regime change was DEFINITELY going to happen, and I was exaggerating the downside consequences. The problem is that today the downside risks of attacking Iran seem even more horrendous ---- and yet? (As George Will said last Sunday to George Stephanopoulos -- "When was the last time this president ever worried about getting approval in advance from the Congress or the public?") It makes me nervous when my president truly believes he is carrying out the will of God. [complete article]

Comment -- The idea that Bush acts on the basis of religious conviction never rings true to me -- his faith always seems much more deeply rooted in this world rather than any other. But I share Close's fear that Bush is stuck on a war path -- not so much for the sake of stemming the rise of "Islamofascism", but in order to make at least one definitive show of American might. America has the most ill-considered foreign policy, the most inept diplomatic apparatus, and has not achieved an unambiguous military victory since 1945. The final refuge of faith in American power is in the unchallenged superiority of its weaponry. Iran, in Bush and Cheney's eyes, may look like the perfect venue for the ultimate display of American firepower -- a resounding message intended to silence all critics.

Iran fires missile from submarine
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, August 28, 2006

Iran test-fired a long-range missile from a submarine in the Gulf yesterday as part of an orchestrated show of defiance ahead of the United Nations security council's Thursday deadline to suspend part of its nuclear programme.

Iranian state television carried a video clip showing the missile being launched and hitting a target.

The show of military strength came less than 24 hours after the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, formally opened a heavy water plant that could be used in the production of nuclear weapons. [complete article]
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Rumsfeld unsure of ability to intercept Korean missiles
Washington Post, August 28, 2006

After his first look inside the nerve center of the U.S. missile defense system, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld on Sunday sounded a note of caution about expectations that interceptors poised in 10 underground silos here would work in the event of a missile attack by North Korea.

Asked at a news conference whether he believed the missile shield was ready for use against a North Korean missile like the one test-fired unsuccessfully on July 4, Rumsfeld said he would not be fully convinced until the multibillion-dollar defense system has undergone more complete and realistic testing. [complete article]
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Afghan 'suicide bombing kills 17'
BBC News, August 28, 2006

At least 17 people have been killed and many more injured in a suspected suicide bombing in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, officials say.

The blast ripped through a crowded bazaar in the town of Lashkar Gah.

A spokesman for the provincial governor told the Associated Press news agency that the bomber had blown himself up opposite a police station. [complete article]
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Radical militia and Iraqi Army in fierce battle
By Damien Cave and Edward Wong, New York Times, August 28, 2006

At least 20 gunmen and 8 civilians were killed Monday when the Iraqi Army battled fiercely for hours with members of a militia loyal to Moktada al-Sadr, the radical Shiite cleric, in Diwaniya, Iraqi officials said.

The violence, which one Iraqi general said included militiamen executing Iraqi soldiers in a public square, amounted to the most brazen clashes in recent memory between Iraqi government forces and Mr. Sadr's militia.

After weeks of rising tensions and skirmishes between elements of the militia and American-led forces, it could increase pressure on Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a conservative Shiite, to find a way -- political or military or both -- to rein in Mr. Sadr's powerful militia. [complete article]
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Israeli siege leaves Gaza isolated and desperate
By Doug Struck, Washington Post, August 28, 2006

As the sun beat down on the city's central market, Khitam Shahleen, 37, glumly picked through a pile of cheap pencil sharpeners, searching for something -- anything -- she could afford to buy her two sons for the start of the new school year.

"We don't have money," Shahleen said, eyes downcast beneath her head scarf. Her husband, who works as a laborer in Israel, has been trapped inside the Gaza Strip by a blockade. "We are imprisoned here," she said.

The war in southern Lebanon has overshadowed Israel's second front, a military and economic siege of the Gaza Strip that is deepening the poverty and desperation in this dense area of 1.4 million people.

More than 200 Palestinians, at least 44 of them children, have been killed in the past 8 1/2 weeks. Three Israeli soldiers have been killed. Huge Israeli bulldozers and "pinpoint" missiles have razed at least 40 houses and dozens of other buildings, according to the army, leaving many families homeless. [complete article]

Lessons for Palestinian school children
By Rima Merriman, Electronic Intifada, August 25, 2006

In a couple of weeks, Palestinian children will start the school year - maybe. The Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Education, Dr. Nasser Al Shaer, was abducted by the Israeli army a few days ago and is in prison. Teachers and administrators have not been paid for months as a result of Israel's withholding of tax revenues. As many as five PA ministers are in Israeli prisons currently, as is a third of the members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, including its speaker.

Having successfully created this vacuum in Palestinian "authority" (unfortunately aided and abetted by the international community), Israel also refuses to accept its legal obligation as an occupying power to provide services for the people it is occupying. [complete article]
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Dozens killed in Iraq; 8 U.S. troops die
By Elena Becatoros, AP (via Yahoo), August 28, 2006

Violence in Iraq left nearly 50 people dead Monday in a suicide car bombing and clashes between Shiite militia and Iraqi security forces, a brutal contradiction of the prime minister's claim that bloodshed was decreasing. [complete article]

At least 69 killed in attacks across Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 28, 2006

Gunmen and bombers claimed at least 69 lives in Iraq on Sunday, even as Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki repeated the assertions of Iraqi and U.S. leaders that violence was easing from a wartime high set earlier this summer.

While U.S. and Iraqi forces have deployed additional troops in Baghdad to deal with the surge of sectarian violence, the deadliest of the attacks Sunday occurred outside the capital, in cities to the north. [complete article]
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A death Pakistan can ill afford
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, August 29, 2006

The killing of Baloch nationalist leader Nawab Akbar Bugti, a prominent politician who served many times in top government positions, at the hands of Pakistani security agencies on the weekend will ignite the movement for a "free Balochistan".

At the same time, it deals a powerful blow from the Pakistani military establishment against President General Pervez Musharraf for him to step down.

Bugti, 79, was killed in a large-scale battle in Balochistan, where nationalists have been battling for years to secure a better deal for themselves in the energy-rich province, if not independence from Islamabad.

Bugti, a former chief minister of Balochistan, went underground this year to join the campaign against an infrastructure program, including key pipelines for the gas industry. In response, the central government has considerably stepped up its military presence in the sensitive province, which borders Iran and Afghanistan. [complete article]
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Why it's not working in Afghanistan
By Ann Jones, TomDispatch, August 28, 2006

Remember when peaceful, democratic, reconstructed Afghanistan was advertised as the exemplar for the extreme makeover of Iraq? In August 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was already proclaiming the new Afghanistan "a breathtaking accomplishment" and "a successful model of what could happen to Iraq." As everybody now knows, the model isn't working in Iraq. So we shouldn't be surprised to learn that it's not working in Afghanistan either.

The story of success in Afghanistan was always more fairy tale than fact -- one scam used to sell another. Now, as the Bush administration hands off "peacekeeping" to NATO forces, Afghanistan is the scene of the largest military operation in the history of that organization. Today's personal email brings word from an American surgeon in Kabul that her emergency medical team can't handle half the wounded civilians brought in from embattled provinces to the south and east. American, British, and Canadian troops find themselves at war with Taliban fighters -- which is to say "Afghans" -- while stunned NATO commanders, who hadn't bargained for significant combat, are already asking what went wrong.

The answer is a threefold failure: no peace, no democracy, and no reconstruction. [complete article]
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An ex-official offers glimpse of Iranian views of U.S.
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, August 28, 2006

A former high-ranking Iranian official wants Americans to see his cracked thumbnails. They were torn out, he said, after Washington's friend, Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, put him in prison in the 1970's.

His point is instantly clear: look at what happened when we had close ties to the United States.

"I was a medical student," said the man, Ali Muhammad Besharati, a former interior minister and deputy foreign minister. "But they put me in prison because I opposed American dominance in Iran."

In the continuing conflict over Iran's nuclear program, there are disputes over enrichment of uranium, discussions of heavy water reactors, and accusations over the government's intentions. But to listen to Dr. Besharati is to hear the fight described as Tehran's frontline effort to block American influence in the region and to never again allow Washington to have an upper hand in Iran. [complete article]
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27 hurt in string of Turkey blasts
CNN, August 28, 2006

A series of bombings on Turkey's Mediterranean coast and in the commercial center of Istanbul has left 27 people wounded, including 10 British tourists, officials say.

At least three explosions late Sunday left 21 people wounded in the popular coastal resort town of Marmaris in southwest Turkey, CNN Turk reported. [complete article]
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Nasrallah: Wouldn't have snatched soldiers if thought would spark war
Haaretz, August 27, 2006

Hezbollah would not have abducted two Israel Defense Forces soldiers on July 12 had it known that the action would lead to war in Lebanon, Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday.

"We did not think, even one percent, that the capture would lead to a war at this time and of this magnitude. You ask me, if I had known on July 11... that the operation would lead to such a war, would I do it? I say no, absolutely not," he said in an interview with Lebanon's New TV station.

Nasrallah also said he did not believe there would be a second round of fighting with Israel, and that Hezbollah would adhere to the cease-fire despite what he called Israeli provocation.
The Hezbollah leader also said that negotiations on the release of the abducted IDF soldiers have already begun.

"Contacts recently began for negotiations," Hezbollah said. "It seems that Italy is trying to get into the subject. The United Nations is interested and the negotiations would be through [Parliamentary Speaker Nabih] Berri."

Benny Regev, brother of abducted soldier Eldad Regev, said in response to Nasrallah's announcement "I don't believe that there are any negotiations being conducted right now. I believe that Nasrallah's announcements are a call upon Israel's government to begin talks with Hezbollah through mediators, be it the Italians or anyone else, and I think that Israel's government must comply, because there are three abducted soldiers that must be returned home, only then can we begin to talk of ending the war." [complete article]
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Key U.S. legislator says will block aid to Lebanon
By Adam Entous, Reuters, August 27, 2006

A key U.S. legislator said in Israel on Sunday he would block aid President George W. Bush promised Lebanon and free the funds only when Beirut agreed to the deployment of international troops on the border with Syria.

"The international community must use all our available means to stiffen Lebanon's spine and to convince the government of Lebanon to have the new UNIFIL troops on the Syrian border in adequate numbers," said Tom Lantos, the ranking Democrat on the U.S. House of Representatives' International Relations Committee.

Lantos said he was putting a legislative hold on Bush's proposal to provide $230 million (122 million pounds) in aid for Lebanon in the aftermath of the 34-day war between Israel and Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas.

As the top Democrat on the International Relations Committee, Lantos has the power to hold up legislation. [complete article]

Comment -- The Lebanese government would be well advised to tell the US Congress that since $230 million will only cover a fraction of the cost of the damage done by America's bombs, the administration should dispense with its hypocritical compassion and give the money to Israel. The United States already abandoned Lebanon and the idea that stunts such as Landos' latest have anything to do with serving the interests of the Lebanese is transparently absurd. This is Congressional vaudeville staged to delight the Israel Lobby. If Landos made one sound calculation it is that nothing he or Congress does will diminish the standing of the United States in the Middle East; how could it possibly sink any lower?
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Humbling of the supertroops shatters Israeli army morale
The Sunday Times, August 27, 2006

Hundreds of feet below ground in the command bunker of the Israeli air force in Tel Aviv, a crowd of officers gathered to monitor the first day of the war against Hezbollah. It was July 12 and air force jets were about to attack Hezbollah's military nerve centre in southern Beirut.

Among the officers smoking tensely as they waited for news, was Lieutenant-General Dan Halutz, 58, a daring fighter pilot in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war who had become chief of staff a year earlier and now faced the biggest test of his career.

Over the Mediterranean, west of Beirut, the elite F-15I squadron made its final preparations to strike with precision guided weapons against Hezbollah's Iranian-made long-range Zelzal rockets, aimed at Tel Aviv.

Just before midnight, the order "Fire!" -- given by the squadron leader -- could be heard in the Tel Aviv bunker. Within moments the first Hezbollah missile and launcher were blown up. Thirty-nine tense minutes later the squadron leader's voice was heard again: "Fifty-four launchers have been destroyed. Returning to base."

Halutz smiled with relief and called Ehud Olmert, the prime minister, who was enjoying a cigar as he waited by a secure red phone at his residence in Jerusalem.

"All the long-range rockets have been destroyed," Halutz announced proudly. After a short pause, he added four words that have since haunted him: "We've won the war." [complete article]

Lessons learned
By Saree Makdisi, The Nation, August 20, 2006

Hours before the UN ceasefire went into effect, Israel quietly announced that it would, after all, be willing to negotiate a prisoner exchange with Hezbollah to secure the return of the two soldiers whose capture sparked the recent war.

Had Israel accepted Hezbollah's offer of a negotiated exchange five weeks ago, more than 1,000 people--the vast majority Lebanese civilians--would still be alive. In addition, more than a million people would not have been displaced from their homes; entire neighborhoods in Beirut and whole villages in the south of Lebanon would still be intact; and the Israeli army would not have reduced Lebanon to an environmentally devastated wasteland. [complete article]

Israel on the slide
By Alexander Cockburn, Counterpunch, August 26, 2006

In the aftermath of the Lebanon disaster you can open up the Israeli press, particularly the Hebrew language editions, and find fierce assaults on the country's elites from left, right and center.

The overall panorama is one of chickens of all ages coming home to roost. Small pustules highlight larger rot. Chief of staff Dan Halutz, a narcissistic bully like a mini-Patton, though without the latter's tactical talents, took time off the morning he ordered the terror bombing of south Beirut to tell the Bank Leumi to sell his stock portfolio before the market plunged ­ which it soon did by nearly 10 per cent.

The capacity of the US armed forces to fight intelligently and effectively has been eroded ­ not necessarily a bad thing of course -- by a system of graft-ridden procurement that favors expensive weapons systems validated by bogus tests. Israel's supposed military requirements have been a particularly ripe sector of that racket and the consequences are plain to see. Israel's receipt of batteries of Patriot missiles were no doubt hugely profitable for the parties involved in the transaction, but in defensive function entirely useless. The Patriot missile batteries stationed near Haifa and Safed, much trumpeted by the IDF played no significant role in the recent conflict. [complete article]

Fed up with the whiners
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, August 27, 2006

A protest movement that says nothing about the terrible destruction we wreaked in Lebanon, how we killed hundreds of innocent civilians and turned tens of thousands into impoverished refugees is by definition not a moral movement. Even after it has been proved that the excessive force was not effective, no protest has been directed at it. How long will we only focus on ourselves and our distress?

Is it too much to ask for the protesters, who are supposedly the cadres of the avant garde, to look for a moment at what we did to another nation? Why is it that after Sabra and Chatilla massacres, which were not even directly our handiwork, masses of people took to the streets and now nobody peeps about the destruction we sowed in Lebanon with our own hands, and for nothing? [complete article]

See also, In Israel, protests by soldiers often drive political change (WP).

Much soul-searching ahead for Israeli army
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2006

Israel's much-vaunted military, which emerged bruised and bloodied from its 34-day conflict with the guerrillas of Hezbollah, is in the midst of an intensive reappraisal of the battlefield tactics, intelligence capability and weaponry it brought to bear in Lebanon.

Yet a war whose outcome veered closer to a loss than almost any in Israel's history is unlikely to result in fundamental changes in Israeli military doctrine, analysts and military officials say. [complete article]

See also, Lessons of war : Logistical failure led to crisis of faith (Ze'ev Schiff) and Israeli colonel attacks army (The Observer).

Uneasy quiet along border
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2006

Drivers, maneuvering their vehicles with characteristic Lebanese hastiness, have flooded roadways again. Here and there, children walk in pairs along the roadside, laughing in the sunshine.

But when the sun goes down, the Israeli tanks come to Marwaheen, piercing through the border less than half a mile away.

"They come at night and go up the hill," Ali Abed, a 39-year-old resident of this Sunni Muslim town, said Saturday. "They don't talk to us. We are afraid of the Israelis because they're still in our area." [complete article]
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The war on terror: past, present, future
By Paul rogers, Open Democracy, August 24, 2006

The fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is approaching in a period when the rhetoric of the global war on terror is being reframed as that of a "long war" against "Islamic fascism". At such a moment – which itself coincides with the aftermath of the Lebanon war and the London police's exposure of an alleged plot to bomb transatlantic airliners – it is worth trying to take the measure of the main effects of the United States's post-9/11 global military strategy. [complete article]
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Iran may pull out of NPT; U.S. weighing sanctions without UN
By Yossi Melman and Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, August 27, 2006

Iran may develop nuclear weapons and pull out from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if international pressure against its nuclear program continues, a senior Iranian official warned yesterday.

The statements made by Iranian Parliament Vice Speaker Mohammad Reza Bahonar mark the first time a senior Iranian official specifically mentioned the development of nuclear weapons as part of the country's nuclear program, which to date Tehran had insisted was for peaceful purposes.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that his country poses no threat to Israel, and that no one can deprive Iran of its right to nuclear technology. [complete article]

Iran declares another nuclear advance
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2006

Iran announced Saturday it had reached another milestone in its nuclear program, appearing eager to create an air of inevitability to its acquisition of atomic technology in the face of a U.N. deadline this week to temporarily halt its uranium enrichment operations.

In choosing to inaugurate a heavy-water production plant just days before the threat of censure from world powers, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad signaled that the Islamic Republic would not be cowed. Yet he took pains to suggest that the plant's launch was a development that the world should regard as peaceful. And he emphasized that even Israel, which he has said should be wiped off the face of the Earth, should not be fearful of Iran.

"We are not a threat to anybody -- even the Zionist regime, which is a definite enemy for the people of the region," he said at the plant, about 150 miles southwest of Tehran. [complete article]
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British director Ken Loach backs Palestinian call for boycott on Israel
By Goel Pinto, Haaretz, August 27, 2006

British director Ken Loach has expressed support for a boycott on Israeli cultural institutions, giving the Palestinian figures behind the drive a significant boost.

Loach, who won the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival three months ago for his film about the Irish war of independence, The Wind the Shakes the Barley, has announced his support for the appeal to boycott Israeli institutions and even said that he urges others to do the same.

"Palestinians are driven to call for this boycott after forty years of the occupation of their land, destruction of their homes and the kidnapping and murder of their civilians," said Loach in a statement.

"They have no immediate hope that this oppression will end. As British citizens we have to acknowledge our own responsibility. We must condemn the British and U.S. governments for supporting and arming Israel." [complete article]

Analysis: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, August 27, 2006

By giving Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas a green light to negotiate with Hamas on a national unity government, the Fatah central committee is actually admitting that, under present circumstances, it's impossible to get rid of the Hamas-controlled government.

Ever since Hamas won the parliamentary elections earlier this year, Abbas and his Fatah lieutenants have tried almost every way of bringing down the government, but to no avail.

First, Abbas tried confiscating most of the powers of the new government, especially in the areas of security and finance. His moves met with partial success, and the result was a bitter power struggle that is still raging between the Hamas government in Gaza City and Abbas's presidential office in Ramallah, which has been functioning as a shadow government for the past seven months.

Second, Abbas and his aides waged a war of words against Hamas in hopes of discrediting the Hamas government and convincing the Palestinians that they had made the wrong choice in the elections.

To this end, Abbas enlisted dozens of Fatah spokesmen and journalists whose main job is to portray the Hamas government as an amateurish body that is unable to run the affairs of the Palestinian people. [complete article]

Kidnapped journalists are released in Gaza
AP (via IHT), August 27, 2006

Two Fox News journalists were freed in good health Sunday after a two-week kidnapping ordeal in which they said they were blindfolded, tied in painful positions and forced to convert to Islam at gunpoint.

After their release, the men met with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and quickly left Gaza, but not before appealing to foreign reporters not to be scared away from covering the plight of the Palestinians in the volatile coastal strip.

The release of correspondent Steve Centanni, 60, an American, and cameraman Olaf Wiig, 36, of New Zealand ended Gaza's longest crisis involving foreign hostages, but left unclear who exactly was behind the kidnapping and what led them to free their captives. [complete article]
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Another miserable milestone for Bush's war
By Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, August 27, 2006

A miserable milestone was passed the other day. America's (and Britain's) disastrous war in Iraq has now lasted longer than the US involvement in the Second World War. Yes, this conflict has outlasted a war that ended with total victory over Nazi Germany. Hitler declared war on the US on 11 December 1941. Exactly 1,244 days later, on 7 May 1945, Germany surrendered. The US invaded Iraq on 19 March 2003, and this weekend it is 1,267 days later, with no end in sight. [complete article]

For an Iraq cut in 3, cast a wary glance at Kurdistan
By Edward Wong, New York Times, August 27, 2006

The Kurdish policeman's mother died in 1988 when a boulder crushed her as she fled to Iran after the aerial bombardment of their village. His older brother had been killed earlier, in combat with Saddam Hussein's troops.

"But I don't just hate Saddam," the policeman, Lt. Ismail Ibrahim Said, 29, said in this mountain town's station house before the start last week of Mr. Hussein's trial on the charge of genocide against the Kurdish minority. "I see it in the new government of Iraq. When they have power, they'll oppress us like Saddam did."

The policeman's sentiments, widely shared across the autonomous Kurdish homeland, reflect a lack of will among many Iraqis to forge a unified nation, and could herald the breakup of the country into three self-governing regions. As Iraq writhes in the grip of Sunni-versus-Shiite violence, a de facto partitioning is taking place. Parts of the country are coming to look more and more like Iraqi Kurdistan, with homogenous armed regions becoming the norm.

But if Kurdistan increasingly portends the future shape of Iraq, it also signals the hazards inherent in a fracturing of the country. American and Iraqi officials agree that the greatest danger to a politically divided Iraq, or to an Iraq riven by civil war, is hostile intervention by the country's neighbors. The resulting regional conflagration could remake the Middle East through mass bloodshed. Here in Kurdistan, interference by border nations is already happening more overtly than elsewhere in the country. [complete article]

A threat that tops insurgency
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, August 27, 2006

The Iraqi insurgency remains a potent threat to U.S. forces, but in the months since the death of its flamboyant symbol, Abu Musab Zarqawi, the insurgency's aura has been eclipsed by the widening sectarian fighting between Shiites and Sunnis, American and Iraqi officials say.

The insurgency has increased its use of roadside bombs against U.S. and Iraqi forces since Zarqawi's death in June, and in some ways is stronger than when he was alive. But it lacks the mix of media savvy and spectacular explosions that the late leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq used to inflate the image of the insurgency beyond its military capabilities.

These days U.S. forces and ordinary Iraqis are increasingly transfixed by the danger of a full-blown civil war. Sectarian killings in July accounted for most of the nation's nearly 3,500 deaths, the highest monthly toll since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. An ongoing joint military offensive against death squads and sectarian militias in Baghdad is viewed as key to bringing stability to Iraq. [complete article]

Silent Sistani
By Scott Johnson, Newsweek, September 4, 2006

The plea late last week from the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was an unusually modest one. With thousands of American troops sweeping through the streets of Baghdad to prevent an escalation of civil war, and Sunni and Shiite militias continuing to murder civilians every night, Sistani -- Iraq's leading Shiite religious authority -- had a simple request. "Desist from traveling abroad," he cautioned his country's politicians in a statement issued through a spokesman, "Come down to the streets and be in touch with the people, to feel their suffering."

It seemed a reasonable enough request. But Sistani's appeal was also striking in its limited ambition. For months, calming statements from the ayatollah held Shiites back from retaliating for killings by Sunni insurgents. But three years of insurgency, sectarian tensions and miserable living conditions have shrunk the space for temperance and given extremists plenty of room to operate. "[Sistani] doesn't have the same degree of influence," says Joost Hilterman, director of the International Crisis Group's Iraq program, based in Jordan. "He may be saying the same things, but fewer people are listening to him." As much as anything, the battle now is about which voices will shape the future of Iraq. [complete article]

Democrats split over timetable for troops
By Jim VandeHei and Zachary A. Goldfarb, Washington Post, August 27, 2006

Most Democratic candidates in competitive congressional races are opposed to setting a timetable for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq, rejecting pressure from liberal activists to demand a quick end to the three-year-old military conflict.

Of the 59 Democrats in hotly contested House and Senate races, a majority agree with the Bush administration that it would be unwise to set a specific schedule for troop withdrawal, and only a few are calling for substantial troop reductions to begin this year, according to a Washington Post survey of the campaigns.

The large number of Democrats opposed to a strict timeline for ending the military operations runs contrary to the assertion by President Bush and top Republicans that Democrats want to "cut and run" amid mounting casualties and signs of civil war. At the same time, the decision by many Democrats to refrain from advocating a specific plan for withdrawal complicates their leaders' efforts to convince voters that they offer a clear new direction for the increasingly unpopular war. [complete article]
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Taliban assassins target the clerics faithful to Kabul
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, August 27, 2006

Staying one step ahead of the assassins is a nail-biting business, says Maulvi Ghulam Muhammad, one of Afghanistan's most senior Islamic clerics.

Armed bodyguards stand outside his office in the southern city of Kandahar and visitors are frisked. By day he varies his route to work and keeps vigilant; at night he slips between safe houses. 'Hardly a week passes when a suicide bomber is not hunting for me,' declares Muhammad, who leads the provincial religious council. Over the past year the Taliban have killed a dozen Kandahar clerics, many in drive-by shootings. Muhammad fears he will be number 13.

Violence between coalition troops and Taliban fighters hogs the headlines in Afghanistan, where more than 600 insurgents have been killed over the past month alone. But the militants are also conducting a ruthless assassination campaign against civilian 'soft targets' as part of their drive to discredit President Hamid Karzai and destabilise his government. Teachers, judges, aid workers and landmine removal specialists have been shot, bombed or beheaded for their links, however tenuous, with Karzai or the United States. In June five interpreters were killed when a bomb tore through their bus on the way to the US base outside Kandahar. The US government's aid wing, USAID, says it has lost 100 staff over the past three years. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The Islamic Way of War
By Andrew J. Bacevich, The American Conservative, September 11, 2006

Sadr's militia and the slaughter in the streets
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 25, 2006

'Shiite giant' extends its reach
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, August 24, 2006

A symptom of the Lebanese system
By Ferry Biederman, Bitterlemons, August 24, 2006

Whose Lebanon will it now be?
By Joseph Bahout, Bitterlemons, August 24, 2006

The Iranian paradox: to gain victory the West must first concede defeat
By Anatole Kaletsky, The Times, August 24, 2006

Israeli shelling left carpet of bomblets
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, August 24, 2006

Beirut's future: Paris or Mogadishu?
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, August 23, 2006

The 'new Middle East' Bush is resisting
By Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Washington Post, August 23, 2006

Iran, its neighbours and the regional crises [52-page PDF]
Chatham House, August 23, 2006

Solving the riddles of Iran
By Azadeh Moaveni,, August 21, 2006

And now, Islamism trumps Arabism
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, August 20, 2006

"As long as the Israelis are there and we are here, we will fight"
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, August 19, 2006

Lebanon, Israel and the "greater west Asian crisis"
By Fred Halliday, Open Democracy, August 18, 2006

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