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

Making sure that the 'clash of civilizations' becomes a reality
Rami G. Khouri
Haniyya 'will not head any government that recognizes' Jewish state
Daily Star
Hezbollah leader affirms strength of his militia at mass rally
Palestinian farmers fear advance of West Bank wall
Financial Times

War price on U.S. lives equal to 9/11
Baghdad blast marks bloody start to Ramadan
Berming Baghdad

Afghan girls, back in the shadows
Washington Post
Militants kill 19 workers in Afghanistan
Washington Post

Detainee deal comes with contradictions
New York Times
Voices of discontent: anti-U.S. leaders seek allies
New York Times
Chomsky is alive, actually, and hungry for debate
New York Times
Bin Laden dead?
Abu Aardvark
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Anti-Americanism is providing a glue
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, September 22, 2006

The outpouring of anti-American rhetoric at the United Nations this week is demonstrating how anger at the United States is uniting the developing world in a way not seen since the 1980s, U.S. officials and analysts say.

Leaders such as Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Sudan's Omar Hassan Ahmed Bashir and Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are divided by background and political philosophies, but they spoke as one at the General Assembly regarding perceived U.S. bullying and misdeeds.

Chavez denounced the "imperialist empire," Ahmadinejad railed against U.S. officials' pretensions to be the "rulers of the world," and Bashir complained about powerful intruders trampling his country's sovereignty.

"There's a new sense of the oppressed versus the oppressor," said a senior U.S. official, who asked to remain unnamed. "What they have in common is their hatred of the U.S., and it's created this solidarity across Third World lines." [complete article]

Comment -- The curious thing about the concept of anti-Americanism is that those who are most fond of using the term are those who perceive themselves as its target. It provides an effective conceptual shield for deflecting a multitude of criticisms that however precisely aimed will individually and collectively be treated simply as an attack on America. The propagators of anti-Americanism are expressing their hostility for what America is, and thus nothing America does will go far enough to pacify its critics -- so the argument goes. Anti-Americanism is conjured up and serves Americanists by sustaining a sense that America is a sacred object that is threatened by nothing less than the existence of evil.

America stands accused of pursuing a policy of global domination. When President Bush goes to the UN and says he wants to "speak directly to the people across the broader Middle East" -- "to the people of Iraq"; "to the people of Afghanistan"; "to the people of Lebanon"; "to the people of Iran"; "to the people of Syria" -- is this the manner in which a national leader speaks, or is this the language of an imperial power?

This is part of the response he got:
Some seek to rule the world, relying on weapons and threats, while others live in perpetual insecurity and danger. Some occupy the homeland of others thousands of kilometers away from their borders, interfere in their affairs, and control their oil and other resources and strategic routes, while others are bombarded daily in their own homes, their children murdered in the streets and alleys of their own country, and their homes reduced to rubble.

Such behavior is not worthy of human beings and runs counter to the truth, to justice, and to human dignity.

The fundamental question is that under such conditions, where should the oppressed seek justice? Who or what organization defends the rights of the oppressed and suppresses acts of aggression and oppression? Where is the seat of global justice?

A brief glance at a few examples of the most pressing global issues can further illustrate the problem. A, the unbridled expansion of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. Some powers proudly announce their production of second and third generations of nuclear weapons.

What do they need these weapons for? Is the development and stockpiling of these deadly weapons designed to promote peace and democracy or are these weapons, in fact, instruments of coercion and threat against other peoples and governments?

How long should the people of the world live with the nightmare of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons? What bounds the powers producing and possessing these weapons?

How can they be held accountable before the international community? And are the inhabitants of these countries content with the waste of their wealth and their resources on the production of such destructive arsenals?

Is it not possible to rely on justice, ethics and wisdom instead of these instruments of death? Aren't wisdom and justice more compatible with peace and tranquility than nuclear, chemical and biological weapons?

If wisdom, ethics and justice prevail, then oppression and aggression will be uprooted, threats will wither away, and no reason will remain for conflict.
Of course, if we refract these words through the prism of anti-Americanism we suddenly realize that they mean nothing -- they are of course the words of Mahmood Ahmadinejad.
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New terror that stalks Iraq's republic of fear
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 22, 2006

The republic of fear is born again. The state of terror now gripping Iraq is as bad as it was under Saddam Hussein. Torture in the country may even be worse than it was during his rule, the United Nation's special investigator on torture said yesterday.

"The situation as far as torture is concerned now in Iraq is totally out of hand," said Manfred Nowak. "The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it had been in the times of Saddam Hussein."

The report, from an even-handed senior UN official, is in sharp contrast with the hopes of George Bush and Tony Blair, when in 2003 they promised to bring democracy and respect for human rights to the people of Iraq. The brutal tortures committed in the prisons of the regime overthrown in 2003 are being emulated and surpassed in the detention centres of the present US- and British-backed Iraqi government. "Detainees' bodies show signs of beating using electric cables, wounds in different parts of their bodies including in the head and genitals, broken bones of legs and hands, electric and cigarette burns," the human rights office of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq says in a new report. [complete article]

Top Sadr aides seized in raids, movement says
By Amit R. Paley and Saad Sarhan, Washington Post, September 22, 2006

U.S. and Iraqi forces arrested top aides to anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in pre-dawn raids Thursday, according to Sadr officials who called the move a provocation designed to trigger a full-blown battle between the groups.

"It is obvious they want to draw the Sadr movement into a military confrontation," said Abdul Razzak al-Nedawi, a leader of the Sadr movement in Diwaniyah, south of Baghdad. "But we are trying our best to avoid such confrontation and find alternative ways to armed confrontation."

Although the U.S. military and Sadr forces have fought some of the fiercest battles here since the 2003 American-led invasion, the relationship between the two sides has become even more convoluted since Sadr's political party became one of the largest blocs in parliament. Now, U.S. military and Iraqi officials are grappling with how to handle the Shiite Muslim cleric as he evolves from guerrilla fighter to political kingmaker. [complete article]
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For detainees: less access to U.S. courts?
By Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 2006

In a significant but little-discussed move, the Bush administration is asking Congress to strip the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear cases brought by Guantánamo detainees challenging the legality of their confinement.

The move marks the second time in less than a year that the Bush administration is seeking to achieve in Congress what it was unable to win in court. In December, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act - a measure that sharply limited judicial jurisdiction to hear detainee challenges. Administration lawyers even argued that the US Supreme Court itself had been stripped of the power to decide the case handed down last June that invalided military commission trials at Guantánamo.

The high court rejected that view and issued its landmark ruling. Now, Congress is again considering limiting federal court jurisdiction. [complete article]

Top Republicans reach an accord on detainee bill
By Kate Zernike, New York Times, September 22, 2006

The Bush administration and Congressional Republicans reached agreement Thursday on legislation governing the treatment and interrogation of terrorism suspects after weeks of debate that divided Republicans heading into the midterm elections.

Under the deal, President Bush dropped his demand that Congress redefine the nation’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions, handing a victory to a group of Republicans, including Senator John McCain of Arizona, whose opposition had created a showdown over a fundamental aspect of the rules for battling terrorism.

The administration's original stance had run into fierce resistance from former and current military lawyers and Mr. Bush's former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They argued, as did Mr. McCain and the other two senators leading the resistance, that any redefinition would invite other nations to alter their obligations and endanger American troops captured abroad. [complete article]

See also, Senators snatch defeat from jaws of victory: U.S. to be first nation to authorize violations of Geneva (Balkinization) and A bad bargain (NYT editorial).

Three years on, Guantanamo detainee, 78, goes home
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, September 22, 2006

It's hard to picture Haji Nasrat Khan as an international terrorist. For a start, the grey-bearded Afghan can barely walk, shuffling along on a three-wheeled walking frame. His sight is terrible - he squints through milky eyes that sometimes roll towards the heavens - while his helpers have to shout to make themselves heard. And as for his age - nobody knows for sure, not even Nasrat himself. "I think I am 78, or maybe 79," he ventures uncertainly, pausing over a cup of green tea.

Yet for three and a half years the US government deemed this elderly, infirm man an "enemy combatant", so dangerous to America's security that he was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay.

Arrested in early 2003, Nasrat - or "detainee 1009" as he was officially known - always insisted he was innocent. But recently his hopes started to slide and he feared dying far from his home in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.

Then late last month, without warning, the US military let him go. Nasrat was flown to Bagram airbase, north of Kabul, the same way he had left: blindfolded, handcuffed and with his swollen half-paralysed legs chained to the floor. His lawyer was informed of the release, by email, after Nasrat had left Guantanamo Bay. [complete article]
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Nasrallah leads massive Hezbollah rally
By Husein Dakroub, AP, September 22, 2006

Hezbollah's leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah made his first public appearance since his group's war with Israel began July 12, taking the stage Friday at a rally by hundreds of thousands of his supporters in Beirut's bombed-out suburbs.

Nasrallah had called the rally to celebrate the "divine and historic victory" over Israel, and supporters packed a lot for an expected speech by the guerrilla leader.

The crowd - waving hundreds of yellow Hezbollah flags - roared as Nasrallah appeared waving to the crowd, flanked by his bodyguards. An announcer said, "The leader has arrived."

Hezbollah spokesman Hussein Rahhal said Nasrallah would deliver a "landmark historic speech" addressing international calls for his group's disarmament and the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in south Lebanon, which for years has been controlled by the militant group. [complete article]
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U.S. 'threatened to bomb' Pakistan
BBC News, September 22, 2006

The US threatened to bomb Pakistan "back to the stone age" unless it joined the fight against al-Qaeda, President Pervez Musharraf has said.

General Musharraf said the warning was delivered by former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to Pakistan's intelligence director. [complete article]
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Iraq torture 'worse after Saddam'
BBC News, September 21, 2006

Torture may be worse now in Iraq than under former leader Saddam Hussein, the UN's chief anti-torture expert says.

Manfred Nowak said the situation in Iraq was "out of control", with abuses being committed by security forces, militia groups and anti-US insurgents. [complete article]

U.N. finds Baghdad toll far higher than cited
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, September 21, 2006

A United Nations report released Wednesday says that 5,106 people in Baghdad died violent deaths during July and August, a number far higher than reports that have relied on figures from the city's morgue.

Across the country, the report found, 3,590 civilians were killed in July -- the highest monthly total on record -- and 3,009 more were killed in August. There were 4,309 Iraqi civilians reported wounded in August, a 14 percent increase from July.

The report also describes evidence of torture on many of the bodies found in Baghdad, including gouged-out eyeballs and wounds from nails, power drills and acid. "Hundreds of bodies have continued to appear throughout the country bearing signs of severe torture and execution-style killing," the report found. [complete article]

Insurgency gains alarming support among Iraq's Sunni Muslims
By Jonathan Karl, ABC News, September 20, 2006

A confidential Pentagon assessment finds that an overwhelming majority of Iraq's Sunni Muslims support the insurgency that has been fighting against U.S. troops and the Iraqi government, ABC News has learned.

Officials won't say how the assessment was made but found that support for the insurgency has never been higher, with approximately 75 percent of the country's Sunni Muslims in agreement.

When the Pentagon started surveying Iraqi public opinion in 2003, Sunni support for the insurgents stood at approximately 14 percent. [complete article]
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CIA 'refused to operate' secret jails
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, September 20, 2006

The Bush administration had to empty its secret prisons and transfer terror suspects to the military-run detention centre at Guantanamo this month in part because CIA interrogators had refused to carry out further interrogations and run the secret facilities, according to former CIA officials and people close to the programme.

The former officials said the CIA interrogators' refusal was a factor in forcing the Bush administration to act earlier than it might have wished.

When Mr Bush announced the suspension of the secret prison programme in a speech before the fifth anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks, some analysts thought he was trying to gain political momentum before the November midterm congressional elections. [complete article]

Justice Dept. amends remark on torture case
By Scott Shane, New York Times, September 21, 2006

In an embarrassing turnabout, the Department of Justice backed away Wednesday from a denial by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales of responsibility for the treatment of a Canadian who was seized by American authorities in 2002. The man was deported to Syria, where he was imprisoned and beaten.

Asked at a news conference on Tuesday about a Canadian commission's finding that the man, Maher Arar, was wrongly sent to Syria and tortured there, Mr. Gonzales replied, "Well, we were not responsible for his removal to Syria." He added, "I'm not aware that he was tortured."

The attorney general's comments caused puzzlement because they followed front-page news articles of the findings of the Canadian commission. It reported that based on inaccurate information from Canada about Mr. Arar’s supposed terrorist ties, American officials ordered him taken to Syria, an action documented in public records.

On Wednesday, a Justice Department spokesman said Mr. Gonzales had intended to make only a narrow point: that deportations are now handled by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Justice.

The spokesman, Charles Miller, said the attorney general forgot that at the time of Mr. Arar's deportation, such matters were still handled by the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which was part of the Department of Justice.

"He had his timeline mixed up," Mr. Miller said.

Asked why Mr. Gonzales appeared to cast doubt on the Canadian finding that Mr. Arar had been tortured, Mr. Miller said, "I wouldn't go beyond what he said." [complete article]
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Iran's leader relishes 2nd chance to make waves
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, September 21, 2006

Mr. Ahmadinejad's habit of answering every question about Iranian policy with a question about American policy was clearly wearing on some of the members, but at the end they acknowledged that he was about as skillful an interlocutor as they had ever encountered. "He is a master of counterpunch, deception, circumlocution," Mr. Scowcroft said, shaking his head. Mr. Blackwill emerged from the conversation wondering how the United States would ever be able to negotiate with this Iranian government.

"If this man represents the prevailing government opinion in Tehran, we are heading for a massive confrontation with Iran," he said.

In fact, on the main issue speeding the two countries toward confrontation, Iran's nuclear program, the president was unwilling to discuss specifics. He insisted that he was fully cooperating with the International Atomic Energy Agency, even though it had pages of questions his government refused to answer.

Instead, he steered the whole conversation toward Iran's rights under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, ignoring an effort by Ashton B. Carter, a Harvard professor, to get him to answer whether the nuclear effort was worth the cost to Iranian society.

"The U.S. doesn't speak for the whole world," Mr. Ahmadinejad responded, noting that at a meeting of nonaligned nations in Cuba over the weekend "118 countries defended the right of Iran to enrich."

And as he left, it was with a jab to his hosts. "At the beginning of the session, you said you were an independent group," he said. "But almost everything that I was asked came from a government position." Then he smiled, thanked everyone and left the room with a light step. [complete article]

See also, Interview with President Ahmadinejad (Time).

Comment -- Since the State Department had already made it clear that they thought that a CFR meeting with Ahmadinejad was a "really, really bad idea," naturally, those in attendance must have felt honor-bound to make a public display of their patriotism. Our willingness to talk to the enemy should not be mistaken as an act of disloyalty. Of course not! But then by acting as unofficial representatives of the U.S. government, neither could they make any pretense of being "independent."

The end result: Iran's president demonstrated the courage to face tough questioners, while those questioners lacked the courage to step out of line with their own government. The CFR didn't release the names of those in attendance and it wouldn't allow the event to be televised.

Therein lies America's greatest problem: a thread of cowardice binds together this country's political leadership, military leadership, the foreign policy establishment, opinion-makers, and the media establishment that reports on all their affairs. Everywhere individuals are tirelessly engaged in a never-ending dance of aligning themselves to power.

U.S. troops in Iraq are Tehran's 'hostages'
By Gareth Porter, IPS, September 21, 2006

For many months, the administration of US George W Bush has been complaining that Iranian meddling in Iraq is a threat to the country's stability and to US troops. The irony of this publicity campaign over Tehran's alleged bid to undermine the occupation is that Iran may well be the main factor holding up a showdown between militant Shi'ites and US forces.

The underlying reality in Iraq, which the Bush administration does not appear to grasp fully, is that the United States is now dependent on the sufferance of Iran and its Iraqi Shi'ite political-military allies to continue the occupation.

Three and a half years after the occupation began, the US military is no longer the real power in Iraq. As the chief of intelligence for the US Marine Corps revealed in a recent report, US troops have been unable to shake the hold that Sunni insurgents have on the vast western province of al-Anbar.

But the main threat to the occupation comes not from the Sunni insurgents but from the militant Iraqi Shi'ite forces aligned with Iran, led by Muqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army. The armed Shi'ite militias are now powerful enough to make it impossible for the US occupation to continue. [complete article]

Iran war, diplomacy on parallel tracks
By Jim Lobe, IPS, September 21, 2006

If you're feeling increasingly confused about whether the administration of President George W. Bush is determined to go to war with Iran or whether it is instead truly committed to a diplomatic process with its European allies to reach some kind of modus vivendi, you're not alone.

On the one hand, a growing number of informed voices are arguing that the administration is simply going through the diplomatic motions in order to persuade domestic and international opinion that it had acted in good faith before it pulls the plug and launches attacks on Iran's suspected nuclear facilities and related targets some time before the end of Bush's term.

Among other evidence, including an account of the advanced state of war planning and actual preparations in this week's Time magazine, they point to a statement by Bush himself during an interview with a group of right-wing journalists last week as indicative of his real intentions. [complete article]

See also, Early October new deadline for Iran (WP).

Livni: Iran poses greatest threat to world's values
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, September 21, 2006

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned the UN General Assembly on Wednesday that Iranian leaders pose the biggest threat to international values as they "speak proudly" of their wish to destroy Israel and pursue weapons to achieve that objective.

Speaking at the annual General Assembly session, Livni said that the international community must stand up against Iran, which she claimed is pursuing the weapons to destroy Israel, a reference to its nuclear program.

"There is no greater challenge to our values than that posed by the leaders of Iran," Livni said. "They deny and mock the Holocaust. They speak proudly and openly of their desire to wipe Israel off the map. And now, by their actions, they pursue the weapons to achieve this objective, to imperil the region and to threaten the world." [complete article]
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Hamas welcomes Quartet statement as sign of progress
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, September 21, 2006

The ruling Hamas militant group said on Thursday a statement by the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators was a sign of progress that could lead to the easing of a Western aid embargo.

Israel said the statement "maintains the principle" that any unity government between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah faction must still meet the three Quartet conditions: recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by interim peace deals.

Western diplomats said the Quartet statement amounted to a softening in Washington's position that could clear the way for the European Union to expand an existing aid program for the Palestinians. [complete article]
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A struggle over Europe's religious identity
By Tariq Ramadan, International Herald Tribune, September 20, 2006

This profoundly European pope is inviting the peoples of the continent to become aware of the central, inescapable Christian character of their identity, which they risk losing. The message may be a legitimate one in these times of identity crisis, but it is deeply troubling and potentially dangerous in its reductionism.

This is what Muslims must, above all, respond to; they must challenge a reading of the history of European thought from which the role of Muslim rationalism is erased, in which the Arab-Muslim contribution would be reduced to mere translation of the great works of Greece and Rome.

The selective memory that so easily forgets the decisive contributions of rationalist Muslim thinkers like al-Farabi (10th century), Avicenna (11th century), Averroes (12th century), al-Ghazali (12th century), Ash- Shatibi (13th century) and Ibn Khaldun (14th century) is reconstructing a Europe that practices self-deception about its own past. If they are to reappropriate their heritage, Muslims must demonstrate, in a manner that is both reasonable and free of emotional reactions, that they share the core values upon which Europe and the West are founded.

Neither Europe nor the West can survive if we continue to attempt to define ourselves by excluding, and by distancing ourselves from, the Other - from Islam, from the Muslims - whom we fear. [complete article]

See also, Pope says he was 'misunderstood' (BBC) and Pope backlash deals blow to interfaith ties (LAT).
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Bush's U.N. credibility gap
By Tony Karon,, September 19, 2006

The U.S. media will occasionally challenge facts presented by the White House, but rarely will it challenge the President's basic credibility when he's talking to Americans about a threat to national security. He is, after all, the Commander-in-Chief, and privy to the nation's best intelligence. At the UN General Assembly, however, President Bush's warnings to Iran to "abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions," and his cloaking of the invasion of Iraq as part of a march of freedom in the region, are likely to be greeted far more skeptically.

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan on Monday warned that Iraq is teetering on the brink of collapse as a nation-state, and more than 40,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed since the U.S. invasion that has turned the country into the fulcrum of regional instability, sectarian conflict and terrorism. So, President Bush's audience at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday cannot help but recall his address to the same forum four years ago, when he made a case for war with Iraq based on a litany of what turned out to be spurious claims concerning active nuclear and chemical weapons programs and ties with al-Qaeda. [complete article]

Expert: Tactical nukes needed to blast Iranian defenses
By Ryan Nadel, Jerusalem Post, September 20, 2006

Tactical nuclear weapons would be required to penetrate the defenses Iran has constructed around its nuclear facilities, according to Col. (res.) Shlomo Mofaz, an international consultant on terrorism and intelligence and a research fellow at the Institute of Counterterrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

Mofaz argued that any preemptive action - not necessarily launched by Israel - against Iran's nuclear facilities would need to employ tactical nuclear weapons.

"The Iranians have invested a lot of money to hide their weapons and infrastructure underground. The most sensitive items are below the surface," he said.

"American experts have said they are not sure that conventional weapons would be able to infiltrate these sites," he said. "Based on information from public sources, any attack should use tactical nuclear weapons." [complete article]

Bush clears task force to meet with Iranians
By Jim Lobe, IPS, September 20, 2006

While his handlers worked assiduously Tuesday to ensure that U.S. President George W. Bush did not run into his Iranian nemesis, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in the corridors of the UN, a legendary fixer for the Bush family announced that the White House had cleared him to meet with a "high representative" of Tehran's government.

Former Secretary of State James Baker, who co-chairs a bipartisan, congressionally appointed task force called the Iraq Study Group (ISG), said that the timing of the meeting with that representative, whom he declined to name, had yet to be arranged but that permission for such a meeting to take place has been granted.

"I'm fairly confident that we will meet with a high representative of the [Iranian] government," he said at a press conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP), one of several think tanks, including the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Center for the Study of the Presidency, and Baker's own Houston-based Institute for Public Policy, that are supporting the Study Group's work. [complete article]
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Israel 'trains Iraqi Kurd forces'
By Magdi Abdelhadi, BBC News, September 20, 2006

The BBC has obtained evidence that Israelis have been giving military training to Kurds in northern Iraq.

A report on the BBC TV programme Newsnight showed Israeli experts in Kurdish areas of north Iraq, drilling soldiers in shooting techniques.

Kurdish officials have refused to comment on the report and Israel has denied it knows of any involvement.

The revelation is set to cause enormous problems for the Kurds, not only in Iraq but also in the wider region. [complete article]
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Quartet welcomes efforts to set up PA unity gov't
By Avi Issacharoff, Shmuel Rosner and Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, Haaretz, September 20, 2006

The Quartet of international Middle East peace mediators welcomed on Wednesday efforts to create a Palestinian national unity government, even though its platform remains unclear.

The United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations said in a joint statement: "The Quartet welcomes the efforts of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to form a government of national unity, in the hope that the platform of such a government would reflect Quartet principles and allow for early engagement."

They also agreed to extend and expand a temporary international mechanism to channel aid to the Palestinians bypassing the existing Hamas-led government and encouraged Israel to hand over some $500 million in tax and customs revenues it is withholding from the Palestinians. [complete article]
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Mubarak's son proposes nuclear program
By Michael Slackman and Mona El-Naggar, New York Times, September 20, 2006

Gamal Mubarak, the son of Egypt's president, proposed Tuesday that his country pursue nuclear energy, drawing strong applause from the nation's political elite, while raising expectations that Mr. Mubarak is being positioned to replace his father as president.

The carefully crafted political speech raised the prospect of two potentially embarrassing developments for the White House at a time when the region is awash in crisis: a nuclear program in Egypt, recipient of about $2 billion a year in military and development aid from the United States, and Mr. Mubarak succeeding his father, Hosni Mubarak, as president without substantial political challenge.

Simply raising the topic of Egypt's nuclear ambitions at a time of heightened tensions over Iran's nuclear activity was received as a calculated effort to raise the younger Mr. Mubarak's profile and to build public support through a show of defiance toward Washington, political analysts and foreign affairs experts said. [complete article]
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No one dares to help
An Iraqi reporter, Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2006

On a recent Sunday, I was buying groceries in my beloved Amariya neighborhood in western Baghdad when I heard the sound of an AK-47 for about three seconds. It was close but not very close, so I continued shopping.

As I took a right turn on Munadhama Street, I saw a man lying on the ground in a small pool of blood. He wasn't dead.

The idea of stopping to help or to take him to a hospital crossed my mind, but I didn't dare. Cars passed without stopping. Pedestrians and shop owners kept doing what they were doing, pretending nothing had happened.

I was still looking at the wounded man and blaming myself for not stopping to help. Other shoppers peered at him from a distance, sorrowful and compassionate, but did nothing.

I went on to another grocery store, staying for about five minutes while shopping for tomatoes, onions and other vegetables. During that time, the man managed to sit up and wave to passing cars. No one stopped. Then, a white Volkswagen pulled up. A passenger stepped out with a gun, walked steadily to the wounded man and shot him three times. The car took off down a side road and vanished.

No one did anything. No one lifted a finger. The only reaction came from a woman in the grocery store. In a low voice, she said, "My God, bless his soul."

I went home and didn't dare tell my wife. I did not want to frighten her. [complete article]

The road to disillusionment
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, September 20, 2006

Few Americans served in Iraq longer than Army Reserve Capt. A. Heather Coyne.

She arrived in Baghdad with the 354th Civil Affairs Brigade in April 2003 and was in the military in Baghdad until June of the following year. She stayed on to head the U.S. Institute of Peace's mission there until earlier this year.

Coyne's personal saga in many ways tracks the broader American disillusionment in Iraq. When she got to Baghdad, she was a strong supporter of the invasion. "I bought into the vision of an alternative Middle East," she said.

But by the time she left Baghdad in February, she was heartbroken. "I'm terribly anxious and depressed about it," she said in a recent interview in Washington, where she continues to work for the Institute of Peace.

Coyne doesn't see any easy answers. "I don't even know what to do," she said. "There are enough people [in Iraq] who want a good option. I just don't know how they're going to get there." [complete article]

See also, '06 cuts in Iraq troops unlikely (WP).

This just in: The Iraq Study Group has nothing to report
By Dana Milbank, Washington Post, September 20, 2006

"We're not going to speculate with you today about recommendations," Baker announced at the session, hosted by the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Can the war in Iraq be won?

"We're not going to make any assessments today about what we think the status of the situation is in Iraq," said Hamilton.

Could they at least explain their definitions of success and failure in Iraq?

"We're not going to get into that today," Baker replied.

After more such probing, Hamilton became categorical. "We've made no judgment of any kind at this point about any aspect of policy with regard to Iraq."

A few minutes later, one of the organizers called out: "We have time for one or two more questions."

"But no time for any answers," one of the reporters muttered.

"This is pitiful," contributed one of the cameramen, as reporters' smiles escalated into audible chuckles.

Baker was bothered by the questioning. "Malicious," he whispered to Hamilton, unaware that it could be heard on the audio feed. [complete article]

Doubts rise on Iraqi premier's strength
By Edward Wong, New York Times, September 20, 2006

Senior Iraqi and American officials are beginning to question whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has the political muscle and decisiveness to hold Iraq together as it hovers on the edge of a full civil war.

Four months into his tenure, Mr. Maliki has failed to take aggressive steps to end the country's sectarian strife because they would alienate fundamentalist Shiite leaders inside his fractious government who have large followings and private armies, senior Iraqi politicians and Western officials say. He is also constrained by the need to woo militant Sunni Arabs connected to the insurgency.

Patience among Iraqis is wearing thin. Many complain that they have seen no improvement in security, the economy or basic services like electricity. Some Sunni Arab neighborhoods seem particularly deprived, fueling distrust of the Shiite-led government. [complete article]
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Yemen leader is now paying for providing open election
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, September 20, 2006

It was supposed to be like other elections in the Arab world: the president portrays himself as a changed man, the respected opposition candidate is discredited and the opposition ends with an embarrassing loss.

Yemen's landmark presidential election, however, is proving to be anything but ordinary.

Voters go to the polls here on Wednesday to choose a president and local council representatives in a surprisingly heated contest pitting voters' desire for change against their fear of instability. It may prove to be one of the most open electoral battles in the region, analysts and election monitors say, as President Ali Abdullah Saleh fends off the biggest electoral challenge of his 28-year rule.

His most serious challenger is Faisal bin Shamlan, 72, a former minister and member of Parliament who has a reputation of integrity. Mr. Shamlan, backed by a coalition of the four largest opposition parties, including its Islamists, has promised to fight government corruption and to distribute authority among Yemen's regions. Government corruption, he insists, has led to growing militancy, Yemen's scourge. [complete article]
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NATO offensive kills more than 1,000 Taliban fighters
By William Branigin, Washington Post, September 20, 2006

NATO forces inflicted a "tactical defeat" on the resurgent Taliban movement in southern Afghanistan in an offensive that ended last weekend, but a growing illegal narcotics trade that helps fund the insurgency is gaining ground, NATO's top military command said today.

Gen. James L. Jones, the supreme allied commander in Europe and chief of the U.S. European Command, told reporters in a Pentagon briefing that around 1,000 Taliban fighters -- and possibly as many as 1,500 -- were killed in "Operation Medusa," a NATO offensive launched earlier this month against the radical Islamic militia west of Kandahar. The "active phase" of the operation ended last weekend when the Taliban suddenly retreated, Jones said.

He said "very few civilians" were hurt in the operation, largely because planes dropped leaflets urging people to clear out. An estimated 20,000 civilians were displaced, he said. [complete article]
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People of southern Lebanon bound to Hezbollah
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, September 19, 2006

Even Sahar Bajouk was surprised to learn how many men in her village had belonged to Hezbollah.

Her brothers stayed to fight the Israelis. So did her high school crush, whose initials she'd etched into her hand with a pin from her head scarf. Her history teacher died in battle, along with an administrator from her school and several of her neighbors: an architect, a restaurateur, a college student and a shopkeeper.

Together they'd helped turn this quiet tobacco-farming community into a key base for one of the most sophisticated militant Islamic groups in the world. A memorial service this past weekend showed that support for Hezbollah remains deep, a month after a cease-fire ended 34 days of fighting between the militant group and Israel. It also suggests how difficult it is to separate Islamic militants from the rest of the population, not only in Lebanon but also in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

"We have to make it better than before," said Bajouk, who's 17. "It's better to be proud and patient than to cry."

Few places were hit as hard as Aita el Shaab, which is only a few hundred yards from where Hezbollah guerrillas snatched two Israeli soldiers July 12 in a deadly operation, touching off the conflict.

Some 800 homes in Aita el Shaab were destroyed, leaving thousands of villagers homeless and with little hope of rebuilding before winter comes. Rows of businesses were wiped out. Fresh graves dot the town cemetery. Debris and unexploded ordnance litter the soil.

Still, in the complicated arithmetic of southern Lebanon, the damage adds up to victory, Bajouk said. When the cease-fire took effect Aug. 14, Aita el Shaab - or what little remained of it - still belonged to Hezbollah, despite several Israeli attempts to capture it.

"Let me explain the strategic importance of Aita el Shaab. We were the difference between victory and defeat," she said. "We are surrounded by Christian villages, and we knew they wouldn't fight and that there were a lot of collaborators there. If the Israelis had taken Aita, then they would have been able to go all the way up to the Litani River." [complete article]

Hezbollah cracked the code
By Mohamad Bazi, Newsday, September 18, 2006

Hezbollah guerrillas were able to hack into Israeli radio communications during last month's battles in south Lebanon, an intelligence breakthrough that helped them thwart Israeli tank assaults, according to Hezbollah and Lebanese officials.

Using technology most likely supplied by Iran, special Hezbollah teams monitored the constantly changing radio frequencies of Israeli troops on the ground. That gave guerrillas a picture of Israeli movements, casualty reports and supply routes. It also allowed Hezbollah anti-tank units to more effectively target advancing Israeli armor, according to the officials.

"We were able to monitor Israeli communications, and we used this information to adjust our planning," said a Hezbollah commander involved in the battles, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official refused to detail how Hezbollah was able to intercept and decipher Israeli transmissions. He acknowledged that guerrillas were not able to hack into Israeli communications around the clock. [complete article]
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White House drops a condition on interrogation bill
By Kate Zernike, New York Times, September 20, 2006

Seeking a deal with Senate Republicans on the rules governing the interrogation of terrorism suspects, the White House has dropped its insistence on redefining the obligations of the United States under the Geneva Conventions, members of Congress and aides said Tuesday.

The new White House position, sent to Capitol Hill on Monday night, set off intensified negotiations between administration officials and a small group of Republican senators. The senators have blocked President Bush's original proposal for legislation to clarify which interrogation techniques are permissible and to establish trial procedures for terrorism suspects now in United States military custody.

The two sides were said to be exchanging proposals and counterproposals late Tuesday in a showdown that could have substantial ramifications for national security policy and the political climate heading toward Election Day.

The developments suggested that the White House had blinked first in its standoff with the senators, who include John W. Warner of Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and John McCain of Arizona. But few details were available, and it was not clear whether a compromise was imminent or whether the White House had shifted its stance significantly. [complete article]
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The end of the "summer of diplomacy" [PDF]
By Sam Gardiner, The Century Foundation, September 19, 2006

In order to understand the position of those within the U.S. government who will make the final decision to execute a military option against Iran, you must first consider the seven key truths that they believe:
* Iran is developing weapons of mass destruction -- that is most likely true.
* Iran is ignoring the international community -- true.
* Iran supports Hezbollah and terrorism -- true.
* Iran is increasingly inserting itself in Iraq and beginning to be involved in Afghanistan -- true.
* The people of Iran want a regime change -- most likely an exaggeration.
* Sanctions are not going to work -- most likely true.
* You cannot negotiate with these people -- not proven.
If you understand these seven points as truth, you can see why the administration is very close to being left with only the military option. Administration officials say that they want to give diplomacy a chance. But when they say that, we need to remind ourselves that they do not mean a negotiated settlement. They mean that Iran must do what we want as a result of our nonmilitary leverage: suspend enrichment, and we will talk. But enrichment appears to continue, and there are no direct discussions between the two main parties. Satisfied that nonmilitary leverage is not going to work, those who believe the seven "truths" argue that the only viable option remaining is the military one. [complete report - PDF]

Are we going to attack Iran?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, September 19, 2006

Are we about to attack Iran? That's the impression conveyed by Time magazine's latest cover story. A "prepare to deploy" order has been sent out to U.S. Navy submarines, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers, and two mine-hunting ships. The chief of naval operations, the nation's top admiral, has ordered a fresh look at contingency plans for blockading Iran's oil ports.

Michael Duffy, who wrote the story, tempers his scoop with prudent caveats. The order called on the crews to be ready to deploy by Oct. 1, not to go ahead and actually deploy. And, as he notes, "The U.S. military routinely makes plans for scores of scenarios, the vast majority of which will never be put into practice." As one Pentagon official tells him, "Planners always plan."

And yet, Duffy writes, the two orders, coupled with the mounting tension over Iran's nuclear program, "would seem to suggest that a much discussed -- but until now largely theoretical -- prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran." [complete article]

What would war look like?
By Michael Duffy, Time, September 17, 2006

The first message was routine enough: a "Prepare to Deploy" order sent through naval communications channels to a submarine, an Aegis-class cruiser, two minesweepers and two mine hunters. The orders didn't actually command the ships out of port; they just said to be ready to move by Oct. 1. But inside the Navy those messages generated more buzz than usual last week when a second request, from the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), asked for fresh eyes on long-standing U.S. plans to blockade two Iranian oil ports on the Persian Gulf. The CNO had asked for a rundown on how a blockade of those strategic targets might work. When he didn't like the analysis he received, he ordered his troops to work the lash up once again.

What's going on? The two orders offered tantalizing clues. There are only a few places in the world where minesweepers top the list of U.S. naval requirements. And every sailor, petroleum engineer and hedge-fund manager knows the name of the most important: the Strait of Hormuz, the 20-mile-wide bottleneck in the Persian Gulf through which roughly 40% of the world's oil needs to pass each day. Coupled with the CNO's request for a blockade review, a deployment of minesweepers to the west coast of Iran would seem to suggest that a much discussed--but until now largely theoretical--prospect has become real: that the U.S. may be preparing for war with Iran. [complete article]
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Bush goes to Turtle Bay -- and says nothing
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, September 19, 2006

President Bush had nothing to say at the United Nations today. This was the clearest message of his 25-minute speech before the General Assembly -- that he has no plans to change course, no desire to talk with his enemies, no proposals to put on the table, no initiatives of any sort, except to name an envoy to Sudan.

His address was full of stirring words, signifying nothing. At one point, he spoke "directly to the people across the broader Middle East." To Iraqis, he said, "We will not abandon you" -- which many Iraqis must have taken as a mixed blessing at best. To Afghans, he said, "We will stand with you," to which they could be forgiven for blinking a skeptical eye. To the Lebanese, he expressed admiration for their courage but said surprisingly little else.

His message to the people of Iran was puzzling. The United States, he said, respects their country. "We admire your rich history, your vibrant culture, and your many contributions to civilization." The problem is "your rulers," who "deny you liberty" and seek nuclear weapons. Then came the giveaway: "We're working toward a diplomatic solution to the crisis. And as we do, we look to the day when you can live in freedom."

Bush revealed in those two sentences his utter lack of interest in a diplomatic solution. Why would Iran's leaders -- why would any nation's leaders -- take seriously any offer or inducement from a president who, in one breath, endorses sitting down for talks and, in the next breath, calls on their people to rise up and overthrow them? [complete article]

See also, Iran's freeze on enrichment could wait, France suggests (NYT).
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Abbas to tell Bush that Palestinian gov't will recognize Israel
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, September 19, 2006

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will tell US President George W. Bush on Wednesday that the proposed Palestinian unity government will recognize Israel's right to exist and previous agreements between the PLO and Israel," PA officials told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.

Thousands of Hamas supporters took to the streets of Gaza City on Tuesday calling on Abbas not to succumb to American "dictates" regarding the unity government and to work toward resolving the financial crisis in the PA.

"President Abbas will make it clear that the political program of the unity government will clearly refer to the Arab peace plan that was declared in 2002 and which is based on a two-state solution," said one official. "He will also tell Bush that Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh promised that the unity government would honor all the agreements that were signed with Israel." The officials expressed hope that the US administration would change its negative position regarding the unity government following the planned meeting between Bush and Abbas.

"If the US wants to strengthen President Abbas, it must accept the unity government idea because there is no other alternative," another PA official told the Post. "I don't think the Palestinian public will accept a coup against a democratically elected government."

The official confirmed reports in the Arab media that Washington had threatened to boycott Abbas and his Fatah party if they went ahead with plans to join the Hamas-led government. "The US apparently doesn't understand that a national unity government with Hamas is the best solution to the current crisis in the Palestinian Authority," he added. [complete article]

Comment -- Back in June, Conflicts Forum's Alastair Crooke wrote:
Some very senior US officials... are more than ready to make plain that the US is not interested so much in Hamas's transformation to non-violence as in the failure and collapse of the Hamas-led government. US diplomats have told their European counterparts that "the Palestinians must suffer for their choice" (in electing Hamas). They would like to see Fatah return to power, albeit led by someone like the westernised Salaam Fayad, a former Palestinian finance minister and World Bank official.

To this end, the US is seeking to build a militia of 3,500 men around the office of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, to enlarge the presidency staff and to channel as much of the expenditure and work of the government as possible through the presidency. The US aims to create a shadow government centred around the president and his Fatah party as a counterpoint to a financially starved Hamas-led government -- which will, US officials hope, prove ineffective and wither. Officials associated with Vice-President Cheney's office talk openly with Fatah visitors about the desirability of mounting a "soft coup" that will restore the more pliant Fatah to power on the back of a humanitarian crisis.
The question facing the Bush administration now: is a small token of progress in unjamming the so-called peace process worth more than the cost of grudgingly acknowledging the legitimacy of a Palestinian government that includes Hamas? Somehow I imagine that even if the Israeli government can bring itself to accept Hamas' participation in a Palestinian unity government, there's nothing that Hamas could do that would make themselves acceptable to their enemies in Washington. I hope I'm wrong.
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How Canada failed citizen Maher Arar
By Jeff Sallot, Globe and Mail, September 19, 2006

Maher Arar is an innocent victim of inaccurate RCMP intelligence reports and deliberate smears by Canadian officials, a commission of inquiry says in a report that also recommends the federal government pay him compensation.

Mr. Arar, a Canadian citizen who was deported from the United States to Syria -- where he was tortured as a terrorist suspect -- has suffered "devastating" mental and economic consequences as a result of his ordeal, Mr. Justice Dennis O'Connor says in a report released yesterday.

"I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offence or that his activities constitute a threat to the security of Canada," the judge says.

Mr. Arar, 36, said he had tears in his eyes when he first saw those words jumping out from the report.

The judge, he said, "has cleared my name and restored my reputation."

The report says there is no doubt Mr. Arar was tortured in a Syrian military intelligence prison soon after his deportation from the United States in 2002. [complete article]

See also, Canada may protest U.S. treatment of tortured man (Reuters).

Bush detainee plan adds to world doubts of U.S., Powell says
By Karen DeYoung and Peter Baker, Washington Post, September 19, 2006

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said yesterday that he decided to publicly oppose the Bush administration's proposed rules for the treatment of terrorism suspects in part because the plan would add to growing doubts about whether the United States adheres to its own moral code.

"If you just look at how we are perceived in the world and the kind of criticism we have taken over Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and renditions," Powell said in an interview, "whether we believe it or not, people are now starting to question whether we're following our own high standards."

Powell, elaborating on a position first expressed last week in a letter to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also argued that the administration's plan to "clarify" U.S. obligations under the Geneva Conventions would set a precedent for other nations that would endanger U.S. troops. [complete article]
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Should Vatican aides have warned the Pope?
By Malcolm Moore, The Telegraph, September 19, 2006

The authoritarian nature of Pope Benedict's papacy was being blamed last night for the speech that provoked uproar in the Muslim world.

Unlike his predecessor John Paul II, who worked closely with a select group of advisers when drafting key speeches, Benedict XVI insists on writing his own.

Although the final drafts are then circulated to his aides, senior Vatican advisers believe that there is no one brave enough to tell the Pope he may have made a mistake. The Pope was known as "God's Rottweiler" when he held his previous position as the Vatican's defender of the faith.

"The speech was seen by some people in the secretariat of state and they were a bit shocked by the strength of it but decided that it was what the Pope wanted to say," said Fr Daniel Madigan, the director for the study of Religions and Cultures at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

He added that the Pope was "clearly writing things himself" since his speech contained elementary errors about Islam. [complete article]

See also, Return to the dark ages (Soumaya Ghannoushi) and Villains of the Vatican (The Guardian).

Comment -- A Rottweiler surrounded by Poodles?
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Afghanistan hit by wave of suicide bombings
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, September 19, 2006

A chain of suicide bombings killed 19 people, including four Canadian soldiers, across Afghanistan yesterday, in guerrilla violence bearing an increasing resemblance to the conflict in Iraq. The blasts came a day after Nato claimed it had scored a victory after killing more than 500 insurgents in two weeks of fighting in the Taliban's southern heartland.

But yesterday's first attack occurred in the same area when a bicycle-mounted bomber attacked Canadian troops distributing gifts to local children. The blast tore through the crowd, killing four Canadian soldiers and injuring 14 more, Nato officials and security sources said. About 25 Afghans were injured in the attack in Panjwayi district, western Kandahar. They included two girls, aged six and 10, who were flown by helicopter to a hospital in Kandahar.

The greatest carnage occurred in the normally peaceful western city of Herat, near the Iranian border, when a bomber on a motorcycle killed 11 people, including four policemen, outside a mosque. [complete article]
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Gaza: The children killed in a war the world doesn't want to know about
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, September 19, 2006

Nayef Abu Snaima says his 14-year-old cousin Jihad had been sitting on the edge of an olive grove talking animatedly to him about what he would do when he grew up when he was killed instantly by an Israeli shell.

He says he clearly saw a bright flash next to the control tower of the disused Gaza international airport, occupied by Israeli forces after Cpl Gilad Shalit was seized by militants on 25 June. "I went two or three steps and the missile landed," said Nayef, 24. "I thought I was dying. I shouted 'La Ilaha Ila Allah' [There is no God but Allah]."

When Jihad's older brother Kassem, 20, arrived at the scene: "My brother was already dead. There was shrapnel in his head. Nayef was shouting 'Allah, Allah'. The missile landed about four metres from where Jihad had been standing. There was shrapnel in his body as well, his legs, everything. He had been bleeding a lot everywhere."

Jihad Abu Snaima was just the most recent of more than 37 children and teenagers under 18 killed [out of a total death toll, including militants, of 228] in the operations mounted by the Israeli military in Gaza since 25 June, according to figures from the Palestinian Centre of Human Rights (PCHR). [complete article]
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I was a PR intern in Iraq
By Willem Marx, Harper's, September 18, 2006

Last spring, during my final semester at Oxford, a cousin wrote to tell me that she was planning to work for an American company in Iraq over the summer. She suggested I join her. The company was called Iraqex, and it claimed on its website to have "expertise in collecting and exploiting information; structuring transactions; and mitigating risks through due diligence, legal strategies and security." Iraqex was also looking for summer media interns, my cousin pointed out, who would "interact with the local media" in Baghdad and "pitch story ideas." This was almost too good to be true.

I have wanted to be a reporter, and particularly a foreign correspondent, ever since I was given a copy of John Simpson's Strange Places, Questionable People as a teenager. In this memoir, Simpson recounts his many adventures as a BBC reporter: lying in a gutter at Tiananmen Square in 1989, his camera rolling as bullets zipped by; being arrested during the revolution in Romania; and broadcasting from Baghdad in 1991, with U.S. bombs exploding around him. Inspired, I began writing for my high school paper, eventually becoming its editor, and at Oxford, where I majored in Classics, I joined the staff of a campus weekly. (Simpson had edited a quarterly at Cambridge.) By the time I heard from my cousin, I was already slated to begin journalism school in the fall, but I was yearning for some John Simpson-type real-world experience. In fact, Simpson had actually spent years toiling in the BBC's London office before being sent overseas. And here I might be able to get a break right out of college. [complete article]
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The pope's reasoned calculations
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, September 19, 2006

The pope probably doesn't lie awake at night fearing the spread of democracy, but it's worth keeping in mind that this is a man firmly seated in Europe's most powerful and enduring autocracy. As a clash of civilizations shapes up, Pope Benedict XVI seems intent on making sure that his institution be seen as a core constituent and front-line defender of European civilization.

In his speech on faith and reason, the pope asserts that, the "convergence [of Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry], with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe."

Although he refers to the urgent need for a "genuine dialogue of cultures and religions," the pope strongly infers that Islam is actually incapable of participating in such a dialogue. Whereas -- from Benedict's perspective -- Christianity is a faith rooted in reason, for Muslims the will of God "is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality." In other words, as far as the pope is concerned, Muslims don't recognize the true, rational nature of God.

Like many observers, when I first heard about the pope's speech and quickly read it, I was inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, "evil and inhuman" were emperor Manuel II Paleologus's words, whereas "dialogue of cultures and religions" were Pope Benedict's. Perhaps he was guilty of being a bumbling old professor, out of tune with the media -- an unjustifiable failing in a modern pontiff but not a sign of malevolence.

Now, having followed Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone's advice and engaged in a "complete and attentive reading of the text", I find myself shifting from doubt to suspicion when it comes to interpreting the pope's motives.

There was surely nothing casual in his choice of Paleologus' words. The pope's subsequent expression of regret sounds disingenuous. The pope says, "I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages of my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims," but the question isn't whether or not the pope is sorry for the reactions; it's whether he and his advisers could reasonably be expected to have anticipated such reactions. Are we really to believe after last year's global protests against the Mohammad cartoons, that the Vatican innocently had no sense of what was coming?

The darkest possibility seems to be this: As he witnessed the recent widening currency of the term Islamofascist, Pope Benedict wanted to obliquely voice his sympathy with the idea that we are now engaged in a clash of civilizations. Not only that -- he also wanted to clarify the terms of this clash by arguing that Christians have a more powerful claim on rationality than do secularists. Rather than openly take sides and thus reinforce the notion that the West is on a Christian crusade, the pope's choice was to act as a catalyst to events that would reinforce a view widely held in the West that Muslims are violent and irrational.

What is a more rational interpretation of the pope's actions? To think that when he used the words "evil and inhuman" in reference to Muslims, he had no idea what he might provoke, or, that he had every reason to foresee what would happen and thought that such events would serve his purpose? No one doubts that there are many Muslims susceptible to easy manipulation by mischievous clerics (so far presumed to be exclusively Muslim), but perhaps the pope himself should now be included in those ranks.
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Call cruelty what it is
By Tom Malinowski, Washington Post, September 18, 2006

President Bush is urging Congress to let the CIA keep using "alternative" interrogation procedures -- which include, according to published accounts, forcing prisoners to stand for 40 hours, depriving them of sleep and use of the "cold cell," in which the prisoner is left naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees and doused with cold water.

Bush insists that these techniques are not torture -- after all, they don't involve pulling out fingernails or applying electric shocks. He even says that he "would hope" the standards he's proposing are adopted by other countries. But before he again invites America's enemies to use such "alternative" methods on captured Americans, he might benefit from knowing a bit of their historical origins and from hearing accounts of those who have experienced them. With that in mind, here are some suggestions for the president's reading list.

He might begin with Robert Conquest's classic work on Stalin, "The Great Terror." Conquest wrote: "When there was time, the basic [Soviet Secret police] method for obtaining confessions and breaking the accused man was the 'conveyor' -- continual interrogation by relays of police for hours and days on end. As with many phenomena of the Stalin period, it has the advantage that it could not easily be condemned by any simple principle. Clearly, it amounted to unfair pressure after a certain time and to actual physical torture later still, but when? . . . At any rate, after even twelve hours, it is extremely uncomfortable. After a day, it becomes very hard. And after two or three days, the victim is actually physically poisoned by fatigue. It was as painful as any torture." [complete article]
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Palestinian officials allege torture
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, September 18, 2006

A government minister in the Palestinian Authority, who was arrested and held by Israeli authorities for more than six weeks this summer, says that during his interrogation he was tied for hours in a painful position known as the shabah. The technique, which Israeli security officials had argued was an effective way to put pressure on a suspect, was banned by Israel's Supreme Court in 1999.

An East Jerusalem lawyer says that two other top-level officials in the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, who were arrested in the aftermath of the June 25 kidnapping by Hamas militants of an Israeli army corporal, have been subjected to the same treatment.

"For five, six, seven hours, they would take me and tie my hands behind my back like this, and with my feet up, in the shabah," says Minister of Labor Mohammed Barghouthi, recalling his interrogation in an interview in his office.

"To go from the minister's office to a shabah seat, it was quite a shock," says Barghouthi, who is not a Hamas member and says he was offered the ministry appointment primarily for his management experience: He founded a successful advertising firm and has been a school superintendent. "It caused a lot of pain in my neck and back, but the psychological pain is much worse." [complete article]

Gaza faces major food problems
UN News, September 15, 2006

Palestinians face major difficulties in Gaza, including shortages of food and a crippled fishing industry because of the continued conflict with Israel, the United Nations food agency warned today, as it distributes aid to almost a quarter of a million of those most in need.

"Gaza's food security remains an issue of serious concern, the World Food Programme (WFP) says. Naval restrictions continue to block all boats from fishing off-shore, crippling the fishing industry," UN spokesman Marie Okabe told reporters in New York. [complete article]
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U.N. commander: Won't disarm Hezbollah
By Henry Meyer, AP, September 18, 2006

The French general commanding U.N. peacekeeping forces in Lebanon said Monday his troops would not intervene to disarm Hezbollah, even as French President Jacques Chirac said the militant group should not keep a military wing.

Maj. Gen. Alain Pelligrini told reporters the main task of his U.N. force is to ensure southern Lebanon cannot be used as a base for attacks on Israel.

"The disarmament of Hezbollah is not the business of UNIFIL. This is a strictly Lebanese affair, which should be resolved at a national level," he said. [complete article]

Israel knew about Hezbollah kidnap plans
By Amos Harel and Amir Oren, Haaretz, September 18, 2006

Military Intelligence had clear information about an impending kidnap attempt by Hezbollah shortly before the Lebanese group carried out its cross-border raid on July 12, according to an internal inquiry conducted by the Israel Defense Forces..

The information - which could, if properly handled, have prevented the kidnapping of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser - was not analyzed and passed on to the troops in time, the report indicated.

The IDF Spokesman's Office refused to either confirm or deny the report, saying that the issue is still being investigated by Military Intelligence (MI) and the Northern Command. [complete article]

Deadly harvest: The Lebanese fields sown with cluster bombs
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 18, 2006

The war in Lebanon has not ended. Every day, some of the million bomblets which were fired by Israeli artillery during the last three days of the conflict kill four people in southern Lebanon and wound many more.

The casualty figures will rise sharply in the next month as villagers begin the harvest, picking olives from trees whose leaves and branches hide bombs that explode at the smallest movement. Lebanon's farmers are caught in a deadly dilemma: to risk the harvest, or to leave the produce on which they depend to rot in the fields. [complete article]
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Livni: World may have only 'few months' to avoid nuclear Iran
Reuters, September 18, 2006

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said on Sunday that the world may have as little as "a few months" to avoid a nuclear Iran and called for sanctions.

"The crucial moment is not the day of the bomb. The crucial moment is the day in which Iran will master the enrichment, the knowledge of enrichment," she said on CNN's "Late Edition."

Livni said she did not want to identify a point of "no return" in the controversy over Iran's nuclear program. [complete article]

Chirac urges no sanctions on Iran
BBC News, September 18, 2006

French President Jacques Chirac has said referring Iran to the UN Security Council is not the best way to resolve a crisis over its nuclear programme.

"I don't believe in a solution without dialogue," Mr Chirac told Europe-1 radio, urging countries to remove the threat of sanctions against Iran. [complete article]
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Death squads target the Iraqi next door
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, September 18, 2006

On that scorching afternoon last month, Ahmed Kamel was playing soccer with his two children outside his home here when three men drove up in a Chevy Caprice, pulled out their guns and dragged him away.

"You will see your father tomorrow behind the levee," one advised Kamel's 13-year-old, Mustafa, as the boy clung desperately to the escaping car.

Four hours later, the family later learned, police found Kamel's body where the kidnappers said he would be: a notorious dumping ground for the dead in northeast Baghdad. His crime? He had served in the Iraqi army for more than a decade and lived in a neighborhood where Shiite Muslim militias are pushing out Sunnis like him. [complete article]

Most tribes in Anbar agree to unite against insurgents
By Khalid al-Ansary and Ali Adeb, New York Times, September 18, 2006

Nearly all the tribes from Iraq's volatile Sunni-dominated Anbar Province have agreed to join forces and fight Al Qaeda insurgents and other foreign-backed "terrorists," an influential tribal leader said Sunday. Iraqi government leaders encouraged the movement.

Twenty-five of about 31 tribes in Anbar, a vast, mostly desert region that stretches westward from Baghdad to the borders of Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia, have united against insurgents and gangs that are "killing people for no reason," said the tribal leader, Sheik Abdul Sattar Buzaigh al-Rishawi. [complete article]

Violence changes fortunes of storied Baghdad street
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, September 18, 2006

A silence has fallen upon Mutanabi Street.

In the buttery sunlight, faded billboards hang from old buildings. Iron gates seal entrances to bookstores and stationery shops. On this Friday, like the past 13 Fridays, the violence has taken its toll. There is not a customer around, only ghosts.

Perched on a red chair outside a closet-sized bookshop, the only one open, Naim al-Shatri is nearly in tears. Short, with thin gray hair and dark, brooding eyes, his voice is grim. This is normally his busiest day, but he hasn't had a single sale. A curfew is approaching.

Soon, his sobs break the stillness. "Is this Iraq?" he asked no one in particular, pointing at the gritty, trash-covered street as the scent of rotting paper and sewage mingled in the air.

It is a question many of the booksellers on Mutanabi Street are asking. Here, in the intellectual ground zero of Baghdad, they are the guardians of a literary tradition that has survived empire and colonialism, monarchy and dictatorship. In the heady days after the U.S.-led invasion, Mutanabi Street pulsed with the promise of freedom.

Now, in the fourth year of war, it is a shadow of its revered past. Many of the original booksellers have been forced to shut down. Others have been arrested, kidnapped or killed, or have fled Iraq. "We are walking with our coffins in our hands," said Mohammad al-Hayawi, the owner of the Renaissance book store, one of the street's oldest shops. "Nothing in Iraq is guaranteed anymore." [complete article]
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NATO faces growing hurdle as call for troops falls short
By Molly Moore and John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, September 18, 2006

More than a week after NATO's top leaders publicly demanded reinforcements for their embattled mission in southern Afghanistan, only one member of the 26-nation alliance has offered more troops, raising questions about NATO's largest military operation ever outside of Europe and the goal of expanding its global reach.

The plea for more soldiers and equipment to fight resurgent Taliban insurgents comes as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's forces are suffering the highest casualty rates of the nearly five-year-long conflict in Afghanistan, and as European governments are feeling stretched by the demands for troops there and in Iraq, Lebanon, the Balkans and in several African countries. [complete article]

Troops in Afghan district find anger at lax government
By Carlotta Gall, New York Times, September 18, 2006

American and Afghan forces moved Sunday into this district, one of the areas most troubled by insurgents in recent months, as part of a broader operation to reassert control in Ghazni, a strategically important province near the capital, Kabul. But while they encountered little insurgent activity, they did face anger and frustration from the local population.

The new operation, involving about 10,000 troops, began just as NATO forces declared that they had successfully taken control of Panjwai District, southeast of here near the city of Kandahar, after more than two weeks of heavy fighting. [complete article]
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Bush's useful idiots
By Tony Judt, London Review of Books, September 21, 2006

One of the particularly depressing ways in which liberal intellectuals have abdicated personal and ethical responsibility for the actions they now endorse can be seen in their failure to think independently about the Middle East. Not every liberal cheerleader for the Global War against Islamo-fascism, or against Terror, or against Global Jihad, is an unreconstructed supporter of Likud: Christopher Hitchens, for one, is critical of Israel. But the willingness of so many American pundits and commentators and essayists to roll over for Bush's doctrine of preventive war; to abstain from criticising the disproportionate use of air power on civilian targets in both Iraq and Lebanon; and to stay coyly silent in the face of Condoleezza Rice's enthusiasm for the bloody 'birth pangs of a new Middle East', makes more sense when one recalls their backing for Israel: a country which for fifty years has rested its entire national strategy on preventive wars, disproportionate retaliation, and efforts to redesign the map of the whole Middle East.

Since its inception the state of Israel has fought a number of wars of choice (the only exception was the Yom Kippur War of 1973). To be sure, these have been presented to the world as wars of necessity or self-defence; but Israel's statesmen and generals have never been under any such illusion. Whether this approach has done Israel much good is debatable (for a clear-headed recent account that describes as a resounding failure his country's strategy of using wars of choice to 'redraw' the map of its neighbourhood, see Scars of War, Wounds of Peace: The Israeli-Arab Tragedy by Shlomo Ben-Ami, a historian and former Israeli foreign minister). But the idea of a super-power behaving in a similar way - responding to terrorist threats or guerrilla incursions by flattening another country just to preserve its own deterrent credibility - is odd in the extreme. It is one thing for the US unconditionally to underwrite Israel's behaviour (though in neither country's interest, as some Israeli commentators at least have remarked). But for the US to imitate Israel wholesale, to import that tiny country's self-destructive, intemperate response to any hostility or opposition and to make it the leitmotif of American foreign policy: that is simply bizarre.

Bush's Middle Eastern policy now tracks so closely to the Israeli precedent that it is very difficult to see daylight between the two. It is this surreal turn of events that helps explain the confusion and silence of American liberal thinking on the subject (as well, perhaps, as Tony Blair's syntactically sympathetic me-tooism). Historically, liberals have been unsympathetic to 'wars of choice' when undertaken or proposed by their own government. War, in the liberal imagination (and not only the liberal one), is a last resort, not a first option. But the United States now has an Israeli-style foreign policy and America's liberal intellectuals overwhelmingly support it. [complete article]
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U.S. war prisons legal vacuum for 14,000
By Patrick Quinn, AP, September 17, 2006

In the few short years since the first shackled Afghan shuffled off to Guantanamo, the U.S. military has created a global network of overseas prisons, its islands of high security keeping 14,000 detainees beyond the reach of established law.

Disclosures of torture and long-term arbitrary detentions have won rebuke from leading voices including the U.N. secretary-general and the U.S. Supreme Court. But the bitterest words come from inside the system, the size of several major U.S. penitentiaries.

"It was hard to believe I'd get out," Baghdad shopkeeper Amjad Qassim al-Aliyawi told The Associated Press after his release - without charge - last month. "I lived with the Americans for one year and eight months as if I was living in hell."

Captured on battlefields, pulled from beds at midnight, grabbed off streets as suspected insurgents, tens of thousands now have passed through U.S. detention, the vast majority in Iraq. [complete article]

See also, U.S. holds AP photographer in Iraq 5 months (AP).
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Iraq stumbling in bid to purge its rogue police
By Edward Wong and Paul von Zielbauer, New York Times, September 17, 2006

Shiite militiamen and criminals entrenched throughout Iraq’s police and internal security forces are blocking recent efforts by some Iraqi leaders and the American military to root them out, a step critical to winning the trust of skeptical Sunni Arabs and quelling the sectarian conflict, Iraqi and Western officials say.

The new interior minister, Jawad al-Bolani, who oversees the police, lacks the political support to purge many of the worst offenders, including senior managers who tolerated or encouraged the infiltration of Shiite militias into the police under the previous government, according to interviews with more than a dozen officials who work with the ministry and the police.

No one expected a housecleaning to be easy, and some headway has been made in firing people. But despite that progress, recent difficulties reveal the magnitude of the task facing Mr. Bolani and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. When he took office in late May, Mr. Maliki said one of his top goals was to reform the Shiite-led Interior Ministry, which had, to the minority Sunni Arabs, become synonymous with government complicity in abduction, torture and killing.

The ministry recently discovered that more than 1,200 policemen and other employees had been convicted years ago of murder, rape and other violent crimes, said a Western diplomat who has close contact with the ministry. Some were even on death row. Few have been fired. [complete article]

See also, Bombs rock Kirkuk, killing 25 (AFP), Inside Baghdad: last battle of a stricken city (The Observer), As deaths rise, Sunnis criticize Baghdad plan (NYT), and U.S. casualties cut by half as Baghdad tears itself apart (The Sunday Telegraph).
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Best-connected were sent to rebuild Iraq
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, September 17, 2006

After the fall of Saddam Hussein's government in April 2003, the opportunity to participate in the U.S.-led effort to reconstruct Iraq attracted all manner of Americans -- restless professionals, Arabic-speaking academics, development specialists and war-zone adventurers. But before they could go to Baghdad, they had to get past Jim O'Beirne's office in the Pentagon.

To pass muster with O'Beirne, a political appointee who screens prospective political appointees for Defense Department posts, applicants didn't need to be experts in the Middle East or in post-conflict reconstruction. What they needed to be was a member of the Republican Party.

O'Beirne's staff posed blunt questions about domestic politics: Did you vote for George W. Bush in 2000? Do you support the way the president is fighting the war on terror? Two people who sought jobs with the U.S. occupation authority said they were even asked their views on Roe v. Wade .

Many of those chosen by O'Beirne's office to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran Iraq's government from April 2003 to June 2004, lacked vital skills and experience. A 24-year-old who had never worked in finance -- but had applied for a White House job -- was sent to reopen Baghdad's stock exchange. The daughter of a prominent neoconservative commentator and a recent graduate from an evangelical university for home-schooled children were tapped to manage Iraq's $13 billion budget, even though they didn't have a background in accounting. [complete article]
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Called from diplomatic reserve
By Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, September 17, 2006

Is Jim Baker bailing out the Bushes once again?

The former secretary of state, James A. Baker III, a confidant of President George H.W. Bush, visited Baghdad two weeks ago to take a look at the vexing political and military situation. He was there as co-chairman of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, put together by top think tanks at the behest of Congress to come up with ideas about the way forward in Iraq.

The group has attracted little attention beyond foreign policy elites since its formation this year. But it is widely viewed within that small world as perhaps the last hope for a midcourse correction in a venture they generally agree has been a disaster. [complete article]

Anbar called secondary to U.S. efforts in Baghdad
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, September 16, 2006

American troops face "significant challenges" in western Iraq's volatile Anbar region -- the deadliest province for U.S. forces -- but military efforts there are secondary to the priority of quelling sectarian unrest in Baghdad, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq said yesterday.

"Al Anbar today is a supporting effort to what we're doing in Baghdad," Lt. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, commander of Multinational Corps-Iraq, said in a videoconference with Pentagon reporters. "Baghdad is our main effort right now," he said, explaining why a battalion of U.S. troops was recently moved from Anbar to Baghdad.

On a day of sober talk about Iraq, Chiarelli also issued a dire warning on the risks of pulling out U.S. troops and allowing the country to slide into civil war, drawing an analogy from the 1980s Iran-Iraq war to suggest the loss of life from such a conflict could be staggering. [complete article]

Oops, there goes Basra
By Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Abdul Razzaq al-Saiedi, New York Times, September 17, 2006

Abdul Aziz al-Hakim wears the black turban signifying descent from the prophet Muhammad. He leads a powerful Shiite party with close ties to Iran. And he heads the United Iraqi Alliance, the Shiite coalition that has been the dominant force in post-invasion Iraqi politics.

Yet early this month this powerful leader made what some politicians here thought a rookie mistake. He tried -- and failed -- to rush through Parliament a bill giving Shiite-dominated provinces in southern Iraq a procedure to form autonomous states that could take control of much of Iraq’s oil reserves.

When his bid failed, it appeared to unmask a weakness that emboldened his opponents to fight him harder on the larger issue: how soon autonomous regions can be formed in Iraq. Instead of a quick decision, he got a protracted debate that continued into the weekend. [complete article]
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'Our boys are so shattered' ... families plead for more Afghanistan troops
By Mark Townsend, The Observer, September 17, 2006

Relatives of British troops serving in Afghanistan's Helmand province have raised serious concerns over the safety of soldiers, claiming many are so exhausted they are finding it difficult to operate properly.

A growing number of wives, mothers, girlfriends and sisters have decided to speak out over the 'intolerable' pressures on loved ones amid fears that, unless more Nato countries agree to send extra troops, the situation will deteriorate further.

The women describe how soldiers they have spoken to have had one day off in eight weeks because of relentless fighting with Taliban forces and are surviving on just three hours sleep.

'They are absolutely shattered; after a 10-hour gun battle my son is so exhausted he can barely speak,' said one mother whose son has been stationed in the volatile Sangin region of Helmand for two months. Families also reveal that the supply of rations to the more remote British camps remains so erratic they are sending food parcels amid complaints troops are suffering weight loss. [complete article]

Karzai blamed for 'hellhole' strategy
By Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, September 17, 2006

Political pressure from the Afghan government forced British troops to adopt the highly controversial tactic of taking defensive positions in remote outposts, the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan said last week.

Brigadier Ed Butler, the Old Etonian commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, took full responsibility for setting up the platoon houses -- described by British soldiers as murderous "hellholes" -- at Sangin and Musa Qala, where 15 British soldiers have died. [complete article]

UK troops 'to spend 10 years' in Afghanistan
By Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, September 17, 2006

The commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan said last week that UK troops could be in the country for as long as 10 years.

In his first interview since arriving in Afghanistan, Brigadier Ed Butler said: "I don't think there's any doubt we will be here for a considerable time. There will need to be training teams and embedded officers for 10 years or so." [complete article]
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Two tracks on Iran: keep talking, and weigh penalties
By Helene Cooper and Elaine Sciolino, New York Times, September 17, 2006

After intense talks about Iran's nuclear program, the United States and other major world powers face two unappealing choices as the United Nations General Assembly opens this week: introduce a resolution in the Security Council for sanctions against Tehran that may not be tough enough to make a difference, or delay any punitive measures, rendering their diplomacy on Iran meaningless.

So the Bush administration, along with Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, have quietly shifted their strategy.

In June, the six global powers offered Iran a take-it-or-leave-it package of incentives in an effort to persuade the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions. No negotiations would start unless Iran first froze its uranium enrichment activities. [complete article]

Comment -- The Bush administration always likes to look like it's sticking to a tough position, but somehow I suspect that at least for the next 51 days it's going to be a tough-soft-pedal approach. Falling gas prices is the only source of relief for Republicans right now; anything that upsets the oil markets before November 7 is bad news for the GOP.

U.S. asks finance chiefs to limit Iran's access to banks
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, September 17, 2006

The United States pressed the top finance officials of the world's leading industrial nations on Saturday to crack down on what Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said was the exploitation of their banking systems by at least 30 Iranian front companies involved in illicit activities.

Mr. Paulson said he had told the finance and economic ministers that the front companies were identified by American intelligence agencies as funneling money to terrororist groups using banks in Europe and elsewhere, many of them "blue chip banks."

Mr. Paulson said that many leading trading companies in Iran with legitimate business operations were also involved in the illicit activities, and that it behooved any legitimate bank to realize that it was risky to continue doing even legitimate business with the companies. [complete article]
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Britain's role in the Israeli-Hezbollah war
By David Wearing, Democrat's Diary, September 7, 2006

Whilst Israel's close relationship with the US is well known, and has long been the focus of debate, no comprehensive discussion of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war should allow the role of the British government to pass without comment. London was accused of "standing back and doing nothing" during the conflict. But on the contrary, it played an active role in supporting Israel's actions, supplying substantial military, diplomatic and political support.

Though the US is Israel's major military ally, Britain also helps to arm the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). Since the Oslo Accords were signed Britain has sold Israel submarines, combat helicopters, combat aircraft, tanks, bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, mines, machine guns, ammunition and electronic equipment according to the Campaign Against the Arms Trade. Between 2004 and 2005, arms exports to Israel approved by the government doubled to £22.5m. In contravention of the government's own guidelines prohibiting the sale of weapons likely to be used "aggressively against another country" or fuel regional tensions, Britain provided Israel with key components for Apache combat helicopters, F-15 and F-16 fighter jets deployed in Lebanon, Gaza and the West Bank.

Britain also gave active military support to Israel's attacks on Lebanon, granting permission to refuel at British airports to US flights carrying shipments of arms to the front, after the Irish government denied Washington such permissions. In late July, as the conflict escalated, sources at one of those airports told The Times that by that stage the number of refuelling stops had become "absolutely unreal". [complete article]

Israelis lose faith in new generation of leaders
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, September 17, 2006

Frustration over the outcome of the war in Lebanon has spurred many Israelis to question the abilities of a new class of political professionals who are stepping into roles long held by the men and women who founded the Jewish state.

The mostly East European immigrants who brought Israel into being are steadily ceding power to a more ethnically and ideologically diverse generation raised here. Now the uncertain aftermath of the first war to be managed by a prime minister from outside Israel's founding generation -- Ehud Olmert, a 60-year-old lawyer elected this year -- has sharpened debate over whether the best of the new generation are entering public life.

"How have we left our leadership to such mediocre people?" said Eliad Shraga, 46, head of the nonpartisan Movement for Quality Government in Israel who staged a nearly three-week hunger strike outside Olmert's office after returning from reserve duty in the Lebanon war. "We are asking ourselves how this has happened to us." [complete article]

See also, Israel approves investigation into Lebanon war (WP).

The fight to rebuild Lebanon
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, September 17, 2006

The rush to rebuild this war-crushed country has gotten tangled up with a high-stakes sectarian competition, as Sunni Arab governments in the region race against Shiite-ruled Iran and its ally Hezbollah to prove political clout and capture grass-roots loyalty, analysts say.

A steady stream of foreign delegations crunches over the rubble of the southern suburbs for photo opportunities; spokespeople churn out competing press releases; catty cut-downs are exchanged between Hezbollah and the Lebanese government. Milk trucks on remote farm roads near the Israeli border proclaim that their boxed milk is a gift from the Saudi people; an Iranian flag emblazons water tanks in Beirut.

For decades, Lebanon has been an oft-abused host to its neighbors -- a sun-warmed playground for the wealthy, but also a proxy battlefield for tensions that wash over the Middle East. In the current struggle, the region's power players jockey not with guns but with charity dollars, boxed food and showy displays of compassion.

"There's a kind of competition between the Arab governments and Iran," said Kamel Mohanna, general coordinator for Arab NGOs Forum. "It's a competition to have political influence here ... to decrease the influence of Iran, to show that not only Iran has sent money to this area." [complete article]
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Palestinian collapse hurts all
By Raja Khalidi, Haaretz, September 17, 2006

Beset by yet another round of shocks, which only intensified as the eyes of the world turned to Lebanon, the Palestinian economy is today undergoing a process of systematic "de-development." The economic decline is sharper and more debilitating than was experienced at the beginning of the second intifada in 2001-2002, with unprecedented poverty, deteriorating living conditions and mounting social strife. If current conditions persist, by the end of 2007 the economy will be 35 percent smaller than in 2005 - in fact, it will be at the level of 15 years ago. Per capita national income will fall to below $1,000 per year, about half the 1999 level. More than 50 percent of the Palestinian labor force will be unemployed.

A viable Palestinian economy is a sine qua non for any meaningful two-state solution to the Middle East conflict, but that economy is now barely functioning. Israel has withheld transfer of Palestinian import taxes, and most donors discontinued their funding after the Palestinian Authority Legislative Council elections and installation of a new cabinet earlier this year. As a result, there has been a breakdown of central government functions, and the Israel-Palestine economic accords signed in 1993 appear to be moribund. The functioning and relevance of the Protocol on Economic Relations between the two sides are being questioned as never before. In such a turbulent situation, what can the international community realistically hope to achieve in its efforts to assist the Palestinian people? [complete article]
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Serious errors of both fact and judgment
By Ruth Gledhill, The Times, September 16, 2006

The Pope's old sparring partner, Professor Hans Küng, a former colleague of his at Tübingen university, agrees that he did not intend to provoke Muslims. "He is very interested in dialogue with all religions. But this quotation and his whole approach to Islam in the lecture was very unfortunate."

He found it incredible that the Pope quoted an emperor, a Christian adversary of Islam, who had set down the comments while in the middle of a battle, the siege of Constantinople in 1394 to 1402.

"If a Jewish person said such a thing about a Christian, we would also be offended," said Professor Kung.

"He can of course quote what he wants, but he did this without saying the emperor was incorrect.

"This shows the limits of the theologian Joseph Ratzinger. He never studied the religions thoroughly and obviously has a unilateral view of Islam and the other religions."

The Pope has a history of criticism of Islam. According to a leading Catholic, he believes that Islam cannot be reformed and is therefore incompatible with democracy. [complete article]

Pope Benedict's long mission to confront radical Islam
By John Hooper, The Observer, September 17, 2006

Four days into his reign, Pope Benedict called the journalists who had been covering his election to what was billed as a press conference.

Addressing the assembled correspondents, photographers, camera operators, sound recordists and producers, he noted that the media were capable of reaching and influencing not only individuals, but whole masses of people - indeed, the whole of humanity. He thanked us all for our hard work in putting that awesome power at the service of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican for a few days. Then he blessed us - and, just as the reporters present were preparing to stick up their hands to ask questions - he left.

It was an eloquent demonstration of the pontiff's view of the media - as a conduit for getting his church's image and message out to the 'masses' of whom he had spoken. The notion that the media had an intrinsic power of their own to question, reveal and, at times, cause trouble was certainly not apparent then, and has never been apparent since. [complete article]
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Let's make a deal
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, September 15, 2006

It's a golden moment for a diplomatic overture to Syria.

This week's armed assault on the U.S. Embassy in Damascus should have shown Syrian President Bashar Assad that his country isn't as immune to the region's terrorism as he might have thought.

The Syrian security guards' successful repulsion of the attack and defense of the embassy should have shown President George W. Bush that the two countries might share some interests -- and that the terrorist threat isn't as monolithic as he's made it appear in recent speeches. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Afghanistan: a lost cause?
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly, September 14, 2006

Better paid, better armed, better connected - Taliban rise again
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, September 16, 2006

Taliban adopting Iraq-style jihad
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, September 13, 2006

Queuing up to die
By Ashfaq Yusufzai, IPS, September 16, 2006

The folly of exporting democracy
By Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman,, September 12, 2006

Top aide to Sadr outlines vision of a U.S.-free Iraq
By Ellen Knickmeyer and Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, September 12, 2006

What 9/11 means to Iraqis
By Ali Hamdani, The Times, September 12, 2006

The al-Qaida myth
By Martin Sieff, UPI, September 13, 2006

U.N. inspectors dispute Iran report by House panel
By Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, September 14, 2006

The battle for Guantanamo
By Tim Golden, New York Times, September 17, 2006

IDF commander: We fired more than a million cluster bombs in Lebanon
By Meron Rappaport, Haaretz, September 12, 2006

How U.S. merchants of fear sparked a $130bn bonanza
By Paul Harris, The Observer, September 10, 2006

Understand 9/11 in its full historical context
By Rami G. Khouri, Agence Global, September 5, 2006

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