The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
How the Abu Ghraib photos morphed from scandal to law
By Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, September 28, 2006

In April 2004, Americans awoke to the reality that the U.S. military was brutalizing prisoners at Abu Ghraib. The New Yorker and 60 Minutes II horrified us with the now-iconic images of Satar Jabar standing hooded on a box with wires attached to his hands and his penis, and threatened with electrocution if he fell off. They offered graphic photos of Pfc. Lynndie England dragging a collapsed prisoner on the floor with a leash, soldiers terrorizing prisoners with dogs, and a delighted Charles Graner giving a thumbs-up over the corpse of a man alleged to have been tortured to death at the prison.

At the time, we referred to Abu Ghraib as a "scandal." The images were a searing reproach to virtually any American with a soul and a conscience. With a handful of sick exceptions, people who could agree on nothing else could agree that this was an unacceptable way to treat prisoners—regardless of who they were, what they were accused of, or where they were being held.

But in hindsight, Abu Ghraib wasn't a scandal for the Bush administration. It was a coup. Because when the Senate passes the president's detainee bill today, we will, as a country, have yet more evidence that yesterday's disgrace is today's ordinary, and that—with a little time and a little help from the media—we can normalize almost anything in the span of a few short years. Lord Byron once wrote that "There are some feelings time cannot benumb/ Nor torture shake." He was, evidently, wrong as to both counts. [complete article]

Previously unknown lawyer central to exposing mistreatment
By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy, September 28, 2006

Ben Wizner, lead attorney in the United States for the American Civil Liberties Union, which sued in the United States on behalf of al Masri, said [Manfred] Gnjidic [, defense attorney for CIA kidnap victim, Khaled al Masri,] had been central to exposing U.S. policy on extraordinary renditions, or moving suspects around the globe for questioning, and had highlighted concerns about torture.

"He's a big part of the reason we're arguing about torture in the middle of an American election, 100 years after most thought the issue was dead," Wizner said. "His work, his efforts, have been overwhelming."

Hans-Christian Stroebele, a member of the German parliamentary secret services investigation committee, said the work Gnjidic had started could lead to criminal charges in the coming weeks against American CIA agents, and had led many to rethink Germany's relationship with the United States.

"Politicians of all camps are now calling for warrants of arrest to be issued for the kidnappers," he said, adding that the case has led many to "resent the German investigators' `muzzle' when it comes to attacking Americans. A crime is a crime, regardless of who commits it. You can't spare a friend from facing the facts if he did wrong."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has declined to admit error in Masri's case, and other U.S. officials won't discuss it.

Gnjidic said handling a case that prompted that kind of discussion was like nothing he'd done before or since. He's now defending a man who'd been involved in a road rage fistfight and is preparing for the trial of a man who'd been in a fight at a disco.

"When this started, I was no different than anyone else," he said. "My concerns revolved around my family, my life. The September 11 attacks worried me, but I trusted others would keep me safe.

"I now know I was wrong to trust. This is what drives my life today." [complete article]
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Of course Iraq made it worse
By Daniel Benjamin and Steven Simon, Washington Post, September 29, 2006

The declassified judgments from the National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism caused a stir in the political world this week, but for most -- we would guess almost all -- scholars of jihadist terrorism, they are largely uncontroversial. The war in Iraq, the lack of reform in the Muslim world and anger at its endemic corruption and injustice, the pervasiveness of anti-Western sentiment -- all these have long been identified as major drivers of radical Islamist terror.

What's striking, instead, is that anyone could still disagree with this assessment of the role of Iraq, as President Bush and commentators such as Robert Kagan ["More Leaks, Please," op-ed, Sept. 26] have done. It's a shame that more of the document wasn't released, because none of the evidence or argumentation to support the claim that Iraq has added fuel to the jihadist fire was included. And there's no good reason most or all of it shouldn't be released.

In fact, though, you don't need an NIE to demonstrate the most controversial judgment -- that the war in Iraq has worsened the terrorist threat. The official coordinated evaluation by Britain's domestic security and foreign intelligence services noted that "the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term." This conclusion is echoed by interior ministries, law enforcement agencies and intelligence services in every part of the world. [complete article]

Iraq situation is dire, Straw admits
By Bonnie Malkin, The Guardian, September 29, 2006

The former foreign secretary Jack Straw has described the situation in Iraq as "dire", blaming mistakes made by the US for the escalating crisis.

Mr Straw - now the leader of the Commons - was foreign secretary at the time of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and staunchly backed Tony Blair's decision to join the operation.

"The current situation is dire," he said on BBC1's Question Time last night. "I think many mistakes were made after the military action - there is no question about it - by the United States administration." [complete article]

Book says Bush ignored urgent warning on Iraq
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, September 29, 2006

The White House ignored an urgent warning in September 2003 from a top Iraq adviser who said that thousands of additional American troops were desperately needed to quell the insurgency there, according to a new book by Bob Woodward, the Washington Post reporter and author. The book describes a White House riven by dysfunction and division over the war.

The warning is described in "State of Denial," scheduled for publication on Monday by Simon & Schuster. The book says President Bush's top advisers were often at odds among themselves, and sometimes were barely on speaking terms, but shared a tendency to dismiss as too pessimistic assessments from American commanders and others about the situation in Iraq.

As late as November 2003, Mr. Bush is quoted as saying of the situation in Iraq: "I don't want anyone in the cabinet to say it is an insurgency. I don't think we are there yet." [complete article]
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Iraq's Kurds threaten secession over oil rights
By Steve Negus, Financial Times, September 28, 2006

The war of words between Iraq's central government and authorities of the autonomous Kurdistan region over the control of oil resources took a sharp upturn this week, with Kurdish officials threatening secession over Baghdad’s failure to recognise its right to sign exploration contracts.

In a statement released late on Wednesday, Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of the autonomous Kurdistan region, attacked remarks by oil minister Hussein al-Shahristani that appeared in the Iraqi press on Sunday. In the interview, Mr Shahristani said that the central government was not bound by contracts signed between international companies and the Kurdistan government. [complete article]

Chaos moves into a neighborhood called liberty
By Mohammed Rasheed and Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, September 29, 2006

Hurriya, Arabic for "liberty," is a working-class area known for its inexpensive food markets, tailors and electronics stores, and as the birthplace of famous ballad singers Basil Aziz and Kadhim Saher. Both men now live abroad, and Hurriya's shops are closed.

The neighborhood has 17 offices for rival political groups, including three linked to Sadr. All 17 are guarded by gunmen.

Residents are divided about who started the recent bout of violence, but most interviewed for this article agreed that Sadr's Al Mahdi militia now has the upper hand.

"Shiites are threatening Sunni families and forcing them to leave Hurriya," said Mohammed, the Shiite. "Anyone who doesn't obey will be killed. There used to be a lot of Sunnis in east Hurriya — now there are none." [complete article]

Iraqi journalists add laws to list of dangers
By Paul von Zielbauer, New York Times, September 29, 2006

Ahmed al-Karbouli, a reporter for Baghdadiya TV in the violent city of Ramadi, did his best to ignore the death threats, right up until six armed men drilled him with bullets after midday prayers.

He was the fourth journalist killed in Iraq in September alone, out of a total of more than 130 since the 2003 invasion, the vast majority of them Iraqis. But these days, men with guns are not Iraqi reporters' only threat. Men with gavels are, too.

Under a broad new set of laws criminalizing speech that ridicules the government or its officials, some resurrected verbatim from Saddam Hussein's penal code, roughly a dozen Iraqi journalists have been charged with offending public officials in the past year. [complete article]

Zarqawi successor exhorts scientists
AP, September 29, 2006

Al-Qaeda in Iraq's leader, in a chilling audiotape released Thursday, called for nuclear scientists to join his group's holy war and urged insurgents to kidnap Westerners so they could be traded for a blind Egyptian sheik who is serving a life sentence in a U.S. prison.

The fugitive group leader said experts in the fields of "chemistry, physics, electronics, media and all other sciences -- especially nuclear scientists and explosives experts" should join his group's holy war against the West. [complete article]

AWB may face terrorism charges over Iraq
By Raphael Minder, Financial Times, September 29, 2006

The Australian Wheat Board and some of its executives could face terrorism-linked charges over payments to Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime following the release of an email discussing whether the funds were being used to help wipe out opponents, the senior lawyer advising a commission of inquiry said on Friday.

Terence Cole, head of the commission of inquiry looking into whether AWB paid A$290m in bribes to Iraq to secure wheat contracts during the UN oil-for-food programme, on Friday described the final day of public hearings as "a disaster for AWB". [complete article]
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A post-Zionist agenda
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, September 29, 2006

Olmert's failure, or at least, "lack of success," in achieving the goals he himself set for Israel at the beginning of the war has not succeeded in shaking his belief that ultimately, there was nothing wrong with his policy.

Olmert's retreat from his unilateral convergence plan leads to a suspicion that his determined support of the disengagement from Gaza did not indicate a change in his belief in a diplomatic policy of do-nothing. Olmert spent most of his years in politics in a camp that believes that time, American support, the Jewish settlements in the territories and harassment of the Palestinians would do the job.

His willingness to relinquish so easily the policy of separating from the occupation reinforces the hypothesis that the entire purpose of the unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip was to preserve Jewish rule in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. [complete article]
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Ahmadi-Nejad meets the people
Financial Times, September 28, 2006

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s desire to meet the people took him on Thursday to Karaj, an overspill industrial town sprawling to the west of Tehran.

Among a crowd of 10,000 waiting in holiday mood in a sports field were school students with a "The Pope Must Apologise" banner, young men waving pictures of the president, and citizens anxious to see the man who has become an international celebrity.

Many came to give hand-written letters to Mr Ahmadi-Nejad detailing their problems – everything from rising prices to the need for jobs and clearing neighbourhoods of drug addicts – and calling for assistance.

Petitioning the powerful is as old as government in Iran, but the new president has been especially active in encouraging it – leading his critics to say he is raising expectations that his policies will not deliver. Even fundamentalist allies have in recent weeks admitted living costs seem to be rising faster than an official inflation rate of 10.4 per cent. [complete article]

Iran head unwavering on nuclear position
By Al Akbar Dareini, AP, September 28, 2006

Iran's hard-line president on Thursday again rejected demands that Tehran suspend uranium enrichment, even as top Iranian and European diplomats sounded somewhat optimistic about making progress toward starting negotiations.

Iranian and European envoys ended two days of talks in Berlin with no agreement on the enrichment issue but insisted they had "come to some positive conclusions" on ways to open broader talks on Iran's nuclear program.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stood firm on his insistence that Iran has a right to pursue its atomic program and showed no sign of compromise over the U.N. Security Council's demand that his government suspend enrichment. [complete article]
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U.S. to add troops to NATO in Afghanistan
Reuters, September 29, 2006

NATO approved a plan Thursday to take command next month of peacekeeping across Afghanistan, after the United States pledged to add 12,000 troops to the force.

Pentagon officials said the transfer of troops currently in Afghanistan's eastern region would entail the biggest deployment of American forces under foreign command since World War II. [complete article]

Taliban attacks double after Pakistan's deal with militants
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, September 28, 2006

Taliban attacks along Afghanistan's southeastern border have more than doubled in the three weeks since a controversial deal between Pakistan and pro-Taliban militants, the US military said yesterday.

Pakistan's military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, had promised the agreement with militants in North Waziristan would help to bring peace to Afghanistan. But early indications suggest the pact is having the opposite effect, creating a safe haven for the Taliban to regroup and launch fresh cross-border offensives against western and Afghan troops.

A US military spokesman, Colonel John Paradis, said US soldiers had reported a "twofold, in some cases threefold" increase in attacks along the border since the deal was signed on September 5, "especially in the south-east areas across from North Waziristan". [complete article]
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Many rights in U.S. legal system absent in new bill
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, September 29, 2006

The military trials bill approved by Congress lends legislative support for the first time to broad rules for the detention, interrogation, prosecution and trials of terrorism suspects far different from those in the familiar American criminal justice system.

President Bush's argument that the government requires extraordinary power to respond to the unusual threat of terrorism helped him win final support for a system of military trials with highly truncated defendant's rights. The United States used similar trials on just four occasions: during the country's revolution, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War and World War II.

Included in the bill, passed by Republican majorities in the Senate yesterday and the House on Wednesday, are unique rules that bar terrorism suspects from challenging their detention or treatment through traditional habeas corpus petitions. They allow prosecutors, under certain conditions, to use evidence collected through hearsay or coercion to seek criminal convictions.

The bill rejects the right to a speedy trial and limits the traditional right to self-representation by requiring that defendants accept military defense attorneys. Panels of military officers need not reach unanimous agreement to win convictions, except in death penalty cases, and appeals must go through a second military panel before reaching a federal civilian court.

By writing into law for the first time the definition of an "unlawful enemy combatant," the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have "purposefully and materially" supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death.

At the same time, the bill immunizes U.S. officials from prosecution for cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment of detainees who the military and the CIA captured before the end of last year. It gives the president a dominant but not exclusive role in setting the rules for future interrogations of terrorism suspects. [complete article]

After err inhuman, this vote supine
By Andrew Cohen, Bench Conference, Washington Post, September 29, 2006

So now a thoroughly and unabashedly uninformed Congress has given its seal of approval to the White House's terror detainee plan with the passage of a federal law that begins to harden into legal doctrine most of what President Bush has sought all along in the legal war on terrorism. The so-called GOP "compromise" that was much ballyhooed last week turns out to be a fraud. So was all the talk about the legislators taking their time this time to understand the complex issues involved and to give us a long-term solution to this problem. They gave us a "solution" all right. It's just the wrong solution. [complete article]

See also, House approves warrantless wiretap law (AP).
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Inventing an Iran 'crisis'
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, September 29, 2006

The neocons and their "liberal-hawk" sputniks (Democrats whose foreign policy positions are the same as the neocons) are doing their utmost, once again, to create an atmosphere of crisis, of simple binary choices -- bomb Iran, or live with having the bomb -- and so on. Once again, much of the media is doing an appalling job of explaining to its readers what's actually going on. Why, for example, despite all those faithfully reported promises from the State Department that "the world" has agreed to sanctions with Iran if it doesn't accept this or that offer, is the "world" in fact continuing to negotiate with Iran, while the U.S. remains rather isolated in its push for sanctions? That would be because most of the international community realizes that sanctions will only raise the level of confrontation, being unlikely to change Iran's behavior and therefore propel the U.S. towards armed action -- and the international community knows that would be even more catastrophic than Iraq has been. And, of course, even those who support the objective of preventing Iran attaining nuclear weapons generally agree, among themselves, that there is no immediate crisis that makes Iran's nuclear program a danger to international security. And BTW, the supposed last word on Iran from Senator John McCain -- "the only thing worse than going to war with Iran is living with an Iranian nuclear weapon," or words to that effect -- is not shared by most of the international community. Quite the contrary, the consensus in Europe is just the opposite. [complete article]

Iran: The perils of nuclear populism
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, September 30, 2006

Who is afraid of a breakthrough deal with Iran on the nuclear question? Answer: those vested interests in Washington who are not happy with anything short of a complete dispossession of Iran's nuclear technology and who are intent on torpedoing any agreement that falls short of their ultimate objective.

Why else should the powers that be leak sensitive information to the right-wing, ardently pro-Israel Washington Times, on the eve of a critical Iran-European Union talks in Berlin, which proved poison for a potential breakthrough? [complete article]

See also, Iran's enrichment technical troubles offer time for diplomacy (David Ignatius).
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Iraq at the gates of hell
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, September 28, 2006

Recently, in one of many speeches melding his Global War on Terror and his war in Iraq, George W. Bush said, "Victory in Iraq will be difficult and it will require more sacrifice. The fighting there can be as fierce as it was at Omaha Beach or Guadalcanal. And victory is as important as it was in those earlier battles. Victory in Iraq will result in a democracy that is a friend of America and an ally in the war on terror. Victory in Iraq will be a crushing defeat for our enemies, who have staked so much on the battle there. Victory in Iraq will honor the sacrifice of the brave Americans who have given their lives. And victory in Iraq would be a powerful triumph in the ideological struggle of the 21st century."

Over three years after the 2003 invasion, it's not unreasonable to speak of George Bush's Iraq. The President himself likes to refer to that country as the "central front [or theater] in our fight against terrorism" and a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), part of which was recently leaked to the press and part then released by the President, confirms that Iraq is now indeed just that -- a literal motor for the creation of terrorism. As the document puts it, "The Iraq conflict has become the 'cause celebre' for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world, and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement." A study by a British Ministry of Defense think tank seconds this point, describing Iraq as "a recruiting sergeant for extremists across the Muslim world"

So what exactly does "victory" in George Bush's Iraq look like 1,288 days after the invasion of that country began with a "shock-and-awe" attack on downtown Baghdad? A surprising amount of information related to this has appeared in the press in recent weeks, but in purely scattershot form. Here, it's all brought together in 21 questions (and answers) that add up to a grim but realistic snapshot of Bush's Iraq. The attempt to reclaim the capital, dipped in a sea of blood in recent months -- or the "battle of Baghdad," as the administration likes to term it -- is now the center of administration military strategy and operations. [complete article]
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Sadr said to lose reins of parts of Iraqi militia
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, September 28, 2006

The radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has lost control of portions of his Mahdi Army militia that are splintering off into freelance death squads and criminal gangs, a senior coalition intelligence official said Wednesday.

The question of how tightly Mr. Sadr holds the militia, one of the largest armed groups in Iraq, is of critical importance to American and Iraqi officials. Seeking to ease the sectarian violence raging across the country, they have pressed him to join the political process and curb his fighters, who see themselves as defenders of Shiism -- and often as agents of vengeance against Sunnis.

But as Mr. Sadr has taken a more active role in the government, as many as a third of his militiamen have grown frustrated with the constraints of compromise and have broken off, often selling their services to the highest bidders, said the official, who spoke to reporters in Baghdad on condition of anonymity because he was not permitted to speak publicly on intelligence issues. [complete article]

Iraq impeding efforts to go after Shiite militias, U.S. military says
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, September 28, 2006

Senior U.S. military officials have stepped up complaints that Iraq's Shiite-led government is thwarting efforts to go after Shiite death squads blamed in the execution-style killings of Sunni Arabs in neighborhoods across this capital.

Although deadly Sunni Arab rebel attacks remain frequent in Baghdad, U.S. officials, including Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, say death squads affiliated with Shiite militias have become the main factors ratcheting up the capital's death toll from sectarian killings. [complete article]

See also, Bodies of 40 torture victims found in Baghdad (The Guardian).
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Cost of Iraq war nearly $2b a week
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, September 28, 2006

A new congressional analysis shows the Iraq war is now costing taxpayers almost $2 billion a week -- nearly twice as much as in the first year of the conflict three years ago and 20 percent more than last year -- as the Pentagon spends more on establishing regional bases to support the extended deployment and scrambles to fix or replace equipment damaged in combat.

The upsurge occurs as the total cost of military operations at home and abroad since 2001, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, will top half a trillion dollars, according to an internal assessment by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service completed last week. [complete article]

Heralded Iraq police academy a 'disaster'
By Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, September 28, 2006

A $75 million project to build the largest police academy in Iraq has been so grossly mismanaged that the campus now poses health risks to recruits and might need to be partially demolished, U.S. investigators have found.

The Baghdad Police College, hailed as crucial to U.S. efforts to prepare Iraqis to take control of the country's security, was so poorly constructed that feces and urine rained from the ceilings in student barracks. Floors heaved inches off the ground and cracked apart. Water dripped so profusely in one room that it was dubbed "the rain forest."

"This is the most essential civil security project in the country -- and it's a failure," said Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an independent office created by Congress. "The Baghdad police academy is a disaster."

Bowen's office plans to release a 21-page report [PDF] Thursday detailing the most alarming problems with the facility. [complete article]
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An alternative way forward for the U.S.
By Jim Lobe, Asia Times, September 29, 2006

After two years of consultations with more than 400 members of the US foreign-policy elite, a project headed by two leading international-relations academics is calling for the adoption of a new grand strategy designed to address multiple threats and strengthen Washington's commitment to a reformed and reinvigorated multilateral order.

In a wide-ranging report released in Washington on Wednesday, the Princeton Project on National Security suggested that the policies pursued by President George W Bush since September 11, 2001, had been simplistic - even counter-productive - for the challenges facing the United States in the 21st century.

To be effective, according to the report, US policy needed to rely less on military power and more on other tools of diplomacy; less on its own strength exercised unilaterally and more on cooperation with other democratic states; and less on rapid democratization based on popular elections and more on building what it called "popular, accountable, rights-regarding [PAR] governments". [complete article]
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We snub Turkey at our peril
By Joschka Fischer, The Guardian, September 28, 2006

By intervening in Lebanon, Europeans have made a far-reaching, risk-fraught, and, at the same time, correct decision. The reason is that the future of Europe's security will be determined in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Europe, whether it likes it or not, has taken on a new, strategic role in the region. Should it fail, the price will be high.

In view of the serious risks that Europe has assumed, in full awareness of the consequences, it is of the utmost importance that a European "grand strategy" for the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East be developed, so that Europe can calmly and clearly define its interests. In any serious variation of this grand strategy, Turkey will need to play a central role - politically, militarily, economically, and culturally.

Safeguarding Europe's interests today means establishing a strong link - indeed an unbreakable bond - with Turkey as a cornerstone of regional security. So it is astonishing that Europe is doing exactly the opposite: firmly closing its eyes to the strategic challenge posed by Turkey. [complete article]

Comment -- The entry of Turkey into the European Union could be an event of far greater significance than it seems to be cast by both those in favor or opposed. If both populaces recognize the full potential of this opportunity they won't limit it to a vision of Europe's expansion (or protection) and Turkey's advancement (or rejection).

Turkey, the would-be European state has to do more to demonstrate its qualification for "accession," yet the very fact that acquiring membership is called accession conveys the European conceit. Turkey is supposedly not European enough but no one seems to entertain the obvious corollary: A Europe that includes Turkey will need to shed some of its European identity. This of course is what the cultural purists fear, all the while denying the continuous process through which Europe became what it is through a constant infusion of non-European cultural and material wealth.

Europe has no stark topographical boundaries and is all the more enriched because of it - this is no time to allow those with a culturally impoverished outlook to erect barricades. What the cultural protectionists fail to see is that culture locked up inevitably withers.
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Rushing off a cliff
Editorial, New York Times, September 28, 2006

Here's what happens when this irresponsible Congress railroads a profoundly important bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bush administration uses Republicans' fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws -- while actually doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser.

Republicans say Congress must act right now to create procedures for charging and trying terrorists -- because the men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks are available for trial. That's pure propaganda. Those men could have been tried and convicted long ago, but President Bush chose not to. He held them in illegal detention, had them questioned in ways that will make real trials very hard, and invented a transparently illegal system of kangaroo courts to convict them.

It was only after the Supreme Court issued the inevitable ruling striking down Mr. Bush's shadow penal system that he adopted his tone of urgency. It serves a cynical goal: Republican strategists think they can win this fall, not by passing a good law but by forcing Democrats to vote against a bad one so they could be made to look soft on terrorism. [complete article]

Thoughts on the "Bringing Terrorists to Justice Act of 2006"
By John Dean, FindLaw, September 22, 2006 provision of the proposed law is more telling that the law's provision mandating its own retroactive application. It states, in effect, that it has been the law since September 11, 2001. This, of course, is intended to ensure that all those officials and employees of the Bush government who have been involved in war crimes (acts prohibited by Common Article 3) are home free.

It is a retroactive immunization of torturers. It also retroactively removes the jurisdiction of all federal courts relating to any pending or future habeas corpus actions filed by detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere. In fact, it takes the federal courts out of the business of providing any redress whatsoever to any alien detained for any reason as "an unlawful enemy combatant."

One of the most sweeping provisions of this proposed law takes the federal courts out of the business of providing any redress whatsoever, to anyone who becomes entangled - correctly or incorrectly - on the wrong side of the war on terror. It simply removes federal jurisdiction "to hear or consider any claim or cause of action, including an application for a writ of habeas corpus" filed by any non-citizen of the United States who has been detained "as an unlawful enemy combatant." [complete article]

Gagging the detainees
By Joanne Mariner, FindLaw, September 26, 2006

From the testimonies of a few former CIA detainees and of several Guantanamo detainees who were previously held by the CIA, as well as from documents and intelligence sources, there is abundant information about a range of abuses committed against detainees in CIA custody. Stories of physical violence, sexual humiliation, and extended sleep deprivation have been common.

But there are other, perhaps even more serious abuses, about which we have little direct knowledge. The most notorious of these practices is water-boarding. Although anonymous intelligence sources have spoken frequently of the practice, saying that it has been employed on at least a handful of "high-value" detainees, neither journalists, nor human rights organizations, nor lawyers have ever had access to such detainees. As a result, the precise details of how the practice has been used have yet to be confirmed.

ABC News described water-boarding as follows:
The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt.

According to the sources, CIA officers who subjected themselves to the water boarding technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. They said al Qaeda's toughest prisoner, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, won the admiration of interrogators when he was able to last over two minutes before begging to confess.
And it was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whose two children were picked up with him, who was reportedly subject to another of the most extreme of the CIA's "extreme techniques." According to several former CIA officials interviewed for The One Percent Doctrine, Ron Suskind's recent book, interrogators told Mohammed that his children would be hurt if he didn't cooperate. The children, a boy and a girl, were ages seven and nine.

Finally, according to Newsweek magazine, which could not say whether the practice had actually been used, the CIA also asked for authorization to conduct "mock burials," in which the detainee would be made to believe he was being buried alive. [complete article]

See also, When a green card turns red (Stephen O'Shea).
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U.S. to wait 'a few weeks' on Iran move
By Nicholas Kralev, Washington Times, September 28, 2006

The Bush administration yesterday postponed its pursuit of U.N. sanctions against Iran for "a few weeks" to allow its European allies time to try to negotiate a suspension of Iran's nuclear fuel production.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation before meeting with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani in Berlin that Mr. Larijani "seems to be sincere" in trying to find a compromise, U.S. officials said.

The five-hour talks between the EU representative and the Iranian negotiator were described as intensive. The two men planned to meet again today, Solana spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said. [complete article]

Comment -- Is this a few more weeks "to give diplomacy a chance"? I doubt it. Much more likely this is a few more weeks until the mid-term elections are out of the way. After that, the administration will no longer have to worry about the electoral impact of a spike in gas prices -- the first of many consequences if the warmongers get their way.

Iran seen borrowing nuclear strategy from Israel
By Bernd Debusmann, Reuters, September 27, 2006

In developing its nuclear program Iran is using strategies that allowed its enemy Israel to assemble the Middle East's only atomic arsenal without admitting it had one, according to a leading expert on the Israeli program.

"Whether deliberately or inadvertently, there are elements of resemblance between the way Iran is pursuing its nuclear program today and the way Israel was pursuing its own program in the 1960s," Avner Cohen, author of a landmark study entitled "Israel and the Bomb," in a telephone interview.

"This is a great irony of history but Iranian policymakers and nuclear technocrats may be strategically mimicking the Israeli model," said Cohen, senior research scholar at the University of Maryland's Center for International and Security Studies. [complete article]
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Angry Musharraf to raise ISI collusion claims with Blair
By Jenny Booth, The Times, September 28, 2006

General Pervez Musharraf will hold talks with Tony Blair today amid controversy over a British government-commissioned report that claims Pakistan's spy network is too close to Muslim terrorists.

The report by the Defence Academy - a Ministry of Defence thinktank - which was leaked to the BBC's Newsnight programme, is said to claim that, indirectly, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency had supported al-Qaeda and the Taleban and aided the Madrid and London bombers.

The policy paper is also reported to propose using military links between British and Pakistani armed forces to persuade Mr Musharraf to step down as leader of the country, accept free elections, withdraw the army from civilian life and dismantle ISI. [complete article]

In tribal Pakistan, an uneasy quiet
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, September 28, 2006

Three weeks after Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, announced a peace pact with Taliban radicals in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan, recent visitors say there is now pin-drop silence in a territory that once shook with artillery and bomb blasts. Religious patrols are enforcing law and order, they say, in place of Pakistan army troops who have withdrawn to their barracks.

But as the toll from violence rises across the border in Afghanistan, with suicide bombings killing 22 people in three cities this week, there are reports that militant Pakistani tribal leaders, while complying with their pledge to reduce the presence of foreign Islamic fighters, intend to defy the peace pact by sending local fighters and suicide bombers into Afghanistan.

Musharraf continues to deny Afghan charges that the Pakistani government is sheltering and encouraging the revived Taliban insurgency from the tribal zones. But people interviewed in northwest Pakistan said there is widespread support in the tribal region for the Taliban movement's harsh Islamic morality and its war against U.S. forces and their allies in Afghanistan. [complete article]

See also, Bush seeks truce in leaders' spat (BBC).
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Middle East summit 'within days'
BBC News, September 28, 2006

Israel's prime minister says he hopes to meet the Palestinian Authority president for a summit within days, but warned against expecting quick results.

In radio interviews, Ehud Olmert said he was exerting great effort to start a dialogue with Mahmoud Abbas.

"The distance is long... we don't have to be hasty. How it will end, we shall see," Mr Olmert said. [complete article]

Comment -- Instead of countering expectations that these talks might yield quick results, Olmert should be trying to diminish the likelihood that they will yield no results. Most likely, all we are actually witnessing is a gesture in line with the State Department's recent suggestion that America and Israel's European and "moderate" Arab allies be provided with "a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed." The issues don't need to be addressed -- just an atmosphere create in which everyone can entertain a fantasy that the impasse has been broken; that finally we can sense movement. What better way of engaging in atmospheric diplomacy than for an Israeli prime minister to utter the word "summit." Ahhhh! Smell the sweet aroma of peace as it wafts, momentarily, through the air.

Israeli Arabs claim bias in postwar aid
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, September 28, 2006

As war raged over the heads of residents of this Arab border village last month, resident Rayek Matar hoped that when the fighting stopped the country's Arab minority would be viewed as equals to Israeli Jews after absorbing the same rocket attacks.

But when the building contractor and his lawyer realized that businessmen in neighboring Jewish towns near Lebanon were eligible for about 60 percent more government compensation, they decided to file a petition with Israel's Supreme Court charging anti-Arab bias. The court will hear the case of Fassuta and three other Arab border villages next month.

"We're saying, what's the difference between here and there? The army sat in the middle of the village," says Mr. Matar, referring to the Israeli cannons stationed at the entrance to Fassuta during the war. "It's unthinkable that we pay income tax and social security, and the ones who benefit are Jews, while we aren't eligible."

Israeli politicians were quick to point out during the war that Hizbullah's rockets didn't distinguish between Jew and Arab, a statement backed up by the grim statistic that both groups suffered an almost equal number of civilian fatalities during the war.

Now that the fighting has ended, Israel's Arab citizens say the government is making a distinction in handing out recovery aid projected to reach $1 billion. [complete article]

Israeli group calls power plant attack a 'war crime'
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, September 28, 2006

The air strike on Gaza's only power station that has left most residents with half their normal electricity supply three months later was a war crime, according to the Israeli human rights group B'tselem.

A 34-page report says the cuts in power are: harming health care; drastically limiting water supplies to three hours a day; plunging sewage treatment to near crisis levels; limiting the mobility of high-rise dwellers by halting lifts; and threatening residents with food poisoning because of interruptions to refrigeration.

The report, entitled Act of Vengeance, says the cuts in power have also seriously disrupted small businesses in Gaza, deepening an economic crisis already far worse than that faced by Gaza's 1.3 million residents at the peak of the Palestinian uprising three years ago. [complete article]
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More U.S. Hispanics drawn to Islam
By Amy Green,Christian Science Monitor, September 28, 2006

With her hijab and dark complexion, Catherine Garcia doesn't look like an Orlando native or a Disney tourist. When people ask where she's from, often they are surprised that it's not the Middle East but Colombia.

That's because Ms. Garcia, a bookstore clerk who immigrated to the US seven years ago, is Hispanic and Muslim. On this balmy afternoon at the start of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month, she is at her mosque dressed in long sleeves and a long skirt in keeping with the Islamic belief in modesty. "When I was in my country I never fit in the society. Here in Islam I feel like I fit with everything they believe," she says.

Garcia is one of a growing number of Hispanics across the US who have found common ground in a faith and culture bearing surprising similarities to their own heritage. From professionals to students to homemakers, they are drawn to the Muslim faith through marriage, curiosity and a shared interest in issues such as immigration. [complete article]
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Most Iraqis want U.S. troops out within a year
World Public Opinion, September 27, 2006

A new WPO poll of the Iraqi public finds that seven in ten Iraqis want US-led forces to commit to withdraw within a year. An overwhelming majority believes that the US military presence in Iraq is provoking more conflict than it is preventing and there is growing confidence in the Iraqi army. If the US made a commitment to withdraw, a majority believes that this would strengthen the Iraqi government. Support for attacks on US-led forces has grown to a majority position -- now six in ten. Support appears to be related to a widespread perception, held by all ethnic groups, that the US government plans to have permanent military bases in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Back in January 2005, in an op-ed for the New York Times reprinted here, Frederick Barton, Bathsheba Crocker and Craig Cohen persuasively argued that the Iraqi people themselves should decide when foreign troops are withdrawn. The same argument applies now.

If the Bush administration is serious about preventing the break-up of Iraq and averting full-blown civil war, respecting and responding to the widely held desire among Iraqis for troops to be pulled out is possibly the last opportunity the administration will have to allow the people of Iraq to unify around a common cause. Even though that unifying interest would then be short-lived, in the aftermath Iraqis will be able to pursue a political resolution by violent or non-violent means -- the choice will be theirs.

The problem is, the Decider is a man who shows little interest in the will of the people, whatever he might say about the benefits of freedom, liberty and "God-given" rights. Bush might say he wants Iraqis to have a better future yet he apparently does not trust that this is something that they are capable of providing for themselves.
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Why Hamas resists recognizing Israel
By Tony Karon,, September 26, 2006

The idea of the triumph of one people being the tragedy of another is eloquently captured in Sandy Tolan's book, The Lemon Tree -- essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the difficulty in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Tolan chronicles the true story of Dalia Eshkenazi, whose family flees post-Holocaust Bulgaria in 1948 to live the Zionist dream of building a Jewish state in the Holy Land. The new Israeli government provides them with an abandoned Arab house in the town of Ramla, in which she grows up. One summer morning in 1967, she's sitting in the garden near the old lemon tree, when Bashir Khairi knocks on the gate. Khairi is the son of the man who planted the lemon tree; he was born in the house and lived there until age 4, when he and his family, and hundreds of others, were forced onto buses by Israeli soldiers and driven to the West Bank, where they have lived as refugees ever since. The fraught and complex friendship that ensues between Dalia -- a committed Zionist who wants justice for the Palestinians -- and Bashir, a Palestinian militant who insists on his right of return to his home, allows for a rare frank dialogue based on mutual respect and an honest acknowledgment of the past, and of the difficulty of resolving the present. There's no happy ending or resolution, but their mutual recognition offers some sort of hope.

It's the clash of narratives described by Tolan that ultimately fuels the controversy over Hamas recognizing Israel. Hamas's dramatic election victory came precisely because the Palestinian electorate judged Fatah to have failed. To simply demand, as Israel and the Western powers are doing, that Hamas now echo Fatah's symbolic recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence is pointless. Fatah recognized the State of Israel only because it had become clear to them that Israel was an irreversible historical fact. But that certainly did not stop Fatah's rank and file from taking up arms during the intifada that began in September 2000. Ask Mahmoud Abbas or any other moderate Palestinian leader whether they would rather Israel had not come into being in 1948, and there can be no doubt of the honest answer.

Many intelligence professionals eschew torture because they know that it tends to yield the answers that the suspect thinks his interrogators want to hear -- not necessarily the truth. In some respects, there may be a similar effect in trying to throttle the Palestinians into submission. It's not inconceivable that at some point Hamas might find a formula for recognizing Israel in order to put food on Palestinian tables. But such a recognition would speak more to the boot on their necks than to any change in their hearts. [complete article]
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Israel frees Hamas deputy premier
BBC News, September 27, 2006

An Israeli military court has released the Palestinian deputy prime minister, six weeks after detaining him in a crackdown on the Hamas movement.

Nasser al-Shaer is the most senior politician to be freed from dozens arrested after Hamas militants captured an Israeli soldier near Gaza in June. [complete article]
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The big question Democrats are ducking
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, September 27, 2006

I wish Democrats (and Republicans, for that matter) were asking this question: How do we prevent Iraq from becoming a failed state? Many critics of the war would argue that the worst has already happened -- Iraq has unraveled. Unfortunately, as bad as things are, they could get considerably worse. Following a rapid American pullout, Iraq could descend into a full-blown civil war, with Sunni-Shiite violence spreading throughout the region. In this chaos, oil supplies could be threatened, sending prices well above $100 a barrel. Turkey, Iran and Jordan would intervene to protect their interests. James Fallows titled his collection of prescient essays warning about the Iraq war "Blind Into Baghdad." We shouldn't compound the error by being "blind out of Baghdad," too.

The Democrat who has tried hardest to think through these problems is Sen. Joseph Biden. He argues that the current government of national unity isn't succeeding in holding Iraq together and that America should instead embrace a policy of "federalism plus" that will devolve power to the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish regions. Iraqis are already voting for sectarian solutions, Biden argues, and America won't stabilize Iraq unless it aligns its policy with this reality. I disagree with some of the senator's conclusions, but he's asking the right question: How do we fix Iraq? [complete article]

Comment -- How do we fix Iraq is thoroughly American question; the epitome of the can-do spirit. There's a problem -- a really messy and seemingly intractable problem -- but all we have to do is knuckle down and figure out how to fix it. Not only that, but since to many observers it's clear that this is a problem of our own making, we not only need to fix it, but we are responsible for fixing it.

Nevertheless, responsible as we surely are, that responsibility does not necessarily make us capable of providing a fix. After three and a half years most Iraqis feel that the United States has had enough time to demonstrate its competence, but they also believe that the Americans would refuse to leave if asked. This fact alone -- that Americans are an unwelcome presence in Iraq -- should make it clear that fixing Iraq is a challenge outside America's power. Iraqis deserve a better future but we should abandon the conceit that this is something that we can provide.

See also, A dishonest debate on the Iraq war (Jonathan Finer).
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Reading the gas pump numbers
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, September 27, 2006

What the hell is going on here? Just six weeks ago, gasoline prices at the pump were hovering at the $3 per gallon mark; today, they're inching down toward $2 -- and some analysts predict even lower numbers before the November elections. The sharp drop in gas prices has been good news for consumers, who now have more money in their pockets to spend on food and other necessities -- and for President Bush, who has witnessed a sudden lift in his approval ratings.

Is this the result of some hidden conspiracy between the White House and Big Oil to help the Republican cause in the elections, as some are already suggesting? How does a possible war with Iran fit into the gas-price equation? And what do falling gasoline prices tell us about "peak-oil" theory, which predicts that we have reached our energy limits on the planet?

Since gasoline prices began their sharp decline in mid-August, many pundits have attempted to account for the drop, but none have offered a completely convincing explanation, lending some plausibility to claims that the Bush administration and its long-term allies in the oil industry are manipulating prices behind the scenes. In my view, however, the most significant factor in the downturn in prices has simply been a sharp easing of the "fear factor" -- the worry that crude oil prices would rise to $100 or more a barrel due to spreading war in the Middle East, a Bush administration strike at Iranian nuclear facilities, and possible Katrina-scale hurricanes blowing through the Gulf of Mexico, severely damaging offshore oil rigs. [complete article]
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Helmand governor escapes as suicide bomber kills 18
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, September 27, 2006

The governor of Helmand, a key British ally in Afghanistan, was the target of a suicide bomb attack yesterday which killed 18 people.

The bomb was detonated at the front gate of the home and office of Mohammed Daoud Safi in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gar. Nine soldiers and nine civilians, including pilgrims seeking paperwork to travel to Mecca for the haj, were among those dead.

Mr Daoud, seen as President Hamid Karzai's main emissary in the war-torn south, was inside the building but escaped unhurt. He was instrumental in the deployment of British forces in the Taliban stronghold of Sangin Valley, appealing for help after an upsurge of Islamist activity in the area. [complete article]
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Firm that planted stories gets deal
AP, September 27, 2006

A public relations company known for its role in a controversial U.S. military program that paid Iraqi newspapers to publish stories favorable to coalition forces has been awarded another multimillion-dollar media contract with American forces in Iraq.

Washington-based Lincoln Group won a two-year contract to monitor English and Arabic media outlets and produce public relations-type work, such as talking points or speeches, for the American military in Iraq, officials said Tuesday.

"Lincoln Group is proud to be trusted to assist the multinational forces in Iraq with communicating news about their vital work," company spokesman Bill Dixon said in a statement.

Details about the contract were also confirmed by Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, and were described in documents posted on a federal government website. [complete article]
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The Jihad and the West – part II
By Mohammed Ayoob, YaleGlobal, September 26, 2006

In the last few years, and particularly since 9/11, "jihadism" has become synonymous with "terrorism" and "jihadists" with "terrorists." Consequently, many Muslim intellectuals and public figures have gone into a defensive mode, trying to point out that the greater jihad is the struggle inside oneself to do what is morally right while armed struggle is merely the lesser jihad, secondary to the struggle to control one's baser instincts.

While all this may be true, it is also the case that the greater jihad, since it does not occupy public space, is of little significance in the current global debate about the use of the term "jihad" and its offshoots "jihadism" and "jihadists." The irrelevance of greater jihad in public life is self-evident. Fighting temptation, striving to become a better human being, may be a laudable project, but is of marginal concern in the political arena. [complete article]
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N Korea hits out at U.S. sanctions
BBC News, September 27, 2006

North Korea has blamed US financial sanctions for deadlock in multilateral talks on its nuclear programme.

In a speech to the UN General Assembly, envoy Choe Su-Hon said that North Korea was willing to hold talks, but the US stance had created an impasse.

Last year, the two sides agreed a deal under which North Korea would receive economic aid in return for scrapping its nuclear ambitions. [complete article]
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Study doesn't share Bush's optimism on terror fight
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, September 27, 2006

Three years ago, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld wrote a memo to his colleagues in the Pentagon posing a critical question in the "long war" against terrorism: Is Washington's strategy successfully killing or capturing terrorists faster than new enemies are being created?

Until Tuesday, the government had not publicly issued an authoritative answer. But the newly declassified National Intelligence Estimate on terrorism does exactly that, and it concludes that the administration has failed the Rumsfeld test.

Portions of the report appear to bolster President Bush's argument that the only way to defeat the terrorists is to keep unrelenting military pressure on them. But nowhere in the assessment is any evidence to support Mr. Bush’s confident-sounding assertion this month in Atlanta that "America is winning the war on terror." [complete article]

See also, Declassified key judgements of the NIE (PDF).
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Most Iraqis favor immediate U.S. pullout, polls show
By Amit R. Paley, Washington Post, September 27, 2006

A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers.

In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends keep permanent military bases in the country. [complete article]
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How Bush wrecked the Army
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, September 25, 2006

The generals' revolt has spread inside the Pentagon, and the point of the spear is one of Donald Rumsfeld's most favored officers, Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff.

This new phase of rebellion isn't aimed at the war in Iraq directly, as was the protest by six retired generals that made headlines last spring. But in some ways, it's more potent, and not just because Schoomaker is very much on active duty. His challenge is dramatic because he's questioning one of the war's consequences -- its threat to the Army's ability to keep functioning.

The trumpet sounded last month, when Schoomaker refused to give Rumsfeld a detailed Army budget proposal for fiscal year 2008. The Air Force and Navy met the Aug. 15 deadline for submitting their program requests. But Schoomaker -- in an unprecedented move—said he preferred not to. [complete article]

Cost of war: $550 billion and counting
By Jason Sherman,, September 26, 2006

The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates that the total price tag for U.S. military activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as counterterrorism activities around the world, will significantly exceed the half-trillion-dollar mark over the next fiscal year.

This projection, spelled out in a new 36-page report, is based in part on a little-noticed White House Office of Management and Budget estimate in July that projects $110 billion in fiscal year 2007 war funding, $8 billion less than the Defense Department required in fiscal year 2006.

"Based on this OMB projection, cumulative war funding ... would reach about $549 billion," states the Sept. 22 CRS report, "The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and Other Global War on Terror Operations since 9/11," written by Amy Belasco, a defense budget expert. [complete article]
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Tehran denies secret nuke deal
By Bill Gertz, Washington Times, September 27, 2006

Iran yesterday said it is not negotiating a secret temporary shutdown of its uranium-enrichment program as part of ongoing talks with the European Union, rebutting Bush administration sources who told The Washington Times that such a deal is being discussed.

Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, when asked about the report in The Times, said chief Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani and chief European Union negotiator Javier Solana will discuss what has been proposed already. [complete article]
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Iran close to nuclear suspension
By Bill Gertz, Washington Times, September 26, 2006

Iran is close to an agreement that would include a suspension of uranium enrichment but wants the deal to include a provision that the temporary halt be kept secret, according to Bush administration officials.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, has been working with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani on the enrichment-suspension deal that could be completed this week.

Disclosure of talks on the secret element of the arrangement comes as Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani are set to meet today or tomorrow in Europe when the deal could be completed, said officials opposed to the deal, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. [complete article]

Comment -- As one Bush administration official says, "The Iranians are very good negotiators." Exactly right! And one could argue that this is precisely why the White House is so reluctant to authorize direct negotiations where it has very good reason to anticipate it won't be able to exert dominance.

What seems increasingly obvious is that the White House is not wavering in its conviction in the use of coercive "diplomacy" -- the bending of wills by non-violent or violent means. The demand that Iran suspend enrichment as a "precondition" for negotiations now appears to have been offered on the assumption that the Iranians would not agree. Now the Iranians are cleverly calling the administration's bluff. In effect, they are shifting the terms of the conflict. If enrichment was the real issue, then the administration should be satisfied with a suspension, secret or otherwise. But now, by undermining the possibility of such an agreement, the message seems to be that what the administration really wants is for the Iranian regime to make a public act of submission. On the assumption that Tehran will refuse to do so, the drum beat inside Washington calling for military strikes and regime change will simply get louder.
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Rice evokes possible new sanctions against Syria
AFP, September 26, 2006

The United States is hoping to convince its allies to back new sanctions against Syria in response to its purported role in destabilizing Lebanon and Iraq and supporting the radical Palestinian movement Hamas, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said.

"We're going to have to look at tougher measures if Syria continues to be on the path that it's on," Rice told The Wall Street Journal in an interview, the transcript of which was released Monday by the State Department.

The United States has accused Syria of backing anti-US insurgents in Iraq and of involvement in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik Hariri.

It also says Syrian support for the radical Islamic militia Hezbollah in Lebanon was a factor in sparking the recent conflict with Lebanon, while Rice accused Damascus of undermining attempts to form a moderate Palestinian government by backing rejectionists inside Hamas. [complete article]

See alsom Why recognize Israel? (Danny Rubinstein).

War turns the tide for Israeli settlers
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, September 25, 2006

The movement to expand Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which only a few months ago appeared to be a divided, waning political force, is experiencing a revival after a summer of war that caused many Israelis to question the wisdom of abandoning more territory.

Little more than a year ago, then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew all Jewish settlers and Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip. After Sharon's debilitating stroke in January, his deputy, Ehud Olmert, won national elections in March on a promise to evacuate dozens of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and to uproot the smaller, unauthorized communities known as outposts in a bid to define Israel's final borders.

But after a month-long war in southern Lebanon and as sporadic fighting continues in Gaza, a highly unpopular Olmert has put his West Bank withdrawal plan on hold. His government has stepped up construction in the large settlement blocs, including areas the Bush administration has warned Israel against developing, and the West Bank settlement population of a quarter-million people is growing. [complete article]

See also, Golan heights an 'integral part" of Israel: PM (AFP).

Nasrallah's popularity climbs
By Hamza Hendawi, AP, September 25, 2006

Reem Haidar was so impressed by Hassan Nasrallah that she begged for one of the Hezbollah leader's robes as a keepsake. Last week, her dream came true; his aides delivered one to her home in Beirut.

Nasrallah's popularity among Lebanese Shiites has exploded into something approaching cult status - expanding well beyond the following he had prior to Hezbollah's 34-day war with Israel.

That could bolster Nasrallah's position within Lebanese politics and make it difficult for international peacekeepers to control his guerrillas if they try to reassert their position along the Israeli border.

But the adulation is also driving tensions between Hezbollah and rival political groups that see his group as a threat. These critics say Hezbollah is seeking to divert attention from Nasrallah's decision to order the abduction of two Israeli soldiers, the catalyst for a war that left nearly 1,000 people dead and much of south Lebanon in ruins. [complete article]

In Lebanon, a war's lethal harvest
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, September 26, 2006

The messages scrawled in red on the concrete, stone and cinder-block walls near Ali Saqlawi's house are worded differently but mean the same: "CB," "cb strike," "cluster strike." Arrows point with deceptive precision in every direction. Saqlawi, a mechanic, needs no warning. He has already seen the thousands of bomblets the size of cellphones that littered his town, the detritus from hundreds of cluster bombs fired in the last days of the 33-day war with Israel.

"I saw them where your feet are," he said, pointing to the ground next to the rubble of what was once his house and garage. He waved toward the parched lemon groves across the cratered street. "You'll find them there," he said. He pointed at the olive orchard behind him, awaiting a reluctant harvest by workers too fearful to enter. "It's all bombs over there," he said.

The scourge of munitions from the cluster bombs now littering southern Lebanon, mostly American-made but some manufactured in Israel, will be a "lasting legacy," the United Nations has said. U.N. officials estimate that the Israeli military fired 90 percent of the bombs during the last 72 hours of the conflict, which began on July 12 after Hezbollah fighters seized two Israeli soldiers in a cross-border raid and ended with a cease-fire on Aug. 14. As many as 1 million of the bomblets are unexploded, they say, wounding or killing three people a day. The threat of stumbling across a bomblet has paralyzed life in parts of the south that depend on the harvest of tobacco and now-abandoned groves of bananas, olives and citrus. [complete article]
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A journey into the 'Taliban republic' where the militias rule unchallenged
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, September 25, 2006

Civil war is raging through the Iraqi countryside. Sunni insurgents have largely taken control of the province of Diyala, where local leaders believe the insurgents are close to establishing a "Taliban republic".

Officials in the strategically important province - composed of a mixture of Sunnis and Shias with a Kurdish minority - have no doubt about what is happening. Lt-Col Ahmed Ahmed Nuri Hassan, a weary-looking commander of the federal police, says: "Now there is an ethnic civil war and it is getting worse every day."

At the moment, the Sunni seem to be winning.

As the violence has escalated over the past three years, it has become too dangerous for journalists to find out what is happening in the provinces outside the capital. The UN said last week that 5,106 civilians were killed in Baghdad in July and August and 1,493 in the provinces outside it. [complete article]
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Army warns Rumsfeld it's billions short
By Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, September 25, 2006

The Army's top officer withheld a required 2008 budget plan from Pentagon leaders last month after protesting to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the service could not maintain its current level of activity in Iraq plus its other global commitments without billions in additional funding.

The decision by Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, the Army's chief of staff, is believed to be unprecedented and signals a widespread belief within the Army that in the absence of significant troop withdrawals from Iraq, funding assumptions must be completely reworked, say current and former Pentagon officials.

"This is unusual, but hell, we're in unusual times," said a senior Pentagon official involved in the budget discussions.

Schoomaker failed to submit the budget plan by an Aug. 15 deadline. The protest followed a series of cuts in the service's funding requests by both the White House and Congress over the last four months.

According to a senior Army official involved in budget talks, Schoomaker is now seeking $138.8 billion in 2008, nearly $25 billion above budget limits originally set by Rumsfeld. The Army's budget this year is $98.2 billion, making Schoomaker's request a 41% increase over current levels. [complete article]

See also Three retired officers demand Rumsfeld's resignation (WP).
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Leading Muslim scholar is denied U.S. travel visa
By Larry Neumeister, AP, September 26, 2006

The government has rejected the visa application of one of Europe's best-known Muslim intellectuals, saying that he supported a terrorist group. His attorneys allege that the United States is using charitable donations he made as a pretext for stifling his views.

Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen who teaches at Oxford University, was denied a temporary business and tourism visa Thursday "based solely on his actions, which constituted providing material support to a terrorist organization," Janelle Hironimus, a State Department spokeswoman, said Monday.

Hironimus said she could not reveal specifics about Ramadan's case because of confidentiality rules regarding visa applications.

The American Civil Liberties Union said the U.S. government notified Ramadan that he was being excluded because he donated $765 to French and Swiss organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians. [complete article]

See also, statement by Tariq Ramadan.
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Afghanistan, 5 years later: U.S. confront Taliban's return
By Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy, September 26, 2006

The soldiers of Bravo Company knew that their quarry was here, somewhere. They could hear the Taliban fighters radio one another as they tracked every step the Americans took through the rutted tracks, the mud-walled compounds and the parched orchards of this sun-seared patch of Afghan outback.

Yet in three tense, sweat-soaked days of blasting open doors, scouring flyblown haylofts, digging up ammunition caches and quizzing tight-lipped villagers, the 10th Mountain Division troops never found a single Taliban fighter.

"They just hide their weapons and become farmers," muttered one U.S. officer, nodding at a group of turbaned men glowering from the shady lee of a nearby wall.

Afghanistan has become Iraq on a slow burn. Five years after they were ousted, the Taliban are back in force, their ranks renewed by a new generation of diehards. Violence, opium trafficking, ethnic tensions, official corruption and political anarchy are all worse than they've been at any time since the U.S.-led intervention in 2001. [complete article]
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In Pakistan, the delicate dance of a key U.S. ally
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, September 26, 2006

His autobiography, "In the Line of Fire," went on sale Monday and is aptly titled. Since Sept. 11, Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has survived three assassination attempts by Muslim extremists. Later this week, Mr. Musharraf meets with the US and Afghan presidents in Washington to discuss the war on terror.

When the US surveys the world, there are few more pivotal players in that war than Musharraf. But at home, Pakistan's moderate leader is embattled. To strengthen his position, he's recently struck deals with a hard-line Islamic political party that, analysts say, could undermine counterterrorism efforts.

A controversial peace accord with Taliban militants in early September effectively gives the fighters open mobility in areas bordering Afghanistan. While he defends it, Musharraf doesn't mention that the accord is also paying political dividends to him and a peculiar, relatively unmentioned bedfellow: Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) or the Council of Islamic Clerics. This hard-line Islamist party controls North Waziristan, a province bordering Afghanistan, and brokered the deal.

JUI, which runs most of Pakistan's religious schools or madrassahs, helped educate and indoctrinate the Taliban throughout the 1980s and '90s. But today they are emerging as Musharraf's new political weapon. [complete article]
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Lebanon, a unique example of humanitarian solidarity
By David Shearer, Daily Star, September 26, 2006

I left Beirut last week feeling that in the few short months I was the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Lebanon, I witnessed the Lebanese people in their very best light. Lebanon was my 11th assignment to a humanitarian emergency. It is from that perspective that I judge recent events in the country and how its people responded to the war with Israel.

When I arrived in July, with the conflict raging, 1 million people - nearly a quarter of the country's population - were in flight, living in areas away from the fighting and the air and artillery assault on their communities, to the safety of Beirut, North Lebanon or Syria. Only weeks later, with the cessation of hostilities on August 14, these same people were on the move again, this time in a rush back to their homes, so many of which were unfortunately found damaged or destroyed.

To my mind, the most intriguing thing about this large-scale migration was just how orderly and without incident it was. What other country could experience such a mass movement of its citizens in the heat of war and have virtually no incidence of hunger, malnutrition or deadly disease? In my experience, it's simply unprecedented. [complete article]
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The Jihad and the West
By Riaz Hassan, YaleGlobal, September 21, 2006

The need for a dialogue between Islam and the West has never been more acute than now, but Pope Benedict XVI's recent description of Islam as "evil and inhuman" is clearly not the best approach. In his lecture on "Faith and Reason" at Regensburg University, the pope quoted the 14th century Byzantine Christian emperor Manuel II Palaeologus as saying, "Show me just what Mohammad brought was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by sword the faith he preached." Notwithstanding the Vatican’s statement that the pope meant no offense and, in fact, desired dialogue, in the eye of many Muslims his remarks only reinforced a false and biased view of Islam -- not conducive to dialogue.

In his lecture the pope made several references to Islamic theology on the nature of God, reason and faith, but his passing reference to jihad presents the stereotypical Western view of the concept, which totally ignores extensive Islamic debates on the topic. The word "jihad" appears in more than 40 verses of the Koran with varying connotations. No single "reading" of the verses can claim primacy. It is surprising that a theologian of the pontiff's stature sees jihad as an Islamic holy war in the Christian tradition. In Islamic theology, war is never holy: It is either justified or not, and if it is justified, then those who are killed are regarded as martyrs.

The meanings of "jihad" in Islamic history have been profoundly influenced by the prevailing social, political and material conditions. "Jihad," in other words, is not a fixed category of Islamic thought, but has a complex and contested history that refracts changing understandings about the scope and meaning of worldly action. The meanings of "jihad" in Islamic jurisprudence have included, first, personal striving for achieving superior piety; second, justifications for early Arab conquests of non-Muslim land; third, struggle for Islamic authenticity; fourth, resistance against colonialism; and finally, now, the struggle against the perpetrators of, what sections of Islamists have labeled, "Muslim holocaust." [complete article]
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Tools of engagement
By R. S. Zaharna, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September-October, 2006

The most recent review of U.S. public diplomacy by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) was the fourth such report to find that the State Department "faces significant challenges" in its efforts to stem anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world. Yet, the report's main recommendation--applying public relations's best practices to U.S. public diplomacy--is unlikely to help America's image abroad. The GAO's information-centered approach for designing and delivering messages is based on a flawed premise that not only ignores the decline in U.S. credibility but also overlooks the difficulties of implementing a traditional public relations campaign in a global communication era.
What's needed, according to the GAO, is for the State Department to base its public diplomacy strategy on private-sector best practices. The report presents a diagram of "Key Elements of a Typical Public Relations Strategy" and then details what's lacking: U.S. missions don't have core messages or themes; target audiences are not clearly defined; strategies and tactics lack operational details; and research and evaluation efforts are limited.

Although the goal, as the GAO's title suggests, is to "engage targeted audiences," the approach is, in fact, dedicated to delivering U.S. messages to the Islamic world. Offering an assessment that no doubt plays well to veteran political campaigners on Capitol Hill, the report declares, "Most importantly, the messages should be repeated over and over again to ensure that they are heard."

The problem is that while this strategy is technically sound, the premise isn't. The intense focus on designing and delivering U.S. messages to the Islamic world presupposes either a lack of information or an abundance of misinformation. Such a premise might be plausible if the United States were not a superpower. However, nations around the world are continuously monitoring and analyzing U.S. policies--especially those in the Arab and Muslim world, where U.S. political and military involvement is keenly felt.

U.S. public diplomacy undermines its effectiveness by presuming that people in the Islamic world cannot hear or understand U.S. messages. Saying something louder and repeatedly is precisely what many in the region find so condescending. None of the opinion polls from the Arab world hints that the U.S. image problem is due to a lack of information. [complete article]
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Islamists calm Somali capital with restraint
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, September 23, 2006

As the sun begins to sink over this broken city, work crews swing their axes over their shoulders and head home.

Young couples take to the waterfront, mingling openly in the salty breeze. Thousands of children flock to soccer fields in the city center, with a backdrop of beautifully crumbled ruins from battles now over.

It is hard to imagine that this is Mogadishu, the same Mogadishu of "Black Hawk Down," and clan against clan and 15 years of anarchy. But over the past three months, the Islamists in control here have defied international expectations -- in many ways. Not only have they pacified one of the most dangerous cities in the world, they also seem to have moderated their message.

Instead of acting like the Taliban and ruthlessly imposing a harsh religious orthodoxy, as many feared, the Islamists seem to be trying to increase public support by softening their views, at least officially, delivering social services and pushing for democratic elections. [complete article]
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A conversation with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
By Lally Weymouth, Washington Post, September 24, 2006

Do you think it would be in Iran's best interest to move toward a normal relationship with the United States?

We are interested in having talks with everyone. We believe that talks are much better than threats and confrontation. We are currently holding talks with many countries. I have said before that the United States is no exception, but the U.S. administration -- that is, a section of the U.S. administration -- does not create the right circumstances. It destroys chances for constructive talks.

Because a part of the administration wants to overthrow your regime?

It is the behavior I am talking about; the attitude is inappropriate. They believe that they own the entire world so they speak from that position, looking down at us -- even when they meet us. If they change their behavior, it is possible to talk about everything. Some politicians in the United States think that the nuclear issue is a way to put pressure on Iran, but they are wrong. One that has actually produced and used nuclear bombs cannot claim that they now want to stop proliferation. [complete article]
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Gulbuddin Hekmatyar: From holy warrior to wanted terrorist
By Omid Marzban, Terrorism Monitor, September 21, 2006

During the last week of August, officials in the northern Afghan province of Kapisa announced the arrest of five accused terrorists related to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the former leader of Hezb-e-Islami Afghanistan (the Islamic Party of Afghanistan). Hekmatyar, a key figure in the Afghan jihad against the Soviet invasion in the 1980s, is now believed to be at his most powerful state since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. A high-ranking provincial official from the northern Parwan province, who declined to be named, told The Jamestown Foundation that the most recent government investigation shows that Hekmatyar is leading the insurgency in the northern and eastern parts of Afghanistan, while Mullah Omar and his al-Qaeda ally, Osama bin Laden, operate in the south and the west. It is believed that these three leaders form a triangle that has been labeled the "Triangle of Terror." Since Hekmatyar forms one of these three points, it is important to understand his background. [complete article]
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War with Hezbollah has left Jewish, Arab Israelis more divided than ever
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, September 22, 2006

For two years, author Sayed Kashua, an Arab-Israeli, has been writing a popular weekly newspaper column for one of Israel's largest Hebrew-language newspapers, Haaretz. The column often takes a lighthearted look at discrimination, racism and the challenges facing the Arab minority in this largely Jewish nation.

But a few weeks ago, as Israel's summer war with Hezbollah in Lebanon wound down, Kashua made what was for his Jewish readers a startling confession. He confessed he'd been hoping Israel would lose.

"My hands tremble as I write, but in this war I was against Israel - make no mistake - my country," he wrote. "You can say it's treason, you can say what you want, but I am still unable to understand how I can be happy when I hear that another IDF (Israel Defense Forces) tank has been hit and, at the same time, be afraid that I have friends inside it."

The piece generated scores of angry e-mails, letters and phone calls. It also exposed the simmering anger that Israel's Arab citizens feel over how their country treats them and became one more provocation for an anti-Arab backlash that's still unfolding. [complete article]

After the war, Hizbullah reevaluates
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, September 25, 2006

A massive slab of reinforced concrete pokes from the stony earth of this desolate hillside like a broken tooth. It's all that remains of a dynamited Hizbullah bunker built just 100 yards from the Israeli border.

From this sprawling network of bunkers and tunnels, Hizbullah fighters withstood massive Israeli airstrikes during the recent war. It allowed the Lebanese guerrillas to fire rockets at northern Israel right up to the Aug. 14 cease-fire.

But the deployment of up to 15,000 foreign troops and another 15,000 Lebanese soldiers into south Lebanon, as well as tightened restrictions at Lebanon's sea and land entry points, suggests that Hizbullah will be unable to revive its well-entrenched military presence along the border with Israel, casting into doubt a future role for its vaunted military wing. [complete article]

Jumblatt takes issues with Nasrallah
Daily Star, September 25, 2006

MP Walid Jumblatt had harsh words on Sunday for Hizbullah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's "Divine Victory" speech on Friday, adding that his main disagreement with the resistance was its "adherence to the Syrian regime." "We are ready to show solidarity with the Syrian people, but we will not do so with the Syrian regime, which is responsible morally, politically and financially for the series of assassinations which Lebanon has witnessed since [Syrian President] Bashar Assad came to power," Jumblatt said during a meeting with members of the Progressive Socialist Party Youth Organization in Mukhtara. [complete article]
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Spy agencies say Iraq war worsens terror threat
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, September 24, 2006

A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

The classified National Intelligence Estimate attributes a more direct role to the Iraq war in fueling radicalism than that presented either in recent White House documents or in a report released Wednesday by the House Intelligence Committee, according to several officials in Washington involved in preparing the assessment or who have read the final document.

The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States," it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.

An opening section of the report, "Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement," cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.

The report "says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse," said one American intelligence official. [complete article]
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The rise of Jihadistan
By Ron Moreau, Sami Yousafzai and Michael Hirsh, October 2, 2006

You don't have to drive very far from Kabul these days to find the Taliban. In Ghazni province's Andar district, just over a two-hour trip from the capital on the main southern highway, a thin young man, dressed in brown and wearing a white prayer cap, stands by the roadside waiting for two Newsweek correspondents. It is midday on the central Afghan plains, far from the jihadist-infested mountains to the east and west. Without speaking, the sentinel guides his visitors along a sandy horse trail toward a mud-brick village within sight of the highway. As they get closer a young Taliban fighter carrying a walkie-talkie and an AK-47 rifle pops out from behind a tree. He is manning an improvised explosive device, he explains, in case Afghan or U.S. troops try to enter the village.

In a parched clearing a few hundred yards on, more than 100 Taliban fighters ranging in age from teenagers to a grandfatherly 55-year-old have assembled to meet their provincial commander, Muhammad Sabir. An imposing man with a long, bushy beard, wearing a brown and green turban and a beige shawl over his shoulders, Sabir inspects his troops, all of them armed with AKs and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. He claims to have some 900 fighters, and says the military and psychological tide is turning in their favor. "One year ago we couldn't have had such a meeting at midnight," says Sabir, who is in his mid-40s and looks forward to living out his life as an anti-American jihadist. "Now we gather in broad daylight. The people know we are returning to power."

Not long after Newsweek's visit, U.S. and Afghan National Army forces launched a major attack to dislodge the Taliban from Ghazni and four neighboring provinces. But when Newsweek returned in mid-September, Sabir's fighters were back, performing their afternoon prayers. It is an all too familiar story. Ridge by ridge and valley by valley, the religious zealots who harbored Osama bin Laden before 9/11—and who suffered devastating losses in the U.S. invasion that began five years ago next week—are surging back into the country's center. In the countryside over the past year Taliban guerrillas have filled a power vacuum that had been created by the relatively light NATO and U.S. military footprint of some 40,000 soldiers, and by the weakness of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's administration. [complete article]

Heroic fight for British Afghan base
By Michael Smith, The Sunday Times, September 24, 2006

The commander of British troops at the outpost of Sangin in southern Afghanistan has described how a shortage of troops forced him to co-opt engineers and military policemen as infantry during a fierce battle with the Taliban in which one of his best soldiers died.

With considerable understatement, Major Jamie Loden of 3 Para described his period in charge of British troops defending Sangin as "fairly intense". "I have been in the field since July 27 and have only had three days with no contact," he wrote in a series of leaked e-mails.

While Loden was full of praise for his own men, he was highly critical of air support for his troops -- accusing the RAF of being "utterly, utterly useless". [complete article]

Omar role in truce reinforces fears that Pakistan 'caved in' to Taliban
By Massoud Ansari and Colin Freeman, The Sunday Telegraph, September 24, 2006

The fugitive Taliban commander Mullah Omar has emerged as the key player behind the movement's controversial peace deal with Pakistan.

The Taliban's one-eyed spiritual leader, who has a $10 million price on his head for refusing to hand over Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks, signed a letter explicitly endorsing the truce announced this month. The deal between the Pakistani authorities and pro-Taliban militants in the tribal provinces bordering Afghanistan was designed to end five years of bloodshed in the area. [complete article]

British Army defends itself against criticism from officers
By Alan Cowell, New York Times, September 24, 2006

For the second time in two days, the army defended itself on Saturday against charges by middle-ranking officers in Afghanistan that British ground troops had received inadequate air support and other backing in their fight against the Taliban.

British officers in the field have traditionally tended to keep their complaints within the military. But with many soldiers using e-mail messages and video technology, it is easier for complaints to spread, possibly beyond where the officers intended. [complete article]

A silence in the Afghan mountains
By Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, Los Angeles Times, September 24, 2006

The handling of detainees in Afghanistan became a murky area after President Bush declared early in the war, launched in October 2001, that the Geneva Convention would not be applied to Al Qaeda, and Taliban captives would not be treated as prisoners of war. Instead, detainees were to be treated "humanely," according to a February 2002 White House directive.

The internal military records show that although senior U.S. commanders in Afghanistan issued warnings and distributed rules consistent with the Army field manual and Geneva Convention, those procedures were routinely ignored.

"You have so much freedom and authority over there," one member of ODA 2021 said. "It kind of makes you feel like God when you're out there in cowboy and Indian country." [complete article]

U.S. army's kill-kill ethos under fire
By Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, September 24, 2006

The American army should scrap the Warrior Ethos, a martial creed that urges soldiers to demonstrate their fighting spirit by destroying the enemies of the United States at close quarter rather than winning the trust of local populations, according to senior US officers and counter-insurgency experts.

Soldiers are instructed to live by the creed, which evokes the warrior spirit of the modern US army. It begins with the stirring vow, "I am an American soldier", and goes on to affirm that "I will never accept defeat. I will never quit ... I stand ready to deploy, engage and destroy the enemies of the United States of America in close combat".

Admirable though this may be in the heat of battle, the Warrior Ethos's emphasis on annihilating the enemy is inimical to the type of patient, confidence-building counter-insurgency warfare in which America is engaged in the Middle East, according to Lieutenant-General Gregory Newbold, former director of operations to the joint chiefs of staff at the Pentagon. [complete article]
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Are we really so fearful?
By Ariel Dorfman, Washington Post, September 24, 2006

Can't the United States see that when we allow someone to be tortured by our agents, it is not only the victim and the perpetrator who are corrupted, not only the "intelligence" that is contaminated, but also everyone who looked away and said they did not know, everyone who consented tacitly to that outrage so they could sleep a little safer at night, all the citizens who did not march in the streets by the millions to demand the resignation of whoever suggested, even whispered, that torture is inevitable in our day and age, that we must embrace its darkness?

Are we so morally sick, so deaf and dumb and blind, that we do not understand this? Are we so fearful, so in love with our own security and steeped in our own pain, that we are really willing to let people be tortured in the name of America? [complete article]
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In Iraq, a journalist in limbo
By Tom Curley, Washington Post, September 24, 2006

Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi photographer who helped the Associated Press win a Pulitzer Prize last year, is now in his sixth month in a U.S. Army prison in Iraq. He doesn't understand why he's there, and neither do his AP colleagues.

The Army says it thinks Bilal has too many contacts among insurgents. He has taken pictures the Army thinks could have been made only with the connivance of insurgents. So Bilal himself must be one, too, or at least a sympathizer.

It is a measure of just how dangerous and disorienting Iraq has become that suspicions such as these are considered adequate grounds for locking up a man and throwing away the key.

After more than five months of trying to bring Bilal's case into the daylight, AP is now convinced the Army doesn't care whether Bilal is or isn't an insurgent. The Army doesn't have to care. Bilal is off the street, and the military says it doesn't consider itself accountable to any judicial authority that could question his guilt.

But Bilal's incarceration delivers a further bonus. He is no longer free to circulate in his native Fallujah or in Ramadi, taking photographs that coalition commanders would prefer not to see published. [complete article]
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Egypt slams West for blocking resolution on Israeli nuclear arms
Reuters, September 24, 2006

Egypt criticised Western powers on Saturday for blocking efforts to declare Israel's reputed nuclear arsenal a threat.

The United States and other Western states combined on Friday to stifle a resolution at the U.N.'s nuclear agency, the IAEA, demanding Israel use atomic energy only for peaceful purposes and help set up a Middle East nuclear arms-free zone. [complete article]
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Ahmadinejad's gauntlet
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, September 24, 2006

Over the course of a week's time, I had an unusual chance to sit with both President Bush and President Ahmadinejad and hear their thoughts about Iran. The contrasts were striking: Bush is groping for answers to the Iran problem; you sense him struggling for a viable strategy. When I asked what message he wanted to send the Iranian people, Bush seemed eager for more contact: He spoke of Iran's importance, of its great history and culture, of its legitimate rights. He made similar comments in his speech Tuesday to the U.N. General Assembly.

Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, is sitting back and enjoying the attention. He's not groping for anything; he's waiting for the world to come to him. When you boil down his comments, the message is similar to Bush's: Iran wants a diplomatic solution to the nuclear impasse; Iran wants dialogue; Iran wants more cultural exchanges. At one point, Ahmadinejad even said that "under fair conditions," he would favor a resumption of diplomatic relations with the United States.

But if the words of accommodation are there, the music is not. Instead of sending a message to the administration that he is serious about negotiations, Ahmadinejad spent the week playing to the gallery of Third World activists and Muslim revolutionaries with his comments about Israel and the Holocaust. This audience hears the defiant message between the lines: America cannot do a damn thing. [complete article]

Comment -- As American commentators reflect on the impact that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez are having on the international scene, there is one dimension to both of these men that gets much less attention than it deserves. They are both working class heroes who have huge popular appeal and thus make a glaring contrast to the norm in Western political culture, where mass popularity eludes virtually every contemporary leader.

Meanwhile, a suave young King Abdullah, an avuncular President Mubarak, a crisp General Perez Musharraf -- all of these men, seriously lacking in popularity, have the bearing of "our kind of people." They occupy what they have come to regard as their station in life.

It's easy to say that you have to make alliances where they are available and useful, but shouldn't we be asking what it tells us about our own political leaders that for so long, with such ease and such obvious comfort, they have enjoyed and continue to enjoy the company of autocrats and dictators?
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Winning hearts and minds
By Kevin Peraino, Newsweek, October 2, 2006

It's a cliche to say that Islamists are skilled at winning Mideast hearts and minds. But even some Israeli officials acknowledge that they're being outmaneuvered by Hizbullah in the ongoing battle for international public opinion. Remember those made in the u.s.a. banners that sprouted everywhere amid the rubble of southern Lebanon right after this summer's fighting? That was just the opening salvo -- and some Israelis worry that they're still not fighting back. "We're simply not there," says one senior Israeli security official, who requested anonymity because he is not authorized to speak on the record. "And [Hizbullah leader Hassan] Nasrallah is extremely adept."

Part of the Islamists' new strategy: a $100,000 advertising blitz called "Divine Victory," featuring more than 600 billboards around Beirut and southern Lebanon touting Hizbullah's exploits during the 34-day war. (Cleverly, the slogan is almost a literal translation of Nasrallah's last name.) The panels line the road to Beirut from the city's international airport, and the new buy includes slogans like "America and its tools have been defeated" -- in English. Last week the group expanded the campaign, adding dozens more billboards, and Nasrallah himself made an appearance at a massive rally in Beirut, standing in front of one. [complete article]

Israel: Nasrallah speech 'spit in face' for international community
Haaretz, September 24, 2006

Israel on Friday blasted the leader of the militant Hezbollah organization for his declaration that no army in the world could make the group disarm, calling it a "spit in the face" for the international community.

United Nations resolution 1701, which ended the 34-day conflict between Israel and Hezbollah on August 14, calls for the "disarmament of all armed groups in Lebanon." The international community has sent thousands of troops to bolster the Lebanese army and an existing UN peacekeeping force in the south of the country.

"Nasrallah is challenging not only the government of Lebanon, but the entire international community," said Mark Regev, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. "The international community can't afford to have this Iranian-funded extremist spit in the face of the organized community of nations." [complete article]

Bint Jbeil bears the scars of weeks of fighting with Israeli forces, but many regard Hezbollah's charge to battle as a point of pride
By Gregory Katz, Houston Chronicle, September 23, 2006

There used to be a city here.

Where there were businesses, now there is rubble. Where there were small apartment buildings, schools, homes, now there is rubble. Block after block of destruction, Bint Jbeil's own ground zero.

Now that Israel's invasion force has nearly completed its withdrawal and many Lebanese have returned to their homes, the scope of the damage is becoming clear. It is evident that Lebanon faces a multibillion-dollar, three- to five-year rebuilding task.

Yet many residents of this small city hail the Hezbollah militia for picking a fight with Israel by killing and kidnapping Israeli soldiers July 12 and then holding the Israeli army at bay for 34 days until a cease-fire was reached.

"This is a victory for us," said car dealer Nidal Shawara. "Israel is trying to take our land again, and Hezbollah is protecting the land here. Israel wanted the land up to the Litani River, but they couldn't take it, and they had to move back." [complete article]

Lebanon’s three-sided postwar game: Who gets Shabaa Farms?
By Craig S. Smith, New York Times, September 24, 2006

Disarming Hezbollah, the militant Lebanese Shiite group that fought Israel last month, is a major goal in Washington, Jerusalem and even among the political elite in Beirut. But the main stumbling block, at least according to Hezbollah’s current position, is a 10-mile-square area of hilly land known as Shabaa Farms.

Israel and the United Nations say the land belongs to Syria and is part of the Golan Heights that has been occupied by Israel since the 1967 war. But the Lebanese insist it is theirs, and Hezbollah says it will not lay down its weapons until Israel gives it back. [complete article]
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Haniyeh: Hamas serious about success of unity gov't efforts
Haaretz, September 24, 2006

Hamas has "serious intentions" to make unity government talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas succeed, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Sunday, a day after Abbas described negotiations as "back to zero."

Haniyeh said he remained hopeful a unity government would be established, brushing aside Abbas's assertion that Hamas had backtracked on its commitments to a government that would recognize Israel.

The the Quartet of Middle East peace negotiators - the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - wants Hamas to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by previously signed peace agreements before it lifts the economic blockade imposed in the wake of the party's victory in the January parliamentary elections. [complete article]
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Iraq leaders take breathing space on regions row
By Mussab Al-Khairalla and Alastair Macdonald, Reuters, September 24, 2006

Iraqi leaders broke a rancorous stalemate over plans for regional autonomy on Sunday by agreeing to put off any final decision for at least 18 months on an issue many fear might tear the country apart in sectarian civil war.

Pulling parliament back from the brink of a Sunni minority boycott over the federalism dispute, Shi'ite majority leaders who have been keen to set up a big, autonomous region in their oil-rich south agreed that legislation needed to implement such a move cannot take effect for 18 months after it is passed. [complete article]

Dividing Iraq would just mean more threats
By W. Robert Pearson, Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2006

Prominent experts have begun to argue that dividing Iraq into three parts -- Sunni, Shiite and Kurd -- is more viable than trying to build a single, central Iraqi state. They reason that the only solution to sectarian violence is for Sunnis and Shiites to live apart. The Kurds, they argue, have demonstrated their ability to live autonomously since 1990. Nothing else has worked, so why not let the pieces fall where they may? But this is not a plan; it is a destabilizing default strategy.

Thoughtful observers, such as Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) and Leslie Gelb, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, have argued for a federated Iraqi with near-statehood status for the three regions and an agreement on dividing the oil money. If such a deal could be struck, and if the breakup could be halted there, Iraq might see greater stability. But the more likely outcome is a loose federation plagued by conflict, with one or more parties trying to win full independence. Confederation could prove a Pandora's box for the U.S. and the region. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

No one dares to help
An Iraqi reporter, Los Angeles Times, September 20, 2006

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

Making sure that the 'clash of civilizations' becomes a reality
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, September 23, 2006

For detainees: less access to U.S. courts?
By Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 2006

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

A struggle over Europe's religious identity
By Tariq Ramadan, International Herald Tribune, September 20, 2006

Bush's U.N. credibility gap
By Tony Karon,, September 19, 2006

Kurdish soldiers trained by Israelis
BBC Newsnight, September 20, 2006

Iran: The end of the "summer of diplomacy" [PDF]
By Sam Gardiner, The Century Foundation, September 19, 2006

I was a PR intern in Iraq
By Willem Marx, Harper's, September 18, 2006

The pope's reasoned calculations
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, September 19, 2006

Bush's useful idiots
By Tony Judt, London Review of Books, September 21, 2006

U.S. war prisons legal vacuum for 14,000
By Patrick Quinn, AP, September 17, 2006
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A resource for more information about Iraq, the Middle East conflict, Afghanistan, Korea, nuclear proliferation, war, peace, and the foreign policies of the Bush Administration.

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