The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Baker's panel rules out Iraq victory
By Eli Lake, New York Sun, October 12, 2006

A commission formed to assess the Iraq war and recommend a new course has ruled out the prospect of victory for America, according to draft policy options shared with The New York Sun by commission officials.

Currently, the 10-member commission -- headed by a secretary of state for President George H.W. Bush, James Baker -- is considering two option papers, "Stability First" and "Redeploy and Contain," both of which rule out any prospect of making Iraq a stable democracy in the near term. [complete article]

U.S. seen retreating from democracy push
By David Morgan, Reuters, October 12, 2006

The United States has quietly retreated from its high-profile push for democracy in the Muslim world, since the Hamas election stunned the Bush administration by bringing a violent militant group to power.

Despite President George W. Bush's continued public focus on democratization, analysts say U.S. policy-makers saw the Hamas victory in the Palestinian territories as part of a potentially dangerous trend following democratic gains for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In each instance, elections were seen to boost adversaries of U.S. ally Israel, and in the case of Hamas and Hezbollah, groups labeled as terrorist organizations by Washington.

The experience in Iraq, which U.S. officials once envisioned as the catalyst for democratic change in Arab countries, has emerged instead as a disturbing symbol of sectarian strife.

"Frankly, the administration has retreated even from a passive push for democracy," said Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank.
"A lot of regimes are detecting a green light to go back to the past," Rubin said. "It's undercut any kind of credibility the United States has, not just now but well into the future, in any calls for reform." [complete article]
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British Army could be broken by Iraq, warns chief offficer
By Tim Shipman, Daily Mail, October 12, 2006

The Army could 'break' if it is kept too long in Iraq and British troops should be withdrawn 'soon', the head of the Army has said today.

In a devastating broadside at Tony Blair's foreign policy, General Sir Richard Dannatt said: "I want an Army in five years time and 10 years time. Don't let's break it on this one. Let's keep an eye on time."

His comments come after an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, where Sir Richard warned that the continuing presence of British troops "exacerbates the security problems" in Iraq and added that a "moral and spiritual vacuum" has opened up in British society, which is allowing Muslim extremists to undermine "our accepted way of life." [complete article]

See also, Homeward Christian soldiers (Jonathan Freedland) and A chasm impossible to close? (BBC).
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How Hezbollah defeated Israel
Part three: The political war

By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, Asia Times, October 13, 2006

In the wake of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, a public poll in Egypt asked a cross-section of that country's citizenry to name the two political leaders they most admired. An overwhelming number named Hassan Nasrallah. Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad finished second.

The poll was a clear repudiation not only of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who had made his views against Hezbollah known at the outset of the conflict, but of those Sunni leaders, including Saudi King Abdullah and Jordan's Abdullah II, who criticized the Shi'ite group in an avowed attempt to turn the Sunni world away from support of Iran.

"By the end of the war these guys were scrambling for the exits," one US diplomat from the region said in late August. "You haven't heard much from them lately, have you?"

Mubarak and the two Abdullahs are not the only ones scrambling for the exits - the United States' foreign policy in the region, even in light of its increasingly dire deployment in Iraq, is in a shambles. "What that means is that all the doors are closed to us, in Cairo, in Amman, in Saudi Arabia," another diplomat averred. "Our access has been curtailed. No one will see us. When we call no one picks up the phone." [complete article]

How Hezbollah defeated Israel
Part two: Winning the ground war

By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, Asia Times, October 12, 2006

Israel's decision to launch a ground war to accomplish what its air force had failed to do was made hesitantly and haphazardly. While Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) units had been making forays into southern Lebanon during the second week of the conflict, the Israeli military leadership remained undecided over when and where - even whether - to deploy their ground units.

In part, the army's indecisiveness over when, where and whether
to deploy its major ground units was a function of the air force's claims to victory. The Israeli Air Force (IAF) kept claiming that it would succeed from the air - in just one more day, and then another. This indecision was mirrored by the Western media's uncertainty about when a ground campaign would take place - or whether in fact it had already occurred.
[complete article]

See also Part one: Winning the intelligence war.
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In Lebanon's south, abiding pride and pangs of great loss
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, October 12, 2006

The sounds of southern Lebanon punctuated the early afternoon. There were the cadences of hammers and the rumble of bulldozers. Rubble crashed every so often, drowning the chimes of shattered glass. The town droned with rebuilding, its pace almost imperceptible in streets still paralyzed by the destruction of this summer's war between Hezbollah and Israel.

In one house sat Zeinab Ismail, facing a picture of her son over the open door, a fighter for Hezbollah killed in an air raid. His stern visage stared down as some of his nine brothers and sisters entered, joining his mother in conversation. On this day, as on others, they spent idle hours talking about what had ended and what was to come in a country perched between war and peace.

"There's a lot that doesn't leave you optimistic," said her daughter, Rima.

Always a little anxious, Lebanon is especially unsettled these days. Words like "crisis" and "strife" find their way onto the front pages of newspapers almost every morning. Stories abound of people preparing to emigrate. Certainty is rare in the country, torn as it is between sometimes irreconcilable narratives of a 33-day war, stories that fall between the poles of absolute victory and defeat. [complete article]

A new fence is added to a border town already split
By Hassan M. Fatah, New York Times, October 12, 2006

Little more than a week after Israeli troops withdrew from Lebanon, the shiny new fence around the northern portion of this village is a reminder of the possible flash points that remain as Lebanon and Israel continue working to quell tensions across their border.

To the Lebanese, the fence, erected over the past several weeks to separate the northern side of the village from the rest of Lebanon, amounts to a new occupation of their territory, potentially worsening tensions over the disputed Shabaa Farms area nearby. To Israel, which says the fence is only temporary, it is a means of ensuring that Hezbollah fighters do not enter the village, which straddles the border, and attack Israelis.

[On Tuesday, the United Nations continued trying to broker an agreement ensuring that Israel would withdraw its troops from the northern section of the village and place it under United Nations control. But even if that happens, the fence itself might remain for some time, said a United Nations official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with reporters.] [complete article]

See also, Overflights by Israel said to violate truce (WP) and Lebanon: We will fire on IAF planes violating our airspace (Jerusalem Post).
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Why Bush "lost" Korea
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, October 13, 2006

North Korea is simply the latest failure highlighting a foreign policy hobbled by ideological flights of fancy and a remarkable inability to recognize the limits of U.S. power to remake distasteful realities. When the paintball revolutionary who penned Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech popped up this week with a prescription for the Korea crisis that included forcing South Korea to starve North Korea, encouraging Japan to build nuclear weapons, and inviting Taiwan to NATO meetings in order to "punish" China, what became abundantly clear was that the Administration has suffered all along from an absence of adult supervision.

Colin Powell was always treated like the hired help by the berserk brats he was supposed to be minding. And it was on North Korea that this first became apparent. Powell had been on the job scarcely three weeks when he told reporters that the new administration would be pursuing the engagement strategy of the Clinton team, and was publicly rebuked by Bush, who also made clear his disdain for South Korea's 'Sunshine' policy of engaging the North. The Cheney crowd was having none of it, and appeared to have persuaded Bush that by sheer force of its "moral clarity," the U.S. could smite those deemed "evil" from its path. Regime-change, not engagement that propped up Kim Jong-il was what they wanted, and this clearly appealed to a president who made no secret of his loathing of Kim. Of course, "regime-change" was a non-starter in the real world, not only because the U.S. couldn't make it happen without at least a million Koreans being killed, but also because it was flatly rejected by South Korea -- whose protection was ostensibly the purpose of the U.S. presence on the peninsula. [complete article]
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Pakistan foils coup plot
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, October 14, 2006

A plot to stage a coup against Pakistan's President General Pervez Musharraf soon after his recent return from the US has been uncovered, resulting in the arrest of more than 40 people.

Most of those arrested are middle-ranking Pakistani Air Force officers, while civilian arrests include a son of a serving brigadier in the army. All of those arrested are Islamists, contacts in Rawalpindi, where the military is based, divulged to Asia Times Online.

The conspiracy was discovered through the naivety of an air force officer who this month used a cell phone to activate a high-tech rocket aimed at the president's residence in Rawalpindi. The rocket was recovered, and its activating mechanism revealed the officer's telephone number. His arrest led to the other arrests. [complete article]
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Al-Qaeda in Iraq: dissent in the ranks?
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, October 13, 2006

All three major London-based Arab dailes (al-Sharq al-Awsat, al-Hayat, and al-Quds al-Arabi) are prominently reporting signs of dissent in the ranks of al-Qaeda in Iraq. It hasn't turned up at all on Google News, so I guess it hasn't been reported in English yet. The stories are based on the appearance of a video on a jihadi site by Abu Usama al-Iraqi, an al-Qaeda figure, calling on bin Laden to fire Abu Ayub al-Masri as leader of the Iraqi al-Qaeda branch. Abu Usama's video detailed a list of deviations and mistakes made by al-Masri, including offenses against Sunni tribes and local religious leaders, which he claims are spreading dissension and harming morale.

Along with intra-Sunni complaints, the video seems to primarily be upset that al-Qaeda and its appointed leader in Iraq have gone soft on the Shia. Abu Usama seems upset by al-Masri's adherence to Ayman al-Zawahiri's advice to stop attacking the Shia and Muslim civilians - leading Abu Usama to speculate about possible collaboration between al-Qaeda's leaders and the Crusaders and the Shia. Yeah. Al-Hayat also focuses on Abu Usama's Sunni-centric arguments and dismay at signs that al-Qaeda is going soft on the Shia. It also reports a video whose authenticity could not be verified claiming the formation of a new hardline Sunni jihadi formation. What works with the general public (knocking off the attacks on Shia and civilians) may be offending the base...

I'm honestly not sure what to make of this. It wouldn't surprise me if there were internal disagreements in al-Qaeda's ranks about bin Laden and Zawahiri's strategy - there always have been. Local passions in the heat of an escalating civil war and a really deep anti-Shia prejudice among the hard core jihadis could well overwhelm the "all-Muslim" grand strategy cooked up by al-Qaeda Central far from the fray. The internet has become an important way for the far-flung and disaggregated al-Qaeda ranks to communicate with each other and debate policies - that isn't new. And al-Masri himself may be a bad leader, unpopular, who knows? [complete article]
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Counting the Iraqi dead
By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, October 13, 2006

"Not credible" was President Bush's quick verdict on the new study, published this week in the British medical journal the Lancet, calculating that more than 650,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the U.S. invasion and its ensuing chaos. It is understandable that the president would be quick to dismiss such an explosive claim, but the rest of us should take the time to look a bit more closely.

The number of estimated deaths claimed by the study is inconceivably huge and wildly out of scale with any previous figures we've heard. But it's difficult to avoid the conclusion that the human suffering in Iraq has been far beyond our imagining.

The peer-reviewed study's named authors include three researchers from the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University -- one of them is Gilbert Burnham, co-director of the school's Center for Refugee and Disaster Response -- and a professor from Baghdad's al-Mustansiriya University. Funding for the project was provided by MIT. These are not shabby credentials.

But academic degrees and prestigious affiliations alone do not establish truth. Bush said the problem is that the study's methodology has been discredited. But the team relied on a "cluster sample survey" technique that is frequently used for public health research, especially in the developing world.

No one should find the basic concept unfamiliar, since it underlies such mainstays of modern life as public opinion polls and market research. [complete article]
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Foreign Ministry slams envoy's comments about 'yellow race'
By Charlotte Halle, Haaretz, October 13, 2006

The Foreign Ministry on Friday condemned remarks by the Israeli ambassador to Australia in which he told Haaretz that the two countries are white sisters amid "the yellow race" of Asia.

"If the article is accurate, this is a grave and unacceptable remark," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The ministry said it will not return to business as usual if an internal examination confirms that the ambassador, Naftali Tamir, in fact made the comments attributed to him.

Tamir said that due to what he characterized as the racial similarities between Israel and Australia, the two countries should work together to enhance ties with other Asian countries. [complete article]
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The pain behind the occupation
By Laila El-Haddad, The Guardian, October 13, 2006

It's a conundrum for most people, and a difficult issue to talk about, even between Palestinians. During a time when they are being bombarded by some 300 artillery shells a day, exposed to deafening sonic-boom attacks and living under an increasingly brutal occupation without electricity and very little water, they are killing each other. Palestinian versus Palestinian.

"Why are the Palestinians doing this? If they don't fight Israel, they have to fight someone, so they fight each other!" I've heard time and again.

So why are the Palestinians killing each other? And why does it concern Israel?

The real question is why they haven't been killing each other sooner. [complete article]

Hamas: IDF will face catastrophe if invades Gaza Strip
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, October 13, 2006

Hamas' military wing, Iz al-Din al-Qassam, warned Thursday that if Israel attempted a full scale invasion of the Gaza Strip, it would face many "surprises."

A spokesman for the group said at a press conference that Hamas fighters were involved in an ongoing effort to upgrade their abilities to wage war.

The spokesman also said that the Israel Defense Forces operation in the northern Gaza Strip that resulted in the death of six Palestinians near Khan Yunis on Thursday was an attempt to cover up Israel's failure to secure the release of Gilad Shalit, abducted by Hamas militants following a cross-border raid on June 25. [complete article]

Hamas tries to heal rift with Cairo
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, October 11, 2006

Hamas leaders on Wednesday sought to defuse tensions with Cairo by appealing to the Egyptians to resume their mediation efforts to form a Palestinian unity government.

Relations between Hamas and Egypt have deteriorated over the past few weeks, particularly after the Islamic movement turned down an Egyptian proposal for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit in exchange for a few hundred Palestinian prisoners held in Israel.

The appeal came following harsh statements by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit against the Hamas leadership. [complete article]
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Germany is urged to ban CIA agents accused of kidnapping
By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times, October 13, 2006

Prosecutors in Germany have asked federal authorities to forbid CIA agents suspected of being involved in the alleged kidnapping and five-month imprisonment of a German citizen from entering the country, a German television program reported Thursday.

The request is the newest twist in the case of Khaled Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent who was detained in Macedonia in 2003 and ended up in a U.S.-run prison in Afghanistan. Masri said he was a victim of a U.S. program that captures and jails suspected terrorists.

Munich state prosecutor August Stern sent the names and aliases of CIA operatives and contractors to the Federal Criminal Police Office, asking that the agents not be allowed to enter Germany for fear of committing more crimes. Stern has faced increasing pressure from German politicians to file arrest warrants against as many as 13 U.S. intelligence agents. He did not do so Thursday. [complete article]
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Charge of treason difficult to prove, legal experts say
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, October 13, 2006

The decision to charge alleged al-Qaeda propagandist Adam Gadahn with treason is something of a gamble by the U.S. government, which has not pursued such a case in more than 50 years and has a mixed track record for convictions over the course of American history, according to legal experts and historic accounts.

Gadahn, 28, was indicted Wednesday by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, Calif., based on his alleged appearance in numerous al-Qaeda videotapes calling for the death of Americans and for attacks on U.S. targets.

Many legal experts said yesterday that although Gadahn may be a suitable candidate for a treason charge, federal prosecutors may face serious difficulties in securing a conviction if he is ever brought to trial. [complete article]
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Bush confounded by the 'unacceptable'
By R. Jeffrey Smith, Washington Post, October 13, 2006

President Bush finds the world around him increasingly "unacceptable."

In speeches, statements and news conferences this year, the president has repeatedly declared a range of problems "unacceptable," including rising health costs, immigrants who live outside the law, North Korea's claimed nuclear test, genocide in Sudan and Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Bush's decision to lay down blunt new markers about the things he deems intolerable comes at an odd time, a phase of his presidency in which all manner of circumstances are not bending to his will: national security setbacks in North Korea and Iraq, a Congress that has shrugged its shoulders at his top domestic initiatives, a favorability rating mired below 40 percent. [complete article]
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In victory for Shiite leader, Iraqi parliament approves creating autonomous regions
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, October 12, 2006

Iraq's Shiite-dominated Parliament approved a law on Wednesday enabling provinces to unite to form autonomous regions, in spite of vehement opposition by Sunni Arab leaders who said it could splinter the republic and disadvantage the minority Sunni population.

The vote was a resounding victory for Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, leader of the dominant Shiite bloc, who wants to form an autonomous state from nine predominantly Shiite provinces of southern Iraq, a region that includes much of the nation’s oil and other natural resources.

Mr. Hakim cast the result as a victory for democracy. "The road is open for all the Iraqi people to form any region they want, and it is up to the Iraqi people basically to decide this issue," he said. [complete article]
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Army: Troops to stay in Iraq until 2010
By Robert Burns, AP, October 12, 2006

For planning purposes, the Army is gearing up to keep current troop levels in Iraq for another four years, a new indication that conditions there are too unstable to foresee an end to the war.

Gen. Peter Schoomaker, the Army chief of staff, cautioned against reading too much into the planning, which is done far in advance to prepare the right mix of combat units for expected deployments. He noted that it is easier to scale back later if conditions allow, than to ramp up if they don't.

"This is not a prediction that things are going poorly or better," Schoomaker told reporters. "It's just that I have to have enough ammo in the magazine that I can continue to shoot as long as they want us to shoot." [complete article]

See also, Top U.S. officer in Iraq Sees spike in violence (NYT).
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General seeks U.K. Iraq withdrawal
BBC News, October 12, 2006

The head of the British Army has said the presence of UK armed forces in Iraq "exacerbates the security problems".

In an interview in the Daily Mail, Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, is quoted as saying the British should "get out some time soon".

He also said: "Let's face it, the military campaign we fought in 2003, effectively kicked the door in." [complete article]
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North Korea isn't our problem
By Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman, Los Angeles Times, October 12, 2006

The United States is bogged down in what appears to be an unwinnable war in Iraq; it is facing very unpleasant options in regard to neighboring Iran's nuclear program; senior NATO officers say that the situation in Afghanistan is deteriorating fast; in the former Soviet Union, Georgia and Russia are moving toward military confrontation, with the U.S. seemingly unable to restrain either; in large swaths of Latin America, new nationalist and populist movements are challenging U.S. interests.

And now the totalitarian regime in North Korea has defied the international community by testing a nuclear bomb -- and the U.S. appears to have neither military nor effective economic measures with which to respond.

If all this does not prove the reality of American overreach, what does? If U.S. power is to be placed on a firmer basis, its exercise must be more limited. Certain commitments will have to be scaled back or even eliminated if the U.S. is to be able to concentrate on dealing with its most truly vital challenges and enemies. [complete article]

Comment -- Lieven and Hulsman address the practical need that the United States must respond to the limits of its own power, yet more is required than a simple realignment of priorities. A real paradigm shift is necessary through which America sheds the presupposition of its own supremacy. The theory of American supremacy has been tested and proven false.
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Exclusive: Book says Bush just using Christians
By Jonathan Larsen, MSNBC, October 12, 2006

More than five years after President Bush created the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, the former second-in-command of that office is going public with an insider's tell-all account that portrays an office used almost exclusively to win political points with both evangelical Christians and traditionally Democratic minorities.

The office's primary mission, providing financial support to charities that serve the poor, never got the presidential support it needed to succeed, according to the book.

Entitled "Tempting Faith," the book is not scheduled for release until Oct. 16, but MSNBC's "Countdown with Keith Olbermann" has obtained a copy.

"Tempting Faith's" author is David Kuo, who served as special assistant to the president from 2001 to 2003. A self-described conservative Christian, Kuo's previous experience includes work for prominent conservatives including former Education Secretary and federal drug czar Bill Bennett and former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Kuo, who has complained publicly in the past about the funding shortfalls, goes several steps further in his new book.

He says some of the nation's most prominent evangelical leaders were known in the office of presidential political strategist Karl Rove as "the nuts."

"National Christian leaders received hugs and smiles in person and then were dismissed behind their backs and described as 'ridiculous,' 'out of control,' and just plain 'goofy,'" Kuo writes. [complete article]
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Bush urged to take lead in peace talks
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, October 11, 2006

Several former American officials, as well as liberal Jewish groups, activists and philanthropists including George Soros, are ramping up efforts to press the Bush administration to take a more active role in promoting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

This week, a bipartisan group of former senior diplomats, including Dennis Ross and Thomas Pickering, issued a report calling for more American involvement in the region at a time when the unilateralist policy pursued by Israel seems to have faltered in Gaza and in Lebanon. The group, convened under the aegis of the dovish Israeli Policy Forum, urged the administration to mediate a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire, focus on the actions of the Palestinian government rather than the declarations of Hamas leaders, support the Saudi initiative, engage Syria and strengthen Lebanon's government. [complete article]
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Gaza sliding into civil war
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, October 12, 2006

There have been clashes between Palestinian factions before, particularly in Gaza where clan rivalries are frequently the rule of law. But what distinguishes the troubles this time is the power of Hamas and a worsening economic crisis.

As soon as Hamas formed a government after winning January's elections, Israel withheld $60m (£32m) in monthly tax revenues and the international community halted direct financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. That, combined with frequent Israeli closures of the crossing points into Gaza, has prompted a severe economic crisis and left hundreds of young men, who have ready access to weapons, without salaries.

The funding freeze came because Hamas refused to meet Israeli and international demands to recognise Israel's right to exist, to renounce violence, and to accept all past peace agreements. Despite the crisis, there is no sign that Hamas is ready to meet those criteria and fading hope that they might agree to a coalition government with Fatah.

A year after Israel's withdrawal of settlers from Gaza promised a new future for Palestinians here, the coastal strip is being swallowed up in an internal feud. [complete article]
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Italian probe: Israel used new weapon prototype in Gaza Strip
By Meron Rapoport, Haaretz, October 11, 2006

An investigative report to be aired on Italian television Wednesday raises the possibility that Israel has used an experimental weapon in the Gaza Strip in recent months, causing especially serious physical injuries, such as amputated limbs and severe burns.

The weapon is similar to one developed by the U.S. military, known as DIME, which causes a powerful and lethal blast, but only within a relatively small radius.

The Italian report is based on the eyewitness accounts of medical doctors in the Strip, as well as tests carried out in an Italian laboratory. The investigative team is the same one that exposed, several months ago, the use by U.S. forces in Iraq of phosphorous bombs, against Iraqi rebels in Faluja. [complete article]
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A re-run of the Lebanon war in Palestine?
By Hasan Abu Nimah and Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, October 11, 2006

There are ominous signs that the long-contemplated plan to overthrow the democratically-elected Hamas-led Palestinian Authority cabinet is about to enter its most dangerous phase: a political coup, supported by local militias, with foreign and regional backing. This could ignite serious intra-Palestinian violence. With Iraq providing a dreadful warning of how foreign occupation can foster civil bloodshed, everything must be done to expose and thwart this dangerous conspiracy.

The head of Palestinian Authority intelligence, and Fatah militia leader, Tawfiq Tirawi, said in an interview with the Sunday Times on 8 October, "We are already at the beginning of a civil war, no doubt about it. They (Hamas) are accumulating weapons and a full-scale civil war can break out at any moment." The paper cited Palestinian sources saying that Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas "has notified the US, Jordan and Egypt that he is preparing to take action against Hamas." And, asserting that Hamas "are preparing for a war against us," Tirawi "forecasts that the violence would begin in Gaza and spread to the West Bank." Hamas leaders, including prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, have issued strenuous reassurances that they will never allow civil war, even as a Fatah-affiliated militia recently released a statement explicitly threatening to assassinate them. [complete article]
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Trying to put the squeeze on North Korea
By Tony Karon,, October 11, 2006

It might have been expected that, three days after North Korea announced a nuclear test in defiance of the international community, the rogue regime would be suffering harsh consequences. Not yet, anyway. The U.N. Security Council appears divided as to just how harsh those consequences ought to be. What's more, the Bush Administration's strenuous assurances that it has no plans to attack North Korea -- even as it defends its continued refusal to talk directly to the regime in Pyongyang -- are pointers to some of the difficulties facing Washington's efforts to put the squeeze on Pyongyang.

The Security Council appears unlikely to pass a sanctions resolution before the end of this week. The Council appears unanimous in condemning North Korea, and in the belief that the regime must pay a price for crossing a red line. But veto-wielding Council members such as Russia and China, as well as South Korea, want to ensure that any U.N .response advances, rather than retards, a plausible scenario for resolving the crisis -- and the only end-game they're prepared to countenance is a return to the negotiating table. [complete article]

See also, N. Korea's no. 2 official warns of further tests (WP).
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For Bush, many questions on Iraq and North Korea
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, October 12, 2006

President Bush said Wednesday that he would not use force against North Korea because "diplomacy hasn't run its course," but acknowledged that many Americans wonder why he invaded Iraq but has not taken military action to head off North Korea's race for a bomb.

"I'm asked questions around the country, 'Just go ahead and use the military,'" Mr. Bush said at a morning news conference in the Rose Garden, his first extended question-and-answer session with reporters in the days since North Korea announced it had detonated a nuclear device. "And my answer is that I believe the commander in chief must try all diplomatic measures before we commit our military."

Then, without prompting, the president asked an obvious next question.

"I'll ask myself a follow-up," Mr. Bush said. "'If that's the case, why did you use military action in Iraq?’ And the reason why is because we tried the diplomacy."

Mr. Bush's unusual exchange with himself came during an hourlong news conference dominated by questions about North Korea and Iraq. Democrats have criticized him for rushing into a war with Iraq, which turned out not to have unconventional weapons, while not setting limits on North Korea, which declared this week that it had conducted its first nuclear test. [complete article]
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The cost of doing your duty
Editorial, New York Times, October 11, 2006

During the recent debate over how to handle the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the Bush administration made a lot of noise about its commitment to fair treatment for the detainees and its respect for the uniformed lawyers of the armed forces. Anyone who believed those claims should consider the fate of the Navy lawyer whose integrity helped spark that debate in the first place.

In 2003, Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift was assigned to represent Salim Hamdan, a Yemeni citizen accused of being a member of Al Qaeda - for the sole purpose of getting him to plead guilty before one of the military commissions that President George W. Bush created for Guantanamo.

Instead of carrying out this repugnant task, Swift concluded that the commissions were unconstitutional. He did his duty and defended his client. The case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in June that the tribunals violated U.S. law as well as the Geneva Conventions. The Navy responded by killing his military career. About two weeks after the historic high-court victory in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, Swift was told he was being denied a promotion, which spelled the end of his 20-year career. [complete article]
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NATO wants to copy Pakistan's militant peace deal: Musharraf
By Danny Kemp, AFP, October 12, 2006

NATO approves of Pakistan's peace deal with militants in a volatile tribal region and wants Islamabad's help to do the same thing in Afghanistan, Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf said.

Musharraf said the commander of the NATO force fighting a spiralling Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, British General David Richards, had agreed with Pakistan's strategy when he visited him earlier this week.

Richards "absolutely agrees with the environment and my analysis and he is asking for our help to do the same thing, and we will proceed on the same course," Musharraf told reporters, referring to the accord in North Waziristan. [complete article]

See also,
Musharraf says possible Qaeda link to rocket plotters
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Afghanistan five years later: charting the reconstruction
Christian Science Monitor, October 12, 2006

The United States and its coalition partners launched "Operation Enduring Freedom - Afghanistan" in October 2001 as a response to the attacks of Sept. 11. At the time of the invasion, Afghanistan was already a broken nation. Decades of war and austere fundamentalist rule had left the country with little in the way of industry, infrastructure, government institutions, or an educational system.

In the five years since the invasion, the coalition has worked to fill a gaping political vacuum in the face of growing challenges. Since 2001, poppy cultivation in Afghanistan has increased from 8,000 hectares to 165,000 hectares. But Afghanistan has also made strong democratic advances, and the education system has markedly improved. Since 1999, the percentage of Afghans enrolled in primary school rose from 25 percent to 93 percent. [complete article]
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U.S. supporter of Al-Qaeda is indicted on treason charge
By Dan Eggen and Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, October 12, 2006

A California native who has appeared in al-Qaeda propaganda videos has been indicted for treason, making him the first American to be charged with that crime in half a century, the Justice Department announced yesterday.

Adam Gadahn, a 28-year-old fugitive believed to be living in Pakistan, could be sentenced to death if convicted of treason, which has been alleged only about 30 times in U.S. history and has not been used since the aftermath of World War II.

Gadahn, allegedly "gave al Qaeda aid and comfort . . . with intent to betray the United States" by appearing in videos calling for attacks on U.S. targets, according to the indictment, which was handed up by a federal grand jury in Santa Ana, Calif. Gadahn is also charged with providing material support to terrorists, which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in prison. [complete article]

See also, $1 million for arrest of American al Qaeda charged with treason (CNN).
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How Hezbollah defeated Israel
Part one: Winning the intelligence war

By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, Asia Times, October 12, 2006

Hezbollah officials will neither speak publicly nor for the record on how they fought the conflict, will not detail their deployments, and will not discuss their future strategy. Even so, the lessons of the war from Hezbollah's perspective are now beginning to emerge and some small lessons are being derived from it by US and Israeli strategic planners. Our conclusions are based on on-the-ground assessments conducted during the course of the war, on interviews with Israeli, American and European military experts, on emerging understandings of the conflict in discussions with military strategists, and on a network of senior officials in the Middle East who were intensively interested in the war's outcome and with whom we have spoken.

Our overall conclusion contradicts the current point of view being retailed by some White House and Israeli officials: that Israel's offensive in Lebanon significantly damaged Hezbollah's ability to wage war, that Israel successfully degraded Hezbollah's military ability to prevail in a future conflict, and that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), once deployed in large numbers in southern Lebanon, were able to prevail over their foes and dictate a settlement favorable to the Israeli political establishment.

Just the opposite is true. From the onset of the conflict to its last operations, Hezbollah commanders successfully penetrated Israel's strategic and tactical decision-making cycle across a spectrum of intelligence, military and political operations, with the result that Hezbollah scored a decisive and complete victory in its war with Israel. [complete article]

Israel warned: Lebanon war could start again
By Clancy Chassay, The Guardian, October 11, 2006

Hizbullah will resume its military campaign unless Israel withdraws from the disputed Shebaa farms area and other pockets of territory occupied during this summer's 34-day war, Nabih Berri, the speaker of the Lebanese parliament, has warned. "If Israel does not pull out we will have to drive them out," Mr Berri, who acted as a link to the militant organisation during this summer's war with Israel, said in an interview with the Guardian.

Shebaa farms has been occupied by Israel since 1967, but both Syria and Lebanon claim ownership of the land.

Hizbullah will remain armed and fully operational in south Lebanon, despite the newly deployed UN forces, until Israel withdraws from all Lebanese territory and ceases its air, sea and land violations, Mr Berri said. "The Unifil presence will not hinder Hizbullah's defensive operations. The resistance doesn't need to fly its flags high to operate. It's a guerrilla movement; it operates among the people," he said. [complete article]
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Study puts war's Iraqi death tally at more than 600,000
By Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, October 11, 2006

More than 600,000 Iraqis have died violently since the U.S.-led invasion, according to a new estimate that is far higher than any other to date.

The report, by a team of researchers criticized for its death estimates two years ago, says that 601,027 Iraqis have suffered violent deaths since the March 2003 invasion. It also suggests that the country has become more violent in the last year.

"This clearly is a much higher number than many people have been thinking about," said Gilbert Burnham, the report's lead author and a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. "It shows the violence has spread across the country."

Iraq's violent death rate rose from 3.2 deaths per 1,000 people in the year after the invasion to 12 per 1,000 from June 2005 to June 2006, according to the researchers, whose findings are being published this week in the British medical journal Lancet. [complete article]

Comment -- The lesson from this study is not the actual numbers, but the way in which questions about these numbers reflect how hardened our perceptions have become in assessing the effects of war. "The study is so far off they should not have published it. It is irresponsible," says Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon. The conventional view is that somewhere in the region of 50,000 Iraqis have died -- only 50,000!

The deaths of fewer than 3,000 American soldiers in Iraq and fewer than 3,000 American civilians on 9/11 are much more vexing to most Americans. Can the value of life be so intertwined with national identity, or do our skewed concerns really reflect a disconnect from life itself?
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Excess of evil
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, October 10, 2006

If there had been more good intelligence, or if Bush had been intelligent enough to listen to what there was, he might have discovered that there was no very reliable information to underpin his charges against Iraq; that Iran's supposed weapons program was completely unproven; and that North Korea's ambitions might still be subject to change, if the right incentives were offered. What was needed was statecraft and diplomacy of a high level. But Bush, in this speech and in his actions, turned the famous dictum of Carl von Clausewitz on its head: diplomacy became nothing more than war by other means. And as such, it has failed.

If the president had read and thought about Sun Tzu on "The Art of War" (because, of course, it's the thinking that counts, as much as the reading), he might have come across this wonderfully well-considered advice: "Advance knowledge cannot be gained from ghosts and spirits, inferred from phenomena, or projected from the measures of Heaven, but must be gained from men for it is the knowledge of the enemy's true situation."

War is not a metaphysical undertaking. Nor is it a spiritual exercise. In a democracy, the notion that war can be used as social experiment is simply unacceptable. Yet, we accepted. Our senators and representatives stood and applauded. [complete article]
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What North Korea wants from the nuke standoff
By Tony Karon,, October 11, 2006

Even as the hawks claim that the nuclear test has somehow vindicated their position, the reality is that there will be little appetite among the players that count -- mainly China and South Korea -- for trying to blockade Pyongyang into submission. But they will want to press North Korea into getting rid of its nukes. If Pyongyang eventually offers verifiable disarmament in exchange for recognition and security guarantees -- and it continues to stress its desire to negotiate "denuclearization of the Korean peninsula" directly with the U.S. -- there would be overwhelming international pressure to accept such a deal. In other words, once the dust settles, it will become clear that North Korea's nuclear defiance may have made the prospects for a U.S. policy of regime-change even more remote. And if security guarantees from the U.S. eventually become the price for North Korea giving up its nukes, Pyongyang's brinkmanship would have arguably achieved its diplomatic goal. [complete article]
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North Korea's neighbors fear pressure may breed regional chaos
By Gordon Fairclough, Evan Ramstad, and Jay Solomon, Wall Street Journal, October 11, 2006

As the United Nations Security Council mulls sanctions against North Korea, it must consider one question that could affect the stability of North Asia for years to come: Would the collapse of Kim Jong Il's government prove more dangerous than leaving him in charge of a nuclear-armed state?

The prospect of regime change in Pyongyang may cheer many in Washington who view Mr. Kim as running a militarist regime that has tortured and starved its own people and traded missiles to Pakistan, Iran, Syria and others. But turmoil in North Korea could damage the economies of China and South Korea, set off a refugee crisis and lead to military conflict.

How the U.S. and Asia assess these risks could influence the outcome of Security Council meetings to decide how to respond to Pyongyang's announcement Monday that it detonated a nuclear device. The Bush administration is seeking to isolate North Korea, choking off money flow to its elite and preventing it from trading in materials used in weapons systems. It remains to be seen how long the regime would survive under strict sanctions. [complete article]

See also N Korea raises threat of new test (BBC) and Far from being a fool, Kim Jong Il carefully plotted his country's path to nuclear power (LAT).
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Khamenei defends nuclear 'right'
BBC News, October 10, 2006

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran, says the country will continue developing nuclear technology.

"Our policy is clear, progress with clear logic and insisting on the nation's right without any retreat," state television quoted him as saying. [complete article]

See also, Iran unfazed by outrage over North Korea's test (LAT) and Iran distances itself from N Korean crisis (FT).
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Rice asserts U.S. plans no attack on North Korea
By Thom Shanker and Warren Hoge, New York Times, October 11, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Tuesday that the United States did not intend to invade or attack North Korea, but she warned the North's leaders that they now risked sanctions "unlike anything that they have faced before."

Even China, North Korea's most important ally, said Tuesday that tough measures were in order, though its representatives said the punishments might not necessarily be the harsh ones that Washington was proposing. [complete article]

See also, Small blast, or 'big deal'? U.S. experts look for clues (NYT) and U.S. waits for firm information on nature and success of device (WP).
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Across Europe, worries on Islam spread to center
By Dan Bilefsky and Ian Fisher, New York Times, October 11, 2006

Europe appears to be crossing an invisible line regarding its Muslim minorities: more people in the political mainstream are arguing that Islam cannot be reconciled with European values.

"You saw what happened with the pope," said Patrick Gonman, 43, the owner of Raga, a funky wine bar in downtown Antwerp, 25 miles from here. "He said Islam is an aggressive religion. And the next day they kill a nun somewhere and make his point.

"Rationality is gone."

Mr. Gonman is hardly an extremist. In fact, he organized a protest last week in which 20 bars and restaurants closed on the night when a far-right party with an anti-Muslim message held a rally nearby.

His worry is shared by centrists across Europe angry at terror attacks in the name of religion on a continent that has largely abandoned it, and disturbed that any criticism of Islam or Muslim immigration provokes threats of violence. [complete article]
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America's dirty secret: India becomes the gasoline gusher
By Randeep Ramesh, The Guardian, October 11, 2006

Sitting on the edge of the water in the Gulf of Kutch on India's western shore is one of America's dirty secrets. A mass of steel pipes and concrete boxes stretches across 13 square miles (33sq km) - a third of the area of Manhattan - which will eventually become the world's largest petrochemical refinery.

The products from the Jamnagar complex are for foreign consumption. When complete, the facility will be able to refine 1.24m barrels of crude a day. Two-fifths of this gasoline will be sent 9,000 miles (15,000km) by sea to America.

India's biggest private company, Reliance Industries, with a market capitalisation of $33bn (£17.8bn), runs the plant. Controlled by billionaire Mukesh Ambani, whose father Dhirubhai founded the company, Reliance towers over its industry rivals, contributing 8% of India's exports. [complete article]
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FBI agents still lacking Arabic skills
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, October 11, 2006

Five years after Arab terrorists attacked the United States, only 33 FBI agents have even a limited proficiency in Arabic, and none of them work in the sections of the bureau that coordinate investigations of international terrorism, according to new FBI statistics.

Counting agents who know only a handful of Arabic words -- including those who scored zero on a standard proficiency test -- just 1 percent of the FBI's 12,000 agents have any familiarity with the language, the statistics show.

The numbers reflect the FBI's continued struggle to attract employees who speak Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and other languages of the Middle East and South Asia, even as the bureau leads a fight against terrorist groups primarily centered in those parts of the world. The same challenge is facing the CIA and other agencies as the government competes with the private sector for a limited number of applicants with foreign-language proficiency, according to U.S. officials and experts. [complete article]

Comment -- This is the xenophobe's conundrum: How do you keep tabs on suspicious foreigners when you're too suspicious to hire foreigners? The shortage of Arabic-speakers in the FBI reflects, quite simply, a shortage of Arabs in the FBI.
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North Korea's nuclear policy is not irrational at all
By Dan Plesch, The Guardian, October 10, 2006

North Korea's nuclear test is only the latest failure of the west's proliferation policy. And it demonstrates the need to return to the proven methods of multilateral disarmament. Far from being crazy, the North Korean policy is quite rational. Faced with a US government that believes the communist regime should be removed from the map, the North Koreans pressed ahead with building a deterrent. George Bush stopped the oil supplies to North Korea that had been part of a framework to end its nuclear programme previously agreed with Bill Clinton. Bush had already threatened pre-emptive war - Iraq-style - against a regime he dubbed as belonging to the axis of evil.

The background to North Korea's test is that, since the end of the cold war, the nuclear states have tried to impose a double standard, hanging on to nuclear weapons for themselves and their friends while denying them to others. Like alcoholics condemning teenage drinking, the nuclear powers have made the spread of nuclear weapons the terror of our age, distracting attention from their own behaviour. Western leaders refuse to accept that our own actions encourage others to follow suit. [complete article]

Bush's 'axis of evil' comes back to haunt United States
By Glenn Kessler and Peter Baker, Washington Post, October 10, 2006

Nearly five years after President Bush introduced the concept of an "axis of evil" comprising Iraq, Iran and North Korea, the administration has reached a crisis point with each nation: North Korea has claimed it conducted its first nuclear test, Iran refuses to halt its uranium-enrichment program, and Iraq appears to be tipping into a civil war 3 1/2 years after the U.S.-led invasion.

Each problem appears to feed on the others, making the stakes higher and requiring Bush and his advisers to make difficult calculations, analysts and U.S. officials said. The deteriorating situation in Iraq has undermined U.S. diplomatic credibility and limited the administration's military options, making rogue countries increasingly confident that they can act without serious consequences. Iran, meanwhile, will be watching closely the diplomatic fallout from North Korea's apparent test as a clue to how far it might go with its own nuclear program. [complete article]

In a test, a reason to talk
By Selig S. Harrison, Washington Post, October 10, 2006

"You have learned to live with other nuclear powers," said Vice Foreign Minister Kim Gye Gwan, North Korea's chief nuclear negotiator, leaning forward over the dinner table in Pyongyang. "So why not us? We really want to coexist with the United States peacefully, but you must learn to coexist with a North Korea that has nuclear weapons."

"That doesn't sound like you are serious when you talk about denuclearization," I replied.

"You misunderstand me," he said. "We are definitely prepared to carry out the Beijing agreement, step by step, but we won't completely and finally dismantle our nuclear weapons program until our relations with the United States are fully normalized. That will take some time, and until we reach the final target, we should find a way to coexist."

This exchange foreshadowed the North Korean test of a nuclear explosive device that has prompted demands for a naval blockade or military strikes against known North Korean nuclear facilities. But my conversations with six key North Korean leaders on a recent visit indicated that the test opens up new diplomatic opportunities and should not be viewed primarily as a military challenge. [complete article]

For U.S., a strategic jolt after North Korea's test
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, October 10, 2006

North Korea may be a starving, friendless, authoritarian nation of 23 million people, but its apparently successful explosion of a small nuclear device in the mountains above the town of Kilju on Monday represents a defiant bid for survival and respect. For Washington and its allies, it illuminates a failure of nearly two decades of atomic diplomacy.

North Korea is more than just another nation joining the nuclear club. It has never developed a weapons system it did not ultimately sell on the world market, and it has periodically threatened to sell its nuclear technology. So the end of ambiguity about its nuclear capacity foreshadows a very different era, in which the concern may not be where a nation’s warheads are aimed, but in whose hands its weapons and skill end up.

As Democrats were quick to note on Monday, four weeks before a critical national election, President Bush and his aides never gave as much priority to countering a new era of proliferation as they did to overthrowing Saddam Hussein. [complete article]

See also, Diverted attention, neglect set the stage for Kim's move (LAT).

North Korea tested an atom bomb; now what?
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, October 9, 2006

The current predicament is the outcome of three missteps: a major strategic blunder by President Bush (who refused to negotiate with the North Koreans when they were practically begging for talks and their course was still easily reversible); an only slightly less gigantic blunder by Chinese President Hu Jintao (who thought he could bring the North Koreans in line with minimal arm-twisting); and severe miscalculations, from start to finish, by Kim Jong-il (who thought Washington would have leapt at negotiations by now and who, apparently, didn't think his nuclear test would cause quite such excitement). [complete article]

Comment -- Was yesterday's news quite as big as it was billed, or did political interests conspire with commercial interests in producing a mega-news-event?

In the Los Angeles Times' useful background piece, "Things to know about North Korea's reported nuclear test," the question, How do we know that North Korea actually detonated a nuclear device?, initially (in the syndicated version) got the simple answer: We don't.

The same article on the Times' web site, now under a sexier headline, "Decoding the levels of danger," has had that blunt uncertainty removed. It isn't replaced with certainty -- it is widely acknowledged that it may take several days before there is conclusive evidence that a nuclear device was detonated -- yet if yesterday's reporting had focused on the fact that right now, we don't know, there might be as much critical attention being given to the reaction as there is to the event.

Curiously, the North Koreans confidently asserted that, "there was no such danger as radioactive emission in the course of the nuclear test as it was carried out under scientific consideration and careful calculation." Is that because the DPRK is much more environmentally responsible than other nuclear powers in conducting its tests, or, because they created what might be described as a facsimile of a nuclear explosion?

No matter, says President Bush, even if the North Koreans haven't actually successfully detonated a nuclear bomb, their mere claim to have done so "constitutes a threat to international peace and security."

Actually, it is Bush's statement itself that constitutes a threat to international peace and security. He seems to be sending out a message to every two-bit terrorist outfit in the world: Set off a pseudo-dirty bomb containing a trivial amount of radioactive material and we'll react as though we're under nuclear attack.
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George Bush's war of the words
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, October 10, 2006

For Homer, those epithets attached to his heroes and gods were undoubtedly mnemonic devices -- the fleet-footed Achilles, Poseidon, the Earth-shaker, the wily Odysseus, the ox-eyed Hera. But isn't it strange how many similar, if somewhat less heroic, catch words and phrases have adhered to key officials of the Bush administration these last years. Here's my own partial list:

President George ("Brownie, you're doing a heck of a job") Bush, Vice President Dick ("last throes") Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald ("stuff happens") Rumsfeld, then-National Security Advisor, now-Secretary of State Condoleezza ("mushroom cloud") Rice, CIA Director George ("slam dunk") Tenet, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul ("[Iraq] floats on a sea of oil") Wolfowitz, Centcom Commander Gen. Tommy ("We don't do body counts") Franks, then-White House Counsel, now-Attorney General Alberto ("quaint") Gonzales, withdrawn Supreme Court nominee and White House Counsel Harriet ("You are the best governor ever") Miers, and most recently Dennis ("The buck stops here") Hastert.

You know a person by the company he or she keeps -- so the saying goes. You could also say that you know an administration by the linguistic company it keeps; and though George Bush is usually presented as an inarticulate stumbler of a speech and news-conference giver, it's nothing short of remarkable how many new words and phrases (or redefined old ones) this President and his administration have managed to lodge in our lives and our heads. [complete article]
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Olmert's true colors
By Tom Segev, Haaretz, October 10, 2006

The real Olmert disappeared from sight for only a limited time, but is now returning and being revealed as the person he was since going into politics some 40 years ago. He prefers land to peace, because he doesn't believe in peace with either the Palestinians or the Syrians. He is completely closed off to the terrible humanitarian disaster underway in Gaza, and the horrors of the occupation in the West Bank are continuing as before. There is no basis for expecting Olmert to dismantle the settlements in the West Bank; the more he returns to himself, the more dubious it is that he ever planned to dismantle them. All the signs indicate that he has no intention of dismantling even those settlements classified as illegal outposts.

Olmert is not the first prime minister to miss a chance to make peace with Syria, in exchange for the Golan Heights, but Bashar Assad appears to be the first Syrian president since 1949 to be practically begging for peace. Olmert could have gone down in history as a Menachem Begin, who gave Sinai back to Egypt. Instead, he is reacting to Syria's offers of peace with contempt, loathing and threats: As long as he is prime minister, Israel will not give up the Golan Heights, he declared, and for a moment, it was possible to think that the results of the war in Lebanon assured a glorious victory over Syria. This is the familiar Olmert, the real one.

And the real Olmert is also the man now making nice to Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman is talking about changing the government, about an inquiry committee, about civil unions; these are respectable issues. But Lieberman is also suggesting that several communities populated by Arabs be left out of the borders of the state, to leave the Jews a "solid majority." He suggests giving up Wadi Ara as part of an agreement to swap land with the Palestinians. Such a deal would revoke the Israeli citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Arabs and force them to become citizens of Palestine. It's taken for granted that their agreement won't be sought. This platform places Lieberman alongside the worst of the extremist right-wing parties active in Europe today. [complete article]
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Syria: U.S. lacks Mid-East vision
BBC News, October 10, 2006

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said the United States does not have "the will or vision" to pursue peace in the Middle East.

In a BBC interview, President Assad said Syria was prepared to hold talks with Israel but he said there needed to be "an impartial arbiter".

He said there was no sign the Americans were prepared to play this role.

President Assad acknowledged Syria and Israel could live side-by-side in peace accepting each other's existence. [complete article]
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The Muslim problem
By Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed, The Cutting Edge, October 7, 2006

In August, we had the 'liquid bomb' plot which both former and active military and intelligence experts have found to be either impossible or barely existing.

President Bush took the opportunity provided by the scare to declare that: "The recent arrests that our fellow citizens are now learning about are a stark reminder that this nation is at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation."

The same phrase, a phrase he had never used before, he had also used that month to describe Israel's conflict with Lebanon. A conflict in which the preponderance of casualties was amongst Lebanese Muslims (as well as Christians).

And here in the UK, politicians, police and commentators described how the 'liquid bomb' plot proved that the threat came from British Muslims who, without any clear reason, without any obvious profile, from any social background even including a university education and a handsome employment, spontaneously decided to become suicide killers. By implications, we have a significant British Muslim problem. A problem of British Muslims spontaneously converting into Islamic fascists. [complete article]
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The impact of Al-Jazeera
By Khaled Hroub, Index of Censorship, September 15, 2006

No one disputes that the channel has changed the media landscape in the Arab world, pushing the boundaries of political debate, challenging taboos and raising the ceiling of free speech. This new media environment is still in the making. At the same time, the expectation that Al-Jazeera alone could have an equally powerful impact on the institutions of government and the lack of political freedoms was unrealistic. While Al-Jazeera speedily became the main platform for genuine political debate and the airing of grievances, it was not the direct actor in socio-political change many hoped it would be. In the eyes of many Arabs desperate for change, the channel became the main force behind political change, a responsibility Al-Jazeera never took upon itself and which it recognised was not any part of the standard media brief. Political and social change is a more complex process that transcends the power of the media alone. For those who expected Al-Jazeera to effect such political change, any balance sheet of the channel's achievement has a negative look, an unfair assessment in the light of what can and should be expected from the channel. The lack of political change in the Arab world, or its frustrating slowness, must be attributed to many factors; the media, including Al-Jazeera, is merely one agent of change and must be measured against how it performs its duties as the "fourth estate", not on how well it fulfils those of the other three: the legislative, the judiciary and the executive. However, the reason why this appropriation of responsibility has been shouldered onto a free media in the Arab world is the startling dysfunction of the separation of powers. In almost every Arab country, the legislative, judicial and executive powers have been fused into one sole authoritarian power: the executive. When the media – the fourth estate, the watchdog on those in power – functions with a significant degree of independence, it can raise the significant issues of the day and criticise the polity. It is the job of the rest of the polity, the legislative, the judiciary and the executive to take up those issues exposed by the media and take them on to the next phase. The fate of the matters raised by Al- Jazeera in the new "public sphere" is for them to fall into a political void. Between the single supreme conglomerate power on the one hand and the fourth estate on the other, there is a vast abyss, a vacuum into which all the initiatives and advances achieved by Al-Jazeera have fallen. [complete article]
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Moderate Sunnis in Lebanon fear rise of extremist groups
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, October 9, 2006

After a war that left them marginalized and bitter, moderate Sunni Muslims in Lebanon are struggling to prevent al-Qaida-inspired extremists from winning new supporters here.

As criticism continues over the weak performance of Lebanon's Sunni-led government during this summer's 34-day conflict between Israel and the Shiite Muslim group Hezbollah, radical Sunnis are finding new support for their cause among a fragmented sect that composes an estimated quarter of Lebanon's population. Their efforts are aided by frustration among Sunnis at the rising prominence of Hezbollah.

"Ever since the show of Hezbollah's strength, the Sunni population wants the presence of a Sunni political authority so that they won't end up second- or third-class citizens," said Fathi Yakan, a Lebanese who's been active in forming militant Islamic groups here. [complete article]
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Sunnis change names to avoid Shia death squads
By Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, October 10, 2006

Lurking in the small ads on page 10 of Al Taakhi newspaper was an announcement that Umar Salman wished henceforth to be known as Samir Salman. It was among many similar notices of submissions to the office of national identity requesting name changes.

The reason is not fashion or whim; it is because in Iraq these days your name can bring death. How dangerous a name Umar has become was revealed in April when Baghdad police discovered 14 corpses of young men, killed and dumped by the death squads. All were Sunnis shot with a single bullet to the head and left on a garbage heap.

One other thing united them in life as in death: their first names were Umar. And now other Umars are fearful.

In the same half page of small ads, Salman Aggal indicated that he wanted to change his daughter's name. She is called Aisha, also a Sunni name. Abdul Karim al'Ithawi announced his intention to change his Sunni tribal name from Ithawi into the neutral al'Barri. A Christian man announced his intention to change his son's first name, from Michael to Ali.

Behind the mundane notices is a shift in Iraqi society towards a world of concealed identities, religious affiliations and family histories. The name-changes on passports, ID cards, school registers and workplace payrolls are only one subterfuge being employed by Sunnis to protect themselves from the rampant Shia death squads, particularly in Baghdad. [complete article]

Baquba erupts
By Dahr Jamail and Ali al-Fadhily, IPS, October 10, 2006

The little-known city of Baquba is emerging as one of the hotbeds of resistance in Iraq, with clashes breaking out every day.

The violence in this city 30 mi. northeast of Baghdad is also now spreading elsewhere around Diyala province.

"The new waves of terror are now forming a variety that we predicted long ago," a political leader in the city told IPS. "The Iraqi people have complained to everyone, but naturally no one will do anything about it. We know who is in charge and who is responsible and eventually who is to be dammed. It is the government of the United States of America." [complete article]

Iraqi recruits mutiny over food poisoning
By Doug Smith and Zeena Kareem, Los Angeles Times, October 10, 2006

Several hundred Iraqi police recruits were being treated Monday in an outbreak of severe food poisoning that triggered a mutinous episode in southern Iraq, and the capital was shaken by the assassination of a vice president's brother.

Officials in Numaniya, about 80 miles southeast of Baghdad, said disorder broke out at a military base there Monday, the day after the recruits became ill. Angry recruits stoned the car of their commander.

Authorities said they had not yet established that the food poisoning, which broke out Sunday evening, was intentional. However, several people connected with the base dining facility were arrested, including the food supplier, military spokesman Brig. Gen. Khasim Mosawi said in a televised news conference. [complete article]
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Muslims angry at new Danish cartoons scandal
By Brian Whitaker, The Guardian, October 10, 2006

The world's largest international Muslim body complained of shrinking tolerance in the west yesterday as a new row erupted over Danish cartoons mocking the prophet Muhammad.

The 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference said in a statement: "Muslims have noted with concern that the values of tolerance are eroding and there is now shrinking space for others' religious, social and cultural values in the west."

The statement followed the airing on Danish state television of amateur video footage showing members of the anti-immigrant Danish Peoples' party (DPP) taking part in a contest to draw images ridiculing the prophet. "The running of the footage affected the sensibilities of civilised people and religious beliefs of one fifth of humanity," the OIC said. [complete article]

See also, Danish web videos on Muhammad taken down (AP).
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Asia's new reality
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, October 9, 2006

...hardliners in Washington have long been pushing for a policy of regime change against Pyongyang. President Bush himself subtly underlined that threat when, at a Monday morning news conference, he said "the oppressed and impoverished people of North Korea deserve" a "brighter future." Hence, only days after China orchestrated a framework agreement in September 2005 that promised the North it would be rewarded if it abandoned its nuclear program, including with a civilian nuclear reactor, the Bush administration imposed sanctions on the Macao-based Banco Delta Asia that effectively froze the accounts of Kim and other North Korean elites. The action is believed to have so riled Kim that he refused to return to the talks.

Now the hardliners have won the day. There are unlikely to be any carrots offered for quite a while to Kim after he posed what President Bush on Monday called "a threat to international peace and security" that "defied the will of the international community." Still, Washington is gambling on quite a number of still-untested premises. It is gambling that Hu Jintao will be angry enough to sponsor a strategic shift in his country's view of North Korea; until today Beijing has been reluctant to do anything that might lead to regime collapse. And it is gambling that the regime itself is moribund.

The problem there is that Bush administration officials have always underestimated the peculiar staying power of North Korean totalitarianism. [complete article]

Comment -- Yet again, the Bush administration is up against the shortcomings of a policy of regime change. There is by definition no negotiating position or negotiation process through which a government can be persuaded to agree to its own elimination. Coercion meets resistance and a threat to survival will most likely produce increasingly desperate acts of defiance. Paradoxically, the surest route to bring about a regime's adaptation is by acknowledging its right to exist. The intransigence the Bush administration perceives in Pyongyang and Tehran is in many ways a mirror of its own inflexibility.
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U.S . secretly woos Khatami
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, October 8, 2006

The Bush administration made secret overtures to former Iran president Mohammed Khatami during his visit to the United States last month in an attempt to establish a back channel via the ex-leader.

American officials made the approach as part of a strategy to isolate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Mr Khatami's hard-line successor, by using the former president as a conduit to the Iranian people.

They also hoped that Mr Khatami would report his conversations to senior members of Iran's theocratic regime who are wary of the current president. Diplomatic sources said that "third parties" were authorised by Nicholas Burns, the US under-secretary of state responsible for relations with Iran, to talk to Mr Khatami in a step towards "engagement" with senior Iranians. [complete article]

Comment -- The incredible irony of this -- if it's true -- is that the Bush administration would wait until Khatami was out of power before reaching out to him. In its blinkered and boneheaded approach to Iran, the administration couldn't bring itself to deal with an Iranian leader for no other reason than that was what he was. An obsession with regime change closed off the possibility of fostering regime reform.
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GOP's Baker hints Iraq plan needs change
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, October 9, 2006

James A. Baker III, the Republican co-chairman of a bipartisan panel reassessing Iraq strategy for President Bush, said Sunday that he expected the panel would depart from Mr. Bush's repeated calls to "stay the course," and he strongly suggested that the White House enter direct talks with countries it had so far kept at arm's length, including Iran and Syria.

"I believe in talking to your enemies," he said in an interview on the ABC News program "This Week," noting that he made 15 trips to Damascus, the Syrian capital, while serving Mr. Bush's father as secretary of state.

"It's got to be hard-nosed, it's got to be determined," Mr. Baker said. "You don't give away anything, but in my view, it's not appeasement to talk to your enemies." [complete article]

See also, Civil war would engulf entire Mideast if US departs Iraq: Baker (AFP), U.S. puts Maliki on the clock in Iraq (AFP), U.S. and Iraqi forces clash with Sadr militia in south (WP), and Northern Iraq grows increasingly violent (AP).
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In N.Y., sparks fly over Israel criticism
By Michael Powell, Washington Post, October 9, 2006

Two major American Jewish organizations helped block a prominent New York University historian from speaking at the Polish consulate here last week, saying the academic was too critical of Israel and American Jewry.

The historian, Tony Judt, is Jewish and directs New York University's Remarque Institute, which promotes the study of Europe. Judt was scheduled to talk Oct. 4 to a nonprofit organization that rents space from the consulate. Judt's subject was the Israel lobby in the United States, and he planned to argue that this lobby has often stifled honest debate.

An hour before Judt was to arrive, the Polish Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk canceled the talk. He said the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee had called and he quickly concluded Judt was too controversial.

"The phone calls were very elegant but may be interpreted as exercising a delicate pressure," Kasprzyk said. "That's obvious -- we are adults and our IQs are high enough to understand that."

Judt, who was born and raised in England and lost much of his family in the Holocaust, took strong exception to the cancellation of his speech. He noted that he was forced to cancel another speech later this month at Manhattan College in the Bronx after a different Jewish group had complained. Other prominent academics have described encountering such problems, in some cases more severe, stretching over the past three decades.

The pattern, Judt says, is unmistakable and chilling.

"This is serious and frightening, and only in America -- not in Israel -- is this a problem," he said. "These are Jewish organizations that believe they should keep people who disagree with them on the Middle East away from anyone who might listen." [complete article]
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Beleaguered Olmert courts Right-wingers
By Tim Butcher, The Telegraph, October 9, 2006

Israel's beleaguered prime minister Ehud Olmert has admitted approaching a Right-wing secular party as a possible coalition partner.

With his current coalition under threat, Mr Olmert, who won the general election in March at the head of the centrist Kadima party, has put out feelers to Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home).

The move indicates that Israel's dalliance with centrist politics will end soon. [complete article]

See also, Lieberman's plan / Right where he wants to be - winner and victim (Haaretz).

Rightist MK Ariel visits Temple Mount as thousands throng Wall
Haaretz, October 9, 2006

Senior legislator Uri Ariel of the rightist National Union-National Religious Party visited the Temple Mount on Monday morning, as tens of thousands of Jews took part in the annual 'priestly blessing' ceremonies held Monday at the adjacent Western Wall in Jerusalem.

According to Ariel, the time has come for Jews to stop praying at the Western Wall and to begin praying "where they're supposed to," an apparent reference to the Mount located directly above, where by tradition the ancient Jewish Temple stood.

Many rabbis forbid Jews from setting foot on the Mount, for fear of inadvertently transgressing prohibitions against standing on the area where the Holy of Holies was situated.

But right-wing activists have long maintained that Jews should gather and pray on the Mount, the site of the Muslim holy places the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

A September, 2000 visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon touched off Palestinian rioting that led to the outbreak of the intifada a few days later. [complete article]

The struggle for Palestine's soul
By Jonathan Cook, Electronic Intifada, October 7, 2006

The message delivered to Condoleezza Rice this week by Israeli officials is that the humanitarian and economic disaster befalling Gaza has a single, reversible cause: the capture by Palestinian fighters of an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in late June from a perimeter artillery position that had been shelling Gaza.

When Shalit is returned, negotiations can start, or so Rice was told by Israel's defence minister, Amir Peretz.

If Peretz and others are to be believed, the gunmen could have done themselves and the 1.4 million people of Gaza a favour and simply executed Shalit weeks ago. Israel doubtless would have inflicted terrible retribution, such as the bombing of the Strip's only power station -- except, of course, it had already done that to avenge Shalit's capture. But, with the Israeli soldier dead, there would have been no obstacle to sitting down and talking.

Yet, as we all know, there would have been. Because Israel's refusal to negotiate -- and its crushing of Gaza -- long predates the capture of Shalit. [complete article]

Rabbi leads defence of Palestinian olive groves
By Ian MacKinnon, The Times, October 9, 2006

The olives are stunted, the trees in poor condition. At the top of a ladder, stripping fruit from high branches, the Palestinian farmer Omar Karni is in his element, working his way up a dusty olive grove that has been in his family for generations.

For the first time in four years, the family has been able to harvest the crop. Last time Mr Karni tried, radical Jewish settlers set fire to the tinder-dry land and beat him as he fled.

"I'm so happy to be here," he said, stretching to reach a branch in the relentless sun. "This is my land and if I can't come here to farm it I feel incomplete. I must do this to keep the land in my family."

Mr Karni, 58, a Muslim, can go about his business without threat largely because of a rabbi who has co-ordinated with the Israeli Army and police to be on the spot to provide protection. Rabbi Arik Ascherman peers through binoculars towards the Har Berakha settlement near Nablus, in the West Bank, for signs of trouble. Heavily armed Israeli police patrol through the trees and an army Humvee squats across the dirt track to deter unwanted visitors.

Rabbi Ascherman, co-director of Rabbis for Human Rights, will spend the six-week olive season rising at dawn with other volunteers to put his life on the line to protect Palestinian farmers from armed Jewish settlers. Without the Jewish cleric, the farmers would be fired upon or beaten, their harvest stolen and ancient trees -- some dating from Roman times -- felled with chainsaws. [complete article]

See also, IDF aims to keep out 'escorts' of Palestinian farmers during harvest (Haaretz).
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Taleban thieves banished me from my home and my children's graves
By Tahir Luddin, The Times, October 9, 2006

I drive past my village often. It is less than one mile from the main road from Kabul to Kandahar, four hours from the capital.

From the road I can see my house. But I can no longer look at it. It is too painful. Going there is impossible.

My village of Spinagbaragha is only seven miles from Qalat, the provincial capital of Zabul province, yet government forces and the American soldiers based there were helpless when my father was beaten, my house searched and my money stolen, and I was threatened with death if I ever returned. This was all because I work with Westerners and they accused me of being a spy and a Christian. Both accusations are false and, as a devout Muslim, hard to hear.

It is five years since American forces first entered my country offering the peace and stability that we had been denied for the past 30 years.

Thousands have died since that day, the countryside is overrun by Taleban rebels and thieves, and the prospect of a peaceful Afghanistan remains but a dream.

Even the road from Kabul to Kandahar, which cost $500 million (£270 million) in Western aid money to build, is becoming too dangerous. Earlier in the year I would drive Western journalists working for The Times. Now that would be a death sentence. [complete article]

Musharraf faces new questions over Taliban
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, October 9, 2006

Pakistan's role in the fight against the Taliban will come under renewed scrutiny today at a meeting in Islamabad between a top British commander and Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf.

General David Richards, who commands 33,000 Nato troops in Afghanistan, says the meeting is routine. But it follows a string of accusations, some from within Nato, that Pakistan has failed to close down Taliban sanctuaries in the northern tribal belt, and that elements within its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) agency may be assisting the insurgency. Nato said yesterday that the Taliban had launched 78 suicide attacks this year across Afghanistan, killing close to 200 people. [complete article]
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N. Korea claims nuclear test
By Anthony Faiola, Glenn Kessler and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, October 9, 2006

North Korea declared on Monday that it had conducted its first nuclear test, a claim verified by monitoring authorities in China and South Korea. The test turned the Pyongyang government into the world's newest and most volatile nuclear power and drew strong international condemnation.

The South Korean government informed U.S. officials that the explosion, registering 3.58 on the Richter scale, had taken place at 10:36 a.m. local time. Minutes later, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency announced the test, calling it "a historical event that has brought our military and our people huge joy."

The announcement brought a hailstorm of swift international denunciations and touched off a chain reaction of security jitters that caused the Japanese yen to fall to seven-month lows and sent the South Korean currency and stock market plunging. South Korean officials said they detected a significant man-made explosion in the barren northeast of the peninsula, substantiating the Pyongyang government's claim as the world's eighth proven nuclear power. [complete article]

Reported test 'fundamentally changes the landscape' for U.S. officials
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, October 9, 2006

North Korea's apparent nuclear test last night may well be regarded as a failure of the Bush administration's nuclear nonproliferation policy.

Since George W. Bush became president, North Korea has restarted its nuclear reactor and increased its stock of weapons-grade plutonium, so it may now have enough for 10 or 11 weapons, compared with one or two when Bush took office.

North Korea's test could also unleash a nuclear arms race in Asia, with Japan and South Korea feeling pressure to build nuclear weapons for defensive reasons.

Yet a number of senior U.S. officials have said privately that they would welcome a North Korean test, regarding it as a clarifying event that would forever end the debate within the Bush administration about whether to solve the problem through diplomacy or through tough actions designed to destabilize North Korean leader Kim Jong Il's grip on power.

Now U.S. officials will push for tough sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, and are considering a raft of largely unilateral measures, including stopping and inspecting every ship that goes in and out of North Korea. [complete article]

Senior Israeli lawmaker: N. Korean test shows West must act fast on Iran
Haaretz, October 9, 2006

Senior Labor lawmaker and former IDF brigadier general Ephraim Sneh said Monday that North Korea's test of an atomic weapon reflected the weakness of the international community and "its inability to address pariah states," in a direct reference to the Western world's response to the Iranian nuclear threat.

"Perhaps this case, that of North Korea, will teach them a lesson regarding the Iran issue," Sneh told Israel Radio, referring to the West. "Israeli policy should take advantage of what happened, in order to explain and persuade the international community, saying to it, 'Do something, before it's too late.'" [complete article]

North Korea: A nuclear threat
By Selig S. Harrison, Newsweek, October 16, 2006

On Sept. 19, 2005, North Korea signed a widely heralded denuclearization agreement with the United States, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea. Pyongyang pledged to "abandon all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs." In return, Washington agreed that the United States and North Korea would "respect each other's sovereignty, exist peacefully together and take steps to normalize their relations."

Four days later, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sweeping financial sanctions against North Korea designed to cut off the country's access to the international banking system, branding it a "criminal state" guilty of counterfeiting, money laundering and trafficking in weapons of mass destruction.

The Bush administration says that this sequence of events was a coincidence. Whatever the truth, I found on a recent trip to Pyongyang that North Korean leaders view the financial sanctions as the cutting edge of a calculated effort by dominant elements in the administration to undercut the Sept. 19 accord, squeeze the Kim Jong Il regime and eventually force its collapse. My conversations made clear that North Korea's missile tests in July and its threat last week to conduct a nuclear test explosion at an unspecified date "in the future" were directly provoked by the U.S. sanctions. In North Korean eyes, pressure must be met with pressure to maintain national honor and, hopefully, to jump-start new bilateral negotiations with Washington that could ease the financial squeeze. When I warned against a nuclear test, saying that it would only strengthen opponents of negotiations in Washington, several top officials replied that "soft" tactics had not worked and they had nothing to lose. [complete article]
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Iraq's dark day of reckoning
By Fareed Zacharia, Newsweek, October 16, 2006

When Iraq's current government was formed last April, after four months of bitter disputes, wrangling and paralysis, many voices in America and in Iraq said the next six months would be the crucial testing period. That was a fair expectation. It has now been almost six months, and what we have seen are bitter disputes, wrangling and paralysis. Meanwhile, the violence has gotten worse, sectarian tensions have risen steeply and ethnic cleansing is now in full swing. There is really no functioning government south of Kurdistan, only power vacuums that have been filled by factions, militias and strongmen. It is time to call an end to the tests, the six-month trials, the waiting and watching, and to recognize that the Iraqi government has failed. It is also time to face the terrible reality that America's mission in Iraq has substantially failed. [complete article]
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Deaths across Iraq show it is a nation of many wars, with U.S. in the middle
By Solomon Moore and Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, October 8, 2006

Consider a recent day - an average 24 hours in Iraq.

Here in the capital, the bodies of eight young men were found chained together, stripped of identification papers, shot and dumped in a parking lot, the first of 20 corpses found in the city that day.

In northern Iraq, a man detonated a bomb vest amid a group of women, children and men lining up for cooking oil, killing himself and 21 others. In the south, police found the bullet-torn body of a senior anti-terrorism official. And in Al Anbar province, in the west, a car smashed into a line of police recruits and exploded, killing 13 by fire and shrapnel.

In all, at least 57 people died and 17 were injured in the violence that day, Sept. 18.

They were all killed in the same country, but not in the same war. The fighting in Iraq is not a single conflict, but an overlapping set of conflicts, fought on multiple battlegrounds, with different combatants. Increasingly, American troops are caught between the competing forces. [complete article]

See also, Hidden victims of a brutal conflict: Iraq's women (The Observer), Besieged by death, young Iraqis lose hope (NYT), and Death squads online (Newsweek).
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U.S. casualties in Iraq rise sharply
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, October 8, 2006

The number of U.S troops wounded in Iraq has surged to its highest monthly level in nearly two years as American GIs fight block-by-block in Baghdad to try to check a spiral of sectarian violence that U.S. commanders warn could lead to civil war.

Last month, 776 U.S. troops were wounded in action in Iraq, the highest number since the military assault to retake the insurgent-held city of Fallujah in November 2004, according to Defense Department data. It was the fourth-highest monthly total since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

The sharp increase in American wounded -- with nearly 300 more in the first week of October -- is a grim measure of the degree to which the U.S. military has been thrust into the lead of the effort to stave off full-scale civil war in Iraq, military officials and experts say. Beyond Baghdad, Marines battling Sunni insurgents in Iraq's western province of Anbar last month also suffered their highest number of wounded in action since late 2004. [complete article]

See also, Bomb kills 14 in Iraqi city that Bush had lauded as safe (WP) and British journalist 'riddled by U.S. gunfire' (The Times).
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Worse than McNamara?
By Stanley Karnow, Washington Post, October 8, 2006

By the mid-1960s, President Lyndon B. Johnson had deployed nearly half a million troops to Vietnam. His spokesmen loudly maintained that our troops' palpable military superiority -- they were equipped with ultramodern artillery, supersonic airplanes, technological gadgets and other sophisticated weaponry -- was having a decisive impact, killing countless Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars.

But even as the situation in Vietnam was being pumped up, a few officials in Washington were questioning the conventional optimism. Not the least of them was Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara -- the man who had staunchly promoted the anti-communist struggle in Southeast Asia for half a decade, first under President John F. Kennedy and then under Johnson.

As I contemplate McNamara's evolution from war supporter to war skeptic, I ponder whether Donald H. Rumsfeld, his heir at the Pentagon, nurses any similar doubts about the dubious Iraq strategy he vaunts in his rhetoric. I wonder whether it's possible that, despite his projection of unshakable faith today, he may eventually come to make the same confession about Iraq that McNamara did about Vietnam, in the surprisingly candid mea culpa he published in 1995: "We were wrong, terribly wrong." [complete article]

See also, Rumsfeld shift lets Army seek larger budget (NYT).
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Inside Hezbollah, big miscalculations
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, October 8, 2006

The meeting on July 12 was tense, tinged with desperation. A few hours earlier, in a brazen raid, Hezbollah guerrillas had infiltrated across the heavily fortified border and captured two Israeli soldiers. Lebanon's prime minister summoned Hussein Khalil, an aide to Hezbollah's leader, to his office at the Serail, the palatial four-story government headquarters of red tile and colonnades in Beirut's downtown.

"What have you done?" Prime Minister Fouad Siniora asked him.

Khalil reassured him, according to an account by two officials briefed by Siniora, one of whom later confirmed it with the prime minister. "It will calm down in 24 to 48 hours."

More technocrat than politician, Siniora was skeptical. He pointed to the Gaza Strip, which Israeli forces had stormed after Palestinian militants abducted a soldier less than three weeks earlier. Israeli warplanes had blasted bridges and Gaza's main power station.

Calmly, Khalil looked at him. "Lebanon is not Gaza," he answered.

What followed was a 33-day war, the most devastating chapter in Lebanon's history since the civil war ended in 1990, as Hezbollah unleashed hundreds of missiles on Israel and the Israeli military shattered Lebanon's infrastructure and invaded its south. Nearly three months later, parts of the country remain a shambles and tens of thousands are still homeless as winter approaches. [complete article]

Comment -- While Hussein Khalil could with justification assert that Lebanon is not Gaza, the issue in Ehud Olmert's mind on July 12 might have merely been this: If Israel did not show the same level of contempt and anger towards Hezbollah and the population of southern Lebanon that it was already displaying towards Hamas and the people of Gaza after the abduction of Gilad Shalit, would not both of Israel's arch enemies thereafter feel empowered? The logic of Israel's response thus might have had more to do with a "proportionate" display of overblown outrage than with any sober military or strategic calculations.
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Assad: Syrian military preparing for war with Israel
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, October 8, 2006

The Syrian military is preparing for war with Israel, Syria's President Bashar Assad told the Quwaiti newspaper Al-Anba on Saturday.

In an interview widely quoted by Syrian news agencies, Assad said Israel could attack Syria "at any moment."

"We must remain ready at all times," said Assad. "We have begun preparations within the framework of our options." [complete article]
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The mystery of America
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, October 8, 2006

Is America at all interested in bringing about a solution in the Middle East? Is it possible that it does not understand how crucial it is to end the conflict?

As things appear, America can and does not want to. No government in Israel, and surely not the most recent ones, which are terrified of the American administration, would stand up to a firm American demand to bring the occupation to an end. But there has never been an American president who wanted to put an end to the occupation. Does America not understand that without ending the occupation there will be no peace? Peace in the region would deliver a greater blow to world terrorism than any war America has pursued, in Iraq or Afghanistan. Does America not understand this? Can all this be attributed to the omnipotent Jewish lobby, which causes Israel more harm than good? [complete article]

Hamas PM: Political infighting won't lead to Palestinian civil war
AP, Haaretz, October 8, 2006

Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said Sunday that the deteriorating financial situation and the violent political infighting that has claimed the lives of 11 Gazans will not lead to Palestinian civil war.

Addressing 300 religious and political leaders in Gaza at a "unity and reconciliation" feast on Sunday, Haniyeh appealed for calm.

"We may criticize each other, raise our voices," he said. "However, it is certainly our concern and religious and moral commitment that matters don't come down to conflict, infighting and civil war." [complete article]
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Islam has tamed a lawless Somalia, but is it raising an African Taliban?
By Colin Freeman, The Sunday Telegraph, October 8, 2006

Thirteen years after the infamous "Black Hawk Down" incident, in which 18 American troops died at the hands of a Mogadishu mob, Somalia is once again the stuff of American nightmares - as a potential new home for fundamentalist Islam in Africa.

The ICU's [Islamic Courts Union] critics in London and Washington see the movement as little short of an African Taliban, an alliance of sharia court judges whom they accuse of wanting to turn Somalia into a theocratic state.

But on the wrecked streets of Mogadishu, residents seem more than willing to give the rule of God a try - if only for the reason that, in living memory, no mere mortal has come anywhere close to doing the job properly.

After 20 years under the Marxist dictator Siad Barre, during which Somalia became first a Soviet and then a Western client state, a fierce territorial battle with Ethiopia saw it disintegrate into civil war and famine by 1992. A subsequent US and United Nations-backed peacekeeping and relief mission, involving 30,000 troops and $4 billion in aid, was abandoned two years later, leaving a power vacuum which the warlords quickly filled.

Now the ICU has garnered unprecedented support for managing to do what none of its predecessors could achieve - pacifying the most lawless city in the world.

The courts first emerged as an informal source of law and order in the mid-1990s, gaining respect partly by their imposition of ruthless sharia punishments such as amputations, but also by their reputation for fairness. Influential local businessmen, sick of militia extortion rackets, then paid for men and arms to enforce the courts' writs.

That culminated in a series of spectacular battles earlier this year, in which the courts, supported by many of the capital's one million citizens, cleared out the warlords, district by district. Since June a tangible, if fragile, calm has reigned, as shown by the casualty sheets at Mogadishu's Medina hospital: the number of gunshot wound admissions is down to fewer than 30 a month, from a high of 179 in February. [complete article]

Comment -- In the eyes of Dick Cheney and his cohorts, Mogadishu is where America's jihadist problems all began. The hasty withdrawal of U.S. troops from Somalia was supposedly perceived as a sign of weakness. Within a decade the United States was under aerial attack.

The neocon solution was to provide a correction of perceptions: to put on an unambiguous display of American might that would make its enemies cower in fear and thereafter abstain from any further futile confrontations.

Five years later and the chosen epicenter of America's corrective action is boiling in near anarchy, while in Mogadishu the Islamists are delivering a level of security that for Baghdad must sound like an unattainable dream.

As for how America is perceived by most Somalis, it is as the prime sponsor of criminality!
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NATO chief warns of Afghan tipping point
By Fisnik Abrashi, AP, October 8, 2006

NATO's top commander in Afghanistan warned on Sunday that a majority of Afghans would likely switch their allegiance to resurgent Taliban militants if their lives show no visible improvements in the next six months.

Gen. David Richards, a British officer who commands NATO's 32,000 troops here, told The Associated Press that he would like to have about 2,500 additional troops to form a reserve battalion to help speed up reconstruction and development efforts.

He said the south of the country, where NATO troops have fought their most intense battles this year, has been "broadly stabilized," which gives the alliance an opportunity to launch projects there. If it doesn't, he estimates about 70 percent of Afghans could switch their allegiance from NATO to the Taliban. [complete article]

See also, British hire anti-Taliban mercenaries (The Sunday Times) and Journalists shot dead near Afghan village (AP).
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CIA 'used German base' to hold 9/11 suspect
By Philip Sherwell, The Sunday Telegraph, October 8, 2006

The CIA used a military base in Germany to interrogate the man accused of masterminding the September 11 terrorist attacks and a fellow al-Qaeda leader, according to testimony from terrorism suspects.

The claims, reported by British lawyers of two detainees at Guantanamo Bay, are the latest twist in the controversy over allegations that the CIA held alleged terrorist operatives in clandestine jails on European soil as part of its so-called "extraordinary renditions" programme.

The two men each said independently that they were told during their own interrogations that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Tawfiq bin Attash had been held and questioned on military bases in Germany. [complete article]

See also, Investigators examine possibility of secret U.S. prison in Germany (Deutsche Welle).
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Will we go to war with North Korea
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, October 6, 2006

We're headed into the climax of the stormiest, most Absurdist opera-melodrama in, quite possibly, the history of international politics: the tale of Kim Jong-il and his quest for the magical atom bomb. It's a spectacle that combines the bombastic grandeur of Wagner with the cryptic plotlessness of Beckett, yet it's been commanding our attention and gnawing at our anxieties all decade long.

The latest episode -- which the protagonists are hailing and dreading as the start of the final chapter -- came Tuesday, when the Foreign Ministry of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (the official beyond-ironic name for North Korea) announced that it will "in the future conduct a nuclear test" -- i.e., explode a nuclear bomb.

World reaction was fierce, if expected. China warned of "serious consequences" if Kim Jong-il went ahead with the test. South Korea's president, Roh Moo-hyun, issued a "grave warning" and directed his government to draw up "contingency plans." Japan brought up U.N. Security Council sanctions. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Hizb Allah, Party of God
By Nir Rosen, Truthdig, October 3, 2006

The West, served by Arab "moderates", is attempting to take the Arab world back to the Stone Age
By Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram Weekly, October 5, 2006

Is Israel a partner for peace?
By Uzi Benziman, Haaretz, October 1, 2006

Bad faith and the destruction of Palestine
By Jonathan Cook,, September 30 , 2006

The Arab-Israeli conflict: to reach a lasting peace
International Crisis Group, October 5, 2006

Without peace, a fence is not enough to protect Israel
By Gershom Gorenberg, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

Jerusalem's Damascus conundrum raises wartime memories of Yom Kippur past
By Gershom Gorenberg, The Forward, October 5, 2006

Good Muslim, bad Muslim, moderate Muslim?
By Mark LeVine, Tikkun, October 2, 2006

Why I'm banned in the USA
By Tariq Ramadan, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

What a terrorist incident in ancient Rome can teach us
By Robert Harris, New York Times, October 1, 2006

What al-Qaeda wants in Iraq
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, October 3, 2006

Bordering on insanity
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, October 5, 2006

U.S. military is still waiting for Iraqi forces to 'stand up'
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, October 1, 2006

Saudis build 550-mile fence to shut out Iraq
By Harry de Quetteville, The Telegraph, October 1, 2006

Kurdish rebels are stirring up Turkey and Iran, and threatening the one calm part of Iraq
By Michael Hastings, Newsweek, October 9, 2006

Taliban lay plans for Islamic intifada
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, October 5, 2006

It's about self-determination, not war or ideology
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, October 4, 2006

'The more subtle kind of torment'
By Joseph Margulies, Washington Post, October 2, 2006

I never saw Rumsfeld's volleyball courts during my two years in America's gulag
By Moazzam Begg, Los Angeles Times, October 1, 2006

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