The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
The rise of the rightwinger who takes his cue from Putin
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, November 2, 2006

At one level you have to hand it to the Israelis. Once cleared into the the Knesset, the parliament building, journalists can wander into the members' cafeteria without an escort. Cheaply made tables are packed together as closely as in an airport terminal, and ministers queue to load their trays with no priority over backbenchers.

Avigdor Lieberman, the ultra-rightwinger, hunches over a soup bowl by the window. Two tables away Ahmed Tibi, an Arab who is deputy speaker, chats to reporters in between fielding mobile phone calls. It is admirably egalitarian and unstuffy, but the mood was far from relaxed on Monday. The government majority was just about to vote to approve Ehud Olmert's appointment of Lieberman as deputy prime minister, with a brief to handle the "strategic threats" which Israel faces.

Tibi was furious. In other parts of the world a man like Lieberman - "a very dangerous and sophisticated politician who has won his support through race hatred" - would be shunned, he fulminated. In Israel he was given a top job. [complete article]
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Israel must treat Gaza like Russia does Chechnya: Lieberman
AFP, November 1, 2006

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's hardline new minister for strategic affairs, has said the Jewish state should use the same methods in Gaza that Russia had in Chechnya.

Israel should operate in the Gaza Strip "like Russia operates in Chechnya," Lieberman, local media quoted the leader of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party as saying during a meeting of Israel's security cabinet.

He spoke Wednesday after at least six Palestinians, including three militants, were killed and dozens injured in a major Israeli incursion in northern Gaza that the Jewish state said was aimed at stopping rocket fire.

Public Security Minister Avi Dichter, a former chief of the Shin Beth internal security service, reportedly upbraided Lieberman.

"Gaza is not Chechnya and we are not the Russians," Dichter said. "Our tactics are completely different." [complete article]
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Gaza women killed in mosque siege
BBC News, November 3, 2006

Two women have been killed as Israeli troops opened fire on a crowd of women gathered to help besieged gunmen flee a mosque in Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza.

One of the women told the BBC they had dressed the militants in women's clothes to help them escape.

The Israeli military said the women were used as "human shields" and that there had been armed men in the crowd.

Reports said at least 16 Palestinians were killed on Friday, the third day of a major Israeli raid on Beit Hanoun. [complete article]
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After a ruinous war, a troublesome peace
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, November 3, 2006

The elected government stands in danger of collapse. Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah vows to lead his masses into the streets and force early elections. The United States warns that Syria and Iran, through Hezbollah, are plotting to seize control of this fractious country.

If this summer's war between Hezbollah militants and Israel drew Lebanese together in crisis, the fragile peace that came after has forced them to confront the depths of their divisions and dysfunctions, and has pitched the country back into severe turmoil.

The government is bogging down just as Lebanon faces tough choices on war reconstruction, the prosecution of suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and calls to disarm Hezbollah.

Many Lebanese fear that the militant group's growing power will provoke another war with Israel, or that increasingly bitter political disputes could slowly steer their nation back toward the communal bloodshed that racked the country during the 15 years of civil war that ended in 1990. [complete article]
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Iraq a 'work of art in progress' says U.S. general after 49 die
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, November 3, 2006

An American general in Baghdad called Iraq a "work of art" in progress yesterday in one of the most extraordinary attempts by the US military leadership to put a positive spin on the worsening violence.

On a day in which 49 people were killed or found dead around the country, Major General William Caldwell, the chief military spokesman, argued that Iraq was in transition, a process that was "not always a pleasant thing to watch.

"Every great work of art goes through messy phases while it is in transition. A lump of clay can become a sculpture. Blobs of paint become paintings which inspire," Maj Gen Caldwell told journalists in Baghdad's fortified green zone. [complete article]

Comment -- I imagine that Major General William Caldwell thought that he was articulating a breadth of perspective that most journalists lack, yet what he conveyed was the insularity of a man who sits behind a desk and has more interested in trying to manipulate the way people think than he has in his own grasp of reality. Iraq is a canvas daubed in blood and all that Caldwell managed to convey through his choice of imagery is that from the comfort of the Green Zone he has acquired an emotional detachment that comes across as callous indifference. In the lexicon of this war, "work of art" merits equal rank with Rumsfeld's "stuff happens."
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Congress tells auditor in Iraq to close office
By James Glanz, New York Times, November 3, 2006

Investigations led by a Republican lawyer named Stuart W. Bowen Jr. in Iraq have sent American occupation officials to jail on bribery and conspiracy charges, exposed disastrously poor construction work by well-connected companies like Halliburton and Parsons, and discovered that the military did not properly track hundreds of thousands of weapons it shipped to Iraqi security forces.

And tucked away in a huge military authorization bill that President Bush signed two weeks ago is what some of Mr. Bowen's supporters believe is his reward for repeatedly embarrassing the administration: a pink slip. [complete article]
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What's behind the growing Baghdad-Washington rift
By Tony Karon,, November 1, 2006

Last Saturday, Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, according to one of his aides, warned the U.S. ambassador that he was "not America's man in Iraq." On Tuesday he drove home the point, ordering an end to the U.S. military cordon around the Baghdad Shi'ite stronghold of Sadr City -- a demand with which the U.S. military complied. Although U.S. troops don't take orders from the Iraqi government, refusing to heed the writ of that democratically elected government would make the U.S. military presence in that country untenable. The U.S. did point out that it had been consulted by Maliki, although that discussion appears to have occurred less than an hour before the announcement was made.

No one should have been that surprised by Maliki's move. What he is doing is strutting his sovereignty, which includes making clear that he won't countenance U.S. military actions that go against the interests of his own Shi'ite backed government, and also demanding the final say over security policy. Maliki not only wants veto power over U.S. military action in his country; he also wants the Iraqi government to have control over the deployment of the Iraqi security forces, which currently still operate under U.S. command. [complete article]

See also, Shia leaders fear US favours Sunni alliance (The Independent).
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U.S. web archive is said to reveal a nuclear primer
By William J. Broad, New York Times, November 3, 2006

Last March, the federal government set up a Web site to make public a vast archive of Iraqi documents captured during the war. The Bush administration did so under pressure from Congressional Republicans who had said they hoped to "leverage the Internet" to find new evidence of the prewar dangers posed by Saddam Hussein.

But in recent weeks, the site has posted some documents that weapons experts say are a danger themselves: detailed accounts of Iraq's secret nuclear research before the 1991 Persian Gulf war. The documents, the experts say, constitute a basic guide to building an atom bomb.

Last night, the government shut down the Web site after The New York Times asked about complaints from weapons experts and arms-control officials. A spokesman for the director of national intelligence said access to the site had been suspended "pending a review to ensure its content is appropriate for public viewing."

Officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency, fearing that the information could help states like Iran develop nuclear arms, had privately protested last week to the American ambassador to the agency, according to European diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity. One diplomat said the agency’s technical experts "were shocked" at the public disclosures. [complete article]
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American prison planet
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch, November 2, 2006

Today, the United States presides over a burgeoning empire -- not only the "empire of bases" first described by Chalmers Johnson, but a far-flung new network of maximum security penitentiaries, detention centers, jail cells, cages, and razor wire-topped pens. From supermax-type isolation prisons in 40 of the 50 states to shadowy ghost jails at remote sites across the globe, this new network of detention facilities is quite unlike the gulags, concentration-camps, or prison nations of the past.

Even with a couple million prisoners under its control, the U.S. prison network lacks the infrastructure or manpower of the Soviet gulag or the orderly planning of the Nazi concentration-camp system. However, where it bests both, and breaks new incarceration ground, is in its planet-ranging scope, with sites scattered the world over -- from Europe to Asia, the Middle East to the Caribbean. Unlike colonial prison systems of the past, the new U.S. prison network seems to have floated almost free of surrounding colonies. Right now, it has only four major centers -- the "homeland," Afghanistan, Iraq, and a postage-stamp-sized parcel of Cuba. As such, it already hovers at the edge of its own imperial existence, bringing to mind the unprecedented possibility of a prison planet. In a remarkably few years, the Bush administration has been able to construct a global detention system, already of near epic proportions, both on the fly and on the cheap. [complete article]
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U.S. plans to screen all who enter, leave country
By Ellen Nakashima and Spencer S. Hsu, Washington Post, November 3, 2006

The federal government disclosed details yesterday of a border-security program to screen all people who enter and leave the United States, create a terrorism risk profile of each individual and retain that information for up to 40 years.

The details, released in a notice published yesterday in the Federal Register, open a new window on the government's broad and often controversial data-collection effort directed at American and foreign travelers, which was implemented after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

While long known to scrutinize air travelers, the Department of Homeland Security is seeking to apply new technology to perform similar checks on people who enter or leave the country "by automobile or on foot," the notice said. [complete article]
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Stop calling it the 'war on terror'
By Timothy Garton Ash, Los Angeles Times, November 2, 2006

Whether or not a formal post-mortem into the Iraq war is launched by a newly Democrat-controlled Congress after Tuesday's midterm elections, no one doubts that this has been a war, one without end. Yet one day it will end. Will we then still be at war? Were 9/11, Afghanistan, Iraq, the London bombings, Madrid, Bali and the rest all just pages of the opening chapter in a long saga called the War on Terror?

For all their criticisms of the way President Bush has waged the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, most Democrats don't challenge the central concept of the war on terror. They merely claim they could fight it better. Only a few intellectual Democrats, such as financier and philanthropist George Soros, insist that the very idea of the war on terror is, in his words, "a false metaphor." [complete article]

Comment -- There are plenty of reasons for objecting to the name, "war on terror," but there's no point trying to rename it while there's still confusion about what it is. The "brilliant insight" that the neocons attributed to George Bush on September 11, 2001, was that America was at war. It wasn't that America needed to go to war, but that war was an ongoing condition to which the country had awakened. Irrespective of the dubious claim that this was an insight, it was a brilliant political move. It presented war as an existential condition that could endure whatever the circumstances. Public expectations could be pandered to by periodically referring to "progress," "defeating the terrorists," and "victory," but in its conception, this was never meant to be a war that could be won. It was meant to shape a nation's outlook and open a political space that would welcome -- even crave -- a war-empowered presidency. Every question, doubt, or suspicion would be turned back upon the core article of faith: do you, or don't you, believe we are at war? Anyone expressing a hint of skepticism would be summarily be dismissed as naive or delusional. To question the claim that "we are at war" would be the same as doubting that the Twin Towers were destroyed by hijacked aircraft.
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Al-Qaeda and the election
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, October 30, 2006

In the upcoming American elections, polls show the Democratic party poised to win and Iraq to be a major issue for voters. If the Democrats win, they will have to live up to their campaign promises and increase the pressure to withdraw. Even if the Republicans win, the pressure from the American street towards withdrawal is strong on them as well.

This poses a problem for al-Qaeda, since keeping America in Iraq has been so central to its strategy. If al-Qaeda believes that this stage has accomplished its goals, then the [anonymous] author [on the Arabic Tajeed forum] thinks that it will permit the withdrawal and then reap its gains. But the author says that in his personal opinion, the time for the next stage has not yet arrived, and it would be better to keep the stage of America's being stuck in Iraq extended as long as possible. Even if America has suffered many losses, he argues, it remains very powerful and would only take a couple of years to recover from Iraq and return to the field of play. The author fears that al-Qaeda's leaders will fall prey to the temptation to move on to the next stage too early, and not intervene to keep the Republicans in power and the Americans in Iraq.

Therefore, while the author does not know what al-Qaeda wil do, he thinks that al-Qaeda should seek to delay the American withdrawal as long as possible by working to ensure that Bush and the Republican Party win the coming elections. How? A televised al-Qaeda video should do the trick, whether from Zahawiri or (more likely) Bin Laden - perhaps announcing the creation of an al-Qaeda state in Afghanistan or Iraq, perhaps issuing a direct threat against America. A strike against important oil facilities in the Gulf might also do it, or against an important US ally like Britain. Either should ensure a Republican victory, he writes, and secure al-Qaeda's main strategic objective of keeping America implanted in the combat zone in Iraq.

The author doesn't know which way al-Qaeda will go, and having delivered his analysis is left sitting back and waiting to see. Total silence from al-Qaeda prior to the election should be read as a signal that its leadership believes that the time has come to move to the next phase. A tape or attack by al-Qaeda prior to the election means that its leaders are not yet satisfied with the American blood and treasure lost in Iraq and want more time before moving to the next stage. And that's where "Al-Qaeda's Scenario" leaves it. [complete article]
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Hizbollah issues ultimatum to Lebanese government
By Ferry Biedermann, Financial Times, November 1, 2006

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement has given the coalition government of Fouad Siniora until mid-November to agree to the formation of a national unity government or face protests demanding new elections.

He said that Hizbollah and its allies in the Amal movement, who currently hold five out of 24 cabinet posts, should have at least a third of the cabinet in any new unity government - which would give them an effective veto over cabinet decisions. [complete article]

U.S. sees evidence of Lebanon coup plot
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, November 2, 2006

In an unusual statement, the Bush administration charged Wednesday that there was "mounting evidence" that Iran, Syria and the militant group Hezbollah were trying to engineer the overthrow of the elected government of Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

American officials said they had evidence that the two countries were trying to help create a new "unity" government that would give greater influence to their Hezbollah allies.

They contended that Syria was also trying to block legislation that directed Lebanese cooperation with an international tribunal investigating the slaying of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Syrian officials have been implicated in the February 2005 attack.

But U.S. officials declined to provide details, saying they could not disclose information from intelligence sources. Sean McCormack, the chief State Department spokesman, said there were "strictures" on what he could say because "we collect a lot of information I can't talk about."

He said Hezbollah chief Sheik Hassan Nasrallah recently warned in a speech that "the Siniora government take certain steps or Nasrallah and his compatriots would see that it falls." [complete article]

Comment -- The Siniora government will not have forgotten how much support it got from the Bush administration while American-made bombs were raining down on Beirut this summer. As for Hassan Nasrallah's threat that he will call for public protests if the Hezbollah-Amal alliance does not get cabinet representation commensurate with the size of the Lebanese constituency that they represent, since when did such a threat fall outside the norms of a democratic system? If there's any unambiguous foreign interference in Lebanese politics right now, it's coming in the form of statements from Washington and Israeli jets performing mock raids over Beirut.
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Staying the course, win or lose
By Robert Kagan, Washington Post, November 2, 2006

Here in Europe, people ask hopefully if a Democratic victory in the congressional elections will finally shift the direction of American foreign policy in a more benign direction. But congressional elections rarely affect the broad direction of American foreign policy. A notable exception was when Congress cut funding for American military operations in support of South Vietnam in 1973. Yet it's unlikely that a Democratic House would cut off funds for the war in Iraq in the next two years.

Indeed, the preferred European scenario -- "Bush hobbled" -- is less likely than the alternative: "Bush unbound." Neither the president nor his vice president is running for office in 2008. [complete article]

With election driven by Iraq, voters want new approach
By Adam Nagourney and Megan Thee, New York Times, November 2, 2006

A substantial majority of Americans expect Democrats to reduce or end American military involvement in Iraq if they win control of Congress next Tuesday and say Republicans will maintain or increase troop levels to try to win the war if they hold on to power on Capitol Hill, according to the final New York Times/CBS News poll before the midterm election.

The poll showed that 29 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is managing the war, matching the lowest mark of his presidency. Nearly 70 percent said Mr. Bush did not have a plan to end the war, and 80 percent said Mr. Bush's latest effort to rally public support for the conflict amounted to a change in language but not policy.

The poll underlined the extent to which the war has framed the midterm elections. Americans cited Iraq as the most important issue affecting their vote, and majorities of Republicans and Democrats said they wanted a change in approach. Twenty percent said they thought the United States was winning in Iraq, down from a high this year of 36 percent in January. [complete article]
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Baker panel to avoid calls for peace push
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, November 1, 2006

The bipartisan study group on Iraq co-chaired by former secretary of state James Baker will likely call for American engagement with Iran and Syria, but sources familiar with the process say there are no plans to push for a stepped-up role of the United States in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli officials have been privately expressing alarm over the influential role that Baker — who during the first Bush administration famously butted heads with Jerusalem over settlements and peace talks — is expected to play in crafting Middle East policy following the midterm elections next week.

Congress mandated the Iraq Study Group, co-chaired by Baker and former Democratic congressman Lee Hamilton, to come up with a strategy for success in Iraq and for maintaining stability in the region. The committee’s report, expected no earlier than next month, will deal not only with military actions needed in Iraq but also with the implications of the war on the entire region.

The fear in some pro-Israel circles is that Baker and Hamilton, who have both previously stressed the importance of achieving a comprehensive Israeli-Palestinian peace settlement, would propose a formula that would implicitly require White House pressure on Jerusalem. But sources close to the study group, and experts who advised the committee on the regional policies, all say that the report will not urge a change of course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will not advocate a more active role for the United States in brokering peace in the Middle East. [complete article]
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In Baghdad, the power shifts as violence continues
AP, November 2, 2006

For months, the United States has urged Iraqi leaders to craft a deal to disarm militias, even as American troops face them down in the streets. The decision to pull back from a confrontation with one key militia -- on the orders of Iraq's prime minister -- shows the depth of the power shift in Baghdad.

The U.S. may have had little choice Tuesday but to follow Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's order to dismantle road blocks around the Mahdi militia's stronghold of Sadr City -- faced with few good options except trusting its Iraqi ally as the situation deteriorates.

The danger is clear, however: By allowing al-Maliki to appease Shiite members of his coalition who control dangerous militias, like Mahdi leader Muqtada al-Sadr, the United States could watch the country veer toward even sharper sectarian conflict. [complete article]
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Blair's Syrian peace initiative fails to impress
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, November 2, 2006

The governments of Israel and the US responded coolly yesterday to Tony Blair's secret diplomatic initiative to urge Syria to restart Middle East peace talks. Mr Blair, who has pledged to devote the remainder of his premiership to tackling the region's conflict, sent his senior envoy, Sir Nigel Sheinwald, to meet the Syrian president in Damascus on Monday.

Shimon Peres, Israel's deputy prime minister, said in London: "I wouldn't like to make any remarks about British movements [but] I'm sceptical, not because of Britain but because of the Syrians."

He said the Syrian government had repeatedly spurned Israeli offers of peace talks and he accused Syria of helping Hamas and Hizbullah, two groups that Israel regards as being based on terrorism. [complete article]
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Islamism's failure, Islamists' future
By Olivier Roy, Open Democracy, October 30, 2006

If democratization [in the Middle East] means more nationalism and more sharia, this is far from what the western promoters of democratization envisaged. But this problem must be faced head on by saying: there is no way not to engage the Islamists. There is no alternative. We in the west have to make a choice between Erdogan and the Taliban. And if we don't choose Erdogan, we'll get the Taliban.

I consider that most Islamists are ready for engagement. They have changed and are changing because their societies have changed and are changing. Turkey is not the same society as twenty years ago. No reversal, no going back, is possible. This means engaging Hamas and Hizbollah too. The problem is that we are doing exactly the contrary now. We say we will never negotiate with so-called "terrorists". But if we don't negotiate, we should either withdraw or go for war. You cannot say, "I will not negotiate, I will just stay here." No. Something will happen; something is happening.

The present policies create this choice of war or withdrawal. Instead, we should go back to diplomacy and Realpolitik and give up any ideology-led perception of what is going on in the Middle East. [complete article]

Note -- This article is an edited version of a talk given at London's Institute for Public Policy Research on October 11. The complete talk can be heard here.

A radical idea: How Muslims can be European, too
By Peter Ford, Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 2006

For a soft-spoken, mild-mannered man, Tariq Ramadan stirs up a remarkable amount of controversy.

In his own Muslim community, the Islamic philosopher-activist comes under attack for selling out his religion to the West; Britain has funded his lectures to young Muslims. But Western critics accuse him of being a Trojan horse for radical Islam. In the past two years, the US has three times denied him a visa.

In short, he has as many enemies as friends on both sides of the Muslim-Christian divide. But Dr. Ramadan, one of the most influential voices among Europe's growing Muslim population, is not surprised. [complete article]
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Hamas touts 10-year ceasefire to break deadlock over Israel
By Ewen MacAskill and Harriet Sherwood, The Guardian, November 1, 2006

Hamas is urging Britain to back its proposal for a ceasefire of up to 10 years as a way of breaking the impasse over its refusal to recognise the state of Israel.

The most senior delegation from the Hamas government to visit Britain is in London this week to promote its offer to allow a period of "co-existence" with Israel as a way to move to an eventual settlement of the Middle East conflict.

The two-man delegation, representing the Palestinian government, is also urging the British government to lift its ban on contact with Hamas. [complete article]

Pause for peace
By Ahmed Yousef, New York Times, November 1, 2006

Here in Gaza, few dream of peace. For now, most dare only to dream of a lack of war. It is for this reason that Hamas proposes a long-term truce during which the Israeli and Palestinian peoples can try to negotiate a lasting peace.

A truce is referred to in Arabic as a “hudna.” Typically covering 10 years, a hudna is recognized in Islamic jurisprudence as a legitimate and binding contract. A hudna extends beyond the Western concept of a cease-fire and obliges the parties to use the period to seek a permanent, nonviolent resolution to their differences. The Koran finds great merit in such efforts at promoting understanding among different people. Whereas war dehumanizes the enemy and makes it easier to kill, a hudna affords the opportunity to humanize one’s opponents and understand their position with the goal of resolving the intertribal or international dispute. [complete article]
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How to cut and run
By William E. Odom, Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2006

The United States upset the regional balance in the Middle East when it invaded Iraq. Restoring it requires bold initiatives, but "cutting and running" must precede them all. Only a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops -- within six months and with no preconditions -- can break the paralysis that now enfeebles our diplomacy. And the greatest obstacles to cutting and running are the psychological inhibitions of our leaders and the public.

Our leaders do not act because their reputations are at stake. The public does not force them to act because it is blinded by the president's conjured set of illusions: that we are reducing terrorism by fighting in Iraq; creating democracy there; preventing the spread of nuclear weapons; making Israel more secure; not allowing our fallen soldiers to have died in vain; and others.

But reality can no longer be avoided. It is beyond U.S. power to prevent bloody sectarian violence in Iraq, the growing influence of Iran throughout the region, the probable spread of Sunni-Shiite strife to neighboring Arab states, the eventual rise to power of the anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr or some other anti-American leader in Baghdad, and the spread of instability beyond Iraq. All of these things and more became unavoidable the day that U.S. forces invaded. [complete article]

See also, Resistance for deadlines for Iraq is weakening (LAT), Why such high troop losses in October? (CSM), and More than ever, insurgents are targeting U.S. forces (LAT).
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Baghdad is under siege
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, November 1, 2006

Sunni insurgents have cut the roads linking the city to the rest of Iraq. The country is being partitioned as militiamen fight bloody battles for control of towns and villages north and south of the capital.

As American and British political leaders argue over responsibility for the crisis in Iraq, the country has taken another lurch towards disintegration.

Well-armed Sunni tribes now largely surround Baghdad and are fighting Shia militias to complete the encirclement.

The Sunni insurgents seem to be following a plan to control all the approaches to Baghdad. They have long held the highway leading west to the Jordanian border and east into Diyala province. Now they seem to be systematically taking over routes leading north and south. [complete article]

Military charts movement of conflict in Iraq toward chaos
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, November 1, 2006

A classified briefing prepared two weeks ago by the United States Central Command portrays Iraq as edging toward chaos, in a chart that the military is using as a barometer of civil conflict.

A one-page slide shown at the Oct. 18 briefing provides a rare glimpse into how the military command that oversees the war is trying to track its trajectory, particularly in terms of sectarian fighting.

The slide includes a color-coded bar chart that is used to illustrate an "Index of Civil Conflict." It shows a sharp escalation in sectarian violence since the bombing of a Shiite shrine in Samarra in February, and tracks a further worsening this month despite a concerted American push to tamp down the violence in Baghdad. [complete article]

See also, Over 40 Iraqis kidnapped north of Baghdad - police (Reuters), Sadr losing his grip on Mahdi Army (FT), and Iraqi demands pullback; U.S. lifts Baghdad cordon (NYT).
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Labor laws trampled at new U.S. embassy
By David Phinney, Electronic Iraq, October 30, 2006

Things began looking sketchier than ever to John Owen as he boarded a nondescript white jet on his way back to Iraq in March 2005 following some downtime in Kuwait City.

Employed by First Kuwaiti Trading & Contracting, the lead builder for the new 592-million-dollar U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Owen remembers being surrounded at the airport by about 50 company labourers freshly hired from the Philippines and India. Everyone was holding boarding passes to Dubai -- not to Baghdad.

"I thought there was some sort of mix-up and I was getting on the wrong plane," said the 48-year-old Floridian, who was working as a general construction foreman on the embassy project.

He buttonholed a First Kuwaiti manager standing nearby and asked what was going on. The manager waved his hand, looked around the terminal and whispered to keep quiet.

"'If anyone hears we are going to Baghdad, they won't let us on the plane,'" Owen recalled the manager saying. [complete article]

Complaints mount at U.S. fortress in Iraq
By David Phinney, Electronic Iraq, October 31, 2006

Several months before a U.S. construction foreman named John Owen would quit in disgust over what he said was blatant abuse of foreign labourers hired to build the sprawling new U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Rory Mayberry would witness similar events when he flew to Kuwait from his home in Myrtle Creek, Oregon. [complete article]

Auditors say shift of rebuilding to Iraqis appears 'broken down'
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, October 31, 2006

Ten months into a year-long effort to transfer control of Iraq's reconstruction to the Iraqis, federal auditors say, the government there is spending very little of its own money on projects, while the process for handing off U.S.-funded work "appears to have broken down," according to findings released yesterday.

The fledgling Iraqi government, in power since May, has about $6 billion this year to devote to major rebuilding projects, representing about 20 percent of its overall budget. But auditors with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction found that beyond paying employee salaries and administrative expenses, only a small amount of money is being spent on actual work. Auditors blamed "bureaucratic resistance within the Ministry of Finance, which traditionally has been slow to provide funds." [complete article]
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Nasrallah: Israeli onslaught served majority's goals
By Therese Sfeir, The Daily Star, November 1, 2006

The leader of Hizbullah accused Parliament's majority on Tuesday of having planned for a larger UN peacekeeping force in the South for a long time, adding that Israel's summer offensive helped achieve this goal. Speaking during an interview with Al-Manar television late Tuesday, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said a Lebanese government official called him in the first days of the war and told him that it was going to be a long one if the resistance did not abide by three conditions.

Nasrallah said the conditions were Hizbullah's approval of the deployment of multinational forces under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, the group's disarmament, and the unconditional release of the two Israeli soldiers captured on July 12. [complete article]

See also, Nasrallah on captives: Hopes to reach best outcome for everyone (Ynet) Israeli planes stage mock raids over Hezbollah stronghold of south Beirut (AP).
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Blair in secret overture to Damascus
By Roula Khalaf and James Blitz, Financial Times, November 1, 2006

Tony Blair, Britain's prime minister, has launched a secret diplomatic move to prise Syria away from its support for radical Middle East groups and policies.

In an initiative that departs from the US policy of isolating Syria, Mr Blair this week sent Sir Nigel Sheinwald, his most senior foreign policy adviser, to Damascus where he met Bashar al-Assad, the president, and other senior figures in the regime.

Downing Street and the Syrian government confirmed on Tuesday night that Sir Nigel, one of Mr Blair's closest aides, met Mr Assad on Monday.

The UK and Syria have maintained diplomatic relations but Sir Nigel's visit is the most high-level encounter between the UK government and the Assad regime since the Iraq war in 2003. The mission precedes a visit to the region that Mr Blair hopes to make before the year's end. [complete article]
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NATO takes the fight to Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, November 2, 2006

The air attack on Monday in which up to 80 suspected militants were killed at a religious school in the Pakistani tribal area of Bajour marks the first successful operation after a tripartite meeting in Kabul on August 24 of representatives of Afghanistan, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and Pakistan. And it won't be the last.

It was agreed at that meeting that NATO forces operating in Afghanistan would be allowed to conduct hot-pursuit operations across the border into Pakistan.

Although Pakistani officials claim that Monday's operation was conducted by the Pakistani military, Asia Times Online contacts in the area are convinced that foreign forces were also involved, including US unmanned Hellfire Predator aircraft. NATO and the US have only acknowledged that they provided intelligence on the possible presence of Taliban and al-Qaeda figures at the madrassa that was attacked, which was known to be pro-Taliban.

After Monday's operation, intelligence sources say that Pakistan will further facilitate NATO in the strategic back yard of Pakistan in an attempt to bolster the struggling NATO forces in Afghanistan in their battle with the Taliban. [complete article]

Pakistan's leader defends airstrike on school
By Salman Masood, New York Times, November 1, 2006

Faced with protests across the country, President Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday defended a military strike that killed 80 people at a religious school, and insisted that the dead were militants undergoing terrorist training.

General Musharraf's claim came amid protests across the political spectrum, but especially by an alliance of Islamic parties and thousands of people in the semi-autonomous tribal areas straddling the Afghan border where the strike took place. [complete article]

Pakistani promises attacks
AP, November 1, 2006

A local pro-Taliban elder on Tuesday told thousands of tribesmen protesting an air raid on a religious school that he had prepared a squad of suicide bombers to target Pakistani security forces.

Inayatur Rahman addressed the angry crowd as a security official said Al Qaeda's No. 2 official, Ayman Zawahiri, and the purported London airline bomb mastermind had both visited the religious school several times, though they weren't there when Monday's raid killed 80 people. [complete article]

Defence Secretary under fire over Taleban comeback
By Anthony Loyd and Anthony Browne, The Times, November 1, 2006

The aftermath of the British withdrawal from the town of Musa Qala in northern Helmand province marked a clear political as well as military victory for the Taleban, according to well-placed Afghan officials.

The return of the Taleban, reported in The Times on Monday, prompted a clash in the House of Commons in which Conservative MPs accused Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, of failing to appreciate the gravity of the problem.

In Afghanistan officials said that the return of the Taleban to a town secured and then left by British troops was beyond dispute. "This is the first time in history that the Taleban were recognised as a political movement," said Haji Dad Mohammed Khan, the former intelligence chief of Helmand, and now an MP in Kabul. [complete article]
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Egypt to amend rules on Mubarak successor
By William Wallis, Financial Times, October 31, 2006

As part of a raft of constitutional changes, Egypt's parliament will amend the rules governing who will succeed President Hosni Mubarak to make it easier for opposition parties to run candidates, said Fathi Sorour, the parliament’s speaker.

Without an amendment to article 76 of Egypt’s constitution, the ruling National Democratic party would be able to choose the future president unchallenged.

Weakened by years of authoritarian rule and electoral fraud, in last year's parliamentary elections none of the officially sanctioned liberal and leftist opposition parties won the 5 per cent of seats needed to contest the presidency. [complete article]
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Qazi calls for protests today against attack: U.S. blamed for bombing seminary
Dawn, October 30, 2006

The Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal (MMA) president and Jamaat-i-Islami Amir Qazi Hussain Ahmed has condemned what he called the US bombing of a seminary in Bajaur Agency in which 80 religious students and their head teacher were killed and announced a country-wide protest day on Tuesday.

Speaking at a news conference at his residence here Qazi Hussain asked people to rise up by coming out on the streets against "a coward regime led by a few generals" and start a forceful campaign to oust them from power. [complete article]

Rally condemns Pakistan air raid
BBC News, October 31, 2006

The attack came as the Pakistani government was due to sign a peace deal with pro-Taleban militants in the Bajaur area, which correspondents say now appears to have failed.

A militant commander in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal area, and a signatory to a similar deal agreed in 2004, said he would send men and equipment to the Bajaur militants if a tribal conflict developed with the Pakistani army.

Haji Mohammad Omar told the BBC the deal still stood, but that if the Pakistani army "brutalised" the people, as he said it had in Bajaur, there would be war. [complete article]

Comment -- The Pakistani government is just about to sign a peace deal with pro-Taliban militants and then launches a missile attack on a madrassa -- somehow these two events don't seem to jive. All the more reason to wonder who actually initiated the attack and whether the missiles were aimed at a terrorist camp or a peace of paper?
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Islam, terror and the second nuclear age
By Noah Feldman, New York Times, October 29, 2006

Any choice [in responding to Iran's nuclear aspirations] must be made against the backdrop of the reality that the Islamic government of Iran is not only unlikely to collapse soon -- it is also very unlikely to become less anti-American in the near future.

The same, unfortunately, is true of the world's Islamist movements, for whom anti-Americanism remains a rallying cry and a principle of belief. Perhaps the promotion of democracy in the region, pursued consistently by the United States over the long term, might someday allow the rise of leaders whose Islamism is tempered by the need to satisfy their constituents’ domestic needs -- and who eschew anti-Americanism as wasteful and misguided. Iraq was the test case of whether this change could occur in the short term. But we failed to make the experiment work and gave Iraq's Islamist politicians, Shiite and Sunni alike, ample grounds to continue the anti-American rhetoric that comes so easily to them. In the wake of our tragic mismanagement of Iraq, we are certainly a generation or more from any such unlinking of Islamism and anti-Americanism, if it is to occur at all. And Islamism itself shows no signs of being on the wane as a social or political force.

That means that the best we can hope for in nuclear Islamic states in the near term is a rational dictator like Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, who sees his bread buttered on the side of an alliance with the West. Such rulers can be very strong and can bring stability, but we also know that their rule (or reign) promotes Islamist opposition, with its often violent overtones. When such rulers die or otherwise fall from power, the Islamists will be poised to use the international power conferred by nuclear weapons to pursue their own ends -- ends for now overwhelmingly likely to be anti-American.

None of this is inherent in the structure of Islam itself. Islam contains a rich and multivocal set of traditions and ideas, susceptible to being used for good or ill, for restraint or destruction. This interpretive flexibility -- equally characteristic of the other great world religions -- does not rob Islam of its distinctiveness. An Islamic bomb would not be just the same as the nationalist bomb of a majority-Muslim state, nor would it be the same as a Christian bomb or a Jewish one. But its role in history will depend, ultimately, on the meaning Muslims give it, and the uses to which they put their faith and their capabilities. In confronting the possibility of the Islamic bomb, we -- Muslims and non-Muslims alike -- need to remember that Islam exists both as an ideal system of morals and values and as a force that motivates actual people living today, with all the frailties and imperfections that make us human. [complete article]

Comment -- Noah Feldman's reflections on an "Islamic bomb" are worth reading all the way through, yet they seriously lack the counterbalance of a broader consideration of the cultural underpinnings of Western militarism.

For instance, while a suicide bomber's willingness to die is what makes him so dangerous, the willingness to die has always been a requirement for military service. Willingness is not the same as intention, but they are not separated by some kind of ontological chasm.

Moreover, while it is clearly disturbing that some Islamic scholars are able to construct lines of reasoning for justifying the mass killing of innocent civilians, what should be equally if not more disturbing is the idea that a country can rally behind a war for no more compelling reason than that the president and vice-president gravely assure that country's uninformed populace that the war is "necessary" and that on the flimsiest of evidence, a distant and weak nation constitutes a "real and present danger." Which is more dangerous: a population that can be steered by a dubious line of reasoning, or a population that demonstrates little interest in any kind of reasoning?

Patriotism girded by blind faith is a mechanism through which individuals give their souls away to the state and then in the name of some righteous cause -- be it religious or secular -- make themselves instruments of powers about whose nature they are almost always mistaken.

Lastly, nothing sounds more dubious than Feldman's claim that "the best we can hope for in nuclear Islamic states in the near term is a rational dictator like Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, who sees his bread buttered on the side of an alliance with the West." Musharraf's foreign source of strength is likely to become the very thing that brings him down. How can governance ever actually be stable if the source of its power is despised by those who are governed? While Musharraf's days seem numbered, America is appallingly positioned to respond to the consequences of his departure.

Feldman is probably right in suggesting that "we are certainly a generation or more from any such unlinking of Islamism and anti-Americanism," yet an essential step in that process has to be the recognition that at least for the past five years America itself has been the unparalleled driving force behind anti-Americanism.
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Another deadly blow for Pakistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, October 30, 2006

Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf wanted to draw a line in the sand in his struggle for the spiritual soul of the country by early next month, ramming through parliament a controversial bill regarding women's rights that is seen as a move to purge Islamic laws from the constitution.

Instead, helicopter gunships raining death on a village in the remote Bajour agency tribal area on Monday morning significantly escalated Musharraf's battle with militant Islamic forces fiercely opposed to any softening of the state's Islamic legislation.

A pre-dawn attack on a madrassa (Islamic seminary) in a village in the Bajour tribal district in North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) claimed the lives of scores of people.

Pakistani authorities claimed immediately that the raid was carried out by Pakistani forces. However, Asia Times Online contacts on the spot are convinced that the raid was undertaken by North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces. Recently, Islamabad agreed with NATO that it could conduct operations in Pakistan from across the border in Afghanistan. [complete article]

See also, Pakistan braces for a backlash after "Taliban" raid (Time) and Zawahiri was target in U.S. attack on religious school in Pakistan

Comment -- The claim is that Zawahiri is now cornered, yet with each of these attacks it is Musharraf himself who seems to be getting squeezed into a tighter corner. Unlike al-Qaeda's leadership he cannot both maintain his power and keep his whereabouts unknown.
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Rice's counselor gives advice others may not want to hear
By Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, New York Times, October 29, 2006

[Philip D.] Zelikow is hardly a household name, even at the State Department, where his title is counselor to the secretary of state. He has few staffers, no line authority, and occupies an office at the very end of the hall on the seventh floor, where Ms. Rice and other top officials also have their offices. He is a sometimes-geeky intellectual known for fingernails that are bitten down to nubs.

But questions about his role were sharpened last month after Mr. Zelikow gave a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy in which he offered what many believed was an oblique criticism of the decision by Mr. Bush and Ms. Rice not to push Israel to return to the negotiating table with the Palestinians. He also said progress in that conflict was essential to forming a consensus among the United States, moderate Arabs and Europeans on Iran.

The address may have been an example of what Mr. Zelikow, in two speeches last year, called "practical idealism." But it did not go over well. The State Department quickly distanced itself from the speech, issuing a statement denying any linkage, and Israeli officials, flustered by Mr. Zelikow's remarks, said Ms. Rice later assured the Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, that the United States saw the Iranian and Palestinian issues as two separate matters. [complete article]

Comment -- It's worth reading Zelikow's recent speech to understand the lengths to which the Israel lobby is willing to go in order to suppress public discourse on the Palestinian issue. This is what he said on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:
The significance of the Arab-Israeli dispute across these problems [in the Middle East] is, I think, obvious to all of you. What I would want to emphasize is if you see the threats in a way something like the way I've just described them, think then about what is the coalition you need to amass in order to combat those threats [and in particular, the threat from Iran]. Who are the key members of that coalition? You can imagine the United States, key European allies, the state of Israel and the Arab moderates -- Arabs who seek a peaceful future. You could call it the coalition of the builders, not just a coalition of the willing. The coalition of the builders as opposed to the coalition of the destroyers.

What would bind that coalition and help keep them together is a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed, that they see a common determination to sustain an active policy that tries to deal with the problems of Israel and the Palestinians. We don't want this issue to have the real corrosive effects that it has, or the symbolic corrosive effects that it causes, undermining some of the friends we need to confront the serious dangers we must face together.
Now unless you subscribe to the view that the resolution of the conflict would be of little consequence across the region, Zelikow's remarks are not merely pedestrian; they almost trivialize the significance of the conflict. He's essentially saying, toss our allies the reassurance that we haven't utterly disengaged from the so-called peace process and then we'll have a better chance of getting them to join us in dealing with the really important issue: confronting Iran. For the neo-McCarthyists, this is simply too much! They, it would seem, would rather see the word "Palestinian" purged from public discourse. Why? Because it ties to the insidious notion that Israeli policies actually play a destabilizing role in the Middle East.
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Let's hear it for the Haiders
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, October 30, 2006

The prevalent comparison between Avigdor Lieberman and Joerg Haider does an injustice to the Austrian nationalist whose party joined the government in the winter of 2000. Haider is far from being a righteous man, but even in his most fascist days, he never called on Austria to rid itself of citizens who'd been living in the country for generations. Also, Haider never suggested standing up legislators representing these citizens in front of a firing squad. Natan Meron, at the time Israel's ambassador to Austria, noted that once the leader of the Freedom Party joined politics, he never uttered a single anti-Semitic statement. Meron emphasized that the leader of the Freedom Party "does not threaten the Jews."
The silence of the leadership of mainstream Jewry in the world, in view of the legitimization of a person such as Lieberman, undermines the moral high ground they hold in the struggle against Israel-haters throughout the world. If a Jewish politician who aspires to transfer an Arab minority across the border can sit in an Israeli cabinet, why should an anti-Semite not sit in an Austrian government? Let's hear it for the Haiders. [complete article]

See also, Lieberman sworn in as minister after winning Knesset approval (Haaretz).
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Just how weak is Hamas after months of pressure?
By Jarrett Blanc, Daily Star, October 30, 2006

Negotiations for a unity government between Fatah and Hamas are the fruit of international pressure, which has forced Hamas to consider sacrificing some of its formal authority within the Palestinian Authority (PA) despite the fact that the Islamic movement and its allies hold 77 out of 132 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

How the international community should react to Hamas-Fatah coalition negotiations depends in part on whether international pressure has also reduced Hamas' more informal sources of authority. If Hamas retains meaningful authority outside of PA institutions, forcing it from government would simply make the PA ineffective in serving the needs of either Palestinians or Israelis. Measuring Hamas' power relative to that of Fatah requires a look at its three bases: social services, military force, and popular support.

Palestinian and foreign observers ascribed Hamas' victory in 2005 local elections and 2006 legislative elections to its network of efficient and honest social service providers. These social service networks are more than just a basis of Hamas' popularity; they are also an indication of its organizational strength. While it is difficult to measure Hamas' social services precisely - it does not publish disclosure forms or annual reports - United Nations officials report that it remains as active as it was prior to the election. The stifling financial sanctions that have all but eliminated the PA's ability to provide government services have not, apparently, diminished Hamas' capacity to provide services on a smaller scale. [complete article]
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Did Israel use uranium weapons?
By Robert Fisk, Counterpunch, October 30, 2006

Did Israel use a secret new uranium-based weapon in southern Lebanon this summer in the 34-day assault that cost more than 1,300 Lebanese lives, most of them civilians?

We know that the Israelis used American "bunker-buster" bombs on Hizbollah's Beirut headquarters. We know that they drenched southern Lebanon with cluster bombs in the last 72 hours of the war, leaving tens of thousands of bomblets which are still killing Lebanese civilians every week. And we now know--after it first categorically denied using such munitions--that the Israeli army also used phosphorous bombs, weapons which are supposed to be restricted under the third protocol of the Geneva Conventions, which neither Israel nor the United States have signed.

But scientific evidence gathered from at least two bomb craters in Khiam and At-Tiri, the scene of fierce fighting between Hizbollah guerrillas and Israeli troops last July and August, suggests that uranium-based munitions may now also be included in Israel's weapons inventory--and were used against targets in Lebanon. According to Dr Chris Busby, the British Scientific Secretary of the European Committee on Radiation Risk, two soil samples thrown up by Israeli heavy or guided bombs showed "elevated radiation signatures". Both have been forwarded for further examination to the Harwell laboratory in Oxfordshire for mass spectrometry--used by the Ministry of Defence--which has confirmed the concentration of uranium isotopes in the samples. [complete article]

See also, UN investigates Israel's 'uranium weapons' (The Independent) and An enigma that only the Israelis can fully explain ( Chris Bellamy).
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Golan Heights land, lifestyle lure settlers
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, October 30, 2006

On the edge of this growing Jewish settlement, which bills itself as "the city of water and wine," Moti Bar is building a stylish microbrewery and restaurant in a glass and stone shopping mall that opened a few months ago. His venture, all the way down to the imported copper brew tanks, is a bet that Israel will remain in the Golan Heights for years to come.

The high-end beer and view of the Sea of Galilee are designed to appeal to Israeli yuppies, who are being encouraged more aggressively than ever to move to this rugged plateau seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. Dozens of newly graded home sites stretch westward, and a large industrial park called Golantech is emerging a few miles from Bar's pub.

"We're living our life as if we'll be here forever," said Bar, 42, who commutes from the nearby community of Kanaf. "And I don't think there is any reason why we should leave."

Israel's summer war with Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia that acts as Syria's military proxy, has revived the decades-old contest over the Golan Heights. This latest phase is also being shaped by demographic changes epitomized by this expanding settlement. [complete article]
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U.S. is said to fail in tracking arms shipped to Iraqis
By James Glanz, New York Times, October 30, 2006

The American military has not properly tracked hundreds of thousands of weapons intended for Iraqi security forces and has failed to provide spare parts, maintenance personnel or even repair manuals for most of the weapons given to the Iraqis, a federal report released Sunday has concluded.

The report was undertaken at the request of Senator John W. Warner, the Virginia Republican who is the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and who recently expressed an assessment far darker than the Bush administration's on the situation in Iraq.

Mr. Warner sent his request in May to a federal oversight agency, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. He also asked the inspector general to examine whether Iraqi security forces were developing a logistics operation capable of sustaining the hundreds of thousands of troops and police officers the American military says it has trained. [complete article]
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Twofold operation seals Sadr City
By John Ward Anderson and Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, October 30, 2006

American military police backed by Iraqi troops maintained their cordon of Baghdad's Sadr City on Sunday, manning barricades and checkpoints in and around the Shiite slum in an operation to find a kidnapped U.S. soldier and to capture the man considered Iraq's most notorious death squad leader.

The soldier, an Iraqi American translator whose name has not been released, has been missing for six days. He was abducted by armed men while making an unauthorized visit to see relatives in the Karrada neighborhood of central Baghdad last Monday.

U.S. forces have effectively sealed off Sadr City and its 2.5 million residents from the rest of Baghdad, and within Sadr City, they have isolated the neighborhood around the home of alleged death squad leader Abu Deraa, according to an Iraqi Interior Ministry official who would not be named because he was not authorized to release the information. [complete article]
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This is Baghdad. What could be worse?
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, October 29, 2006

It had been almost a year since I was in the Iraqi capital, where I worked as a reporter in the days of Saddam Hussein, the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, and the occupation, guerrilla war and religious resurgence that followed. On my return, it was difficult to grasp how atomized and violent the 1,250-year-old city has become. Even on the worst days, I had always found Baghdad's most redeeming quality to be its resilience, a tenacious refusal among people I met over three years to surrender to the chaos unleashed when the Americans arrived. That resilience is gone, overwhelmed by civil war, anarchy or whatever term could possibly fit. Baghdad now is convulsed by hatred, paralyzed by suspicion; fear has forced many to leave. Carnage its rhythm and despair its mantra, the capital, it seems, no longer embraces life. [complete article]

Tea and kidnapping - behind the lines of a civil war
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, October 29, 2006

Husham is standing on a street corner in his Sunni Baghdad neighbourhood when his mobile phone rings. "Yes brother ... Two strangers ... Investigate and take measures," he mumbles.

He is wearing a striped T-shirt and sandals, and carries a pistol in his right hand. Around him there are a half dozen fellow vigilantes carrying Kalashnikovs or wearing pistols tucked into their belts, eating their Itfar meals (to break the Ramadan fast) or sipping sweet tea.

Suddenly, a white car carrying two men appears at the end of the street. Husham's men clutch their weapons but the car passes uneventfully.

A few minutes later, the headlights come into view again. The car has turned and is driving back towards the highway. This time, another car appears from a side street almost hitting the first a few metres from Husham.

As the vigilantes look on, a man approaches and points a pistol at the driver. He and two other men drag the "strangers" from their car and take them to the other vehicle, then speed away.

A few curious residents have gathered to watch but this is a familiar scene on the streets of Baghdad, where strangers are regularly snatched from their cars if they pass through the "wrong" area carrying the "wrong" ID cards. "Its OK, its OK. We will just check their IDs and take the measures," says one of the men, by way of reassurance. But three hours later the strangers have not returned. Few locals would bet on their survival. [complete article]

Partition is not the solution
By Rend al-Rahim, Washington Post, October 29, 2006

Desperate to find solutions to the violence in Iraq and thus an exit strategy for the United States, an increasing number of lawmakers in Congress are considering Iraq's partition into Kurdish, Sunni and Shiite regions under the umbrella of a loose confederation. But partition is neither desirable nor feasible.

Neat partition lines are impossible because few regions in Iraq are ethnically or confessionally homogeneous. The governorates of Diyala, Mosul, Salahuddin, Hilla, Kirkuk and Basra are intermixed or have large minorities scattered throughout each province. In Baghdad, with probably a quarter of Iraq's population, the ethnic and sectarian groups are inextricably interwoven.

A plan to partition Iraq would plunge the country into total civil war far more widespread and bloody than the sectarian and factional violence we are witnessing now. The partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 resulted in 2 million dead and 11 million displaced. The death toll and refugee numbers from collective murder, reprisal killings and ethnic cleansing in Iraq would be comparable, dwarfing the casualties in Iraq today. [complete article]

Why Iraq's leader balks at U.S. demands
Juan Cole interviewed by Tony Karon,, October 27, 2006

The U.S. tried to deflect criticism of the Iraq war this week by announcing a series of timelines and performance benchmarks for Iraq's government to disband sectarian militias and other goals aimed at preventing a civil war — all the while making it clear that U.S. patience has limits. But no sooner had the U.S. made this declaration than Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki virtually dismissed it. Not only did he reject the notion of timelines, but he scolded the U.S. for attacking commanders of the Shi'ite Mahdi Army in Baghdad. asked Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, one of America's foremost experts on Shi'ite politics and culture in Iran and beyond, to explain why Maliki and the U.S. can't seem to stay on the same page. [complete article]
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Taliban plan to fight through winter to throttle Kabul
By Jason Burke, The Observer, October 29, 2006

The Taliban are planning a major winter offensive combining their diverse factions in a push on the Afghan capital, Kabul, intelligence analysts and sources among the militia have revealed.

The thrust will involve a concerted attempt to take control of surrounding provinces, a bid to cut the key commercial highway linking the capital with the eastern city of Jalalabad, and operations designed to tie down British and other Nato troops in the south.

Last week Nato, with a force of 40,000 in the country including around 5,000 from Britain, said it had killed 48 more Taliban in areas thought to have been 'cleared'. 'They have major attacks planned all the way through to the spring and are quite happy for their enemy to know it,' a Pakistan-based source close to the militia told The Observer. 'There will be no winter pause.' The Taliban's fugitive leader, Mullah Omar, yesterday rejected overtures for peace talks from President Hamid Karzai and said it intended to try him in an Islamic court for the 'massacre' of Afghan civilians.

Since their resurgence earlier this year the Taliban have made steady progress towards Kabul from their heartland in the south-east around Kandahar, establishing a presence in Ghazni province an hour's drive from the suburbs. They do not expect to capture the capital but aim to continue destabilising the increasingly fragile Karzai government and influence Western public opinion to force a withdrawal of troops. 'The aim is clear,' said the source. 'Force the international representatives of the crusader Zionist alliance out, and finish with their puppet government.' [complete article]

See also, Afghanistan war is 'cuckoo', says Blair's favourite general (The Observer) and Taliban chief rejects offer of peace talks (Reuters).
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The horrors of "extraordinary rendition"
By Maher Arar, FPIF, October 18, 2006

The cell was about three feet wide, six feet deep and about seven feet high. It was dark. There was no source of light in it. It was filthy. There were only two thin covers on the floor. I was naïve; I thought they would keep me in this place for one, two, maybe three days to put pressure on me. But this same place, the same cell that I later called the grave was my home 10 months and 10 days. The only light that came into the cell was from the ceiling, from the opening in the ceiling. There was a small spotlight and that's it.

Life in the cell was impossible. At the beginning--even though it was a filthy place, it was like a grave--I preferred to stay in that cell rather than being beaten. Whenever I heard the guards coming to open my door I would just think, you know, this is it for me that would be my last day.

The beating started the following day. Without no warning...(long pause as he fights tears) without no warning the interrogator came in with a cable. He asked me to open my right hand. I did open it. And he hit me strongly on my palm. It was so painful to the point that I forgot every moment I enjoyed in my life.

This moment is still vivid in my mind because it was the first I was ever beaten in my life. Then he asked me to open my left hand. He hit me again. And that one missed and hit my wrist. The pain from that hit lasted approximately six months. And then he would ask me questions. And I would have to answer very quickly. And then he would repeat the beating this time anywhere on my, on my body. Sometimes he would take me to a room where I could, where I was alone, I could hear other prisoners being tortured, severely tortured. I remember that I used to hear their screams. I just couldn't believe it, that human beings would do this to other human beings. [complete article]

"The president knows more than he lets on"
Ron Suskind interviewed by Der Spiegel, October 27, 2006

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Suskind, the Red Cross recently visited all of the prisoners at Guantanamo who had been transferred from secret CIA prisons, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi Binalshibh. Do we know more about these CIA prisons, or "Black Sites" as a result of this visit?

Suskind: We know that almost everything from the tool kit was tried: extraordinary techniques that included hot and cold water-boarding and threats of various kinds. We tried virtually everything with Binalshibh. But he was resistant, and my understanding of that interrogation is that we got very, very little from it. At one point, there was some thinking that we should put out misinformation that Binalshihb had been cooperative, he had received money and he was living in luxury. So that would mean that his friends and family, who obviously are known to al-Qaida, might face retribuition, and we ended up not doing that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: And what happened to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed?

Suskind: He was really the prize. He is the 9/11 operational planner, a kind of general in the al-Qaida firmament. He was water-boarded, hot and cold, all matter of deprivations, beatings, threats. He told us some things, but frankly things that professional interrogators say could have been gotten otherwise. [complete article]

Soldiers 'hit Iraqis if they forgot nicknames'
By Michael Evans, The Times, October 28, 2006

Mr Mutairi also described how petrol was rubbed under his nose and water was poured over his head. He was then told in English, as an ignited lighter was held close to his head: "I'm going to burn you." [complete article]

Comment -- When Vice-President Cheney recently indicated that he would approve giving terrorist suspects "a dunk in the water," he claims he was not asked about nor was referring to the notorious torture technique of water-boarding. But if the vice-president approves dunking, it's hard to see why he'd have a problem with water being poured over a prisoner's head - especially if the prisoner was sitting upright. Even if the blindfolded prisoner catches a whiff of gasoline and fears he might be set ablaze, there's no risk of physical injury, so it must be OK, Mr. Cheney, mustn't it?

What Cheney apparently wants everyone to imagine -- even though he and the White House have studiously avoided amplifying on the water-dunking treatment -- is a scenario in which the exhausted prisoner is being "freshened up", just to jog his memory, but somehow it's hard to believe that this is what Cheney had in mind when he embraced the "dark side." Who can be in any doubt that prisoners, even if left without a scratch, are intended to fear for their lives?

What Cheney and Bush really did after 9/11 was to strike a Faustian bargain with the American public: we will approve the use of methods that can never be politically sanctioned so long as there is no public pressure to reveal what those methods are. So far, the polls are holding up and there seems little indication of an imminent widespread public outcry.
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Taking terror fight to N. Africa leads U.S. to unlikely alliances
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, October 28, 2006

Locked in a prison here, for now, is a desert bandit dubbed the "Bin Laden of the Sahara," whose capture was secretly orchestrated by U.S. forces after a long chase across some of the most forbidding terrain on Earth.

Amari Saifi, 37, a former Algerian army paratrooper, was caught in 2004 after he and a band of rebel fighters kidnapped 32 European tourists in the Algerian Sahara and ransomed them for about $6 million.

Since then, the U.S. government has cited his case as a model for terrorist-hunting operations and a justification for expanding U.S. military, diplomatic and intelligence programs in North Africa.

A close examination of how Saifi was apprehended, however, highlights the quandaries facing the United States as it extends its fight against Islamic terrorism to remote parts of the globe. In its search for allies in an unstable region, the U.S. government reached out to Libya -- then still officially designated a state sponsor of terrorism -- and to other countries it has condemned for abusing human rights. [complete article]
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Tipping point for war's supporters?
By Thomas E. Ricks and Peter Baker, Washington Post, October 29, 2006

As the fighting in Iraq swerved toward civil war in February, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John W. Warner (R-Va.) expressed "a high degree of confidence" that a new government would take charge and that by the end of the year the conflict "won't be the same."

As October opened, Warner returned from Iraq with a far grimmer assessment. "The situation," he said, "is simply drifting sidewise." His judgment gave voice to Republican doubt that had been suppressed in a campaign season. Lawmakers who had vowed to "stay the course" called for change. One GOP senator declared Iraq "on the verge of chaos." By last week, President Bush was saying he too is "not satisfied" and is looking for a fresh approach.

October 2006 may be remembered as the month that the U.S. experience in Iraq hit a tipping point, when the violence flared and shook both the military command in Iraq and the political establishment back in Washington. [complete article]
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A heavy toll for Arabs and Americans alike
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, October 28, 2006

One of the depressing aspects of reading, viewing and listening to the mass media in the United States on an extended trip, as I am doing these days, is to suffer the very superficial and often ideologically skewed coverage of important movements such as Hizbullah and Hamas. For various reasons, directly or indirectly related to American government support for Israel over Arab parties, such groups usually are referred to simply as terrorist groups.

It is possible - and desirable - that such accusations of terrorism be determined in a fair court of law one day, because any group or government that engages in terrorism needs to be held accountable for its actions. Yet such a process would only have validity and credibility if it also held accountable other groups or governments - including Israel, the United States, and some Arab regimes - for the accusations of war crimes and other atrocities that have been made against them in turn. This is unlikely to happen any time soon, because of the laws of imperial power and transnational hypocrisy that define our world, where the powerful write their own rules.

So, here in the United States one hears of Hizbullah and Hamas described in the public realm almost always only as terrorist groups. The problem with this one-dimensional focus on the anti-Israeli resistance and military aspects of these groups is that it ignores everything else they represent. The recent war between Hizbullah and Israel, in part a proxy battle between the United States and Iran, revealed that Hizbullah taps into sentiments and political forces across the Middle East that are very much wider and deeper than only its successful quest to drive Israel out of Lebanon. [complete article]
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It's not racism, it's just patriotism
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, October 29, 2006

This is the equation of identity that the extreme right has succeeded in planting: Your loyalty to the homeland is measured by how anti-Arab you are.

This is the heart of the trap in which the left is caught. Because it turns out that in order to expel fascism, the left-wing parties must be portrayed as protectors of the Arabs in Israel, to tell the public that they are opposed to the expulsion of Arabs, that racism is prohibited in the Jewish state. [complete article]

Comment -- Who can imagine a single op-ed page editor in the whole of the United States who would dare approve the publication of a column claiming that fascism has already taken root inside Israel? The Israel lobby must be heartened that at least within these shores their neo-McCarthyist campaign has straight-jacketed the media with utmost efficiency.
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A Palestinian question: Where has America gone?
By Jamil Hamad,, October 26, 2006

King Solomon, legend has it, died while leaning on his cane — but nobody noticed until a thousand years later, when termites finally ate their way through the cane and the dead monarch crumpled to the floor. Like Solomon, the Bush Administration's Middle East peace policy is dead, but nobody has noticed except the Palestinians.

America has abandoned the role of honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians, leaving Israel with no restraints on its actions, and the Palestinians with no faith that diplomacy can change their situation. The resulting collapse of any kind of peace process will benefit neither Israel nor the Palestinians. If things are allowed to remain as they are now, the hostility between the two peoples will soon pass a point of no return, leaving them ensnared in a grim story of blood and bitterness for the foreseeable future. [complete article]
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It's Meshal's show
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, October 29, 2006

On the face of it, there are three issues preventing the completion of negotiations between Meshal and Egypt, once the matter of the numbers of prisoners appears to have been solved. The first is the identity of the prisoners who are likely to be released; the second is the timing of the release; and the third is the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government that will operate in line with the Quartet's preconditions.

Meshal is demanding that the prisoners released include members of Hamas, while Prime Minister Olmert is adamant they not be included. The exiled Hamas leader would also like to see Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti and members of the Palestinian Legislative Council released, thus scoring points in the Fatah camp. [complete article]

See also, Hope grows of Mideast prisoner swap deal (AFP) and Abbas warns he'll oust Hamas regime (AP).
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Africa over a barrel
By Abdoulaye Wade, Washington Post, October 28, 2006

Although gasoline prices have dropped recently in the United States, many Americans continue to worry about the toll of oil dependence at the gas pump and on the U.S. economy. As an African, I feel their pain -- and then some. While the price of a barrel of crude has recently dipped below $60, oil still costs twice as much as it did three years ago -- and experts fully expect the price to climb higher.

President Bush, a one-time oilman, has warned Americans about the danger of a country's being "addicted to oil." Yet the toll of oil dependence in the United States pales beside the pain that soaring oil prices cause in Africa.

In sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, the oil crisis is not a vexing "cost crunch"; it is an unfolding catastrophe that could set back efforts to reduce poverty and promote economic development for years. [complete article]
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A country ruled by faith
By Gary Wills, New York Review of Books, November 16, 2006

The right wing in America likes to think that the United States government was, at its inception, highly religious, specifically highly Christian, and even more specifically highly biblical. That was not true of that government or any later government -- until 2000, when the fiction of the past became the reality of the present. George W. Bush was not only born-again, like Jimmy Carter. His religious conversion came late, and took place in the political setting of Billy Graham's ministry to the powerful. He was converted during a stroll with Graham on his father's Kennebunkport compound. It is true that Dwight Eisenhower was guided to baptism by Graham. But Eisenhower was a famous and formed man, the principal military figure of World War II, the leader of NATO, the president of Columbia University -- his change in religious orientation was just an addition to many prior achievements. Bush's conversion at a comparatively young stage in his life was a wrenching away from mainly wasted years. He joined a Bible study culture in Texas that was unlike anything Eisenhower bought into.

Bush was a saved alcoholic -- and here, too, he had no predecessor in the White House. Ulysses Grant conquered the bottle, but not with the help of Jesus. Other presidents were evangelicals. Three of them belonged to the Disciples of Christ -- James Garfield, Lyndon Johnson, and Ronald Reagan. But none of the three -- nor any of the other forty-two presidents preceding Bush (including his father) -- would have answered a campaign debate question as he did. Asked who was his favorite philosopher, he said "Jesus Christ." And why? "Because he changed my heart." Over and over, when he said anything good about someone else—including Vladimir Putin—he said it was because "he has a good heart," which is evangelical-speak (as in "condoms cannot change your heart"). Bush talks evangelical talk as no other president has, including Jimmy Carter, who also talked the language of the secular Enlightenment culture that evangelists despise. Bush told various evangelical groups that he felt God had called him to run for president in 2000: "I know it won't be easy on me or my family, but God wants me to do it." [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

By James Kitfield, National Journal, October 20, 2006

Into the abyss of Baghdad
By Patrick J. McDonnell, Los Angeles Times, October 23, 2006

In Syria, Iraq's fate silences rights activists
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, October 26, 2006

Defiant Iran
By Christopher de Bellaigue, New York Review of Books, October 5, 2006

Israeli Arab's rising voice of opposition
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, October 26, 2006

Hamas's path to reinvention
By Khaled Hroub, Open Democracy, October 10, 2006

Lieberman out of the shadows: Israel's Minister of Strategic Threats
By Jonathan Cook, Electronic Intifada, October 25, 2006

Coveting the Holocaust
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig, October 23, 2006

Veiling the issues: a distractive debate
By Tina Beattie, Open Democracy, October 24, 2006

War on West shifts back to Afghanistan
By Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, October 25, 2006
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