The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Olmert's drums of war
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, November 17, 2006

In his address to the General Assembly of the Jewish Communities of North America in Los Angeles earlier this week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made it clear that Israel and Iran were headed down a road of confrontation. It is hard to interpret his message any differently: "We have reached the pivotal moment of truth regarding Iran... Our integrity will remain intact only if we prevent Iran's devious goals, not if we try our best but fail." [complete article]
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Bush's Iraq-Iran-Israel dilemma
By Tony Karon,, November 16, 2006

Two visits to the White House earlier this week highlighted the key dilemma facing President Bush as he contemplates changes to his Iraq policy: One guest was former Secretary of State James Baker and the rest of the Iraq Study Group, which together with much of the "realist" establishment in U.S. foreign policy is urging the Administration to recognize that a dialogue with Iran (and Syria) is an essential component of any successful strategy to stabilize Iraq. Bush's other visitor was Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose main purpose at the White House appeared to be pressing the President to follow his own instincts and those of the hawks in his Administration by maintaining a tough line against Iran because of its nuclear program. [complete article]

See also, The summit of the bunglers (Yoel Marcus).
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Anatomy of a civil war
By Nir Rosen, Boston Review, November/December, 2006

When Baghdad fell, on April 9, 2003, and widespread violence erupted, the primary victims were Iraq's Sunnis. For Shias, this was justice. "It is the beginning of the separation," one Shia cleric told me with a smile in the spring of 2003. Saddam had used Sunni Islam to legitimize his power, building one large Sunni mosque in each Shia city in the south; these mosques were seized by Shias immediately after the regime collapsed. During the 1990s Saddam also used the donations that Shia pilgrims make to the shrines they visit -- totaling millions of dollars a month -- to finance his Faith Campaign, which spread Sunni practices in Iraq and even declared official tolerance of Wahhabis for the first time, perhaps because of their deep hatred of Shias. Wahhabism is an austere form of Sunni Islam, dominant in Saudi Arabia, that rejects all other interpretations and views Shias as apostates. Wahhabis had traveled up from Arabia in centuries past and sacked Shia shrines. Now Shias were terrified of a Wahhabi threat. They feared that Wahhabis would poison the food distributed to pilgrims. According to a cleric in Najaf, Sheikh Heidar al Mimar, "There were no Sunnis in Najaf before the 1991 intifada, but Saddam brought Wahhabis to the Shia provinces in order to control the Shia. These Wahhabis were very bad with us, and all Shia were afraid of them." Again and again I heard Iraq's Shias refer to all Sunnis as Wahhabis.

The Shia wave that swept Iraq in the wake of the American attack overthrew the Sunni-led order imposed on Iraq for centuries—by the Ottomans and by the British. The uprising was guided largely by Shia leaders who under Saddam had been pushed underground or into exile and whose sectarian identity had been strengthened as a result. On April 7 Ayatollah Sayyid Kadhim al Haeri, a cleric from Karbala who had been in exile in Iran since 1973, sent a letter to Najaf appointing Muqtada as his deputy and representative in Iraq. Haeri also urged Iraqis to kill all Baathists to prevent them from taking over again. On April 18, in the southern city of Kut, Abdel Aziz al Hakim, brother of the Shia opposition leader Muhammad Bakr al Hakim and leader of the 10,000-strong Iran-supported Badr Brigade militia, proclaimed that Iraq's majority Shia hoped for an Islamic government. That same day, Muqtada's deputy for Baghdad warned that Shias would not accept a democracy that would obstruct their sovereignty. [complete article]
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The Iraq failure and the end of 'The American Century'
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, November 17, 2006

That the U.S. has failed in Iraq has now become sufficiently self-evident that the national discussion has turned to the question of how best to suture the wound. The Baker study group has made clear that the goals of the invasion are unattainable, and they have focused Washington's attention on the priorities of containment and stabilization. And they have clearly succeeded in establishing their own assumptions -- that "stay the course" is untenable; that the U.S. can no longer achieve the goals defined by the Bush Administration at the outset of the war; that the key to stability lies in a comprehensive regional solution in which Iran and Syria would be important stakeholders -- in the lexicon of Washington's new conventional wisdom on Iraq. Even if, as the Guardian reports, the U.S. sends a extra two divisions (20,000 troops) to expand its troop presence, such a move is necessarily only sustainable for a short period, as General John Abizaid told the Senate, because the U.S. simply doesn't have the troops available to sustain it for more than a year.

Even the expansion of U.S. troop strength, then, would be as short-term move aimed primarily at securing Baghdad in the hope that a political solution -- with a strong regional component that would include drawing in Iran and Syria -- could have a fighting chance of success. And what is most striking about the discussion in Washington is the awareness that there is "no magic bullet." Translation: The U.S. is no longer in control of events in Iraq, and no policy option decided in Washington alone will have any prospect of success in Iraq. [complete article]
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Iraq pullout talk makes Iran uneasy
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, November 16, 2006

Iran has consistently opposed the presence of U.S. forces in Iraq, but new prospects of a stepped-up American withdrawal are prompting growing unease in the Islamic Republic, where many fear the repercussions of a dangerously unstable neighbor.

Officially, Iran's policy remains flatly opposed to American troops in Iraq and characterizes them as a key contributor to the escalating violence. Iran's government says it wants the U.S. to withdraw at the earliest possible opportunity.

But the U.S. elections this month that swept in a Democratic majority to Congress and subsequent talk of a phased pullout have touched off a discussion in Tehran about the outright anarchy that could result. [complete article]

Iraq's Shiite-led regime seeks to arrest top Sunni cleric
By Louise Roug and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, November 17, 2006

Iraq's Shiite-led government issued an arrest warrant Thursday for the country's leading Sunni Arab cleric, accusing him of colluding with insurgents, a potentially explosive charge that could exacerbate tensions between the country's warring sectarian groups and further divide a fragile national government.

The move against Harith Dhari, head of the Muslim Scholars Assn., came two days after an audacious daytime kidnapping in Baghdad ruptured the government of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, setting Sunni politicians against Shiites. [complete article]

Violence in Iraq called increasingly complex
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, November 17, 2006

Attacks in Iraq reached a high of approximately 180 a day last month, reflecting an increasingly complicated conflict that includes sectarian clashes of Sunni and Shiite militias on top of continuing strikes by insurgents, criminal gangs and al-Qaeda terrorists, according to the directors of the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"No single narrative is sufficient to explain all the violence we see in Iraq today," Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the CIA director, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday. [complete article]
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What it means to "salvage U.S. prestige" in Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, November 17, 2006

In the Vietnam era, President Richard M. Nixon went on a well-armed, years-long hunt for something he called "peace with honor." Today, the catchword is finding an "exit strategy" that can "salvage U.S. prestige." What we want, it seems, is peace with "dignity." In Vietnam, there was no honor left, only horror. There is no American dignity to be found in Iraq either, only horror. In a Washington of suddenly lowered expectations, dignity is defined as hanging in there until an Iraqi government that can't even control its own Interior Ministry or the police in the capital gains "stability," until the Sunni insurgency becomes a mild irritation, and until that American embassy, that eighth wonder of the world of security and comfort, becomes an eye-catching landmark on the capital's skyline.

Imagine. That's all we want. That's our dignity. And for that dignity and the imagined imperial stability of the world, our top movers and shakers will proceed to monkey around for months creating and implementing plans that will only ensure further catastrophe (which, in turn, will but breed more rage, more terrorism that spreads disaster to the Middle East and actually lessens American power around the world). [complete article]
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Groups side with Bush on Bolton
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, November 15, 2006

In the first post-election battle between the Bush administration and the Democrats, the Jewish community is standing behind the president as he pushes the candidacy of John Bolton.

Despite the declared hostility of Democrats and several moderate Republicans, the White House has formally put forth the reappointment of controversial diplomat John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. [complete article]
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U.S. airstrikes climb sharply in Afghanistan
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, November 17, 2006

The Air Force has conducted more than 2,000 airstrikes in Afghanistan over the past six months, a sharp increase in bombing that reflects the growing demand for American air cover since NATO has assumed a larger ground combat role, Air Force officials said.

The intensifying air campaign has focused on southern Afghanistan, where NATO units, primarily from Britain, Canada and the Netherlands, as well as American Special Forces have been engaging in the heaviest and most frequent ground combat with Taliban rebels since the invasion five years ago. [complete article]
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Carter discusses new book on Israel and the Middle East
By Jennifer Siegel, The Forward, November 16, 2006

Q: In your book, you argue that 'because of powerful political, economic, and religious forces in the United States, Israeli government decisions are rarely questioned or condemned.' Can you explain that more fully?

A: I've been all over the Holy Land, I'll call it, just for a kind of a shorthand description, since the 1970s -- the last 30 or 40 years -- from Lebanon down to the Sinai. And I've been up into the Golan Heights three times, and I've conducted three elections there -- and I've seen the coverage given to Israel's activities in Europe and in Israel itself -- a highly contentious debate over [Israel]. There is no such debate in the United States. There's not any debate in the Congress. There's not any debate in the White House, at least since George Bush Sr. and I were there, and in the news media of the United States there is very rarely any editorial comment that would criticize some of the practices of Israel which I consider to be deplorable -- and that is the persecution of the Palestinians, and the occupation and confiscation and the colonization of Palestinian land. So there's no open debate in this country if it involves any criticism of the policies of the Israeli government, even though many people in Israel debate and condemn some of the policies of the right-wing governments under Sharon and Netanyahu and others. [complete article]

Comment -- Aside from the fact that discussion about Israeli policies is central to any meaningful debate on Middle East politics, the absence of this discussion should concern every American - at least every American who is attached to the idea that we live in a free society. The fact that many of the same people who so loudly proclaim that "we won the Cold War," are seemingly indifferent to the stifling of urgently needed political debate, calls into question their understanding of freedom. Is this freedom to which America so often attaches its name really concerned with the free exchange of ideas or is it nothing more than the freedom of commerce?
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Spanish FM: Nothing in peace plan 'Israel can reject'
By Akiva Eldar and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, November 17, 2006

Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs Miguel Angel Moratinos sought Friday to reassure Israel over a new Mideast peace initiative proposed the day before by Spain, France and Italy, saying that there was nothing in the plan "that Israel can reject."

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Thursday that Israel rejected the new peace initiative out of hand. She told Moratinos that it was unacceptable for an initiative concerning Israel to be launched without coordination with Jerusalem.

Livni also told Moratinos that if the sponsors of the initiative were so inclined, they should seek to hold dialogue with Israel on any new plan. [complete article]
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Muslim detained by CIA granted U.S. visa
By Shaun Waterman, UPI, November 17, 2006

A German Muslim whose detention and torture by the CIA prompted an apology from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will be granted a visa to come to the United States, although he might still be refused entry.

"Khaled el-Masri was found inadmissible to the United States on the basis of ... terrorist activities, and issued a visa on the basis of a waiver from the Department of Homeland Security," a State Department official told United Press International. [complete article]

Invisible prisoners
By Jailan Halawi and Samia Nkrumah, Al-Ahram Weekly, November 16, 2006

Prosecutors in Milan announced last week that they are seeking the arrest of 26 Americans believed to be involved in the 2003 kidnapping of an Egyptian imam, Osama Mustafa Hassan Nasr, aka Abu Omar. The Americans, believed to be CIA agents, are thought to have received help from Italy's Military Intelligence and Security Service (SISMI) and two SISMI officers are awaiting trial on charges related to the kidnapping. Abu Omar's kidnapping is believed to have been conducted as part of Washington's policy of extraordinary renditions under which captives are transferred to third countries, in Abu Omar's case Egypt, where they are interrogated, and often tortured. [complete article]
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A CNN for the developing world
By Lawrence Pintak, Der Spiegel, November 16, 2006

On its first day of broadcasting, Al-Jazeera International provided a fast-paced, first-rate lens to the Middle East and Africa. It also proved that it was indeed different from the BBC and CNN -- by ignoring some of the world's most-important news events.

Washington-based Al Jazeera anchors Ghida Fakhry (2nd L) and Dave Marash (2nd R) prepare to go live on the first day for Al Jazeera English.
Call it the Un-CNN. Imagine the BBC devoting 24 hours to special coverage of Africa and the Middle East. Picture that and it will give you a sense of the first day of broadcasting for al-Jazeera International (AJI), the English-language cousin of the channel the Bush administration loves to hate. [complete article]

Comment -- Perhaps the producers at AJE might consider this radical idea: drop the use of the phrase "developing world." Why? It implies there's a section of the planet that's playing catch-up with the developed world. It's a very small step away from seeing a world run by adults (the West) who are mildly impatient tutors to a class of variously capable and variously behaving students (the developing world). Nowhere in this image is there room for the notion that those who have assumed the role of teachers have anything to learn from those that have been forced into the role of students.

Instead of defining the primary division in the world as separating the "developed" and the "developing," maybe we should simply look at the numbers. In the West, we're in the minority; the so-called developing world is nothing less than most of the world.
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As pressure for talks grows, Iran and Syria gain leverage
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, November 16, 2006

The White House is under growing pressure to talk to Iran and Syria to help stabilize Iraq, but mounting violence in Iraq and the Bush administration's political woes give the negotiating edge to Tehran and Damascus and complicate any U.S. outreach, experts say.

The idea of talks is widely expected to be on the list of proposals that will come out of the Iraq Study Group report next month, because co-chairman and former secretary of state James A. Baker III and other members back engaging enemies as well as allies. British Prime Minister Tony Blair this week endorsed talking with Tehran and Damascus, with caveats. The CIA director and the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency said yesterday that talks could help. And an array of experts has encouraged the administration to reach out to the countries that have meddled most in Iraq.

But the Bush administration is already questioning the idea, and even supporters admit that full cooperation by both Iran and Syria may have little impact on the many-sided insurgency. Neither country has much sway over Iraq's Sunnis or the al-Qaeda branch in Iraq, as both are ruled by Shiites or Shiite offshoots. [complete article]

General warns of risks in Iraq if G.I.'s are cut
By Michael R. Gordon and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, November 16, 2006

The top American military commander for the Middle East said Wednesday that to begin a significant troop withdrawal from Iraq over the next six months would lead to an increase in sectarian killings and hamper efforts to persuade the Iraqi government to make the difficult decisions needed to secure the country.

The commander, Gen. John P. Abizaid, made it clear that he did not endorse the phased troop withdrawals being proposed by Democratic lawmakers. Instead, he said the number of troops in Iraq might be increased by a small amount as part of new plans by American commanders to improve the training of the Iraqi Army. [complete article]

U.S. plans last big push in Iraq
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, November 16, 2006

President George Bush has told senior advisers that the US and its allies must make "a last big push" to win the war in Iraq and that instead of beginning a troop withdrawal next year, he may increase US forces by up to 20,000 soldiers, according to sources familiar with the administration's internal deliberations.

Mr Bush's refusal to give ground, coming in the teeth of growing calls in the US and Britain for a radical rethink or a swift exit, is having a decisive impact on the policy review being conducted by the Iraq Study Group chaired by Bush family loyalist James Baker, the sources said. [complete article]

Sectarian strife in Iraq imperils entire region, analysts warn
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, November 16, 2006

While American commanders have suggested that civil war is possible in Iraq, many leaders, experts and ordinary people in Baghdad and around the Middle East say it is already underway, and that the real worry ahead is that the conflict will destroy the flimsy Iraqi state and draw in surrounding countries.

Whether the U.S. military departs Iraq sooner or later, the United States will be hard-pressed to leave behind a country that does not threaten U.S. interests and regional peace, according to U.S. and Arab analysts and political observers.

"We're not talking about just a full-scale civil war. This would be a failed-state situation with fighting among various groups," growing into regional conflict, Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group, said by telephone from Amman, Jordan. [complete article]

The 'stay or leave' debate in the U.S. finds a mirror in Baghdad
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, November 16, 2006

While Americans in a faraway land debate their fate, Iraqis have already decided on the cure. The only problem is that there is more than one set of Iraqis. Shiites want their country back. Sunni Arabs want a strongman. They cannot agree.

"We don't want to see them in the streets," a wiry man named Tariq said of American troops as he measured cloth in a tailor shop.

Saad Abdul Razzaq, a Sunni whose brother was killed by Shiite militiamen a week ago, was of the strongman school: "Democracy is not working. Only power can control Iraqis." [complete article]
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They are afraid
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, November 16, 2006

The speech was summed up well in three words by the chair of the afternoon session, Kathy Manning of the United Jewish Communities of America (UJC). It was, she said, "fascinating and scary." Still dancing in the heads of those present at the large conference hall, full to the last chair, was the image of Likud Chairman MK Benjamin Netanyahu, gazing straight out at them from the gigantic video screens, stern, threatening, again and again and again: "It is 1938, Iran is Germany, and it is about to arm itself with nuclear weapons."

This was one of Netanyahu's excellent speeches. Among those present in the hall, many of them quite far from being his admirers, there was near consensus that this was the best speech of all. Where is he and where is Ariel Sharon, who reads from the page, where is he and where is the bureaucratic Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and where is the dry Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, whose speech on Sunday left large bald spots of empty chairs.

Netanyahu's show was indeed fascinating. And frightening. "Now is 1938, Iran is Germany, and it is about to arm itself with nuclear weapons." [complete article]

Comment -- Fear is the capital that Israel's leaders are now aggressively accumulating and no one builds up capital like this without the clear intention to invest it. As the neocons in Washington are busy disowning the Iraq disaster, the Likudniks are stepping up as the prime warmongers -- and again, they have Bush's ear.
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Bush gives go-ahead for building 'Bush Center' in Israel
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, November 16, 2006

United States President George Bush was informed on Tuesday of an initiative to establish a center under his name in Israel, as a sign of gratitude for his support for the country and its security.

Outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Daniel Ayalon asked Bush for the go-ahead to establish such a center during a farewell meeting with the president and his deputy, Dick Cheney.

Bush told Ayalon that "freedom" would be a worthy subject for the center to focus on. [complete article]
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James Baker vs. the Likud, round II: This time its Persian-al
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, November 15, 2006

Baker has reached the reasonably obvious conclusion that the U.S. can't stabilize Iraq or extricate itself without seeking the help of Iran, which has been by far the largest strategic beneficiary of the war and which exerts far more influence over the democratically elected ruling Shiite coalition than does Washington. Although Iran's help does not guarantee success, without it there's little chance of persuading the government to take the essential steps of reining in Shiite militias and reaching out to and accomodating the Sunni interests that drive the insurgency.

And Baker is smart enough to know that the Iranians, while they have an interest in avoiding a breakup of Iraq, have no incentive for helping out the U.S. for its own sake, or because they're being harangued by Bush and Blair. Indeed, there's something almost Pythonesque (in the sense of the dismembered Black Knight yelling "stand and fight!") about Blair making demands of Iran’s behavior as if it were within the power of Washington and London to set the terms of a dialogue with Tehran. (Uh, you may not have noticed, Tone, but you and George are the ones in trouble in Iraq, so that makes you the supplicant...) [complete article]

Argentina's Iranian nuke connection
By Gareth Porter, Asia Times, November 15, 2006

A report by Argentine prosecutors in support of the arrest warrants just issued for seven former Iranian officials for the 1994 terror bombing of a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires reveals that Argentina was continuing to provide Iran with low-grade enriched uranium and the two countries were in serious negotiations on broader nuclear cooperation when the bombing occurred.

The new revelations on Argentine-Iranian relations in the October 25 report by prosecutors Alberto Nisman and Marcello Marquez Burgos undermine the official argument that Iran's top leaders were motivated to order the bombing by Argentina's decision in 1992 to cut off its supply of nuclear materials to Iran.

The new information underlines the fact that Ali Akbar Rafsanjani and other Iranian officials still viewed Argentina as willing to cooperate with Tehran on the sensitive subject of nuclear technology, despite US pressures to end that cooperation.

The arrest warrants for former president Rafsanjani and six other former top Iranian officials were issued only after the United States had applied diplomatic pressure, according to a November 3 report by Marc Perelman in the Jewish daily Forward. Perelman also reported that the administration of US President George W Bush intends to cite the indictment as part of its campaign to get Russia and China to support a United Nations Security Council resolution on sanctions against Iran. [complete article]

Official says U.S. may mull pre-emptive Iran strike
By Adrian Croft, Reuters, November 14, 2006

The United States or other countries will one day be forced to consider pre-emptive action if Iran and North Korea continue to seek nuclear weapons, a senior U.S. government official said on Tuesday.
"We, the United States, and others who might be threatened by these developments will have to look at how to respond and inevitably I think people will have to look at the question of pre-emption," the official told reporters.

"I think it's inevitable that any American administration, not just this administration but future administrations, will have to look at pre-emptive strategies," he said. [complete article]

Bush initiates Iraq policy review separate from Baker group's
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, November 15, 2006

President Bush formally launched a sweeping internal review of Iraq policy yesterday, pulling together studies underway by various government agencies, according to U.S. officials.

The initiative, begun after Bush met at the White House with his foreign policy team, parallels the effort by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group to salvage U.S. policy in Iraq, develop an exit strategy and protect long-term U.S. interests in the region. The two reviews are not competitive, administration officials said, although the White House wants to complete the process before mid-December, about the time the Iraq Study Group's final report is expected.
The administration's new review "was not done in response to the ISG, but it came about as a result of everybody looking at facts on the ground," a State Department official said. But the administration is basically trying to do in one month what the ISG has done over eight months. [complete article]

Get out now? Not so fast, experts say
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, November 15, 2006

One of the most resonant arguments in the debate over Iraq holds that the United States can move forward by pulling its troops back, as part of a phased withdrawal. If American troops begin to leave and the remaining forces assume a more limited role, the argument holds, it will galvanize the Iraqi government to assume more responsibility for securing and rebuilding Iraq.

This is the case now being argued by many Democrats, most notably Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who asserts that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq should begin within four to six months.

But this argument is being challenged by a number of military officers, experts and former generals, including some who have been among the most vehement critics of the Bush administration's Iraq policies. [complete article]
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Scores kidnapped at Iraqi ministry
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, November 15, 2006

Signs of the abduction were everywhere. A splatter of blood smeared on the gray floor. A black telephone, yanked out of its socket, tangled in a mess of cords. The dirt outlines of boot prints on a door the kidnappers had kicked. And at the reception desk, next to a pile of papers, a single pink rose, abandoned in the chaos.

This was the scene Tuesday at an Iraqi Ministry of Higher Education building, one hour after a small army of 80 gunmen, dressed in police uniforms, staged a swift, brazen daylight raid, seizing scores of employees and visitors.

It was one of the largest mass abductions since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, startling even by the standards of a nation reeling from sectarian strife, daily bombings and death squads. The last high-profile mass kidnapping occurred in July, when gunmen seized more than 30 people from an Iraqi Olympics Committee meeting. Six were later released, but the fate of the rest is still unknown. [complete article]

See also, U.S. forces probe for answers on Iraqi kidnappings (LAT).
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From imperial offense to imperial defense
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, November 15, 2006

There are many reasons why President George W. Bush might have wanted to replace Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld with Robert M. Gates: To distance himself from the current military disaster in Iraq, to make the adoption of a new Iraqi strategy easier, to prevent further disunity within the military, or to clear the path for a revival of Republican fortunes in the 2008 elections. All of these may, in fact, have been contributing factors in Gates' appointment; yet, on a deeper level, the move can also be read as signaling a momentous shift in America's global posture -- from imperial offense to imperial defense. [complete article]

Neoconservatism -- RIP
By Gary Kamiya, Salon, November 14, 2006

The neoconservatives who dreamed up America's Iraq nightmare are rushing desperately about, searching for scapegoats. Their favorite whipping boy is yesterday's jutting-jawed hero, Donald Rumsfeld, who has been unceremoniously tossed onto the scrapheap. But they also blame the National Security Council, Condoleezza Rice, George Tenet, Paul Bremer, Gen. Tommy Franks and George W. Bush himself. The only thing they don't blame is the actual culprit -- neoconservative ideology itself.

The neocon finger-pointing over who lost Iraq, recently showcased in Vanity Fair, obscures the fact that Bush's war was a laboratory in which their doctrine was tested -- and completely failed. This failure was manifested on the ground and confirmed by the midterms. Most Americans don't even know what neoconservatism is, but they know a failure when they see it -- and they decisively rejected it.

Unfortunately, Bush himself and the key figures in his administration continue to cling, with the fervor of true believers, to neoconservative ideology. Bush has taken some potentially positive steps, like dumping Rumsfeld and replacing him with the more pragmatic Robert Gates, and saying he's open to "any idea" on Iraq. And he is now under enormous pressure, not just from Democrats but also from his own party, to implement profound changes in his Middle East policies. But it remains doubtful whether a figure as dogmatic and inflexible as Bush, who regards his "war on terror" as a sacred duty, will be able to change his approach. It is essential that the fundamental failure of neoconservatism be recognized, to prevent more foreign policy debacles like Iraq. [complete article]

Terrorist hold 'em
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, November 15, 2006

"I think it's a mistake to think that the war against terrorism ought to be won by the armed forces," says Jean-Louis Bruguiere, an internationally influential French magistrate who was among the first to see the jihadist threat taking shape in the early 1990s. Now, partly as blowback from the Iraq war, he sees the danger growing. "There are probably as many potential terrorists inside U.S. territory as there are outside," Bruguiere told me a few days ago. "It certainly is not the American army that has the legal possibility to act on American territory. It's the intelligence services that will come into play, it's also law enforcement, along with the judiciary, that will come into play."

And on one point, Bruguiere is clear: all of this has to be done within the framework of the law. "To think that you're more effective by acting in ways that are not legal is a fundamental error," said Bruguiere. "Legality is what allows legitimacy, and legitimacy is fundamental." Indeed, the legitimacy of Western regimes and their system of laws is the essential target of Al Qaeda's ideologues. [complete article]
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Launch of Al Jazeera English(scroll down)
CF Newsview, Conflicts Forum, November 15, 2006

After long delays, Al Jazeera English, AJ's new English-language news channel goes on the air this week. Aiming to be the channel that covers "the untold stories," managing director, Nigel Parsons, says "we intend to cover the developing world fully."

Unlike Western news organizations, "rather than having instant experts land there and tell us a story," on AJE, "Africans will report Africa and Asians will report Asia. I hope that will help express what al-Jazeera is all about," says London bureau chief Sue Phillips, "- not just one guiding light but several." [complete article]

Al Jazeera's U.S. face
By Paul Farhi, Washington Post, November 15, 2006

The moment Dave Marash told friends and colleagues about his new job, the questions began flying.

Who? listeners asked skeptically. And why?

Nearly nine months later, he's still hearing those questions -- and it turns out answering the first one is simpler.

In February, Marash, a lifelong broadcast newsman, became the Washington-based anchor of Al Jazeera English (AJE), the English-language spinoff of the Arabic TV news network. When AJE begins its first globe-spanning broadcast today, Marash will be its most prominent American face. [complete article]
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Foreign armies and local hearts just cannot meet
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, November 15, 2006

It has taken only a few days since the Democratic win in last week's congressional and gubernatorial elections for political debate in the United States to focus on a revised, withdrawal-oriented policy in Iraq as a pressing national priority. Yet nobody has a clear, credible answer to the question that everyone is asking: What should the US do in Iraq now?

I have been lecturing and meeting with university students and community groups throughout the US during the past five weeks, and this is the single most common issue that comes up for discussion - yet always without a satisfactory answer. Precipitously withdrawing the 145,000 American troops would probably plunge Iraq into further chaos, destruction, and suffering; leaving them there, however, would move things in the same direction. The US faces a Texas-size dilemma.

The obvious first conclusion from this predicament is one that few people dare mention openly in the US: sending your army half way around the world to break a political order and remake it in your own image is not only imperial behavior, but amateurish and fanciful imperialism at that. [complete article]
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Screw the Palestinians, full steam ahead
By Kathleen Christison and Bill Christison, Counterpunch, November 13, 2006

At a panel on the defense and foreign policy impact of the midterm election, sponsored two days after the election by Congressional Quarterly, Steven Simon, late of the Clinton administration and still a member of the Democratic, pro-Zionist mainstream at the Council on Foreign Relations, pronounced on prospects for Palestinian-Israeli peace and essentially declared it not worth anyone's effort. Using words, a tone, and a body language that clearly betrayed his own disinterest, he said that Hamas is "there" (exaggerated shrug), that the Israeli government is in turmoil after its Lebanon "contretemps" (dismissive wave of the hand), that both sides are incapable of significant movement, and that therefore there is no incentive for anyone, Democrat or Republican, to intervene (casual frown indicating an unfortunate reality about which serious people need not concern themselves). There is simply no prospect for more unilateral Israeli withdrawals and therefore for any progress toward peace, Simon said in conclusion -- signaling not only a total lack of concern but an utter ignorance of just what it is that might bring progress, as if Israeli unilateralism were truly the ticket to peace. [complete article]
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Israel prepares to allow Palestinian troops into Gaza
By Tim Butcher, The Telegraph, November 15, 2006

Israel is on the brink of a policy U-turn that would authorise 1,500 armed Palestinian soldiers based in Jordan to move into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

While Israel sees the move as a way to counterbalance the growing power of Hamas, such a policy shift could worsen the internecine violence between rival Palestinian factions which has claimed scores of lives this year.

It reverses years of strict military sanctions imposed by Israel on the territories because of fears that weapons provided to Palestinians would end up being used for attacks on Israeli targets. [complete article]

Diskin: Large-scale Gaza op. needed
By Sheera Claire Frenkel, Jerusalem Post, November 14, 2006

If moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority don't get stronger, the IDF must prepare for a large-scale military operation in the Gaza Strip, said Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin to the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.

"If all fails and it becomes impossible to strengthen Fatah, Israel needs to prepare for a military option in Gaza. The situation in the strip is not a flashing traffic light but a red, red, red, light," said Diskin. "Israel has no good options in Gaza, there are only bad options and we need to choose the least bad of all." [complete article]
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Judith Miller testifies in Israeli 'torture' case
By Mark Fitzgerald, E&P, November 13, 2006

Testifying Monday in the federal trial of an American citizen accused of helping finance the Palestinian militant group Hamas, former New York Times reporter Judith Miller portrayed herself as a skeptical journalist who saw no signs that Muhammad Salah had been tortured when she was given unprecedented access to witness his 1993 prison interrogation.

"He was relaxed, he was conversational, he was boastful, he was jaunty," Miller testified in a Chicago courtroom. "There was no reason for me to believe he had been exposed to" extreme conditions. [complete article]
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Hezbollah leader predicts collapse of Lebanese government
By Hannah Allam and Nada Raad, McClatchy, November 14, 2006

Lebanon's political crisis deepened on Tuesday with U.S.-backed Prime Minister Fuad Saniora fighting to save his government and the leader of the powerful Shiite Muslim militant group Hezbollah predicting its collapse.

"The government will go," Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah told supporters, according to an account published Tuesday in a Lebanese newspaper.

The Bush administration last year hailed Lebanon's "Cedar Revolution" as evidence that democracy was on the march in the Arab world. The Saniora government's collapse would confound U.S. efforts to isolate and weaken Iran and Syria, Hezbollah's main international supporters. [complete article]

Lebanon approves U.N. tribunal plan
By Zeina Karam, AP, November 15, 2006

A weakened Lebanese government on Monday approved a U.N. plan for an international tribunal for suspects in the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, despite the resignation of six ministers and the objections of the president.

The vote was a victory for Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, who is facing the threat of mass protests unless Hezbollah and its Shiite Muslim allies gain veto power in the cabinet. All 18 ministers remaining in the cabinet voted for the U.N. plan, under which a process would begin for the prosecution of Hariri's alleged killers in a court with international legitimacy. [complete article]

U.N. says Somalis helped Hezbollah fighters
By Robert F. Worth, New York Times, November 15, 2006

More than 700 Islamic militants from Somalia traveled to Lebanon in July to fight alongside Hezbollah in its war against Israel, a United Nations report says. The militia in Lebanon returned the favor by providing training and -- through its patrons Iran and Syria -- weapons to the Islamic alliance struggling for control of Somalia, it adds. [complete article]

Comment -- A tad implausible is all I can say!

Lebanese politicians need to speak plainly about what they want
Editorial, Daily Star, November 15, 2006

The international media has portrayed the current political crisis in Lebanon as a showdown over the creation of an international tribunal to prosecute the suspected assassins of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. While the concerns that have been aired by Lebanese leaders - particularly those worries expressed by the slain prime minister's son, MP Saad Hariri - over this sensitive issue are understandable, the expressed fears appear to have resulted in large part from a misunderstanding or mischaracterization of the issue at hand.

Neither Hizbullah nor the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) has voiced opposition to the formation of the aforementioned tribunal. In fact, both parties have in recent days repeatedly stated that they support the creation of the court and insist that their demands for a unity government stem from the need for broader participation in the political process, not a desire to obstruct justice. But in the absence of clearly stated positions by both sides on precisely what their priorities are or will be, it is only natural that many politicians and their supporters are concerned about the end-results. [complete article]
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Hamas says new government won't recognize Israel
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, November 14, 2006

The ruling Islamic group Hamas said on Tuesday a planned Palestinian unity government would not recognize Israel or accept a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict as demanded by Israel and the United States.

The stance could undercut Palestinian efforts to ease a Western economic boycott by forming a unity cabinet more acceptable to the West.

The United States and its partners in the Quartet of Middle East mediators imposed the boycott to pressure Hamas, which took office in March, to recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence and accept existing peace deals. [complete article]
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Jihad ideology is spreading online
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, November 15, 2006

As the radical Islamic ideology sometimes known as jihadism spreads globally through on- line forums and chat rooms, a group of obscure Arab religious thinkers may exert more influence than Osama bin Laden and other well-known leaders of Al Qaeda, a research group at the U.S. Military Academy has found.

In a study billed as the "first systematic mapping" of jihadist ideology, the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point has found that bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, have had only a minor influence on the movement's intellectual foundation. Among the network's ideologists, they are seen more as propagandists than strategic thinkers.

And while the two Qaeda leaders have released a flurry of video and audio messages to their followers over the past year, the study found that the scholarly work of a group of Saudi and Jordanian clerics was resonating more deeply among those who may form the next generation of militants.

As a result, the authors found, the death or capture of bin Laden and Zawahiri would do little to slow the spread of the jihad ideology. [complete article]
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No clash of civilizations, says UN report
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, November 14, 2006

A UN-sponsored group called the Alliance of Civilizations, created last year to find ways to bridge the growing divide between Muslim and Western societies, released a first report Monday that says the conflict over Israel and the Palestinian territories is the central driver in global tensions.

"Our emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not meant to imply that it is the overt cause of all tensions between Muslim and Western societies," write the report's authors, a group of academics and present and former government officials from 19 different countries. "Nevertheless, it is our view that the Israeli-Palestinian issue has taken on a symbolic value that colors cross cultural and political relations ... well beyond its limited geographic scope."

But while the authors hope their report will invigorate and create cross-cultural dialogue, its tone implies that it is unlikely to be well received by the United States and Israel, focusing as it does on allegations of double standards by those two nations while giving less time to the faults of the Palestinians or specific Muslim governments. [complete article]
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For evangelicals, supporting Israel is 'God's foreign policy'
By David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, November 14, 2006

As Israeli bombs fell on Lebanon for a second week last July, the Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio arrived in Washington with 3,500 evangelicals for the first annual conference of his newly founded organization, Christians United For Israel.

At a dinner addressed by the Israeli ambassador, a handful of Republican senators and the chairman of the Republican Party, Mr. Hagee read greetings from President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and dispatched the crowd with a message for their representatives in Congress. Tell them "to let Israel do their job" of destroying the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, Mr. Hagee said.

He called the conflict "a battle between good and evil" and said support for Israel was "God's foreign policy." [complete article]

Netanyahu: It's 1938 and Iran is Germany; Ahmadinejad is preparing another Holocaust
By Peter Hirschberg, Haaretz, November 14, 2006

Drawing a direct analogy between Iran and Nazi Germany, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu asserted Monday that the Iranian nuclear program posed a threat not only to Israel, but to the entire western world. There was "still time," however, to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons, he said.

"It's 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs," Netanyahu told delegates to the annual United Jewish Communities General Assembly, repeating the line several times, like a chorus, during his address. "Believe him and stop him," the opposition leader said of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. "This is what we must do. Everything else pales before this."

While the Iranian president "denies the Holocaust," Netanyahu said, "he is preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state." [complete article]

Bush calls for global isolation of Iran
By Barry Schweid, AP, November 13, 2006

President Bush, responding to concerns Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert brought to the White House, called on Monday for worldwide isolation of Iran until it "gives up its nuclear ambitions."

The risk to the world extends beyond Israel and the Middle East, Bush said in Oval Office remarks to reporters after meeting with Olmert for an hour. The United States and Israel say they believe Iran is working on nuclear weapons, although Tehran says its work on the technology is aimed only at producing energy. [complete article]
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Pride and prejudice
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, November 14, 2006

Judging by last night's Guildhall speech, Tony Blair believes Britain and the US can set the terms of an expanded dialogue with Iran. Many in Tehran will find this surprising. Even the most unworldly mullah knows this urge to chat reflects weakness, not strength.

Mr Blair wants to encourage Iran and Syria to assist Middle East peace efforts, not just in Iraq but also Lebanon and Israel-Palestine. If they refuse, he says, they will face further isolation. Like George Bush, the prime minister has declined to rule out military action against Iran's nuclear facilities. These are hardly confidence-building measures. [complete article]

This way to Damascus - let's hope you're good at haggling
By Richard Beeston, The Times, November 14, 2006

Syria and Iran openly support groups such as Hezbollah, the Shia militia in Lebanon, and Hamas, the militant Palestinian movement. Both are regarded as terrorist organisations by Washington and London.

On the surface, the hope of overcoming such obstacles between the two sides seems remote. Yet Tehran and Damascus have shown themselves in the past to be experts in the art of realpolitik and always open to a new offer and the promise of a deal.

With that in mind Mr Bush and Mr Blair can comfort themselves that this is a road worth travelling. But they should be warned that they had better come prepared with a generous offer. Asking their new friends in Iran and Syria to bail them out of Iraq will not come cheap. [complete article]

Comment -- Tony Blair has again reiterated his view that a "whole Middle East" strategy must start by addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"That is the core," he says, yet British diplomats are deeply frustrated that the White House has a "complete lack of interest" in the issue.

What the British don't seem to get is that the White House is not only uninterested in the conflict; it's equally uninterested in British views. After all, when was the last time Britain gave the slightest indication that the U.S. would suffer any consequences from ignoring the perspective of its "special" friend?

Nevertheless, for what it's worth, here's how Blair lays out his "whole Middle East" strategy:
There is a fundamental misunderstanding that this is about changing policy on Syria and Iran. First, those two countries do not at all share identical interests. But in any event that is not where we start.

On the contrary, we should start with Israel/Palestine. That is the core. We should then make progress on Lebanon. We should unite all moderate Arab and Moslem voices behind a push for peace in those countries but also in Iraq. We should be standing up for, empowering, respecting those with a moderate and modern view of the faith of Islam everywhere.

What is happening in the Middle East today is not complex. It is simple. Iran is being confronted over its nuclear weapons ambitions. Its stock market has lost a third of its value in the last year and foreign credit is increasingly hard to come by. The statements of its President - such as wiping Israel from the face of the earth - are causing alarm, even in Iran.

To be fair, they have a genuine, if entirely misplaced fear, that the US seeks a military solution in Iran. They don't. But we all want Iran to suspend its enrichment process which if allowed to continue, will give them a nuclear weapon. Under the agreement we brokered in June, the US has said they will talk to Iran direct for the first time in 30 years, if they abide by the UN demand to suspend enrichment. But Iran is refusing to do it.

Instead they are using the pressure points in the region to thwart us. So they help the most extreme elements of Hamas in Palestine; Hizbollah in the Lebanon; Shia militia in Iraq. That way, they put obstacles in the path to peace, paint us, as they did over the Israel/Lebanon conflict, as the aggressors, inflame the Arab street and create political turmoil in our democratic politics.

It is a perfectly straightforward and clear strategy. It will only be defeated by an equally clear one: to relieve these pressure points one by one and then, from a position of strength to talk, in a way I described in July in my speech in Los Angeles: offer Iran a clear strategic choice: they help the MEPP [Middle East peace process] not hinder it; they stop supporting terrorism in Lebanon or Iraq; and they abide by, not flout, their international obligations. In that case, a new partnership is possible. Or alternatively they face the consequences of not doing so: isolation.
So, contrary to widespread speculation (and reporting), Blair's not putting talks with Syria and Iran at the top of the agenda. Instead, he places uppermost the issue about which his advisors tell him the White House actually has no interest.

Furthermore, indications that the U.S. is not on the brink of a bold advance towards Syria and Iran are reinforced in this report from the Wall Street Journal:
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert discussed Iran at length with President Bush at a meeting in the White House yesterday, and Israeli officials later indicated they thought Mr. Bush would be cool to the idea of an international conference on the region's problems, even if the Baker commission recommends such a step. "I don't think we have to be concerned about an international conference," a senior Israeli official said later. Israeli officials have always been skeptical that a large international gathering is a better setting for resolving the region's issues, arguing that direct talks between adversaries work better.

White House officials yesterday reiterated that the U.S. would talk to Iran only if it halts its uranium-enrichment work, citing Mr. Bush's comments yesterday that his position on Iran "hasn't changed." National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe declined to say whether the administration expects Iran to seek U.S. concessions on its nuclear program in return for any assistance in Iraq, or how the U.S. would respond.

"What we expect Iran to do is stop meddling in Iraq, and to stop providing weapons there that are used to kill Iraqis and Americans," he said.
So what should the Iranians glean from all this?

First, they should have no reason to fear an American attack. Why? Because Tony Blair says it won't happen -- not a particularly compelling reassurance.

As for the new Middle East strategy for dummies, it might place the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the rhetorical core, yet follow through his reasoning and it's obvious that in Blair's mind (as in the Bush-Cheney-Olmert-Rice-Netanyahu weltanschauung), it turns out that Iran itself is the core and Palestine simply a "pressure point."

What does Iran need to do?

First give up any leverage it has and then its adversaries will be happy to sit down and talk. Clearly this is a game -- a professed willingness to talk, but only once there's nothing to negotiate.

At the same time, we can see that Iran's adversaries are still convinced that they occupy a position of strength. The key question is: who has the more unrealistic perception of their own power: Washington or Tehran?

I'd bet heavily that it's Washington. The loss of a sense of supremacy will surely lag way behind an actual loss of power. Power ascending, on the other hand, flexes in a constant and felt tension between possibility and actuality. In other words, Iran is fascinated by power that it hasn't actually acquired, while America rests its confidence in power it has already lost.
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Bush says he's open to change in Iraq, but ...
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, November 14, 2006

Many officials inside and outside the administration are looking for signs that Mr. Bush will modify his views, especially now that he has nominated Mr. Gates, who led a committee of the Council on Foreign Relations calling for more engagement with Iran. But Bush aides say talking to Syria or Iran is simply not enough.

"Talking isn't a strategy," Mr. Hadley, the national security adviser, said in an interview last month. "The issue is how can we condition the environment so that Iran and Syria will make a 180-degree turn." [complete article]

Comment -- Election defeat or not, there are no signs that the Bush administration has the slightest inclination to abandon its bullying approach. It demands flexibility from its adversaries while flaunting its own inflexibility. You must bend before us, while we proudly show the world how resolute we are.

This is the mindset of conquest and domination, but if any of America's adversaries were once willing to submit, that mood has now long passed.

Sectarian rifts foretell pitfalls of Iraqi troops' taking control
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, November 14, 2006

It did not take long for Col. Brian D. Jones to begin to have doubts about the new Iraqi commander.

The commander, Brig. Gen. Shakir Hulail Hussein al-Kaabi, was chosen this summer by the Shiite-led government in Baghdad to lead the Iraqi Army's Fifth Division in Diyala Province. Within weeks, General Shakir went to Colonel Jones with a roster of people he wanted to arrest.

On the list were the names of nearly every Sunni Arab sheik and political leader whom American officers had identified as crucial allies in their quest to persuade Sunnis to embrace the political process and turn against the powerful Sunni insurgent groups here.

"Where's the evidence?" Colonel Jones demanded of General Shakir. "Where's the proof? What makes us suspect these guys? None of that stuff exists."

To that, Colonel Jones recalled, the Iraqi commander replied simply, "I got this from Baghdad." [complete article]

Fury in U.S. over Olmert's comments on Iraq war
By Aluf Benn and Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, November 14, 2006

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert drew fire from Democratic Party members Monday by publicly praising the war in Iraq.

Speaking after his talks with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House, Olmert said the American operation in Iraq brought stability to the Middle East.

Politicians from the Democratic Party said they wanted to speak to Olmert about his comments on Iraq before responding publicly, but expressed disapproval over the remarks. [complete article]
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Lebanon faces new crisis after walkout by Hizbollah
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, November 13, 2006

The Shia, the largest community in Lebanon, are no longer represented in the Lebanese government. It could be just part of Lebanon's bloody-minded politics - or it could be a most dangerous moment in the history of this tragic country.

At the weekend, the Hizbollah and the Amal movement walked out of the Lebanese body politic, splitting apart the gentle, utterly false, brilliantly conceived (by the French, of course) confessional system that binds this tortured nation together. There will be demonstrations by Hizbollah to demand a government of "national unity", which means that Sayed Hassan Nasrallah, winner of the so-called "divine victory" against Israel this summer, insists on another pro-Syrian administration in Lebanon. [complete article]

Israel opted for cheaper, unsafe cluster bombs in Lebanon war
By Meron Rapoport, Haaretz, November 14, 2006

During the second Lebanon war, Israel made use of American-made cluster bombs that left behind thousands of unexploded bomblets, even though Israel Military Industries produces cluster bombs that leave nearly no unexploded munitions. The main reason for the use of the U.S.-made weapons: Israel uses military aid funds to purchase cluster bombs from the U.S., and in order to buy IMI-made bombs, the Israel Defense Forces would have to dip into its own budget.

"The consideration is budgetary," a defense related source said. However, each IMI-made cluster bomblet costs a mere $10.

The cluster bombs constitute the number one humanitarian problem facing Lebanon after the war because many of the bomblets remain unexploded and as duds, they have turned into make-shift mines, converting towns, villages and fields into undeclared minefields. Since the cease-fire went into effect on August 14, at least 14 civilians, including many children, have been killed by the unexploded bomblets. [complete article]

Support for Hizbullah stronger than ever
By Jacey Herman, Jerusalem Post, November 14, 2006

Samy Mehdi consults with a handful of workers in the fourth floor apartment he shares with his two elderly parents. The family evacuated their home on the first day of the war, escaping to live with relatives further inside Beirut. The buildings to the left and right of his apartment complex have been completely destroyed. Where large residential buildings once stood are now enormous holes burnt into the ground. An Arabic exercise book flutters in the wind. Alongside it a red shoe lies abandoned in the soil.

"I love Hizbullah now more than ever," smiles Mehdi, in what might at first seem a surprising response. "I really love them more. They gave us something we didn't have. Forget the destruction, they gave us dignity. For fifty years the Arab world suffered defeat, defeat, defeat. This is the first time we are the victors."

The 33-year-old supermarket owner lost his stall during the war. But he is impressed with Hizbullah for coming to assess the damage and paying him eleven thousand dollars to recover.

"It's enough money and it makes me very happy. If Hizbullah asks me to go to the streets, of course I'll go. If we have some demands and the government doesn't give us what we need, like any country in the world where if you need something and you don't have it, we will protest."

It's a sentiment echoed throughout the Hizbullah stronghold. Support for the organization is now stronger than it has ever been, making it by far the most significant political and military force in Lebanon. [complete article]

Comment -- With the help of Iranian funding, Hezbollah has demonstrated what it means to win hearts and minds. If there's a lesson that America might care to draw from this it's that if you want to be popular in a foreign country, first try and avoid destroying it. "Made in the USA" goes down much better when its stamped on the back of refrigerator than the casing of a bomb.
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Hamas preparing to relinquish control
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, November 13, 2006

Ten months after seizing power in a historic election, the hard-line Hamas movement is preparing to relinquish control of the Palestinian Authority in hopes of ending the international economic blockade that has prevented Hamas from effectively running the government.

In a significant concession, the Islamist militant group agreed Monday to accept a United States-educated microbiology professor to replace Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as prime minister. As the new prime minister, Mohammed Shabir would head a coalition of largely apolitical intellectuals designed to end the Palestinian government's global isolation.

Although a new unity government could end Hamas' short-lived reign as the ruling Palestinian party in the Cabinet, it remains far from certain that it will succeed in persuading critical foreign donors to restore millions in funding. [complete article]

Comment -- If Tony Blair really meant that addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be "the core" issue to a "whole Middle East" strategy, he would already be welcoming the signs of progress in the formation of a Palestinian unity government. But instead it seems utterly predictable that yet again compromise from the Palestinians will meet obstinacy from the other side - and this coming a matter of days after the latest atrocity in Gaza.
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Administration: Detainees have no rights
AP, November 13, 2006

The Bush administration said Monday that Guantanamo Bay prisoners have no right to challenge their detentions in civilian courts and that lawsuits by hundreds of detainees should be dismissed.

In court documents filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Justice Department defended the military's authority to arrest people overseas and detain them indefinitely without access to courts.

It's the first time that argument has been spelled out since President Bush signed a law last month setting up military commissions for the thousands of foreigners being held in U.S. prisons abroad. [complete article]
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Spinning the war in Afghanistan
By Sarah Chayes, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, September-October, 2006

On September 11, 2001, I was in Paris, working as a radio reporter. The terrorist attacks shattered me, to a degree that took me by surprise. Covering the official condolence ceremony at the turreted French police headquarters, with the great bells of Notre Dame Cathedral throbbing in the background, I found myself weeping, unable to wipe my eyes because I had to hold my microphone. I was grateful to the French for dropping all the contentiousness that has characterized our peoples' long and intimate partnership. For days, they waited outside the U.S. Embassy to pay their respects. Conversations struck up between French men and women and Americans there had an achingly profound quality. Though the thought took days to surface, I began to feel that the horror that had befallen us might hide a miracle. It might goad us to go to work again, to be what we kept saying we were: the champions of human dignity, the exemplars of public participation in government, a government acting in good faith, the mentors of peoples struggling to be free.

Or it might not.

For there was something about the reaction to 9/11 that disturbed me. Along with the new openness, the surge of self-questioning in America, another tendency was emerging. It was a reflex to divide up the world into two opposing blocs: We the West versus Them--now embodied by Islam, which had suddenly appeared on the world stage to fill the role left vacant by the vanquished Soviet Union. The shorthand term for this notion, taken from the title of a book, entered our vocabulary: the Clash of Civilizations.

It was clear to me that the Al Qaeda terrorists who flew their planes into those enormously symbolic American buildings were trying to force people everywhere into splitting apart along these lines. Quite aside from the terrorists' use of mass murder, it was this intent that made them abhorrent to me.

But some of us seemed to want the selfsame thing. And some of our leaders seemed to be showing the way, deliberately blurring all the myriad distinctions that give our world its depth and richness. Suddenly, the world was being described in binary terms, and instinctively, I knew that was wrong. An "us versus them" reaction may be normal in humans when attacked, but is it accurate? Is it productive? Is it the reaction that those to whom we look for guidance should be bringing out in us? Is this the best we can do? [complete article]
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How terrible is it?
By Max Rodenbeck, New York Review of Books, November 30, 2006

Five years after George Bush launched America on a global crusade to "rid the world of evil," it is safe to say that the tide has turned. No, America is not winning, although some argue that it might be politic, at this juncture, to declare victory.[1] Nor is America necessarily losing, as others have asserted. What has happened instead is that the mental construct that framed the Bush administration's reaction to September 11 as a "war" is beginning to fall apart.

This is not surprising. What is surprising is that it has taken so long for Americans to notice. Much of the rest of the world at a fairly early stage lost faith, if they ever had any, in the narrative promoted by President Bush, in which America was cast as the leader of freedom, battling a foe variously described as terror or terrorism, and sometimes as evil or evildoers. To doubters it seemed obvious from the beginning that one does not wage "war" against terrorism, a word that, despite those last three letters, does not describe an ideology or a targetable enemy, but rather an ugly technique of attack that has long been used by the weak against the strong.

Even disregarding the President's hyperbole, such ostensibly sober statements of purpose as the administration's 2002 and 2006 National Security Strategy papers, which were intended to lay out a comprehensive program, reveal, on careful reading, a disturbing lack of focus. [complete article]

Comment -- A dimension to the war on terrorism that generally seems to be overlooked is that aside from the neoconservative ideology behind it, this declaration of war was charged with the emotional reaction of a group of people who realized that thanks to little more than luck, they were not murdered on September 11, 2001.

Having survived the attack, immense courage would have been required from the Bush team if they were going to avoid overreacting. Unfortunately, this was courage that they lacked. Instead, all they could do was grab the emotive force of the day and conjure up a doctrine that had a veneer of immense gravity yet concealed a hollow center.

By attaching the fanciful goal of eradicating terrorism to the real events of 9/11, dissent could quite effectively be characterized as an affront to the dead. By binding itself to the seriousness of the day, the Bush administration managed to avoid exposing the lack of seriousness in its own response.
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Has the election saved us from war with Iran?
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, November 13, 2006

Ehud Olmert is in town to rally U.S. support for action against Iran, military action if necessary. Olmert and company have long been doing a hard sell on the idea that any enrichment of uranium in Iran somehow constitutes an intolerable menace to Israel -- that's a pretty bizarre benchmark, of course, one that is certain to get Israel into a disastrous war with much of the region (and it ought to have learned by its misadventure in Lebanon last summer that elective wars could actually prove to be a more dangerous threat to Israel's survival than are the doings of Iran's nuclear scientists). But Olmert insists that Iranian enrichment leads inexorably to a nuclear-armed Hizballah!

With that kind of scaremongering about, let's not imagine that common sense is necessarily going to prevail just because we have the Democrats in Congress -- not when you can bet that AIPAC is going to make the hard-line on Iran a test of loyalty to Israel. The AIPAC types have long opposed the sort of rapprochement with Iran that a broad array of U.S. interests objectively demands, and you can bet that when James Baker suggests that the U.S. open broad-ranging discussions with Iran with a view to stabilizing Iraq, the Likud lobby will be in the forefront of moves to block that option. [complete article]
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As Hezbollah seeks power, Lebanon is feeling edgy
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, November 13, 2006

In the upscale center of Beirut, the normally somber atmosphere at the graveside of the assassinated former prime minister, Rafik Hariri, is increasingly tense. His former supporters, long the most powerful constituency in Lebanon, anxiously talk about the wave of Shiite political power washing over the country.

"After the first of the year, I am leaving to Qatar," one woman, Myrtha Hadidi, said Sunday, after she bowed her head and crossed herself in front of the grave. "The situation is very, very dangerous now. I think there will be a war again."

Across town, along the crowded streets of the poor Shiite neighborhood devastated by Israeli bombs during the summer war, there is despair over the destruction, but confidence in the growing power of Lebanon's Shiites.

"I am very optimistic about the future," said Ziad Kamaan, as he prepared to reopen his women's accessory store for the first time since the war ended in September.

Lebanon is in the middle of a political crisis that is not just a matter of jockeying for power, but a fundamental realignment of authority here -- and perhaps in the region. It is seen in the faces of those Sunnis and Christians who visit the Hariri memorial, nervous and drawn, and the confidence of those picking their way through the debris and destruction of the Shiite neighborhood, known as Dahiya. [complete article]

See also, Hezbollah to stage protests after unity talks fail (Reuters) and Lebanon cabinet 'not legitimate' (BBC).

Lebanese minister close to president to quit government
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, November 13, 2006

Lebanon's pro-Syrian environment minister will resign on Monday, bringing to six the number of cabinet members to quit the Western-backed government after the collapse of unity talks, a source close to the minister said.

The source said Yacoub Sarraf, who is loyal to pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud, will tender his resignation shortly, hours before Prime Minister Fouad Siniora was to convene his cabinet to discuss a United Nations-drafted statute for a special court to try the killers of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Lebanon received the statute from the UN on Friday, Lebanese officials said. [complete article]
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Arab foreign ministers announce plans to hold Middle East peace conference
Daily Star, November 13, 2006

Arab foreign ministers meeting in Egypt on Sunday called for a fresh international peace conference to resolve the Arab-Israeli dispute and resolved not to abide by financial sanctions on the Palestinian Authority. In a major advance in Palestinian national unity talks, meanwhile, the rival Hamas and Fatah movements selected Mohammad Shbeir, an academic, to head a national unity government to replace the current administration, sources on both sides said on Sunday.

The Arab ministers, who convened in Cairo under the auspices of the Arab League to address last week's killing of 19 Palestinian civilians by Israeli fire in the northern Gaza town of Beit Hanun, said in a communique that permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, Israel and Arab parties would be invited to attend the new peace conference.

The conference will be aimed at "reaching a just and comprehensive solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict on all tracks according to the relevant international resolutions and the principle of land for peace," the statement said. [complete article]
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In new Middle East, tests for an old friendship
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, November 13, 2006

The reluctance to confront is mutual, said Yossi Alpher, a former negotiator who runs a Web site promoting Israeli-Palestinian Internet dialogue, "I'd love Israeli leaders to sit down with Bush for a mutual soul-searching, and say, 'We're concerned, dear Mr. President, that your plans are hurting us, that part of the audacity of the radical Islamists we fight comes from your decision to enfranchise them,' " he said. "But we don’t dare to."

Israel, he noted, has been highly skeptical of the idea of pushing democracy among Arab nations where the only organized opposition parties are linked to militants. It is a lot safer from Israel's perspective to deal with stable, if autocratic, states like Jordan and Egypt.

When Ms. Rice "looked at the damage in Beirut and said these are 'the birth pangs of the new Middle East,' I cringed, because I thought the Bush people had learned their lesson after the election of Hamas," Mr. Alpher said. "For Israel to manage, we need more of the old Middle East, not the new Middle East." [complete article]

Comment -- Israel, "the only democratic state in the Middle East" -- a dubious claim that the Israel lobby is fond of repeating to Americans. Yet, "Israel, the only democratic state in the Middle East - and that's the way we like it!" Hmmm.... Somehow it doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?
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Olmert hints at possible military action against Iran
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, November 13, 2006

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert hinted Sunday for the first time at the possibility of Israeli military action against Iran to thwart its nuclear efforts.

In a conversation with press aboard his plane to the United States on Sunday, Olmert said that "Iran will only agree to a compromise on the issue of its nuclear program if it has a reason to be afraid." [complete article]
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U.S. 'open to Iran talks on Iraq'
BBC News, November 13, 2006

The White House has indicated it will consider talking to Iran and Syria about the future of Iraq. Former US Secretary of State James Baker, who heads the Iraq Study Group, is leading a delegation to the White House for talks with President Bush. The cross-party panel, due to give its recommendations by the end of the year, is believed to favour renewing contacts with Tehran and Damascus.

The White House chief-of-staff has said Mr Bush will look at all the options. Speaking on ABC's This Week programme, Josh Bolten said "a fresh approach" was clearly needed on Iraq. Asked if he favoured the idea of including Iraq's neighbours, Iran and Syria, in discussions, Mr Bolten said all options would be considered. [complete article]

Comment -- I have to say that I think that the European media is clutching at straws on this issue. "Not ruling out options" is a long way from being open to talks. If the administration is really open to talks with Iran, I don't think we're hearing a strong intimation of that willingness when the White House press secretary describes Iran as being part of a "global nexus of terrorism."

Bush administration in tense talks with 'global nexus of terrorism' -- great headline, but don't expect to see it soon.

See also, Huge death toll in day of Iraq violence (The Guardian).

Panel may have few good options to offer
By Michael Abramowitz and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, November 12, 2006

After meeting with President Bush tomorrow, a panel of prestigious Americans will begin deliberations to chart a new course on Iraq, with the goal of stabilizing the country with a different U.S. strategy and possibly the withdrawal of troops.

Tuesday's dramatic election results, widely seen as a repudiation of the Bush Iraq policy, has thrust the 10-member, bipartisan Iraq Study Group into the kind of special role played by the Sept. 11 commission. This panel, led by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former Indiana congressman Lee H. Hamilton (D), might play a decisive role in reshaping the U.S. position in Iraq, according to lawmakers and administration officials.

Those familiar with the panel's work predict that the ultimate recommendations will not appear novel and that there are few, if any, good options left facing the country. Many of the ideas reportedly being considered -- more aggressive regional diplomacy with Syria and Iran, greater emphasis on training Iraqi troops, or focusing on a new political deal between warring Shiites and Sunni -- have either been tried or have limited chances of success, in the view of many experts on Iraq. Baker is also exploring whether a broader U.S. initiative in tackling the Arab-Israeli conflict is needed to help stabilize the region. [complete article]

Democrats push for troop cuts within months
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, November 13, 2006

Democratic leaders in the Senate vowed on Sunday to use their new Congressional majority to press for troop reductions in Iraq within a matter of months, stepping up pressure on the administration just as President Bush is to be interviewed by a bipartisan panel examining future strategy for the war.

The Democrats -- the incoming majority leader, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada; the incoming Armed Services Committee chairman, Senator Carl Levin of Michigan; and the incoming Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware -- said a phased redeployment of troops would be their top priority when the new Congress convenes in January, even before an investigation of the conduct of the war.

"We need to begin a phased redeployment of forces from Iraq in four to six months," Mr. Levin said in an appearance on the ABC News program "This Week." In a telephone interview later, Mr. Levin added, "The point of this is to signal to the Iraqis that the open-ended commitment is over and that they are going to have to solve their own problems." [complete article]

Influence rises but base frays for Moqtada al-Sadr
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, November 13, 2006

Few have ever described Moktada al-Sadr, the mercurial leader of Iraq’s mightiest Shiite militia, as a statesman.

Yet there he was last month sitting on a pristine couch with the prime minister (no longer cross-legged on the floor), making public calls as well as sending private text messages to aides discouraging sectarianism, and paying visits to the home of Iraq's most senior Shiite cleric.

For years an angry outsider, Mr. Sadr, 33, has moved deep into the inner sanctum of the Iraqi government largely because his followers make up the biggest and most volatile Shiite militia. Now, after more than a year in power, he and his top lieutenants are firmly part of the establishment, a position that has brought new comfort and wealth. That change has shifted the threat for the American military, which no longer faces mass uprisings by Mr. Sadr's fighters when it enters their turf.

But the taming of Mr. Sadr has produced a paradox: the more settled he becomes in the establishment, the looser his grip is over his fighters on the streets and those increasingly infiltrating the security forces. In the two years since they fought against American tanks at Mr. Sadr's command, many have broken away from the confines of compromise that bind him, and have taken a far more active role in killing, something his supporters say worries him. He says he is trying to weed them out -- 40 were publicly dismissed last month. [complete article]

Pelosi endorses Murtha as next majority leader
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, November 13, 2006

House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed Rep. John P. Murtha (D-Pa.) yesterday as the next House majority leader, thereby stepping into a contentious intraparty fight between Murtha and her current deputy, Maryland's Steny H. Hoyer.

The unexpected move signaled the sizable value Pelosi gives to personal loyalty and personality preferences. Hoyer competed with her in 2001 for the post of House minority whip, while Murtha managed her winning campaign. Pelosi has also all but decided she will not name the ranking Democrat on the House intelligence committee, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) to chair that panel next year, a decision pregnant with personal animus.

Pelosi had been outspoken about her frustration with Murtha's declaration that he would challenge Hoyer, currently the House minority whip, for the majority leader post long before Democrats had secured the majority. Many believed she would remain on the sidelines, just as Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) did earlier this year when three Republicans vied for the post of House majority leader.

But in her first real decision as the incoming speaker, Pelosi said she was swayed by Murtha's early stance for a withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. Her letter of endorsement yesterday made clear that she sees Iraq as the central issue of the next Congress and that she believes a decorated Marine combat veteran at the helm of the House caucus would provide Democrats ammunition in their fight against congressional Republicans and President Bush on the issue. [complete article]

The unfinished story of election 2006
By Ira Chernus, TomDispatch, November 13, 2006

Election statistics are like pies. You can slice them up any way you want. And the way you slice them depends on the tool you use. My favorite tool is a nugget of wisdom from Democratic political guru Stanley Greenberg: "A narrative is the key to everything." The party that tells the best story wins. And the recipe for a winning story is simple: Take a few handfuls of fact, throw in a large dollop of fiction, and stir.

But the story of the 2006 election isn't over yet. It's like one of those movies on DVD with several alternative endings. You get to choose the one you want.

Greenberg said "a narrative is the key" right after the election of 2004. Back then, he credited the Republicans with "a much more coherent attack and narrative that motivated their voters." Though the media gave us a story about a new breed of "values voters," Karl Rove knew that was mostly fiction. It was the "war on terror" story that put George W. Bush back in the White House.

This year, Rove told Republicans to count on the same story to keep control of Congress. It went this way: Republicans, who are real Americans, have the backbone to fight against evil and do whatever it takes to win. Cowardly Democrats just want to cut and run.

By early October, it was clear that Rove's Scheherazade strategy -- keep spinning ever wilder stories to avoid certain death -- wasn't faring well. Nevertheless, Bush was out on the campaign trail right up to Election Day, sticking to the same old script. [complete article]
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'IBD' hits Rep. Conyers as 'Islamist' tool, hails Rumsfeld as 'great'
Editor and Publisher, November 11, 2006

The conservative business publication, Investor's Business Daily, isn't taking this week's elections results in stride. In a blistering editorial, the newspaper charges that Rep. John Conyers, soon to chair the House Judiciary Committee, is "leading a Democrat jihad to deny law enforcement key terror-fighting tools" and "is in the pocket of Islamists."

Proof for this? Conyers, whose district in Michigan holds a large Arab-Amercian population, has a version of his Web site in Arabic and allegedly "does the bidding of these new constituents and the militant Islamist activists who feed off them." More "evidence": Conyers opposes the Patriot Act and has called for the president's impeachment.

In addition he "is one of the top recipients of donations from the Arab-American Leadership PAC. And not surprisingly, he has a long history of pandering to Arab and Muslim voters....Today, Hamas, Hezbollah and the al-Qaida-tied Muslim Brotherhood are all active in the area....." [complete article]
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Look east
By Owen Gibson and Afshin Rattansi, The Guardian, November 13, 2006

Unsurprisingly for a broadcaster which attracted so much US opprobrium post 9/11 that George W Bush apparently wanted to bomb its headquarters, al-Jazeera is not shy of standing its ground. And its new English language news channel is not exactly aiming low - a "bridge between cultures" and "bringing the south to the north" are just two of the worthy aims being bandied around by staff.

"People have very preconceived ideas, whether they're negative or they're all good," says Rageh Omaar, the former BBC correspondent who has become one of the channel's many big-name recruits.

Originally due on air in late 2005, then spring of this year, then September, the long-delayed 24-hour global channel, providing news with a Middle Eastern perspective will at last start on Wednesday. Ask any of those dashing around its impressive hi-tech newsroom - all open plan studios and glass offices - and they will tell you the delay was all about technical hitches. [complete article]

See also, A new Al Jazeera with a global focus (NYT).
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As Taliban insurgency gains strength and sophistication, suspicion falls on Pakistan
By Declan Walsh, The Guardian, November 13, 2006

Five years ago today the Taliban vanished from Kabul and a liberated city exploded with joy. As the turbaned Islamists scurried, whooping residents rushed on to the streets. Men queued to have their beards shaved, some women removed their burkas and Radio Kabul played music for the first time in years - announced by a woman. There was savage vengeance too - some Taliban stragglers were lynched and dumped on the roadside.

But not everyone was celebrating. Sultan Amir, a Pakistani intelligence agent who helped to propel the Taliban to power, watched in dismay.

"I was hurt," said Mr Amir, better known under his nom de guerre Colonel Imam, during a rare interview in Islamabad. "I had an emotional attachment with the Taliban."

Although reviled by many the Taliban were really a force of "angels", claimed the 62-year-old agent. "They brought peace, they eradicated poppies, gave free education, medical treatment and speedy justice. They were the most respected people in Afghanistan," he said.

Pakistani officials claim that men like Col Imam are relics of a bygone era. Although Islamabad supported the Taliban in the 1990s, when Col Imam was posted to the western city of Herat, Pakistan's president, Pervez Musharraf, severed all links with the group after September 2001. But this year's hurricane of Taliban violence - a succession of thumping battles and suicide bombings that has killed more than 4,000 people - has given western officials reason to believe that some connection remains. [complete article]

See also, Insurgent activity soaring in 'forgotten war' in Afghanistan (AP).
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Indonesian Islamist group aims to rein in radicals
Agencies, November 12, 2006

Southeast Asia's biggest militant organisation, the Jemaah Islamiah network, is seeking to rein in its radical wing and invoke Islamic law against the anti-Western attacks demanded by Osama Bin Laden.

Analysts say literature posted on the group's website calls into question a 1998 decree from Bin Laden that Muslims must hit Western targets in defence of their faith.

The new trend, they say, follows a split within the movement into mainstream and pro-bombing factions that dates at least from the first Bali resort blast in 2002 and picked up speed through three subsequent suicide attacks. [complete article]

Comment -- War-on-terrorism ideologues would have us believe that no significance should be attached to reports like this. According to the doctrine of the "unity of terror," a nuanced understanding of terrorism -- recognition that groups differ and that divisions within groups can be significant -- is, they say, one step away from capitulation. In other words, for our own safety we should take refuge in indiscriminate fear. But maybe we shouldn't.
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White House brands Iran, Hezbollah as 'global nexus of terrorism'
Reuters, November 11, 2006

The White House branded Iran and Hezbollah on Saturday as a "global nexus of terrorism" and applauded an Argentine court for seeking the arrest of former Iranian officials in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish center.

In the Bush administration's latest rhetorical assault on Iran, White House spokesman Tony Snow issued a statement saying the Islamic republic was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent civilians as the world's "leading state sponsor of terrorism." It gave no specifics.

The statement also said Tehran's financial and military support for Hezbollah had allowed the Lebanese Shi'ite militant organization to "perpetuate violence throughout the world." [complete article]

See also, Argentina seeks Rafsanjani arrest (BBC).

Comment -- If anyone was holding out the hope that last week's election defeat might lead to an ideological shift inside the White House, here it is: "axis of evil" has been replaced by "global nexus of terrorism."

The administration is no longer served by playing to the Christian Right, so its out with religious "evil" and in with a much more sophisticated, secular, and no doubt bi-partisan, "global nexus of terrorism."

So, while the democratically-elected Hezbollah aggressively maneuvers to make the Lebanese government more accurately represent the make-up of Lebanese society, the political ascendancy of this party is being presented by Washington as a threat to civilization.

This warning comes to us from the same administration that continues to tiptoe around Muqtada al-Sadr (a Shiite cleric who arguably presents a much more direct threat to American interests than Sheik Hassan Nasrallah), makes conciliatory noises in the direction of North Korea, and under whose watch al-Qaeda is successfully establishing safe havens for terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

The White House appears to regard the possibility of another civil war in Lebanon as preferable to new elections out of which a Hezbollah-Amal alliance might gain control of the Lebanese government. When it comes down to a choice between Islamist-flavored democracy and war, the Bush administration still favors war.
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Hezbollah, allies quit Lebanon Cabinet posts
By Megan K. Stack and Raed Rafei, Los Angeles Times, November 12, 2006

Hezbollah and allied fellow Shiite Muslims resigned from the government of Lebanon on Saturday, plunging the country deeper into political crisis and raising the threat of massive street demonstrations.

After a week of intensive talks over Hezbollah's demand for more clout in the government, the Shiite parties said they were through negotiating with their political rivals.

"The so-called ruling party does not want any other parties to really participate in the decision-making process," said Trad Hamadeh, the labor minister who stepped down Saturday.

The resignations of the five Shiite ministers come in the heat of a rapidly escalating political battle between Hezbollah, flush from a perceived victory over Israel in the fighting this summer, and its furious rivals, who blame the Shiite militia for dragging their country into a devastating war. [complete article]
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Iran: 'Rapid, firm, destructive' response awaits Israeli attack
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, November 12, 2006

Responding to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's hinting at military action against its nuclear program, Iran on Sunday said it would react swiftly and harshly to such a move by Israel.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told a news conference Iran would put into action its Revolutionary Guards if Israel attacked the Islamic Republic.

"If Israel takes such a stupid step and attacks, the answer of Iran and its Revolutionary Guard will be rapid, firm and destructive and it will be given in a few seconds," he said. [complete article]
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Will this make America easier to share the planet with?
By Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer, November 12, 2006

When George W Bush appeared before the cameras in the wake of his party's beating in the midterm elections, he asked the assembled media: 'Why all the glum faces?' The only glum faces actually belonged to the American President and vanquished Republican candidates. Rarely has an election defeat been so resoundingly cheered in both its country of origin and around the rest of the world. Bush has finally united most of the planet. The ayatollahs of Iran, the chancelleries of Europe, the majority of Americans and even some Republicans who thought their party deserved condign punishment, all have been celebrating 'the thumpin" administered by voters. This was not just a damning verdict on the catastrophic mess made in Iraq. It is the termination of a dozen years in which the Republicans have dominated both houses of the American legislature.

One very good thing about this election result is that it demonstrates both to Americans and the rest of the world that democracy still functions in America. A few weeks ago, I reported to you from Washington that I thought that the war, the corruption and the sleaze would triple-whammy the Republicans. There were many people on both sides of the Atlantic who thought that to be a rather rash forecast. They remembered the false hopes invested in Kerry, they recalled the disappointment of Gore and they took the power of the Republican vote machine at its own elevated estimation.

The ballot has done its purgative work. The Republicans have suffered their deserved fate. The plan to construct a perpetual right-wing hegemony over America has been exploded. The optimistic way of looking at these elections is that they will lead to a United States that takes a smarter and less unilateralist approach to the rest of the world. Whether this happens will firstly depend on whether Bush accommodates defeat or attempts to defy it. The signals are mixed. [complete article]
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Iraq girds for shift in U.S. policy
By Aamer Madhani, Chicago Tribune, November 11, 2006

With President Bush set to meet Monday with a bipartisan Iraq study group co-chaired by former Secretary of State James Baker, Iraqis are bracing for a significant shift in U.S. strategy as the White House considers a range of ideas, proposals and options on how to move forward.

After Tuesday's overwhelming Democratic election victory and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's abrupt resignation, Iraq's parliamentarians and political operatives believe that the U.S. approach to their war-torn country is about to undergo a major overhaul.

But the view from Baghdad is that many of the proposals floating around Washington--such as a phased withdrawal, using U.S. forces based outside Iraq only in emergencies or persuading Iran and Syria to get more involved--are fraught with problems, none assuring a certain and quick solution. [complete article]

Somber analysis of Iraq's future
By Frank Davies, Mercury News, November 11, 2006

The situation in Iraq is "even worse than we thought," with key Iraqi leaders showing no willingness to compromise to avoid increasing violence, said Leon Panetta, a member of the high-powered advisory group that will recommend new options for the war.

The Iraq Study Group, including Panetta, plans to meet with President Bush and his national security team Monday at the White House, and gather more data on the war through briefings and interviews next week. Panetta was chief of staff in the Clinton White House. [complete article]

See also, Blair to address Iraq Study Group (WP).

Despite billions spent, rebuilding incomplete
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, November 12, 2006

For a little more than $38 billion, the United States and its contractors in Iraq have provided 4.6 million people with access to water. They have distributed seeds to Iraqi farmers, improving wheat harvests. With electricity-generating capacity now above prewar levels, they have given many Iraqis more daily hours of power. They have repaired more than 5,000 schools and vaccinated 4.6 million children against polio.

The list goes on. But as the U.S.-led, U.S.-funded portion of Iraq's reconstruction nears its end, American officials and contractors alike are grappling with a cold reality: Thousands of successes in Iraq may add up to a single failure.

"We accomplished a significant amount of work. But it was just overwhelmed by the overlay of violence," said Clifford G. Mumm, who has spent much of the past three years in Iraq managing projects for Bechtel Corp. "It's hard to be very optimistic." [complete article]
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No one is guilty in Israel
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, November 12, 2006

Nineteen inhabitants of Beit Hanun were killed with malice aforethought. There is no other way of describing the circumstances of their killing. Someone who throws burning matches into a forest can't claim he didn't mean to set it on fire, and anyone who bombards residential neighborhoods with artillery can't claim he didn't mean to kill innocent inhabitants.

Therefore it takes considerable gall and cynicism to dare to claim that the Israel Defense Forces did not intend to kill inhabitants of Beit Hanun. Even if there was a glitch in the balancing of the aiming mechanism or in a component of the radar, a mistake in the input of the data or a human error, the overwhelming, crucial, shocking fact is that the IDF bombards helpless civilians. Even shells that are supposedly aimed 200 meters from houses, into "open areas," are intended to kill, and they do kill. In this respect, nothing new happened on Wednesday morning in Gaza: The IDF has been behaving like this for months now.

But this isn't just a matter of "the IDF," "the government" or "Israel" bearing the responsibility. It must be said explicitly: The blame rests directly on people who hold official positions, flesh-and-blood human beings, and they must pay the price of their criminal responsibility for needless killing. Attorney Avigdor Klagsbald caused the death of a woman and her child without anyone imagining that he intended to hit them, but nevertheless he is sitting in prison. And what about the killers of women and children in Beit Hanun? Will they all be absolved? Will no one be tried? Will no one even be reprimanded and shunned? [complete article]
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How Israel put Gaza civilians in firing line
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, November 12, 2006

Israeli military commanders drastically reduced the 'safety' margins that separate artillery targets from the built-up civilian areas of Gaza earlier this year, despite being warned that the new policy risked increasing Palestinian civilian deaths and injuries, The Observer can reveal.

The warning, delivered in Israel's high court by six human rights groups, came after the Israeli Defence Force reduced the so-called 'safety range' in Gaza from a 300-metre separation from built-up areas to just 100 metres - within the kill radius of its 155mm high-explosive shells, generally regarded as being between 50 and 150 metres.

Disclosure of the new shelling policy, which went largely unnoted at the time, has emerged in international outcry over the latest artillery incident by Israeli gunners shelling Gaza - the killing of 19 members of an extended family in the Gaza town of Beit Hanoun. It was the highest Palestinian civilian toll in a single incident since the current conflict erupted in September 2000. The deaths were caused when what witnesses described as a volley of tank shells hit a built-up civilian area. [complete article]

U.S. vetoes U.N. measure on Israeli action in Gaza
By Justin Bergman, AP, November 12, 2006

The United States vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution Saturday that condemned an Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip and demanded that Israeli troops pull out of the territory.

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton said the Arab-backed draft resolution was "biased against Israel and politically motivated."

"This resolution does not display an evenhanded characterization of the recent events in Gaza, nor does it advance the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace to which we aspire and for which we are working assiduously," he told the Security Council. [complete article]
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Haniyya willing to step aside in bid to end Palestinian suffering
Daily Star, November 11, 2006

Palestinian Premier Ismail Haniyya hinted Friday that he would step aside and not head a unity government Hamas is trying to forge with Fatah as a way to lift a Western embargo.

Haniyya said he hoped the unity cabinet, to be made up of independent experts, could be in place within three weeks, ending months of intermittent talks and internal violence that has raised fears of civil war.

The prime minister told worshippers at a mosque in the Gaza Strip that Western powers did not want him to be part of the new administration.

"[They have] one condition, that the siege will not be lifted unless the prime minister is changed," Haniyya said. [complete article]
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Now to overhaul all Middle East policy
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, November 11, 2006

Change is coming soon to American policy in the Middle East. The neoconservatives in Washington who defined American foreign policy in the past six years were down before the elections Tuesday, and they are now well on the way out. The common sense of ordinary Americans has reasserted itself over the reckless militaristic bravado of neocon-driven policies, which manifested themselves primarily in the Middle East.

During my past five weeks of travel, study and work in the United States, it has been obvious from talks with Americans from many different walks of life that Americans are deeply disenchanted with the policies of President George W. Bush, which it finally repudiated in the election. Only the Iraqi dimension of the Middle East played a prominent role in the elections, and it will get the most attention now. The changing nature of the region and its many interlinked conflicts, though, means that any American policy shift in Iraq must necessarily involve grappling with other major issues in the region. [complete article]
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A topic in the air but one that political candidates declined to touch: torture of prisoners
By Peter Steinfels, New York Times, November 12, 2006

The October issue of Theology Today, a scholarly journal published by the Princeton Theological Seminary, featured a series of articles on torture. "It is a matter of shame," writes one of the contributors, Jeremy Waldron, a professor of law at New York University, that "we have no choice but to conduct a national debate about torture."

That debate, Professor Waldron continues, is not about stopping torture by "corrupt and tyrannical regimes" but about whether the American people and the American nation want "to remain part of the international human rights consensus that torture is utterly beyond the pale."

There were few if any signs of such a debate in the midterm election campaigns. That cannot simply be because of the government's insistence that the United States abhors torture and does not practice it. The government insists on many things -- about the war in Iraq and economic prosperity, for example -- that its political opponents do not hesitate to challenge and challenge vociferously.

Torture is different. It is such a stain on personal and national character that nothing but appalling photographs could have forced the subject to the fore. When it comes to pressing the question of official complicity, no stack of equivocating documents can have similar force. In a season of shameless attack ads, torture is still too shameful to be debated.

As for religious reaction, Fleming Rutledge, the Episcopal priest and noted preacher, said in this issue of Theology Today, "In my lifetime, I do not remember any major public question being so studiously ignored as this one." [complete article]
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Incoming Democrats put populism before ideology
By Robin Toner and Kate Zernike, New York Times, November 12, 2006

The newly elected Democratic class of 2006, which is set to descend on the Capitol next week, will hardly be the first freshmen to arrive in Washington promising to make a difference.

The last time Congress changed hands, the Republican freshman class of 1994 roared into town under the leadership of Newt Gingrich as speaker and quickly advanced a conservative agenda of exceptional ambition.

Many in the class of 2006, especially those who delivered the new Democratic majorities by winning Republican seats, show little appetite for that kind of ideological crusade. But in interviews with nearly half of them this week, the freshmen -- 41 in the House and 9 in the Senate, including one independent -- conveyed a keen sense of their own moment in history, and a distinct world view: they say they were given a rare opportunity by voters, many of them independents and Republicans, who were tired of the partisanship and gridlock in Washington. [complete article]
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End of the affair
By Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, November 11, 2006

Two months ago, Kenneth Adelman, the former director of the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, received a call from the Pentagon: Donald Rumsfeld would like to see him as soon as possible. Adelman said he knew then that this meeting might be their last.

The two men had been friends for thirty-six years. Adelman first worked for Rumsfeld in the Nixon Administration, and then served as Rumsfeld's assistant during his more rewarding term as the Secretary of Defense, under President Ford. Rumsfeld drafted Adelman to help him in his brief, ineffectual campaign for President, in 1988. Their families sometimes spent vacations together, and Rumsfeld continued to call on Adelman for advice. In 2001, Rumsfeld appointed his friend to the Defense Policy Board, a group of lobbyists, defense intellectuals, and politicians of once high standing, who gather periodically to give the Secretary unvarnished advice on strategy and management.

Rumsfeld had apparently come to see Adelman's advice as a bit too unvarnished. Before the war, Adelman famously remarked that the invasion would be a "cakewalk." He wasn't wrong about that. Seizing Baghdad was comparatively easy; holding it quickly became the problem. "When Rumsfeld said, in reaction to all the looting, 'Stuff happens,' and 'That's what free people do,' I was just so disappointed," Adelman recalled last week. "This wasn't what free people did; it's what barbarians did." Within the confines of the policy board, Adelman became blunt about his disenchantment with the Pentagon's management of the war. At the board's meeting this summer, Adelman said, he argued that the American military needed a new strategy. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

It wasn't only Rumsfeld's war
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, November 9, 2006

The axis of not quite as evil
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, November 2, 2006

Plebiscite on an outlaw empire
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, November 9, 2006

Fighting over who lost Iraq
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2006

Understanding Gates
By James Mann, Washington Post, November 10, 2006

Neo culpa
By David Rose, Vanity Fair, November 3, 2006

The white man's club
By Alastair Crooke, Conflicts Forum, November 9, 2006

Listen to Maj. Gen. Stern
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, November 6, 2006

Jews and Arabs can never live together, says Israel's vice PM
By Harry de Quetteville, The Sunday Telegraph, November 5, 2006

Speech at the Rabin memorial
By David Grossman, International Middle East Media Center, November 6, 2006
[permanent link to this entry] [home]

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