The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Only Iraqis can overcome this national catastrophe
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, November 24, 2006

Iraq's mounting crisis is changing the calculus in Tehran and Damascus as much as in Washington. Iran's theocratic leaders never wanted a secular democracy in Iraq, but the argument that they welcome or even promote instability there because it keeps the Americans tied down and therefore unable to move on to invade Iran is unconvincing. It would be much better for Tehran to have a Shia-run junior-partner government in Baghdad that is secure enough to tell the Americans to leave.

That goal seemed to have been reached last December when Iraq's elections gave victory to Shia religious parties with a four-year mandate. Then came Samarra. The massive explosion in February that destroyed the golden-domed al-Askari mosque that is especially sacred to Shias was Iraq's 9/11, a terrorist masterstroke that changed a nation's world-view. All over Iraq, Shias decided Sunnis were out to deny them the success they had just won at the ballot box. Retaliatory attacks were launched on Sunni neighbourhoods, which then produced attacks on Shia ones, leading to an escalating sequence of horrendous revenge killings that now seems beyond anyone's power to curtail - as yesterday's wave of bloodletting in Baghdad emphasised.

What, in this crisis, can Iran offer its Iraqi friends? Not much. Iraq is already awash with guns and explosives. Whatever funds and weaponry the Iranian regime has been supplying to its friends, they are not enough to make a difference if they stop coming in now. Iran's good contacts with the main militia leaders in Iraq may suggest it has leverage - except that these men themselves no longer control the welter of autonomous street gangs into which their followers have split.

So Iran's call for a summit with Iraq and Syria this weekend is more a diplomatic ploy than a step that will bring results. Iran hopes to improve its image in the region as a responsible and major player while also helping to advance the Iraqi government's growing disillusionment with the Americans. Beyond that there is little Iran can do. [complete article]

See also, Iraq is broke beyond repair (Rosa Brooks).

Sadr group threatens to quit Iraq govt if PM meets Bush
AFP, November 24, 2006

The political group of radical Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr on Friday threatened to pull out of Iraq's national unity government if Prime Minister Nuri Al Maliki goes through with a scheduled meeting with US President George W. Bush in Jordan next week.

"We will withdraw from the government and parliament if the prime minister meets Bush in Jordan," a statement from the group said, adding that it would also withdraw if the security situation did not improve.

Bush and Maliki are due in Jordan on November 29 for talks on the situation in Iraq.

The group, which has 30 MPs in the 275-member parliament, is a key supporter of Maliki’s Shia-led government and was key to his appointment as prime minister over the choices of other Shia parties. [complete article]

Iraq's Sadr says Sunni cleric must defuse crisis
Reuters, November 24, 2006

A day after seeing his Baghdad power base devastated by explosions, radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Iraq's most prominent Sunni religious leader to tell his followers to stop killing Shi'ites.

Sadr, who on Thursday blamed Sunni Islamist al Qaeda militants and Saddam Hussein loyalists for the blasts which killed 202 people, made the call during a Friday sermon in Kufa, just outside the Shi'ite holy city of Najaf, south of Baghdad.

It was directed at Harith al-Dari, the head of Iraq's influential Muslim Clerics Association, an umbrella group for Sunni religious leaders, who is wanted by Iraqi authorities on suspicion of links to terrorism charges. Dari, who lives abroad, denies the accusations. [complete article]

Al-Qaeda foments civil war in Iraq with triple bomb attack on market
By Ned Parker, The Times, November 24, 2006

The bombings came after the release of a UN report on Wednesday that said Iraq's civilian death toll had reached a new monthly high of more than 3,700 in October.

"It is clear al-Qaeda did this. It is their way to attack innocent people. There are no governmental buildings, no army bases, no security forces attacked. The victims were only innocent civilians," Abdul Karim Khalaf, the Interior Ministry spokesman, said. "These attacks aim to destroy Iraq and the political process."

Al-Qaeda is also blamed for the February 2006 bombing of a Shia shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad, that provoked Iraq’s current wave of tit-for-tat Sunni-Shia violence. [complete article]

U.S. fights highly trained militants in Iraq
By Edward Wong, New York Times, November 24, 2006

Sunni Arab militant groups suspected of ties to Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia have established training camps east of Baghdad that are turning out well-disciplined units willing to fight American forces in set-piece battles, American military commanders said Thursday.

American soldiers fought such units in a pitched battle last week in the village of Turki, 25 miles south of this Iraqi Army base in volatile Diyala Province, near the Iranian border. At least 72 insurgents and two American officers were killed in more than 40 hours of fighting. American commanders said they called in 12 hours of airstrikes while soldiers shot their way through a reed-strewn network of canals in extremely close combat.

Officers said that in this battle, unlike the vast majority of engagements in Diyala, insurgents stood and fought, even deploying a platoon-sized unit that showed remarkable discipline and that one captain said was in "perfect military formation." Insurgents throughout Iraq usually avoid direct confrontation with the Americans, preferring to use hit-and-run tactics and melting away at the sight of American armored vehicles.

Lt. Col. Andrew Poppas, commander of the Fifth Squadron, 73rd Cavalry, a unit of the 82nd Airborne Division, said in an interview that the fighters at Turki "were disciplined and well-trained, with well-aimed shots."

"We hadn't seen anything like this in years," he said. [complete article]

Iraq's bid for neighbours' help shows desperation
By Claudia Parsons, Reuters, November 24, 2006

Iraq's president flies to Tehran this weekend to seek help halting a descent into civil war but analysts say it may be too late and that in any case there is only so much Iraq's neighbours can do -- even if they want to.

Jalal Talabani's trip comes after a landmark visit to Iraq by Syria's foreign minister, and as U.S. President George W. Bush, facing anger over Iraq at home, is under pressure from his allies to enlist the help of his arch enemies, Iran and Syria.

Mustafa Alani, Iraqi security analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai, said Talabani's trip smacked of desperation.

"They've reached the point they are so desperate now they've lost control over the situation inside the country," Alani said. [complete article]

Under fire, U.S. marines hand off battered Fallujah
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, November 24, 2006

The numbers underscore the dilemma for marines in Fallujah, and for US troops across Iraq, as they begin to pull back and hand more responsibility to Iraqi forces.

The 300 marines here are attacked five to eight times each day. That presence is a significant drop from the 3,000 marines posted here in March 2005, and the 10,000 that took part in the late 2004 invasion.

Another metric: Officers say the number of direct fire incidents against US forces has shot up 650 percent in the past year. Three marines had been hit by snipers in one 48-hour span earlier this week. [complete article]

3,709 civilians killed in October, U.N. says
By Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, November 23, 2006

The number of civilians killed in Iraq reached a record monthly high of 3,709 in October, mostly a result of sectarian violence, according to a U.N. report released Wednesday.

The report by the U.N. Assistance Mission for Iraq described the many ways civilians have been killed, from roadside bombs to drive-by shootings to kidnappings. Many were found handcuffed, blindfolded and bearing signs of torture and execution-style killing. Most had gunshot wounds.

Culling from figures kept by Iraq's Health Ministry, private hospitals and Baghdad's morgue, the report described a rapidly deteriorating society that has forced an estimated 1.6 million people to flee to neighboring countries since the war began in 2003. No longer are terrorists and insurgents the main perpetrators of the killings. Death squads linked to militias, often in collusion with the Iraqi police, and criminal gangs are also responsible, the report said. Many slayings were simply acts of vengeance. [complete article]

1,000 Iraqis a day flee violence, U.N. group finds
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, November 24, 2006

More than 1,000 Iraqis a day are being displaced by the sectarian violence that began on Feb. 22 with the bombing of the Shiite Askariya shrine in Samarra, according to a report released this week by the Geneva-based International Organization for Migration, a U.N.-associated group.

This increasing movement of Iraqi families, caused by the lack of security and by the growth of armed local militias and criminal gangs, is adding to the already chaotic governmental situation in Baghdad, according to U.N., U.S. and non-governmental reports released over the past weeks.

When families who fled from Baghdad to Qadisiyah, a fairly safe district south of the capital, were questioned by the IOM about why they left their homes, "almost all said it was due to direct threats to their lives . . . letters, anonymous calls, graffiti on their homes or in their neighborhoods." All were Shiites. [complete article]
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Russian rocket deliveries to Iran started
AFP, November 24, 2006

Russia has begun deliveries of the Tor-M1 air defence rocket system to Iran, Russian news agencies quoted military industry sources as saying, in the latest sign of a Russian-US rift over Iran.

"Deliveries of the Tor-M1 have begun. The first systems have already been delivered to Tehran," ITAR-TASS quoted an unnamed, high-ranking source as saying Friday.

The United States has pressed Russia to halt military sales to Iran, which Washington accuses of harbouring secret plans to build a nuclear weapon. [complete article]

Iran says it will build heavy-water reactor without agency's help
By Nazila Fathi, New York Times, November 24, 2006

Iran said Thursday that it would build a heavy-water reactor on its own after the United Nations nuclear monitoring agency decided to remove the item from a list of projects for which it planned to provide technical assistance.

"It is part of the agency's duties to help," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said at a news conference on Thursday after the action in Vienna by the 35-member board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the ISNA news service reported. "If they do not help, we will do it on our own."

Iran says that it is building the heavy-water reactor at Arak, 120 miles southwest of Tehran, to produce radioactive isotopes for medical treatments and that the agency should provide it with technical assistance as part of its mission. The agency provides help to promote the peaceful development of nuclear energy, as well as monitoring possible weapons programs. [complete article]
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Analysis: How Lebanon can avoid a political crisis
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, November 24, 2006

The murder of Pierre Gemayel will only delay the Hezbollah agenda and has already put off its own demonstration scheduled for this week. Hezbollah still aspires to play a greater role in the government and wants more ministers, as well as veto power on critical issues. The group believes it represents the largest portion of the population, and it is willing to take this to elections.

But it is also willing to give up these powers if presented with a satisfactory compromise solution. One of Hezbollah's spokesmen hinted Thursday at such willingness, without specifying his asking price. What is clear for the time being is that even if the organization does not achieve its goals at the negotiating table, it will push for gains by political means.

The question now is whether the Amal and Hezbollah ministers will return to the government they stepped down from and restore its public legitimacy, or whether they will put the country through an exhaustive series of trials.

The key lies in the compromise over the international tribunal, which is supposed to try Hariri's killers. Now, following Gemayel's murder, the coalition will find it even more difficult to give in on this issue, and it is possible that herein lies the solution. If Hezbollah agrees to accept gains in other areas and allows the international tribunal to carry out its task, it is possible that Lebanon will once more manage to extricate itself from a political crisis. [complete article]
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At Lebanese funeral, a show of force against Syria
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, November 24, 2006

Last month, Hezbollah, trying to capitalize on its sense of victory in the wake of its war this summer with Israel, threatened to organize demonstrations unless its demands were met for greater representation in the cabinet. But with the funeral Thursday, its opponents seized the initiative, mobilizing supporters in the streets in a rally whose themes and slogans were redolent of the mass protests in the same square in March 2005 that followed the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri and helped end Syria's 29-year military presence here.

Some chants were familiar: "Freedom, sovereignty and independence," along with "Syria out!" Others were new, directed against Hezbollah and its contentious weapons. "No arms that aren't legitimate." Some protesters shouted obscenities at Hezbollah's leader, Hasan Nasrallah, and his Christian ally, Michel Aoun. At the start of the funeral, others burned and stomped portraits of Aoun and Emile Lahoud, the pro-Syrian president whose resignation was a main demand of Gemayel's supporters Thursday.

"They wanted it to be a contest, so let it be one," Samir Geagea, a Christian leader allied with the government, told the cheering crowd in Martyrs' Square. "We are not afraid one bit. We shall not give in. We shall not submit until the crimes stop."

In scenes dissonant with mourning, the crowd was festive, gathering in circles, clapping and chanting in unison, across a square that overlooks the turquoise Mediterranean Sea. "He lives in us," they shouted of Gemayel, who was killed Tuesday in a hail of gunfire after his car was ambushed on a busy suburban Beirut street. His coffin, draped in the party's green-and-white flag, was taken from his home town of Bikfaya to the service at St. Georges Cathedral led by the Maronite Catholic patriarch.
In the Shiite southern suburbs, Hezbollah's stronghold, shops stayed open Thursday despite a three-day period of mourning announced after Gemayel's death. As the funeral began, many watched scenes a few miles away unfold on television. Suspicion ran deep that Gemayel's allies, not Syria, were behind the killing, given the way his death has bolstered Hezbollah's opponents and put the organization on the defensive, forcing it to delay its own protests many had expected to begin this week.

"Crocodile tears," quipped one customer watching the broadcast.

"All of them are warlords and thieves," said another resident, Imad Zein, as he bought a bottle of water. "No one should believe or follow them. They are the ones who brought chaos, civil war and clashes to this country in the first place." [complete article]
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Israel rejects ceasefire proposal
BBC News, November 24, 2006

Israel has dismissed an offer by Palestinian militant groups to stop firing rockets into Israel, if Israel ends attacks on Palestinians.

An Israeli government spokeswoman, Miri Eisen, said the militants had offered only a partial ceasefire.

She said the offer of an end to firing rockets from Gaza showed a lack of real commitment to peace. [complete article]

See also, Israel should consider a Hamas truce - and deal with Syria (Yossi Alpher).
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Senate Democrats revive demand for classified data
By David Johnston, New York Times, November 24, 2006

Seeking information about detention of terrorism suspects, abuse of detainees and government secrecy, Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are reviving dozens of demands for classified documents that until now have been rebuffed or ignored by the Justice Department and other agencies.

"I expect real answers, or we'll have testimony under oath until we get them," Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, who will head the committee beginning in January, said in an interview this week. "We're entitled to know these answers, and in many instances we don’t get them because people are hiding their mistakes. And that's no excuse."

Mr. Leahy, who has said little about his plans for the committee, expressed hope for greater cooperation from the Bush administration, which he described as having been "obsessively secretive." His aides have identified more than 65 requests he has made to the Justice Department or other agencies in recent years that have been rejected or permitted to languish without reply. [complete article]
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Iraq: The war of the imagination
By Mark Danner, New York Review of Books (via TomDispatch), November 22, 2006

...if the victory in Iraq was to achieve what was expected -- which is to say, "humiliate" the forces of radical Islam and reestablish American prestige and credibility; serve as a "demonstration model" to ward off attacks from any rogue state that might threaten the United States, either directly or by supplying weapons of mass destruction to terrorists; and transform the Middle East by sending a "democratic tsunami" cascading from Tehran to Gaza -- if the Iraq war was to achieve this, victory must be rapid, decisive, overwhelming. Only Donald Rumsfeld's transformed military -- a light, quick, lean force dependent on overwhelming firepower directed precisely by high technology and with very few "boots on the ground" -- could make this happen, or so he and his planners thought. Victory would be quick and awe-inspiring; in a few months the Americans, all but a handful of them, would be gone: only the effect of the "demonstration model," and the cascading consequences in the neighboring states, would remain. The use of devastating military power would begin the process but once begun the transformation would roll forward, carried out by forces of the same thrilling "democratic revolution" that had erupted on the streets of Prague and Budapest and East Berlin more than a decade before, and indeed on the streets of Kabul the previous year. Here was an evangelical vision of geopolitical redemption. [complete article]

And, The war of the imagination - part two.
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Pentagon cites alternative to Baker report
By Rowan Scarborough, Washington Times, November 22, 2006

The Baker-Hamilton group will not be the only source of new ideas on Iraq for the president in a war that an increasing number of Americans say lacks progress. The Pentagon is also leading an extensive review.

The defense officials said they do not want the Iraq Study Group's options to go unchallenged in case it proposes items that Mr. Bush does not like, such as a timetable for removing troops.

"I don't think anyone is comfortable with one organization coming up with a list of recommendations," said a senior Pentagon official involved in the war review, adding that the Pentagon review could produce ideas that compete with or are counter to the Iraq Study Group's. [complete article]

Comment -- It's disingenuous to call this a "review." It's really a contrarians' opinion since it can only serve its stated purpose if it reaches different conclusions than those reached by the Iraq Study Group. Were these two truly independent review processes, that would allow for the possibility that they both reached the same conclusions and thus would be doubly hard for the White House to ignore.

The recommendations coming from Baker's group will probably be loaded with caveats and equivocation, but in the unlikely event that they turn out to be unambiguous and emphatic, the White House will already have its fallback plan. This will serve not so much as an alternative course of action as much as a self-serving justification for continuing with the "tactical and strategic changes and adjustments that are made all the time" -- otherwise known as "fiddling while Baghdad burns."
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Fears of civil strife rise in Lebanon
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, November 22, 2006

Since Nasrallah pressed his demand for a greater share of power in late October, Lebanese have been faced with what amounts to a long wait: sensing that something might happen, but not sure what or when. Last week, a hard-line Christian leader, Samir Geagea, predicted that assassinations might be ahead. Others warned that killing three ministers would deprive the cabinet of one-third of its members and, by law, force it to resign, as Hezbollah has demanded. Partisan television stations have railed at one another, streets are awash with politically loaded posters and emigration is the stuff of everyday conversation.

But the turn to violence Tuesday seemed to scare leaders as much as it angered them. Walid Jumblatt, a Druze leader and one of Hezbollah's most outspoken foes, showed up at St. Joseph's Hospital, where Gemayel's body was taken. He spoke briefly to Gemayel's father, who served as president from 1982 to 1988, then turned to the crowd. "Beware," he said. "Let's not give the opportunity to the killers to lead us to civil strife."

Lebanese television broadcast statement after statement appealing for calm from officials in both camps. Aoun, whose alliance with Hezbollah has deeply split the Christian community, appealed for restraint.

"We call on all blocs to practice wisdom and to not fall into what the perpetrators seek," he said.

Gemayel, a rising star in the right-wing Phalangist Party founded by his grandfather and namesake, was expected to carry the mantle of a family that ascended from humble beginnings to become one of the country's most prominent Christian clans. During Lebanon's 1975-90 civil war, the party fielded the largest Christian militia and was allied with Israel. His uncle, Bashir Gemayel, was elected president in 1982 but was assassinated days before he was to take office in an explosion many blamed on Syria.

Pierre Gemayel was elected to parliament in 2000 and again in 2005, emerging as a pivotal player in the anti-Syrian coalition and winning a reputation as one of the most hard-line of Christian leaders. He was a vocal critic of Hezbollah and its ally, pro-Syrian President Emile Lahoud. Even today, many Shiites recall an interview Gemayel gave to a Christian-owned television station in spring 2005 in which he was dismissive of the Shiites' standing as Lebanon's largest group.

"They threaten with quantity of people," he said. "We have the quality." [complete article]

Comment -- While the dominant narrative in the American view of the Middle East continues to focus on an ostensible clash between "democratic" (read, pro-Western) and "undemocratic" (read, Islamic) forces, the part of the picture that tends to be glossed over is this: wherever elites wield most of the power and large sections of society have inadequate political representation, inequity is a social charge waiting to explode. Lebanon (like Israel) has democratic processes built on undemocratic foundations. Sooner or later the foundations have to get fixed.
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Gemayel assassination and the Lebanon circle of violence
By Rami G. Khouri, Middle East Online, November 22, 2006

The United States and other Western powers forcefully support the Siniora government, just as they supported Israel in its military assault on Hezbollah in the summer. They expect the UN investigation of the Hariri murder and the new international tribunal to shatter or at least moderate the Syrian regime and security system that they blame for Lebanon's ills.

The real concern now is that the Gemayel assassination will trigger anti-Hezbollah and anti-Syrian anger that will aggravate internal tensions and turn them violent, while simultaneously heightening explicit American diplomatic confrontations with Hezbollah-backers Syria and Iran.

Washington may temper this approach if it decides it needs Syria and Iran to help it exit gracefully from Iraq - in which case Lebanon may get only rhetorical support, while Washington strikes a self-serving deal with Syria to salvage Iraq. This is the great fear of many Lebanese, especially after seeing Washington's commitment to Lebanese sovereignty and security go into temporary summer hibernation during Israel's attacks this summer. In either case, this spells rough days ahead in Lebanon and the region. [complete article]

See also, Security Council OKs Hariri tribunal (AP) and Hizbullah is gambling big in the street (Michael Young).
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Iraq's government hampered by suspicions
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, November 22, 2006

When the Ministry of Municipalities and Public Works dispatched crews to the Amil neighborhood last month to repair a sewer line that had been spewing raw human waste into the street for weeks, residents were encouraged.

But instead of repairing the pipe, the workers wound up rupturing the freshwater line. They left the entire mess for someone else.

Iraqis elected their leaders in December, hoping that a government by the people would do something for the people. Eleven months later, officials acknowledge that their efforts have been mostly a failure. And, as with the busted sewer line of Amil, government involvement often creates a bigger problem than it solves.

Despite U.S. pressure for results, Iraq's elected officials have been unable to overcome their mistrust of one another and improve security or tackle the major political and economic issues — from murderous cops to the sewage woes of Amil. [complete article]
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A settlements mafia
By Dror Etkes, Haaretz, November 22, 2006

The figures published yesterday by Peace Now's Settlement Watch team on the ownership of land on which the settlements sit presents a scary picture of the State of Israel's behavior in the territories. Approximately 40 percent of the area of settlements is privately-owned Palestinian land, according to the Civil Administration. Put simply, for dozens of years, Israel continued to expand and entrench the settlement enterprise by dispossessing Palestinian residents of their lands, whose private ownership even the State of Israel does not dispute. All of this is in contrast to the frequently voiced argument of official government spokesmen and settlers that "the settlements sit on state lands." [complete article]
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Pope Benedict's definition of what it means to be European ignores the positive contributions of Islam
By Tariq Ramadan, Time, November 19, 2006

Since delivering the speech in which he quoted a 14th century Emperor who said the Prophet of Islam had given nothing positive to humanity and had commanded followers to use violence to spread their faith, Pope Benedict XVI has been subjected to bitter Muslim reaction around the world. Benedict has responded by saying he regretted the consequences of his misunderstood words, but he did not retract his statement--perhaps rightly so. After all, he had simply cited an ancient Emperor. It is Benedict's right to exercise his critical opinion without being expected to apologize for it--whether he's an ordinary Roman Catholic or the Pope.

But that doesn't mean he was right. Muslim attention has focused mainly on the lecture's association between violence and Islam, but the most important and disputable aspect of it was Benedict's reflection on what it means to be European. In his speech at Regensburg, the Pope attempted to set out a European identity that is Christian by faith and Greek by philosophical reason. But Benedict's speech implicitly suggested that he believes that Islam has no such relationship with reason--and thus is excluded from being European. Several years ago, the Pope, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, set forth his opposition to the integration of Turkey into Europe in similar terms. Muslim Turkey has never been, and never will be, able to claim an authentically European culture, he contended. It is another thing; it is the Other. [complete article]
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Report finds DHS lax on contracting procedures
By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Scott Higham, Washington Post, November 22, 2006

Private consultants hired by the Department of Homeland Security have found widespread problems with its contracting operation, including nearly three dozen contract files that could not be located.

Files that could be found often lacked basic documentation required under federal rules, such as evidence that the department negotiated the best prices for taxpayers, according to a copy of the consultants' report obtained by The Washington Post.

"The inability to locate files and inconsistent file organization puts the government at risk in ensuring the contractor is fulfilling its contractual obligations and the government is meeting its contract administration responsibilities," the consultants wrote in their report.

The assessment underscores complaints by department auditors and outside experts that procurement officials persistently neglected contracting responsibilities as they spent billions of dollars after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks -- much of it on security systems that do not work as planned. [complete article]
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Assassination stresses the dilemma Syria poses for the White House
By Warren P. Strobel and John Walcott, McClatchy, November 21, 2006

Bush faces growing calls to open a high-level dialogue with Syria as part of a strategy to salvage the U.S. mission in Iraq. Former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, who co-chairs a bipartisan panel on Iraq that's expected to issue its recommendations next month, has said he favors such talks. So have several leading Democratic lawmakers.

But within the administration, a group of policymakers centered at the White House and in the Pentagon are promoting instead a stepped-up effort to destabilize Assad's regime, according to senior U.S. officials and outside experts who follow Syria.

Last month, officials from the White House's National Security Council held a little-noticed meeting with representatives of a loose coalition of anti-Assad exiles and encouraged them to set up a Washington office.

The group, the National Salvation Front of Syria, includes liberal secularists; former Syrian Vice President Abdul Halim Khaddam, who broke with Assad last year; and members of Syria's strongest Islamist group, the Muslim Brotherhood. [complete article]

Anti-Syrian politician assassinated in Lebanon
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, November 21, 2006

Earlier this week, Nasrallah urged his followers to prepare to take their demands for more government posts to the streets, and protests were expected to begin as soon as Thursday.

Gemayel's assassination threatens to undercut the admiration that Nasrallah gained across the Lebanese political spectrum during the war against Israel. But the attack also could spark open warfare between anti-Syrian Lebanese militias and the more powerful Syrian-backed forces, including Hezbollah.

Outside the hospital, at Gemayel's political headquarters and around makeshift curbside memorials for the slain politician, angry supporters cursed Nasrallah and accused Hezbollah of doing the bidding of its main Middle East backers.

"It's like a mafia, and it is powered by Iran and Syria," said Daisy Kassouf, 20, a law student who rushed to the hospital when she heard about Gemayel's assassination.

Hezbollah leaders and their Lebanese allies echoed the condemnation of the assassination and said they'd rethink their plans for street demonstrations. [complete article]
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Iraq considers three-way talks with Iran and Syria
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2006

Iraqi leaders said Monday that they were seriously considering three-way talks with Iran and Syria, responding to an overture from Iran's president that raised new questions about the level of American influence here.

The talks would focus on how the two neighboring countries could help quell rising sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, according to Iraqi officials familiar with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's offer.

The invitation to a summit is a further assertion of Iran's influence in Iraq, and it comes at a time when the U.S. government is sharply divided over whether to make an appeal of its own to Iran and Syria. [complete article]

Iran summit idea could assist U.S., analysts say
Meeting of Iraq's neighbors seen achieving diplomatic goals

By Matthew B. Stannard, San Francisco Chronicle, November 21, 2006

Perhaps seeking to assert itself even more prominently in the affairs of its Arab neighbor, Iran on Monday reportedly invited the leaders of Iraq and Syria to talks in Tehran this weekend aimed at curbing the violence in Iraq -- an invitation, analysts say, that could be turn out to be in America's interest.

While it's safe to assume that Iran's invitation is motivated more by self-interest than by a desire to lend the Bush administration a hand in Iraq, these analysts said the meeting could present an opportunity for Washington to gain some badly needed diplomatic ground in the region. [complete article]

See also, Iraq to restore long-severed relations with neighbor Syria (WP).

Comment -- Contrary to the LA Times' view that the White House is waiting for the Baker commission "to give it permission to sit down with some friends and enemies," the Bush administration has repeatedly demonstrated that it is actively opposed to such meetings. Ironically, this now appears to be having the effect of opening an opportunity for Iraq to engage with its neighbors independently. (The American media generally characterizes Syria and Iran as troublemakers without considering the extent to which they actually share a regional interest in stability.)

The administration line has long been that as the Iraqis stand up, the Americans can stand down. This was supposed to mark a military transition of power, but if the Iraqi government itself can exercise independence, win support from the Syrian and Iranian governments, then Washington needs to be smart enough to recognize the makings of an exit opportunity when it presents itself. American vanity could be protected under the claim that the administration welcomes Baghdad's determination to assume responsibility for Iraq's future.

The only fly in the ointment is Israel. Bush would have a hard time passively condoning warming relations between Iraq, Syria, and Iran, while simultaneously convincing Olmert and the Israel lobby that America remains resolutely opposed to the advance of Iran's nuclear program. No suprise then that we should witness an escalation in Israeli hysteria -- a preemptive strike against the advance of American realpolitik -- and few signs that anyone in Washington has the guts to challenge the Likudniks' wild rhetoric.
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Flaws cited in effort to train Iraqi forces
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, November 21, 2006

The U.S. military's effort to train Iraqi forces has been rife with problems, from officers being sent in with poor preparation to a lack of basic necessities such as interpreters and office materials, according to internal Army documents.

The shortcomings have plagued a program that is central to the U.S. strategy in Iraq and is growing in importance. A Pentagon effort to rethink policies in Iraq is likely to suggest placing less emphasis on combat and more on training and advising, sources say.

In dozens of official interviews compiled by the Army for its oral history archives, officers who had been involved in training and advising Iraqis bluntly criticized almost every aspect of the effort. Some officers thought that team members were often selected poorly. Others fretted that the soldiers who prepared them had never served in Iraq and lacked understanding of the tasks of training and advising. Many said they felt insufficiently supported by the Army while in Iraq, with intermittent shipments of supplies and interpreters who often did not seem to understand English. [complete article]

See also United States 'trapped' in Iraq: Annan (AFP).
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Israeli map says West Bank posts sit on Arab land
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, November 21, 2006

An Israeli advocacy group, using maps and figures leaked from inside the government, says that 39 percent of the land held by Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank is privately owned by Palestinians.

Israel has long asserted that it fully respects Palestinian private property in the West Bank and only takes land there legally or, for security reasons, temporarily.

If big sections of those settlements are indeed privately held Palestinian land, that is bound to create embarrassment for Israel and further complicate the already distant prospect of a negotiated peace. The data indicate that 40 percent of the land that Israel plans to keep in any future deal with the Palestinians is private. [complete article]

Breaking the law in the West Bank - the private land report
Peace Now, November 21, 2006

This report by the Peace Now Settlement Watch Team is a harsh indictment against the whole settlements enterprise and the role all Israeli governments played in it. The report shows that Israel has effectively stolen privately owned Palestinian lands for the purpose of constructing settlements and in violation Israel's own laws regarding activities in the West Bank. Nearly 40 percent of the total land area on which the settlements sit is, according to official data of the Israeli Civil Administration (the government agency in charge of the settlements), privately owned by Palestinians. The settlement enterprise has undermined not only the collective property rights of the Palestinians as a people, but also the private property rights of individual Palestinian landowners. [complete article]
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Bring down that wall
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig, November 20, 2006

The last hope of halting Israel's steady ghettoization of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and calculated destruction of the Palestinian economy is the imposition of sanctions against Israel, especially the revoking of the $9 billion in U.S. loan guarantees. If we allow Israel to complete its massive $2-billion project to ring Palestinians in militarized, pod-like encampments in Gaza and the West Bank with security barriers, walls and electric fences, we will condemn Israel and the Palestinians to endless cycles of violence that could ultimately, given the mounting rage and despair that grip the Middle East, doom the Jewish state.

There is little dispute about the illegality of Israel's actions. The International Court of Justice has called on Israel to dismantle the security barrier under construction in the West Bank and asked outside states not to render any aid or assistance to the infrastructure. But this call has been ignored, although even the U.S. State Department has gently admonished Israel for its behavior. The U.S. loans that make the barrier and expansion of Jewish settlements possible were granted with the stipulation that if the Israeli government used the funds to build housing and infrastructure beyond the 1967 border known as the Green Line these funds would be deducted from the loans. In April 2003, when Congress authorized the $9 billion in loan guarantees for Israel it said that the loans could be used "only to support activities in the geographic areas which were subject to the administration of the Government of Israel before June 5, 1967." The legislation warned that the loan guarantees shall be reduced "for activities which the President determines are inconsistent with the objectives and understandings reached between the United States and Israel regarding the implementation of the loan guarantee program." The State Department, acknowledging the misuse of the money, has made a symbolic deduction in the amount handed to the Israeli government and reduced the loan guarantees by $289.5 million. But unless there is heavy pressure brought on Israel soon the project will be completed, made possible by Washington's complicity and a callous disregard for justice. [complete article]
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Palestinian human shields give Israel pause
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, November 21, 2006

In perhaps the most effective act of nonviolent protest in the six-year Palestinian uprising, hundreds of Gazans forced Israel over the weekend to call off airstrikes on the residence of a militant leader by swarming the house as human shields.

In recent months, Israeli security forces have used telephone calls to warn Palestinian militants and others near alleged militant safe houses and weapons caches, giving them up to a half hour to evacuate. When militia leader Mohammed Baroud got the call Saturday, he enlisted neighbors to protect his house from the Israeli military. They've now set up a system of shifts to protect the house around the clock.

Palestinian leaders are hailing this as a moral victory that will be replicated. If so, it may herald a significant tactical shift from attacks by tiny secretive militant groups to nonviolent civilian protest, a change that will force Israel to adjust its strategy. It also underscores the difficulty of fighting militant groups embedded in a civilian population - whether it be in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Gaza. [complete article]

Two Palestinians die in Gaza raid
BBC News, November 21, 2006

Two Palestinians, one an elderly woman, were killed as Israeli troops launched deep raids into the Gaza Strip targeting militant strongholds.

Armoured vehicles backed with infantry poured into the Zeitoun area of Gaza City, sparking clashes with militants.

Sadia Haraz, 70, was killed by Israeli tank fire, medics said. A 26-year-old militant was also killed by troops. [complete article]

Hamas says ready for immediate halt to Qassam attacks
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, November 21, 2006

Hamas told Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas yesterday it was prepared to immediately halt Qassam attacks on Israel from the Gaza Strip. The announcement came at a meeting yesterday of Palestinian factions, in which Abbas presented Defense Minister Amir Peretz's proposal for a mutual cease-fire.

The meeting, which took place yesterday afternoon in Gaza, was attended by representatives of the five largest Palestinian factions: Hamas, Fatah, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP). Khalil Hiya and Jamal Abu Hashem represented Hamas. [complete article]

See also, West must recognize new Palestinian govt: Meshaal (Reuters).
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Gunmen assassinate Lebanese minister
By Roula Khalaf and Ferry Biedermann, Financial Times, November 21, 2006

A prominent anti-Syrian Christian politician and government minister was assassinated in Lebanon on Tuesday, plunging a tense and divided country into deeper turmoil.

Pierre Gemayel, the minister of industry who hails from one of the most prominent Christian families in the country, was shot in his car in a suburb on the edge of Beirut. He was pronounced dead after being rushed to a nearby hospital.

His assassination was seen as part of a cycle of killings that Lebanon's parliamentary majority, which controls the government, has repeatedly blamed on Syrian agents. The assassins first struck in February 2005, killing Rafiq Hariri, the former prime minister and fierce Syrian opponent. [complete article]

See also, Siniora: Murderers will not control Lebanon's fate (Haaretz).
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Pessimism deepens in postwar Lebanon
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, November 21, 2006

A racket filled the air outside Mohammed Jassar's shop in a swath of Beirut devastated in this summer's war with Israel. Hammers delivered a cadence to the clamor of bulldozers, saws and drills trying to rebuild. The noise was almost as loud as the invective these days in Lebanese politics, paralyzing a country that has never quite known peace. Jassar has had enough. Three weeks, he blurted. After that, he'd decide whether to leave Lebanon.

"This is a country scared of its future," he said.

Lebanon has emerged from the 33-day war with Israel only to find itself lately in one of the most pronounced political crises it has experienced in a generation. At first glance, the issues dividing it are somewhat arcane: the legitimacy of an international tribunal to try those suspected of killing former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri in 2005, and the representation in the cabinet for the opposition, which comprises Hezbollah, another Shiite Muslim faction and a Christian ally. But the stakes are far higher, in effect the future of the country: What groups and their patrons -- the United States, France, Syria or Iran -- will guide Lebanese politics? [complete article]

Israel orders investigation of bomb use in Lebanon
By Greg Myre, New York Times, November 21, 2006

The Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Dan Halutz, ordered an inquiry on Monday to determine whether the armed forces had followed his orders when it used large numbers of cluster bombs during the monthlong war with Hezbollah in Lebanon this summer.

Several human rights groups have criticized Israel's use of cluster bombs, saying they were dropped in or near populated areas.

Cluster bombs are not prohibited in warfare, but much controversy surrounds them because they contain many "bomblets" that explode over a wide area and may strike unintended targets. In addition, some bomblets do not explode when they hit the ground and effectively become land mines that can be detonated by civilians long after fighting has stopped. [complete article]
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Rejecting the draft
Editorial, New York Times, November 21, 2006

There are many reasons why we are distressed to hear that Representative Charles Rangel of New York plans to reintroduce his annual measure aimed at resurrecting the draft when the Democrats take control of the House in January. We don't favor military conscription in general. And in this particular case, compelling military service won't achieve the things Mr. Rangel says he wants, either.

Mr. Rangel wants to replenish an Army that is in critical condition, make the armed services more equitably representative of American society as a whole, and find a way to prevent future presidents from embarking on military misadventures. Those are laudable goals, but not ones the nation can achieve by bringing back the draft. [complete article]

See also, Democratic leaders reject idea of draft (WP).

Comment -- As a 48-year-old without children this might be easy for me to say, but the idea of reintroducing the draft seems like an excellent proposal.

The professionalization of warfare is a noxious idea because it leads to the expectation among the majority of the population that war-fighting is someone else's business. But war is far too serious a matter to be delegated to a professional army.

The abstract question about whether a country should go to war needs to be counterbalanced by the very real question that every amateur soldier is forced to ask: what am I fighting for? In a war of necessity, the answer will be obvious. Wars of necessity should be the only ones the get fought and the only way of ensuring that that is the case is by making the whole country bear the burden of war.
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The story behind the Iraq Study Group
By Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post, November 21, 2006

On his third trip to Iraq, in September 2005, Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) knew the American mission was imperiled.

"We were up in Tikrit and went to a hospital, and it was guarded with guns and security to the point they were pushing weapons into women's faces," Wolf said. "I saw we can't be successful if we're going into an operating room with pistols and weapons."

That's when the congressman from Vienna first began to think about the need for "fresh eyes" to scrutinize U.S. policy regarding Iraq. Quietly, he went to the White House and presented his plan: a bipartisan commission of well-respected policymakers to bore deeply into the Iraq dilemma and recommend solutions.

"If you ordered an Erector Set and you were trying to build it before Christmas and you got stuck and someone else came along, they might just see immediately what needs to be done," Wolf said. "Or if you had a health-care problem, you'd want a second opinion. It's all about fresh eyes on a target." [complete article]
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Six Muslim imams taken off plane
AP, November 21, 2006

Six Muslim imams were removed from a US Airways flight at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Monday and questioned by police for several hours before being released, a leader of the group said.

The six were among passengers who boarded Flight 300, bound for Phoenix, around 6:30 p.m., airport spokesman Pat Hogan said.

A passenger initially raised concerns about the group through a note passed to a flight attendant, according to Andrea Rader, a spokeswoman for US Airways. She said police were called after the captain and airport security workers asked the men to leave the plane and the men refused. [complete article]
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In Afghanistan's south, mixed signals for help
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, November 20, 2006

Clutching scarves nervously around their faces, the women whispered details of Taliban atrocities taking place in their native Helmand province: A translator's body found in a sack, carved into pieces. A police officer taken hostage, blinded and garroted with wire. A woman shot and hanged by her thumbs.

"All of our lives are in danger now. Our schools are shut, and anyone who works for the government is branded as an infidel," said Ma Gul, 52, a teacher who traveled to the capital this week with 20 other women from Greshk, a town in Helmand 300 miles south, to demand better protection and the removal of weak regional officials.

Gul's woes echo across this country's four southern provinces, where the Taliban insurgency is on a fierce rebound five years after U.S. and Afghan forces toppled the Islamic militia from power in Kabul. Months of aggressive ground combat and NATO airstrikes have failed to halt continuous violence in the south, as well as some sporadic attacks in other parts of the country. [complete article]
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War in Iraq could turn Muslims to terrorism, says Reid
By Brendan Carlin, The Telegraph, November 21, 2006

John Reid dramatically broke ranks with Tony Blair last night to admit that the war in Iraq and Afghanistan could be "a factor" in turning young British Muslims into extremists.

The remarks will fuel suspicions that the Home Secretary now wants to emerge from the Prime Minister's shadow to allow him to mount a credible challenge to Gordon Brown for the Labour leadership.

However, the Chancellor's supporters seized on Mr Reid's comments as the latest sign that Mr Blair's authority was haemorrhaging away.

Mr Blair, who yesterday returned from a two-day trip to Pakistan and Afghanistan, has repeatedly denied that his foreign policy and military operations can be blamed for driving Muslim youths into the arms of terrorists. [complete article]
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'War on terror' could last 30 years or more
AFP, November 20, 2006

The fight against terrorism could last 30 years or more, according to a report published by a British think tank that specialises in international security.

"There is every prospect of the 'war on terror' extending for 30 years or more," said the report by the Oxford Research Group.

"What is required is a complete re-assessment of current policies but that is highly unlikely, even with the recent political upheavals".

The US Democrats triumphed in legislative elections on November 7 in which they reclaimed the House and the Senate, at the expense of President George W. Bush's Republicans.

"Most people believe that the recent elections mark the beginning of the end of the Bush era but that does not apply to the war on terror," said Professor Paul Rogers, who wrote the report, in a statement. [complete article]
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Under fire in the arc of insecurity
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, November 21, 2006

Slipping into Jakarta yesterday for a six-hour visit, George Bush's main aim was to strengthen a key "war on terror" alliance. But the US president's fleeting appearance inadvertently highlighted the endemically unstable condition of a region that Australians, looking north and west, label the "arc of insecurity".

Mr Bush's minders dared not risk a stay in the Indonesian capital. Instead the president was whisked by helicopter 30 miles south to a heavily guarded former colonial palace at Bogor, where President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono awaited him. Yet even there thousands of Muslim activists were waiting, chanting slogans such as "We hope Bush dies".

Tensions surrounding Mr Bush's visit arise specifically from US policies in the Middle East. Mr Yudhoyono promised before the meeting, for example, that he would demand a timetable for creating a Palestinian state. But Indonesia's insecurities, stemming partly from the nihilist terrorism of the Bali bombers and a violent Islamist minority, long preceded Mr Bush's presidency and will certainly outlast it.

Indonesia's democratic institutions are but a fragile creation of the past decade. Mr Yudhoyono is the country's first directly elected leader. Since independence from the Dutch it has seen numerous religious, tribal or secessionist conflicts ranging from Aceh on Sumatra's tip to the troubled birth of East Timor. And its 220 million people are also, for the most part, poor and prey to the maladies affecting developing countries, not least an investment-starved economy, corruption and misgovernance. [complete article]
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Has Gates learned his lesson?
By Jennifer Glaudemans, Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2006

Fifteen years ago, the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence asked me to testify at the confirmation hearings for Robert M. Gates, who had been nominated to be director of Central Intelligence.

I was asked because I had worked in the CIA's office of Soviet analysis back when Gates was the agency's deputy director for intelligence and chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

More specifically, I was asked to testify because of my knowledge about the creation of a May 1985 special National Intelligence Estimate on Iran that had been used to justify the ill-fated deals known as Iran-Contra. [complete article]
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Italy's spy chief ousted over CIA kidnap case
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, November 21, 2006

Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on Monday dismissed the government's top intelligence chief, a veteran spymaster under investigation for his role in the alleged CIA abduction of a radical Egyptian cleric from Milan three years ago.

With his removal, intelligence chief Nicolo Pollari became the highest-level Italian official to lose his job over the case, adding to suspicions that the previous government collaborated more closely with the CIA than has been acknowledged.

Pollari's No. 2 was arrested over the summer, and Italian prosecutors are seeking the arrest of 26 Americans, mostly CIA operatives. The Americans are accused of hunting down and seizing the cleric and then transporting him secretly to Egypt, where he says he was tortured. [complete article]
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Bush: I would understand if Israel chose to attack Iran
By Yossi Verter, Haaretz, November 20, 2006

The United States lacks sufficient intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities at this time, which prevents it from initiating a military strike against them, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has told European politicians and diplomats with whom she has recently met.

Rice mentioned three reasons why the United States is currently unable to carry out a military operation against Iran: the wish to solve the crisis through peaceful means; concern that a military strike will be ineffective - that it would fail to completely destroy Iran's nuclear capabilities; and the lack of precise intelligence on the targets' locations.

U.S. President George W. Bush and President Jacques Chirac of France met several weeks ago. Bush told his French counterpart that the possibility that Israel would carry out a strike against Iran's nuclear installations should not be ruled out.

Bush also said that if such an attack were to take place, he would understand it. According to European diplomats who later met with Rice, the secretary of state did not express the same willingness to show understanding for a possible Israeli strike against Iran.

Nonetheless, Rice did not discount the possibility that such an operation may take place.

In recent talks with their Israeli counterparts, French government officials estimated that Iran would reach the "point of no return" in its nuclear program by spring 2007, in approximately five months. [complete article]

Israel's domestic political game raises the danger of a U.S.-Iran war
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, November 20, 2006

Olmert is a weak character who has shown little grasp of the requirements of statesmanship, but that doesn't mean he can't help start a war by insisting that Iran represents an immediate, mortal threat to Israel -- and making action against Iran the litmus test of American politicians' loyalty to the Jewish State.

Already you have President Bush saying he'd "understand" if Israel attacked Iran. Could this be a replay of the Lebanon war in which the Americans goaded the Israelis into a military disaster? Obviously, the Israelis wouldn't act without a U.S. green light -- they'd have to overfly Iraq to get to Iran, remember.

But Israeli leaders like Netanyahu may be overestimating Israel's capacity to militarily deal with the Iran challenge. The intelligence is murky, and the likely retaliation far more devastating than anything Iraq could muster when Israel bombed its facilities in 1981. [complete article]

See also, Bush's desire for a conflict with Iran is a crisis made in Israel (Scott Ritter).

Comment -- The strategic mistake that Israel and the United States risk making right now is to assume that the window of opportunity for a military strike against Iran must be defined by the juncture of a "point of no return" in Iran's nuclear program. But on the contrary, there's every reason to think that Iran is ready for a confrontation now. This is because the lesson Iran drew from this summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah, is that if Israel and America again choose war, Iran will win.

If there's one lesson from Iraq that surely every American understands, it's that you shouldn't pick a fight if you're not sure you'll win.
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Fear of freedom
By Waddah Ali, New York Times, November 20, 2006

History is an idea to you; to us it is our life. I'm a typical Iraqi. I love my country. I love my food, my way of life, I love the carpets, the mud of the Euphrates, Iraqi poetry, everything: this is my culture. If I feel proud, I recite my poets, and the rhythm comes back, and no other rhythm can supersede or remove it.

What made Saddam Hussein powerful? Information. Whenever a person checked into a hotel, a paper with his full name and a copy of his passport was given to the security quarters. Iraq was a castle; a bird could not go in without being checked. If you caused offense, you could be put in prison for good. If you were lucky you would be tried one day; if not, then we have a word in Arabic that means you rot, as food rots.

America did well to liberate Iraq. But Iraqis were used to tyranny and afraid of freedom. The Americans entered Iraq without a psychological program for dealing with this fact. Iraqis had been programmed according to another system of thought and feeling. America should have considered that. [complete article]

Republic of dreams
By Omar Ghanim Fathi, New York Times, November 20, 2006

I think the Americans, as we Iraqis understand them, are two entities. There's the Army in Iraq and the politicians in Washington. The American policy people wanted to give us democracy and liberty the same way you give me a shirt, so I can wear it right away. But the general opinion in my country, especially among extremists, is that America went into Iraq only for one reason: to terminate Islam and Muslims. Those who aren't so extreme say that America invaded Iraq only to steal the oil.

The American Army, on the other hand, we know for sure is not an abstract entity; it is a bunch of people, every one of them different from the others. They are under very, very intense pressure. People hate them, people are attacking them, and of course this pressure can lead to many mistakes. They destroyed everything and thought they could rebuild from scratch. Maybe this could have worked if people loved Americans or understood what they were doing. But people already hated America. [complete article]

See also, Lost after translation (Basim Mardan).
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Pentagon may suggest short-term buildup leading to Iraq exit
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, November 20, 2006

The Pentagon's closely guarded review of how to improve the situation in Iraq has outlined three basic options: Send in more troops, shrink the force but stay longer, or pull out, according to senior defense officials.

Insiders have dubbed the options "Go Big," "Go Long" and "Go Home." The group conducting the review is likely to recommend a combination of a small, short-term increase in U.S. troops and a long-term commitment to stepped-up training and advising of Iraqi forces, the officials said.

The military's study, commissioned by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Peter Pace, comes at a time when escalating violence is causing Iraq policy to be reconsidered by both the White House and the congressionally chartered, bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Pace's effort will feed into the White House review, but military officials have made it clear they are operating independently. [complete article]
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Iraqi court should overturn verdict, death penalty
Human Rights Watch, November 20, 2006

The trial of Saddam Hussein and seven other defendants before the Iraqi High Tribunal for crimes against humanity was marred by so many procedural and substantive flaws that the verdict is unsound, Human Rights Watch said in a 97-page report released today. The shortcomings of the trial, for the killings of more than 100 people from the Iraqi town of Dujail, also call into question subsequent proceedings at the tribunal.

"The proceedings in the Dujail trial were fundamentally unfair," said Nehal Bhuta of the International Justice program at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. "The tribunal squandered an important opportunity to deliver credible justice to the people of Iraq. And its imposition of the death penalty after an unfair trial is indefensible."

The report, entitled "Judging Dujail: The First Trial Before the Iraqi High Tribunal," is based on 10 months of observation and dozens of interviews with judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, and is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the trial. Human Rights Watch, which has demanded the prosecution of Saddam Hussein and his lieutenants for more than a decade, was one of only two international organizations that had a regular observer presence in the courtroom. [complete article]
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Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, November 20, 2006

The Democratic victories this month led to a surge of calls for the Administration to begin direct talks with Iran, in part to get its help in settling the conflict in Iraq. British Prime Minister Tony Blair broke ranks with President Bush after the election and declared that Iran should be offered "a clear strategic choice" that could include a "new partnership" with the West. But many in the White House and the Pentagon insist that getting tough with Iran is the only way to salvage Iraq. "It's a classic case of 'failure forward,'" a Pentagon consultant said. "They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq -- like doubling your bet. It would be an attempt to revive the concept of spreading democracy in the Middle East by creating one new model state."

The view that there is a nexus between Iran and Iraq has been endorsed by Condoleezza Rice, who said last month that Iran "does need to understand that it is not going to improve its own situation by stirring instability in Iraq," and by the President, who said, in August, that "Iran is backing armed groups in the hope of stopping democracy from taking hold" in Iraq. The government consultant told me, "More and more people see the weakening of Iran as the only way to save Iraq."
The Pentagon consultant told me that, while there may be pressure from the Israelis, "they won't do anything on their own without our green light." That assurance, he said, "comes from the Cheney shop. It's Cheney himself who is saying, 'We're not going to leave you high and dry, but don't go without us.'" A senior European diplomat agreed: "For Israel, it is a question of life or death. The United States does not want to go into Iran, but, if Israel feels more and more cornered, there may be no other choice."

A nuclear-armed Iran would not only threaten Israel. It could trigger a strategic-arms race throughout the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt -- all led by Sunni governments -- would be compelled to take steps to defend themselves. The Bush Administration, if it does take military action against Iran, would have support from Democrats as well as Republicans. Senators Hillary Clinton, of New York, and Evan Bayh, of Indiana, who are potential Democratic Presidential candidates, have warned that Iran cannot be permitted to build a bomb and that -- --as Clinton said earlier this year -- "we cannot take any option off the table." Howard Dean, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, has also endorsed this view. Last May, Olmert was given a rousing reception when he addressed a joint session of Congress and declared, "A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die -- the mass destruction of innocent human life. This challenge, which I believe is the test of our time, is one the West cannot afford to fail." [complete article]

See also, Bomb Iran (Joshua Muravchik) and Ahmadinejad is no Hitler (Ray Takeyh).
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Turning a corner on Iraq
By Jeremy Greenstock, Washington Post, November 18, 2006

Oil is the glue that can hold the Iraqi state together. The effective generation of power can convince the people that better days are possible. Creating a national oil company that explicitly works for the interests of the people, and not for an elite or a region or a sect, could be a powerful and positive symbol. Enough people must have a stake in protecting the production platforms, the pipelines, the refineries and the power stations to make sabotage and disruption far more difficult. International investment in this outcome should be linked with internal political progress, but it must now include a far broader range of contributors than has so far been the case. [complete article]

Comment -- While the need for an Iraqi government of national unity is widely recognized inside and outside the country (even while such a government seems unlikely to emerge), the desire for unity itself is a rather weak unifying force. The idea that a national oil company could serve as the unifying symbol that ties Iraqis together, has a great deal of merit.

National ownership of national resources is a truly dangerous idea -- one that could do more to transform the Middle East than the failed American promise of democratization. It's an idea that Britain and America refused to accept 55 years ago after the creation of the National Iranian Oil Company, but if there's an idea who's time is surely long overdue it is that the resources of the Middle East belong to the people of the region. Perhaps at some point in the future entrepreneurial capitalism will flourish but right now the focus needs to be on common wealth.

The principle obstacle to the promotion of such an initiative is the international perception that Iraq is synonymous with violence. But the violence should be seen as symptomatic of a policy vacuum. In the absence of any unifying vision, a sectarian struggle for power has naturally ensued. Now the latest feeble panacea that the Pentagon is promoting is the idea that Iraqi police and military forces suffer from inadequate training. The lack, however, is not simply in training but in a compelling sense of shared interests and common destiny.

What George Bush fails to understand is that success doesn't depend on the unwillingness to accept failure; on the contrary, success almost always depends on the willingness to risk failure. His unwillingness to take on that risk makes failure almost inevitable.
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Kissinger calls for international conference on Iraq
AFP, November 19, 2006

Former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger has called for an international conference to thrash out the future for strife-torn Iraq.

The 83-year-old political heavyweight said Sunday that a collapse of control in Iraq would lead to disastrous consequences that would drag the West back into the Middle East.

The diplomat also called for America to open dialogue with Iran, warning that a confrontation would occur without a negotiated solution to the stand-off over the Islamic republic's nuclear programme.

"We have to move at some early point to some international definition of what a legitimate outcome is -- something that can be supported by the surrounding states and by ourselves and our allies," Kissinger told BBC television from his Connecticut home. [complete article]

Iraq's divide at the top
By Tony Karon,, November 17, 2006

That Iraq is spinning dangerously out of control is no longer a matter of debate; the question has become how to stabilize it and limit the damage. The bipartisan Iraq Study Group, headed up by former Secretary of State James Baker, is supposed to offer up some answers next month when it presents its much-anticipated report. But the events of the past week underscore how difficult even damage-control in Iraq has become.

U.S. policy in Iraq depends largely on the ability of the elected government to forge a national unity compact that can end both the insurgency and the sectarian violence that continues to claim hundreds of casualties every week. And right now the signs of that government being able to achieve that goal are not looking good. [complete article]

Iraq war 'pretty much a disaster', Blair concedes
By Philip Webster, The Times, November 18, 2006

Tony Blair went close last night to admitting that the invasion of Iraq had been disastrous. Challenged in an interview on al-Jazeera's new English-language channel that the Western intervention in Iraq had "so far been pretty much of a disaster", he gave a brief agreement before swiftly moving on.

He said: "It has, but you see what I say to people is, 'Why is it difficult in Iraq?' It is not difficult because of some accident in planning, it is difficult because there is a deliberate strategy, al-Qaeda with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other, to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war." [complete article]

Embittered insiders turn against Bush
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, November 19, 2006

The weekend after the statue of Saddam Hussein fell, Kenneth Adelman and a couple of other promoters of the Iraq war gathered at Vice President Cheney's residence to celebrate. The invasion had been the "cakewalk" Adelman predicted. Cheney and his guests raised their glasses, toasting President Bush and victory. "It was a euphoric moment," Adelman recalled.

Forty-three months later, the cakewalk looks more like a death march, and Adelman has broken with the Bush team. He had an angry falling-out with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld this fall. He and Cheney are no longer on speaking terms. And he believes that "the president is ultimately responsible" for what Adelman now calls "the debacle that was Iraq." [complete article]

U.S. has many options in Iraq, none easy
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, November 19, 2006

The debate over U.S. options in Iraq has intensified since the midterm election, but as officials await the recommendations of a high-profile study group, few good policy choices have emerged and the outlook on the war has grown increasingly pessimistic.

A change of course could become a turning point for the U.S. mission, and the six most-discussed options reflect varying degrees of gloom. The Bush administration advocates a relatively optimistic plan, calling for small-scale adjustments to the U.S. approach, or temporary troop increases, in hopes of stabilizing the country and giving its frail government a chance to take hold.

But pessimists contend that the United States must develop an end point for its mission. They say U.S. and Iraqi leaders need to consider dividing the country, shifting more of the burden of stewardship to its neighbors, or even replacing its Western-style government with a "strongman." [complete article]
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Iraqi sheiks assail cleric for backing Qaeda
By Edward Wong and Khalid al-Ansary, New York Times, November 19, 2006

Sunni Arab sheiks from volatile Anbar Province denounced a powerful Sunni cleric on Saturday, calling him "a thug" for supporting the terrorist group Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and urging the Iraqi government to issue an arrest warrant against him.

The sheiks, the founders of a group called the Anbar Salvation Council, which they formed in September to resist foreign militants in Iraq, were reacting to statements that the cleric, Harith al-Dhari, had made in interviews last week in which he criticized Sunni tribal leaders who had recently decided to take a stand against Al Qaeda.

Anbar, a vast western desert province with Ramadi as its capital, is the heartland of the Sunni Arab insurgency, with various militant groups working to topple the Shiite-led government and end the American presence in Iraq. But as the fundamentalist members of Al Qaeda have tried imposing Taliban-like rule on areas of Anbar, some Iraqi tribes have turned against the group, leading to a further fracturing of what at least initially seemed to be a united resistance to the American invasion.

Mr. Dhari leads the Muslim Scholars Association, a group of conservative clerics that is outspoken in its criticism of the American occupation and the Iraqi government. In the interviews last week, he accused the Anbar council of trying to cozy up to the Iraqi government in return for money. [complete article]

See also, Iraq issues warrant for arrest of Sunni cleric (NYT).
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Nasrallah calls for demonstrations
Al Jazeera English, November 19, 2006

Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, has told his followers to be "psychologically" ready to take to the streets to demonstrate in favour of the group's demand for a national unity government.

But Nasrallah, who did not set a date for the demonstrations, said the protests should be peaceful.

"We must psychologically be ready to take to the streets," Nasrallah said.

"We do not want riots ... We respect private and public properties. We will not allow any clash," he said in speech recorded on Saturday and aired on Al-Manar, Hezbollah's TV station, on Sunday. [complete article]
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Diplomats fear U.S. wants to arm Fatah for 'war on Hamas'
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, November 18, 2006

American proposals to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian security forces with additional guns and fighters have alarmed other Western nations, who argue that it is tantamount to supporting one faction in a potential civil war.

Fearing the strength of Hamas in Gaza, some US officials have urged that the moderate President Abbas should be given "deterrent capability" so that his Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority forces can confront the Islamist group if talks on a national unity government fail.

The divisions have led to a stand-off over the past month, with US officials saying that the unity government proposal had "no legs". Other members of the "quartet" of international mediators -- made up of the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia -- say that it should be given a chance instead of arming one of the Palestinian factions. [complete article]
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Hamas: U.S. policy biggest obstacle to peace in Middle East
Reuters, November 18, 2006

The Hamas-led Palestinian government said on Saturday that the United States, rather than Hamas, must change its policies if it hopes for peace.

Washington is preparing for a possible peace push that could include an international peace conference in Jordan at the end of the month.

But a US official and diplomats said any such meeting hinged on a planned Palestinian unity government meeting the conditions of the Quartet of Middle East mediators: to recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by past agreements. [complete article]
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Lieberman: One-way ticket to heaven for Hamas leaders
Ynetnews, November 18, 2006

Minister of Strategic Affairs Avigdor Lieberman said Saturday that Israel must ignore Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and topple the Hamas government.

Following the US-backed road map peace plan will only worsen the conflict, according to Lieberman. Furthermore, he said Israel must take back control of the Philadelphi Strip which runs along the Egyptian-Gaza border.

In an interview Saturday for Voice of Israel (Kol Yisrael) radio, the Israel Our Home chairman suggested a series of steps based on his belief that the Palestinians are not interested in establishing their own independent sate, but rather want to see Israel destroyed. [complete article]
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Blair: Force alone can't beat terrorism
AP, November 19, 2006

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said military force alone cannot defeat terrorism, acknowledging Sunday that solving the Mideast crisis was key to curbing violent extremism.

Pakistan's pro-U.S. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf admitted local militants were aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Sunday's meeting between the two leaders, crucial players in the U.S.-led war on terror, led to the signing of security, aid and education packages aimed at promoting a moderate brand of Islam and preventing Pakistan becoming a haven for extremists bent on attacking Western interests. [complete article]
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Ayatollah who backs suicide bombs aims to be Iran's next spiritual leader
By Colin Freeman and Kay Biouki, Sunday Telegraph, November 19, 2006

An ultra-conservative Iranian cleric who opposes all dialogue with the West is a frontrunner to become the country's next supreme spiritual leader.

In a move that would push Iran even further into the diplomatic wilderness, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, 71, who publicly backs the use of suicide bombers against Israel, is campaigning to succeed Grand Ayatollah Ali Khameini, 67, as the head of the Islamic state.

Considered an extremist even by fellow mullahs, he was a fringe figure in Iran's theocracy until last year's election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a fellow fundamentalist who views him as his ideological mentor. He is known to many Iranians as "Professor Crocodile" because of a notorious cartoon that depicted him weeping false tears over the jailing of a reformist journalist.

Mr Mesbah-Yazdi and his supporters will attempt to tighten the fundamentalists' political stranglehold next month, by standing in elections for the Assembly of Experts, an 86-strong group of theologians that would be responsible for nominating a replacement for Ayatollah Khamenei, whose health is rumoured to be ailing.

Opposing them will be a coalition of moderate conservatives led by Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president, and members of the increasingly marginalised reformist movement, who have formed an alliance to prevent what both groups fear is a drift towards political extremism. [complete article]
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Beyond the veil
By Fareena Alam, Newsweek, November 27, 2006

The Dutch government just announced that it's seeking to ban the Muslim veil in public places. The Vatican has declared that veiling shows disrespect for local cultures and sensibilities. German officials in North Rhine-Westphalia say they will discipline Muslim teachers who wear headscarves in defiance of a ban imposed in May. In Britain, Jack Straw recently threw fuel on the fire by suggesting that this bit of traditional Muslim garb "separates people" and hinders integration. "Communication requires that both sides see each other's face," said Britain's former foreign minister, displaying a mastery of cross-cultural sen-sitivity. "You not only hear what people say, but you also see what they mean." British Muslims immediately wondered how Straw's former cabinet colleague, ex-Home secretary David Blunkett -- blind since birth -- ever did his job.

Perhaps Straw did not intend to wound. But it had been a bad week already. Conservative leader David Cameron was taking jabs at what he called "Muslim ghettos." British tabloids railed about a Muslim cabby who allegedly refused to drive a blind woman because having her dog in the car offended his religious beliefs. Even Prime Minister Tony Blair couldn't hold his peace and called the veil a "mark of separation."

Who would have thought such a fracas could erupt over a bit of cloth, no bigger than 20 square centimeters, that a tiny number of Western Muslim women use to cover their faces? To be sure, this wasn't the first time that Muslim women's dress had caused a crisis, and it won't be the last. But why does the veil strike such a chord, fueling suspicions that Muslims are an indigestible minority, at odds with the European way of life, and a security threat as well? [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Anatomy of a civil war
By Nir Rosen, Boston Review, November/December, 2006

The Iraq failure and the end of 'The American Century'
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, November 17, 2006

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

They are afraid
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, November 16, 2006

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

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

A CNN for the developing world
By Lawrence Pintak, Der Spiegel, November 16, 2006

For evangelicals, supporting Israel is 'God's foreign policy'
By David D. Kirkpatrick, New York Times, November 14, 2006

Blair's 'whole Middle East' strategy
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, November 14, 2006

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

How terrible is it?
By Max Rodenbeck, New York Review of Books, November 30, 2006

Has the election saved us from war with Iran?
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, November 13, 2006

No one is guilty in Israel
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, November 12, 2006

How Israel put Gaza civilians in firing line
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, November 12, 2006

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

Rumsfeld - end of the affair
By Jeffrey Goldberg, The New Yorker, November 11, 2006
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