The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Saudis threaten to back the Baathists (again) in a new Iraq proxy war
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, December 1, 2006

...the "Sunni Front" that the U.S. has hoped to build against Iran may be taking shape, but one of its prime objectives may be rolling back the Shiite-led government that Iraqi democracy produced. (There was a reason, after all, that the regimes of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt had supported Saddam in his war with Iran.)

The strategy is a non-starter, of course, not only because it would set the U.S. against the majority of Iraqis, which is an untenable situation for an occupying army, but because the regional dynamic in the wake of the Iraq war has accelerated the collapse of the old regional order on which it is based. For all [Saudi commentator, Nawaf] Obaid's tough talk, the Iranians are unlikely to be quivering in their boots at the prospect of a more robust Saudi intervention in the region. The response of the region to last summer's conflagration in Lebanon, where the Saudis initially blamed Hizballah and were then forced to retract as the Arab street rallied overwhelmingly behind the Shiite guerrilla movement, was a sign that as hostile as they may be to Iranian influence, the old Sunni autocracies of Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt are increasingly marginal players in the region. Bush succeeded in his aim of breaking the old order when he invaded Iraq, but the new Middle East he has created is nothing like what he intended. But it remains highly unlikely that this Administration is ever going to be ready to engage with the realities that it has helped create -- a region in which most of the traditional U.S. allies have been repudiated and the representative political forces tend to be Islamist in character and hostile to Washington's influence. [complete article]

U.S. considers ending outreach to insurgents
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, December 1, 2006

The Bush administration is deliberating whether to abandon U.S. reconciliation efforts with Sunni insurgents and instead give priority to Shiites and Kurds, who won elections and now dominate the government, according to U.S. officials.

The proposal, put forward by the State Department as part of a crash White House review of Iraq policy, follows an assessment that the ambitious U.S. outreach to Sunni dissidents has failed. U.S. officials are increasingly concerned that their reconciliation efforts may even have backfired, alienating the Shiite majority and leaving the United States vulnerable to having no allies in Iraq, according to sources familiar with the State Department proposal.

Some insiders call the proposal the "80 percent" solution, a term that makes other parties to the White House policy review cringe. Sunni Arabs make up about 20 percent of Iraq's 26 million people.

Until now, the thrust of U.S. policy has been to build a unified government and society out of Iraq's three fractious communities. U.S. officials say they would not be abandoning this goal but would instead leave leadership of the thorny task of reconciliation to the Iraqis. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the deliberations. [complete article]

Bush, Maliki and that memo
Editorial, New York Times, December 1, 2006

Mr. Bush's lack of curiosity was well known even before he became president, but as time has gone on and bad news has mounted, that disinterested quality has turned into a stubborn refusal to hear bad news. The country simply cannot afford it any longer. Three years of having Mr. Bush trust only his gut has plunged Iraq into bloody chaos and done untold damage to America. There needs to be an urgent change in policy.

Mr. Hadley's memo actually provides a clue to how Mr. Bush has managed to avoid facing hard facts. Despite the horrific situation it describes, the policy recommendations fail to convey any strong sense of urgency and seem to shrug off American responsibility for what has gone wrong. Either the president's security adviser was afraid to be as blunt as the situation requires or he, too, has managed to convince himself that the disaster is really not all that disastrous.

The president's advisers need to tell him all the harsh truths about Iraq in the vivid terms they require; they need to tell him how little time he has left to act. This administration has been orchestrating a foreign policy disaster of epic proportions, and history will remember both that the president failed to hear the warning bells and that many others failed to ring them loudly enough. [complete article]

Comment -- Criticism of the Bush administration all too often focuses on its personalities, yet what George Bush created is a culture. It reflects his own lack of seriousness and the fact that his primary motive for seeking office was above all for the sake of being in office. This self-serving mentality is evident right across the administration; one in which not a single high-ranking officer has resigned on a matter of principle. To rock the boat you have to be willing to disembark or get thrown off. Such willingness is singularly lacking in everyone who has associated him or herself with Bush and Cheney. This is a culture unified by self-interest.

Iraq panel to urge pullout of combat troops by '08
By Peter Baker and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, December 1, 2006

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group plans to recommend withdrawing nearly all U.S. combat units from Iraq by early 2008 while leaving behind troops to train, advise and support the Iraqis, setting the first goal for a major drawdown of U.S. forces, sources familiar with the proposal said yesterday.

The commission plan would shift the U.S. mission in Iraq to a secondary role as the fragile Baghdad government and its security forces take the lead in fighting a Sunni insurgency and trying to halt sectarian violence. As part of major changes in the U.S. presence, sources said, the plan recommends embedding U.S. soldiers directly in Iraqi security units starting as early as next month to improve leadership and effectiveness.

The call to pull out combat brigades by early 2008 would be more a conditional goal than a firm timetable, predicated on the assumption that circumstances on the ground would permit it, according to the sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the commission's report will not be released until next week. But panel members concluded that it is vital to set a target to put pressure on Iraqi leaders to do more to assume responsibility for the security of their country. [complete article]

Iraqi forces can take over by June 2007
By Tabassum Zakaria and Suleiman al-Khalidi, Reuters, December 1, 2006

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said on Thursday his government's forces would be able to take over security command from U.S. troops by June 2007 -- a move which could allow the United States to start withdrawing.

"I cannot answer on behalf of the U.S. administration but I can tell you that from our side our forces will be ready by June 2007," Maliki told ABC television after meeting U.S. President George W. Bush in Jordan. [complete article]

As the talks on Iraq conclude, Arabs wonder, is that all?
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, December 1, 2006

For days, Arab governments lobbied against any American opening to Iran, Jordanians planned protests against President Bush and politicians braced for a possible announcement of a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq.

But as the summit meeting between President Bush and Prime Minister Kamal Nuri al-Maliki of Iraq concluded Thursday morning, the Arab world was left dumbfounded that nothing had come of it.

"I am baffled by what I saw," said Abdel Moneim Said, director of the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. "This was an expression of the Americans in deep trouble, but Bush's approach to dealing with the Iraqi problem also bore the signs of someone out of touch with what is going on." [complete article]

Al-Maliki faces revolt within government
By Hamza Hendawi, AP, November 30, 2006

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki faced a widening revolt within his divided government as two senior Sunni politicians joined prominent Shiite lawmakers and Cabinet members in criticizing his policies.

Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi said he wanted to see al-Maliki's government gone and another "understanding" for a new coalition put in place with guarantees that ensure collective decision making.

"There is a clear deterioration in security and everything is moving in the wrong direction," the Sunni leader told The Associated Press. "This situation must be redressed as soon as possible. If they continue, the country will plunge into civil war." [complete article]

Having pinned little hope on talks, many Iraqis appear to be beyond disappointment
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, December 1, 2006

Even if Sana al-Nabhani had cared about the summit meeting in Jordan on Thursday between Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and President Bush, she would not have been able to watch the news. As usual, Iraqis went without electricity from the national grid for most of the day and she could not find any gasoline to run her personal generator.

Told by a reporter later in the day about the meeting's outcome, Ms. Nabhani, a 34-year-old homemaker, scoffed: "Is that all? Was that even worth the fuel consumed by their airplanes?"

Her dismay was common among Iraqis who managed to follow the news on Thursday. So was a range of other emotions that probably would not hearten Mr. Maliki or Mr. Bush, including disappointment, indifference and despair. [complete article]

Democracy strangled at birth
By Haifa Zangana, The Guardian, December 1, 2006

Five children were killed in their house in Ramadi, in the Anbar province, western Iraq, yesterday. The youngest female casualty was six months old and the eldest was aged 10. Another female at the scene was injured but refused treatment, the US military said in a statement.

A US patrol fired tank rounds, machine gun and small arms fire at " two men who were shooting from the roof of a house", the statement said. After the "battle" there were no US casualties but the US patrol found six bodies (five children and a female adult) inside the house.

The new massacre, like many others, follows the same pattern of actions by US troops: kill, try to cover up the crime, then issue a statement blaming it on the "insurgents" either directly or indirectly.

But these days the US massacres barely prickle the consciousness of the public. We are being repeatedly told that the main story in Iraq is Iraqis killing Iraqis in their hundreds each day, and that the main question is whether it has yet become a sectarian civil war, as if the victims care about the label. So the scores of Iraqi girls killed, in various cities, by the occupation troops are just a minor part of the picture. For Iraqis, it is not. The presence of occupation troops and their crimes are the main picture. [complete article]
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U.S. may pursue Iran sanctions even if Russia balks
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, December 1, 2006

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signaled Thursday that the United States is willing to risk a breach with Russia if the Russians do not soon sign on to a U.N. Security Council resolution to punish Iran for its nuclear activities.

"I am all for maintaining unity, but I am also in favor of action," Rice told reporters traveling with her as she devoted much of her day to other Middle East crises: trying to nurture a fledgling truce between Israel and the Palestinians, and attending talks in Amman, Jordan, between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Six months ago, the United States said it would join European-led talks on Iran's nuclear programs if Iran agreed to halt uranium enrichment. Officials said at the time that they would give Iran "weeks, not months" to comply. But since Iran rejected the offer, the administration has engaged in difficult negotiations with Russia over the terms of a U.N. resolution to impose sanctions.

Until now, a key administration goal has been to keep the five nations on the Security Council that hold veto power, plus Germany, unified on the Iran issue. But Rice's remarks suggested that the administration's patience is waning and that officials could soon offer a resolution, daring Russia to veto it. Officials say they believe Russia would abstain instead, allowing passage of a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. [complete article]
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Middle East hot spots merging
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 2006

After sitting down with President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in Jordan Thursday to seek solutions to Iraq's agony, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waded into the other conflict spreading bitterness throughout the region.

Hoping to keep the Israeli-Palestinian cease-fire momentum alive, Ms. Rice went to the West Bank and Jerusalem Thursday to nudge the two sides toward concerted peacemaking.

The two events underscore the gradually eroding boundaries between Middle East flash points - from Baghdad to Beirut to Gaza. Indeed, the Bush administration's visits come amid growing discussion about the need to find holistic solutions.

A growing number of observers - most notably British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Jordan's King Abdullah - have advocated that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would boost stability. But others say the rise of radical Islam, Iran's push to become a nuclear and regional power, and the US initiative to promote democracy have created a complex web of forces that contribute to conflicts around the Middle East. [complete article]

Comment -- The West needs to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that it can start strangling Iran. There's a fine motive! It must warm the hearts of everyone in Gaza.
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Britain's special relationship 'just a myth'
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, December 1, 2006

A senior American official has spoken of "the myth of the special relationship" between the United States and Britain, arguing that Tony Blair got "nothing, no payback" for supporting President George W Bush in Iraq.

Kendall Myers, a leading State Department adviser, suggested that Mr Blair should have been ditched by Labour but the party had lacked the "courage or audacity" to remove him.
In candid comments that will embarrass Mr Bush and Mr Blair, the veteran official said America "ignored" Britain, and he urged Britain to decouple itself from the US.

He asserted that the "special relationship", a term coined by Sir Winston Churchill in 1946, gave Britain little or nothing. [complete article]
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Jewish groups to challenge ethics reform
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, December 1, 2006

Two of America's most influential Jewish organizations are gearing up for their first direct confrontation with the incoming, Democratic-led Congress. The topic: Democratic proposals for congressional ethics and lobbying reform.

At issue are two key congressional perks, targeted for elimination, that Jewish organizations rely on to achieve community goals: overseas junkets, including dozens of trips to Israel each year, funded by Jewish organizations; and an estimated $25 million a year in earmarked funds for Jewish communal projects. Both the trips and the earmarked funding face possible elimination as part of the Democrats' pledge to fight corruption on Capitol Hill.

Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi has said she plans to bring up the ethics reform legislation "within the first 100 hours of the 110th Congress," which will begin its session in January 2007. Activists with several Jewish and pro-Israel groups said they will be working in the coming weeks to head off or soften the specific measures they fear most. [complete article]
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Lebanon's power struggle takes to the streets
By Pierre Sawaya, AFP, December 1, 2006

Beirut is on high alert as hundreds of thousands of opposition demonstrators, led by the pro-Syrian militant group Hezbollah, staged a massive show of force aimed at pressing the Western-backed government to resign.

Lebanese troops and armored vehicles were heavily deployed in the capital as hordes of protesters packed streets and surrounded the offices of Prime Minister Fuad Siniora.

Siniora, who heads a government backed by an anti-Syrian parliament majority elected in 2005, a day earlier vowed not to cave in to pressure from the opposition, which is made up of various factions including Shiites and Christians. [complete article]

'Lebanon has had enough war'
By Michael Hirst, The Telegraph, December 1, 2006

Speaking at his lavish palace in Baabda, Emile Lahoud accused the government led by Fouad Siniora of being a puppet administration controlled by the United States and France, and that it had been rendered illegitimate through last month's resignation of all five Shia ministers.

"This government is no longer legal because it is not representative of all the country's religions," Mr Lahoud told The Daily Telegraph. "It must be replaced, but what is holding it together is pressure from the United States and France. All we hope is that whatever happens on the streets will be peaceful because Lebanon has had enough war." [complete article]

Michel Aoun asks for the Prime Minister's resignation
Daily Star, December 1, 2006

Lebanon's Christian opposition leader Michel Aoun told a massive anti-government protest in Beirut on Friday that the current cabinet was corrupt and should be replaced by a new unity government.

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has "made many mistakes" and his government has "made corruption a daily affair," Aoun, a former prime minister, told the cheering crowd gathered in central Beirut’s Riad Solh Square.

Siniora and the other ministers in his cabinet, backed by the anti-Syrian parliament majority elected last year, must resign and a national unity government to be formed to resolve the political deadlock, Aoun said. [complete article]

Lebanon builds up security forces
By Megan K. Stack, Los Angeles Times, December 1, 2006

The Lebanese government has nearly doubled the size of its security forces in recent months by adding about 11,000 mostly Sunni Muslim and Christian troops, and has armed them with weapons and vehicles donated by the United Arab Emirates, a Sunni state.

The dramatic increase in Interior Ministry troops, including the creation of a controversial intelligence unit and the expansion of a commando force, is meant to counter the growing influence of Iran and Hezbollah, its Shiite ally in Lebanon, Cabinet minister Ahmed Fatfat said in an interview this week.

The quiet, speedy buildup indicates that Lebanon's anti-Syria ruling majority, led by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, has been bracing for armed sectarian conflict since the withdrawal of Syrian forces in the spring of 2005. It also reflects growing tensions across the region between U.S.-allied Sunni Muslims who hold power in most Arab nations and the increasingly influential Shiite-ruled Iran and Hezbollah. [complete article]
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Abbas ready to quit unity gov't talks
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, November 30, 2006

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is expected to make a "dramatic announcement" this weekend regarding the ongoing crisis with Hamas over the formation of a Palestinian unity government.

PA officials told The Jerusalem Post Abbas was considering the possibility of firing the Hamas-led government and holding a national referendum on early parliamentary elections.

Sources close to Hamas warned that any move against the Hamas-led government would be seen as a coup and would aggravate tensions in the Palestinian arena. According to the sources, PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas may cut short his current tour of a number of Arab and Islamic countries following Abbas's latest remarks.

Abbas, who met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Jericho on Thursday, told a press conference after the meeting that the unity talks with Hamas had reached a "dead end." [complete article]

Jitters over the looming Fatah-Hamas showdown
By Mkhaimar Abusada, Daily Star, December 1, 2006

Palestinian politics is approaching the point of no return. The power struggle between the Islamist Hamas and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and his secular-nationalist Fatah movement is intensifying, with tensions having manifested themselves in outright combat.

Since Hamas was founded in the early 1980s, it has refused to come under the leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. Hamas' victory in the parliamentary election earlier this year - a democratic watershed - demonstrated that it had come of age politically. For the first time in Palestinian history, a religious party is dominant. But Fatah has not accepted defeat, while Hamas is convinced that elements within Fatah agree with Israeli and American plans to topple the Hamas government. [complete article]

Israelis adopt what South Africa dropped
By John Dugard, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, November 29, 2006

Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories has many features of colonization. At the same time it has many of the worst characteristics of apartheid. The West Bank has been fragmented into three areas — north (Jenin and Nablus), center (Ramallah) and south (Hebron) — which increasingly resemble the Bantustans of South Africa.

Restrictions on freedom of movement imposed by a rigid permit system enforced by some 520 checkpoints and roadblocks resemble, but in severity go well beyond, apartheid's "pass system." And the security apparatus is reminiscent of that of apartheid, with more than 10,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons and frequent allegations of torture and cruel treatment.

Many aspects of Israel's occupation surpass those of the apartheid regime. Israel's large-scale destruction of Palestinian homes, leveling of agricultural lands, military incursions and targeted assassinations of Palestinians far exceed any similar practices in apartheid South Africa. No wall was ever built to separate blacks and whites. [complete article]

See also On ethnic cleansing and racism (Ramzy Baroud).
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NATO's failure portends a wider war
By Ahmed Rashid, International Herald Tribune, November 30, 2006

The abysmal failure of NATO countries at the Riga summit meeting this week to commit more troops to Afghanistan will further encourage a countrywide Taliban offensive, and portends much greater interference by neighboring states - all staking their claims as they see the West giving up the ghost on Afghanistan.

In the future annals of the spread of Islamic extremism and Al Qaeda, the NATO meeting this week will almost certainly be considered a watershed. Germany, Spain, Italy and France, which refused to allow their troops in Afghanistan to go south to fight the Taliban, and other member states who refused to commit fresh troops or equipment, may well be held responsible for allowing Afghanistan to slip back into the hands of the Taliban and their Qaeda allies. [complete article]

See also, Deep inside the 'kingdom of heaven' (Asia Times).

Time is on the Taliban's side
By Jason Motlagh, Asia Times, December 2, 2006

Regardless of whether adjustments are made, a regrouped Taliban contingent estimated at 10,000 fighters is prepared to take the fight to "surprising" levels against international forces through the winter and on for as long as it takes to bleed Western resolve. Commander Mullah Obaidullah warned on Thursday that the possibility of more NATO troops "does not worry the Taliban, [but] rather will make it easier for our combatants to attack them".

These are more than fighting words. Suicide and roadside bombings targeting foreign troops and government officials have increased fourfold this year, up to 600 a month, with violence recorded in all but two of the country's 34 provinces. Officials say between 3,700 and 4,000 people have died in insurgent-related violence this year, including at least 186 coalition troops.

"After five years of constantly fighting foreign troops, the Taliban have become a strong military power of the same levels as the most powerful army," said Commander Obaidullah, who insisted that his fighters could carry on for another 20 years if necessary. Standing gun battles between Taliban and NATO forces in Kandahar and Helmand provinces over the summer - the fiercest since the movement's government was toppled by a 2001 US-led invasion - lend some ballast to this claim. [complete article]

Disembowelled, then torn apart: The price of daring to teach girls
By Kim Sengupta, The Independent, November 29, 2006

The gunmen came at night to drag Mohammed Halim away from his home, in front of his crying children and his wife begging for mercy.

The 46-year-old schoolteacher tried to reassure his family that he would return safely. But his life was over, he was part-disembowelled and then torn apart with his arms and legs tied to motorbikes, the remains put on display as a warning to others against defying Taliban orders to stop educating girls.

Mr Halim was one of four teachers killed in rapid succession by the Islamists at Ghazni, a strategic point on the routes from Kabul to the south and east which has become the scene of fierce clashes between the Taliban and US and Afghan forces. [complete article]
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Sadr seeks anti-U.S. bloc in Iraqi parliament
By Sabah Jerges, AFP, November 30, 2006

Radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is building an anti-US parliamentary alliance to demand the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq, some of his party's lawmakers have told AFP.

The 30-strong Sadrist bloc has suspended its support of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's ruling coalition and withdrawn six ministers from cabinet in protest at the premier's meeting with US President George W. Bush.
Earlier on Thursday, Salih al-Agaili, a member of Sadr's parliamentary group, said the bloc now hoped to persuade more lawmakers to follow their suspension, adding that some have "started contacting us to take a similar position. We are holding talks with them."

He did not name the groups but said they would soon declare their intentions. "We are endeavouring to form a national front inside parliament to oppose the occupation," Agaili said.

He stressed that the minimum condition for Sadrist deputies to rejoin the government would be "a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces." [complete article]

Titans square up for clash in Iraq
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, December 1, 2006

Clearly, the Hashemite kingdom, recently accused by Human Rights Watch of mistreating Iraqi refugees, is sowing the seeds of a front-line state against a radical Shi'ite threat, in tandem with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

By all indications, the US is nodding to Jordan's new self-assumed role, which explains why the US is openly courting Syrian Islamists, such as the leaders of the Islamic Salvation Front, who were invited to the White House recently. Is al-Qaeda next?!

Indeed, the Iranian media are awash with open complaints that scores of Saudi fighters are apprehended in Iraq each day, and yet there is virtually no pressure on Saudi Arabia to halt the flow of its nationals volunteering to help the jihad in Iraq - partly against the Shi'ite "heretics" whom they regard as illegitimate and un-Islamic. [complete article]

Bush: Calls for troop drawdowns unrealistic
By Michael Abramowitz and Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, November 30, 2006

President Bush delivered a staunch endorsement of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki Thursday morning and dismissed calls for U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq as unrealistic, following a summit meeting in which the two leaders discussed speeding up the turnover of security responsibilities.

"He's the right guy for Iraq," Bush said an a news conference in the Jordanian capital, as he stood next to a somewhat stiff and unsmiling Iraqi premier.

Bush sought to pre-empt the growing clamor to withdraw the more than 140,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, which has been fueled by the November Congressional elections and the expected conclusions of a high-level commission headed by former Secretary of State James C. Baker III and former Indiana Rep. Lee H. Hamilton. Although the president was not asked directly about the panel's recommendations, which will be made next week but were partially leaked to news reporters late Wednesday, he seemed to have the group in mind when he said: "This business about graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever." [complete article]

By , November , 2006

One secular Shi'ite speaking on the telephone from Baghdad said Shi'ite militias were massing in preparation for a large offensive against Sunnis in the capital.

"They had a big militarylike ceremony today for the Mahdi militia, to show their force. They are making themselves ready for something big -- protests, fighting, killing," said the Shi'ite.

A secular Sunni in close contact with one insurgent faction, said rebel Sunnis were also trying to form alliances among militias for a big push in the city against the Shi'ites, including more raids on government buildings.

"I am waiting for the Sunnis to launch a 'Tet Offensive.' That is the one plug they have not pulled yet, and I could see that happening," said senior Rand defense analyst Ed O'Connell.

The Tet Offensive was a series of attacks by the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies that many consider a turning point in the war, leading eventually to the U.S. withdrawal.

Any emergence of pitched battles between massed groups of Sunnis and Shi'ites would largely settle a long-running argument in Washington over whether the conflict in Iraq should be described as a civil war -- a description the Bush administration has so far rejected. [complete article]

Some Sunnis in Iraq have a plan for peace
By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times, November 30, 2006

With sectarian violence reaching new extremes, some Sunni Muslim clerics are breaking with the most militant factions in their sect and reaching out to Shiite clergy in an effort to pull Iraq back from the abyss.

Some members of the Muslim Scholars Assn., which has acted as a broker between Western officials and members of the country's Sunni-driven insurgency, worry that their group has done little more than clasp hands before television cameras with their Shiite counterparts and issue joint appeals for calm.

"The Muslim Scholars Assn. so far has not participated in any real, effective negotiations," said Sheik Mahmoud Sumaidaie, a senior member who preaches at the organization's Baghdad headquarters, the Umm Qura Mosque.

Sumaidaie said more than 70 clerics across Iraq want to form a new religious council that can unite all Sunni factions and open a channel of communication with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the country's most revered Shiite cleric. Without it, he said, "we will never be able to stop the bloodshed in Iraq." [complete article]
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Lebanon opposition plans protest
Aljazeera, November 30, 2006

Hezbollah-led opposition groups have called for mass protests to begin on Friday in central Beirut with the aim of bringing down the current government.

The call for peaceful street action came on Thursday in a statement broadcast on Hezbollah's television station Al-Manar.

It said the street action would begin on Friday at 3pm (1300GMT) in central Beirut, where the government of Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, has its headquarters.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, gave a televised speech on the decision to protest.

"We appeal to all Lebanese, from every region and political movement, to take part in a peaceful and civilised demonstration on Friday to rid us of an incapable government that has failed in its mission," he said. [complete article]

See also, Lebanese think the unthinkable: another civil war (LAT) and Can Aoun survive taking to the streets? (Michael Young).
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With eye on Iraq, Washington applauds Olmert initiative
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, December 1, 2006

While diplomatic sources describe repeatedly the main motive for America's renewed interest in the Israeli-Palestinian ongoing violence as eagerness to have moderate Arab countries pressure Iraqi Sunnis into backing the government of Nuri al-Maliki, the administration formally maintains there is no linkage between the two. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley said this week that the United States is interested in both achieving stability in Iraq and reaching a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that the two goals are pursued "separately and apart." Also viewed separately is the goal of stabilizing Lebanon's democracy, a third trouble spot cited by the Jordanian king. "I don't think these are linked in some kind of game," Hadley said.

The only senior figure in the administration known to have acknowledged a linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian dispute and the larger problems of the region, State Department counselor Philip Zelikow, resigned this week, due to what some administration sources described as frustration with the direction of American foreign policy. This past September, Zelikow said in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy that easing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a "sine qua non" to securing cooperation from moderate Arab countries on broader regional issues.

The State Department leadership publicly rejected Zelikow's ideas at the time, but numerous sources close to the administration agreed this week that the notion of linkage between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the situation in Iraq, and to a certain extent in Iran, as well, is now emerging as the prevailing view guiding America's Middle East policy.

Yet all observers stressed that the progress made this week in the region is only a small first step. "The agenda of the Bush administration on this issue is 'think small.' They do not have a broader process in mind,” said Edward Abington, a former American consul general in Jerusalem and now a Washington lobbyist for the P.A. "All we have is a Gaza cease-fire and Olmert's speech -- not much more. People have been down this road already."
[complete article]

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Analyst predicts U.S. action in Nigeria, November 30, 2006

Nigeria, the fifth-largest source of U.S. imported oil, is falling apart and will likely require intervention by the U.S. government and the Navy in particular, according to Michael Vlahos, a national security analyst with Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

As it struggles with separatist unrest, Nigeria is "a place that we're going to be hearing a lot about in a year," he said Nov. 16 during a colloquium at the university.

"The situation in Nigeria is literally coming apart," Vlahos told the audience. "It's a country that makes Iraq look simple and doable." As Nigeria falls apart, people in the United States are going to become increasingly aware of its role as a U.S. oil supplier, he said. [complete article]
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Turkey setback in bid for E.U. membership
By Molly Moore, Washington Post, November 30, 2006

The European Union's executive arm on Wednesday recommended cutting off talks with Turkey on several key issues in its efforts to join the 25-country bloc, a day after Pope Benedict XVI expressed support for the predominantly Muslim country's pursuit of membership.

"We confirm these negotiations must continue, although at slower pace," E.U. Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told reporters in Brussels. "There will be no train crash. There is a slowing down because of works further down the tracks. However, the train continues to move."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, attending a summit of the NATO alliance in Latvia, called the recommendation by the European Commission "unacceptable."

The latest rift between the European Union and Turkey came in the middle of Benedict's first papal journey to a Muslim country. The pontiff is using the visit to highlight secular Turkey's role as a bridge between the West and Islam. But the trip has come as tensions over possible E.U. membership have frayed relations between Turkey and its longtime Western allies. [complete article]

See also, Turkey's coming coup (Zeyno Baran).
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Iraq Study Group to recommend pullback of combat troops
By David E. Sanger and David S. Cloud, New York Times, November 30, 2006

The bipartisan Iraq Study Group reached a consensus on Wednesday on a final report that will call for a gradual pullback of the 15 American combat brigades now in Iraq but stop short of setting a firm timetable for their withdrawal, according to people familiar with the panel's deliberations.

The report, unanimously approved by the 10-member panel, led by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton, is to be delivered to President Bush next week. It is a compromise between distinct paths that the group has debated since March, avoiding a specific timetable, which has been opposed by Mr. Bush, but making it clear that the American troop commitment should not be open-ended. The recommendations of the group, formed at the request of members of Congress, are nonbinding.

A person who participated in the commission's debate said that unless the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki believed that Mr. Bush was under pressure to pull back troops in the near future, "there will be zero sense of urgency to reach the political settlement that needs to be reached."

The report recommends that Mr. Bush make it clear that he intends to start the withdrawal relatively soon, and people familiar with the debate over the final language said the implicit message was that the process should begin sometime next year. [complete article]
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Sunni Arab states wary of Iran's role
By Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, November 29, 2006

In deflecting pressure for a change of policy towards Iran and Syria, President George W. Bush is turning to traditional US allies in the Middle East.

Though hardly enchanted with US policy in Iraq and the rest of the region, the so-called "moderate" Arab states are as reluctant as the White House to give Tehran and Damascus a larger role in resolving the Iraq conflict.

Troubled by the rising influence and nuclear ambitions of Shia Iran in a largely Sunni Arab world, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are desperate to limit Tehran's power in Iraq and bolster their own authority.

According to Jordanian officials, the message likely to have been delivered to Mr Bush on Wednesday by King Abdullah was that containing the civil war in Iraq was "not a matter of engaging with Iran and Syria", but rather involved more empowerment of Iraq's Sunni Arab minority that dominates the insurgency. [complete article]

Stepping into Iraq
By Nawaf Obaid, November 29, 2006

Just a few months ago it was unthinkable that President Bush would prematurely withdraw a significant number of American troops from Iraq. But it seems possible today, and therefore the Saudi leadership is preparing to substantially revise its Iraq policy. Options now include providing Sunni military leaders (primarily ex-Baathist members of the former Iraqi officer corps, who make up the backbone of the insurgency) with the same types of assistance -- funding, arms and logistical support -- that Iran has been giving to Shiite armed groups for years.

Another possibility includes the establishment of new Sunni brigades to combat the Iranian-backed militias. Finally, Abdullah may decide to strangle Iranian funding of the militias through oil policy. If Saudi Arabia boosted production and cut the price of oil in half, the kingdom could still finance its current spending. But it would be devastating to Iran, which is facing economic difficulties even with today's high prices. The result would be to limit Tehran's ability to continue funneling hundreds of millions each year to Shiite militias in Iraq and elsewhere.

Both the Sunni insurgents and the Shiite death squads are to blame for the current bloodshed in Iraq. But while both sides share responsibility, Iraqi Shiites don't run the risk of being exterminated in a civil war, which the Sunnis clearly do. Since approximately 65 percent of Iraq's population is Shiite, the Sunni Arabs, who make up a mere 15 to 20 percent, would have a hard time surviving any full-blown ethnic cleansing campaign. [complete article]

Comment -- The contours of an American exit strategy from Iraq are starting to emerge. Although Stephen Hadley's memo makes it clear that the administration still entertains hope for the emergence of a non-sectarian government, failing that, and failing efforts to fracture the Shia alliance, Washington appears willing to take sides. By default, it will end up on the same side as al Qaeda in Iraq!

How so? Bush, Cheney and Rice are now in the region in what looks like a recruiting drive. As the Americans step down, the Sunnis need to step up and get ready to face their common enemy: Iran. The withdrawal from Anbar province -- where al Qaeda is already taking control -- may start soon and the Saudis are ready (even if reluctantly) to move in.

When everyone thought that realism was coming back in style it looks more like a revival for good old-fashioned proxy warfare. But instead of the enemy being communism, now it's the evil Iranian Islamists.

How's American martial democracy supposed to survive if it can't define itself as opposition to an external threat?
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Bush adviser's memo cites doubts about Iraqi leader
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, November 29, 2006

A classified memorandum by President Bush's national security adviser expressed serious doubts about whether Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki had the capacity to control the sectarian violence in Iraq and recommended that the United States take new steps to strengthen the Iraqi leader's position.

The Nov. 8 memo was prepared for Mr. Bush and his top deputies by Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and senior aides on the staff of the National Security Council after a trip by Mr. Hadley to Baghdad.

The memo suggests that if Mr. Maliki fails to carry out a series of specified steps, it may ultimately be necessary to press him to reconfigure his parliamentary bloc, a step the United States could support by providing "monetary support to moderate groups," and by sending thousands of additional American troops to Baghdad to make up for what the document suggests is a current shortage of Iraqi forces. [complete article]

See also, Deeper crisis, less U.S. sway in Iraq (NYT).

Al-Sadr loyalists boycott Iraq government
By Thomas Wagner and Sameer N. Yacoub, AP, November 29, 2006

Lawmakers and Cabinet ministers loyal to anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr said Wednesday they have carried out their threat to suspend participation in Parliament and the government to protest Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's summit with U.S. President George W. Bush.

The 30 lawmakers and five Cabinet ministers said their action was necessary because the meeting in Jordan constituted a "provocation to the feelings of the Iraqi people and a violation of their constitutional rights." Their statement did not explain that claim. [complete article]

See also, Bush, Maliki talks delayed until Thursday (Reuters).

Iraq, Iran reach agreement on security
By Nasser Karimi, AP, November AP, 2006

Iraq's president said Wednesday he had reached a security agreement with Iran, which the United States accuses of fueling the chaos in the war-torn country. Iran's president called on countries to stop backing "terrorists" in Iraq and for the Americans to withdraw.

Tehran is believed to back some of the Shiite militias blamed in the vicious sectarian killings that have thrown the country into chaos. The United States has said the Iraqi government should press Iran to stop interfering in its affairs in a bid to calm the violence. [complete article]

Iraqi premier wants more control over his military
By Alexandra Zavis and Peter Wallsten, Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2006

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki will push for the U.S. military to relinquish control over his nation's security forces when he meets President Bush today to discuss a strategy to quell raging violence in Iraq, aides and political insiders said Tuesday.

Frustrated by U.S. accusations that he isn't doing enough, Maliki says his hands are tied as long as he does not have the authority to deploy forces as he sees fit. He wants Bush to accelerate the training of the army and police, fund more recruits and provide them with bigger and better weapons, lawmakers briefed by Maliki said.

The prime minister also will insist at the two-day summit in Jordan that his government should drive negotiations with Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Syria, they said. [complete article]
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Iraq exit via Iran?
By Arnaud de Borchgrave, Washington Times, November 29, 2006

Iran can either facilitate or humiliate a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Key mullahs now say Iran should assist a U.S. exit that would enhance Iran's regional power. The argument, put forward by Moshen Rezai, secretary of the government's "Expediency Council," states that "America's arrival in the region presented Iran with an historic opportunity."

"The kind of service that the Americans, with all their hatred, have done us," said Mr. Rezai, "no superpower has ever done anything similar. America destroyed all our enemies in the region. It destroyed the Taliban. It destroyed Saddam Hussein. ... It did all this in order to confront us face to face, and in order to place us under siege. But the American teeth got so stuck in the soil of Iraq and Afghanistan that if they manage to drag themselves back to Washington in one piece, they should thank Allah."

America, therefore, "presents us with an opportunity rather than a threat -- not because it intended to, but because its estimates were wrong and made many mistakes," argued Mr. Rezai. Washington, he said, "has now despaired of toppling the Islamic Republic. The threats we face... are about blocking Iran's influence in the region. This is a vital national interest and the entire nuclear dispute revolves around it." [complete article]
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As Iraq deteriorates, Iraqis get more blame
By Thomas E. Ricks and Robin Wright, Washington Post, November 29, 2006

From troops on the ground to members of Congress, Americans increasingly blame the continuing violence and destruction in Iraq on the people most affected by it: the Iraqis.

Even Democrats who have criticized the Bush administration's conduct of the occupation say the people and government of Iraq are not doing enough to rebuild their society. The White House is putting pressure on the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group have debated how much to blame Iraqis for not performing civic duties.

This marks a shift in tone from earlier debate about the responsibility of the United States to restore order after the 2003 invasion, and it seemed to gain currency in October, when sectarian violence surged. Some see the talk of blame as the beginning of the end of U.S. involvement.

"It is the first manifestation of a 'Who lost Iraq?' argument that will likely rage for years to come," said Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University expert on terrorism who has worked as a U.S. government consultant in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Naturally, neither an administration that was instrumental in leading Iraq to its disastrous condition, nor a country that until recently largely supported this endeavor, will each accept their share of responsibility for what has unfolded.

Nothing cleanses an American conscience more easily than one or the combination of two ideas: we mean well, and we're paying. If good intentions and truck loads of US dollars can't set the world right, then, why? That must be the world's fault.
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White House wages war of words over 'civil' term
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, November 29, 2006

The carnage in Iraq is "sectarian violence," President Bush says. It's a "struggle for freedom," the "central front in the war on terror." It is not, no matter how much it may look like it, a civil war.

Forget the debate over what to do about the war in Iraq. The White House is still debating what to call the war in Iraq. With retired generals, analysts, politicians and pundits increasingly using the term "civil war," the Bush administration insists that the definition does not fit as part of its latest effort to control the words of war.

To people dying in the streets of Sadr City, it may be just semantics. But the White House fiercely resists the phrase out of fear of its impact in both Iraq and the United States. Defining it as civil war, some strategists worry, could accelerate the conflict and encourage Iraqi factions that remain on the sidelines to join the struggle. And acknowledging that it has become a civil war, they fear, could collapse the already weak support for the mission among Americans.

But the risk for the White House, analysts said, is that once again it will appear out of touch with reality over there and with public perception here at home. For months after the invasion of Iraq, the administration denied there was an insurgency. Then it resisted the notion that there was sectarian violence. Now polls show that about two-thirds of the American public think that Iraq is mired in civil war. [complete article]

Powell says world should recognise Iraq at civil war
By Diala Saadeh, Reuters, November 29, 2006

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell said on Wednesday Iraq had descended into civil war and urged world leaders to accept that "reality".

Powell's remarks came ahead of a meeting between Bush and Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki in the Jordanian capital to discuss the security developments in Iraq.

"I would call it a civil war," Powell told a business forum in the United Arab Emirates. "I have been using it (civil war) because I like to face the reality," added Powell.

He said world leaders should acknowledge Iraq was in civil war. [complete article]

The numbers prove it -- Iraq's a civil war
By Barry Lando, Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2006

So is it a civil war in Iraq or isn't it? By the straightforward definition — a war fought between factions or regions within a single nation — the answer seems clearly to be yes. That's why NBC and the Los Angeles Times recently decided to use the phrase to describe the ongoing sectarian conflict. It's a "fairly simple call," said the foreign editor of The Times.

But not everybody agrees. Official news releases, media reports, politicians and generals still talk of Iraq "on the brink" or "teetering on the edge." Full-scale civil war, according to these accounts, is "threatening" or "looming" or "menacing." It's a question of definitions, said a Pentagon reporter recently. According to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan: "We are almost there."

I would argue, however, that by one very basic measure — the number of Iraqis killing each other — we've been there for a while, and that there's no more defining left to be done. Simply compare the grisly statistics in Iraq with figures from other conflicts that already have been certified as genuine, full-scale civil wars. Then try to argue that this isn't one. It's a difficult case to make. [complete article]
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Man mistakenly abducted by CIA seeks redress
By Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, November 29, 2006

A lawyer for a German man who was abducted while on vacation in Macedonia and said he was tortured while in C.I.A. custody in Afghanistan urged a federal appeals court on Tuesday to reinstate his lawsuit against the agency, which had been dismissed for national security reasons.

In May, a federal trial judge threw out the suit brought by Khaled el-Masri, who said he was an innocent victim of the Central Intelligence Agency’s program of transferring terrorism suspects secretly to other countries for detention and interrogation. Judge T. S. Ellis III of Federal District Court in Alexandria said that although it appeared a great injustice might have been done to Mr. Masri, he was persuaded by the government that there was no way to even begin a trial without impermissibly disclosing state secrets.

Benjamin Wizner, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, told a three-judge appeals panel on Tuesday that the government’s position was absurd because what happened to Mr. Masri had hardly remained secret. He noted that the German government was openly investigating whether its officials had played a role in Mr. Masri’s ordeal, and numerous news accounts have quoted unidentified American officials as confirming what happened. [complete article]
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Land claim unsettles Israeli settlers
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, November 29, 2006

For a fraction of the price of his former Jerusalem flat, Victor Sonino purchased a three-bedroom apartment just blocks from his grandchildren in this fast-growing suburb - the largest settlement in the West Bank.

But walking 5-year-old Eden home from nursery school past rows of high-rise apartment buildings, Mr. Sonino is quick to correct the language of a visitor: "This isn't a settlement. It's Jerusalem."

Sonino's comment reflects an assumption by the Israeli public - and possibly foreign peace negotiators - that the Maaleh Adumim should be annexed as part of the Jewish state because of its sheer size and proximity a few miles to the east of Israel's capital.

That expectation may have been undermined last week when a report by the dovish Peace Now group stated that Palestinian private land accounts for more than one-third of the settlements, and that for Maaleh Adumim the proportion is a startling 86 percent. That's at odds with decades-old government and settler statements that only public lands were being used for building in territory captured during the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. [complete article]
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Israel warns losing patience over truce violations
By Jean-Luc Renaudie, AFP, November 29, 2006

Israel has warned that the Jewish state was losing patience over Palestinian rocket attacks that have continued to violate a tentative four-day ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Wednesday's warnings come amid a flurry of diplomatic efforts to shore up the truce, with Egypt's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in Israel and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas Thursday.

"The test period accorded by the prime minister to the Palestinians is nearing the end," said Tzahi Hanegbi, a key ally of premier Ehud Olmert and chairman of parliament's influential defence and foreign affairs committee.

"The prime minister said the policy of restraint will only last a few days," the MP added, speaking on public radio. [complete article]
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Hezbollah to protest in Beirut to demand resignation of cabinet
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, November 29, 2006

Pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies will stage a large protest in Beirut within the next 48 hours to demand the resignation of Lebanon's Western-backed government, a senior political source said on Wednesday.

Several Lebanese leaders have warned that any widescale protests could disintegrate into street violence, deepening the political crisis and pushing Lebanon towards chaos amid escalating sectarian tensions.

"The decision to take to the streets has been taken and there will be a large demonstration in Beirut within 48 hours," the source, who is close to the opposition, said. "There will be an announcement with the details later." [complete article]

Playing with death in Lebanon
By Mark LeVine, Asia Times, November 28, 2006

...the one party that clearly benefits from Gemayel's murder is the Israeli government.
Israel was the main loser in the summer war, at least politically and strategically. The country's leaders began threatening a new round of fighting even before they began pulling troops out of the south of Lebanon. Hezbollah's postwar ascendence was the most visible and troubling sign of Israel's seemingly unprecedented military weakness and strategic blundering.

Pulling off an assassination like this, which is by no means beyond Israel's ability, would serve several goals. First, it would turn the chaos that Hezbollah was trying to create in the Lebanese political system against it. Instead of Hezbollah managing the postwar chaos to strengthen its position, the movement is now forced on to the defensive and must react to a new dynamic in which Christians (with the exception of the breakaway Michel Aoun faction) and Sunnis are more united than ever in their desire to block Hezbollah's takeover of the system.

Second, if Lebanon descends into civil war, which is a frightening if still distant possibility, Hezbollah would in effect be neutralized, and Israel could rely on Maronites and perhaps Sunnis to attack Hezbollah without Israel facing the international condemnation it received during the war. [complete article]
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Anbar picture grows clearer, and bleaker
By Dafna Linzer and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, November 28, 2006

The U.S. military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter al-Qaeda's rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military's mission in Anbar province.

The Marines recently filed an updated version of that assessment that stood by its conclusions and stated that, as of mid-November, the problems in troubled Anbar province have not improved, a senior U.S. intelligence official said yesterday. "The fundamental questions of lack of control, growth of the insurgency and criminality" remain the same, the official said.

The Marines' August memo, a copy of which was shared with The Washington Post, is far bleaker than some officials suggested when they described it in late summer. The report describes Iraq's Sunni minority as "embroiled in a daily fight for survival," fearful of "pogroms" by the Shiite majority and increasingly dependent on al-Qaeda in Iraq as its only hope against growing Iranian dominance across the capital. [complete article]
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Rising violence swells ranks of Iraq's militias
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, November 28, 2006

Retaliatory attacks sparked by last week's massive bomb assault on a Shiite neighborhood here are driving more Iraqis into the ranks of sectarian militias amid rising distrust of government security forces, newly recruited gunmen and residents said Monday.

Besieged Iraqis, many with no previous affiliation with established militias, are taking up arms, barricading their communities and joining new Shiite Muslim militia cells or increasingly militant Sunni Arab neighborhood-watch groups.

"We have zero trust in the Iraqi army and minus-zero trust in the police," said Ahmed Suheil Juburi, 33, a Sunni Arab who has thrown in his lot with a group of former military officers in Saddam Hussein's Baathist regime patrolling the Baghdad neighborhood of Dora. [complete article]
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Hezbollah said to help Shiite army in Iraq
By Michael R. Gordon and Dexter Filkins, New York Times, November 28, 2006

A senior American intelligence official said Monday that the Iranian-backed group Hezbollah had been training members of the Mahdi Army, the Iraqi Shiite militia led by Moktada al-Sadr.

The official said that 1,000 to 2,000 fighters from the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias had been trained by Hezbollah in Lebanon. A small number of Hezbollah operatives have also visited Iraq to help with training, the official said.

Iran has facilitated the link between Hezbollah and the Shiite militias in Iraq, the official said. Syrian officials have also cooperated, though there is debate about whether it has the blessing of the senior leaders in Syria.

The intelligence official spoke on condition of anonymity under rules set by his agency, and discussed Iran's role in response to questions from a reporter.

The interview occurred at a time of intense debate over whether the United States should enlist Iran's help in stabilizing Iraq. The Iraq Study Group, directed by James A. Baker III, a former Republican secretary of state, and Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic lawmaker, is expected to call for direct talks with Tehran.

The claim about Hezbollah's role in training Shiite militias could strengthen the hand of those in the Bush administration who oppose a major new diplomatic involvement with Iran.

The new American account is consistent with a claim made in Iraq this summer by a mid-level Mahdi commander, who said his militia had sent 300 fighters to Lebanon, ostensibly to fight alongside Hezbollah. "They are the best-trained fighters in the Mahdi Army," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity. [complete article]

Comment -- Although according to the Washington narrative here we have more evidence of the "global nexus of terrorism," just as much, we have evidence that the Pentagon refuses to do its homework.

Last month, in their analysis of the Israel-Hezbollah war, my colleagues, Mark Perry and Alastair Crooke, made the following observation:
In the midst of the Lebanon conflict, US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld privately worried that the Israeli offensive would have dire consequences for the US military in Iraq, who faced increasing hostility from Shi'ite political leaders and the Shi'ite population. Rice's statement that the pro-Hezbollah demonstrations in Baghdad were planned by Tehran revealed her ignorance of the most fundamental political facts of the region. The US secretaries of state and of defense were simply and unaccountably unaware that the Sadrs of Baghdad bore any relationship to the Sadrs of Lebanon. That Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki would not castigate Hezbollah and side with Israel during the conflict - and in the midst of an official visit to Washington - was viewed as shocking by Washington's political establishment, even though "Hezbollah in Iraq" is one of the parties in the current Iraqi coalition government.
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Bury my heart in the Green Zone
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, November 29, 2006

As dozens of people a day (sometimes a couple of hundred a day), every single day, Sunni and Shi'ite alike, continue to be beheaded, tortured, blown up, shot, kidnapped, struck by mortars and even doused in gasoline and set on fire in a non-stop gruesome ritual, every big player seems to be laying down a desperate game to "save" Iraq. This includes the ongoing summit between Iraqi President Jalal Talabani and his Iranian counterpart Mahmud Ahmadinejad in Iran and this week's meeting between President George W Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan.

But they all have forgotten to consider the guerrilla point of view; as far as the Sunni Arab resistance is concerned, any summit is guilty of legitimizing the "puppet" Iraqi government. [complete article]
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A fraud worse than Enron
By Elizabeth de la Vega, TomDispatch, November 27, 2006

Elizabeth de la Vega, appearing on behalf of the United States. That is a phrase I've uttered hundreds of times in twenty years as a federal prosecutor. I retired two years ago. So, obviously, I do not now speak for any U.S. Attorney's Office, nor do I represent the federal government. This should be apparent from the fact that I am proposing a hypothetical indictment of the President and his senior advisers -- not a smart move for any federal employee who wishes to remain employed. Lest anyone miss the import of this paragraph, let me emphasize that it is a DISCLAIMER: I am writing as a private citizen.

Obviously, as a private citizen, I cannot simply draft and file an indictment. Nor can I convene a grand jury. Instead, in the following pages I intend to present a hypothetical indictment to a hypothetical grand jury. The defendants are President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The crime is tricking the nation into war--in legal terms, conspiracy to defraud the United States. And all of you are invited to join the grand jury.

We will meet for seven days. On day one, I'll present the indictment in the morning and in the afternoon I will explain the applicable law. On days two through seven, we'll have witness testimony, presented in transcript form, with exhibits. [complete article]
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Israel eyes deal without joy
By Mitch Potter, Toronto Star, November 28, 2006

Israeli novelist Amos Oz indulged yesterday in a question few in this corner of the world have dared utter for six long and bloody years: Could this brittle ceasefire, barely three days old, actually bring an end to the darkness?

Writing in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Oz did not go so far as to use the word peace. Instead, he described how Palestinians and Israelis alike are conditioned for a joyless but inevitable "compromise of pain and clenched teeth."

Neither side will dance in the streets when the deal is made. But even those who condemn it as treachery and disaster, Oz said, will not be surprised at its terms -- two states, Israel and Palestine, living more or less within the 1967 borders and sharing Jerusalem, the city of two capitals. [complete article]

Comment -- The idea that this weekend's declaration of a truce between Israel and Hamas, followed by Ehud Olmert's speech Monday at the Ben-Gurion memorial, are harbingers of a serious peace initiative, seems premature. Coming right before the arrival of President Bush and Secretary Rice in the region, the timing can hardly be coincidental. And though Fatah is in no political condition to replace Hamas, the departure of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh soon to be followed by the entry of Mahmoud Abbas' Badr Brigade into Gaza, has me wondering whether, far from promoting peace, the Israelis and Americans are actually lining up their ducks in preparation for a coup.

The residents of Gaza now have a much-needed opportunity to relish a moment of peace, yet Abbas' announcement that negotiations for a unity government have reached a "dead end," suggests that even if the rockets stop firing into Israel, the peace in Gaza may be short-lived. Hopefully I'm wrong.

Meanwhile, the departure of one of Condoleezza Rice's closest advisors, Philip D. Zelikow, raises the question: are her days numbered too?
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Pope flies to Istanbul, landing in a political cloud
By Ian Fisher, New York Times, November 28, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI originally wanted to visit Turkey a year ago, for one quiet night, and Islam had nothing to do with it.

It was meant as a trip to help heal the 1,000-year rift with the world's 220 million Orthodox Christians. The pope would celebrate the Feast of St. Andrew on Nov. 30 with Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of the worldwide Orthodox Church, who lives in Istanbul, then return to Rome.

But for various reasons having to do with its complex relationship with Orthodox Christianity, the Turkish government protested. No doubt the nation's leaders wish they had approved a visit then. Now, after the pope's speech two months ago that many interpreted as suggesting that Islam was prone to violence, the trip that starts Tuesday has become far more complicated. [complete article]

Why Turks are not pleased to see the Pope
By Pelin Turgut, Time, November 27, 2006

It took a 12 hour bus ride for Hafize Kucuk and Sevgi Ozen, 21-year-old university students, to get from the northern Turkish city of Samsun to an Istanbul rally Sunday protesting Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Turkey this week. But they thought little of the inconvenience. "This is a man who insulted our Prophet [Muhammad] and didn't even apologize properly," said Kucuk. "Now he's coming to our country, a Muslim country. This is unacceptable. We came to make our voices heard."

The rally, attended by some 15,000 Islamist protestors, was a colorful affair. Huge, lurid posters linking Benedict to Crusader knights. Hundreds of young men, wearing white headbands inscribed with the message "We don't want this sly Pope in Turkey", chanted angry slogans.

Militant protestors are a minority, but many Turks are deeply skeptical about a visit they view as part of a Western design against Turkey, which is mostly Muslim but officially secular. [complete article]
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Hizbullah promises 'surprising and random' actions
By Nada Bakri, Daily Star, November 28, 2006

Hizbullah is expected to start a series of "surprising and random" actions on Tuesday to force Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's Cabinet to resign, a senior Hizbullah official said on Monday. "We will not announce an official date for the protests, they will be a series of random and surprising street actions which might start on Tuesday," the source, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Daily Star. Hizbullah and its ally the Free Patriotic Movement have been demanding veto power in the pro-Western government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

The anti-Syrian coalition has said they are willing to reshuffle Cabinet but will not grant Hizbullah and its allies a minority blocking.

It was not clear if the FPM, headed by MP Michel Aoun, will participate in tomorrow's actions, if they take place.

"We are always ready [for street protests] because our actions are peaceful and we want to participate in the authority so it won't be unilateral," Aoun said on Monday following the meeting of his Reform and Change parliamentary bloc.

"We want to participate and we want balance. The government has lost its legitimacy and did not respect the Constitution," he added. [complete article]
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Bush to discuss talking to Iran about Iraq - W.House
Reuters, November 27, 2006

The White House acknowledged on Monday that sectarian violence in Iraq had entered "a new phase" but denied it amounted to civil war.

U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley told reporters that President George W. Bush would discuss with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan this week how to deal with the worsening bloodshed.

"We're clearly in a new phase, characterized by this increasing sectarian violence that requires us obviously to adapt to that new phase and these two leaders need to be talking about how to do that," Hadley told reporters accompanying Bush to the Estonian capital, Tallinn.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said earlier that Iraq was close to civil war -- "in fact we are almost there" -- after Baghdad bombings last week in which more than 200 people died.

"The Iraqis don't talk of it as a civil war," Hadley said, arguing that the police and army had not fractured on sectarian lines and the Iraqi unity government was holding together. [complete article]

Comment -- And how many ordinary Iraqis has Stephen Hadley spoken to recently?

When historians get round to placing a date on the beginning of the Iraqi Civil War, I imagine it will be February 22, 2006 -- the day that Samarra's Al-Askari Mosque was bombed.

The long "slide into civil war" that followed has marked a protracted unwillingness to officially label something that virtually everyone else could name. That a consensus is now emerging says less about the transition across some hard-to-discern boundary, than the fact that it has become absurd to deny that Iraq is embroiled in real, full-blown civil war. Of course it can get worse, but the brink was crossed months ago and those in Washington who claim otherwise are simply trying to conceal their own failures and present a semblance of control where virtually none exists.

The moment "civil war" entered the present tense happened behind closed doors. Newsroom editors, who I assume will never reveal all their deliberations, finally decided that they would no longer continue sustaining the White House's charade. The Los Angeles Times took the lead, quickly followed by NBC and McClatchy Newspapers. Now that a few have dared utter the conflict's real name, others are sure to follow. The final holdouts will be the White House and the Pentagon.

Will an administration that has invested so much in its efforts to shape perceptions by controlling language, now, through sheer force of habit, try to cast Iraq's civil war as "limited"; as a civil war that can be "contained"; as a civil war out of which "a better Iraq will emerge"? Who knows?

But when it comes to the historical account of deliberations inside Washington over the last few months, the one feature that will stand out above all others is that so many policymakers and decision-makers acted as though they had time to spare long after it had already run out.
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Panel to weigh overture by U.S. to Iran and Syria
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, November 27, 2006

A draft report on strategies for Iraq, which will be debated here by a bipartisan commission beginning Monday, urges an aggressive regional diplomatic initiative that includes direct talks with Iran and Syria but sets no timetables for a military withdrawal, according to officials who have seen all or parts of the document.

While the diplomatic strategy appears likely to be accepted, with some amendments, by the 10-member Iraq Study Group, members of the commission and outsiders involved in its work said they expected a potentially divisive debate about timetables for beginning an American withdrawal.

In interviews, several officials said announcing a major withdrawal was the only way to persuade the government of Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, to focus on creating an effective Iraqi military force. [complete article]

See also, Iraq group a study in secrecy, centrism (WP).
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A day when Mahdi Army showed its other side
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, November 27, 2006

In the chaos, Ayad al-Fartoosi thrived.

Against a backdrop of death and panic in Sadr City last Thursday, he strode confidently through streets littered with burning cars and charred bodies. At one moment, he was guiding an ambulance carrying bomb victims through traffic. At another, he was searching cars at a checkpoint. By evening, he had helped to seize a would-be car bomber and to retrieve corpses. By nightfall, he was patrolling the streets of his neighborhood.

Since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003, Fartoosi has been a militiaman with the Shiite Muslim Mahdi Army of firebrand cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Last week, he also served as a relief worker, a policeman, a traffic controller and a guard.

So did thousands of his militia comrades who mobilized to assist victims of the deadliest attack on Iraqis since the invasion, highlighting the power associated with the Mahdi Army's less-publicized roles in Iraqi society.

"We do even more than what the government should do," said Fartoosi, 21, as he recalled the eight grueling hours after a barrage of car bombs, mortars and missiles killed more than 200 people in Baghdad's Shiite heartland.

For U.S. officials, dismantling the Mahdi Army and other Shiite militias that have fomented sectarian strife in Iraq is a cornerstone of their calculus to stabilize Iraq and bring U.S. troops home. They view it as a crucial step toward isolating the Sunni Arab insurgency and reconciling the nation.

But the attacks Thursday illustrated the immense difficulties involved in tackling the Mahdi Army, the country's largest and most violent militia, in today 's Iraq. The militiamen were heroes that day, Sadr City residents said in interviews. They did everything that Iraq's fragile unity government did not, or could not, do. In the days since, their actions have boosted Sadr's popularity and emboldened him. [complete article]
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Weapon of mass destruction
By Larry Kahaner, Washington Post, November 26, 2006

In the grand narrative of World War II, the Battle of Bryansk is a minor conflict, barely deserving of a footnote. But Bryansk has another place in history. It was there that a then-unknown tank commander named Mikhail Kalashnikov decided that his Russian comrades would never again be defeated. In the years following the Great Patriotic War, as Soviet propagandists dubbed it, he was to conceive and fabricate a weapon so simple, and yet so revolutionary, that it would change the way wars were fought and won. It was the AK-47 assault rifle.

The AK-47 has become the world's most prolific and effective combat weapon, a device so cheap and simple that it can be bought in many countries for less than the cost of a live chicken. Depicted on the flag and currency of several countries, waved by guerrillas and rebels everywhere, the AK is responsible for about a quarter-million deaths every year. It is the firearm of choice for at least 50 legitimate standing armies and countless fighting forces from Africa and the Middle East to Central America and Los Angeles. It has become a cultural icon, its signature form -- that banana-shaped magazine -- defining in our consciousness the contours of a deadly weapon. [complete article]
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Israeli PM offers 'hand of peace'
BBC News, November 27, 2006

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert says he hopes to revive long-stalled peace efforts with the Palestinians, as a ceasefire takes hold in the Gaza Strip.

In a major policy speech, Mr Olmert pledged humanitarian and economic incentives if militants freed a captive Israeli soldier and violence ceased. [complete article]

Israel offers to release Palestinian prisoners in return for peace
By Elsa McLaren, The Times, November 27, 2006

Israel's Prime Minister today moved forward the prospect of lasting peace in Gaza by offering wide-ranging peace concessions to the Palestinians if they turned away from violence.

In a major policy speech, Ehud Olmert said he was reaching out to the Palestinians for peace after five months of bloodshed that has followed the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Hamas on June 25.

He announced that he was prepared to reduce checkpoints, release frozen funds and free prisoners in exchange for the release of Mr Shalit and a serious push for peace. [complete article]

Comment -- Just in time for President Bush's arrival in the Middle East, Ehud Olmert kindly makes a gesture designed to create "a sense that the Arab-Israeli issues are being addressed." I'm sure Philip Zelikow must be quite satisfied.
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The Twilight Zone / After the rain of death
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, November 22, 2006

This is Islam al-Atamna. A girl of 14. She is sitting in her black mourning clothes. Eight close relatives - including her mother, grandparents, uncles and aunts - were all killed before her eyes, one after the other. They were killed in the street after they awoke at home in horror at the sound of the first shell that exploded and then fled outdoors, where the next shells caught them. About 11 fell on a residential neighborhood, one shell a minute, a rain of death, pursuing them in their flight. Fatherless for some time already, the girl is left alone in the world with her two little sisters and her 3-year-old brother Abdullah, whose legs were severed and who is hospitalized in the Al-Hilal Hospital in Gaza.

What should we say to Islam? What can we say to Islam? That the chip in the radar system is to blame? That the electronic component is responsible? Perhaps that the Palestinians are to blame?

Since the accident the girl has not fallen asleep for even a moment, which one can see in her frozen face. Islam is now a girl in shock, whose entire world was destroyed last Wednesday morning, with a total of 22 relatives dead and dozens wounded. [complete article]
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Israeli settlers, or squatters?
By Gershom Gorenberg, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2006

At the West Bank settlement of Ofrah, as seen from the ground, two-story suburban houses stand along quiet streets. Near the community's entry gate are a few prefab concrete structures — remains of the abandoned Jordanian army base where the first settlers lived in the mid-1970s, until they built their comfortable homes.

Here's another picture of Ofrah, with color-coded data on land ownership superimposed on an aerial photo: Near the entrance are small brown splotches of state-owned land, the original Jordanian base. Almost all the rest of Ofrah's area is marked in red, indicating that it is private Palestinian property. The data on which the map is based, apparently updated in 2004, comes from the Israeli government's civil administration in the West Bank. Leaked to researchers from the Peace Now movement, the information forms the basis for their stark report, published Tuesday, on exploitation of private Palestinian land for Israeli settlement.

The report is both deeply disturbing and curiously unsurprising. The public, in Israel and outside it, did not know previously that 38.8% of all settlement land is privately owned by Palestinians. Nor did we know that the proportion is actually slightly higher than this in the "settlement blocs" that the current Israeli government hopes to keep permanently as part of Israel. Settlements, the Israeli public presumed, stood on land owned by the state or by Jews.

Yet, the newly revealed figures fit into a known context: Israel rules the West Bank, but what happens there does not follow Israel's own rules. Since Israel's conquest of the territory in 1967, settlement has been a tool in the battle for permanent political control, and both officials and activists have been complicit in putting the cause above the law. [complete article]

Comment -- So, the settlements are largely built on stolen land. And if at some point in the distant future this injustice is resolved, what of the stolen property on the other side of the 1967 border? Ah, that's a completely different matter -- completely different in ways that I'm sure few Palestinians (or I) can fathom.
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U.S. groups to host rightist minister with anti-Arab plan
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, November 24, 2006

In a further indication of his acceptance into the political mainstream, controversial right-wing Israeli politician and newly minted government minister Avigdor Lieberman will be hosted next month in New York by the most influential umbrella organization of American Jewish groups.

The leader of the secular nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, Lieberman is best known for his proposal to transfer part of Israel's Arab population by turning over territory within the 1967 border to the Palestinians. But he is slated to speak about Iran on December 12, when he addresses the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in his capacity as deputy prime minister in charge of strategic threats.

In recent years, leading liberals, as well as some prominent centrists, have claimed that the Presidents Conference was tilting toward the right. Yet the decision to host Lieberman, a pariah among Israeli doves, has not drawn any public objections from members of the conference. Lieberman is also scheduled to appear in front of the hawkish Middle East Forum, a think tank run by conservative scholar Daniel Pipes. [complete article]
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Survey: Israel worst brand name in the world
Israel Today, November 22, 2006

As if Israel's position in the world in not bad enough, a new survey published in the US Wednesday says that Israel is suffering from the worst public image among all countries of the world.

The study, called the National Brands Index, conducted by government advisor Simon Anholt and powered by global market intelligence solutions provider GMI (Global Market Insite, Inc.), shows that Israel is at the bottom of the list by a considerable margin in the public's perception of its image.

The Index surveyed 25,903 online consumers across 35 countries about their perceptions of those countries across six areas of national competence: Investment and Immigration, Exports, Culture and Heritage, People, Governance and Tourism. The NBI is the first analytical ranking of the world's nation brands.

"Israel's brand is by a considerable margin the most negative we have ever measured in the NBI, and comes at the bottom of the ranking on almost every question," states report author Simon Anholt. [complete article]
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A Lebanese civil war? Not just yet
By Nada Doumit, Daily Star, November 28, 2006

Lebanon's political leaders are today confronted with two simple choices: to talk now in order to avoid a civil war or to talk later after waging one. The leaders have already held two series of national dialogue roundtables, with 14 leaders representing all major political and religious currents, debating vital national issues. They failed to reach a consensus on where Lebanon is heading, polarizing an already tense political situation. These consecutive failures could prove costly as many believe that the ingredients of a civil war are coming together in the country.

Indeed, the assassinations of prominent political and media figures that followed that of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005, including the latest killing of Industry Minister Pierre Gemayel, seem to be pushing Lebanese factions toward confrontation. Compromise seems impossible to achieve through peaceful and democratic means.

However, not all the ingredients of civil war are present just yet. While dynamics of confrontation aredeveloping in a polarized Lebanese society, the country is still deeply affected by the wounds of the not-so-distant 1975-90 Civil War. The society is showing impressive antagonism to internal violence. It is true, however, that the systematic assassination of prominent political figures is eroding this resistance. [complete article]
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British terror trial traces a path to militant Islam
By Elaine Sciolino and Stephen Grey, New York Times, November 26, 2006

More than half a ton of ammonium nitrate fertilizer suitable for making bombs was locked in a rented storage warehouse. A cookie tin of aluminum powder was hidden behind a garden shed. Young British Muslims underwent military training at guerrilla camps in remote parts of Pakistan. Suspects, surreptitiously taped by the police, talked about bombing targets in Britain.

Enter a computer technician in Canada experimenting with remote-controlled detonation devices and a collaborator-turned-informer from Queens testifying about secret meetings with operatives of Al Qaeda.

For eight months, the tale of the Operation Crevice Seven has been unfolding in a cramped, windowless courtroom in the Old Bailey in London.

On trial are seven men, ages 19 to 34, six of them with family roots in Pakistan. Arrested in 2004, they are charged with involvement in a criminal conspiracy to make explosives to commit murder, allegations that they all deny. Their target, the authorities say, was unclear -- a nightclub, perhaps, or a shopping mall, public utilities, a British airliner or even the House of Commons.

But investigators say the evidence reveals the workings of the kind of cell most feared by officials in Europe. Young Muslims, radicalized by local imams and trained at military camps in Pakistan with vague connections to Al Qaeda, plan an attack at home with help from outside terrorists. [complete article]
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How Moqtada al-Sadr controls U.S. fate in Iraq
By Jeffrey Bartholet, Newsweek, December 4, 2006

One way to understand Moqtada al-Sadr is to think of him as a young Mafia don. He aims for respectability, and is willing to kill for it. Yet the extent of his power isn't obvious to the untrained eye. He has no standing army or police force, and the Mahdi Army gunmen he employs have no tanks or aircraft. You could mistake him -- at your peril -- for a common thug or gang leader. And if he or his people were to kill you for your ignorance, he wouldn't claim credit. But the message would be clear to those who understand the brutal language of the Iraqi Street.

American soldiers who patrol Sadr's turf in Baghdad understand. They can spot his men. "They look like they're pulling security," says First Lt. Robert Hartley, a 25-year-old who plays cat and mouse with the Mahdi Army in the Iraqi capital. The Sadrists use children and young men as lookouts. When GIs get out of their Humvees to patrol on foot, one of the watchers will fly a kite, or release a flock of pigeons. Some of Sadr's people have even infiltrated top ranks of the Iraqi police. Capt. Tom Kapla, 29, says he knows who they are: "They look at you, and you can tell they want to kill you."

Sadr is a unique force in Iraq: a leader from the majority Shiites who has resisted American occupation from the start. He's a populist, a nationalist and an Islamic radical rolled into one. Part of his power is simply that he's powerful. Large numbers of impoverished Shiites view Sadr as their guardian—the one leader who is willing not just to stand up for them but to strike back on their behalf. "People count on the militias," says Lieutenant Hartley, who deals with Sadr's thugs on a regular basis. "It's like the mob -- they keep people safe."

The longer Sadr has survived, the greater his prestige has grown. Iraqis and foreigners who meet him are impressed by the transformation. He's more diplomatic and commands more respect. He used to greet visitors at his Najaf office sitting on pillows on the floor. Now he has a couch set. His concerns are high-minded: he speaks of fuel shortages and cabinet politics. In the past, Sadr was shrugged off as a rabble-rouser and a nuisance. Now he is undeniably one of the most popular leaders in the country. He is also its most dangerous, for he has the means to wage political or actual war against any solution that is not precisely to his liking. He is driven by forces America has long misread in Iraq: religious sentiment, economic resentment and enduring sectarian passions. [complete article]
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Baghdad braces for more reprisals
By Sudarsan Raghavan and Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, November 26, 2006

In the aftermath of one of the deadliest spasms of violence, a new level of fear and foreboding has gripped Baghdad, fueled in part by sectarian text messages and Internet sites, deepening tensions in an already divided capital.

In interviews across Baghdad on Saturday, Sunnis and Shiites said they were preparing themselves for upheaval, both violent and psychological. They viewed the bombings that killed more than 200 people Thursday in the heart of Baghdad's Shiite Muslim community of Sadr City as a trigger for more reprisal killings.

"We feel our world has become narrow, and we are being squeezed," said Karar al-Zuheari, 31, a Shiite taxi driver. "We have no place to run." [complete article]

See also, They had been praying. Then they were doused in petrol and set alight (The Sunday Times).
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U.S. finds Iraq insurgency has funds to sustain itself
By John F. Burns Kirk Semple, New York Times, November 26, 2006

The insurgency in Iraq is now self-sustaining financially, raising tens of millions of dollars a year from oil smuggling, kidnapping, counterfeiting, connivance by corrupt Islamic charities and other crimes that the Iraqi government and its American patrons have been largely unable to prevent, a classified United States government report has concluded.

The report, obtained by The New York Times, estimates that groups responsible for many insurgent and terrorist attacks are raising $70 million to $200 million a year from illegal activities. It says $25 million to $100 million of that comes from oil smuggling and other criminal activity involving the state-owned oil industry, aided by "corrupt and complicit" Iraqi officials.

As much as $36 million a year comes from ransoms paid for hundreds of kidnap victims, the report says. It estimates that unnamed foreign governments -- previously identified by American officials as including France and Italy -- paid $30 million in ransom last year. [complete article]

See also, 47 Sunni militants die in Iraq gunfights (NYT).

A matter of definition: What makes a civil war, and who declares it so?
By Edward Wong, New York Times, November 26, 2006

Is Iraq in a civil war?

Though the Bush administration continues to insist that it is not, a growing number of American and Iraqi scholars, leaders and policy analysts say the fighting in Iraq meets the standard definition of civil war.

The common scholarly definition has two main criteria. The first says that the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second says that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.

American professors who specialize in the study of civil wars say that most of their number are in agreement that Iraq's conflict is a civil war. [complete article]

Comment -- Although most American journalists like to think that they belong to a free press, the truth is that this is a self-policing press that defers to political authority so habitually that like a well-trained dog it needs no leash. Reference to the civil war in Iraq as a civil war is a case in point. For months and months Iraq has been "sliding into"/"on the brink of"/"descending into"/"on the verge of" a full-blown civil war. Every editor across America seems to have been waiting for the civil war to be officially acknowledged and then - and only then - will "the civil war in Iraq" start being reported. Finally, one newspaper - the Los Angeles Times - has without fanfare jumped ahead without waiting for the starting pistol. Yesterday, with these four words -- "Iraq's civil war worsened..." -- the civil war quietly slipped into the present tense.
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Ferocity of Iraq attacks leaves U.S. troops helpless
By Marie Colvin, Tony Allen-Mills, and Samir Bashir, The Sunday Times, November 26, 2006

More than 3½ years after President George W Bush launched an invasion of Iraq, which his supporters proclaimed as a "cakewalk", American troops were yesterday engulfed in a wave of sectarian bloodletting that threatens to destroy the Iraqi government and may jeopardise a crisis summit this week with Nouri al-Maliki, the prime minister.

US forces were reduced to near-impotent bystanders as the violence ignited by Thursday's car bomb attacks on Shi'ite targets in Baghdad spawned a spiral of revenge.

After a series of attacks on Sunni mosques on Friday, insurgents in Diyala province were reported yesterday to have stormed two Shi'ite houses and murdered 21 men in front of their relatives. A suicide car bomber yesterday attacked a joint US-Iraqi checkpoint near Fallujah, killing three civilians and one American soldier. [complete article]

See also, Long stints in Iraq fracture families (WP).

Leaving Iraq, honorably
By Chuck Hagel, Washington Post, November 26, 2006

There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis -- not the Americans.

Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made this point last weekend.

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose. [complete article]
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Israelis, Palestinians reinstate cease-fire
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, November 26, 2006

Israel and the Palestinians halted their hostilities in the Gaza Strip today, reinstating an often-broken cease-fire that could lead to the first talks between their leaders since June.

The accord, struck late Saturday during a telephone call from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, took effect at 6 a.m. Shortly afterward, Israel announced that it had pulled its troops out of the coastal territory during the night.

If the indefinite cease-fire holds, it will end five months of punishing Israeli military incursions into Gaza as well as the daily firing of rockets by Palestinian militants at cities and towns in Israel. It also could create momentum toward a resumption of peace talks that collapsed six years ago.

Hamas, one of several Palestinian parties to the pact, said it had fired its last three rockets into Israel half an hour before the cease-fire. One damaged a home in Sderot but caused no injuries, Israeli officials said.

An Israeli government spokeswoman, Miri Eisen, said the cease-fire accord included a halt to Palestinian suicide attacks in or from Gaza and a cessation of weapons smuggling into Gaza from Egypt.

Nabil abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, said that all Palestinian armed factions had signed an agreement to "cease military activities from Gaza," restoring a truce reached in Egypt in February 2005. [complete article]

See also, Hamas gives peace negotiations 6 months (AP) and 13,000 members of PA security force deploy in Gaza to prevent Qassam fire (Haaretz).
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Crisis in Lebanon reaches new threshold
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, November 26, 2006

Lebanon's fragile government, defying warnings from Hezbollah, on Saturday approved an international tribunal to try suspects in the 2005 assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, an enormously symbolic step for a country paralyzed by division and anticipation.

The decision by Prime Minister Fouad Siniora's cabinet, taken at night with a large military presence in downtown Beirut, set the stage for the country's month-long political crisis, which has so far escalated almost in slow motion, to enter a much less predictable period. In effect, the approval of the tribunal pits a coalition underpinning the Lebanese government, backed by the United States and France, against the radical Shiite movement Hezbollah and its allies, supported by Iran and Syria.

"This is not a provocation against anyone, nor will it be a provocation against anyone," Siniora said in a statement read after the cabinet meeting by the information minister. "On the contrary, it aims at protecting everyone."

Hezbollah read the vote as a blunt challenge, denouncing the cabinet as illegitimate and renewing its threat to take to the streets to bring it down. The movement and its allies negotiated their response Saturday night, but several officials said protests would commence after the seven-day mourning period for Pierre Gemayel, the industry minister who was assassinated Tuesday on a busy suburban Beirut street.

"This is an unconstitutional and illegitimate meeting of an unconstitutional and illegitimate cabinet. Our reaction will become clear in the coming days," Hussein Hajj Hassan, a Hezbollah member of parliament, said in an interview. "It is going to include all kinds of activities, because they have taken things to an unacceptable place."

But, he added, "we're not in a hurry." [complete article]
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Opposition gain in Bahrain election
Al Jazeera, November 26, 2006

Early results in Bahrain's parliamentary elections have shown that Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of the opposition Islamic National Accord Association (INAA), has won 85 per cent of the votes, Al Jazeera correspondent in Manama reported on Sunday.

Voters flocked to elect their second post-reform parliament amid allegations of a plot to keep majority Shias under-represented in the Sunni-ruled kingdom.

Some 295,000 voters were entitled to elect 39 MPs in an equal number of constituencies. There are a total of 206 candidates, including 17 women. Turnout reached 72 per cent. [complete article]

Discord accompanies Bahrain vote
By Faiza Saleh Ambah, Washington Post, November 25, 2006

Friction between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in this strategic Persian Gulf kingdom, which is holding its second parliamentary elections in three decades, has clouded the voting set here for Saturday.

The campaign for the National Assembly's 40-member lower house has been marred by an alleged plot by a senior government official to rig the elections in favor of the ruling Sunni minority.

A 214-page report disclosed in September accused a senior official of secretly plotting to sideline the country's majority Shiites. The report, released by a former government adviser, is the latest in a series of events that have exacerbated Sunni-Shiite discord in this nation of 700,000, home to the U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Only Iraqis can overcome this national catastrophe
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, November 24, 2006

Iraq: The war of the imagination (part one)
By Mark Danner, New York Review of Books (via TomDispatch), November 22, 2006

Iraq: The war of the imagination (part two)
By Mark Danner, New York Review of Books (via TomDispatch), November 22, 2006

Gemayel assassination and the Lebanon circle of violence
By Rami G. Khouri, Middle East Online, November 22, 2006

Fears of civil strife rise in Lebanon
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, November 22, 2006

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

Is a damaged Administration less likely to attack Iran, or more?
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, November 20, 2006

Europe's Muslims: Beyond the veil
By Fareena Alam, Newsweek, November 27, 2006

Pope Benedict's definition of what it means to be European ignores the positive contributions of Islam
By Tariq Ramadan, Time, November 19, 2006

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