The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Israel and apartheid: In defense of Jimmy Carter
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, December 22, 2006

Nothing makes liberal American supporters of Israel more uncomfortable than the comparison between the circumstances it has imposed on the Palestinians and those that the apartheid regime imposed on black South Africans. That's precisely why it is so important and commendable that Jimmy Carter has tempted the wrath of the Israel lobby and many Jewish-American liberals-in-denial by making that comparison -- as he says, it's time Americans took a look at Palestinian life and history, and as any good person of faith or basic humanity would, treat it as of equal value. The point being that Jimmy Carter had to write this book precisely because Palestinian life and history is not accorded equal value in American discourse, far from it. And his use of the word apartheid is not only morally valid; it is essential, because it shakes the moral stupor that allows many liberals to rationalize away the daily, grinding horror being inflicted Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. [complete article]
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Archbishop of Canterbury condemns Israeli security wall
By Maria Mackay, Christian Today, December 23, 2006

The Archbishop of Canterbury, who is currently taking part in a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, has criticised the Israeli security wall that surrounds Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

Speaking to the town's civic representatives shortly after walking through the wall, Dr Williams said the wall symbolised "the terrible fear of the other, of the stranger, which keeps us all in one kind of prison or another", from which God 2,000 years ago came to release people, Open Bethlehem said.
He told the church leaders that future peace depended on "dialogue, not separation".

"Your presence is challenging this ugly wall," Mayor Batarseh told them.
The Archbishop of Canterbury said they were "here to say to the people of Bethlehem that they are not forgotten". [complete article]
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Christians suffer for Iraq, says archbishop
By Ruth Gledhill and Michael Evans, The Times, December 23, 2006

Christians in the Middle East are being put at unprecedented risk by the Government's "shortsighted" and "ignorant" policy in Iraq, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, says today.

In an extraordinary attack, Dr Williams accuses Tony Blair and the US of endangering the lives and futures of many thousands of Christians in the Middle East, who are regarded by their countrymen as supporters of the "crusading West."

He has been backed by bishops across the Church of England, who say that Christians in the Middle East are now paying the price for the "chaos" in Iraq after the British Government failed to heed their warnings about the consequences of military action.

Dr Williams, writing in today's Times, says that one prediction that was systematically ignored was that Western military action would put the whole of the Middle East's Christian population at risk. [complete article]

See also, We mustn’t forget the plight of Arab Christians (Rowan Williams).
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Hamas - democratic government or terrorist organization?
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, December 6, 2006

There are three conditions for Hamas being recognized as a legitimate political party. To renounce violence, to give up their arms, and to recognize Israel.

We've been through this and through this with Hamas, and we've said why don't you do this? And the best answer that I've had from a Hamas leader is as follows: If we do that, if we renounce violence, if we give up our arms, and if we recognize Israel, what's there to talk about? What do we talk to our enemies about? Do you think they're going to say, "Oh, welcome to the world of nations"? "Finally we'll withdraw to the '67 borders"? Here's what we would like. We will recognize Israel -- Khaled Meshaal has said this very straightforward in Damascus again and again and again and again. We understand and we recognize that the Israeli people, the Jewish people have a narrative, it's an important narrative. We've listened to it for many, many years. We have a narrative. Here's our narrative. In 1948, we lived on a land that was called Palestine. Many of us were kicked off our land and now live in refugee camps. We have legitimate grievances. If you will recognize our legitimate grievances, and recognize our narrative as a people, we can begin to share a narrative, to have talks. But until that point comes, when you stand up and say, we understand that you have grievances that have to be addressed, we’re not going to recognize anybody. We're going to represent our people. [complete article]
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Bush signs law against Hamas aid
Al Jazeera, December 22, 2006

George Bush, the US president, has signed into law a bill that will block US aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian government and ban contact with Hamas until the party has renounced violence and recognised Israel's existence.

It will also create a $20 million fund to promote democracy and human rights in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

The Bush administration stopped aid shortly after the January election victory by Hamas, which Washington considers an international terrorist organisation.

The legislation has no effect on aid for the Palestinian Authority.

Mitch McConnell, a US republican senator, said the legislation makes it clear the Palestinian Authority can expect no US help so long as it continues to be led by Hamas. [complete article]
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Culture vultures
By Nancy Spector,, December, 2006

When I received a gold-engraved card from the White House inviting me to a reception to launch the administration's new Global Cultural Initiative, I thought at first that it must have been an art-world prank – perhaps a tactical media intervention by the Critical Art Ensemble. But then I realized it was my current role as the commissioner of the US Pavilion for the 2007 Venice Biennale that had earned me this unexpected distinction. The correlation between the Bush White House and culture seemed oxymoronic to me; the title 'Global Cultural Initiative' does, after all, have the same vague propagandistic ring and sinister undertones as 'Operation Iraqi Freedom'. [complete article]
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Shiites remake Baghdad in their image
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, December 23, 2006

As the United States debates what to do in Iraq, this country's Shiite majority has been moving toward its own solution: making the capital its own.

Large portions of Baghdad have become Shiite in recent months, as militias press their fight against Sunni militants deeper into the heart of the capital, displacing thousands of Sunni residents. At least 10 neighborhoods that a year ago were mixed Sunni and Shiite are now almost entirely Shiite, according to residents, American and Iraqi military commanders and local officials.

For the first years of the war, Sunni militants were dominant, forcing Shiites out of neighborhoods and systematically killing bakers, barbers and trash collectors, who were often Shiites. But starting in February, after the bombing of a shrine in the city of Samarra, Shiite militias began to strike back, pushing west from their strongholds and redrawing the sectarian map of the capital, home to a quarter of Iraq's population.

The Shiite-dominated government publicly condemns violence against Sunnis and says it is trying to stop the militias that carry it out. But the attacks have continued unabated, and Sunnis have grown suspicious.

Plans for a new bridge that would bypass a violent Sunni area in the east, and a proposal for land handouts in towns around Baghdad that would bring Shiites into what are now Sunni strongholds underscored these concerns. [complete article]

Plan to isolate al-Sadr finds little support among Iraqis
By Hannah Allam, McClatchy, December 22, 2006

An American-led initiative to sideline militant cleric Muqtada al-Sadr by bolstering support for his political rivals has gained little traction here and may even have strengthened al-Sadr's hand, according to interviews Friday with several Iraqi politicians and clerics involved in the talks.

The effort to assemble a political bloc of so-called moderates to counter al-Sadr's growing influence was one of the recommendations National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley made in a secret White House memo that was leaked last month. U.S. officials hope such a coalition would ease Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's dependence on support from al-Sadr, whose followers, U.S. officials say, are responsible for much of the violence now convulsing Baghdad.

But few Iraqi politicians have been willing to go along with the plan, which was riddled with problems from the onset, Iraqi officials said. U.S. backing for a new coalition has allowed al-Sadr to portray his opponents as American lackeys, they added. [complete article]
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U.S. policy in the Horn of Africa may aid al-Qaida, experts warn
By Jonathan S. Landay and Shashank Bengali, McClatchy, December 22, 2006

The Bush administration has publicly denounced the Islamists who control most of southern Somalia as al-Qaida puppets, reinforcing a widespread belief that the United States tacitly supports Christian-ruled Ethiopia's intervention into the overwhelmingly Muslim country.

The outbreak of fighting has focused new attention on U.S. policy in the region, which Western diplomats and regional experts say has been riddled with inconsistencies and missteps. The experts say U.S. handling of Somalia and Ethiopia is a tale of flawed intelligence, inadequate U.S. government attention and overheated rhetoric, with a measure of domestic U.S. politics thrown in.

Earlier this year, Washington provided covert aid to an alliance of secular Somali warlords in a failed bid to prevent the Islamists from seizing Mogadishu, the capital. U.S. officials confirmed to McClatchy Newspapers that one recipient of the CIA payments was a leader of a Somali militia that killed 18 U.S. troops in 1993 in fighting in Mogadishu, which was portrayed in the film "Black Hawk Down."

Even powerful U.S. politicians have had a role in American policy surrounding the complex conflict. Dick Armey, the former majority leader in the GOP-run House of Representatives, has been lobbying for Ethiopia, congressional aides said. Last summer, Armey worked to block a vote on a bipartisan bill to cut U.S. security aid to Ethiopia if it failed to halt political repression. The Bush administration also opposed the bill.

The Bush administration says it's urging Ethiopia to show restraint and that it's working closely with European Union officials in trying to arrange a truce and negotiations.

But Western diplomats and regional experts said the United States is widely seen as approving of Ethiopia's intervention. [complete article]

In the third day of fighting in Somalia, worries of a sharp escalation by Ethiopian forces
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, December 23, 2006

Any hope of a quick peace in Somalia vanished in a burst of artillery shells on Friday, as fighting between rival forces raged for a third straight day.

Residents of Baidoa, the seat of the internationally recognized transitional government, said they saw columns of Ethiopian tanks chugging toward the front lines, heightening worries that Somalia's internal problems could soon become regional ones. Meanwhile, residents in Mogadishu, the battle-scarred traditional capital and the base of Somalia's powerful Islamist movement, said they saw sailboats packed with foreign mercenaries landing on the city’s beaches.

According to United Nations officials, the transitional government, with the help of thousands of Ethiopian troops, has inflicted heavy losses on the Islamists, who rely on teenage boys to do much of their fighting. On Friday, the fighting was concentrated in towns ringing Baidoa, where witnesses said bodies were piling up in the streets. [complete article]
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Amid chaos, Hamas talks pragmatism
By Orly Halpern, The Forward, December 22, 2006

Rateb Quzmar, 20, and his cousin Mohammed Quzmar, 20, lie side by side in a small room on the fourth floor of Ramallah Hospital. This wasn't their plan. Rateb came from Qalqilya last Friday to visit Mohammed, who had been shot three days earlier by a member of Fatah-allied Palestinian security forces — "because they thought he's from Hamas, because he wears a beard," another relative said.

In a strange twist, Rateb arrived at Mohammed's bedside not as a visitor but as a patient, with a bullet through his arm and his back. He was injured when Palestinian security services, loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, opened fire on a group of marchers in a police-authorized December 15 rally to celebrate the 19th anniversary of Hamas's founding.

Most of the wounded were civilian Hamas supporters, though some were not from Hamas and one was a member of the security services. [complete article]

Abbas opposes Hamas proposal for long-term truce with Israel
Haaretz, December 23, 2006

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas said Saturday that he opposes a Hamas proposal to offer Israel a long-term cease-fire in exchange for the creation of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 boundary.

"The hudna (long-term cease-fire) that Hamas is proposing would defraud the Palestinian people," said Abbas.

The PA chairman said he opposes reaching an agreement with Israel on the creation of a Palestinian state within temporary borders, and called for comprehensive peace talks on all outstanding issues, including final borders, as well as the future of settlements, Jerusalem, and Palestinian refugees. [complete article]
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Beirut street protests enter fourth week
By Ferry Biedermann, Financial Times, December 22, 2006

Despite attempts at mediation, street protests to bring down the government of Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora showed no sign of letting up on Friday.

The Beirut protests, which pit Lebanon's Hizbollah-led opposition against the Western- backed government, have now entered their fourth week. The opposition are demanding a new national unity government which would give Hizbollah more influence.

As the situation has developed both sides have begun to accuse each other of exploiting the economy as a tool for exerting political pressure. In particular, the Paris-3 conference on international aid, planned for next month in the French capital, has become a political punch bag. [complete article]
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Western politicians take the road to Damascus
By Ferry Biedermann and Roula Khalaf, Financial Times, December 22, 2006

The streets of Damascus are echoing these days with a sound largely unheard in the last couple of years: the sirens of convoys carrying important guests through the capital’s congested streets.

Since the summer, a stream of European and more recently American visitors has been beating a path to the doors of the Syrian government.

This week, two US senators – Chris Dodd and the former Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry – were in town for talks with President Bashar al-Assad.

They all come to explore the potential for involving Syria in tackling the Middle East's problems, including the violence in Iraq and the possibility of prising Damascus away from its alliance with Iran. [complete article]
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The Great Game on a razor's edge
By M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, December 23, 2006

The accidental killing of Alexander Ivanov, a Kyrgyz fuel-truck driver, by Corporal Zachary Hatfield, a US serviceman, at the Manas Air Base on the outskirts of the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek in December is threatening to snowball into a first-rate crisis for the United States' regional policy in Central Asia. [complete article]
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The Middle East's new map
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, December 21, 2006

In 1919, the world humbly bore the loss of one of its most imaginative diplomats, when 39-year-old Mark Sykes (the "6th baronet") succumbed to the Spanish flu in his well-appointed Paris hotel room. Sykes died a happy man, having created (with his boon buddy Francoise Georges-Picot), a "New Middle East", complete with Octavian-era place names: Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia and Iraq. The insipidly industrious Sykes had spent his off-hours over the previous years bent over a map, diligently erasing old boundaries and replacing them with British and French "zones". His vision was now a matter of international law, having recently been agreed to at Versailles, just down the road from the hotel where he breathed his last. His intentions were to do good -- so it is, always, with imperialists -- to bring the Arabs ("those poor sots" as he once so indelicately phrased it) into the modern world.

The great tragedy of the otherwise insufferable Sykes is not that he died at such a young age, or that his great hope (to serve as His Majesty's Foreign Minister) remained unfulfilled, or even that he died bereft, childless, unmarried, alone -- a mama's boy. Sykes' great tragedy was that he created a map of the Middle East that had absolutely no connection to reality. His "red" British and "blue" French "zones" (as well as his pink "spheres of influence" and purple "condominiums") were a melange of borderless intentions that took a score of decades and dozens of conflicts to sort through -- and have not been sorted through yet. [complete article]
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Syria in Bush's cross hairs
By Adam Zagorin, Time, December 19, 2006

The Bush Administration has been quietly nurturing individuals and parties opposed to the Syrian government in an effort to undermine the regime of President Bashar Assad. Parts of the scheme are outlined in a classified, two-page document which says that the U.S. already is "supporting regular meetings of internal and diaspora Syrian activists" in Europe. The document bluntly expresses the hope that "these meetings will facilitate a more coherent strategy and plan of actions for all anti-Assad activists." [complete article]

Don't turn Syria away
Editorial, Haaretz, December 19, 2006

...the Syrian challenge looks different from Jerusalem than from Washington. The United States can chance tensions with Assad without paying a high price for it. But from Israel's point of view, the meaning of saying "no" to a possibility of a peace agreement with Syria is that it is best to take a chance on war, rather than to give up the Golan Heights.

The government of Golda Meir took a similar chance in 1973, when she rejected the peace feelers of then Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. Meir also relied on the American administration, which accepted the stalled diplomatic situation in the Middle East out of Cold War-related considerations. The result was that Israel found itself embroiled in a terrible war, at the conclusion of which it returned every last millimeter of Sinai to Egypt. [complete article]
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Shiite clerics' rivalry deepens in fragile Iraq
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, December 21, 2006

In the quest to create a new Iraq, two powerful clerics compete for domination, one from within the government, the other from its shadows.

Both wear the black turban signifying their descent from the prophet Muhammad. They have fought each other since the days their fathers vied to lead Iraq's majority Shiites. They hold no official positions, but their parties each control 30 seats in the parliament. And they both lead militias that are widely alleged to run death squads.

But in the view of the Bush administration, Abdul Aziz al-Hakim is a moderate and Moqtada al-Sadr is an extremist. As the U.S. president faces mounting pressure to reshape his Iraq policy, administration officials say they are pursuing a Hakim-led moderate coalition of Shiites, Sunnis and Kurdish parties in order to isolate extremists, in particular Sadr. [complete article]

Cleric weighs 1-month cease-fire in Iraq
By Qassim Abdul Zahra, AP, December 20, 2006

Radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who heads a militia feared by Iraq's Sunnis, is considering a one-month unilateral cease-fire and may push his followers to rejoin the political process after a three-week boycott, officials close to him said Wednesday.

The issue is expected to come up at a meeting Thursday in the holy city of Najaf between al-Sadr and a delegation representing the seven Shiite groups that form the largest bloc in Iraq's parliament, the Shiite officials said on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the talks.

In perhaps an even more important session, the delegation will also sit down with the country's top Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Officials from several factions confirmed the planned trip to Najaf.

The visit is intended to allow the Shiite bloc, the United Iraqi Alliance, to work out some of Iraq's biggest political obstacles in front of al-Sistani, and to pressure al-Sadr to rein in his fighters and rejoin politics — or face isolation, participants said. [complete article]

Top Shiite cleric is said to favor a coalition for Iraq
By Kirk Semple and Edward Wong, New York Times, December 20, 2006

Iraq's most venerated Shiite cleric has tentatively approved an American-backed coalition of Shiite, Sunni Arab and Kurdish parties that aims to isolate extremists, particularly the powerful Shiite militia leader Moktada al-Sadr, Iraqi and Western officials say.

Since the fall of Saddam Hussein the cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, has been the spiritual custodian of Shiite political dominance in Iraq, corralling the fractious Shiite parties into an alliance to rule the country.

But Ayatollah Sistani has grown increasingly distressed as the Shiite-led government has proved incapable of taming the violence and improving public services, Shiite officials say. He now appears to be backing away from his demand that the Shiite bloc play the dominant political role and that it hold together at all costs, Iraqi and Western officials say. [complete article]
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Bush's move to supersize U.S. military
By Peter Grier, Christian Science Monitor, December 21, 2006

Expanding the size of US armed forces could be an expensive and lengthy task - in essence, a redoubling of the national effort to grapple with the challenge posed by Islamic extremism.

The move would be irrelevant in the Iraq war, say some critics, because by the time more troops are recruited, trained, and deployed, the conflict there will probably be set in its course.

But in calling for such an increase, President Bush said the US military must be positioned to deal with terrorists for a generation to come. [complete article]
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President confronts dissent on troop levels
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, December 21, 2006

The debate over sending more U.S. troops to Iraq intensified yesterday as President Bush signaled that he will listen but not necessarily defer to balky military officers, while Gen. John P. Abizaid, his top Middle East commander and a leading skeptic of a so-called surge, announced his retirement.

At an end-of-the-year news conference, Bush said he agrees with generals "that there's got to be a specific mission that can be accomplished" before he decides to dispatch an additional 15,000 to 30,000 troops to the war zone. But he declined to repeat his usual formulation that he will heed his commanders on the ground when it comes to troop levels. [complete article]
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A soldier's soldier, outflanked
By Ann Scott Tyson and Josh White, Washington Post, December 21, 2006

Gen. John P. Abizaid rose to become the top American commander for the Middle East in July 2003 with impeccable credentials for the job: A Lebanese American who speaks Arabic with a master's degree in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard, Abizaid was considered a soldier's soldier. He led a Ranger company into battle in Grenada in 1983 and commanded an airborne battalion during the 1991 Persian Gulf War.

But Abizaid's announcement yesterday that he will retire in March after almost four years as a chief architect of U.S. Iraq strategy comes as violence drives civilian and military casualties there to record highs and as officials broadly say the U.S. military campaign is at a stalemate. [complete article]
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Cracks begin to appear in support for Hezbollah
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, December 20, 2006

Hussein Rahmeh was standing with a group of friends in a pharmacy in this Hezbollah-controlled town when he uttered a string of words that brought the room to a standstill.

"If Hezbollah can't give us money to fix our homes, then people will begin to turn against them," he said, his voice lowered. Like thousands of others across southern Lebanon, Rahmeh lost his house last summer when Israel's campaign against the Shiite Muslim militia Hezbollah turned his neighborhood into a maze of crumpled buildings, charred cars and large craters. [complete article]
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U.S. not winning war in Iraq, Bush says for 1st time
By Peter Baker, Washington Post, December 20, 2006

President Bush acknowledged for the first time yesterday that the United States is not winning the war in Iraq and said he plans to expand the overall size of the "stressed" U.S. armed forces to meet the challenges of a long-term global struggle against terrorists.

As he searches for a new strategy for Iraq, Bush has now adopted the formula advanced by his top military adviser to describe the situation. "We're not winning, we're not losing," Bush said in an interview with The Washington Post. The assessment was a striking reversal for a president who, days before the November elections, declared, "Absolutely, we're winning." [complete article]
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General opposes adding to U.S. forces in Iraq, emphasizing international solutions for region
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, December 20, 2006

As the new secretary of defense, Robert M. Gates, takes stock of the war in Iraq this week, he will find Gen. John P. Abizaid, the senior commander in the Middle East, resistant to increasing the American fighting force there.

General Abizaid, who is completing the final months of a highly decorated military career, acknowledges that additional American forces, favored by some of President Bush’s top advisers, might provide a short-term boost in security. But he argues that foreign troops are a toxin bound to be rejected by Iraqis, and that expanding the number of American troops merely puts off the day when Iraqis are forced to take responsibility for their own security. [complete article]
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U.S. considers Navy buildup in Mideast
AP, December 20, 2006

The Pentagon is considering a buildup of Navy forces in the Persian Gulf as a show of force against Iran, a senior defense official said Tuesday.

Speaking on condition of anonymity because the idea has not been approved, the official said one proposal is to send a second aircraft carrier to the region amid increasing tensions with Iran, blamed for encouraging sectarian violence in neighboring Iraq as well as allegedly pursuing a nuclear weapons program. [complete article]
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Haniyeh: 20-year truce in exchange for state
By Ali Waked, Ynet News, December 19, 2006

Hamas is ready for a ceasefire with Israel if a Palestinian state is established, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas said in a speech delivered Tuesday afternoon.

Haniyeh's speech dealt mainly with internal issues. He responded to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' call for elections in the Palestinian Authority and called for unity in the struggle against the occupation.

However, he also called for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. If this takes place, he clarified, he would be ready for a long-term ceasefire, which may even last 20 years. [complete article]
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Hamas leader: We'll accept Israel within 1967 borders
Khaled Meshaal interviewed by Rainer Rupp, Junge Welt, December 16, 2006

RR: But the two-state theory which the Americans are promoting envisages a Palestinian state next to an Israeli state. Is this also absolutely unacceptable for Hamas?

KM: No. No. Let me say that the Hamas movement will only establish a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967; that includes East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Up till now, Israel does not recognize this right for us. All the Palestinians are demanding is this right. But Israel keeps violating Palestinian rights, and the West is unwilling to force Israel to recognize the Palestinian rights.

Even when President Bush talked about a Palestinian state, it was not clear cut. And Ariel Sharon and recently Ehud Olmert have made a lot of reservations about Bush's proposal. They are rejecting the idea of an Israeli state within its 1967 borders. They want an Israeli state, which includes parts of the West Bank. Actually, President Bush had even agreed to Sharon's proposal for Israel to keep all of Jerusalem. And he agreed with Sharon to choose the right Palestinian leader who would accept all this.

RR: Have I understood you correctly that you would be prepared to negotiate with Israel and accept it within its borders of 1967, before it started its wars of aggression, stealing Palestinian land?

KM: Good, that has been made clear.[complete article]
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The Iranian threat / Safe to leave the bomb shelters
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, December 19, 2006

Mossad chief Meir Dagan spread calm yesterday in his statements at the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the Iranian nuclear threat to Israel. His statements, in which he estimated that Iran would not have a nuclear weapon before 2009, were meant to balance the apocalyptic scenarios put forth by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and opposition head, Benjamin Netanyahu - who compared Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Adolf Hitler.

Dagan is also heading the forum that is meant to lead Israel's efforts to block the Iranian program on the diplomatic level, so close attention should be paid to his statements. In his presentation yesterday, Dagan was prepared - his were not slips of the tongue - with slides showing the estimated progression of Iran's nuclear program. All was based on published material.

There is diplomatic significance to the timetable Dagan showed: if Iran is two to three years removed from the bomb, there is still time to stop it by diplomatic means. It is still possible to give Security Council sanctions a chance to work. A resolution on sanctions is expected in the coming days, and this will be backed with more robust action by the United States and the European Union. [complete article]

Comment -- Here's the Israel lobby at work. The Mossad chief's assessment of the Iranian nuclear threat doesn't get a mention on the front pages (or for that matter inside pages -- as far as I'm aware) of any of America's leading newspapers. Such a report would of course challenge the wisdom of the Washington Post's recent battle cry. Indeed, being told that Iran is not about to reach a "point of no return" puts a real damper on all this stop-the-next-Holocaust war fever. Even so, the one U.S. paper to run with this story, the illustrious New York Post, isn't going to let the truth stand in the way of a good headline: Iran 3-4 yrs from Nuke: Israel. A carefully crafted headline, I would say. Presumably intended to look at a cursory glance like "Iran 3-4 years from nuking Israel." And the text is no less breathless:
Iran's nuclear program is further advanced than most governments realize - and the fanatic ayatollahs who control the country are three or four years away from being able to deploy an atomic weapon, Israel's spy chief said yesterday.

Mossad director Meir Dagan said Iran could have a bomb in three to four years.
So, just as Israelis are being told it's safe to leave the bomb shelters, New Yorkers are being encouraged to enter theirs.
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Iraq insurgents starve capital of electricity
By James Glanz, New York Times, December 19, 2006

Over the past six months, Baghdad has been all but isolated electrically, Iraqi officials say, as insurgents have effectively won their battle to bring down critical high-voltage lines and cut off the capital from the major power plants to the north, south and west.

The battle has been waged in the remotest parts of the open desert, where the great towers that support thousands of miles of exposed lines are frequently felled with explosive charges in increasingly determined and sophisticated attacks, generally at night. Crews that arrive to repair the damage are often attacked and sometimes killed, ensuring that the government falls further and further behind as it attempts to repair the lines.

And in a measure of the deep disunity and dysfunction of this nation, when the repair crews and security forces are slow to respond, skilled looters often arrive with heavy trucks that pull down more of the towers to steal as much of the valuable aluminum conducting material in the lines as possible. The aluminum is melted into ingots and sold.

What amounts to an electrical siege of Baghdad is reflected in constant power failures and disastrously poor service in the capital, with severe consequences for security, governance, health care and the mood of an already weary and angry populace. [complete article]

Sadr Army is called top threat in Iraq
By Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2006

Armed militiamen affiliated with radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr pose the gravest danger to the security and stability of Iraq, surpassing Sunni Arab insurgents and Al Qaeda terrorists, a new Defense Department report to Congress says.

The finding represents the military's strongest characterization of the danger posed by Sadr and is among the conclusions of a quarterly report to Congress that chronicles the instability in Iraq and record level of sectarian violence. [complete article]

White House, Joint Chiefs at odds on adding troops
By Robin Wright and Peter Baker, Washington Post, December 19, 2006

The Bush administration is split over the idea of a surge in troops to Iraq, with White House officials aggressively promoting the concept over the unanimous disagreement of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to U.S. officials familiar with the intense debate.

Sending 15,000 to 30,000 more troops for a mission of possibly six to eight months is one of the central proposals on the table of the White House policy review to reverse the steady deterioration in Iraq. The option is being discussed as an element in a range of bigger packages, the officials said. [complete article]

Private U.S. team linked to jail escape
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, December 19, 2006

A once-prominent Iraqi American, jailed on corruption charges, was sprung from a Green Zone prison this weekend by U.S. security contractors he had hired, several Iraqi officials said.

Ayham Sameraei, a Chicago-area businessman, returned to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and assumed the position of electricity minister during the interim government of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi. [complete article]
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Hamas: Call for vote is coup attempt
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, December 19, 2006

Some 20 Palestinians were wounded yesterday in clashes between Fatah and Hamas supporters in the Gaza Strip.

Both organizations held processions after the evening prayers in the mosques, and clashed with each other in Rafah and Khan Yunis, after Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas called for early elections for the PA presidency and parliament. [complete article]

See also, Report: Assad offering to crack down on Hamas, Hezbollah in return for talks (Haaretz).
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Part One: The Arabs on the outside
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, December 19, 2006

Sherifa Shawara wants to get married. She wears fashionable skinny jeans and studies geography and history. The second-year college student doesn't lack for suitors. The problem is where she lives.

One young man trying to visit her in Nuaman, an Arab village inside Jerusalem, was turned away by Israeli soldiers guarding the entrance to her community from the West Bank. Nonresidents cannot enter.

Another suitor backed off when he realized that making her his bride would banish him from Jerusalem, the city of his birth. Although Ms. Shawara lives within the Israeli-drawn boundaries of Jerusalem, she holds a West Bank ID and could be arrested if she's caught inside the city but outside her village. She can't travel, study, or work in Jerusalem.

Palestinian West Bankers can't reach her. Palestinian Jerusalemites don't want her. She is cut off from the city: a similar reality that one-quarter of the city's Arab residents, a new report says, may soon face as Israel's security barrier zigzags around the city, creating a new boundaries.

"I can't move. I can't go anywhere," says Shawara, locking her arms across her chest and gazing bitterly into the distance. "Last week, the soldiers told me my name wasn't on the list and I couldn't go home. Recently, we went shopping and bought a lot, and the soldier wouldn't even let us enter the village in a taxi, so we had to carry it all on foot."

Her story is just one of numerous examples of how life in this city - which lies at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - is fast becoming less penetrable and more gerrymandered. As the boundaries around Jerusalem harden, Palestinians are being shut off not only culturally but economically as well. Critics of the wall say these new burdens will only cultivate more anger toward Israel. [complete article]
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Violent crime is up for 2nd straight year
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, December 19, 2006

A surge in violent crime that began last year accelerated in the first half of 2006, the FBI reported yesterday, providing the clearest signal yet that the historic drop in the U.S. crime rate has ended and is being reversed.

Reports of homicides, assaults and other violent offenses surged by nearly 4 percent in the first six months of the year compared with the same time period in 2005, according to the FBI's latest Uniform Crime Report. The numbers included an increase of nearly 10 percent for robberies, which many criminologists consider a leading indicator of coming trends. [complete article]

Comment -- But the good news is that while Americans may now be at greater risk of being murdered, assaulted or robbed, we can be confident that the perpetrators of such crimes won't be terrorists. "We're fighting them over there so that crime can rise over here." Is that how it goes?
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Iran's crocodile rocked
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, December 20, 2006

With votes still being hand-counted, there's every indication Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's moderate faction has scored a stunning victory over the extreme right in the crucial election for the 86-member Council of Experts, according to Iranian state TV.

"Hashemi" - as he is known in Tehran - as well as Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi - the gray eminence and spiritual leader of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad - will be among the 16 clerics representing Tehran in the Council of Experts.

The Council of Experts (86 clerics only; no women allowed) is key because it's the only institution in the Islamic Republic capable of holding the supreme leader accountable and even removing him from office. It is the system's Holy Grail. The supreme leader - not the president - is where the buck stops in Iran. [complete article]

See also, Iran's election likely to bring rethink at top (FT).

Comment -- So, "Hitler" suffers an election setback. Now I'll admit my European history is a bit sketchy, but which month was it in 1938 that the real Hitler suffered his election setback? Can you enlighten me Mr. Netanyahu?

Of course Netanyahu knew his audience all too well when in Los Angeles two months ago he declared, "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany." He wasn't simply fueling a Jewish fear of another Holocaust; he was also exploiting an altogether American obsession with personality. What better place to make his pitch than LA?

The American psyche is still haunted and fascinated by Kings. Power must be invested in an almighty individual, so when it comes to Iran, however often we are told that it has a complex structure of government, we can only understand it in terms of personality.

But suppose President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's power soon becomes truly fettered. Will Benjamin Netanyahu then be able to as convincingly argue that Israel and Western civilization face a threat from the Council of Experts?

Dealing with Tehran [PDF]
By Flynt Leverett, New America Foundation, December , 2006

... successful resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue requires a "grand bargain" between the United States and Iran -- that is, an overarching framework in which outstanding bilateral differences are resolved as a package. Any incremental, issue-by-issue or step-bystep approach to engagement with Iran will fail. Moreover, while some would wish otherwise, at the heart of a U.S.-Iranian grand bargain there will need to be an American security guarantee to the Islamic Republic. However, under the rubric of a grand bargain, the United States would gain -- among other benefits -- strategically meaningful limits on Iran's nuclear activities, termination of its support for terrorism, and Iranian cooperation in stabilizing post-Saddam Iraq. U.S.-Iranian rapprochement also could provide the foundation for establishing a regional security framework in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East more broadly. [complete paper - PDF]

Note -- An op-ed based on this is the paper was due to be published yesterday in the New York Times. Flynt Leverett explains here how the White House blocked his article's publication.

The Martial Plan
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, December 18, 2006

Washington's liberal, progressive, Democrat-oriented, anti-Bush newspaper -- the Washington Post -- has weighed in on a prospective war against Iran. They're all for it.

If you don't believe me, it is worth reading the lead editorial in the Post's December 16 edition, entitled "A Mideast Counteroffensive." The Post takes its lead from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust conference and the "seige" of Lebanon's government by the "extremist Hezbollah movement" whose "attempted coup has been egged on by Syria's dictator, Bashar al-Assad." To counter these "threats" (or, as the Post would have it, "the reckless regional offensive by the Iranian-Syrian alliance"), the Post recommends the United States launch a Middle East counteroffensive. What form should this "counteroffensive" take? "What is urgently needed is decisive steps by the United States and its allies to counter the extremists and to force them to pay a price for their aggression." [complete article]
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Abbas's troublesome election call
By Tony Karon,, December 18, 2006

Whether the Palestinians' political contest is to be settled with ballots or with bullets, Hamas remains a fact of life because it represents a proportion of Palestinian society too large to be wished, legislated or blown away. And yet it is a fact unacceptable to Israel and the Western powers. Therein lies the root of the increasingly brutal stalemate, which is unlikely to be broken by Abbas's election call. [complete article]

Hamas to boycott early elections
BBC News, December 18, 2006

The governing Palestinian movement Hamas has said it will boycott early elections called by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal said Mr Abbas' action was illegal and that his group would use all peaceful means to prevent elections going ahead. [complete article]

Palestinian turf wars accelerate
By Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, December 18, 2006

While the Palestinian president's call this weekend for early elections seemed aimed at forcing rival Hamas into choosing polls or a power-sharing government, the ensuing violence has left him with the more urgent task of averting all-out war.

Sunday, after a violent week, the entourage of Hamas's foreign minister was attacked, one of President Mahmoud Abbas's security officers was killed, and mortars landed near the president's office.

Although Palestinians say they oppose the fighting as a disastrous implosion of the six-year uprising against Israel, they also know that turf wars between Hamas and Mr. Abbas's Fatah Party have a dynamic that could spin out of control. [complete article]

See also, Fighting worsens in Gaza; 3 killed (LAT).
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The Israel quandary
By Robert D. Novak, Washington Post, December 18, 2006

Meeting privately with the Baker-Hamilton commission before its report on Iraq was released, George W. Bush did not seem pleased. So when a Republican member said he believed it was imperative to get moving on the stalled Israel-Palestine peace process, a negative response from the president was expected. Instead, he replied: "I do, too."

Those three little words posed questions. Was Bush merely indulging James Baker and the Iraq Study Group's other wise men? Or, after not pursuing Middle East peace the past six years, had he concluded that it is necessary to stabilize the region, including Israel? The consensus of commission members was that the president was sincere, assessing linkage between Iraq and Israel.

The intense criticism of the Baker-Hamilton group from neoconservatives stems from that linkage, clearly set out in the report. Commission members feel the urgency of progress on the Israeli front more deeply than is reflected in the formal language. They are not Israel-bashers. One commission member with a long record of support for Israel feels the country's very existence is at stake. He reported to me warnings from experts friendly to Israel that staying on the present track will threaten the Jewish state within 40 years. [complete article]
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Blair snubbed by Bush move to send more troops to Iraq
By Tim Reid and Sam Coates, The Times, December 18, 2006

President Bush is set to recommend that America sends up to 50,000 additional troops to Iraq in a last effort to stabilise the country, but will reject Tony Blair’s entreaties to start a new Middle East peace initiative.

The Prime Minister has emphasised to Mr Bush that solving the Israel-Palestine issue is the key to defeating extremism across the Middle East. But the US President has decided that a bold military push in Baghdad can still deliver “victory” in Iraq and defeat radicalism in the region.

Senior US officials now expect Mr Bush to deliver his new plan for Iraq early next month. They say that it will be an explicit rejection of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group’s two main recommendations: to pull out US combat troops by early 2008 and to intensify diplomatic efforts in the region. [complete article]
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Police: we were bugged in effort to halt BAe Saudi arms inquiry
By Francis Elliott, The Independent, December 17, 2006

Detectives investigating alleged corruption in BAe's dealings with Saudi Arabia believe that the probe was being bugged, The Independent on Sunday has been told. A source close to the investigation made the remarkable claim as Tony Blair's defence for stopping it on the grounds of national interest began to unravel.

The head of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) disputed the official claim that the investigation was unlikely to result in charges. Robert Wardle said he had a "different view" from Lord Goldsmith. The Attorney General told Parliament on Thursday that he had agreed to close the case after he had "obtained the views of the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Defence Secretaries" on the effect the probe was having on Anglo-Saudi relations.

But in fact Tony Blair personally took charge of efforts to pressure the Attorney General to drop the probe. He ordered supportive assessments from the Ministry of Defence and the Foreign Office. These were then presented to the head of the SFO and formed part of Lord Goldsmith's "public interest" justification for calling off the probe. [complete article]

See also The BAE blowback (Dilip Hiro).
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U.S. seeks to rein in its military spy teams
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, December 18, 2006

U.S. Special Forces teams sent overseas on secret spying missions have clashed with the CIA and carried out operations in countries that are staunch U.S. allies, prompting a new effort by the agency and the Pentagon to tighten the rules for military units engaged in espionage, according to senior U.S. intelligence and military officials.

The spy missions are part of a highly classified program that officials say has better positioned the United States to track terrorist networks and capture or kill enemy operatives in regions such as the Horn of Africa, where weak governments are unable to respond to emerging threats.

But the initiative has also led to several embarrassing incidents for the United States, including a shootout in Paraguay and the exposure of a sensitive intelligence operation in East Africa, according to current and former officials familiar with the matter. And to date, the effort has not led to the capture of a significant terrorism suspect.

Some intelligence officials have complained that Special Forces teams have sometimes launched missions without informing the CIA, duplicating or even jeopardizing existing operations. And they questioned deploying military teams in friendly nations -- including in Europe -- at a time when combat units are in short supply in war zones. [complete article]
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Violence in Iraq reaches new high, report says
By David S. Cloud and Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, December 18, 2006

There were an average of 959 insurgent and sectarian attacks against American and Iraqi targets every week in Iraq over the last three months, the highest level ever recorded, according to a Pentagon report on security trends in Iraq issued today.

Overall, the report, which covers the period from early August to early November, described a worsening security environment in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq.

The rise in attacks was a jump of nearly 160 a week compared to the weekly average in the previous three months. Civilian casualties reached an all-time high of more than 90 a day, the report said. While the majority of attacks were directed at American forces, most of the casualties were suffered by the Iraqi military and civilians. [complete article]

U.S. to triple number of military trainers in Iraq
By Ross Colvin, Reuters, December 18, 2006

The U.S. military plans to speed up the training of Iraq's army by tripling its number of embedded trainers to about 9,000, while keeping a close eye on units' sectarian loyalties, a U.S. general said on Sunday.

Brigadier General Dana Pittard, whose Iraqi Assistance Group oversees training of Iraq's security forces, also said each of the nine police brigades would be taken off the streets over the next nine months for one month-long training. [complete article]

Comment -- So, more than ever, the U.S. will be relying on an abundance of experienced and reliable translators. Are they available?

Powell says U.S. losing in Iraq, calls for drawdown by mid-2007
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, December 18, 2006

Former secretary of state Colin L. Powell said yesterday that the United States is losing what he described as a "civil war" in Iraq and that he is not persuaded that an increase in U.S. troops there would reverse the situation. Instead, he called for a new strategy that would relinquish responsibility for Iraqi security to the government in Baghdad sooner rather than later, with a U.S. drawdown to begin by the middle of next year.

Powell's comments broke his long public silence on the issue and placed him at odds with the administration. President Bush is considering options for a new military strategy -- among them a "surge" of 15,000 to 30,000 troops added to the current 140,000 in Iraq, to secure Baghdad and to accelerate the training of Iraqi forces, as Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and others have proposed; or a redirection of the U.S. military away from the insurgency to focus mainly on hunting al-Qaeda terrorists, as the nation's top military leaders proposed last week in a meeting with the president. [complete article]

Ties that bind Iraqi forces break easily
By Tony Perry, December 18, 2006

As U.S. forces train Iraqis to take more responsibility in fighting insurgents in Al Anbar province, they say that leadership in the Iraqis' enlisted ranks remains in short supply.

An Iraqi army unit here sagged after the death of one of its soldiers, whom Marines nicknamed Sgt. Barnes after a hard-nosed character in the movie "Platoon." And Marines say the unit's combat effectiveness fell apart after a sergeant they respected was killed by a roadside bomb. [complete article]

Red Crescent halts Baghdad work
BBC News, December 18, 2006

The Iraqi Red Crescent has suspended its operations in Baghdad a day after almost 30 people were seized from its offices in the Iraqi capital. A Red Crescent official said the kidnappers had released 13 people.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has called for the others to be freed, saying the Red Crescent provided vital help for those in need. [complete article]

Former U.S. detainee in Iraq recalls torment
By Michael Moss, New York Times, December 18, 2006

One night in mid-April, the steel door clanked shut on detainee No. 200343 at Camp Cropper, the United States military’s maximum-security detention site in Baghdad.

American guards arrived at the man’s cell periodically over the next several days, shackled his hands and feet, blindfolded him and took him to a padded room for interrogation, the detainee said. After an hour or two, he was returned to his cell, fatigued but unable to sleep.

The fluorescent lights in his cell were never turned off, he said. At most hours, heavy metal or country music blared in the corridor. He said he was rousted at random times without explanation and made to stand in his cell. Even lying down, he said, he was kept from covering his face to block out the light, noise and cold. And when he was released after 97 days he was exhausted, depressed and scared.

Detainee 200343 was among thousands of people who have been held and released by the American military in Iraq, and his account of his ordeal has provided one of the few detailed views of the Pentagon’s detention operations since the abuse scandals at Abu Ghraib. Yet in many respects his case is unusual. [complete article]
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You need us, Taliban's mentor tells Pakistan
By Isambard Wilkinson, The Telegraph, December 18, 2006

The cleric accused of being the "ideological mentor" of the Taliban has issued a blunt warning to Pakistan's president that he risks further radicalising his country if he alienates its religious leaders.

Fazlur Rehman, the maulana, or senior Muslim cleric who leads Pakistan's powerful alliance of Islamic parties, speaking to The Daily Telegraph in a rare interview responded to General Pervez Musharraf's plea for Pakistanis not to vote for "hypocrites" and "extremists".

"With his poisonous propaganda against the religious parties, General Musharraf is trying to widen the gap between the religious circles and the liberals in the country," said the cleric.

The military ruler's call to Pakistanis to support moderates followed demands from the West to bring more secular parties into a broad-based political agreement in elections loosely scheduled for the end of next year. [complete article]

See also, Air war costs NATO Afghan supporters (CSM).
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U.S. sees growing threats in Somalia
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, December 18, 2006

Six months ago, the Bush administration launched a new policy in war-torn Somalia, putting the State Department in charge after secret CIA efforts failed to prevent Islamic fundamentalists from seizing power in Mogadishu. It hoped that diplomacy would draw the Islamists into partnership with more palatable, U.S.-backed Somali leaders.

Today, that goal seems more distant than ever. Since coming to power in June, the Islamists have expanded their hold on the south. A largely powerless, U.S.-backed rump government remains divided and isolated in the southern town of Baidoa. U.S.-sponsored talks, and a separate Arab League effort, seem to be going nowhere.

Al-Qaeda, long hovering in the shadows, has established itself as a presence in the Somali capital, say U.S. officials, who see a growing risk that Somalia will become a new haven for terrorists to launch attacks beyond its borders.

Meanwhile, a major war -- promoted and greeted approvingly by Osama bin Laden -- looms between Somalia and Ethiopia, threatening a regional conflagration likely to draw more foreign extremists into the Horn of Africa. [complete article]

Comment -- Come again? Ethiopia has troops inside Somalia and the U.S. is backing the opponents of the Islamists. Who is promoting war?
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Mortars fired at Abbas's Gaza office
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, December 17, 2006

Gunmen fired two mortar bombs at President Mahmoud Abbas's office in Gaza on Sunday after Abbas forces took over two ministries run by the ruling Hamas movement, as tension spiraled between the Palestinian factions.

Foreign Minister Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader, accused Abbas's security men of attempting a "military coup" by overrunning the ministries. He demanded they leave or else be arrested, a move that could provoke further violence.

Forces loyal to Hamas and Abbas's Fatah fought street and rooftop gunbattles across Gaza through the day. Residents said it was the heaviest bout of internal fighting in living memory. [complete article]

Hamas rejects plan by Abbas to call elections
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, December 17, 2006

Abbas's decision drew a defiant response from Hamas officials, who said the party would not accept a new election less than halfway into its four-year parliamentary term and challenged the president's right to call an early vote. The dispute comes as Palestinian leaders express growing concern over the spate of partisan reprisal killings in the territories, which officials recently warned resemble the start of civil war.

"If the president is willing to go to early elections, he can resign and enter an early presidential election," said Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip. "But for us, we were elected by the Palestinians, and we are not willing to go through with this experiment. The president's call is illegitimate." [complete article]

Palestinians back elections, Hamas would lose-poll
By Wafa Amr, Reuters, December 17, 2006

The governing Palestinian faction Hamas would lose a legislative election to Fatah rivals if it were held today, a survey conducted just before President Mahmoud Abbas called for new polls found.

The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research poll, conducted from Dec. 14-16 and published on Sunday, found 61 percent of Palestinians favoured holding early elections, with 37 percent opposed.

It showed Abbas's once dominant Fatah winning 42 percent of a parliamentary vote and the Islamist Hamas 36 percent. Remaining voters would back independent factions or said they were undecided. [complete article]

Comment -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has once again demonstrated that he is a better friend of the West than he is of democracy. With a little imagination and courage, less self-interest and conceivably even with the support of Hamas, Abbas could have made a similiar move but with a crucial difference. Before making his public declaration he could have privately gone to the Israelis, Americans, and Europeans and said: I'll call for presidential and parliamentary elections on one condition. You must first publicly declare that if the conduct of these elections is determined free and fair, then irrespective of the outcome, you will agree to work with the newly elected officials and lift the boycott.

Since Abbas imposed no such conditions, all he is doing is pushing to completion what Israel and its allies will probably conclude has been a successful experiment in the human laboratory of Gaza. Starve the subjects and impose all manner of deprivations on them and eventually they will bend in submission and cast the right vote. Of course it's possible that Hamas will end up with both the presidency and parliament. In that event, Bush, Blair, and Olmert will presumbly be as quick as they have been in supporting its declaration, to then declare the election a "failure."
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Iraq opens its army to Hussein loyalists
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times, December 17, 2006

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Maliki and his Shiite-dominated government reached out to former members of Saddam Hussein's regime Saturday, inviting them to claim government pensions and rejoin the army in a gesture meant to calm the country's sectarian passions.

"The Iraqi army opens its doors to officers and soldiers from the former army who wish to serve the country," Maliki said at a national reconciliation conference of politicians and sectarian leaders in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone.

Maliki has been under increasing U.S. pressure to improve security forces. But, exposing fissures that have plagued his struggling government as the country descended into civil war, several Shiite and Sunni Arab groups rejected the proposal, saying it would reward insurgents and stalwarts of Hussein's regime. [complete article]

Legal system in Iraq staggers beneath the weight of war
By Michael Moss, New York Times, December 17, 2006

In a cavernous room that once displayed gifts given to Saddam Hussein, eight men in yellow prison garb sat on the floor facing the wall, guarded by two American soldiers.

Among them was Abdulla Sultan Khalaf, a Ministry of Industry employee seized by American troops who said they found 10 blasting caps and 100 sticks of TNT. When his name was called, he stood, walked into a cagelike defendant's box and peered over the wooden slats at a panel of three Iraqi judges of the central court.

The judges reviewed evidence prepared by an American military lawyer -- testimony from two soldiers, photographs and a sketch of the scene.

The evidence went largely unchallenged, because Mr. Khalaf had no lawyer. The judges appointed one, but Mr. Khalaf had no chance to speak with him. Mr. Khalaf told the judges that the soldiers were probably chasing a rogue nephew and denied that the explosives were his or ever in his house. "Let me examine the pictures," he insisted. The judges ignored him. His lawyer said nothing, beyond declaring Mr. Khalaf's innocence. The trial lasted 15 minutes. [complete article]

Iraqi chief calls forum to press for national reunification; major groups are absent
By Marc Santora, New York Times, December 17, 2006

With unrelenting violence on the streets, political consensus in America and Iraq lacking, and the United States discussing the possibility of sending thousands more troops here, Iraq's prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, convened leaders from various communities across the country for talks about how to stem the bloodshed.

While the conference was billed as an attempt at reconciliation, no one claiming to represent either the Shiite militias or the Sunni extremists, who together are driving the current sectarian strife, was in attendance. Moktada al-Sadr, a Shiite cleric whose militia, the Mahdi Army, has been responsible for much of the sectarian violence, refused an invitation, according to a lawmaker who helped set up the conference.

In addition, the Kurdish, Shiite and Sunni leaders who were at the gathering did not present any new ideas for how to rein in the militias or insurgents. [complete article]

Women lose ground in the new Iraq
By Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, December 16, 2006

Browsing the shelves of a cosmetics store in the Karrada shopping district, Zahra Khalid felt giddy at the sight of Alberto shampoo and Miss Rose eye shadow, blusher and powder.

Before leaving her house, she had covered her body in a billowing black abaya and wrapped a black head scarf around her thick brown hair. She had asked her brother to drive. She had done all the things that a woman living in Baghdad is supposed to do these days to avoid drawing attention to herself.

It was the first time she had left home in two months.

"For a woman, it's just like being in jail," she said. "I can't go anywhere." [complete article]
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How Iran's leader keeps the West off balance
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, December 17, 2006

In the days before the general election last Friday for the Assembly of Experts, an 86-member council that might well choose Iran's next supreme leader, some candidates allied with Mr. Ahmadinejad's clerical mentor were eliminated as unqualified. In addition, when the president visited Amir Kabir University in Tehran last week, a small group of students burned his picture and chanted "Death to the Dictator!"

The protest was less important than the way it was reported. It was featured on the evening news on state television, which is controlled by the Islamic Republic's powerful, but possibly ailing, supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Conservative newspapers and the Web site run by the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards also reported it.

In the tea leaves used to assess the murky, shifting alliances among the mullahs, such publicity seemed to signal that someone fairly senior is less than enchanted with Mr. Ahmadinejad. [complete article]
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Testimony helps detail CIA's post-9/11 reach
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post, December 16, 2006

A few days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the CIA station chief in Rome paid a visit to the head of Italy's military intelligence agency, Adm. Gianfranco Battelli, to float a proposal: Would the Italian secret services help the CIA kidnap terrorism suspects and fly them out of the country?

The CIA man did not identify which targets he had in mind but was "expressly referring to the possibility of picking up a suspected terrorist in Italy, bringing him to an airport and sending him from there to a foreign country," Battelli, now retired, recalled in a deposition.

This initial secret contact and others that followed, disclosed in newly released documents, show the speed and breadth with which the CIA applied in post-9/11 Europe a tactic it had long reserved for the Third World -- "extraordinary rendition," the extrajudicial abduction of Islamic radicals overseas for interrogation in friendly countries. [complete article]
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What did Jimmy Carter mean?
By M.J. Rosenberg, Middle East Online, December 17, 2006

For some people in Israel and here in the United States, criticism of the occupation is an attack on Israel's right to exist.

But conflating the legitimacy of the occupation with the legitimacy of the Jewish state is dangerous. The simple fact is that most people in the world want the occupation to end and believe that the West Bank does not belong to Israel. Most believe that ultimately a Palestinian state will govern the West Bank and Gaza, with a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. It is not only Arabs and Europeans who believe this but a clear majority of Americans and Israelis.

The last thing friends of Israel should suggest is that the West Bank has the same status in our eyes as Israel. That idea serves not to advance Israel's hold on the territory, which cannot be sustained anyway, but to weaken the Jewish claim to Israel itself. It should stop. The West Bank is not Israel. Nablus is not Tel Aviv. Israelis who demand that maps show Israel controlling the entire area of historic Palestine are no different than Arabs whose maps do not show Israel at all. Worse than that, they fuel anti-Zionism by perpetuating the lie that Israel is imperialistic, with designs well beyond its borders. [complete article]

An enlightened occupier
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, December 17, 2006

The juggler from the palace of justice has struck again. In a single week, retired Supreme Court president Justice Aharon Barak proved his impressive acrobatic talents. In his last rulings, all of them having to do with the occupation, the outgoing Supreme Court president seems to have wanted, as he has during the 11 years of his presidency, to have his cake and eat it, too. Barak wants to appear as though he is both upholding justice and not harming security - the unofficial religion of a state that shoots, then cries. What an enlightened occupier! [complete article]

Threats of the future vision
By Meron Benvenisti, Haaretz, December 17, 2006

The focus on the question of discrimination, which can be remedied with development budgets and patronizing activities undertaken by do-gooders, has enabled the Jewish majority to repress the binational tension by means of an oxymoron: "a Jewish and democratic state," and by means of academic hairsplitting on "balance and proportionality" between the contradictory values embedded in that phrase.

The challenge of the "vision of the future" is not new in its contents but rather in the identity of those who are presenting it: no longer marginal intellectuals, but rather the Palestinian-Israeli establishment itself - the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee and the Committee of Arab Local Council heads. It turns out that the Palestinian-Israeli collective's process of crystallization has reached the point of maturity. Its leaders have succeeded in formulating an agreed-upon position demanding collective equal rights, and this inevitably must lead to a process of questioning the Jewish hegemony over the entire public space. From the moment the demon is allowed out of the bottle, there's no returning it, and the emergence of consensual democracy that creates a new balance of collective rights is only a matter of time. [complete article]

A truce without a partner is preferable
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, December 17, 2006

On Friday quite a few Israelis were eating their hearts out: How, they wondered. did they manage not to assassinate [Palestinian Prime Minister] Ismail Haniyeh? Had the Palestinians only aimed a little bit more accurately, it would have been possible to put an end to Israel's real problem. For this is the new panic: Hamas is bringing money from Iran. Now Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will have a base in the territories and his "deputy," the Hamas people, will act according to his commands.

Why should the Palestinians act according to the commands of Iran, and not on the instructions of Saudi Arabia, which this year sent along tens of millions of dollars, or according to the commands of Qatar, which has committed to paying the salaries of officials of the Palestinian Authority, of which the Hamas is now in charge? Why forget the previous aid from Iran, which only now has come to the fore? Because that's how you build a threat: If you have touched Ahmadinejad, you are Ahmadinejad. Never mind that Turkey does business with Iran, or India, the Israeli aviation industry's client, which is about to purchase billions of dollars worth of gas from Ahmadinejad. But Haniyeh? [complete article]
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If you love Lebanon, set it free
By Robert Grenier, International Herald Tribune, December 17, 2006

Once more, Lebanon is in political crisis. This time, we are told, it pits "Syrian- and Iranian-backed" Shiite parties (Hezbollah and Amal) and the Christian faction led by Michel Aoun against the "Western-backed" Christian, Sunni and Druze groups that support the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora.

These very descriptions -- citing one external backer or another as a mark of political identification -- illustrate the fundamental problem Lebanon must overcome. Call it the Lebanese Disease: Rather than sorting out their differences internally and addressing the fundamental injustices at the heart of their disputes, the Lebanese constantly look to outsiders to gain an advantage over their rivals.

Naturally, any advantages thus gained are short-lived, for both the Lebanese and their foreign backers. In the end, the only result is greater popular suffering and instability in Lebanon and the entire Middle East.

Only the Lebanese can cure themselves of this disease, but a bit of enlightened self-interest on the part of the "Western backers" -- primarily the United States and France -- would greatly help. It may seem counterintuitive, but the best hope for American interests in the Middle East is not to isolate and minimize Hezbollah, but to further integrate it politically, socially and militarily into the Lebanese state. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Six brutal truths about Iraq
By William E. Odom, Nieman Watchdog, December 11, 2006

There is much more at stake for America than Iraq
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Financial Times, December 4, 2006

Iran looks like the winner of the Iraq war
By Alissa J. Rubin, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2006

"America is the best friend of Islam. It wakes up the sleeping Muslim"
By Jeffrey Gettleman and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, December 14, 2006

Beirut: Axis of the new Cold War
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, December 13, 2006

The trap of recognising Israel
By Jonathan Cook, Electronic Intifada, December 14, 2006

Move to charge Ahmadinejad over Israel remarks
By Mark Turner, Financial Times, December 13, 2006

No Palestinian fishing rod
By Amira Hass, Haaretz, December 13, 2006

Holocaust deniers don't help the Palestinians
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, December 13, 2006

Interview with author Ilan Pappe
By Christopher Brown, Electronic Intifada, December 11, 2006

Israel's nuclear arsenal biggest threat to region: Prince Muqrin
By Mazen Mahdi, Arab News, December 10, 2006

Afghanistan war nears 'tipping point'
By Laura King and David Holley, Los Angeles Times, December 10, 2006
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