The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
From all corners, support grows for Iraq peace plan
By Ben Russell, Kim Sengupta and Rupert Cornwell, The Independent, January 6, 2007

A blueprint for peace in Iraq has won praise from across the political establishment as senior figures from all parties urged a new strategy to bring states across the Middle East into the struggle to end the conflict.

Senior Labour figures joined opposition MPs in welcoming the plan, set out by Iraq's former defence minister Ali Allawi, for Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey to be given a role in helping to end the increasingly bitter sectarian divisions in Iraq that have helped push the country towards civil war. Senior military figures and foreign affairs analysts also backed the intervention of Mr Allawi, a senior adviser to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, whose blueprint was revealed in yesterday's Independent.

It comes as Tony Blair and George Bush consider a new strategy for Iraq to quell the worsening violence and instability. [complete article]

Comment -- While "new strategy for Iraq" has become a mantra, in Washington it's largely being spoken of as though it is synonymous with "military strategy." Even among those who concede that a political resolution is required, very little is being said about its substance. Indeed, the overriding assumption seems to be that politics will stay on hold for as long as the violence continues spinning out of control. What is being ignored is the extent to which the absence of political hope is the engine driving the conflict.
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Pelosi, Reid urge Bush to begin Iraq pullout
By Peter Baker and Robin Wright, Washington Post, January 6, 2007

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid declared yesterday that "it is time to bring the war to a close" and warned President Bush that sending more U.S. troops to Iraq would be unacceptable to the Democratic majorities that have just taken over Congress.

Directly challenging Bush's wartime leadership on their second day in charge on Capitol Hill, Democrats Pelosi (Calif.) and Reid (Nev.) sent Bush a letter suggesting that, instead of starting a short-term escalation, he begin a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces in the next four to six months. The mission of remaining troops, they said, should be shifted away from combat toward more training, logistics and counterterrorism.

The newly ascendant Democrats are trying to preempt the president before he announces his new strategy. As he prepares for a nationally televised address next week, officials said, Bush is considering three main options to bolster U.S. forces in Iraq: a relatively modest deployment of fewer than 4,000 additional troops, a middle-ground alternative involving about 9,000 and, the most aggressive idea, flowing 20,000 more troops into the country. [complete article]
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A new commander, in step with the White House on Iraq
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, January 6, 2007

The selection of Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus to serve as the senior American commander in Iraq signals an important turn in United States strategy.

As a supporter of increased forces in Iraq, General Petraeus is expected to back a rapid five-brigade expansion, in sharp contrast to his predecessor, Gen. George W. Casey Jr., who has been openly skeptical that additional troops would help stabilize the country.

Having overseen the recent drafting of the military’s counterinsurgency manual, General Petraeus is also likely to change the American military operation in Baghdad. American forces can be expected to take up positions in neighborhoods throughout the capital instead of limiting themselves to conducting patrols from large, fortified bases in and around the city.

The overarching goal of the American military operation may be altered as well. Under General Casey, the principal focus has been on transferring security responsibilities to the Iraqi security forces, so American troops could gradually withdraw. Now, the emphasis will shift to protecting the Iraqi population from sectarian strife and insurgent attacks. [complete article]
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Death in Haditha
By Josh White, Washington Post, January 6, 2007

U.S. Marines gunned down five unarmed Iraqis who stumbled onto the scene of a 2005 roadside bombing in Haditha, Iraq, according to eyewitness accounts that are part of a lengthy investigative report obtained by The Washington Post.

Staff Sgt. Frank D. Wuterich, the squad's leader, shot the men one by one after Marines ordered them out of a white taxi in the moments following the explosion, which killed one Marine and injured two others, witnesses told investigators. Another Marine fired rounds into their bodies as they lay on the ground.

"The taxi's five occupants exited the vehicle and according to U.S. and Iraqi witnesses, were shot by Wuterich as they stood, unarmed, next to the vehicle approximately ten feet in front of him," said a report by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service on the incident that runs thousands of pages.

One of the witnesses, Sgt. Asad Amer Mashoot, a 26-year-old Iraqi soldier who was in the Marine convoy, told investigators he watched in horror as the four students and the taxi driver fell. "They didn't even try to run away," he said. "We were afraid from Marines and we saw them behaving like crazy. They were yelling and screaming."

The shootings were the first in a series of violent reactions by Marines on the morning of Nov. 19, 2005 that left 24 civilians -- many of them women and children -- dead, in what some human rights groups and Iraqis have called a massacre by U.S. troops. [complete article]
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Bush to seek funds for Abbas security forces
By William Douglas, McClatchy, January 5, 2007

On Dec. 22, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met with Abbas and agreed to release $100 million in taxes and duties that Israel had been withholding from the Palestinians for months.

The next day, two Bush administration representatives told Congress that the administration wanted to spend $83 million that had been earmarked for economic support for the West Bank and Gaza on non-lethal supplies and training for Palestinian civil security forces under Abbas.

Days later, Egypt sent a large shipment of weapons to Abbas' sympathizers in the Gaza Strip. Israel allowed the shipment of 2,000 automatic rifles, 20,000 ammunition clips and 2 million bullets to pass through its territory. [complete article]
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Somalia abandons arms amnesty
Al Jazeera, January 6, 2007

The interim Somali government says it is indefinitely postponing its disarmament programme, as hundreds of residents burned tyres and looted vehicles in the capital to protest against the arms ban and the presence of Ethiopian troops.

The protesters in a main square in a southern district of Mogadishu, on Friday shouted: "Down with Ethiopia." Ethiopian soldiers fired shots into the air to disperse the demonstrators. [complete article]

In Somalia, confusion remains in command
By Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, January 6, 2007

The revived Somali national army assembled here Friday in the sand-blown yard of the former parliament, a hollowed-out building splashed with grenade blasts and scrawled with apocalyptic graffiti.

About 1,000 men sat in the sun, soldiers who had been inactive for 15 years, old men with graying beards wearing whatever shade of camouflage they found at the market or dug out of storage. Few had boots; most wore leather loafers, sandals or thin-soled tennis shoes. They squinted at the newly ascendant prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, who was swept into power last week on the strength of Ethiopian soldiers now pointing machine guns at the crowd.

"As prime minister, I say let us go back to our national interests," said Gedi, a former veterinarian. "This capital of Somalia is not for clans or tribes. It's for all Somalis. Is this clear? Will I repeat it, or have you got it?"

They all stood to sing the Somali national anthem, with many soldiers simply moving their lips, having forgotten the words. When it was over, 100 or so civilians heckled the new force -- "Traitors!" -- and Gedi zipped off in a convoy.

Even at such orchestrated events in Mogadishu, it is unclear who is in control, and the same could be said of Somalia itself. [complete article]
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For the first time, a real blueprint for peace in Iraq
By Ali Allawi, The Independent, January 5, 2007

It requires genuine vision and statesmanship to pull the Middle East from its death spiral. The elements of a possible solution are there if the will exists to postulate an alternative to the politics of fear, bigotry and hatred.

The first step must be the recognition that the solution to the Iraq crisis must be generated first internally, and then, importantly, at the regional level. The two are linked and the successful resolution of one would lead to the other.

No foreign power, no matter how benevolent, should be allowed to dictate the terms of a possible historic and stable settlement in the Middle East. No other region of the world would tolerate such a wanton interference in its affairs.

That is not to say that due consideration should not be given to the legitimate interests of the great powers in the area, but the future of the area should not be held hostage to their designs and exclusive interests.

Secondly, the basis of a settlement must take into account the fact that the forces that have been unleashed by the invasion of Iraq must be acknowledged and accommodated. These forces, in turn, must accept limits to their demands and claims. That would apply, in particular, to the Shias and the Kurds, the two communities who have been seen to have gained from the invasion of Iraq.

Thirdly, the Sunni Arab community must become convinced that its loss of undivided power will not lead to marginalisation and discrimination. A mechanism must be found to allow the Sunni Arabs to monitor and regulate and, if need be, correct, any signs of discrimination that may emerge in the new Iraqi state.

Fourthly, the existing states surrounding Iraq feel deeply threatened by the changes there. That needs to be recognised and treated in any lasting deal for Iraq and the area. [complete article]

Comment -- While Iraq remains an "American project," I find it strange that Ali Allawi's proposal appears in a British newspaper and not the Washington Post or the New York Times. Hopefully the editorial staff from the latter two papers are just being laggards and not dimwits.
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Bush making changes in his Iraq team
By Robin Wright and Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, January 5, 2007

President Bush is overhauling his top diplomatic and military team in Iraq, as the White House scrambles to complete its new war policy package in time for the president to unveil it in a speech to the nation next week, officials said.

But the White House is struggling to overcome deep differences among advisers over both the deployment of additional U.S. troops and whether the government of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki can deliver long-delayed political and military actions, according to officials familiar with the debate.

With significant policy details left to be worked out this weekend, the administration is nonetheless moving ahead on several personnel changes. It is set to announce that Army Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who gained fame for his early success in training Iraqi troops and securing a volatile city in northern Iraq, will replace Gen. George W. Casey Jr. as commander of the multinational forces in Iraq, officials say.

The administration also intends to nominate Navy Adm. William J. Fallon to head the Central Command, replacing Gen. John P. Abizaid as the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East. Some military officials consider Fallon an unusual choice, because he is a naval officer in charge of the Pacific Command with limited experience in the Middle East and would be in charge of two ground wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

On the diplomatic side, the White House will appoint veteran U.S. diplomat Ryan C. Crocker, the current envoy to Pakistan, who began his career in the 1970s in Iraq, as the new ambassador to Baghdad. The controversial current ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, will be nominated to become the top U.S. envoy at the United Nations, replacing John R. Bolton, U.S. officials say. [complete article]

See also, Military escalation? Mamoun Fandy vs Juan Cole (Missing Links).
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White House postponing loss of Iraq, Biden says
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, January 5, 2007

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said yesterday that he believes top officials in the Bush administration have privately concluded they have lost Iraq and are simply trying to postpone disaster so the next president will "be the guy landing helicopters inside the Green Zone, taking people off the roof," in a chaotic withdrawal reminiscent of Vietnam.

"I have reached the tentative conclusion that a significant portion of this administration, maybe even including the vice president, believes Iraq is lost," Biden said. "They have no answer to deal with how badly they have screwed it up. I am not being facetious now. Therefore, the best thing to do is keep it from totally collapsing on your watch and hand it off to the next guy -- literally, not figuratively." [complete article]

See also, If Iraq fragments, what's Plan B? (CSM).
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Bush pushes envelope on U.S. spying
By James Gordon Meek, New York Daily News, January 4, 2007

President Bush has quietly claimed sweeping new powers to open Americans' mail without a judge's warrant, the Daily News has learned.

The President asserted his new authority when he signed a postal reform bill into law on Dec. 20. Bush then issued a "signing statement" that declared his right to open people's mail under emergency conditions.

That claim is contrary to existing law and contradicted the bill he had just signed, say experts who have reviewed it. [complete article]
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Somalia could well become Africa's own Afghanistan
By Omar Kalinge Nnyago, The Monitor (Uganda), January 4, 2007

Beyond the celebrations and cries of joy from pro-American, pro-Ethiopian groups lies an uncertainty that can only be overcome by time. There are three issues here. One is the invasion by Ethiopia of a sovereign state (Some argue that present day Somalia does not qualify as a sovereign state), to install a government of its choice. Somalia has never trusted Ethiopia, gone to war in Ogaden and in a general sense, any Somali seen to be allying with Ethiopia is characterised a traitor.

The other issue is the difference in opinion on the role of the UIC. Many Somalis do not look at the UIC as a dangerous organisation. America's view the UIC as a terrorist organisation that fits well in the war on terror. Ethiopia, while wanting originality, is not fighting its own war. It is a proxy of the US.

The third issue is the increasing characterisation of all struggles in the Muslim world as Jihad, by Muslims themselves and also the vanguard in the war on terror, the US. The fear is that having been promoted to Jihadists by the US, the UIC and their friends are likely to win a lot of support from anti -American forces wherever they may be. This is likely to turn an internal struggle for self determination in Somalia into a global war. So even if it presently is not true that the UIC is cultivating terrorists, it will soon be. [complete article]

Somalis loath to disarm
By Rob Crilly, Christian Science Monitor, January 5, 2007

The old Fiat truck is still smoldering more than 12 hours after a rocket-propelled grenade slammed into its radiator, setting its cargo of fuel alight and injuring three of the passengers.

"This wasn't political. It wasn't the Islamists. This was bandits," says a police officer standing on the sand road, a couple of miles north of the Somali capital, Mogadishu.

"There isn't much we can do," he adds. "We are simply outgunned."

For six months, the notoriously chaotic city was pacified by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Its leaders imposed Islamic law and succeeded in ending almost 16 years of Kalashnikov-fueled racketeering by freelance warlords.

But now, after a two-week preemptive offensive launched by troops from neighboring Ethiopia helped the weak, secular Somalian government force the Islamists to flee, the bandits are starting to return. [complete article]

U.S. seeks return to Mogadishu
Financial Times, January 3, 2007

The US is seeking to re-establish a presence in Mogadishu, capital of Somalia, after an absence of 12 years following the ousting of Islamist forces this week by Ethiopian-backed Somali allies.

Jendayi Frazer, assistant secretary of state, hopes to include Mogadishu in a tour that began on Wednesday with the aim of shoring up Somalia's transitional government with multinational African forces and US humanitarian aid. [complete article]

U.S. helps contain Somalia's Islamist forces
By Stephen Fidler and William Wallis, Financial Times, January 4, 2007

A US-led naval task force off the Somali coast has been boarding ships in recent days as part of efforts to prevent Islamist militants fleeing the country.

The task force is taking part in a broader US military effort to stop Islamist fighters in Somalia moving into neighbouring countries following a rout by Ethiopian forces. Kenya has officially closed its border with Somalia on in an effort to stem the transit of militants, officials said. [complete article]

See also, Islamists dig in by the sea as Somalia requests world's help (The Times), Al-Qaeda issues message on Somalia (Al Jazeera), Lack of security threatens Somalia's hard-won gains (NYT), Somali pursuits a U.S. 'right' (News24), and Somali militia group 'surrounded' (BBC).

Comment -- When a government is only able to assume power thanks to the help of a foreign army, naturally the people will be forced to ask: who does the government represent?
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Saudi king hosted top Hizbullah members for talks
By Nada Bakri, Daily Star, January 4, 2007

Saudi King Abdullah held talks on Lebanon's political crisis with Hizbullah officials last week in his first such contact with the party, Al-Akhbar newspaper and the Reuters news agency said Wednesday. Hizbullah officials would neither confirm nor deny the meeting when contacted by The Daily Star.

Hizbullah's deputy leader, Sheikh Naim Qassem, and resigned Electricity and Water Minister Mohammad Fneish flew to Jeddah on a private Saudi jet on Dec. 26 for the meeting with the monarch and his foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, a senior political source told Reuters.

The three-day visit was aimed at easing tension between the mainly Sunni kingdom and Hizbullah, which is leading an opposition campaign to force the Lebanese government to share more power or resign. Saudi Arabia is a major backer of Premier Fouad Siniora and has been critical of Hizbullah. [complete article]

Israel likely to accept Egyptian proposal for four-way summit with PA and Jordan
By Aluf Benn and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, January 4, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the Sharm al-Sheikh resort in Sinai today, and Egypt has already floated the possibility of holding a subsequent regional summit with the participation of the leaders of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.

The Prime Minister's Office said that it views this idea favorably. "We have no fundamental problem with a summit, and if they raise the idea during the Olmert-Mubarak meeting, we will discuss it and consider it," a source in the Prime Minister's Office told Haaretz last night. [complete article]

Comment -- If there turns out to be a silver-lining in the incompetence with which the Bush administration has handled its Middle East policy, it might be that a burdensome notion is finally laid to rest: that the United States has an indispensable role to play in resolving regional conflicts.

On a recent trip to Amman, Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was snubbed by Jordan's King Abdullah II because he was not accompanied by Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Now Saudi King Abdullah has welcomed officials from Hezbollah. In both cases, Arab leaders have been showing a complete disregard for the American script. What Washington may be having a hard time grasping is that increasingly across the Middle East, America's political leadership has become, if not irrelevant then at least transparently weak. Waiting for the American lead is like.... Well, like waiting for a new strategy for Iraq.
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Lerner reaches out to President Carter
By Gabriel Sanders, The Forward, December 27, 2006

While leaders from across the Jewish spectrum have rushed to condemn former president Jimmy Carter and his new book "Palestine: Peace not Apartheid," at least one prominent Jewish figure has headed in the opposite direction.

Michael Lerner, founding editor of the liberal bimonthly Tikkun, wrote in an email to the magazine's contributors early this month that he is in the process of exploring the possibility of working with the former president to build support for a left-wing alternative to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Lerner mentioned that he and Carter had just spoken on the phone about the issue, but declined to discuss specifics, saying the chat was confidential.

Lerner is not alone among Jews on the left eager to launch a counterweight to the pro-Israel lobbying powerhouse. The Forward and JTA have reported that financier George Soros has been consulting with leaders of dovish groups, including the Israel Policy Forum, Americans for Peace Now and Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, on launching some sort of pro-peace process initiative. [complete article]

See also, I witness the Israel lobby in action (Philip Weiss).

Comment -- If Jimmy Carter's authority as a former U.S. president provides cover and instills courage in prominent Jews and progressive Jewish organizations now willing to stand up and challenge the Israel lobby, it will be all to the good and none too soon.

The extremes to which the lobby is willing to go were evident in a recently-launched media campaign aimed at discrediting Jimmy Carter and his new book, Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Though the campaign has been very effective, its organizers were unsuccessful in persuading media organizations to brand Carter as "an American Ahadinejad."

Though the lobby may pride itself on its continued ability to flex its muscles by shaping public discourse and American perceptions of Israel, I believe that sooner or later (and I think it's likely to come sooner) the Israel lobby is going to find itself up against a tidal shift in public opinion. If and when that happens there is a real danger that the backlash will not simply be experienced by the lobby but by the American Jewish community as a whole. The threat of anti-Semiticism, instead of being a baseless charge used to stifle debate, risks acquiring a real and all too ugly form.

Before that happens -- in fact, to prevent that happening -- a new and loud American Jewish voice needs to emerge (following George Soros and Michael Lerner's lead), challenging the Israel lobby and challenging its right to represent the interests of Israel, of the American Jewish community, or of the diaspora.
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If you want a surge, you must agree on the direction
By Bronwen Maddox, The Times, January 4, 2007

Will a "surge" of US forces help to secure victory in Iraq for President Bush? It is hard to see how it could, although American officials emphasise that, if Mr Bush does announce that he will attempt one last push, it will be much more than simply flying in more troops.

The weakness in the plan is that it assumes the Iraqi Government wants the same as the United States: a multi-ethnic country, with power shared between factions. But there are many signs that it does not; in that case, buying it more "breathing time" will be a waste of effort. [complete article]

Bush could send up to 40,000 more US troops to Iraq
AFP, January 4, 2007

President George W. Bush could send up to 40,000 more US troops to Iraq when he unveils his revised Iraq policy, US media said as it cautioned that a final figure has not been determined.

Various news reports agree there will be an increase of US forces in Iraq, giving estimates of between 9,000 and 40,000 extra troops. [complete article]

See also, Why Bush won't change his strategy (Fred Kaplan).

Comment -- I suspect that "40,000 troops" is being floated just to soften the opposition. Once the announcement is made and it turns out to be 20 or 30 thousand extra troops, by being less than 40,000 it'll sound like a more moderate increase.

Yet as "Steve" in Baghdad (a member of the US military I assume) points out in a comment to the Times:
What the numbers don't tell you is that for every soldier on the ground there are others fulfilling life support roles. Therefore, even if 30,000 more do come to Baghdad, there will probably be less than 10,000 actually in the streets. The biggest priority right now is to deal with the militias. Unfortunately, that means ousting Maliki. His inability or unwillingness to do this (the most obvious cause being his dependency on Moqtada al-Sadr affiliated government members) shows clearly that the present administration in Iraq is not fit to rule this country. Clean out the government and get moderates in, disband the militias and wrest indirect political control from them. Then the additional troops might make a difference.
No doubt Steve's comment is sincere and in its own way astute, yet seemingly oblivious to the irony: Almost four years after bringing "regime change" to Iraq, the only way America can now save Iraq is through another regime change!
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Facing off against al-Sadr
By Mark Kukis, Time, January 3, 2007

Across Baghdad, U.S. forces are fighting a kind of shadow war against the Mahdi Army, which American troops call "JAM" -- shorthand for the group's Arabic name Jaish al-Mahdi. The two sides rarely take shots directly at each other. When the Mahdi Army strikes, usually Sunnis under the protection of U.S. forces become casualties. Mosques explode. Houses burn. Mutilated bodies appear on streets that American troops claim to control. U.S. forces answer with raids on suspected Mahdi Army houses in neighborhoods like Shula, just north of Ghazaliya. Sometimes they uncover arms caches and make arrests. More often the doors they kick in lead to empty rooms where Mahdi Army fighters have left only tiny traces of themselves such as undelivered threat letters and spent bullet casings.

The struggle has gone on like this for months, ever since the Mahdi Army began pushing westward across Baghdad in the spring with organized campaigns aimed at transforming Sunni neighborhoods into Shi'ite strongholds. But U.S. patience may be coming to an end in the wake of the execution of Saddam Hussein, whose passing left Sadr as the one visible face of opposition to American efforts in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Ever since he came to prominence as a "firebrand cleric," Moqtada al-Sadr has been characterized as one of America's leading opponents in Iraq. Initially dismissed as too youthful and uncouth to be taken seriously, his has turned out to be the most durable power in Iraqi politics. To persist in characterizing him as an American enemy is to overlook the fact that when it comes to keeping his eye on the ball of Iraqi power, Sadr's focus has been unwavering. And while every other political contender often seems willing to settle for a portion of Iraq, Sadr has his eyes on the nation. Small wonder that in Saddam's demise, Moqtada's followers would chant their leader's name as though the execution was also an investiture.

Juan Cole writes that:
It is an abiding paradox of contemporary Iraq that the Mahdi Army and the Sunni Arab guerrillas are slaughtering each other daily, but that young Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr (the leader of the Mahdi Army) has a better political relationship with Sunni Arab MPs and leaders than any other Shiite.
But perhaps this isn't so much a paradox as much as a reflection that each group is united and alike in clinging tenaciously to the idea of "Iraq."
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4 Palestinians killed in Israeli raid
By Karin Laub, AP, January 4, 2007

Israeli undercover troops burst into a West Bank vegetable market Thursday, seizing four fugitives and exchanging heavy fire with Palestinians in the first major raid since the Israeli and Palestinian leaders agreed to try to ease tensions.

Four Palestinians, all civilians, were killed and 20 wounded in the fighting in Ramallah. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said in a harshly worded statement that Israel's peace promises rang hollow in light of the raid and demanded $5 million in compensation for the damage to shops and cars in Ramallah.

In Gaza, six Palestinians, including a senior security officer, were killed and more than a dozen wounded in fighting between gunmen loyal to Hamas and those allied with Abbas' Fatah movement.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak just after the Ramallah raid, apologized for any civilian casualties, but said the operation was intended to protect Israel from terrorist attacks. "Things developed in a way that could not have been predicted in advance. If innocent people were hurt, this was not our intention," he said.

The summit had been intended to push for new Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts, but was overshadowed by the violence. [complete article]

A slaying stirs the hornet's nest of Gaza
By Richard Boudreaux and Rushdi abu Alouf, Los Angeles Times, January 4, 2007

A militiaman standing on the roof of his in-laws' home was shot dead Wednesday in a disputed incident that led to the worst day of clashes between Palestinian factions since they agreed to a truce two weeks ago. Four other people died in the violence in the Gaza Strip.

The renewed fighting raised concerns that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah, and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, who heads the Hamas government, are not able or willing to stop their security services and militias from plunging the Palestinians into wider conflict. [complete article]
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Rice's stillborn talks with the Iraqi resistance
Conflicts Forum, January 2, 2007

Over the last three months, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and her top aides have scrambled to build a "new security architecture" for the Middle East -- one that will maintain pressure on Iran at the same time that it provides a cover for U.S. efforts to salvage some respectability from its collapsing position in Iraq. This "GCC-plus-two" security front is hardly news, but what is news is that it has been used as a potential back-channel by the Secretary of State to open talks with representatives of the Iraqi resistance -- talks that, in spite of Rice’s best efforts, have been stillborn.

The most important meetings with the "GCC-plus-two" have taken place in the region: in Riyadh, Amman and Cairo; and the most important of these meetings -- and the one that included a potential opening to the Iraqi resistance -- took place in Cairo in early October. Just last week our reporter in Baghdad talked with Iraqi officials, one of whom provided details of Rice's efforts to use her meetings with the "GCC-plus-two" ministers to explore an opening to Iraqi resistance leaders. Our reporter obtained the following details of that early October meeting in Cairo and the results of that opening: [complete article]
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Walking the ghosts
By Dominique Moisi, The Guardian, January 3, 2007

Using historical analogies to interpret the present is both tempting and dangerous, for history never truly repeats itself. Yet, to understand the difficulty of responding to the problems that Iran's nuclear ambition and anti-Israel obsession now pose, it might be helpful to analyse the three analogies that are most commonly used.

Some compare the Iranian regime to Nazi Germany. Others believe that the only useful analogy is to Europe's old balance-of-power games. And still others combine the two, pointing to the "balance of terror" during the cold war. In other words: is Iran to be treated as Hitler's Germany in 1938, Prussia in 1756, or Stalin's Soviet Union? [complete article]

Russia anti-aircraft weapons sales to Syria, Iran on schedule
Middle East Online, January 2, 2007

Controversial Russian contracts to sell anti-aircraft weapons to Syria and Iran are being fulfilled on schedule, Russian news agencies cited defence and industry officials as saying Tuesday.

At least half of the 29 Tor-M1 missile systems bought by Iran for 1.4 billion dollars (1.06 billion euros) had been delivered, state-run ITAR-TASS quoted an unnamed source at the defence ministry as saying. [complete article]

Iran can still be stopped
By Binyamin Netanyahu, Jerusalem Post, January ,1 2007

We must immediately launch an intense, international, public relations front focusing first and foremost on the US. The goal being to encourage President Bush to take up his specific promises not to allow Iran to arm itself with nuclear weapons. We must make it clear to the government, the Congress and the American public that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the US and the entire world, not only Israel. We must make it clear that it is in the utmost interest of the free world to prevent fundamental Islamic regimes from building an atom bomb. [complete article]

Rattling the cage: A bigot called Bibi
By Larry Derfner, Jerusalem Post, January 3, 2007

By rights, Binyamin Netanyahu, who every poll says is by far the most popular politician in Israel, should be ranked with Jean Le Pen, Jorge Haider and the rest of the Western world's racist demagogues.

But he won't be, because anti-Arab racism in Israel is either supported or strategically ignored by the mainstream of the Jewish world, and pretty much taken for granted by the gentile world. [complete article]
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Neo culpa
By David Rose, Vanity Fair, January, 2007

In the short run, [Eliot] Cohen believes, the main beneficiary of America's intervention in Iraq is the mullahs' regime in Iran, along with its extremist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And far from heralding the hoped-for era of liberal Middle East reform, he says, "I do think it's going to end up encouraging various strands of Islamism, both Shia and Sunni, and probably will bring de-stabilization of some regimes of a more traditional kind, which already have their problems." The risk of terrorism on American soil may well increase, too, he fears. "The best news is that the United States remains a healthy, vibrant, vigorous society. So, in a real pinch, we can still pull ourselves together. Unfortunately, it will probably take another big hit. And a very different quality of leadership. Maybe we'll get it."

Frank Gaffney, of the Center for Security Policy, is more pessimistic. While defeat in Iraq is not certain, he regards it as increasingly likely. "It's not a perfect parallel here, but I would say it would approximate to losing the Battle of Britain in World War II," he says. "Our enemies will be emboldened and will re-double their efforts. Our friends will be demoralized and disassociate themselves from us. The delusion is to think that the war is confined to Iraq, and that America can walk away. Failure in Iraq would be a huge strategic defeat." It may already be too late to stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, Gaffney says, pointing out that the Manhattan Project managed to build them in less than four years from a far smaller base of knowledge. "I would say that the likelihood of military action against Iran is 100 percent," he concludes. "I just don't know when or under what circumstances. My guess is that it will be in circumstances of their choosing and not ours."

Richard Perle is almost as apocalyptic. Without some way to turn impending defeat in Iraq to victory, "there will continue to be turbulence and instability in the region. The Sunni in the Gulf, who are already terrified of the Iranians, will become even more terrified of the Iranians. We will be less able to stop an Iranian nuclear program, or Iran's support for terrorism. The Saudis will go nuclear. They will not want to sit there with Ahmadinejad having the nuclear weapon." This is not a cheering prospect: a Sunni-Shia civil war raging in Iraq, while its Sunni and Shia neighbors face each other across the Persian Gulf armed with nukes. As for the great diplomatic hopeÂ?that the Iraq Study Group, led by George Bush Sr.'s secretary of state James Baker III, can pull off a deal with Syria and Iran to pacify IraqÂ?Perle is dismissive: "This is a total illusion. Total illusion. What kind of grand deal? The Iranians are not on our side. They're going to switch over and adopt our side? What can we offer them?" [complete article]

Comment -- These Vanity Fair interviews (whose publication was promoted just before the November election) were regarded as a shocking breaking-of-ranks with the Bush administration. Indeed, several neocons here express dismay at what they regard as devastating dysfunction within the Bush administration, yet as they fall over themselves in their eagerness to point fingers at Bush, there is not murmur about Cheney. It's a curious contradiction because if the disaster in Iraq stems from Bush's incompetence -- not Cheney's -- then Cheney must be completely ineffectual, a powerless vice president who could do no more than wring his hands in frustration as he watched the Commander-in-Chief, Secretary of Defense, and National Security Adviser, stumble again, and again, and again. Of course the neocons' silence on Cheney means no such thing!

Cheney they know (and so should we) still has another war to start. Bush can be written off -- indeed, the more criticism he gets the deeper into the shadows Cheney is allowed to retreat. Like a necromancer working on casting a diabolical spell, he must be allowed to attend to his work, undisturbed. A drumbeat is already blaring out dire warnings about an impending holocaust -- Cheney doesn't need to utter a word.
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Blair's deputy calls taunting of Hussein at execution 'deplorable'
By Sarah Lyall, New York Times, January 3, 2007

Britain's deputy prime minister said Tuesday that the taunting and baiting that accompanied Saddam Hussein's execution was unacceptable and that the people responsible should be condemned for taking part.

"I think the manner was quite deplorable, really," said the deputy prime minister, John Prescott. "I don't think one can endorse in any way that, whatever your views about capital punishment."

Responding to the murky scenes that emerged after the execution showing witnesses and guards chanting and telling Saddam to "go to hell" as his executioners prepared to hang him, Mr. Prescott added: "Frankly, to get that kind of recorded messages coming out is totally unacceptable, and I think whoever is involved and responsible for it should be ashamed of themselves." [complete article]

Comment -- For whose benefit must an execution be performed in an orderly and civilized manner? What strange token of respect is this to show someone, moments before violently ending their life?

In truth, the dignity, order, respect, and legal decorum, are there to protect everyone else. We are supposed to think that we have risen above a barbaric temperament because we disdain the tearing of limb from limb, burning at the stake, beheading, or any other such "inhumane" practices.

Where though is the humanity in collectively sanctioning a killing and then turning the other way as though we have such delicate sensibilities we could not bear to understand what is being done in our name?
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A promising Iraqi province is now a tinderbox
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, January 3, 2007

When U.S. forces killed the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab Zarqawi, six months ago in a village near here, they hoped security would improve in this strategic province just north of Baghdad.

Instead, security has collapsed in Diyala province, which now ranks as one of Iraq's most troubled regions. Insurgent attacks have more than doubled in the last year. Violence has devastated the provincial police force and brought reconstruction to a virtual standstill.

Assassinations have claimed the lives of mayors, tribal chieftains, police officials and judges, including a Shiite Muslim member of the provincial council who was killed Tuesday. Many government officials here sleep on cots in their offices because driving home is too dangerous.

And Iraqi security forces have been implicated in so many abuses that the U.S. commander here recently gave his Iraqi counterpart an angry lecture, likening the Iraqi troops to an "undisciplined rabble." [complete article]
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Mortal enemies, united
By Ted Smyth, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2007

For those Americans who despair of peace between Israelis and Palestinians or between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq, there is proof in Northern Ireland that such ancient hatreds can be overcome: Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, once mortal enemies, are on a historic path to become, respectively, leader and deputy leader of a power-sharing government in that long-divided land.

Even in 2007, after years of halting peace negotiations and on-again, off-again deals, it is still stunning to think that these two men could end up working together in one government — that Paisley, the firebrand Protestant preacher who has ranted against Catholics and Irish unification for more than 50 years, could possibly agree to enter a coalition with a former leader of the Irish Republican Army, one of the world's most notorious terrorist organizations. [complete article]
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Ethiopian troops leave security in Mogadishu to city's residents
By Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, January 3, 2007

The sandy road from airstrip K-50 is littered with the remnants of roadblocks, heaps of pushed-aside stones left over from when warlords balkanized this coastal capital, and rusted metal gates where Islamic militias took charge from the warlords.

On Tuesday, clusters of Ethiopian troops were here and there on the road into the city, leaning against gray crumbling walls or passing in trucks along wasted yellow cornfields still sopping from recent floods.

Within the city's borders, the Ethiopian troops who chased out the country's Islamic Courts movement on behalf of Somalia's weak transitional government were hardly visible.

Six days after the transitional government took hold, very little security was evident beyond that which Somalis have grown accustomed to providing for themselves: roving pickup trucks filled with armed teenagers, and AK-47-toting militiamen who guard the city block by block, and clan by clan. [complete article]
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America's holy warriors
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig, December 31, 2006

The drive by the Christian right to take control of military chaplaincies, which now sees radical Christians holding roughly 50 percent of chaplaincy appointments in the armed services and service academies, is part of a much larger effort to politicize the military and law enforcement. This effort signals the final and perhaps most deadly stage in the long campaign by the radical Christian right to dismantle America's open society and build a theocratic state. A successful politicization of the military would signal the end of our democracy.

During the past two years I traveled across the country to research and write the book "American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America." I repeatedly listened to radical preachers attack as corrupt and godless most American institutions, from federal agencies that provide housing and social welfare to public schools and the media. But there were two institutions that never came under attack -- the military and law enforcement. While these preachers had no interest in communicating with local leaders of other faiths, or those in the community who did not subscribe to their call for a radical Christian state, they assiduously courted and flattered the military and police. They held special services and appreciation days for all four branches of the armed services and for various law enforcement agencies. They encouraged their young men and women to enlist or to join the police or state troopers. They sought out sympathetic military and police officials to attend church events where these officials were lauded and feted for their Christian probity and patriotism. They painted the war in Iraq not as an occupation but as an apocalyptic battle by Christians against Islam, a religion they regularly branded as "satanic." All this befits a movement whose final aesthetic is violence. It also befits a movement that, in the end, would need the military and police forces to seize power in American society. [complete article]

Comment -- If Chris Hedges' warning sounds hyperbolic, consider this: The extremes to which America might take its war against terrorism, recently became shockingly clear to me. A highly respected national security expert with insider knowledge of Pentagon thinking told me that several senior officers and defense executives have confided the following sentiment to him: "There may come a time when we have to kill millions of Muslims." Not surprisingly, neither is my source willing to name his, nor me mine, but believe me - this is not idle chatter!

The Israel lobby would have everyone believe that the threat of another holocaust emanates from Iran, yet what should generate more alarm: populist rantings from President Ahmadinejad repeating well-worn anti-Zionist rhetoric, or cold predictions circulating inside the U.S. military that an Islamic holocaust may become necessary?

Update -- I can now reveal my source: In a soon-to-be-published essay (and quoted here with the author's permission), Dr. Michael Vlahos (Senior Staff, National Security Analysis Department, Johns Hopkins University) writes:
I can attest to many "Defense World" conversations that have ended with: "the time may come when we will have to kill millions of Muslims," or, "history shows that to win over a people you have to kill at least 10% of them, like the Romans" (for comparison, we killed or contributed to the death of about 5% of Japan from 1944-46, while Russia has killed at least 8% of the Chechen people).
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Think tank: Israel could attack Iran's nuclear program alone
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, January 2, 2007

The Institute for National Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University said in its annual report, released Tuesday, that Iran will possess nuclear weapons unless military action is taken against it, and Israel would be capable of carrying out such an attack

"Time is working in Iran's favor, and barring military action, Iran's
possession of nuclear weapons is only a matter of time," the institute said in a statement distributed at a news conference where it released its annual assessment of the Middle East's strategic balance. [complete article]

Iran to West and U.S.: You are nobody, we will humiliate you
AP, January 2, 2007

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad scorned the UN Security Council's imposing sanctions on Iran, telling a crowd Tuesday that Iran had humiliated the United States in the past and would do so again.

Speaking in the southwestern provincial capital of Ahvaz, Ahmadinejad
said the Security Council's resolution of December 23 was invalid and had left the world body's reputation in tatters. [complete article]

Iran: Expert says UN sanctions leading to lose-lose situation
RFERL, December 27, 2006

RFE/RL: Are the limited UN sanctions going to bring Western countries closer to a solution to the nuclear standoff? So far it seems that they have made Tehran more defiant and more confrontational.

Trita Parsi: I think what is happening right now is that we're entering a lose-lose situation. It's no longer about finding solutions and finding a compromise. It's more about seeing which side can endure the most pain. Will Iran have to give in before the West gives in -- and it's going to be difficult to foretell which side is going to endure this much more, while Iran is certainly going to pay a price. At least its economy [is] and it is already starting to pay a price in its economy and the U.S. is also in a tremendously difficult position in Iraq.

RFE/RL: So you think the UN Security Council move has made the situation more complicated -- but are the UN sanctions going to be effective?

Parsi: I don't think necessarily the sanctions from the UN [themselves are] going to be effective, but the unilateral sanctions that the United States has quietly put in place over the last couple of months with a tremendous amount of pressure on international banks not to deal with Iran -- those, I think, may impose a cost on Iran. They're going to be far more effective than the UN sanctions. [complete article]

See also, West tries a new tack to block Iran's nuclear agenda (NYT).
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Chaos overran Iraq plan in '06, Bush team says
By David E. Sanger, Michael R. Gordon, and John F. Burns, New York Times, January 2, 2007

President Bush began 2006 assuring the country that he had a "strategy for victory in Iraq." He ended the year closeted with his war cabinet on his ranch trying to devise a new strategy, because the existing one had collapsed.

The original plan, championed by Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top commander in Baghdad, and backed by Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, called for turning over responsibility for security to the Iraqis, shrinking the number of American bases and beginning the gradual withdrawal of American troops. But the plan collided with Iraq's ferocious unraveling, which took most of Mr. Bush's war council by surprise.

In interviews in Washington and Baghdad, senior officials said the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department had also failed to take seriously warnings, including some from its own ambassador in Baghdad, that sectarian violence could rip the country apart and turn Mr. Bush's promise to "clear, hold and build" Iraqi neighborhoods and towns into an empty slogan.

This left the president and his advisers constantly lagging a step or two behind events on the ground. [complete article]

Few Iraqis are gaining U.S. sanctuary
By Sabina Tavernise and Robert F. Worth, New York Times, January 2, 2007

With thousands of Iraqis desperately fleeing this country every day, advocates for refugees, and even some American officials, say there is an urgent need to allow more Iraqi refugees into the United States.

Until recently the Bush administration had planned to resettle just 500 Iraqis this year, a mere fraction of the tens of thousands of Iraqis who are now believed to be fleeing their country each month. State Department officials say they are open to admitting larger numbers, but are limited by a cumbersome and poorly financed United Nations referral system.

"We're not even meeting our basic obligation to the Iraqis who've been imperiled because they worked for the U.S. government," said Kirk W. Johnson, who worked for the United States Agency for International Development in Falluja in 2005. "We could not have functioned without their hard work, and it's shameful that we've nothing to offer them in their bleakest hour." [complete article]

For Iraq's Shiites, a dream deferred breeds mistrust of U.S.
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, January 2, 2007

Iraq's Shiites are at a crossroads in their rise from oppression to power and in their relationship with the United States. In a nation riven by violence and competing visions, they feel as if they have been handed the keys to their house but never allowed to settle down. Bitter personality rifts have undermined their ability to govern. And they have yet to bridge the growing divide separating them from the Sunnis and further deepened by Hussein's execution on Saturday.

As President Bush seeks a new strategy for Iraq, many Shiites express deep mistrust of the United States and its intentions. In U.S. efforts to engage Iraq's disaffected Sunnis, they perceive betrayal. And in U.S. pressure to dismantle Shiite militias, they see an attempt to weaken their bulwark against Sunni insurgents. [complete article]

More fuel on Iraq's spreading flames
By W Joseph Stroupe, Asia Times, January 3, 2007

The year 2003 marked the implementation of bold and reckless strategies aimed at handing the US and Britain virtual ownership of the crucial Middle East region and far beyond, but 2006 was the year all the negative repercussions of their failed policies finally converged, obliging the two reckless powers to stare into the yawning chasm of a regional forfeiture.

Now, 2007 is the year that marks the full-blown arrival of the endgame in the Middle East, when the US, Britain and Israel attempt somehow to pull a "win" from the mauling flames of regionwide failure. Their desperate policy of "one last push" to achieve that win is already shoving all the region's fractious players into a similar endgame stance, powerfully accelerating the region's descent into instability and upheaval as all its players take postures to make their final moves to prevent the loss of their respective goals and interests, each one attempting to win the game before time and opportunity run out. [complete article]
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Hezbollah to decide on next steps
Al Jareera, January 2, 2007

Lebanon's Hezbollah-led opposition will decide this week how to press its campaign against the government and sees little chance of an early end to the standoff, the group's deputy leader has said.

Sheikh Naim Kassem said late on Monday that the opposition would meet in the next two days to agree on the next steps in its campaign, now focused on a demand for early parliamentary elections. He did not say what the opposition had in mind.

Opposition supporters have been camped out in central Beirut since December 1 calling for the government of Fouad Siniora, the Lebanese prime minister, to step down. Hezbollah says the campaign will remain peaceful. [complete article]
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A new reality in Somalia
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2007

Their leaders slipped out of this capital under cover of darkness. Their plum jobs are gone. Their former offices were the first looted in a spasm of vandalism last week.

On Monday, these mid-level officials and fighters of Somalia's now-defunct Islamic Courts Union got a renewed offer of amnesty from Somalian Prime Minister Ali Mohammed Gedi, who also set a three-day deadline for residents of Mogadishu to turn in their guns.

But for the Islamists left behind in Somalia's long-troubled capital, the ordeal was not over. While top Islamic officials escaped south toward Kenya last week, thousands of employees, fighters and other Islamic courts supporters remained trapped in Mogadishu, struggling to comprehend the new reality.

Once part of the city's elite, many of the Islamist militias' backers have gone into hiding, fearful of retribution or worried that enemies might finger them as Islamic courts collaborators to newly arrived Somalian soldiers or Ethiopian troops allied with the 2-year-old transitional government -- or the warlord-led clan militias reasserting control in the city. [complete article]
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For Guantanamo review boards, limits abound
By Tim Golden, New York Times, January 1, 2007

At one end of a converted trailer in the American military detention center here, a graying Pakistani businessman sat shackled before a review board of uniformed officers, pleading for his freedom.

The prisoner had seen just a brief summary of what officials said was a thick dossier of intelligence linking him to Al Qaeda. He had not seen his own legal papers since they were taken away in an unrelated investigation. He has lawyers working on his behalf in Washington, London and Pakistan, but here his only assistance came from an Army lieutenant colonel, who stumbled as he read the prisoner's handwritten statement.

As the hearing concluded, the detainee, who cannot be identified publicly under military rules, had a question. He is a citizen of Pakistan, he noted. He was arrested on a business trip to Thailand. On what authority or charges was he even being held?

"That question," a Marine colonel presiding over the panel answered, "is outside the limits of what this board is permitted to consider." [complete article]
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America needs history as never before
By Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., IHT, January 1, 2007

The United States is the world's dominant military power, and I believe a consciousness of history is a moral necessity for a nation possessed of overweening power. History verifies President John F. Kennedy's proposition, stated in the first year of his thousand days: "We must face the fact that the United States is neither omnipotent or omniscient Â? that we are only 6 percent of the world's population; that we cannot impose our will upon the other 94 percent of mankind; that we cannot right every wrong or reverse each adversity; and therefore there cannot be an American solution to every world problem."

History is the best antidote to delusions of omnipotence and omniscience. Self-knowledge is the indispensable prelude to self-control, for the nation as well as for the individual, and history should forever remind us of the limits of our passing perspectives. It should strengthen us to resist the pressure to convert momentary impulses into moral absolutes. It should lead us to a recognition of the fact, so often and so sadly displayed, that the future outwits all our certitudes and that the possibilities of the future are more various than the human intellect is designed to conceive. [complete article]

Comment -- Though I share Schlesinger's conviction that America needs an historical consciousness, unlike him I don't see the many signs pointing to the growth of this awareness. In as much as history serves a cultural function through the glorification of a people's ancestry and their sense of belonging to a particular land, a nation whose roots lie elsewhere risks losing itself the more clearly it looks into its past. Instead, America sustains itself through unstinting faith in the future - a faith that instills resilience, optimism, myopia, and a pathological conviction in the power of renewal.
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Further combat looms in Somalia
By Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, December 31, 2006

Somali government troops heavily backed by Ethiopian tanks and soldiers pushed Saturday toward Somalia's port city of Kismaayo, the last stronghold of the Islamic Courts movement swept from power in recent days.

A major battle between the two sides seemed imminent, as Ethiopian jets blew over towns near Kismaayo, and leaders of the Islamic movement rallied fighters who had retreated to the area in the face of Ethiopia's vastly superior military force.

The Islamic Courts movement is "ready to fight against the enemy of Allah," Sharif Ahmed, a leader of the group, told residents of Kismaayo, according to the Associated Press.

Somalis are growing impatient with the presence of thousands of Ethiopian troops in their country, but Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, who has backed the interim Somali government now in power, has said his military will not pull out until it has captured the most "extremist" leaders and "international jihadists" within the Courts movement.

Meles has accused those leaders of supporting ethnic Somali separatist groups in Ethiopia, and both the United States and Ethiopia have accused the Islamic Courts fighters of sheltering terrorists, an allegation the movement has called propaganda.

The United States has denied giving Ethiopia the green light to invade Somalia but has steadfastly supported Ethiopia's right to self-defense, and Meles has characterized this war as defensive, not preemptive. Just days before the Ethiopian action, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi E. Frazer, accused the Islamic group of being "controlled" by an al-Qaeda cell, an allegation that regional analysts say was exaggerated and intended to justify Ethiopia's incursion. [complete article]

U.S. signals backing for Ethiopian incursion into Somalia
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, December 27, 2006

On Tuesday, a day after an Ethiopian jet strafed the airport in Mogadishu, the capital, the State Department issued internal guidance to staff members, instructing officials to play down the invasion in public statements.

"Should the press focus on the role of Ethiopia inside Somalia," read a copy of the guidelines that was given to The New York Times by an American official here, "emphasize that this is a distraction from the issue of dialogue between the T.F.I.'s and Islamic courts and shift the focus back to the need for dialogue." T.F.I. is an abbreviation for the weak transitional government in Somalia.

"The press must not be allowed to make this about Ethiopia, or Ethiopia violating the territorial integrity of Somalia," the guidance said. [complete article]

Ethiopians are split over their foreign invasion
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, December 29, 2006

The headline in an Ethiopian newspaper drew familiar, if unflattering, comparisons to another nation's faster-thanexpected victory in a war abroad.

"Mission Accomplished," blared Addis Ababa's Daily Monitor in a story about Ethiopian forces' triumph over Somalian Islamists this week.

In 2003, the same phrase adorned a banner behind President Bush as he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, though the battles and bloodshed proved far from over.

Just as the Iraq invasion has divided Americans, Ethiopians are split over their government's decision to get involved in Somalia's brewing civil war by sending troops across the border. [complete article]

Somali victors win cheers, but for how long?
By Daniel Wallis, Reuters, January 1, 2007

Six months ago, Somalis gave Islamists fighters a jubilant welcome as they chased warlords out of Mogadishu and across the south vowing to restore stability through strict sharia law.

Now many have come out of their homes again, this time to cheer the arrival of government troops and Ethiopian tanks who kicked out their short-lived rulers calling them terrorists.

So the government cannot take too much comfort from its welcome in a city where power seems to swap hands all too often and it has become safest to applaud that day's victory.

Nor can President Abdullahi Yusuf or Prime Minister Ali Gedi rest on their laurels for one second, despite the surprising speed with which the Islamists were routed from Mogadishu, then fled their last stronghold Kismayu overnight on Monday.

They remain, to many Somalis, a foreign-imposed government relying on Ethiopia's military muscle for their sudden rise to national pre-eminence.

They must also contend with the re-emergence of Somali warlords, who slunk into the background after their militias were thrashed by the Islamists earlier in the year.

And they may find the Islamists have a sting in their tail with an Iraq-style guerrilla war drawing in foreign jihadists eager to defeat "Christian invaders". [complete article]

See also, Eritrea blames Washington for Somalia war (Reuters).
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We can't ignore Iraq's refugees
By Edward M. Kennedy, Washington Post, December 31, 2006

Today, within Iraq, 1.6 million people have already fled or been expelled from their homes. An additional 1.8 million, fleeing sectarian violence, kidnappings, extortion, death threats and carnage, have sought refuge in neighboring countries. At least 700,000 are in Jordan, 600,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran and 20,000 in Lebanon. Typically they are not living in refugee camps but have relocated in urban areas, where they must draw on their own meager resources to pay for food and shelter, and must depend on the good graces of the host governments.

The neighboring countries, in turn, are under enormous financial stress from the rapidly increasing needs of the refugees. In Jordan, they now make up more than 10 percent of the population -- the equivalent of 30 million people flooding America's shores. These countries are increasingly unable to meet the refugees' basic needs.
There is an overwhelming need for temporary relief and permanent resettlement. Last year, however, America accepted only 202 Iraqi refugees, and next year we plan to accept approximately the same number. We and other nations of the world need to do far better. [complete article]
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While you were at war...
By Richard A. Clarke, Washington Post, December 31, 2006

In every administration, there are usually only about a dozen barons who can really initiate and manage meaningful changes in national security policy. For most of 2006, some of these critical slots in the Bush administration have been vacant, such as the deputy secretary of state (empty since Robert B. Zoellick left for investment bank Goldman Sachs) and the deputy director of national intelligence (with Gen. Michael V. Hayden now CIA director). And with the nation involved in a messy war spiraling toward a bad conclusion, the key deputies and Cabinet members and advisers are all focusing on one issue, at the expense of all others: Iraq.

National Security Council veteran Rand Beers has called this the "7-year-old's soccer syndrome" -- just like little kids playing soccer, everyone forgets their particular positions and responsibilities and runs like a herd after the ball.

In the end, there are only 12 seats at the conference table in the White House Situation Room, and the key players' schedules mean that they can seldom meet there together in person or on secure video conference for more than about 10 hours each week. When issues don't receive first-tier consideration, they can slip by for months. I learned this firsthand: In the early days of the Bush administration, I called for an urgent meeting to discuss the threat al-Qaeda posed to the United States. The Cabinet-level meeting eventually took place -- but not until Sept. 4, 2001.

Without the distraction of the Iraq war, the administration would have spent this past year -- indeed, every year since Sept. 11, 2001 -- focused on al-Qaeda. But beyond al-Qaeda and the broader struggle for peaceful coexistence with (and within) Islam, seven key "fires in the in-box" national security issues remain unattended, deteriorating and threatening, all while Washington's grown-up 7-year-olds play herd ball with Iraq. [complete article]
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How Saddam died on the gallows
By Ewen MacAskill and Michael Howard, The Guardian, January 1, 2007

Camera footage of the final minutes of Saddam Hussein released yesterday shows him being taunted by Shia hangmen and witnesses, a scene that risks increasing sectarian tension in Iraq.

As he stood at the gallows, he was tormented by the hooded executioners or witnesses shouting at him to "Go to hell" and chanting the name "Moqtada", the radical Shia Muslim cleric and leader of the Mahdi army militia, Moqtada al-Sadr, and his family.

The grainy images, which appeared to have been taken on a mobile phone, disclose exchanges between Saddam and his tormentors, the moment when his body drops through the trapdoor, and his body swinging, eyes partly open and neck bent out of shape. In what Sunni Muslims will perceive as a further insult, the executioners released the trapdoor while the former dictator was in the middle of his prayers. [complete article]

See also, For Sunnis, dictator's degrading end signals ominous dawn for the new Iraq (NYT), Rush to hang Hussein was questioned (NYT), and A dictator's Mideast legacy (CSM).
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A 'surge' faces trouble in the Senate
By Robert D. Novak, Washington Post, January 1, 2007

Sen. John McCain, leading a blue-ribbon congressional delegation to Baghdad before Christmas, collected evidence that a "surge" of more U.S. troops is needed in Iraq. But not all his colleagues who accompanied him were convinced. What's more, he will find himself among a dwindling minority inside the Senate Republican caucus when Congress reconvenes this week.

President Bush and McCain, the front-runner for the party's 2008 presidential nomination, will have trouble finding support from more than 12 of the 49 Republican senators when pressing for a surge of 30,000 troops. "It's Alice in Wonderland," Sen. Chuck Hagel, second-ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, told me in describing the proposal. "I'm absolutely opposed to sending any more troops to Iraq. It is folly."

What to do about Iraq poses not only a national policy crisis but profound political problems for the Republican Party. Disenchantment with George W. Bush within the GOP runs deep. Republican leaders around the country, anticipating that the 2006 election disaster would prompt an orderly disengagement from Iraq, are shocked that the president now appears ready to add troops. [complete article]
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Rafsanjani warns West that U.N. resolution will cause it problems
AP, December 31, 2006

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned Western countries Sunday that their strategy of pressuring Iran to roll back its nuclear program by imposing sanctions will backfire.

Rafsanjani, who heads the influential Expediency Council, also told worshippers during a sermon that Iran was willing to work with international organizations to resolve the standoff over its nuclear program.

"The problems will not be limited to Iran. Many (countries) will suffer from the smoke from this fire," Rafsanjani told a crowd of thousands at Tehran University who gathered on the first day of the Eid al-Adha for Iranian Shiite Muslims.

"If any party makes a mistake, it will not be easy to avoid its consequences," he said in the sermon broadcast live on Iranian state TV. He added that Iran will not halt its uranium enrichment under the pressure of sanctions.

But Rafsanjani appeared to declare his willingness to work with the U.N. nuclear agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to resolve Iran's differences over its nuclear program with the international community. [complete article]
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First settlement in 10 years fuels Mideast tension
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, January 1, 2007

Israel announced plans on Tuesday to construct a Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank for the first time in 10 years, prompting Palestinian anger and American concern.

The announcement, by the Defense Ministry and settler groups, seemed to run counter to the prevailing effort by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who had offered a series of gestures to the Palestinians several days ago, after meeting with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Even before that meeting, Mr. Abbas was being criticized by his political rivals, Hamas, who preach Israel's destruction, for carrying out what they called an Israeli and American agenda with little to show for it.

One Israeli official hinted that the new settlement might be part of a deal with Jewish settlers to get their tacit acceptance of the removal of illegal settlement outposts from the West Bank.

Another Israeli official, however, insisted that the settlement was not "new," exactly, but a revival of a settlement approved in 1981, which had become a military training site by the mid-1990s. [complete article]

Comment -- For the unfortunate folks who attempt to keep up with the news by reading headlines, the New York Times again succeeds in mangling the truth. "First settlement in 10 years" makes it sound like Israel has -- until now -- remained faithful to the spirit of the Oslo Accords and refrained from building new settlements. Obscured is the fact that the population in the existing West Bank settlements has grown from 129,200 in 1995 to 246,100 in 2005. Moreover, expressions of concern from American officials have a decidely hollow ring to them. It will take more than "concern" from junior U.S. officials to overcome perceptions that -- as one Middle East diplomat reportedly said -- "Bush, in dealing with Israel, acts as though he represents Luxembourg rather than the United States."
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Don't think al-Qaeda is on the back foot, it will be on the march in 2007
By Ahmed Rashid, Sunday Telegraph, January 1, 2007

Al-Qaeda knows that one blast in Paris or London is worth 10 in Riyadh or Delhi. The aim is to recruit estranged Muslim youth, the product of three decades of failed integrationist policies by European governments.

If any single individual is responsible for the continuing expansion of al-Qaeda, it is President Bush. America's failed policies in the Middle East and Afghanistan, its failure to rebuild either Iraq or Afghanistan after invading them, and its support for Israel's roles in Lebanon and in the Palestinian territories, have created unprecedented anger in the Muslim world.

In Somalia America is compounding its disastrous support for the warlords by backing Ethiopia in driving out of Mogadishu the Islamists who took over. [complete article]

Al-Qaeda leader criticises Abbas, Hamas
By Habib Trabelsi, Middle East Online, December 31, 2006

Osama bin Laden's top deputy urged Palestinians to turn against president Mahmud Abbas and his secular Fatah party, in an audio message posted on the Internet on Sunday.

The recording, whose authenticity could not be independently confirmed, congratulated Muslims on the start of the Eid al-Adha feast of sacrifice. In it Ayman al-Zawahiri also implicitly criticised the Palestinian ruling Islamic movement Hamas for taking part in the political process.

"The Palestine-selling secularist traitors cannot possibly be your brothers, so neither confer on them legitimacy... nor participate with them in their Sharia-rejecting assemblies, nor sign with them the documents which throw away Palestine," said the Al-Qaeda second-in-command.

"How is it possible for Mahmud Abbas to be a brother of ours?" Zawahiri questioned, accusing him of complicity with the Israelis and Americans.

On December 20 Zawahiri slammed Hamas for recognising Abbas and running in elections last January. Hamas scored a shock victory over Fatah and took power in March, but its government has since been boycotted by Israel and the West. [complete article]
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Shiites push for power after Lebanon war
By Hamza Hendawi, AP, December 31, 2006

Iraq's Shiites owe their new power over the government to the U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein nearly four years ago. Many Lebanese Shiites would similarly like Israel's summer war with Hezbollah to be the seed of their political ascendancy.

Hezbollah's performance against a far superior Israeli army has bolstered the militia's standing within Lebanon's Shiite community, and across the Arab world.

Now, filling the center of Beirut with daily rallies, Hezbollah is pressing for a larger say in the running of Lebanon and an end to the Shiites' history of being poor and oppressed. [complete article]
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3,000 deaths in Iraq, countless tears at home
Lizette Alvarez and Andrew Lehren, New York Times, January 1, 2007

On Sunday, with the announcement of the death in Baghdad of Specialist Dustin R. Donica, 22, of Spring, Tex., the list [of American military fatalities in Iraq] reached the somber milestone of at least 3,000 deaths since the March 2003 invasion.

The landmark reflects how much more dangerous and muddled a soldier's job in Iraq has become in the face of a growing and increasingly sophisticated insurgency. Violence in the country is at an all-time high, according to a Pentagon report released last month. December was the third deadliest month for American troops since the start of the war, with insurgents claiming 111 soldiers' lives. October and November also witnessed a high number of casualties, 106 and 68 respectively, as American forces stepped up combat operations to try to stabilize Baghdad.

"It escalated while I was there," said Capt. Scott Stanford, a National Guard officer who was a commander of a headquarters company in Ramadi for a year, arriving in June 2005. "When we left this June, it was completely unhinged. There was a huge increase in the suicide car bombs we had. The I.E.D.'s were bigger and more complex."

"And it was very tense before we left in terms of snipers," said Captain Stanford, a member of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "I don’t know if there were more of them, or if they were getting better."

This spike in violence, which has been felt most profoundly by Iraqi civilians, who are dying by the thousands, has stoked feverish debate about the nation's presence in Iraq. Many Democrats in Congress are urging a phased withdrawal from the country, and the Bush administration is leaning toward deploying additional troops in 2007. If the conflict continues into March, the Iraq war will be the third longest in American history, ranked behind the Vietnam War and the American Revolution. [complete article]

Comment -- The Bush administration has long and vainly clung to the hope that it could shape domestic perceptions of the war by highlighting iconic moments that would then be hailed as "turning points," "milestones" -- fleeting signs of progress that evaporate almost in the very act of being named.

So when the White House called Saddam's hanging a milestone was it out of simple desperation or were they gambling that an all too exact milestone -- 3,000 dead American soldiers -- might come after the New Year's celebrations?

The metrics of success -- that was what Rumsfeld demanded -- but instead we get the metrics of failure: George Bush has had a more instrumental role in the deaths of more Americans than all of those American deaths for which al Qaeda takes credit.

Bush is soon to announce a "troop surge" for Baghdad. He might just as well call it a death surge.
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He takes his secrets to the grave. Our complicity dies with him
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, December 31, 2006

We've shut him up. The moment Saddam's hooded executioner pulled the lever of the trapdoor in Baghdad yesterday morning, Washington's secrets were safe. The shameless, outrageous, covert military support which the United States - and Britain - gave to Saddam for more than a decade remains the one terrible story which our presidents and prime ministers do not want the world to remember. And now Saddam, who knew the full extent of that Western support - given to him while he was perpetrating some of the worst atrocities since the Second World War - is dead.

Gone is the man who personally received the CIA's help in destroying the Iraqi communist party. After Saddam seized power, US intelligence gave his minions the home addresses of communists in Baghdad and other cities in an effort to destroy the Soviet Union's influence in Iraq. Saddam's mukhabarat visited every home, arrested the occupants and their families, and butchered the lot. Public hanging was for plotters; the communists, their wives and children, were given special treatment - extreme torture before execution at Abu Ghraib.

There is growing evidence across the Arab world that Saddam held a series of meetings with senior American officials prior to his invasion of Iran in 1980 - both he and the US administration believed that the Islamic Republic would collapse if Saddam sent his legions across the border - and the Pentagon was instructed to assist Iraq's military machine by providing intelligence on the Iranian order of battle. One frosty day in 1987, not far from Cologne, I met the German arms dealer who initiated those first direct contacts between Washington and Baghdad - at America's request.

"Mr Fisk... at the very beginning of the war, in September of 1980, I was invited to go to the Pentagon," he said. "There I was handed the very latest US satellite photographs of the Iranian front lines. You could see everything on the pictures. There were the Iranian gun emplacements in Abadan and behind Khorramshahr, the lines of trenches on the eastern side of the Karun river, the tank revetments - thousands of them - all the way up the Iranian side of the border towards Kurdistan. No army could want more than this. And I travelled with these maps from Washington by air to Frankfurt and from Frankfurt on Iraqi Airways straight to Baghdad. The Iraqis were very, very grateful!" [complete article]

See also, U.S. tolerated, then villified Saddam (AP) and From a Tikrit boy to butcher of Baghdad (The Observer).

Top ten ways the U.S. enabled Saddam Hussein
By Juan Cole, December 30, 2006

The old monster swung from the gallows this morning at 6 am Baghdad time. His Shiite executioners danced around his body.

Saddam Hussain was one of the 20th century's most notorious tyrants, though the death toll he racked up is probably exaggerated by his critics. The reality was bad enough.

The tendency to treat Saddam and Iraq in a historical vacuum, and in isolation from the superpowers, however, has hidden from Americans their own culpability in the horror show that has been Iraq for the past few decades. Initially, the US used the Baath Party as a nationalist foil to the Communists. Then Washington used it against Iran. The welfare of Iraqis themselves appears to have been on no one's mind, either in Washington or in Baghdad. [complete article]

Does the dictator's death solve anything?
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January 8, 2007

So as Bush searches for ways to extricate the United States from the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, which has now cost almost 3,000 American lives and drains more than $2 billion a week from U.S. coffers, little is gained from Saddam's demise. The challenge was not how to eliminate him: he ceased to be a factor when he was dragged out of a "spider hole" three years ago. The problem remains how to replace him.

Bush and his national-security team no longer talk about transforming the Middle East, merely about strengthening the current Iraqi government so it can sustain itself without the backing of 140,000 U.S. troops. According to a senior Bush aide who declined to be named while discussing internal deliberations, the administration's new strategy for doing so, likely to be announced next week, will involve three pillars: a temporary surge of more troops, more money for jobs and reconstruction, and an attempt to broaden political support for plodding Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

But the confusion that surrounded Saddam's execution suggests just how complicated the task will be, and how little care Maliki takes to disguise the sectarian leanings of his Shiite-dominated government. [complete article]

Muslims criticize timing of execution
Reuters, December 30, 2006

Muslim leaders around the world espressed dismay Saturday that Saddam Hussein was executed at the time of Id al-Adha, an important holiday considered a time of forgiveness and compassion.

Muslim countries often pardon criminals to mark the occasion, and prisoners are rarely executed at that time.

The most important date in the Islamic calendar, Id al-Adha, or Feast of the Sacrifice, honors the biblical patriarch Abraham's willingness to kill his son Isaac for God before God decided to spare Isaac's life. [complete article]

See also, Around the world, unease and criticism of penalty

Elation gives way to dread of daily life
By Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, December 31, 2006

Former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had been dead no more than 11 hours, but to Um Noor, he might as well have died three years ago.

"We've forgotten about him," Noor said late Saturday afternoon, as she stood in the jeans store she owns in central Baghdad.

Like many Iraqis, Noor once feared Hussein, who rose to power 24 years ago by ruthlessly wiping out his enemies. When U.S. troops ousted him in 2003, many Iraqis believed their days of living in fear were over.

But three years later, Iraqis are still a terrorized people. Now, instead of Hussein, they fear the car bombs that maim and kill every day, the kidnappers who snatch people off the streets in broad daylight, the mortar shells that fall on residential neighborhoods. And they fear each other, as Shiite Muslims fight Sunni Arabs in what is spiraling into a civil war. [complete article]

Comment -- It's curious -- though hardly surprising -- that Saddam Hussein's execution will have little effect on America's domestic debate about the death penalty. After all, who's willing to challenge the assertion that Saddam deserved to die? Nevertheless, the moral question on the ultimate punishment should in fact focus on cases such as his -- not the technical question of whether the practice of execution places the innocent at risk.

While conservatives frequently charge liberals with the "sin" of moral relativism, nothing involves greater moral relativism than the idea that killing a human being can be "just" or "unjust", "good" or "bad", depending on whether it complies or conflicts with the terms of a legal statute. A hangman is not a murderer because his taking of life is an application of the law. A soldier who abides by the rules of war can also kill without being charged with murder when he acts under the authority of a state. Killing human beings, it seems, is a neutral act whose morality can only be determined by lawyers.

I guess it was just the limitations of arcane technology that meant that commandments crudely carved in stone left no space for small-print exclusion clauses.
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