The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
A more realistic set of assumptions
By "Badger," Missing Links, January 12, 2007

American commentary yesterday on the new Bush strategy was based on the idea that this was an attempt to pacify the Iraq security situation, and that of the region, but one that was likely to fail, and the commentary could be classified according to the reasons for the expected failure.

Arab commentary, by and large, starts from the opposite viewpoint, namely that what Bush is attempting is not the restoration of calm, but the opposite.
The new Bush strategy [writes Abdulbari Atwan in Al-Quds al-Arabi] is not a strategy of pacification, but rather a strategy of escalation in Iraq, and this is going to lead to the sacrifice of many thousands of Iraqi lives, regardless of sectarian affiliations. He has made a dangerous wager which he knows beforehand is not only not assured of success, but whose chances of failure far outweigh the chances of success, and this was clear from the muddled and unconvincing character of his presentation.
This is an important point, because it goes to the purpose of US policy in the region. Atwan wasn't the only widely-read writer to make this point. The whole purpose of US policy is not to stabilize the situation, but the opposite. [complete article]

Mideast shaking its head
By Megan K. Stack and Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2007

In ordering more American troops into Iraq, President Bush said he was sending a message of hope to millions of Arabs and Afghans trapped in violence. But to many on the ground in the Mideast, the speech spoke volumes of a gaping disconnect between high-flown U.S. promises and a deadly, turbulent reality. [complete article]

U.S. needs help of Syria and Iran, analysts in Middle East say Iraq neighbors' assistance would carry a high price
By Robert Collier, San Francisco Chronicle, January 12, 2007

By accusing Iran and Syria of supporting Iraq's terrorists and insurgents Wednesday night, President Bush inadvertently highlighted a key stumbling block to peace -- the difficulty of reconciling the rival Sunnis and Shiites without also sitting down face-to-face with the Tehran and Damascus governments.

In his speech, Bush signaled a newly confrontational stance against Iran, accusing it of funneling arms to Iraqi militias and announcing that an aircraft carrier group was being sent to the Persian Gulf.

But in telephone interviews with The Chronicle, analysts in Baghdad, Tehran and Damascus said Bush is playing a losing hand. Because the United States has been unable to bludgeon Iraq's Sunni-led insurgency or Shiite militias into obedience, they said, it must seek the cooperation of the Iranian and Syrian governments. [complete article]
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Bush's tough tactics are a 'declaration of war' on Iran
By Anne Penketh, The Independent, January 12, 2007

American forces stormed Iranian government offices in northern Iraq, hours after President George Bush issued a warning to Tehran that was described as a "declaration of war".

The soldiers detained six people, including diplomats, according to the Iranians, and seized documents and computers in the pre-dawn raid which was condemned by Iran. A leading UK-based Iran specialist, Ali Ansari, said the incident was an "extreme provocation". Dr Ansari said that Mr Bush's speech on future Iraq strategy amounted to "a declaration of war" on Iran.

"The risk is a wider war. Because of the underlying tensions, we are transferring from a 'cold war' into a 'hot war'," he said. [complete article]

U.S. troops raid 2 Iranian targets in Iraq, detain 5 people
By Robin Wright and Nancy Trejos, Washington Post, January 12, 2007

U.S. troops launched two raids on Iranian targets in Iraq yesterday, following through on President Bush's vow to confront and break up Tehran's networks inside Iraq. Five Iranians were detained, and vast amounts of documents and computer data were confiscated, according to U.S., Iraqi and Iranian officials.

The two raids are part of a new U.S. intelligence and military operation launched last month against Iran, U.S. officials said. The United States is trying to identify and detain top officials of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards' al-Quds Brigade operating in Iraq. The al-Quds Brigade is active in arming, training and funding militant movements, such as Lebanon's Hezbollah, throughout the Middle East.

"Throughout Iraq, operations are currently ongoing against individuals suspected of being closely tied to activities targeting Iraqi and Coalition forces," the headquarters of the U.S.-led Multi-National Force-Iraq said in a statement yesterday.

While the public focus is on Iraq, the administration is now spending as much time on plans to contain Iran as on a strategy to end Iraq's violence, U.S. officials said. [complete article]

Comment -- Although it was widely speculated in Washington yesterday that the Bush administration might be trying to provoke Iran into providing a casus belli for U.S. forces to strike Iran, I suspect that the Iranians are far too smart to fall for some cheap provocation. Why should they bite the bait when all they have to do is sit back and watch Bush throw another hissy fit as he pushes the U.S. even deeper into its Iraqi quagmire?
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We will send them home in body bags: insurgents respond to the Bush 'surge'
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, January 12, 2007

Iraqi insurgents last night threatened to send President Bush's 22,000 new troops home in body bags as details emerged of the new Baghdad crackdown at the core of his "surge" strategy.

The Shia-led Government of Nouri al-Maliki reacted positively, but there is widespread scepticism as to whether it will confront Shia militias within its own hardline parties. On the streets there are near-universal predictions -- from Sunnis and Shias alike -- that the plan will join previous failed initiatives.

The most strident reaction came from hostile insurgents in Salahaddin and other Sunni Triangle towns north of Baghdad. The Bush-Maliki plan to deploy tens of thousands of troops in the satellite towns is widely regarded by Sunni residents as evidence of US complicity with their Shia enemies.

"Twenty thousand soldiers will never be able to achieve what 140,000 have failed to achieve so far, and the fate of the new soldiers will not be any better than for those who were here before them," said Abu Moath, an insurgent with the Islamic and Nationalist Front for the Liberation of Iraq. "They came here to kill innocent Iraqis so they should be all killed the same way." [complete article]

Iraqis not ready to lay down arms
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2007

Hours after President Bush announced his latest plan to shore up Iraq's beleaguered government, some Iraqis were hoarding weapons, prepared to fight additional U.S. troops alongside the militias they say protect them.

Among the militiamen in the capital on Thursday was a man who asked to be identified as Abu Karrar. Affiliated with the Al Mahdi militia loyal to radical Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada Sadr, Abu Karrar refuses to lay down his weapons until militia leaders give the word.

"This can be done only when there will be some guarantees, and only when security has improved," he said. [complete article]
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U.S. has ignored seven clear pointers to failure
By Bronwen Maddox, The Times, January 12, 2007

President Bush's "surge" assumes that the Iraqi Government shares his goals, and that given a bit of help with security and a bit more time, they will get there together. That is wrong.

Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister, is not quite the well-meaning but ineffective figure portrayed in Bush's plan. He has done at least seven things in the past six months which show that he plans to help Shias to secure control of every part of government and has no notion of sharing power with Sunnis. [complete article]

See also, Five flaws in the president's plan (Zbigniew Brzezinski).
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In Baghdad, Bush policy is met with resentment
By John F. Burns and Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, January 12, 2007

Iraq's Shiite-led government offered only a grudging endorsement on Thursday of President Bush's proposal to deploy more than 20,000 additional troops in an effort to curb sectarian violence and regain control of Baghdad. The tepid response immediately raised questions about whether the government would make a good-faith effort to prosecute the new war plan.

The Iraqi leader, Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, failed to appear at a news conference and avoided any public comment. He left the government's response to an official spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, who gave what amounted to a backhanded approval of the troop increase and emphasized that Iraqis, not Americans, would set the future course in the war. [complete article]

See also, U.S. unit patrolling Baghdad sees flaws in Bush strategy (WP)

It may be too late to secure Baghdad's mix
By Solomon Moore, Los Angeles Times, January 12, 2007

As recently as last summer, many people here considered the Tigris River, which snakes through the center of the capital, a rough boundary between the predominantly Sunni west bank and the largely Shiite east side. But Shiite militias, who are widely believed to have seized the advantage in Baghdad, have pushed the battle lines across the river into places such as Hurriya. By contrast, Sunni fighters have been unable to sustain advances into east Baghdad.

"They're both taking territory from each other, but the Shiites have the upper hand in Baghdad because of Sadr's movement," said a U.S. advisor, referring to radical Shiite cleric Muqtada Sadr's Al Mahdi army, a powerful militia. "They're very aggressively taking over areas and putting Shiite families into Sunni homes," said the advisor, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. [complete article]
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Shi'ite time bomb has a short fuse
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, January 12, 2007

"If you put a chain around the neck of a slave, the other end fastens itself around your own." - Ralph Waldo Emerson

In a recent conversation, US author and linguist Noam Chomsky repeatedly faulted the Iraq Study Group's (ISG's) report for ignoring the sovereign rights of Iraqi people, the majority of whom favor the end of military occupation of their country.

"One notable feature of the report is its lack of concern for the will of the Iraqi people. The authors surely are aware of the polls that reveal that two-thirds of the population of Baghdad want US troops to be withdrawn immediately, that 70% of all Iraqis want a firm timetable for withdrawal, most of them within a year or less, that 80% believe that the US presence increases violence, and that almost the same percentage believe that the US intends to keep permanent military bases."

Chomsky's criticisms are particularly relevant in light of US President George W Bush's much-anticipated policy speech on Iraq on Wednesday, which was notable for the sheer absence of any major policy shift, other than an incremental troop increase, as well as the minutest reference to Iraq's sovereignty. [complete article]
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A new oil plan for Iraq
By Vivienne Walt, Time, January 11, 2007

In his speech announcing plans to boost troop levels in Iraq, George Bush noted that Iraq was about to pass "legislation to share oil revenues among all Iraqis" in order to give the citizens of that country a share in the economy. Indeed, the 33-page draft of that proposed Oil & Gas Law now circulating, if passed as currently written, would end decades of total government control over Iraq's mammoth oil reserves and distribute oil income among all the country's regions -- a dramatic change from the past and a potential windfall for Big Oil. But it must first get through Iraq's fractious parliament and the country's divisive ethnic politics. Already, the draft shows signs of wrangling and potentially troublesome compromise. [complete article]
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Report: China close to deal on second Iranian gas field
AP, January 11, 2007

A second Chinese oil company is close to signing a memorandum of understanding to invest US$3.6 billion (€2.8 billion) in an Iranian gas field amid U.S. pressure for Beijing to scrap another similar deal, a news report said Friday.

State-owned China National Petroleum Corp. would invest in Iran's South Pars gas field under the agreement, Dow Jones Newswires said, citing an unidentified Chinese official.

An employee who answered the phone at CNPC's press office in Beijing and refused to give his name said he could not confirm the report.

Washington is pressing Beijing to reconsider a deal by a state-owned oil company to invest in another Iranian gas field, citing efforts to sanction Tehran over its nuclear program. That deal calls for China National Offshore Oil Co. to invest US$16 billion (€12.5 billion) in the Northern Pars gas field.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman this week said Beijing considers such commercial ties with Iran to be legitimate and urged Washington not to interfere. [complete article]

Comment -- The U.S. Treasury Dept. has in recent days been claiming considerable success in its efforts to strangle the Iranian economy, yet Washington's scheme can so easily be undone if Beijing puts its own economic interests above America (and Israel's) perceived security interests. I guess the Chinese have a hard time understanding why Americans seem to think that the America-first philosophy should have universal appeal.
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Surging toward the holy oil grail
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, January 12, 2007

With some aplomb, the White House/Pentagon axis has managed to turn Somalia into the new Afghanistan, in more ways than one and just in time for Bush's announcement of his escalation-tainted "new way forward". The Pentagon maintained it had "credible" intelligence before it decided to strike alleged al-Qaeda-infested villages in southern Somalia. This is highly suspect.

The intelligence was provided by unsavory, corrupt Ethiopian dictator Meles Zenawi - who came up with the clever plot of concocting a fictitious jihad conducted by "neo-Taliban" in Somalia and selling it handsomely to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Pentagon. He's now posing as a prime US ally in the "war on terror", just as Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov did in the autumn of 2001.

Zenawi's US-trained Ethiopian troops, the ones who invaded Somalia, are infested with CIA operatives and Special Forces - all of them flown in from the strategic US-controlled (since September 11, 2003) Camp Le Monier in Djibouti.

Arab media are having a field day reporting that Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf, a reconverted warlord "elected" by fellow warlords (all armed by the US) and then legitimized by the United Nations, told African journalists in Mogadishu that the US had the right to bomb "anywhere in the world". According to the Kenyan newspaper The Daily Nation, this new US campaign of targeted assassinations has in fact killed scores of civilians.

But with the help of Ethiopia's dictatorship - whose soldiers it trained - Washington is being rewarded with one more client regime, and a crucial foothold in the Horn of Africa, right on the Gulf of Aden and the Arabian Sea, very close to the Red Sea and literally next door to Yemen and Saudi Arabia.

Or is it that simple? Somalia, 75% pastoral with six major clans and hundreds of sub-clans, is now in civil-war mode. Millions of Somalis live in neighboring Kenya, and support the deposed, moderate Islamic Union Courts. Kenya will be convulsed. Blowback will be inevitable - and bloody. "Long war" marketers and profiteers could not but rejoice. [complete article]

U.S. troops went into Somalia after raid
By Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, January 12, 2007

A small team of American military personnel entered southern Somalia to try to determine exactly who was killed in a U.S. airstrike Monday that targeted suspected al-Qaeda figures thought to be hiding in swampy mangrove forests along the Indian Ocean, U.S. sources said Thursday. [complete article]

Somalia strike 'missed al-Qaeda targets'
By Andrew England, Financial Times, January 11, 2007

The controversial US air strike in southern Somalia missed all three top al-Qaeda members Washington alleges are hiding out in the country, a senior US official said on Thursday. [complete article]

U.S. air strikes killed over 100 Somalians
International News, January 12, 2007

Clan elders and residents in southern Somalia said on Thursday that about 100 civilians were killed this week in US and Ethiopian air strikes on suspected al-Qaeda targets in the region. [complete article]
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U.S. preparing for trials of top Qaeda detainees
By David Johnston and Neil A. Lewis, New York Times, January 12, 2007

The new war crimes trials will operate according to rules modeled after the military justice system which were approved in legislation known at the Military Commission Act, which was signed into law last fall. The law has been criticized by some Democrats in Congress and human rights groups who say the procedures are flawed because they tilt in the government's favor.

Prosecutors could use hearsay evidence or second-hand testimony, but could not use information obtained under torture. Even so, that would mean virtually any information obtained by the C.I.A would appear to be admissible because, under Justice Department legal opinions, none of the harsh techniques amounted to torture.

At their trials, the accused would have the right not to testify and would have the opportunity to present evidence and cross-examine witnesses against them. The trials would be open unless a military judge determined that they should be closed to protect classified information. Defendants would have the right to review the evidence to be used against them.

The C.I.A. indicated in court filings last November how it hopes to deal with efforts by defendants to bring up the issue of their interrogations. In a case involving one of the 14 high-level Qaeda detainees, the intelligence agency asked a federal judge to rule that the prisoner could not describe details of his confinement because of national security concerns. No ruling has yet been issued. [complete article]

U.S. has lost credibility on rights, group asserts
By Nora Boustany, Washington Post, January 12, 2007

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch said yesterday that Washington's once-powerful role as a prime defender of human rights had effectively ended because of arbitrary detentions and reports of torture since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and the group urged the European Union to step up as a leader of the cause.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, released the group's World Report 2007, an assessment of last year's global human rights practices, by saying that the counterterrorism record of the United States over the past five years has tarnished its credibility as an influential moral voice.

He listed several practices he said were being used by the Bush administration in its fight against terrorism, including torture, arbitrary detentions, allowing CIA interrogators to use coercive techniques and the unsupervised handling of so-called enemy combatants held in other countries.

"This catastrophic path has left the United States effectively incapable of defending some of the most basic rights," Roth said in the report, released on the fifth anniversary of the arrival of the first detainees at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. [complete article]
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Scores of insurgents killed in Afghan border area
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, January 12, 2007

NATO and Afghan military forces killed between 80 and 150 insurgents in battles near the Pakistani border Wednesday night after the fighters crossed into Afghanistan from Pakistan, NATO and Afghan officials said Thursday.

The confrontation in Paktika province, described as the largest battle in Afghanistan since September, came as American and U.N. officials step up pressure on both Pakistani and Afghan leaders to stop their public bickering and do more to gain control of their respective border areas, where Islamic insurgents have been operating for months.

NATO officials said their forces had observed two large groups of insurgents infiltrating from Pakistan, tracked them and then attacked them by ground and air. According to NATO's initial count, as many as 150 insurgents were killed, but Afghan defense officials said they believed the toll was about 80. No Afghan or NATO casualties were reported. [complete article]
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The real disaster
Editorial, New York Times, January 11, 2007

President Bush told Americans last night that failure in Iraq would be a disaster. The disaster is Mr. Bush's war, and he has already failed. Last night was his chance to stop offering more fog and be honest with the nation, and he did not take it.

Americans needed to hear a clear plan to extricate United States troops from the disaster that Mr. Bush created. What they got was more gauzy talk of victory in the war on terrorism and of creating a "young democracy" in Iraq. In other words, a way for this president to run out the clock and leave his mess for the next one. [complete article]

Comment -- In the United States, when it comes to thinking about Iraq, there is a poverty of imagination that results from the stranglehold of a single idea: America.

Whether in supporting or opposing the White House's approach, virtually everyone looks at Iraq through the prism of America's perceptions and its interests. Ironically, America's interests are not served by this slanted focus.

The question about how to approach Iraq has been reduced to a debate about the expansion or reduction of America's military presence. As it increasingly becomes accepted that America has failed in Iraq, few seem willing to entertain the idea that America's failure need not also inevitably translate into the failure of the Iraqi state.

Yesterday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held hearings suffused with this narcissistic obsession on America's interests. The mood among Democrats is that it is time to throw in the towel. The question is not whether to get out but how to get out. Indeed, a U.S. withdrawal is increasingly tied together with a sense that Iraq is destined to break apart. This expectation is being further reinforced by experts such as Brookings' Michael O'Hanlon who envisages an American role that would involve "help[ing] Iraqis relocate to parts of their country where they could feel safer."

Imagine that! America facilitates the partition of Iraq along ethnic lines - a "voluntary" ethnic cleansing justified by its facilitators on the basis that it aims to be bloodless.

Who knows what might follow from such a "success"? How long would it be before Israel concluded that Middle East peace requires it's own Arab citizens to trade places with Jewish settlers in the West Bank in order to facilitate a "clean separation" between Jews and Arabs?

In the Senate hearings among views being expressed by panelists and legislators there was only one voice that remained resolutely international and objective: that of Yahia Said. He is a London-based Iraqi and the director of Iraq Revenue Watch. This is how he opened his remarks:
The conflict in Iraq today is as complex as it is pervasive. This is a reflection of the various groups and interests at play as well as the legacies of the past. The conflict can not be reduced to simple dichotomies of democracy against its enemies, resistance against the occupation or Shia vs. Sunni. Likewise there is no single universal solution to the conflict. Neither the current proposal for a 'surge' nor the proposal to withdraw coalition forces are likely to bring peace. What is needed is a comprehensive and long term approach based on an open and inclusive dialogue at national and international levels, in which the fair distribution of Iraqi oil revenues is used as an incentive for uniting Iraqis. [Yahia Said's testimony PDF]
Yet in as much as Americans are willing to embrace the idea that this is indeed a complex conflict, there is a sense that this complexity renders the United States unqualified for effective involvement. While this might be true, it does not follow that America's incapacity to solve its Iraq problem means that we should now focus exclusively on the question of how to extricate ourselves.

We need to acknowledge that in terms of spheres of interest, the regional interests defined by geography, take precedence over those determined by economics. Iraq and Iran share a 1,458km border, while Iraq and the United States are about 10,000km apart. Washington talks about "foreign meddling" in Iraq as though it is oblivious to the fact that when it comes to the Middle East, America is justifiably perceived as the most foreign and most meddlesome of powers.

An American withdrawal from Iraq needs to occur in tandem with a comprehensive recognition that there is a genuine regional interest in Iraq's future that goes beyond the narrow interests of any individual regime. Even though Iran and Syria have no interest in helping America succeed, their longterm interests will be served by Iraq's capacity to sustain itself.

America, instead of treating Iraq as either a linchpin or liability in this twisted contrivance called a "global war on terrorism," or as a pawn in a power struggle with Iran, or simply as a "vital strategic interest," needs to acknowledge that in Iraq the interests of the Iraqi people should take precedence above all others.

While the growing civil war leads many observers to conclude that Iraq is and always was a colonial construction only capable of being held together by a tyrant, it should not be forgotten that (at least outside Kurdistan), Iraqi identity, though seriously injured, remains intact. Even while civil war might be tearing the country apart it is also a struggle for national power. This at least, is something to which Americans should be able to relate. Civil wars leave terrible scars on national identity but they do not always foreclose the possibility for national unity.
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Bush's new Iraq plan: bomb Tehran
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, January 11, 2007

Critics are right to label President Bush's new Iraq plan an "escalation," but what was most clear from his speech announcing it is that the object of this escalation is not Iraq, but Iran.

For all the smarmy talk about the Iraq Study Group, Bush bluntly rejected its central premise that the only way the U.S. can salvage anything in Iraq is through a new political agreement both among Iraqis and their neighbors -- a process that takes into account the reality that Iran has legitimate interests in Iraq (far more so, quite frankly, than the U.S. does), and envisages a process in which all stakeholders are accommodated. Instead, Bush offered familiar distortions in his description of the reason for failure thus far -- al-Qaeda and Iran, were the culprits, the former stoking sectarian violence through terror attacks and the latter ostensibly supporting death squads. Anyone familiar with the current dynamics in the Middle East would have taken President Bush's outline of the consequences of failure — "radical Islamic extremists would grow in strength and gain new recruits" and "would be in a better position to topple moderate governments," Iran would be emboldened and al-Qaeda would have a new safe haven -- as an admission of failure, since all of those consequences are already in play. [complete article]
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U.S. storms 'Iran consulate' in Arbil
Al Jazeera, January 11, 2007

US forces, backed by helicopters, have raided the Iranian consulate's offices in Arbil, the Kurdish capital in northern Iraq, Iranian officials said.

A number of arrests were made and computers and documents seized during Thursday's operation.

A Pentagon spokesman denied that the building raided was an Iranian consulate.

An Iranian foreign ministry official said US troops arrested five staff members, including diplomats and staff. [complete article]
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Promising troops where they aren't really wanted
By Sabrina Tavernise and John F. Burns, New York Times, January 11, 2007

As President Bush challenges public opinion at home by committing more American troops, he is confronted by a paradox: an Iraqi government that does not really want them.

The Shiite-led government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has not publicly opposed the American troop increase, but aides to Mr. Maliki have been saying for weeks that the government is wary of the proposal. They fear that an increased American troop presence, particularly in Baghdad, will be accompanied by a more assertive American role that will conflict with the Shiite government's haste to cut back on American authority and run the war the way it wants. American troops, Shiite leaders say, should stay out of Shiite neighborhoods and focus on fighting Sunni insurgents.

"The government believes there is no need for extra troops from the American side," Haidar al-Abadi, a Parliament member and close associate of Mr. Maliki, said Wednesday. "The existing troops can do the job." [complete article]

See also, Democrats aim to block funds for plan (WP), Intensified combat on streets likely (WP), and Iraq: Premier's new security plan carries heavy risks (RFERL).
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Poll: Most Americans opposed to Bush's Iraq plan
By Jon Cohen, Washington Post, January 11, 2007

Most Americans oppose President Bush's call to send additional U.S. military forces to Iraq and just over a third say the new plan makes victory there more likely, an initial public rebuke of the strategy he unveiled last night in a nationally televised address.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted following the President's speech finds broad and strong opposition to his call to send about 21,500 more troops to Iraq: 61 percent oppose the force increase, with 52 percent "strongly" opposing the build-up. Thirty-six percent support the additional troops; only one-quarter of the public is strongly supportive.

Support for adding troops is somewhat higher among the 42 percent of Americans who tuned into Bush's speech. Forty-seven percent of viewers think the increase is a good idea, but the President's supporters were more likely than others to watch or listen to his remarks. (Seventy-two percent of the public said they saw or heard Bush's speech when the war began in March 2003.) [complete article]
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Mahdi army told to disarm
Al Jazeera, January 10, 2007

Nuri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, has told Shia fighters to surrender their weapons, as the US president announces plans to send thousands more troops to Iraq.

Al-Maliki agreed on Wednesday to crack down on fighters loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr, a Shia leader, Iraqi officials said.

In a televised speech on Wednesday, George Bush, the US president, promised to send 21,500 extra US troops to Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- Unless Maliki and Sadr cut some kind of deal, or this threat to take on the Madhi Army is hollow, Sadr City risks becoming the bloodiest arena we have yet to witness. The home team advantage will be overwhelming. What might start as a fight against snipers easily risks turning into a fight against a whole city.
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'Gated communities' planned for Baghdad
By Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2007

The military's new strategy for Iraq envisions creating "gated communities" in Baghdad -- sealing off discrete areas and forcibly removing insurgents, then stationing American units in the neighborhood to keep the peace and working to create jobs for residents.

The U.S. so far has found it impossible to secure the sprawling city. But by focusing an increased number of troops in selected neighborhoods, the military hopes it can create islands of security segregated from the chaos beyond.

The gated communities plan has been tried -- with mixed success -- in other wars. In Vietnam, the enclaves were called "strategic hamlets" and were a spectacular failure. But counterinsurgency experts say such zones can work if, after the barriers are established, the military follows up with neighborhood sweeps designed to flush out insurgents and militia fighters. [complete article]
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A Somali jihadist: We're not Al-Qaeda
By Alex Perry, Time, January 10, 2007

Said Ali, 21, is a volunteer fighter for the Shabab militia, the feared enforcers of the Islamic Courts Union. The U.S. brands the organization as an ally of al-Qaeda; in reality, it is also a nationalist anti-warlord movement that contains many Muslim moderates and has no international ambitions. He was 11 when he left his village in southern Somalia and traveled to Mogadishu to look for an education. But all public education had collapsed with the last functioning government in 1991, leaving private school the only option. And Said Ali, like most of his generation, was unable to afford the fees. Instead, he found a job as a porter, and then graduated to selling shirts and kikoi wraps by the side of the road. In time, he was given a job inside a clothes store in Bakara Market, where he earned about 10,000 Somali shillings (80 cents) a day. But often he would be forced to hand over his earnings to armed militias blocking the roads on his way home. [complete article]

Airstrikes continue in Somalia
By Shashank Bengali, McClatchy, January 10, 2007

For the fourth straight day, residents of southern Somalia reported airstrikes Wednesday on the suspected jungle hideouts of the Islamist movement that ruled that area of the country until recently. The Pentagon said Ethiopia was continuing ground and air operations in the region with limited American involvement.

But time appeared to be running out for the offensive amid growing international criticism over civilian casualties and concerns that the operation is hurting U.S. efforts to build a broad-based Somalian transitional government. [complete article]
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Iranian Jews reject outside calls to leave
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, January 10, 2007

A campaign to convince Iran's 25,000 Jews to flee the country has stalled, with most opting to stay in their native homeland despite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Holocaust denial and anti-Israeli speeches.

In recent months, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, Israeli officials and some American Jewish communal leaders have urged Iranian Jews to leave. But so far, despite generally being allowed to travel to Israel and emigrate abroad, Iranian Jews have stayed put. According to the statistics compiled by HIAS, 152 out of 25,000 Jews left Iran between October 2005 and September 2006 -- down from 297 during the same period the previous year, and 183 the year before. Sources said that the majority of those who have left in recent years cited economic and family reasons as their main incentive for leaving, rather than political concerns. [complete article]
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Bolton: U.N. role in Quartet a mistake
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, January 10, 2007

In a January 5 conference call with members of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Bolton said that it was "probably" a mistake to allow the U.N. to assume a lead role in the Quartet, the diplomatic entity sponsoring the road map peace plan. Bolton was addressing the recent assertion by the new U.N. secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a top priority because it could help lead to the resolution of other regional conflicts.

"That's not something that's really in his remit at the present time," Bolton told the Aipac activists. "As secretary general he has a role in the Quartet, which is probably something we shouldn't have set up to begin with, but it's there." Bolton also accused Russia of preventing serious U.N. sanctions from being imposed on Iran, and said that the U.N. force in Lebanon had failed to stop the flow of weapons to Hezbollah. [complete article]
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Death toll of Israeli civilians killed by Palestinians hit a low in 2006
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, January 10, 2007

Israel's summer war with Hezbollah in the north and small rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip in the south have overshadowed a striking reality: Fewer Israeli civilians died in Palestinian attacks in 2006 than in any year since the Palestinian uprising began in 2000.

Palestinian militants killed 23 Israelis and foreign visitors in 2006, down from a high of 289 in 2002 during the height of the uprising.

Most significant, successful suicide bombings in Israel nearly came to a halt. Last year, only two Palestinian suicide bombers managed to sneak into Israel for attacks that killed 11 people and wounded 30 others. Israel has gone nearly nine months without a suicide bombing inside its borders, the longest period without such an attack since 2000. [complete article]
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PM dismisses Meshal comments that Israel's existence is a reality
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, January 11, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday shrugged off comments by Hamas' Damascus-based political chief Khaled Meshal, in which he acknowledged the existence of Israel.

Meshal, whose Hamas movement leads the Palestinian government, told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday that Israel is a "matter of fact," apparently softening a previous refusal to accept that Israel's existence.

Olmert, asked by reporters accompanying him on a visit to China about Meshal's acceptance of Israel as a state that will endure, said: "Does that mean we weren't until now?" [complete article]
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Dennis Ross's mythology
By Scott MacLeod, Time, January 10, 2007

Nobody ever got rich defending the virtues of Yasser Arafat, so indulge me for taking a swipe at Dennis Ross's op-ed in Tuesday's New York Times. During the first Bush and then the Clinton administration, Ross, of course, was America's Mr. Middle East. Or as the bio on his think-tank's website puts it, he was "a highly skilled diplomat" who "for more than 12 years...played a leading role in shaping U.S. involvement in the Middle East peace process." Is it an oxymoron to speak of highly-skilled U.S. Middle East peace negotiators considering the bloody collapse of U.S.-brokered Middle East peace negotiations? Ross has a simple explanation for the failure: it's Arafat's fault. Ross's account of his government service, The Missing Peace, presidential-memoir-length at 840 pages, sums it up in a sentence: "Only one leader was unable or unwilling to confront history and mythology: Yasser Arafat."

Ross takes up his concern with mythology again in his Times Op-Ed. This time he complains about what he sees as an emerging mythology--perpetuated in former President Carter's book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid--that seeks to defend Arafat's "rejection" of U.S. peace proposals. Ross believes that Arafat's refusal to abandon the mythologies of the Palestinian struggle made it impossible for Arafat to make peace with Israel. [complete article]
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Israel's sea of scandal gets deeper
By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, January 11, 2007

Israel is awash in corruption allegations, with splashy arrests in a tax-agency scandal and media reports that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert will soon face a police investigation of his role in the sale of a major bank while serving as finance minister.

Olmert was on an official visit to China this week as Israeli media reported that Atty. Gen. Menachem Mazuz planned to investigate the prime minister's role in the state's sale of a controlling interest in Bank Leumi when it was privatized in 2005. News reports said authorities could also examine Olmert's role in appointments to a small-business agency and alleged favoritism toward a former law partner.

Previous Israeli prime ministers have been the subjects of police investigations without being charged. But even the suggestion of a criminal inquiry worsens headaches for the struggling Olmert, who hasn't shaken low approval ratings months after Israel's inconclusive war with Lebanon's Hezbollah militants. [complete article]
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Dying with dignity
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 10, 2007

It wasn't supposed to happen like this.

In the comic book world that Americans are taught to believe in, the death of Saddam Hussein was supposed to be a somber yet triumphant event. Justice was meant to be served, the tyrant had already been deposed; now he was going to face absolute judgment as good conquered evil. The bad guy was going down!

Instead, on December 30th, we witnessed something else.

Among the many ironies in the practice of capital punishment, none is greater than the meaning of premeditation. The cold purpose in a premeditated murder reveals its inherent evil, yet an unrushed, deliberate and clinical killing performed by the state is somehow meant to endow the act with an aura of civility. Thus, a mob of masked men surrounding Saddam on the gallows, through their obvious passion and without the support of some weighty emblems of state authority, turned what was supposed to be a fearsome symbol of civilized order, into an uncivilized public lynching.

But even worse than the hanging's barbarity was the fact that a deed designed to be locked in the past, has instead, through the power of video lingered long in the present at it gets repeated again and again in front of a global audience. We should not be surprised that this most public of hangings to ever take place, is now spawning tragic reenactments around the world, or that those imitating the screen would be children.

I feel no obligation to join in the chorus that repeats, "Saddam deserved to die," since what was most striking about his death was not what preceded it but the manner in which it was met. Witnesses claimed that they could see fear in Hussein's eyes, yet if that was so, it was not captured by any camera.

What the images revealed was a man with apparent calmness, fearlessness, and dignity, meeting his own death.

Some may argue that -- archvillain to the end -- Saddam's composure was merely a performance. For the sake of duping his audience, he betrayed no fear. Maybe so, yet even then it would mean that his attention was fixed on his allegiance to a cause rather than the subjective reality of his death or his emotional reaction to that knowledge.

In Saddam's resolve we saw his unflagging commitment to the dream of Arab nationalism, yet a two-dimensional conception of evil allows no room for its co-existence with sincerity, dedication, courage, and nobility.

Perhaps the most unpalatable truth revealed in the manner with which Saddam went to his death is that tyrants are human and that evil comes mixed with virtue. We hesitate to admire a tyrant's virtues in fear that we will get accused of being an apologist, or that we will thereby somehow succumb to the tyrant's influence, or worst of all, appear indifferent to the suffering of his victims.

Among those who saw disgrace in the manner of his execution, was it the thuggery surrounding Saddam that caused the greatest offensive, or was it Saddam's ability to claim a final victory by becoming a noble axis in a wheel of chaos?

Everyone knows they are going to die, but few are able to contemplate this event with a lucid mind and a healthy body. In as much as we retain clarity in our awareness, death appears comfortably distant. But in the face of a death sentence and knowledge that it will very soon be carried out, the human psyche is challenged in a way that is hard to fathom.

We are told that before being led to a helicopter taking him to his execution, Saddam graciously "thanked the American guards and medics for the treatment he received." If this was some kind of public relations exercise, Saddam had no reason to assume that Lt. Col. Keir-Kevin Curry's description of his prisoner's departure would be recounted in the New York Times a few days later. Saddam's last written words included the line, "we even treat our enemy with honor."

The line comes from a poem containing a passage upon which President Bush would be well-advised to reflect:
The enemies set their plans and traps
And proceeded despite the fact they are all faulty.
It is a plan of arrogance and emptiness
It will prove to be nothing but defeated
We break it as rust devours steel
As a metaphor for insurgency, rust devouring steel, presents a stunningly accurate image. Steel's visible structural power is broken down at the invisible atomic level as oxidization relentlessly fractures the alloy. If America's force once appeared stainless, Iraq has proved that it is not. Saddam always knew that his enemy could not be hammered but just as clearly he saw that it was subject to corrosion.
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With Iraq speech, Bush to pull away from his generals
By Michael Abramowitz, Robin Wright and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, January 10, 2007

When President Bush goes before the American people tonight to outline his new strategy for Iraq, he will be doing something he has avoided since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003: ordering his top military brass to take action they initially resisted and advised against.

Bush talks frequently of his disdain for micromanaging the war effort and for second-guessing his commanders. "It's important to trust the judgment of the military when they're making military plans," he told The Washington Post in an interview last month. "I'm a strict adherer to the command structure."

But over the past two months, as the security situation in Iraq has deteriorated and U.S. public support for the war has dropped, Bush has pushed back against his top military advisers and the commanders in Iraq: He has fashioned a plan to add up to 20,000 troops to the 132,000 U.S. service members already on the ground. As Bush plans it, the military will soon be "surging" in Iraq two months after an election that many Democrats interpreted as a mandate to begin withdrawing troops.

Pentagon insiders say members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have long opposed the increase in troops and are only grudgingly going along with the plan because they have been promised that the military escalation will be matched by renewed political and economic efforts in Iraq. Gen. John P. Abizaid, the outgoing head of Central Command, said less than two months ago that adding U.S. troops was not the answer for Iraq. [complete article]
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U.S. airstrikes back troops in Baghdad clash
By Sudarsan Raghavan and Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, January 10, 2007

With F-15 fighter jets and Apache helicopter gunships providing cover, U.S. and Iraqi troops on Tuesday battled hundreds of Sunni Arab insurgents firing from apartment buildings and houses in downtown Baghdad in one of the fiercest clashes in the capital in recent memory.

"It was the most intense combat I have ever seen," said Maj. Jesse Pearson, operations officer for the 1st Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment, Stryker Brigade, on his third tour in Iraq. "We were in a fight for 11 straight hours." [complete article]
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Hamas leader acknowledges 'reality' of Israel
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, January 10, 2007

Hamas accepts the existence of the state of Israel but will not officially recognise it until the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, according to the group's leader in Damascus, Khaled Meshaal.

In comments made to Reuters, Mr Meshaal softened his anti-Israel rhetoric, suggesting that Hamas does not seek the destruction of Israel as written in the group's charter. He said that Israel is a "reality" and "there will remain a state called Israel, this is a matter of fact".

"The problem is not that there is an entity called Israel. The problem is that the Palestinian state does not exist," he said. [complete article]
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Details emerge in Italian abduction
By Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times, January 10, 2007

On an early autumn day more than four years ago, the CIA station chief in Rome allegedly presented Italy's top spymaster with a list of people he described as prime targets in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

The CIA wanted the targets "taken away," in the words of one Italian official.

At the top of the list of about 10 names was a radical Egyptian cleric widely known as Abu Omar. Within months, Abu Omar was abducted, allegedly by CIA operatives, as he walked along a Milan sidewalk. He was secretly flown to an Egyptian jail, where he says he was tortured and where he remains to this day.

The Abu Omar case has provided the most detailed look yet at a highly controversial practice in the U.S. government's anti-terrorism arsenal: "extraordinary renditions," the capture of suspects without court order and their transport to clandestine prisons in countries with dubious human rights records. [complete article]

Comment -- Mixed in with the Bush administration's flagrant disregard for sovereignty and the rule of law, there is also a large dose of racism. Abu Omar was kidnapped in Milan -- kidnapped because although the CIA doesn't care much about Italian law, it can't get away with endangering Italian citizens. Europeans do not take well to becoming collateral damage. And neither do Somalis, yet if any are unlucky enough to unwittingly be in close proximity to a terrorist suspect than no one in Washington is going to worry much about a few dead Africans. The so-called government in Somalia won't complain -- it's too eager to please its American and Ethiopian backers. Neither will the press corps show much interest. In fifteen minutes of questions on Somalia today at the State Department, not one concerned civilian casualties resulting from U.S. air strikes.
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U.S. is not saying who, or what, was hit in Somalia raid
By Karen DeYoung and Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, January 10, 2007

Two days after the United States launched an airstrike against alleged al-Qaeda terrorists in southern Somalia, U.S. officials declined yesterday to provide details of who, or what, was hit.

In Mogadishu, the Somali capital, reports circulated that as many as 50 people, many of them civilians, were killed in the attack by a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship. U.S. officials said they are fairly certain that at least one targeted individual was hit; they said they had no information about civilian deaths in the strike along the Kenyan border.
In the chaos of Mogadishu, where invading Ethiopian troops routed the Islamic fundamentalists last month and installed an internationally backed transitional government, word of the U.S. attack provoked rage and anti-Americanism.

"I am angry," biology teacher Ahmed Weli Mohamed, 37, said in a telephone interview. "I am very, very angry. Even if there are terrorists, there are maybe two or three people, but hundreds are killed.... Americans don't respect us as human." [complete article]
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U.S. Somali air strikes: "So many dead people were lying in the area. We do not know who is who, but the raid was a success"

The Islamists were the one hope for Somalia
By Martin Fletcher, The Times, January 8, 2007

My colleague Rosemary Righter wrote last week that the defeat of Somalia's Islamic courts by Ethiopian forces was the "first piece of potentially good news in two devastating decades".

As one of the few journalists who has visited Mogadishu recently, I beg to differ. The good news came in June. That is when the courts routed the warlords who had turned Somalia into the world's most anarchic state during a 15-year civil war that left a million dead.

I am no apologist for the courts. Their leadership included extremists with dangerous intentions and connections. But for six months they achieved the near-impossible feat of restoring order to a country that appeared ungovernable.

This was not done by "suppressing, with draconian punishments, what remained of personal freedoms" -- unless you count banning guns and the narcotic qat, which rendered half Somalia's menfolk senseless. The courts were less repressive than our Saudi Arabian friends. They publicly executed two murderers (a fraction of the 24 executions in Texas last year), and discouraged Western dancing, music and films, but at least people could walk the streets without being robbed or killed. That trumps most other considerations. Ask any Iraqi. [complete article]

U.S. strike in Somalia aims at 3 fugitives
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2007

Under cover of the Ethiopian move into Somalia, U.S. officials launched an intensive effort to capture or kill three key suspects in the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa more than eight years ago that killed 224 people.

A U.S. Air Force Special Operations gunship struck a location in southern Somalia where some of the suspects were believed to be hiding, a U.S. Defense Department official said Monday.

Witnesses and Somalian government officials said there were many people killed or wounded but that they had no exact numbers. U.S. military and counter-terrorism officials said they did not know whether the strike, made within the previous 24 hours, killed any of the three fugitives. [complete article]

U.S. support key to Ethiopia's invasion
By Barbara Slavin, USA Today, January 8, 2007

The United States has quietly poured weapons and military advisers into Ethiopia, whose recent invasion of Somalia opened a new front in the Bush administration's war on terrorism.

A Christian-led nation in sub-Saharan Africa, surrounded almost entirely by Muslim states, Ethiopia has received nearly $20 million in U.S. military aid since late 2002. That's more than any country in the region except Djibouti.
[complete article]

See also, Destabilizing the Horn (Salim Lone), U.S. airstrikes could backfire (The Times)

Comment -- Within hours of U.S. Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer saying, "I support reaching out to the ... Islamic Courts," a U.S. Air Force AC-130 gunship, capable of firing 1,800 40mm rounds-per-minute, delivered a very different message.

Somalia's "interim president" asserts that "the US has a right to bombard terrorist suspects who attacked its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania," yet when his own representative admits that "we don't know who is who" among the many dead, we can also can conclude that most Somalis will justifiably regard this attack as an act of terrorism.

That the United States (like Israel) claims a right to short-circuit legal proceedure through the use of so-called targetted killing (in full knowledge that innocent lives will inevitably be lost) carries no more moral authority than a drunk driver's plea of innocence when he says he didn't intend to kill anyone. Likewise, an airborne gunner and his ground support cannot escape culpability simply because they are following orders.

"Killing terrorists" is not a sport, nor is it a grim but noble task that "needs to be done." It has become a cloak for indiscriminate violence; a flimsy lie used to hide the fact that one form of terrorism is being used in an effort to thwart another.

American officials will no doubt defend the use of gunships on the basis that Somalia's lawless condition limits the U.S.'s counterterrorism options. Yet law and order had in fact already been established six months ago -- for the first time in 15 years. But whether this Islamist order was acceptable to the majority of Somalis, it was thoroughly unacceptable to Washington.

The administration is indifferent to the question of whether a nation's order arises from within or is imposed from the outside. Oblivious to that distinction it stubornly refuses to see that American-backed "order" is no such thing -- it is a form of instability glued together by the threat of violence. Inevitably, sooner or later it fractures.

Once again, the U.S. government is fueling the widespread belief that America is engaged in a war on Islam and for those who see the propaganda value in that perception, America is also unwittingly the "best friend of Islam" as it "wakes up the sleeping Muslim."
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No more Middle East crusades
By Dimitri K. Simes, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2007

Just 10 days after Iraq's government managed to transform Saddam Hussein's execution from an act of justice into a sectarian revenge killing, the Bush administration is planning a troop "surge" to try to help a leadership that is simultaneously too brutal and too wimpy to bring stability and democracy to Iraq.

But sending more brigades to pursue the same crusade is unlikely to bring success -- at least not on an American political timetable. The problem is not just the incompetent management of the war's aftermath. The problem is that the crusade to reshape the Middle East that led to the U.S. invasion of Iraq precludes anything that could be legitimately called victory.

The debacle that is Iraq reaffirms the lesson that there is no such thing as a good crusade. This was true a thousand years ago when European Christian knights tried to impose their faith and way of life on the Holy Land, pillaging the region in the process, and it is equally true today. Divine missions and sensible foreign policy just don't mix. [complete article]

Bush's smart new general can't save Iraq
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, January 8, 2007

George W. Bush has named a new man to take charge in Iraq as a prelude to his announcement of (allegedly) a new strategy. Will either make any difference?

The new commander, Lt. Gen. (soon to be promoted to simply Gen.) David Petraeus, is probably the smartest active-duty general in the U.S. Army today. Late last year, he co-authored the Army's field manual on counterinsurgency -- its first in over 20 years. During the early phase of the Iraq occupation, as commander of the 101st Airborne Division, he was one of the very few American officers who understood how to win over the populace, not just bash down their doors. In those halcyon days of the summer of '03, commanders had free access to Saddam Hussein's captured slush funds, and Petraeus used the money shrewdly to build local projects and to build trust with local leaders. It may be no coincidence that things started going to hell in northern Iraq, the 101st Airborne's area of operation, when the commanders' fund dried up -- and no further funds poured in. [complete article]

Democrats split over Iraq approach
By Jeff Zeleny, New York Times, January 9, 2007

The new Democratic majority in Congress is divided over how to assert its power in opposing President Bush's plan to send more troops to Baghdad, as leaders explore ways to block financing for a military expansion without being accused of abandoning American forces already in Iraq.

While Democrats find themselves unusually united in their resistance to a troop increase, party leaders are locked in an internal debate over how far to go in objecting to the administration's Iraq strategy. The White House has invited some Democrats to meet with Mr. Bush before he gives his Iraq speech on Wednesday, even as others have scoured the history books to find cases when Congress has reined in the commander in chief. [complete article]
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Accused Israeli traitor talks about her ordeal
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, January 9, 2007

She's been denounced as a traitor, a terrorist's whore and a collaborator who betrayed her country by befriending a prominent Palestinian militant that Israel has repeatedly tried to assassinate.

But even now, after 877 days in Israeli prisons, Tali Fahima steadfastly believes that her improbable friendship with Zacaria Zubeidi did more to help her country than hurt it.

"I'm building bridges," Fahima told McClatchy Newspapers on Sunday in her first interview with an American newspaper reporter since her release from prison. "And, yes, it is for the benefit of the state."

Fahima was freed Wednesday after a three-year odyssey that transformed her from a right-wing legal secretary who thought Arabs should be expelled from Israel into an unbowed activist for the Palestinian people. [complete article]

See also, Tali Fahima, paroled 11 months early, says she has no regrets (Haaretz).
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U.N. makes $60m Iraq refugee appeal
BBC News, January 9, 2007

The United Nations' refugee body has appealed for $60m (£30.8m, 45m euros) in emergency aid for those fleeing violence in Iraq.

One in eight of Iraqis have now left their homes, with up to 50,000 people leaving each month, the UNHCR said.

It said the exodus was the largest long-term movement since the displacement of the Palestinians after the creation of Israel in 1948. [complete article]

Conservatives decry terror laws' impact on refugees
By Darryl Fears, Washington Post, January 8, 2007

Conservatives who supported President Bush's reelection have joined liberal groups in expressing outrage over his administration's broad use of anti-terrorism laws to reject asylum for thousands of people seeking refuge from religious, ethnic and political persecution.

The critics say the administration's interpretation of provisions mandating denial of asylum to individuals who give "material support" to terrorist groups is so broad that foreigners who fought alongside U.S. forces in wars such as Vietnam can be denied asylum on the grounds that they provided aid to terrorists. [complete article]
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Brown to break with Blair on terror
By Julia May, The Telegraph, January 9, 2007

Britain's prime minister in waiting has vowed to take on President George Bush over foreign policy as he spells out plans to break from Tony Blair's approach to the war on terror.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, who is on course to succeed Mr Blair as prime minister this year, wants to put Britain's interest above the relationship with Washington.

Mr Brown forced Mr Blair, his long-term rival, to authorise the Prime Minister's office at No. 10 Downing Street to issue its first statement denouncing the execution of Saddam Hussein. [complete article]
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Is the Bush administration violating the law in an effort to provoke a Palestinian civil war?
Conflicts Forum Report, January 7, 2007

Deputy National Security Advisor, Elliott Abrams -- who Newsweek recently described as "the last neocon standing" -- has had it about for some months now that the U.S. is not only not interested in dealing with Hamas, it is working to ensure its failure. In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas elections, last January, Abrams greeted a group of Palestinian businessmen in his White House office with talk of a "hard coup" against the newly-elected Hamas government -- the violent overthrow of their leadership with arms supplied by the United States. While the businessmen were shocked, Abrams was adamant -- the U.S. had to support Fatah with guns, ammunition and training, so that they could fight Hamas for control of the Palestinian government.

While those closest to him now concede the Abrams' words were issued in a moment of frustration, the "hard coup" talk was hardly just talk. Over the last twelve months, the United States has supplied guns, ammunition and training to Palestinian Fatah activists to take on Hamas in the streets of Gaza and the West Bank. A large number of Fatah activists have been trained and "graduated" from two camps -- one in Ramallah and one in Jericho. The supplies of rifles and ammunition, which started as a mere trickle, has now become a torrent (Haaretz reports the U.S. has designated an astounding $86.4 million for Abu Mazen's security detail), and while the program has gone largely without notice in the American press, it is openly talked about and commented on in the Arab media -- and in Israel. Thousands of rifles and bullets have been poring into Gaza and the West Bank from Egypt and Jordan, the administration's designated allies in the program. [complete article]

Condi's savage war on the Palestinians
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, January 7, 2007

Rice's siege strategy was premised on the belief that the economic torture of the entire Palestinian population would either force the Hamas government to chant the catechism of recognizing Israel-renouncing violence-abiding by previous agreements (again, Israeli leaders have to giggle at that one!) -- or else, preferably, force the Palestinian electorate to recant the heresy of choosing Hamas as its government in the first place. Frustrated by the failure of this collective punishment to produce the desired results -- and mindful of the need to quickly reorder Palestinian politics in order to satisfy the urgent need of the increasingly marginal Arab autocracies that Washington seeks to mobilize against Iran — she has stepped things up a notch, cajoling the hapless Abbas to take steps to topple a government democratically elected only 11 months ago and beefing up the forces of the Fatah warlords dedicated to taking down Hamas in order to restore their own power of patronage. [complete article]
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Martyring a monster
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, January , 2007

The illusion that mistakes can be corrected quickly -- or if not corrected, then ignored and forgotten -- is at the heart of the disaster our soldiers are living through, and dying for, every day in Iraq. But we Americans make a grievous error when we imagine that the rest of the world grows bored, changes the channel and moves on as quickly as the our compatriots do.

One classic example: the oft-repeated White House refrain that "we're fighting terrorists in Iraq so we don't have to fight them here in America." Put aside the fact that this argument, known in Washington as "the flypaper theory," is demonstrably specious. Ask yourself how the Iraqis feel about it? "They hate that line," says a senior U.S. official who has long experience in occupied Baghdad but is not allowed by the administration to speak frankly on the record. "They say, 'Why are we so lucky that we get to defend America to the last Iraqi?'"

At the moment, American policymakers are fascinated with the way Islamic radicals have mastered the technology of information. (Those darn videophones ...) But Washington's problem is not its failure to control the world's multifarious media, it's the failure to develop a coherent message.

What do the jihadists have to offer? Almost nothing. They rap on about establishing a utopian caliphate -- which President Bush seems to take seriously, and talks about as if it were the name of a disease he'd just heard about from a golfing buddy. But few in the Arab or Muslim world pay much attention to that part of the radicals' boilerplate. What resonates widely is much simpler: hatred of the United States for the kinds of things the Bush administration says and does every day. [complete article]

Comment -- Ever since the tipping point was crossed and the majority of Americans lost faith in the war, President Bush and his closest advisors have borne the brunt of the blame for the disaster that this war has become. Innocent America was led astray by appalling leaders.

Those among us who were only too eager to own an American success that was designed first and foremost as an exercise in the restoration of American pride, are now just as eager to disown an American failure. The depth of that failure has barely begun to be measured.

The Bush administration cannot just be dismissed as a political aberration. After all Bush got re-elected! This is not simply an administration that got highjacked by a cabal of neoconservatives with a twisted vision of the world. George Bush's superficiality and swagger, his parochiality and indifference to the well-being of others, and above all his unwillingness to question the basis of American grandiosity -- these are as much the failings of American culture as they are those of the president.
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War's toll on Iraqis put at 22,950 in '06
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, January 8, 2007

More than 17,000 Iraqi civilians and police officers died violently in the latter half of 2006, according to Iraqi Health Ministry statistics, a sharp increase that coincided with rising sectarian strife since the February bombing of a landmark Shiite shrine.

In the first six months of last year, 5,640 Iraqi civilians and police officers were killed, but that number more than tripled to 17,310 in the latter half of the year, according to data provided by a Health Ministry official with direct knowledge of the statistics. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release the information, said those numbers remained incomplete, suggesting the final tally of violent deaths could be higher. [complete article]
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Some advice for George Bush: a 'surge' in U.S. troops in Iraq will not bring about peace
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, January 8, 2007

While the White House pretends that American defeat can be avoided in Iraq, real measures to end the fighting languish. The building blocks for peace should include the appointment of a peace envoy: probably a senior official from the Arab world trusted in the US and the Middle East and acting on behalf of the UN. He should start talks about calling an international conference at which all the players inside and outside Iraq can meet.

A central theme of the conference should be the total withdrawal of US and British forces from Iraq, leaving no bases behind. Any final agreement should be in the shape of an international treaty including guarantees for minorities such as the Iraqi Kurds and Sunni. Finally Iraq should be neutralised like Austria in Europe in the 1950s.

There is no chance of this happening under Mr Bush. The reversal of policy would be too great and the admission of failure too humiliating.

Instead he is responding to failure like a First World War general on the Western Front, sending another 20,000 to 30,000 surging over the top in the vain hope that they will finally make the vital breakthrough which will lead to victory. [complete article]
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Rumors of war
By Martin Walker, UPI, January 8, 2007

The firm denial by Israel of a report in the London Sunday Times that its Air Force was training for a strike against Iran's nuclear facilities was as predictable as it is hollow. There is no doubt that Israel's fighter-bombers have been training for a long-distance mission; NATO sources say they have for weeks been watching Israeli warplanes running flights the length of the Mediterranean to Gibraltar -- and nobody expects an Israeli strike on Gibraltar.

The drumbeats of war are beginning to sound from several directions. In Washington, the transfer of Admiral William "Fox" Fallon from Pacific Command to run Central Command (which runs the Iraq war and the Afghan mission) startled the Army and Marines, who had seen these as ground wars. But Central Command also includes Iran. [complete article]
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Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran
By Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, January 7, 2007

Israel has drawn up secret plans to destroy Iran's uranium enrichment facilities with tactical nuclear weapons.

Two Israeli air force squadrons are training to blow up an Iranian facility using low-yield nuclear "bunker-busters", according to several Israeli military sources.

The attack would be the first with nuclear weapons since 1945, when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Israeli weapons would each have a force equivalent to one-fifteenth of the Hiroshima bomb.

Under the plans, conventional laser-guided bombs would open "tunnels" into the targets. "Mini-nukes" would then immediately be fired into a plant at Natanz, exploding deep underground to reduce the risk of radioactive fallout.

"As soon as the green light is given, it will be one mission, one strike and the Iranian nuclear project will be demolished," said one of the sources. [complete article]

Comment -- When an Israeli strategic analyst says, "No reliable source would ever speak about this, certainly not to the Sunday Times," and the office of Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, says, "We don't respond to publications in the Sunday Times," it should be clear to anyone who didn't already know this, the Israelis are not fond of The Sunday Times. After all, it was the Times that in 1986 revealed to the world what the White House had known since 1969: Israel had become a nuclear-armed state. The Times' source, Mordechai Vanunu, as punishment for revealing state secrets, spent 18 years in prison. The Israeli government clearly felt that it was more important to send a strong warning to future whistleblowers than to struggle in denying the undeniable. And while experts such as Ephraim Kam might claim to believe that the Sunday Times is the last publication any reliable source would consider speaking to, it seems more plausible that the Times would be the newspaper of choice.

The Times' report says that, "the nuclear-tipped bunker-busters would be used [against Iranian nuclear facilities] only if a conventional attack was ruled out and if the United States declined to intervene, senior sources said." It also says that sources "close to the Pentagon said the United States was highly unlikely to give approval for tactical nuclear weapons to be used. One source said Israel would have to seek approval 'after the event', as it did when it crippled Iraq's nuclear reactor at Osirak with airstrikes in 1981."

Vice-President Cheney so strongly approved of the Osirak attack that he celebrates it with a photograph on his office wall and also sent the commander of that raid, General David Ivri, a copy signed, "with thanks and appreciation for the outstanding job he did." Is there any reason to doubt either that Cheney would have a similarly favorable view of a future Israeli attack on Iran, or, that the Israelis already believe that they have his tacit support?

If Israel does in fact attack Iran's nuclear facilities and uses tactical nuclear weapons, it would be hard to overestimate the geopolitical repercussions of such an attack.
-- Across the Middle East, already widely-felt hatred of Israel would reach new heights reinforcing Israelis own feelings that they are trapped inside an embattled state -- a state that fewer and fewer of the Jewish diaspora would consider making their home.
-- Though Israeli machismo might receive a short-lived shot in the arm rekindling some of the pride that recently got battered by Hezbollah, in the long-run Israel's consequent isolation would only reinforce the sense that Israel is an untenable state.
-- Nuclear weapons would irrevocably have lost their status as weapons of absolute last resort -- weapons whose awesome power had been the very thing that constrained their use.
-- The fissure between the West and the rest of the world, would likely become an unbridgeable chasm.
And that says nothing about Iran's own response whose multi-faceted form has no doubt been subject to long and meticulous planning.
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U.S. puts squeeze on Iran's oil fields
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2007

As Washington wages a very public battle against Iran's quest for nuclear power, it is quietly gaining ground on another energy front: the oil fields that are the Islamic Republic's lifeblood.

Iran's oil industry has raked in record amounts of cash during three years of high oil prices. But a new U.S. campaign to dry up financing for oil and natural gas development poses a threat to the republic's ability to continue exporting oil over the next two decades, many analysts say.

The campaign comes at a moment of unique vulnerability for Iran's oil industry, which also faces challenges from rising domestic energy consumption, international isolation, a populist spending spree by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and trouble closing contracts with foreign oil companies — a recipe for potential disaster in a nation with one of the world's largest reservoirs of oil. [complete article]

Comment -- American officials are no doubt drawing satisfaction from the results of their efforts to turn the financials screws on Iran. Ironically, as John Hopkins University professor Roger Stern points out, this success makes Iran's need for nuclear power all the more real.
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Critics say 'surge' is more of the same
By Michael Abramowitz, Robin Wright and Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, January 7, 2007

President Bush is putting the final touches on his new Iraq policy amid growing skepticism inside and outside the administration that the emerging package of extra troops, economic assistance and political benchmarks for the Baghdad government will make any more than a marginal difference in stabilizing the country.

Washington's debate over Iraq will intensify this week as Bush lays out his plans, probably on Wednesday or Thursday, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials face tough questions from Democrats in congressional hearings.

Although officials said the president has yet to settle on an exact figure of new troops, senior military leaders and commanders are deeply worried that a "surge" of as many as five brigades, or 20,000 troops, in Iraq and Kuwait would tax U.S. ground forces already stretched to the breaking point -- and may still prove inadequate to quell sectarian violence and the Sunni insurgency. Some senior U.S. officials think it could even backfire. [complete article]

Iraq will be Petraeus's knot to untie
By Rick Atkinson, Washington Post, January 7, 2007

Lt. Gen. David H. Petraeus, who is President Bush's choice to become the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, posed a riddle during the initial march to Baghdad four years ago that now becomes his own conundrum to solve: "Tell me how this ends."

That query, uttered repeatedly to a reporter then embedded in Petraeus's 101st Airborne Division, revealed a flinty skepticism about prospects in Iraq -- and the man now asked to forestall a military debacle.

Long recognized as one of the Army's premier intellectuals, with a PhD from Princeton to complement his West Point education, Petraeus, 54, will inherit one of the toughest assignments handed any senior officer since the Vietnam War. He takes command of 132,000 U.S. troops in a country shattered by insurgency and sectarian bloodletting, with a home front that is divided and disheartened after 3,000 American combat deaths. If his riddle of 2003 remains apt, so does the headline on a Newsweek cover story about Petraeus in July 2004: "Can This Man Save Iraq?" [complete article]

Iraq: friends at war
By Jonathan Darman, Richard Wolffe and Evan Thomas, Newsweek, January 15, 2007

War itself is a foreign concept to many solons of Capitol Hill; a small number—perhaps as few as 25 out of 535—have come under fire in combat. John McCain and Chuck Hagel are obvious and visible exceptions. McCain, a Republican from Arizona, was a Navy bomber pilot, shot down and imprisoned by the North Vietnamese for five and a half years. He has, he sometimes says, "more scars than Frankenstein." Hagel, a Republican from Nebraska, was an Army grunt in Vietnam who won two Purple Hearts and still has shrapnel in his chest. Both men have seen the face of war up close. But on the question of the Iraq war, they are almost mirror opposites. [complete article]
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Ethiopia's intervention may destabilize region
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2007

By launching a war against Somalia's Islamists, Ethiopia says it was drawing a line in the sand against religious extremism in East Africa. But without quick diplomacy and international aid, analysts caution that the war could radicalize the region's traditionally moderate Muslims.

"This could bode ill for both Somalia and eastern Ethiopia, but perhaps even northern Kenya," said John Prendergast, Africa analyst at International Crisis Group, a conflict-resolution think tank based in Washington. [complete article]

Somalis rail at Ethiopian forces
By Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, January 7, 2007

Hundreds of angry and fed-up Somalis demanded that Ethiopian troops leave the city Saturday, smashing cars, burning tires, and hurling stones and threats as a prevailing sense of insecurity deepened in the patched-together neighborhoods of Mogadishu.

A volatile mix of grievances fueled the clashes between demonstrators and Ethiopian troops, leaving at least two people dead.

Tensions are rising over the presence of the Ethiopian troops, who are perceived here as having U.S. backing and last week pushed out an Islamic movement widely credited with bringing security to the capital. Almost immediately after taking control, the ascendant prime minister, Ali Mohamed Gedi, announced that he would begin forcibly disarming Somalia's matrix of clans, whose members are accustomed to relying on their own stashes of AK-47 assault rifles for protection in a country that has been without a central government since 1991.

Following the protests, Gedi said the disarmament would be postponed indefinitely. A planned visit to Mogadishu on Sunday by the U.S. assistant secretary of state for African affairs, Jendayi E. Frazer, appeared in doubt amid security concerns. [complete article]
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Afghan-Pakistani bond steadily deteriorating
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, January 7, 2007

A proposal by Pakistan to plant land mines along the border with Afghanistan, aimed at preventing Islamic insurgents from using Pakistan as a sanctuary, has aroused angry protests by Afghan leaders who say the mines would endanger innocent travelers and divide tribal lands whose inhabitants do not recognize the border.

The contretemps is the latest sour note in a deteriorating relationship between the neighboring Muslim governments, both staunch U.S. allies that are linked by the common threat of terrorism but divided by bitter cross-charges of failing to curb a growing Islamic insurgency that operates on both sides of the border.

On Thursday, after a lengthy meeting in Kabul with Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said there was still an increasing "lack of trust" between the countries. The plan to mine and fence the border, Karzai said bluntly, "will not prevent terrorism, but it will divide the two nations." [complete article]
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