The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Key aide to Sadr arrested in Baghdad
By Ernesto Londono, Washington Post, January 20, 2007

U.S.-backed Iraqi forces arrested a top aide to anti-American Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in eastern Baghdad on Friday, amid growing signs of stepped-up efforts to quell Sadr and his supporters.

U.S. military officials said in November that Sadr's Mahdi Army militia represents the greatest threat to Iraq's security. U.S. and Iraqi forces are preparing a renewed effort to pacify Baghdad, including the deployment of additional U.S. troops.

Abdul Hadi al-Daraji, Sadr's media director in Baghdad, was arrested at his house in the neighborhood of Baladiyat, near the Mahdi Army stronghold of Sadr City, shortly after midnight, said Sadr spokesman Abdul Razak al-Nadawi.

The spokesman said a guard was killed during the operation. At least two other aides were taken into custody, according to a statement released by the U.S. military.

The statement did not identify Daraji by name, but said the main suspect was involved in the assassination of numerous members of Iraq's security forces and is "affiliated with illegal armed group cells targeting Iraqi civilians for sectarian attacks." The military said the arrest was the result of an "Iraqi-led" operation. [complete article]

Comment -- The idea of an organization's media director being involved in assassinations seems much less credible than the Sadrists' own accusation that U.S. forces are on a campaign of provocation. If this operation was supposed to be part of Bush's new strategy for clamping down on violence in Baghdad, how come it was conducted by Iraqi forces without the prior knowledge of Iraq's prime minister?

In an analysis of Arab media coverage, Missing Links reports:
There are two issues here: One is whether or not the people being targeted are persons genuinely involved in violence, or whether on the contrary they are Sadr-organization civilian officials whose targeting is designed to draw the entire Sadr organization into a military confrontation. Sadrists said al-Harraji is a media-relations person and isn't even in the Mahdi army. [...]

The second issue is the one raised by the above remarks by the Al-Hayat reporter. If these are units of the Iraqi army that answer directly to the American forces, and the targets are political and provocative rather than bona fide law-enforcement, then this is not a case of Bush-Maliki cooperation in the eradication of violence. Rather these events would appear to be forerunners of an all-out military attack by the Americans against the largest popular movement in the country, and one that supports the Prime Minister in parliament.
Moreover, the existence of part of the Iraqi army that is not under the control of the Iraqi government but takes its orders directly from the U.S., suggests that American forces, far from providing a bulwark against the widening of Iraq's civil war, are already in the position of employing their own militia. The only difference between the U.S.-backed militia -- the "dirty unit" -- and other militias is that the U.S. government calls it "Iraqi forces" and pays for its uniforms and weapons.
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Lebanon opposition to stage national protest strike
By Joelle Bassoul, AFP, January 20, 2007

The Lebanese opposition has called for a one-day general strike, stepping up a protest campaign to bring down the Western-backed government that has paralysed the nation's leadership for weeks.

The stoppage called for Tuesday marked the first escalation by the opposition since its supporters began an open-ended sit-in around government offices in central Beirut on December 1 to demand a national unity cabinet.

"In the face of the obstinacy of the government barricaded behind the walls of the Grand Serail, the opposition calls on its supporters to step up their peaceful and democratic protests and on all Lebanese to observe a general strike on Tuesday," an opposition statement said Saturday. [complete article]

See also, Hezbollah vows 'very big action' ahead (AP).

Lebanon divided on presidential hopeful Michel Aoun
By Hassan M. Fattah, IHT, January 19, 2007

In this land of divisive politics and sectarian tension, few have embraced controversy as the Christian leader General Michel Aoun has.

Aoun is one of the leaders behind the opposition demonstrations that have overtaken Beirut seeking to bring down the government of Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. His latest gambit is the culmination of decades of political surprises and controversy that have made him a political wild card who is breaking all the rules of Lebanese politics while charging the country's political debate.

To his supporters, he is a Lebanese Charles de Gaulle seeking to unite this fractious country and rebuild trust in its institutions. To his critics he is a divisive megalomaniac willing to stop at nothing to become president of Lebanon.

Some accuse him of splitting Lebanese Christians into camps and of further weakening them; others blame him for helping Hezbollah to propel its agenda. But most of all, many say, Aoun has embraced a populist agenda for personal gain. [complete article]

Siniora rejects Iran's intervention
By Abdul Jalil Mustafa, Arab News, January 19, 2007

Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora yesterday rejected any Iranian intervention in Lebanon's domestic affairs as he won support of King Abdallah for the upcoming donor conference in Paris. "The Lebanese will not accept any dictations or meddling in their internal affairs, because we are a sovereign country that builds up its ties with all on the basis of mutual respect," Siniora said in response to reporters' questions after talks with Abdallah. [complete article]
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Middle East heading for a new Cold War?
By Lawrence Pintak, Arab News, January 20, 2007

Bush administration efforts to forge a US-Arab alliance against Iran are threatening to produce a new Middle East Cold War, with dangerous implications for regional stability, US interests and American lives.

Condoleezza Rice was in the region this week to lay the foundations for a united front with key Arab states based on "the perception of a common threat posed by Iran and other forces of extremism and violence in the region," according to State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

But by creating yet another "with us or against us" scenario, the Bush administration is fueling a growing schism between Sunni and Shiite Arabs. [complete article]
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Jordan seeks nuclear peace for Mideast
By Shafika Mattar, AP, January 20, 2007

King Abdullah II said Friday that Jordan wants to develop a peaceful nuclear program, joining Egypt and Arab Gulf countries in considering a nuclear option. Arab nations are fearful over the West's failure to stop Shiite Iran's nuclear ambitions, which they worry will lead to Tehran having an atomic weapon.

Arab countries have complained for years about Israel's nuclear program and reported arsenal, but it never prompted them to seek programs of their own.

But Iran's progress in building nuclear facilities has sparked a rush among Arab nations to look at programs of their own, raising the possibility of a dangerous proliferation of nuclear technology - or even weapons - in the volatile Middle East. [complete article]
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Iran reportedly set for talks with U.S.
By Bassem Mroue, AP, January 19, 2007

President Jalal Talabani said in remarks published Friday that the Iranians were ready to meet with the U.S. for talks about security issues - part of an apparent effort by Talabani to encourage a dialogue between two nations that are increasingly at odds, and vital to Iraq.

Talabani's comments, in an interview with the respected pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, came amid escalating tensions between Washington and Tehran. In recent weeks, the U.S. has built up naval forces in the Persian Gulf and raided an Iranian liaison office in northern. Iran meanwhile has stepped up military operations along its border, Iranians arriving in Iraq say.

"During my last visit to Tehran, I discussed the matter with Iranian officials who said they are ready to meet the Americans but they said that the Americans should publicly announce their readiness," Talabani said in the interview. He was last in Iran in late November. [complete article]

Rebuke in Iran to its president on nuclear role
By Nazila Fathi and Michael Slackman, New York Times, January 19, 2007

Iran's outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appears to be under pressure from the highest authorities in Iran to end his involvement in its nuclear program, a sign that his political capital is declining as his country comes under increasing international pressure.

Just one month after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran to curb its nuclear program, two hard-line newspapers, including one owned by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on the president to stay out of all matters nuclear.

In the hazy world of Iranian politics, such a public rebuke was seen as a sign that the supreme leader -- who has final say on all matters of state -- might no longer support the president as the public face of defiance to the West. [complete article]
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Iraqi draft law on oil revenue appears close
By James Glanz, New York Times, January 19, 2007

After months of tense bargaining, a cabinet-level committee has produced a draft law governing Iraq's vast oil fields that would distribute all revenues through the federal government and grant Baghdad wide powers in exploration, development and awarding of major international contracts.

The draft, described today by several members of the committee, could still change and must be approved by the Iraqi cabinet and Parliament before it becomes law. Negotiations have veered off track unexpectedly in the past, and members of the political and sectarian groups with interest in the law could still object as they read it more closely.

But if approved in anything close to its present form, the law would appear to settle a longstanding debate over whether the oil industry and its revenues should be overseen by the central government or the regions dominated by Kurds in the north and Shiite Arabs in the south, where the richest oil fields are located. [complete article]
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The neoconservative blunder of the century
Paul Woodward, The War in Context, January 18, 2007

In terms of strategic blunders by the Bush administration, the invasion of Iraq would seem to be in a league of its own. Even so, it is quite possible that the administration's biggest error in judgment came soon after the invasion when under the stranglehold of neoconservative ideology, the White House passed up an opportunity to make a "grand bargain" with Iran.

The 2003 offer from the Iranians is now back in the news, but it has been written about several times before. Yet although the contents of the document describing the terms of this offer have been discussed at length -- such as in Gareth Porter's extended analysis in The American Prospect -- the text of the document has not widely been reproduced. For that reason I included the full text below.

More recently, this subject was central to an op-ed by Flynt Leverett (former senior director for Middle East affairs at the National Security Council), that the White House only allowed the New York Times to publish after removing references to the Iranian offer. This, in spite of the fact that Leverett had already published a paper [PDF] on this and received CIA approval for that publication.

In light of the Bush administration's current bellicose rhetoric directed at Iran, it's worth looking carefully at the golden opportunity that in 2003 Bush and Cheney tossed out.

At that time, the neocons seemed convinced that having secured an "easy victory" in Iraq, they would soon be able march on and topple the Islamic regime in Tehran. The Cheney gang was in no mood for reconciliation. Yet had they not become delirious with power, they might have recognized a diplomatic prize of unparalleled proportions. Indeed, it's conceivable that had a bargain then been struck, what has since unfolded as an Iraqi disaster might have turned out in a very different way. Not only that, but another war -- between Israel and Hezbollah -- would likely have been avoided.

Stories about what never happened are easy to ignore, but at a time when tensions between the United States and Iran are mounting dangerously, it is critically important that more Americans learn about what an Iranian government was capable of offering and what a priceless opportunity the White House foolishly squandered.

Summary of letter purportedly sent by Iran to the US government in the spring of 2003 (bold text appears in the original document):

Iranian aims:
(The US accepts a dialogue "in mutual respect" and agrees that Iran puts the following aims on the agenda)

* Halt in US hostile behavior and rectification of status of Iran in the US: (interference in internal or external relations, "axis of evil", terrorism list.)
* Abolishment of all sanctions: commercial sanctions, frozen assets, judgments(FSIA), impediments in international trade and financial institutions
* Iraq: democratic and fully representative government in Iraq, support of Iranian claims for Iraqi reparations, respect for Iranian national interests in Iraq and religious links to Najaf/Karbal.
* Full access to peaceful nuclear technology, biotechnology and chemical technology
* Recognition of Iran's legitimate security interests in the region with according defense capacity.
* Terrorism: pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all MKO and support for repatriation of their members in Iraq, decisive action against anti Iranian terrorists, above all MKO and affiliated organizations in the US

US aims: (Iran accepts a dialogue "in mutual respect" and agrees that the US puts the following aims on the agenda)

1. WMD: full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD, full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols)
2. Terrorism: decisive action against any terrorists (above all Al Qaida) on Iranian territory, full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.
3. Iraq: coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a non-religious government.
4. Middle East:
1) stop of any material support to Palestinian opposition groups (Hamas, Jihad etc.) from Iranian territory, pressure on these organizations to stop violent action against civilians within borders of 1967.
2) action on Hizbollah to become a mere political organization within Lebanon
3) acceptance of the Arab League Beirut declaration (Saudi initiative, two-states-approach)


I. Communication of mutual agreement on the following procedure
II. Mutual simultaneous statements "We have always been ready for direct and authoritative talks with the US/with Iran in good faith and with the aim of discussing - in mutual respect - our common interests and our mutual concerns based on merits and objective realities, but we have always made it clear that, such talks can only be held, if genuine progress for a solution of our own concerns can be achieved."
III. A first direct meeting on the appropriate level (for instance in Paris) will be held with the previously agreed aims

a. of a decision on the first mutual steps
*Iraq: establishment of a common group, active Iranian support for Iraq stabilization, US-commitment to actively support Iranian reparation claims within the discussions on Iraq foreign debts.
*Terorrism: US-commitment to disarm and remove MKO from Iraq and take action in accordance with SCR1373 against its leadership, Iranian commitment for enhanced action against Al Qaida members in Iran, agreement on cooperation and information exchange
*Iranian general statement "to support a peaceful solution in the Middle East involving the parties concerned"
*US general statement that "Iran did not belong to 'the axis of evil'"
*US-acceptance to halt its impediments against Iran in international financial and trade institutions
b. of the establishment of the parallel working groups on disarmament, regional security and economic cooperation. Their aim is an agreement on three parallel road maps, for the discussions of these working groups, each side accepts that the other side's aims (see above) are put on the agenda:
1) Disarmament: road map, which combines the mutual aims of, on the one side, full transparency by international commitments and guarantees to abstain from WMD with, on the other side, full access to western technology (in the three areas),
2) Terrorism and regional security: road map for above mentioned aims on the Middle east and terrorism
3) Economic cooperation: road map for the abolishment of the sanctions, rescinding of judgments, and un-freezing of assets
c. of agreement on a time-table for implementation
d. and of a public statement after this first meeting on the achieved agreements

(A facsimile of this text can be viewed here.)
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The problem with confronting Iran
By Tony Karon,, January 16, 2007

As if the Bush Administration didn't have a sufficiently tough challenge in securing Iraq in the face of insurgency and sectarian conflict, it has now added curbing Iran to its to-do list. Last week's raid in the Kurdish city of Erbil on a building claimed by Iran and the Kurds as a consular facility that saw the arrest of five Iranian officials signaled the onset of an aggressive push-back against Iranian influence in Iraq. And it's not only the Iranians that are unhappy about the new development. [complete article]
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Iran's discontent with Ahmadinejad grows
By Ali Akbar Dareini, AP, January 17, 2007

Prices for vegetables have tripled in the past month, housing prices have doubled since last summer — and as costs have gone up, so has Iranians' discontent with hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his focus on confrontation with the West.

Ahmadinejad was elected last year on a populist agenda promising to bring oil revenues to every family, eradicate poverty and tackle unemployment. Now he is facing increasingly fierce criticism for his failure to meet those promises.

He is being challenged not only by reformers but by the conservatives who paved the way for his stunning victory in 2005 presidential elections. Even conservatives say Ahmadinejad has concentrated too much on fiery, anti-U.S. speeches and not enough on the economy — and they have become more aggressive in calling him to account. [complete article]
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Top Iraqi condemns U.S. over Iran
BBC News, January 17, 2007

One of Iraq's most powerful Shia politicians has condemned the arrest of Iranians by US forces in Iraq as an attack on the country's sovereignty. The comments by Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, made in a BBC interview, are seen as the strongest expression yet of Iraq's concern about the US approach to Iran. [complete article]
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Iraq resolution may expose GOP divide
By Anne Flaherty, AP, January 18, 2007

A Democrat-driven resolution on Iraq that has attracted the support of at least two Republicans threatens to expose fissures within the GOP over the unpopular war.

Republicans are deeply divided on the war in Iraq and how Congress should react to President Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to join the estimated 130,000 already there.

Ten Republicans met behind closed doors late Wednesday with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., in a bid to generate consensus on Iraq. The senators emerged from the meeting to announce that no deal had been reached. [complete article]
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Give us guns – and troops can go, says Iraqi leader
By Stephen Farrell, The Times, January 18, 2007

America's refusal to give Baghdad's security forces sufficient guns and equipment has cost a great number of lives, the Iraqi Prime Minister said yesterday.

Nouri al-Maliki said the insurgency had been bloodier and prolonged because Washington had refused to part with equipment. If it released the necessary arms, US forces could "dramatically" cut their numbers in three to six months, he told The Times.

In a sign of the tense relations with Washington, he chided the US for suggesting his Government was living on "borrowed time". Such criticism boosted Iraq's extremists, he said, and was more a reflection of "some kind of crisis situation" in Washington after the Republicans' midterm election losses. Mr al-Maliki conceded that his administration had made mistakes over the hanging of Saddam Hussein. But he refused to accept all criticism over the execution. When asked about the Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi's attack on Iraq's capital punishment laws, Mr al-Maliki cited the Italians' summary killing of Benito Mussolini and his stringing-up from a lamppost. [complete article]
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Arab world outraged over hangings in Iraq
By Nora Boustany, Washington Post, January 18, 2007

Beirut's daily an-Nahar newspaper ran a caricature Tuesday of the Iraqi flag adorned with three nooses. At the center of the red, white and black banner, the outline of the coiled ropes appears similar to the word "Allah" in Arabic script.

The cartoon appears under the caption "The New Iraq."

That gallows humor reflected the swelling tide of Arab anger and revulsion at the Iraqi government's execution Monday of Barzan Ibrahim, who was beheaded as he was hanged, and the cellphone recordings of the taunts and gloating that greeted Saddam Hussein before his execution Dec. 30. [complete article]
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Hizbullah needs to show it can be magnanimous in victory
Editorial, Daily Star, January 18, 2007

The resignation of the Israeli military's chief of staff, Lieutenant General Dan Halutz, sends several important messages to members and supporters of Lebanon's government, as well as to the opposition forces arrayed against them. Halutz's departure stems directly from his handling of the summer 2006 war with Lebanon, so despite all the devastation and loss of innocent life incurred by the Lebanese, this country can legitimately be said to have "prevailed" politically - if only by having denied a traditional victory to the other side.

The government and its allies can learn from this some positive lessons in how to inspire and how to persevere. Hizbullah was able to do precisely that as it absorbed multiple blows from the region's most vaunted military machine, dodged many others, and emerged with both its structure and its core support largely intact. This also raises a question, though, about the government and its supporters: Why are they so reluctant to acknowledge the achievements - costs notwithstanding - realized by the resistance?

For Hizbullah the teachings are very different and more far-reaching. Halutz's resignation tacitly confirms Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah's repeated declarations of victory, but it also points up a strength of Israel's political thinking that is glaringly absent from Lebanon's in general - and Hizbullah's in particular: an ability and a willingness to self-assess and self-correct. That Hizbullah has inherited this defect from the environment in which it grew up is evident from a question that many Lebanese are asking with increasing alarm: If the resistance truly sees it itself as triumphant, why has it not endeavored to be a more magnanimous victor? [complete article]
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IDF objects to U.S. plans to give Abbas' forces battle equipment
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, January 17, 2007

The Israel Defense Forces has raised objections to U.S. plans to equip Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas's forces with body armor and other battle gear, an Israeli security source and European diplomats said on Wednesday.

An $86 million U.S. program to strengthen Abbas's presidential guard will include funding for four-wheel-drive vehicles, new uniforms and military training, diplomats briefed on the program said.

"The IDF's objections in this case center on equipment, such as body armor, that is liable to wind up in the wrong hands and be used for terrorism," an Israeli security source said.
[complete article]

Comment -- This report provides further confirmation of the level of opposition to U.S. efforts at fomenting a Palestinian civil war -- efforts described in detail by Conflicts Forum in Elliot Abrams' uncivil war.
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Court will oversee wiretap program
By Dan Eggen, Washington Post, January 18, 2007

The Bush administration said yesterday that it has agreed to disband a controversial warrantless surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, replacing it with a new effort that will be overseen by the secret court that governs clandestine spying in the United States.

The change -- revealed by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in a letter to the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- marks an abrupt reversal by the administration, which for more than a year has aggressively defended the legality of the NSA surveillance program and disputed court authority to oversee it.

Under the new plan, Gonzales said, the secret court that administers the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, will oversee eavesdropping on telephone calls and e-mails to and from the United States when "there is probable cause to believe" that one of the parties is a member of al-Qaeda or an associated terrorist group. [complete article]

See also, Nothing to celebrate (Glenn Greenwald).
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Some at Guantanamo mark 5 years in limbo
By Carol D. Leonnig and Julie Tate, Washington Post, January 16, 2007

Shackled at the wrists and blinded by special goggles, the first captives from the U.S. war in Afghanistan were ushered to makeshift prison cells thousands of miles from the battle, at the U.S. naval station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, five years ago last week.

Gholam Ruhani was among them, the prison's third official inmate, flown in by cargo plane with the first group of 20 men. The 23-year-old Afghan shopkeeper, who spoke a little English, was seized near his hometown of Ghazni when he agreed to translate for a Taliban government official seeking a meeting with a U.S. soldier.

Ruhani is still at Guantanamo, marking the fifth anniversary of the prison and his own captivity. He remains as stunned about his fate, according to transcripts of his conversations with military officers, as he was when U.S. military police led him inside the razor wire on Jan. 11, 2002, and accused him of being America's enemy.

"I never had a war against the United States, and I am surprised I'm here," Ruhani told his captors during his first chance to hear the military's reasons for holding him, three years after he arrived at Guantanamo. "I tried to cooperate with Americans. I am no enemy of yours."

Now prison and prisoner are forever linked, joined by hasty decisions made in war and trapped by that fateful beginning.

Guantanamo, which is struggling to rid itself of roughly 200 of its 393 remaining detainees, served its original purpose of taking dozens of terrorism suspects and enemy fighters from the chaotic Afghan battlefield and elsewhere, administration officials and the prison's supporters say.

But after five years and more than $600 million, it has failed to quickly and fairly handle the cases of hundreds of people such as Ruhani, against whom the government has no clear evidence of a role in attacks against the United States, according to current and former government officials and attorneys for detainees.

In the administration's effort to obtain raw intelligence, officials said, it was easier to ship hundreds of men with unclear allegiances to a naval base in Cuba in early 2002 and ask the hard questions later. But with a government focused on interrogations, a bureaucracy lacking tolerance for risk and a detention policy under legal attack, the United States has found it difficult to free many of the detainees, regardless of the information it has on the threat they pose.

"We of course had to make snap judgments in the battlefield," said one administration official involved in reviewing Guantanamo cases, who spoke anonymously to avoid angering superiors. "Where we had problems was that once we had individuals in custody, no one along the layers of review wanted to take a risk. So they would take a shred of evidence that a detainee was associated with another bad person and say that's a reason to keep them." [complete article]

Comment -- When President Bush and Vice-President Cheney launched their war on terrorism, they cradled the war's narrative within a familiar American narrative: the sense that America stands apart from the world; that America has achieved what others merely aspire for; that America's material wealth endows the nation with some form of cultural superiority; and that America's success, as an expression of human destiny, blesses the lives of the citizens of this country with greater value than the lives of others -- all of which can be summed up in the sentiment that America is the greatest nation on earth.

For as long as the administration seemed to be holding true to this narrative, they could rely on broad-based national support. Only when Americans feared that they themselves might risk being made targets of the war -- through unconstitutional wiretaps or other flagrant infringements of civil liberty -- was their widespread criticism. But even then, this was not opposition to the war on terrorism itself -- merely some of the techniques being employed in its pursuit.

In this context, challenges to the legal or moral legitimacy of Guantanamo have always been somewhat muted. They have come, by and large, from those that the majority of Americans regard as civil liberties fanatics -- activists who (the slur goes) care more about the rights of terrorists than about defending their country.

Consider then the utter difference there would be if in one small detail the story of Guantanamo was changed: that among the detainees there were a dozen or more American citizens. And suppose these terrorist suspects were not only American citizens but were also white and were not Muslims.

That this scenario might seem unimaginable says a great deal about our expectations about the respect the U.S. government is supposed to show its own citizens; but just as much it reveals the nation's limited concern about the fate on non-Americans. If innocent men have lost five years of their lives because they were deprived of their legal rights, as a country we have accepted this as a regrettable but necessary price for the defense of the nation. We have treated American liberty as of such supreme value that it could be placed above the value of human liberty.

While Guantanamo should be recognized as a stain on the national conscience, it remains a symptom of a national pathology: a dangerously shallow sense of humanity.
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Sliming the defense
Editorial, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2007

Before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled otherwise, the administration insisted that detainees at Guantanamo had no right to challenge their confinement in a U.S. court. The administration devised its own rules for military commissions to try them for alleged war crimes, until the high court ruled that Congress had to be involved. (Even then, the administration was able to convince Congress that detainees shouldn't be allowed to file habeas corpus petitions.)

These policies bespoke an exaggerated understanding of executive power, even in wartime, but they also reflected a certitude bordering on smugness that has characterized too much of the administration's conduct of the war on terror.

Many of the lawyers involved in detainee issues on a pro bono basis are motivated by loyalty to the Constitution, which the administration has sometimes appeared eager to overlook. Advocacy on behalf of due process is a form of patriotism and public service. Criminal prosecutors aren't usually in the business of tarnishing defense attorneys, for good reason, and it's important that the government maintain the same professionalism when prosecuting the war on terror. [complete article]

Comment -- This is an argument that even while ostensibly critical of the Bush administration actually reveals why it has been so easy for the administration to consolidate its power in the face of weak-kneed opposition.

Having already pointed out that the administration makes no serious distinction between terrorists and terrorist suspects, the editorial goes on to exhort the government to be throughly professional as it conducts the war on terror. Yet the problem is not simply lack of professionalism; it is the very conception of a 'war on terror.'

It won't be long before we enter the seventh year of this war, yet questioning its legitimacy is still a taboo in mainstream American politics. Democrats and Republicans argue about who is better qualified to conduct the war and whether Iraq rightly or wrongly got wrapped into the package, yet hardly anyone is willing to stand up and say: "I oppose the war on terror. It was an ill-conceived enterprise that has done far more harm than good."

The war on terrorism is really a war on politics. It is a way of fencing off political issues by saying that wherever violence is present, then the pursuit of "security" trumps all other political considerations. Yet this is invariably a security built on the denial of the conditions that make it necessary.
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U.S. lacks 'explosive' evidence against Iran
By Gareth Porter, IPS, January 18, 2007

For 18 months, the administration of US President George W Bush has periodically raised the charge that Iran is supplying anti-coalition forces in Iraq with arms.

Previously, high administration officials have always admitted that they had no real evidence to support these claims. Now, they are going further. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters on her current Middle Eastern trip, "I think there is plenty of evidence that there is Iranian involvement with these networks that are making high-explosive IEDs [improvised explosive devices] and that are endangering our troops, and that's going to be dealt with."

However, Rice failed to provide any evidence of official Iranian involvement.

The previous pattern had been that US and British officials suggested that Iranian government involvement in the use by Sunni insurgents or Shi'ite militias of "shaped charges" that can penetrate US armored vehicles was the only logical conclusion that could be drawn from the facts. But when asked point blank, they admitted that they had no evidence.

That allegation serves not just one Bush administration objective, but two: it provides an additional justification for aggressive rhetoric and pressure against Tehran and also suggests that Iran bears much of the blame for the sectarian violence in Baghdad and high levels of US casualties from IEDs. [complete article]

See also, Bush's new Iran policy - war plan or propaganda? (Gareth Porter).
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Saudis consider sending troops to Iraq
By Alex Johnson and Andrea Mitchell, MSNBC and NBC News, January 16, 2007

Saudi Arabia believes the Iraqi government is not up to the challenge and has told the United States that it is prepared to move its own forces into Iraq should the violence there degenerate into chaos, a senior U.S. official told NBC News on Tuesday.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal made no effort to mask his skepticism Tuesday about President Bush's proposal to send 21,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq to stem sectarian fighting. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi govt could collapse if security plan fails (Reuters).
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Iraqi refugee crisis seen deepening
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, January 17, 2007

Iraq is emerging as one of the fastest-growing refugee crises in the world, with an estimated 1.7 million Iraqis displaced from their homes and up to 100,000 fleeing the country to Jordan, Syria and other nations amid intensifying sectarian violence, U.S. officials and experts testified yesterday.

Yet the United States has allowed only 466 Iraqis to immigrate under refugee status since 2003 -- including 202 out of 70,000 slots for refugees last year -- in part because of more stringent security screenings, officials said at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Democratic lawmakers and advocates for refugees called for increased U.S. funding and other initiatives to help the fleeing Iraqis, and in particular those who have risked their lives working with American forces. [complete article]
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Baghdad suffers its worst day of carnage in more than a month
By Leila Fadel and Zaineb Obeid, McClatchy, January 16, 2007

The Iraqi capital suffered its worst day of carnage in more than a month on Tuesday as car bombs, roadside explosives and gunfire killed more than 100 people throughout the capital.

Coming one day after a botched execution severed the head of Saddam Hussein's half-brother and on the ninth day of a joint U.S.-Iraqi assault that has decimated the Sunni Muslim Haifa Street neighborhood, the violence heightened the already tense mood of a city wracked by war and girding for the arrival of more U.S. and Iraqi troops. [complete article]
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Hangings fuel sectarian split across Mideast
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, January 17, 2007

The botched hanging of Saddam Hussein and two lieutenants in Iraq by its Shiite-led government has helped to accelerate Sunni-Shiite sectarianism across an already fragile Middle East, according to experts across the region.

The chaotic executions and the calm with which Mr. Hussein confronted the gallows and mocking Shiite guards have bolstered his image among many of his fellow Sunni Muslims.

But something else is happening too: a pan-Muslim unity that surged after the summer war between Israel and Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite militia, is waning.

And while political analysts and government officials in the region say the spreading Sunni disillusionment with Shiites and their backers in Iran will benefit Sunni-led governments and the United States, they and others worry that the tensions could start to balkanize the region as they have in Iraq itself. [complete article]
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Why is Egypt airing insurgent TV from Iraq?
By Sarah Gauch, Christian Science Monitor, January 17, 2007

Al Zawraa television station, the face of Iraq's Sunni insurgency, shows roadside bombs blowing up American tanks, dead and bloody Iraqi children, and insurgent snipers taking aim and firing.

And all this blatant anti-Americanism is broadcasting 24/7 on an Egyptian government-controlled satellite provider from one of Washington's closest allies. Even though Iraq and the US have asked Egypt to pull the plug, the station remains on the air.

The question is, why? While Nilesat, which broadcasts Al Zawraa, argues that it's airing the channel for purely commercial reasons, analysts point to the political benefits for Egypt.

Some say the country's reluctance to shut down the channel shows that Egypt, predominantly Sunni, may be taking a stand against what it sees as the unjust aggressiveness of Iraq's Shiite-led government and the dangers of Iran's influence there. [complete article]
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Arab support vague for U.S. Iraq plan
By Anne Gearan, AP, January 16, 2007

The carefully worded encouragement that Arab allies are offering for President Bush's new Iraq strategy belies deep suspicion among the United States' few real friends in the region that Iraq may already be a lost cause.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made sales calls the past several days in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, presenting the U.S. plan and prospecting for tangible help from Iraq's neighbors. What she collected instead were polite versions of a blunt message: Good luck with that. [complete article]
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Jordanians becoming increasingly disenchanted with U.S. policies
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, January 16, 2007

During her whirlwind trip this week to shore up support for the Bush administration in the Middle East, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took a short helicopter ride from Israel to Amman, had dinner with Jordan's King Abdullah, then departed, leaving behind a nation that's facing a crisis over its close relationship with the United States.

"The government may be pro-Western, pro-American, but the people are something different; there is a large divide," said a Jordanian man who gave his name as Abu Momen as he sat at a restaurant with friends. "Our nation is a key ally to the United States, but it's only the government that receives Rice. Try to find someone in the streets who would receive her."

The men around him nodded in agreement.

"We don't know how long this can continue. We are in a state of contradiction: Our government believes one thing and we believe another," he said. [complete article]
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Senators to introduce resolution opposing Bush's Iraq policy
By Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, January 17, 2007

Senate leaders will introduce a bipartisan resolution of opposition to President Bush's new Iraq policy as early as today, taking the lead from House Democrats who are increasingly divided on how far to go to thwart additional troop deployments to Iraq.

The resolution -- crafted by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.), Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl M. Levin (D-Mich.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) -- will not come to a vote before Bush's State of the Union address on Tuesday. But by sending it to Biden's committee this week, Democratic leaders will give senators from both parties multiple opportunities to voice concerns about the president's policy. [complete article]

W.House says Congress Iraq vote could signal split
By Steve Holland and Susan Cornwell, Reuters, January 17, 2007

The White House said on Tuesday a planned congressional resolution against President George W. Bush's U.S. troop increase in Iraq could send a signal to the world that America is divided on the war.

Bush's "new way forward" for Iraq unveiled last week has faced heavy criticism from Democrats and skepticism -- if not outright opposition -- from many in the president's own Republican party.

Plans are underway in both the House of Representatives and Senate for non-binding resolutions rejecting Bush's plans to send 21,500 more U.S. troops to Iraq to help secure Baghdad and the restive Anbar province.

"Does this send a signal that the United States is divided on the key element of success in Iraq?" White House spokesman Tony Snow said lawmakers needed to ask themselves. [complete article]

Comment -- Tough times for a White House spokesman -- where's that wealth of mindless solidarity and blind faith just when you need it?

But as Bush recently said, when America needs a scapegoat, he knows that that's a role he must stoically take on. As he eloquently put it, "if the people want a scapegoat, they got one right here in me 'cause it's my decisions." In other words, when the country is ready to hold him accountable for the failure in Iraq, he is ready to take on the burden of being wrongly accused of being responsible for that failure.

What a heroic president we have -- willing to take the blame even while he's convinced it's not his fault. Nothing less than a Christ-like figure when you think about it.
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The planner
By Steve Coll, The New Yorker, January 15, 2007

Bush has appointed Lieutenant General Raymond T. Odierno to implement the new approach as the leader of day-to-day combat operations in Iraq. Odierno commanded the 4th Infantry Division in Iraq during 2003 and 2004; he oversaw the capture of Saddam Hussein. He also has a record of either misreading the war or glossing over its difficulties. Odierno said in the summer of 2003 that the Sunnis were "not close to guerrilla warfare" and that the enemy had no will to fight. Early in 2004, he declared at a news conference that the insurgents he was facing were a "fractured, sporadic threat" who had been reduced to just a "handful of cells." He said, "We see constant improvement. And so it is getting better."

In this Elizabethan milieu of flawed and ambitious men, none arrive onstage with more complex motivations than Lieutenant General David H. Petraeus, whom Bush is sending to Iraq as Odierno’s supervisor. Petraeus graduated from West Point the year before the fall of Saigon and later earned a doctorate in international relations from Princeton; the subject of his thesis was the hobbling impact of the Vietnam War on the uses of American military power. His most recent assignment was to rewrite the Army’s counterinsurgency manual, which, amazingly, had not been updated in two decades. Petraeus is one last Quiet American, off to pacify a country that has proved to be a graveyard of theories.

In a competitive democracy, it is difficult to rescue a war built on distortions and illusions, because, to protect falsehoods proffered to voters in the past, a President and his advisers may find it tempting to manufacture more of them. It does not require a cynic to see that even an implausible escalation plan has the virtue of putting domestic political opponents back on their heels. This was the advice given by McGeorge Bundy to Lyndon Johnson in a memo dated February 7, 1965, concerning an escalation plan for Vietnam that Bundy thought might have as little as a twenty-five-per-cent chance of success:
Even if it fails, the policy will be worth it. At a minimum it will damp down the charge that we did not do all that we could have done, and this charge will be important in many countries, including our own.
The Bush Administration is now reworking this sad axiom, and, once again, American soldiers will be asked to give their lives for its assumptions. Under the Constitution, only Congress can prevent this from occurring, but its members have exhibited little evidence in the past that they possess the skill or the will to do so. [complete article]
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U.S. officials: Cheney was kept in the loop on Israel-Syria talks
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, January 17, 2007

Senior American government officials received regular reports of the secret meetings that took place in Europe between a former Israeli official and a Syrian representative, Haaretz has learned.

Senior officials in Washington told Haaretz that U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney was kept in the picture about these indirect talks between Syria and Israel.

Ibrahim (Ayeb) Suleiman, the Syrian representative, also said this at his meetings with former Foreign Ministry director general Alon Liel, adding that Cheney had made no move to stop him from participating in the talks. Suleiman is a Washington resident. [complete article]
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Olmert: New IDF Chief of Staff to be appointed within days
By Amos Harel and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, January 17, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told reporters at the Knesset on Wednesday that a new Israel Defense Forces chief of staff would be appointed within days. He said that he has already begun consultations on the matter, which will continue for several days.

Olmert added that he has spoken to Defense Minister Amir Peretz several times since Tuesday night.

"Although the defense minister formally makes the appointment, it is his [Peretz'] intention to set up a clear process, in order to choose the best possible chief of staff," Olmert said. [complete article]
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U.S. says attacks are surging in Afghanistan
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, January 17, 2007

Attacks by militants crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan have tripled since September along portions of the border, a senior American intelligence official said Tuesday, prompting calls for a greater effort by Pakistan to curb the influx and a larger deployment of American and other NATO soldiers here.

Of particular concern, officials said, has been a rise in attacks by Taliban and other militants from remote and largely ungoverned tribal areas in Pakistan in eastern Afghanistan, where most of the American combat forces in the country are based. [complete article]
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Is energo-fascism in your future?
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, January 14, 2007

It has once again become fashionable for the dwindling supporters of President Bush's futile war in Iraq to stress the danger of "Islamo-fascism" and the supposed drive by followers of Osama bin Laden to establish a monolithic, Taliban-like regime -- a "Caliphate" -- stretching from Gibraltar to Indonesia. The President himself has employed this term on occasion over the years, using it to describe efforts by Muslim extremists to create "a totalitarian empire that denies all political and religious freedom." While there may indeed be hundreds, even thousands, of disturbed and suicidal individuals who share this delusional vision, the world actually faces a far more substantial and universal threat, which might be dubbed: Energo-fascism, or the militarization of the global struggle over ever-diminishing supplies of energy.

Unlike Islamo-fascism, Energo-fascism will, in time, affect nearly every person on the planet. Either we will be compelled to participate in or finance foreign wars to secure vital supplies of energy, such as the current conflict in Iraq; or we will be at the mercy of those who control the energy spigot, like the customers of the Russian energy juggernaut Gazprom in Ukraine, Belarus, and Georgia; or sooner or later we may find ourselves under constant state surveillance, lest we consume more than our allotted share of fuel or engage in illicit energy transactions. This is not simply some future dystopian nightmare, but a potentially all-encompassing reality whose basic features, largely unnoticed, are developing today. [complete article]

Petro-power and the nuclear renaissance
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, January 16, 2007

With global demand for energy constantly rising and supplies contracting (or at least failing to keep pace), the world is being ever more sharply divided into two classes of nations: the energy haves and have-nots. The haves are the nations with sufficient domestic reserves (some combination of oil, gas, coal, hydro-power, uranium, and alternative sources of energy) to satisfy their own requirements and be able to export to other countries; the have-nots lack such reserves and must make up the deficit with expensive imports or suffer the consequences. [complete article]
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How U.S. is deferring war costs
By Ron Scherer, Christian Science Monitor, January 16, 2007

To pay for World War II, Americans bought savings bonds and put extra notches in their belts. President Harry Truman raised taxes and cut nonmilitary spending to pay for the Korean conflict. During Vietnam, the US raised taxes but still watched deficits soar.

But to pay for the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US has used its credit card, counting on the Chinese and other foreign buyers of its debt to pay the bills.

Now, as President Bush is promising to boost the number of troops in Iraq, there is increased scrutiny over how the US is going to pay for it all. [complete article]
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Iran, China buy U.S. gear
AP, January 16, 2007

The U.S. military has sold forbidden equipment at least a half-dozen times to middlemen for countries - including Iran and China - who exploited security flaws in the Defense Department's surplus auctions. The sales include fighter jet parts and missile components.

In one case, federal investigators said, the contraband made it to Iran, a country President Bush branded part of an "axis of evil."

In that instance, a Pakistani arms broker convicted of exporting U.S. missile parts to Iran resumed business after his release from prison. He purchased Chinook helicopter engine parts for Iran from a U.S. company that had bought them in a Pentagon surplus sale. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, speaking on condition of anonymity, say those parts made it to Iran. [complete article]
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Somalia's transitional government shuts 3 radio stations
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, January 16, 2007

Somalia's transitional government shut three of the country's biggest radio stations on Monday, accusing them of broadcasting incendiary propaganda.

Then, in a show of force, hundreds of government soldiers stormed into the streets of Mogadishu, the capital, as tanks from neighboring Ethiopia, which has been providing military support to the government, chugged through downtown, drawing crowds of onlookers and the occasional rock.

Somalia's government, which declared a state of emergency on Saturday, seems intent on using its newfound powers to crush the seeds of a growing insurgency. On Sunday night, gunmen attacked an Ethiopian convoy, setting off an intense hourlong firefight in one of Mogadishu’s ramshackle neighborhoods. [complete article]
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Defense Secretary, in Afghan capital, scolds Iran
By David S. Cloud, New York Times, January 16, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said Monday that Iran was "acting in a very negative way" in the Middle East and that the United States was building up its forces to demonstrate its resolve to remain in the Persian Gulf.

"The Iranians clearly believe that we are tied down in Iraq, that they have the initiative, that they're in a position to press us in many ways," Mr. Gates said, speaking to reporters at NATO headquarters in Brussels before flying here. "We are simply trying to communicate to the region that we are going to be there for a long time."

Delivering that message to Iran -- and to allies in the region worried that Washington is consumed with stabilizing Iraq -- is one of Mr. Gates's priorities on a trip to the region this week that will take him later to the Persian Gulf. [complete article]

Comment -- In response to a growing expectation that the U.S. can be driven out of the Middle East, it is hardly surprising that Defense Secretary Gates is emphasizing America's message: "We are simply trying to communicate to the region that we are going to be there for a long time."

After all, the traditional argument in support of this presence is that it can protect American interests by ensuring regional stability. But since the U.S. now has little credibility describing itself as a stabilizing force, the message of an "enduring presence" sounds more like a bald assertion of colonial domination.

Iran is the region's rising power but America is declaring that it will not allow its own power to be usurped. Three years ago this would have sounded like an expression of imperial hubris. Now it underlines the extent to which the United States is on the retreat.

When Secretary Gates or any other American official asserts that the United States intends to maintain its military presence in the Middle East "for a long time," this begs several questions:

-- Does the administration have such lack of faith in its declared ambition of democratizing the Middle East that it is convinced it must indefinitely maintain a military presence in the region?
-- Or, is the administation convinced that -- contrary to its declared faith in the power of democracy -- military means is actually the only way of securing America's oil supply?
-- Or, does the U.S. have a strategic investment in prolonged regional instability as a guarantee that the regional powers will never collectively say, "We don't need you. Please leave"?
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U.N. marks soaring Iraq death toll
BBC News, January 16, 2007

More than 34,000 civilians were killed in violence in Iraq during 2006, a UN human rights official has said. The envoy to Iraq, Gianni Magazzeni, said 34,452 civilians were killed and more than 36,000 hurt during the year. The figure is nearly three times higher than calculations previously made on the basis of Iraqi interior ministry statistics for 2006. [complete article]
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Iraq edges closer to Iran, with or without the U.S.
By Louise Roug and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, January 16, 2007

The Iraqi government is moving to solidify relations with Iran, even as the United States turns up the rhetorical heat and bolsters its military forces to confront Tehran's influence in Iraq.

Iraq's foreign minister, responding to a U.S. raid on an Iranian office in Irbil in northern Iraq last week, said Monday that the government intended to transform similar Iranian agencies into consulates. The minister, Hoshyar Zebari, also said the government planned to negotiate more border entry points with Iran. [complete article]
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Is Iran driving new Saudi diplomacy?
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, January 16, 2007

Saudi Arabia is playing a more assertive diplomatic role in Lebanon, attempting to bridge rising tension between Lebanese Sunnis and Shiites while curbing Iran's influence in the tiny Mediterranean country, analysts say.

Wary of its own restless Shiite population, Riyadh is deeply concerned at what it sees as a determined drive by Shiite Iran to expand its influence into the mainly Sunni Middle East.

"The Saudis are fighting Iran in Lebanon now because if they don't, they will be fighting them in their own land," says Sarkis Naoum, a Lebanese political commentator.

The stepped-up diplomacy by the Saudis over the past six months led to an unprecedented meeting in Riyadh on Dec. 26 between Saudi King Abdullah and two senior officials of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hizbullah. [complete article]
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Rice speaks softly in Egypt, avoiding democracy push
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, January 16, 2007

In the days before Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with officials in Egypt, the news media here were filled with stories detailing charges of corruption, cronyism, torture and political repression.

Cellphone videos posted on the Internet showed the police sodomizing a bus driver with a broomstick. Another showed the police hanging a woman by her knees and wrists from a pole for questioning. A company partly owned by a member of the governing party distributed tens of thousands of bags of contaminated blood to hospitals around the country. And just 24 hours before Ms. Rice arrived, the authorities arrested a television reporter on charges of harming national interests by making a film about police torture. The reporter was released, but the authorities kept the tapes.

Ms. Rice, who once lectured Egyptians on the need to respect the rule of law, did not address those domestic concerns. Instead, with Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit by her side, she talked about her appreciation for Egypt’s support in the region. [complete article]

Rice is stalled on a road to nowhere
By Mark MacKinnon, Globe and Mail, January 16, 2007

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday announced the seemingly important news that she, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will soon convene for a three-way summit.

The truth, however, is that unless something dramatic happens between now and the not-yet-announced date of that meeting, the trio will have little to talk about.

Ms. Rice repeated the words "road map" nine times in a pair of short press conferences with Mr. Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni during her two-day swing through Jerusalem and Ramallah. Her hosts, however, made it clear that they were no longer interested in the dysfunctional document that has long since proved to lead nowhere. [complete article]
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Iran denies urging Saudi to mediate with U.S.
By Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, January 16, 2007

Iran has denied it asked Saudi Arabia to ease tension with Washington over its disputed nuclear programme and Iraq but analysts said on Tuesday Tehran may be trying to prevent U.S.-allied Arab states lining up against it.

A Saudi official said on Monday that Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, had delivered a message from Iranian leaders to the Saudi king, urging him to convey a message of goodwill from Tehran to Washington.

"(The report about) Iran asking Saudi Arabia to mediate between Iran and America is baseless," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini was quoted as saying by the state-owned Iran newspaper. [complete article]
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Israeli, Syrian representatives reach secret understandings
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, January 16, 2007

In a series of secret meetings in Europe between September 2004 and July 2006, Syrians and Israelis formulated understandings for a peace agreement between Israel and Syria.

The main points of the understandings are as follows:

-- An agreement of principles will be signed between the two countries, and following the fulfillment of all commitments, a peace agreement will be signed.
-- As part of the agreement on principles, Israel will withdraw from the Golan Heights to the lines of 4 June, 1967. The timetable for the withdrawal remained open: Syria demanded the pullout be carried out over a five-year period, while Israel asked for the withdrawal to be spread out over 15 years.
-- At the buffer zone, along Lake Kinneret, a park will be set up for joint use by Israelis and Syrians. The park will cover a significant portion of the Golan Heights. Israelis will be free to access the park and their presence will not be dependent on Syrian approval.
-- Israel will retain control over the use of the waters of the Jordan River and Lake Kinneret.
-- The border area will be demilitarized along a 1:4 ratio (in terms of territory) in Israel's favor.
-- According to the terms, Syria will also agree to end its support for Hezbollah and Hamas and will distance itself from Iran. [complete article]

See also, The full text of the document (Haaretz) and Syrian official denies report of talks as 'completely false' (Haaretz).
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Second Iraq hanging also went awry
By John F. Burns, New York Times, January 16, 2007

Iraq's turbulent effort to reckon with the violence of its past took another macabre turn on Monday when the execution of Saddam Hussein's half brother ended with the hangman's noose decapitating him after he dropped through the gallows trapdoor.

An official video played to a small group of Iraqi and Western reporters more than 13 hours after the hanging showed Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti, former head of Mr. Hussein's secret police, standing nervously on the trapdoor in a flame-orange jumpsuit of the kind used at the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, his head and mustache shaved. Beside him, praying feverishly in identical garb, stood the other condemned man, Awad Hamad al-Bandar, the former chief judge of Mr. Hussein's revolutionary court.

After executioners in full-face balaclavas pulled black hoods over the two men's heads, tightened nooses around their necks and pulled the lever opening the trapdoors, both fell like weights. But the hangmen's calculations of weight, gravity and the momentum needed to snap their necks -- a grim science that has produced detailed "drop charts" used for decades in hangings around the world -- appeared, in Mr. Ibrahim’s case, to have gone seriously awry. [complete article]
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Iraq: beyond the gallows
CF Report, Conficts Forum, January 14, 2007

Many observers have assumed that Saddam Hussein's execution was yet another Iraqi "milestone" timed to serve the needs of a struggling American president. Milestone it was, but indications now suggest that this was, on the contrary, a marker that Washington was desperate to forestall. And for good reason: in pressing for Saddam's execution, Iran appears to have reached over America's head and graphically demonstrated that it is now the preeminent political force inside Iraq.

The Bush administration's provocative posture towards Iran in recent days could thus say more about what has already happened than about what is yet to come. From the vantage point of the Oval Office, raising the specter of a military confrontation with Iran may in fact seem preferable to facing the greatest humiliation of all: the acknowledgement of an Iranian victory in Iraq. Yet it now appears that Saddam's ignominious end was exactly that: victor's justice -- Iranian victor's justice. [complete article]
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Bush's new Iran policy - war plan or propaganda?
By Gareth Porter, IPS, January 15, 2007

President George W. Bush's seemingly aggressive Iran policy of taking direct action against alleged Iranian "networks" involved in attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq, combined with the deployment of a second carrier group off Iran's coast, triggered speculation that it is related to a plan for an attack.

But the revelation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the campaign against Iranian officials had already been in effect for several months before Bush's speech last Wednesday indicates that the new rhetoric is aimed at serving the desperate need of the White House to shift the blame for its failure in Iraq to Iran, and to appear to be taking tough action. [complete article]
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Outcry over hanging of Saddam's henchmen
By Devika Bhat and Stephen Farrell, The Times, January 15, 2007

Two of Saddam Hussein's most senior former aides have been hanged in Iraq, their deaths triggering an outcry and accusations of foul play as authorities admitted that one of the pair was decapitated as he fell from the gallows – an image captured by official footage of the executions.
Across the Arab world there was outrage about the botched hanging, which comes amidst international condemnation about the manner of Saddam's own execution, after mobile phone footage showed the ex-President being taunted and insulted moments before his death.

"This execution is part of the revenge campaign going on in Iraq," said Zaid al-Boudani, a shopkeeper in the Yemei capital Sanaa. "The way his head was ripped off shows revenge and hatred."

Defence lawyers for Barzan - who along with Bandar was found guilty for crimes against humanity for killing 148 Shias from the village of Dujail in 1982 – also slammed the government, insisting the decapitation was deliberate. [complete article]
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U.S. and Iraqis are wrangling over war plans
By John F. Burns, New York Times, January 15, 2007

First among the American concerns is a Shiite-led government that has been so dogmatic in its attitude that the Americans worry that they will be frustrated in their aim of cracking down equally on Shiite and Sunni extremists, a strategy President Bush has declared central to the plan.

"We are implementing a strategy to embolden a government that is actually part of the problem," said an American military official in Baghdad involved in talks over the plan. "We are being played like a pawn."

The American military's misgivings came as new details emerged of the reconstruction portion of Mr. Bush's plan, which calls for more than doubling the number of American-led reconstruction teams in Iraq to 22 and quintupling the number of American civilian reconstruction specialists to 500.

Compounding American doubts about the government's willingness to go after Shiite extremists has been a behind-the-scenes struggle over the appointment of the Iraqi officer to fill the key post of operational commander for the Baghdad operation. In face of strong American skepticism, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, has selected an officer from the Shiite heartland of southern Iraq who was virtually unknown to the Americans, and whose hard-edged demands for Iraqi primacy in the effort has deepened American anxieties. [complete article]

U.S. military may join Iraq against militia leaders
By Farah Stockman and Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, January 14, 2007

US military officials say the Bush administration has given them new authority to target leaders of political and religious militias in Iraq who are implicated in sectarian violence, including the powerful Shi'ite Muslim cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.

Such a showdown, key to Bush's plan to increase the number of US troops in Baghdad, could spark a deadly confrontation with Shi'ite militias, which enjoy widespread popularity in Shi'ite neighborhoods. It could also erode support for the fragile government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who has agreed to the plan. [complete article]

Comment -- Resistance comes in an infinite variety of forms.

American frustrations with the Maliki government suggest that Washington is eager for another regime change, but wish as it might, that's hardly an option. Iraq's tentative democracy would get blown apart before it had even got off the ground. So instead, we are now witnessing a complex power struggle in which Iraqis resist submitting themselves to American control, while Americans resist relinquishing control that must inevitably slip out of their grasp.

President Bush has always resisted the idea of a timetable for withdrawal yet even though no one has named the date, the U.S. presence cannot continue for another six months without some demonstrable measure of "success." All the insurgents and militias need to do is lower their profile long enough for U.S. and Iraqi commanders to make a few premature declarations of progress, then ramp up the violence back to present levels and no one will even bother asking Bush what his backup plan is -- that the war is lost will be beyond debate.

Unless that is an even bigger calamity comes along. In the perverse mindset that governs from afar, the worse Iraq gets, the more appealing Iran becomes.
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Iran target of U.S. Gulf military moves, Gates says
By Mark Tran, The Guardian, January 15, 2007

Increased US military activity in the Gulf is aimed at Iran's "very negative" behaviour, the Bush administration said today.

The defence secretary, Robert Gates, told reporters that the decision to deploy a Patriot missile battalion and a second aircraft carrier to the Gulf in conjunction with a "surge" of troops in Iraq was designed to show Iran that the US was not "overcommitted" in Iraq.

Speaking in Brussels after meeting Nato officials, Mr Gates said: "We are simply reaffirming that statement of the importance of the Gulf region to the United States and our determination to be an ongoing strong presence in that area for a long time into the future." [complete article]

White House: Can't rule out attack on Iran
CNN, January 14, 2007

The White House said Sunday it is not planning military action against Iran, but refused to rule out the possibility, bucking pressure from several senators who said the administration is not authorized to do so.

Asked whether the United States is preparing for a potential military conflict with Iran, President Bush's national security adviser Stephen Hadley told NBC's "Meet the Press," "No, the president has said very clearly that the issues we have with Iran should be solved diplomatically."

But, on ABC's "This Week," Hadley would not rule out the possibility of such an attack and would not say whether he agrees with those senators who say that the Bush administration would need congressional backing for such a move. [complete article]

Comment -- It's interesting to contrast Gates' assertion that the U.S. is determined to maintain an "ongoing strong presence in [the Gulf] for a long time into the future," with the Iraqi foreign minister's statement (see below) that Iraq is "committed to cultivate good neighbourly relations" with Iran and Syria, because "we have to live in this part of the world."

Whereas those who live in the region have a fundamental interest in regional stability, regional instability is the only thing that can justify an enduring American military presence.
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Iraq calls for release of Iranians held by U.S.
By Kim Gamel, AP, January 14, 2007

The Iraqi foreign minister called Sunday for the release of five Iranians detained by U.S. forces in what he said was a legitimate mission in northern Iraq, but he stressed that foreign intervention to help insurgents would not be tolerated.

The two-pronged statement by Hoshyar Zebari highlighted the delicate balance facing the Iraqi government as it tries to secure Baghdad with the help of American forces while maintaining ties with its neighbours, including U.S. rivals Iran and Syria.

"Any interventions – or any harmful interventions to kill Iraqis or to provide support for insurgency or for the insurgents should be stopped by the Iraqi government and by the coalition forces," Zebari said in an interview with CNN's "Late Edition."

But he also stressed Iraq has to keep good relations with its neighbours in the region.

"You have to remember, our destiny, as Iraqis, we have to live in this part of the world. And we have to live with Iran, we have to live with Syria and Turkey and other countries," he said. "So in fact, on the other hand, the Iraqi government is committed to cultivate good neighbourly relations with these two countries and to engage them constructively in security cooperation." [complete article]
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Rice: Fear of Israeli strike on Iran shows risk of nukes issue
Reuter, January 14, 2007

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, on a visit to the Middle East, said Sunday in an interview with Channel 10 that speculation about an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities underscored the risk of failing to persuade Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.

Rice said she believed there was still "plenty of room for diplomacy" in curbing an Iranian nuclear program that Western powers fear could lead to making bombs.

Asked for her view of an Israeli military operation in Iran should diplomacy fail, she replied: "Well, I think that even talk of such just shows how very serious it would be to have Iran continue its program unabated." [complete article]

Comment -- "Even talk of such..." Hmmmm... Are we to infer that this talk is actually part of the diplomatic process?
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Shin Bet: Global sanctions on Hamas bolstering Iran-PA ties
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, January 14, 2007

The global sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led Palestinian government are actually strengthening Palestinian relations with Iran, the director of the Shin Bet security services told ministers on Sunday during a weekly cabinet meeting, Army Radio reported.

Yuval Diskin told ministers that the embargo placed on the leading Palestinian party since its ascension to power last year has led Iran to increase its support of the Palestinians, according to the radio.

"Tehran is offering training and a lot of money," Diskin said.

The Shin Bet chief also told the cabinet that the increase in violent clashes between the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah has increased the chances that a unity government will be established in the Palestinian Authority. Diskin also reported significant advances in negotiations over the formation of the unity government. [complete article]
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Rice gets earful on Mideast peace
By Paul Richter and Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, January 15, 2007

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday implored Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for help moving stalled peace talks with Israel toward their final stage.

Meeting with Rice during her five-day tour of the Middle East, Abbas said he was willing to push ahead to final negotiations "in back channels, in open channels, in secret channels, any way it can be achieved," said Saeb Erekat, a veteran Palestinian negotiator, who sat in on part of the discussions.

Erekat said Rice listened during the two-hour meeting at Abbas' offices in the West Bank city of Ramallah, but left without promises.

Rice's trip, her third to the region since October, comes at a time when a number of Arab and Israeli peace proposals are circulating and the United States is under pressure from allies to produce results.

Yet there is skepticism among many Israelis and Palestinians, as well as outside observers, about the prospects for progress and the seriousness of the Bush administration's commitment. [complete article]

Rice visit leaves Palestinians gloomy
By Tim McGirk and Jamil Hamad, Time, January 14, 2007

After meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas made no effort to hide his grim expression from his staff. From the Palestinian perspective, the talks hadn't gone well. Abbas had complained to Rice that an earlier chat and a bear hug with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, at the Secretary of State's behest, had only landed him in trouble with his fellow Palestinians. According to a presidential aide, he told Rice that "Olmert embarrassed me by not implementing a single Israeli promise."

Olmert had vowed to release $100 million in Palestinian funds frozen by Israel after Hamas became the government last March. Olmert also promised to remove some of the more than 400 roadblocks inside the Palestinian territories. Israel has so far failed to deliver on either promise, according to Palestinian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity. [complete article]

U.S. seeks 86 million dollars in military aid to Palestinians
AFP, January 12, 2007

The administration of President George W. Bush has asked Congress to authorize 86 million dollars in military aid to boost security forces loyal to moderate Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, a senior US official said.

"Eighty-six million is the figure we're looking at with Congress, that's our starting point," said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack.

He said the aid would be "non-lethal assistance" including communications gear, vehicles and uniforms as well as training.

"It's needed, and we think it's an important part of helping to build up responsible security forces that report directly to president Abbas," he told reporters. [complete article]

Comment -- The White House apparently wants the world to believe that Condoleezza Rice is the peace process. When she moves, the process moves -- at least, she and her boss seem to harbor the conceit that her movements will be interpreted by others as a sign of movement. The real movement though, comes in the form of cash -- for "non-lethal assistance" the State Department says. So how many pairs of boots and uniforms, radios and trucks, can you get for $86 million?
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Bush interview
60 Minutes, CBS News, January 14, 2007

PELLEY: Do you think you owe the Iraqi people an apology for not doing a better job?

BUSH: That we didn't do a better job or they didn't do a better job?

PELLEY: Well, that the United States did not do a better job in providing security after the invasion.

BUSH: Not at all. I am proud of the efforts we did. We liberated that country from a tyrant. I think the Iraqi people owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude, and I believe most Iraqis express that. I mean, the people understand that we've endured great sacrifice to help them. That's the problem here in America. They wonder whether or not there is a gratitude level that's significant enough in Iraq. [complete article]

Comment -- The attitude Bush expresses here -- an attitude almost certainly shared by millions of Americans -- is one that will enrage many Iraqis. The subtext is transparent: Be thankful for our good efforts, but you can blame yourselves for the fact that things turned out so badly.

With several hundred thousand Iraqi lives lost, the president of the United States, in claiming that the people of Iraq "owe the American people a huge debt of gratitude," might just as well be pissing on the graves of the dead. Only if Iraqis could reasonably believe that they would be worse off now had there been no American intervention, would they have anything for which they could be grateful.

Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Blair, love to say that the world is better off without Saddam, yet without attempting to realistically assess the alternative, this is and always was, a hollow claim.

The alternative that Bush now posits is this: "Envision a world in which Saddam Hussein was rushing for a nuclear weapon to compete against Iran." That vision certainly serves Bush's purpose yet it presupposes a post 9/11 America externally constrained in ways that we know it was not.

After 9/11, the Bush administration threw away an opportunity to bolster its containment strategy against Saddam by developing closer relations with Iran and then-president Khatami (who shared America's interest in shutting down al Qaeda). Had this chance not been rejected by the neocons, there is good reason to believe that:

1) Iraqis, in spite of still living under an authoritarian regime would now be much better off than they are after four years of war;
2) that Iran's reformists would have been empowered by popular support and improved relations with the West, and
3) that the Middle East would not now be the cauldron of instability that it has become.

Through a combination of fear and bribery, and with blithe indifference to the humanitarian consequences of their choice, the majority of Americans were persuaded to support a war for which they would be expected to make no sacrifice whatsoever. A portion of the price of this war been paid by military families and a generation of Americans who will inherit the debts of those who think that no cost is too great to "preserve our way of life." Yet the overwhelming human cost has fallen on a nation and a people who must now bear the unimaginable insult of being told they should be grateful.
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'The jihad now is against the Shias, not the Americans'
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, January 13, 2007

One morning a few weeks ago I sat in a car talking to Rami, a thick-necked former Republican Guard commando who now procures arms for his fellow Sunni insurgents.

Rami was explaining how the insurgency had changed since the first heady days after the US invasion. "I used to attack the Americans when that was the jihad. Now there is no jihad. Go around and see in Adhamiya [the notorious Sunni insurgent area] - all the commanders are sitting sipping coffee; it's only the young kids that are fighting now, and they are not fighting Americans any more, they are just killing Shia. There are kids carrying two guns each and they roam the streets looking for their prey. They will kill for anything, for a gun, for a car and all can be dressed up as jihad."

Rami was no longer involved in fighting, he said, but made a tidy profit selling weapons and ammunition to men in his north Baghdad neighbourhood. Until the last few months, the insurgency got by with weapons and ammunition looted from former Iraqi army depots. But now that Sunnis were besieged in their neighbourhoods and fighting daily clashes with the better-equipped Shia ministry of interior forces, they needed new sources of weapons and money.

He told me that one of his main suppliers had been an interpreter working for the US army in Baghdad. "He had a deal with an American officer. We bought brand new AKs and ammunition from them." He claimed the American officer, whom he had never met but he believed was a captain serving at Baghdad airport, had even helped to divert a truckload of weapons as soon as it was driven over the border from Jordan. [complete article]

Mahdi Army lowers its profile, anticipating arrival of U.S. troops
By Leila Fadel and Zaineb Obeid, McClatchy, January 13, 2007

Mahdi Army militia members have stopped wearing their black uniforms, hidden their weapons and abandoned their checkpoints in an apparent effort to lower their profile in Baghdad in advance of the arrival of U.S. reinforcements.

"We have explicit directions to keep a low profile . . . not to confront, not to be dragged into a fight and to calm things down," said one official who received the orders from the anti-American Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Sadr heads the Mahdi Army, Iraq's largest Shiite militia, headquartered in Najaf.

The official asked not to be named because he was not authorized to reveal the militia's plans.

Militia members say al-Sadr ordered them to stand down shortly after President George Bush's announcement that the U.S. would send 17,500 more American troops to Baghdad to work alongside the Iraqi security forces.

The decision by al-Sadr to lower his force's profile in Baghdad will likely cut violence in the city and allow American forces to show quick results from their beefed up presence. But it is also unlikely in the long term to change the balance of power here. Mahdi Army militiamen say that while they remain undercover now, they are simply waiting for the security plan to end. [complete article]
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U.S. policies have made Israel less safe, experts say
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, January 12, 2007

After years of supporting the Bush administration's policy in the Middle East, a growing number of Israelis are openly criticizing the United States for creating more, not less, danger for Israel.

Israeli experts contend that American policies have destabilized Iraq, emboldened anti-Western forces from Iran to Lebanon and paved the way for militant Islamists to gain control of the Palestinian Authority.

"The threats to Middle East security and stability worsened in 2006," experts at Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies recently warned. "The American failure in Iraq has hurt the standing of the U.S. in the Middle East."

Perhaps most strikingly, in their annual evaluation of the situation, the Israeli analysts concluded that it was better for the United States to get out of Iraq than to add troops, as President Bush is proposing. [complete article]
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Plan would add Kurds to civil war mix
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2007

Already a dangerous battleground for an array of forces, Baghdad soon could be flooded with another volatile element: thousands of Kurds from northern Iraq.

As part of President Bush's new strategy for Iraq, 8,000 to 10,000 Iraqi troops will deploy to Baghdad in the coming weeks, American and Iraqi officials said, and as many as 3,600 could be Kurds. It would be the first time such a large number of Kurdish forces have been sent to the capital.

The impending deployment has raised fears among Kurds, most of whom live in a protected autonomous enclave, that they are being dragged more directly into Iraq's bloody and complex civil war. [complete article]
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Democrats feel free to defy Bush on Iraq
By Noam N. Levey, Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2007

Emboldened by President Bush's deeply unpopular proposal to send more troops to Iraq, congressional Democrats are shedding their wariness about tackling the war and embracing positions once primarily held by the party's most liberal fringe.

Less than two weeks after taking power, party leaders who had promised just an increase in oversight hearings on the war are now talking openly about cutting off funds for additional military operations.

Centrist Democrats are lining up beside longtime antiwar liberals, promising to do everything in their power to stop the president's plans to deploy an additional 21,500 troops in Baghdad and Al Anbar province. [complete article]
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Rice says U.S. will defend its interest in the Persian Gulf
By Warren P. Strobel, McClatchy, January 13, 2007

President Bush, Rice and others predicted the Iraq invasion would spread democracy throughout the Arab world. Instead, Rice now appears to be playing defense against Iran's emboldened leaders.

Following a new policy laid down by President Bush, U.S. military forces this week detained Iranians in two raids in northern Iraq. Washington says it has evidence that Iranian agents are destabilizing Iraq by constructing a deadly class of roadside bombs and backing Shiite militias.

Bush, who issued fresh warnings to Iran in his Wednesday speech outlining his new Iraq plan, has also ordered a second U.S. aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf and dispatched Patriot anti-missile batteries to American allies in the Gulf.

Some senators have expressed alarm that the moves could represent a widening of U.S. war aims in the strategic Gulf region.

But Rice said the moves were merely a response to Iranian actions. [complete article]

See also, Rice says Bush authorized Iranians' arrest in Iraq (NYT) and Gates denies US forces will enter Iran (FT).
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Hizbullah sets date for peak of protests
By Hani M. Bathish, Daily Star, January 13, 2007

Hizbullah said Friday that the opposition's successive protests will reach a climax before January 25 - the first time a date has been applied to the protesters' maneuvers.

Hizbullah MP Hussein Al Hajj Hassan, speaking at a union meeting in Baalbek, said: "Today we accept a national unity government. Soon we will only be satisfied with early parliamentary elections, come what may."

Reflecting the urgency of the situation, Speaker Nabih Berri described the political situation in Lebanon as "murky and cloudy," adding that he hoped "this time someone will listen in time."

Berri said the crisis would only "get bigger and much worse" if a solution was not found, urging all sides against waiting until "the storm hits." [complete article]

CIA gets the go-ahead to take on Hizbollah
By Toby Harnden, The Telegraph, January 10, 2007

The Central Intelligence Agency has been authorised to take covert action against Hizbollah as part of a secret plan by President George W. Bush to help the Lebanese government prevent the spread of Iranian influence. Senators and congressmen have been briefed on the classified "non-lethal presidential finding" that allows the CIA to provide financial and logistical support to the prime minister, Fouad Siniora.

The finding was signed by Mr Bush before Christmas after discussions between his aides and Saudi Arabian officials. Details of its existence, known only to a small circle of White House officials, intelligence officials and members of Congress, have been passed to The Daily Telegraph.

It authorises the CIA and other US intelligence agencies to fund anti-Hizbollah groups in Lebanon and pay for activists who support the Siniora government. The secrecy of the finding means that US involvement in the activities is officially deniable. [complete article]
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Iraq's Talabani to visit Damascus
By Mike Wooldridge, BBC News, January 14, 2007

Iraqi President Jalal Talabani is travelling to Syria for the highest level Iraqi visit in many years. It comes after US President George W Bush accused both Syria and Iran of fuelling Iraq's violence as he announced his new strategy for Iraq.

The US says Syria allows militants to enter Iraq, but Damascus says it is doing all it can to secure its border.

Diplomatic relations between Iraq and Syria were restored last November after a break of more than 20 years. This visit by President Talabani demonstrates Iraq's balancing act between the United States and a country that Washington prefers to see isolated. [complete article]
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Losing Iraq, one truckload at a time
By Luis Carlos Montalvan, New York Times, January , 2007

The greatest amount of corruption in the Iraq military and police forces occurs when payrolls are handed out at the unit level. Because the country doesn’t have a functioning banking system that would allow easy money transfers to private accounts, military and security commanders receive large sums of cash every payroll period based on the number and rank of soldiers on their personnel rosters. The endemic problem is that commanders frequently put nonexistent soldiers and security personnel -- dubbed "ghosts" by American overseers -- on their rosters and pocket their salaries.

It is difficult to overstate how deeply these ghosts hurt the war effort. Most obviously, we have no idea how much of this money is being siphoned off to support tribal and ethnic fighting, and even the insurgency itself.

Also, because hundreds and thousands of ghosts exist at all echelons, many military and police units in the field do not have nearly as many men at arms as they seem to have on paper. Thus the units are often assigned tasks for which they do not have necessary manpower. And when American or other coalition forces are asked to "partner" with Iraqi troops, we have often found that there simply aren't enough bodies to conduct training and missions. [complete article]

War costs are hitting historic proportions
By Joel Havemann, Los Angeles Times, January 14, 2007

By the time the Vietnam war ended in 1975, it had become America's longest war, shadowed the legacies of four presidents, killed 58,000 Americans along with many thousands more Vietnamese, and cost the U.S. more than $660 billion in today's dollars.

By the time the bill for World War II passed the $600-billion mark, in mid-1943, the United States had driven German forces out of North Africa, devastated the Japanese fleet in the Battle of Midway, and launched the vast offensives that would liberate Europe and the South Pacific.

The Iraq war is far smaller and narrower than those conflicts, and it has not extended beyond the tenure of a single president. But its price tag is beginning to reach historic proportions, and the budgetary "burn rate" for Iraq may be greater than in some periods in past wars. [complete article]
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Absolute power
By Dahlia Lithwick, Slate, January 13, 2007

Why is the United States poised to try Jose Padilla as a dangerous terrorist, long after it has become perfectly clear that he was just the wrong Muslim in the wrong airport on the wrong day?

Why is the United States still holding hundreds of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, long after years of interrogation and abuse have established that few, if any, of them are the deadly terrorists they have been held out to be?

And why is President Bush still issuing grandiose and provocative signing statements, the latest of which claims that the executive branch holds the power to open mail as it sees fit?

Willing to give the benefit of the doubt, I once believed the common thread here was presidential blindness -- an extreme executive-branch myopia that leads the president to believe that these futile little measures are somehow integral to combating terrorism. That this is some piece of self-delusion that precludes Bush and his advisers from recognizing that Padilla is just a chump and Guantanamo merely a holding pen for a jumble of innocent and half-guilty wretches.

But it has finally become clear that the goal of these foolish efforts isn't really to win the war against terrorism; indeed, nothing about Padilla, Guantanamo, or signing statements moves the country an inch closer to eradicating terror. The object is a larger one, and the original overarching goal of this administration: expanding executive power, for its own sake. [complete article]
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Military is expanding its intelligence role in U.S.
By Eric Lichtblau and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, January 14, 2007

The Pentagon has been using a little-known power to obtain banking and credit records of hundreds of Americans and others suspected of terrorism or espionage inside the United States, part of an aggressive expansion by the military into domestic intelligence gathering.

The C.I.A. has also been issuing what are known as national security letters to gain access to financial records from American companies, though it has done so only rarely, intelligence officials say.

Banks, credit card companies and other financial institutions receiving the letters usually have turned over documents voluntarily, allowing investigators to examine the financial assets and transactions of American military personnel and civilians, officials say.

The F.B.I., the lead agency on domestic counterterrorism and espionage, has issued thousands of national security letters since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, provoking criticism and court challenges from civil liberties advocates who see them as unjustified intrusions into Americans' private lives.

But it was not previously known, even to some senior counterterrorism officials, that the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency have been using their own "noncompulsory" versions of the letters. Congress has rejected several attempts by the two agencies since 2001 for authority to issue mandatory letters, in part because of concerns about the dangers of expanding their role in domestic spying. [complete article]
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Pentagon won't back official who blasted Gitmo lawyers
AP, January 13, 2007

The Pentagon on Saturday disavowed a senior official's remarks suggesting companies boycott law firms that represent detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Charles "Cully" Stimson, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for detainee affairs, said in a radio interview last week that companies might want to consider taking their business to firms that do not represent suspected terrorists.

Stimson's remarks were viewed by legal experts and advocacy groups as an attempt to intimidate law firms that provide legal help to all people, even unpopular defendants. [complete article]

'WSJ' and top official suggest top lawyers should refuse to represent terrorists
E&P, January 14, 2007

"This is prejudicial to the administration of justice," Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University and an authority on legal ethics, told the Times. "We have a senior government official suggesting that representing these people somehow compromises American interests, and he even names the firms, giving a target to corporate America."

But as the Times observes, "The same point appeared Friday on the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal, where Robert L. Pollock, a member of the newspaper's editorial board, cited the list of law firms and quoted an unnamed 'senior U.S. official' as saying, 'Corporate C.E.O.'s seeing this should ask firms to choose between lucrative retainers and representing terrorists.'" [complete article]

See also, Unveiled threats (WP editorial).
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Bush's new Iraq plan: bomb Tehran
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, January 11, 2007

No more Middle East crusades
By Dimitri K. Simes, Los Angeles Times, January 9, 2007

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

Shi'ite time bomb has a short fuse
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, January 12, 2007

A new oil plan for Iraq
By Vivienne Walt, Time, January 11, 2007

A Somali jihadist: We're not Al-Qaeda
By Alex Perry, Time, January 10, 2007

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

Elliot Abrams' uncivil war
Conflicts Forum Report, January 7, 2007

Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran
By Uzi Mahnaimi and Sarah Baxter, The Sunday Times, January 7, 2007

U.S. puts squeeze on Iran's oil fields
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2007
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