|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
What Iraq tells us about ourselves
By Col. W. Patrick Lang, Jr., Foreign Policy, February , 2007
In the four years since the United States invaded Iraq, it's become clear that our campaign there has gone terribly awry. We invaded Iraq with too few troops; we destroyed the Iraqi civil administration and military without having a suitable instrument of government ready in the wings; we expelled from public employment anyone with a connection, no matter how tenuous, to the Baath Party -- which included most people who could be described as human infrastructure for Iraq. The list of errors goes on and on. Even the vice president acknowledges that "mistakes were made" (although, presumably, not by him).
But how did the highly educated, wealthy, and powerful American people make such a horrendous, catastrophic series of blunders? As Pogo, the cartoon opossum, once famously said, "We have met the enemy and he is us!" Yes, that's right: We, the American people -- not the Bush administration, nor the hapless Iraqis, nor the meddlesome Iranians (the new scapegoat) -- are the root of the problem.
It's woven into our cultural DNA. Most Americans mistakenly believe that when we say that "all men are created equal," it means that all people are the same. Behind the "cute" and "charming" native clothing, the "weird" marriage customs, and the "odd" food of other cultures, all humans are yearning for lifestyles and futures that will be increasingly unified as time and globalization progress. That is what Tom Friedman seems to have meant when he wrote that "the world is flat" -- that technological and economic change are driving humankind toward a future of cultural sameness. In other words, whatever differences of custom and habit that still exist between peoples will pass away soon and be replaced by a world culture rather like that of the United States in the 21st century.
To be blunt, our foreign policy tends to be predicated on the notion that everyone wants to be an American. [complete article] In Iraq, anyone can make a bomb
By Andrew Cockburn, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2007
President Bush has now definitively stated that bombs known as explosively formed penetrators — EFPs, which have proved especially deadly for U.S. troops in Iraq — are made in Iran and exported to Iraq. But in November, U.S. troops raiding a Baghdad machine shop came across a pile of copper disks, 5 inches in diameter, stamped out as part of what was clearly an ongoing order. This ominous discovery, unreported until now, makes it clear that Iraqi insurgents have no need to rely on Iran as the source of EFPs.
The truth is that EFPs are simple to make for anyone who knows how to do it. Far from a sophisticated assembly operation that might require state supervision, all that is required is one of those disks, some high-powered explosive (which is easy to procure in Iraq) and a container, such as a piece of pipe. I asked a Pentagon analyst specializing in such devices how much each one would cost to make. "Twenty bucks," he answered after a brief calculation. "Thirty at most." [complete article]
See also, Defense chief again says U.S. will not wage war with Iran (NYT). Israel's surge of despair
By Gregory Levey, Salon, February 15, 2007
Hezbollah operatives plant explosives along the disputed border area between Lebanon and Israel. The Israeli military moves in and destroys them. Israeli and Lebanese forces engage in sporadic gun battles.
It may sound like the prelude to the war waged last summer between the Israeli military and Hezbollah, but it happened just last week. Tensions are running high along the Israel-Lebanon border again, and political and intelligence analysts are predicting another major flare-up of hostilities this spring or summer, or perhaps even sooner. According to Israeli military intelligence, Hezbollah remains firmly rooted in Lebanon and has successfully rearmed -- the Iranian-backed Shiite militia now has even more missiles than it had before last summer's war. To many Israelis, it seems as if that war, and the destruction it brought, were all for nothing.
For many, it is a thoroughly depressing realization. And this sense of depression is not only permeating the Israeli public. A series of recent interviews with current and former Israeli government officials revealed a level of pessimism across the Israeli government that is unprecedented in recent decades. Several senior officials acknowledged unequivocally that Israel lost the war against Hezbollah, and confirmed that this is a widely held view inside the Israeli government -- despite many public pronouncements to the contrary by Israeli leaders.
In light of Israel's close strategic ties with the United States, and particularly with the Bush administration, it has been all but taboo in the past for Israeli officials to openly criticize U.S. policy. But some officials I spoke with also voiced rising fears -- and disapproval -- over the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and Iran. Those officials include octogenarian Rafi Eitan, currently an Israeli cabinet minister, who told me that in the wake of Israel's failed efforts to crush Hezbollah, and with the deepening crisis in Iraq, Israel is in one of the most precarious situations he has ever seen in his seven decades of military and government service. Regarding President Bush's handing of Iraq, Eitan said, "Unless the policy changes, it is hopeless."
The level of gloom inside the Israeli government is accompanied by a creeping sense of paralysis -- one that could be dangerous not just for Israel, but for U.S. interests in the region, and for the Middle East as a whole. A recent conversation with a senior member of Israel's diplomatic corps -- someone with extensive experience in Israel's foreign policy establishment -- left me stunned by the degree of negativity. I have known him personally for several years and have never seen him so down on the country's prospects. "We lost the war," he told me, regarding last summer's conflict. "We all know that," he continued, adding that the failure against Hezbollah is the "core reason" for the deepening pessimism inside the government. This contrasts sharply, of course, with the official government line. As recently as Feb. 1, speaking to an Israeli commission investigating the war effort, Prime Minister Olmert, according to his aides, insisted once again that "Israel won the war."
The senior Israeli diplomat in part blamed Olmert's politics. "Do you know why we lost? Because soldiers don't want to die for these leaders. Who wants to die for Amir Peretz?" he said, referring to the Israeli defense minister, whose qualifications for the job have been called into question. Peretz, the leader of the Labor Party, but who had no real security or defense credentials, was appointed by Olmert last year to ensure the Labor Party's involvement in Olmert's coalition government.
The senior Israeli diplomat's grievances went beyond the Defense Ministry. He lamented the wave of cronyism, corruption and sexual harassment scandals that have plagued the government in recent times. "We live in a corrupt society, where those with merit don't get anywhere," he said. "It's a very sad time for the Jewish state."
I raised this striking level of gloom with another high-ranking diplomat, who told me he was not surprised to hear of it. "There is a lot of frustration right now," he nodded, "and it's not just felt in the Foreign Ministry." He agreed that it was caused by "all the corruption in the political layers, and the perception in Israel that the war was a failure."
Yet, the roots of the seemingly ubiquitous sense of despair may stem more from the goings-on in the corridors of power in Washington than those in Jerusalem. [complete article] What the West can learn from Islam
By Tariq Ramadan, The Chronicle, February 16, 2007
In late September, I finally received a response to the question I had been asking the Bush administration for more than two years: Why was my work visa revoked in late July 2004, just days before I was to take up a position as a professor of Islamic studies and the Henry Luce chair of religion, conflict, and peace building at the University of Notre Dame? Initially neither I nor the university was told why; officials only made a vague reference to a provision of the U.S. Patriot Act that allows the government to exclude foreign citizens who have "endorsed or espoused terrorism." Though the U.S. Department of Homeland Security eventually cleared me of all charges of links with terrorist groups, today it points to another reason to keep me out of the country: donations I made totaling approximately $900 to a Swiss Palestinian-support group that is now on the American blacklist. A letter I received from the American Embassy in Switzerland, where I hold citizenship, asserts that I "should reasonably have known" that the group had ties with Hamas.
What American officials do not say is that I myself had brought those donations to their attention, and that the organization in question continues to be officially recognized by the Swiss authorities (my donations were duly registered on my income-tax declaration). More important still is the fact that I contributed to the organization between 1998 and 2002, more than a year before it was blacklisted by the United States. It seems, according to American officials, that I "should reasonably have known" about the organization's alleged activities before the Homeland Security Department itself knew!
I believe the administration refuses me entry into the United States because of my criticism of its Middle East policy and America's unconditional support for Israel, which has led it to acquiesce in flouting Palestinian rights. And undeniably, some American groups that strongly support Israel and will allow no criticism of American foreign policy toward it have been highly critical of me. But academics, intellectuals, and organizations that have supported me -- like the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Academy of Religion (I presented a keynote address to its annual meeting late last year by videoconference, since the administration would not let me enter the country to speak in person), the American Association of University Professors, and the PEN American Center -- have understood that the real issue is my freedom of speech, and they have continued to lend their weight to my legal appeal of the decision. [complete article] Brandeis donors exact revenge for Carter visit
By Larry Cohler-Esses, The Jewish Week, February 16, 2007
Major donors to Brandeis University have informed the school they will no longer give it money in retaliation for its decision last month to host former President Jimmy Carter, a strong critic of Israel.
The donors have notified the school in writing of their decisions -- and specified Carter as the reason, said Stuart Eizenstat, a former aide to Carter during his presidency and a current trustee of Brandeis, one of the nation's premier Jewish institutions of higher learning.
They are "more than a handful," he said. "So, this is a concern. There are evidently a fair number of donors who have indicated they will withhold contributions."
Brandeis history professor Jonathan Sarna, who maintains close ties with the administration, told The Jewish Week, "These were not people who send $5 to the university. These were major donors, and major potential donors." [complete article] Obama will soon make the case that he'll be as strong on Israel as anyone
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, February 16, 2007
In my 60-minute interview with him last week, Obama was not shy about explaining why a viable peace has not yet been achieved. Like all the other major Democratic candidates, he will be a strong advocate for American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Nonetheless, he said he is yet to see - "particularly in the Palestinian community - "leaders who have both the will and the capacity to renounce violence as a strategy to resolve the problems and to actually enforce any agreement that might be reached with the Israelis." Talking about the current prospects for an agreement, Obama said that under the existing conditions, "I think we're not going to see much progress."
But this is just the short version of the policy Obama will be officially presenting soon. This week I was told that while the venue has yet to be selected, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs conference in Washington at the end of February is one possibility. There's also a chance that he will make his comments on Israel at a Washington rally calling for the release of the abducted Israeli soldiers or while speaking to a group of Chicago Jews. One thing is quite clear: It will happen in the next two to three weeks.
I asked about the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) convention in March and was told that he will speak there too, but wants to have another speech sooner. Obama doesn't want to wait such a long time - not when he is running a campaign in which he will need the support of many people who care deeply about Israel. (Oh, let's just say it: Jewish voters are major donors to the Democratic Party and its nominees.) He also wants to make sure that people will hear him, and him alone. After all, Obama will not be the only candidate speaking and getting attention at the AIPAC conference. [complete article]
Comment -- Obedience is not strength; it is the willingness to submit oneself to a higher power. Barack Obama -- like all other presidential candidates -- sees where the power resides and so will gladly bow down (and hold out his hands out for the cash). And as donors to Brandeis University have demonstrated (see above), disobedience results in punishment.
With a field full of candidates all "strong on Israel" is there any hope that a candidate might appear whose strength actually comes from within? Palestinian alliance may work
By Steven Gutkin, AP, February 16, 2007
Western nations face an agonizing choice over whether to do business with the emerging Palestinian unity government: Endorsing it risks bolstering Islamic radicals, but shunning it might endanger the best chance in years to move forward on peace.
When she arrives in the region this weekend, initial signs are that Secretary State Condoleezza Rice will bring a tough message: no dealings with a Palestinian government that refuses to recognize Israel.
While the U.S. wants to uphold the principle of isolating those it deems terrorists, it risks bringing about a Palestinian civil war. The unity deal between the moderate Fatah and the radical Hamas movements is seen as perhaps the only way to end internal fighting that has killed 130 people since May.
Rejecting the new government also would likely undermine both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and the Saudi government, which brokered last week's deal - two forces of moderation which are seen as key to furthering America's other major Mideast policy goal: keeping Iran at bay. [complete article]
Rice denies US refusing to deal with Palestinian unity government
AFP, February 16, 2007
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has denied that the United States told Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas it would refuse to deal with the future unity government.
The top US diplomat rejected a report that a US official gave Abbas a letter indicating Washington would not recognize the new Palestinian government that includes the Islamist militant group Hamas as it did not meet key conditions.
"Oh, we have given no such letter to president Abbas," she told Al-Arabiya Saudi television. "In fact, we have said that we will wait until the government is formed and then we'll make a decision about how to deal with that government." [complete article] In place of appeasement
By Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram Weekly, February 15, 2007
For a people either rootless or under occupation, the Palestinians have made more than their share of diplomatic initiatives. The norm, one would think, would be for an occupied people to fight for liberation until they win or else maintain resistance, compelling the international community or the occupying power to come up with solutions to situations that are no longer tenable. The norm, then, is for the resistance to either accept the proposals and throw down its arms, or to reject them and keep on fighting until it is presented with more reasonable ones. The actions of the resistance, moreover, are presumed to be guided throughout by a central aim: liberation and the realisation of self-determination. [complete article] Nasrallah says entitled to move arms to fight Israel
Haaretz, February 16, 2007
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said Friday that his organization is entitled to secretly transfer arms in order to fight Israel, and that he will not forgive the Lebanese Army for seizing last week an arms-laden truck that belonged to Hezbollah.
Nasrallah said "we have plenty of weapons ... and we have the right to transport our arms to combat Israel."
Nasrallah said the arms transfers are carried out in secret in order "to hide them from the Israeli enemy." [complete article] The terrorism index
Foreign Policy, February, 2007
To help determine whether the United States is growing more or less safe, FOREIGN POLICY and the Center for American Progress teamed up once again to survey more than 100 of America's top foreign-policy experts -- Republicans and Democrats alike -- in the second FOREIGN POLICY/Center for American Progress Terrorism Index. First launched last June, the Terrorism Index is the only comprehensive, nonpartisan effort to mine the highest echelons of the nation's foreign-policy establishment for its assessment of how the United States is fighting the Global War on Terror. Its participants include people who have served as secretary of state and national security advisor, senior White House aides, top commanders in the U.S. military, seasoned intelligence officers, and distinguished academics and journalists. Eighty percent of the experts have served in the U.S. government—more than half in the executive branch, 26 percent in the military, and 18 percent in the intelligence community.
As with the first index six months ago, the results show that America's foreign-policy community continues to have deep reservations about U.S. policies and priorities in the war on terror. Eighty-one percent see a world that is growing more dangerous for the American people, while 75 percent say the United States is losing the war on terror. Those numbers are down marginally -- 5 and 9 percentage points respectively—from six months ago. Yet, when asked whether President George W. Bush has a clear plan to protect the United States from terrorism, 7 in 10 experts say no -- including nearly 40 percent of those who identified themselves as conservatives. More than 80 percent of the experts continue to expect a terrorist attack on the scale of 9/11 within a decade, a result that is unchanged from six months ago. [complete article] Cheney's call
By Murray Waas, National Journal, February 15, 2007
Early on the morning of June 20, 2002, then-Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Bob Graham, D-Fla., received a telephone call at home from a highly agitated Dick Cheney. Graham, who was in the middle of shaving, held a razor in one hand as he took the phone in the other.
The vice president got right to the point: A story in his morning newspaper reported that telephone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency on September 10, 2001, apparently warned that Al Qaeda was about to launch a major attack against the United States, possibly the next day. But the intercepts were not translated until September 12, 2001, the story said, the day after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Because someone had leaked the highly classified information from the NSA intercepts, Cheney warned Graham, the Bush administration was considering ending all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence committees on the government's failure to predict and prevent the September 11 attacks. Classified records would no longer be turned over to the Hill, the vice president threatened, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony.
Moreover, Graham recalled in an interview for this story, Cheney warned that unless the leaders of the Intelligence committees took action to discover who leaked the information about the intercepts -- and more importantly, to make sure that such leaks never happened again -- President Bush would directly make the case to the American people that Congress could not be trusted with vital national security secrets. [complete article] Broad swath of GOP defecting on Iraq vote
By Paul Kane, Washington Post, February 16, 2007
From the moderate suburbs of Delaware to the rural, conservative valleys of eastern Tennessee, House Republican opponents of President Bush's latest Iraq war plan cut across the GOP's ideological and regional spectrum.
Numbering a dozen or more, these House Republicans have emerged as some of the most prominent opponents of the plan to increase troop presence in Iraq. They admit to being a ragtag band, with no scheduled meetings and little political cohesion.
"We aren't organized at all," said Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-Minn.), whose district includes suburbs of the Twin Cities. "It's about as diverse a group as is possible." [complete article] Rice is said to have speeded North Korea deal
By David E. Sanger and Thom Shanker, New York Times, February 16, 2007
To win approval of a deal with North Korea that has been assailed by conservatives inside and outside the administration, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice bypassed layers of government policy review that had derailed past efforts to negotiate an agreement, several senior administration officials said this week.
After a meeting in Berlin in mid-January with her top negotiator on North Korea, Christopher R. Hill, who had just held lengthy sessions with his North Korean counterparts, Ms. Rice called back to Washington to describe the outlines of the deal to Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, and then to President Bush.
But to some, it seemed the usual procedures were cut short -- vetting the details though an interagency process that ordinarily would have brought in Vice President Dick Cheney's office, the Defense Department and aides at the White House and other agencies who had previously objected to rewarding North Korea before it gives up its weapons. [complete article] CIA agents to stand trial for kidnapping
By Antonella Ciancio, Reuters, February 16, 2007
A Milan judge on Friday ordered 26 Americans, most of them thought to be CIA agents, to stand trial with Italian spies for the kidnapping in 2003 of a terrorism suspect, who was flown to Egypt where he says he was tortured.
Among those indicted are the former heads of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency in Rome and Milan, Jeff Castelli and Robert Lady, and the former head of Italy's SISMI military intelligence agency, Nicolo Pollari, court sources said.
The trial, set to begin on June 8, will be the first criminal trial over "renditions" -- one of the most controversial aspects of U.S. President George W. Bush's war on terrorism. [complete article]
Egyptian kidnap victim 'was tortured'
By Salah Nasrawi, AP, February 13, 2007
An Egyptian Muslim preacher allegedly kidnapped by CIA agents off the streets of an Italian city and taken to Egypt has been released, his lawyer and a security official said yesterday.
Attorney Montasser al-Zayat said Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, known as Abu Omar, was ordered free Sunday by an Egyptian State Security Court that found his detention in Egypt "unfounded."
Al-Zayat said Nasr was set free from a police station in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria. A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press, confirmed the court's ruling and Abu Omar's release. [complete article] Egypt holds 56 Brotherhood members
Al Jazeera, February 15, 2007
Egyptian security forces have detained 56 members of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, intensifying a clampdown against the government's most powerful political rival.
Al Jazeera's correspondent in Cairo said the arrests, made in dawn sweeps on Thursday, were made in the Cairo, Giza, Menoufiya and Fayyoum governorates.
Security officials said the men were arrested on charges of belonging to an outlawed group and possessing anti-government literature.
The Brotherhood, which operates openly despite being officially banned, is Egypt's main opposition group. [complete article] Spain bitterly divided as terror trial begins in '04 train bombings
By John Ward Anderson and Pamela Rolfe, Washington Post, February 16, 2007
Twenty-nine suspects went on trial Thursday for the March 11, 2004, bombings of four commuter trains in Madrid, but Spain's political parties and news media have turned the investigation of the attack into a partisan battle, fraying the country's traditional solidarity against terrorism and leaving Spaniards bitterly divided over who launched the attack and why.
The strongest evidence collected by investigators suggests that the bombings -- which killed 191 people and injured 1,824 in the worst terrorist attack ever carried out in continental Europe -- were the work of Islamic radicals inspired by al-Qaeda, principally in retaliation for the stationing of Spanish troops in Iraq.
But leaders of the conservative Popular Party continue to assert that the Basque separatist movement known as ETA had a central role in the bombings. Some independent terrorism experts accuse the Popular Party -- in power at the time of the attack and voted out of office in national elections three days later -- of spinning conspiracy theories to escape blame for the bombings and redeem itself with the public. [complete article] The Rumsfeld legacy - part two
By Roger Morris, TomDispatch, February 15, 2007
In 1976, when Jimmy Carter took the Presidency from Gerald Ford, outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went off to seek corporate wealth as head of G.D. Searle, a Skokie pharmaceutical company. His period running the business, inherited by the family of his North Shore friend and early backer Dan Searle, would become part of Rumsfeld's legend of success as a master manager, negligently accepted as fact by the media and Congressional representatives at his 2001 confirmation hearings.
The legend went this way: Political prodigy slashes payroll 60%, turns decrepit loser into mega-profit-maker, earns industry kudos and multiple millions. In looking at men of prominence like Rumsfeld who revolve in and out of the private sector, the Washington media almost invariably adopts the press-release or booster business-page version of events from what inside-the-Beltway types call "the real world." In Rumsfeld's case, behind the image of corporate savior lay a far more relevant and ominous history.
In the documented version of reality, derived from litigation and relatively obscure investigations in the U.S. and abroad, Searle turned out to enjoy its notable rise less thanks to Rumsfeldian innovative managerial genius than to old-fashioned reckless marketing of pharmaceuticals already on the shelf and the calling in of lobbying "markers" via its well-connected Republican CEO. And over it all wafted the distinctive odor of corrupt practices. A case in point was Searle's anti-diarrhea medicine Lomotil, sold ever more widely and profitably internationally (in industry terms "dumped") -- especially in Africa in the late 1970s -- despite the company's failure to warn of its potentially dire effects on younger children. [complete article] Hamas gets the upper hand
By Tim McGirk, Time, February 15, 2007
The two smiles said it all. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas looked as if his smile had been painfully stapled onto his face, while his rival, Hamas leader and Prime Minister Ismael Haniyeh, beamed with satisfaction. Haniyeh had reason to be cheerful. Everything is going Hamas's way -- even though it was Haniyeh who had to resign.
Abbas accepted Haniyeh's resignation on Thursday evening in Gaza, but then had to formally request that the Hamas chief form a new "national unity" government. And that was only after Abbas had caved in on several key demands by the Islamic militant group. First, Abbas agreed to recognize all decisions made by the 11-month old Hamas government, including the formation of a 3,000-man, pro-Haniyeh security force that roams Gaza's dangerous streets. The commander of this force will be a Hamas man. This enables Hamas to keep its edge in the Gaza strip over Abbas's armed Fatah militias. Since December, fighting between the rival militias has cost over 90 Palestinian lives.
Secondly, Hamas will have veto power over Abbas's choice of deputy premier. That is a blow not only to Abbas but also to the Israelis and the Americans. The president had wanted to place Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, a favorite of the Israelis, in that post. Dahlan is the sworn enemy of Haniyeh -- the Fatah security forces commander accuses Hamas of trying to kill him. But Haniyeh told Abbas that having Dahlan as deputy premier was a deal-breaker, and could plunge the Palestinians into a second round of civil war. Abbas relented and the power-sharing deal between Hamas and Fatah, brokered by the Saudis, went ahead. [complete article]
Officials: U.S. will boycott new Palestinian unity government
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 15, 2007
The United States will boycott all Palestinian unity government ministers, including non-Hamas members, unless international demands on policy towards Israel are met, Palestinian officials and diplomats said on Thursday. [complete article]
As capitals cautiously greet Palestinian deal, Israel's allies in D.C. push for pressuring Hamas
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, February 16, 2007
Israel's response to the Palestinian unity deal has been relatively cautious compared to some American Jewish groups. "At this stage," Olmert told his Cabinet members in their weekly meeting Sunday, "Israel neither rejects nor accepts the agreement. Like the international community, we are studying what was achieved in the agreement, what it says and the basis of the consensus."
Olmert's approach reflects a shift in Israeli policy, which started off with a complete rejection of the agreement. The reason for the shift, according to Israeli sources, was the assurances Israel received from the Madrid Quartet -- the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia -- that the Palestinians are still required to live up to the three conditions.
A diplomatic source in Washington raised a different explanation for Israel's mild reaction to the accord. "It would embarrass the U.S.," to pick a fight with the Palestinians on the eve of Rice's visit and her attempt to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.
Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres voiced on Tuesday an even more moderate approach to the Fatah-Hamas agreement, saying that "we are not waiting for formal recognition on behalf of the Hamas, but for a practical recognition seen in their willingness to negotiate with Israel." [complete article]
The hot-air summit
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 15, 2007
Yitzhak Rabin would probably have called the three-way summit that will convene on Monday in Jerusalem by a term he favored, "bablat" (roughly "hot air"). Because nothing will come of this summit. Not peace negotiations, not a diplomatic agreement, and if Condoleezza Rice does not bang on the table, no easing of restrictions for the Palestinians either.
Ehud Olmert can enjoy the innovative aspect of a meeting with Rice and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), or of staying at a hotel in Jerusalem instead of on the shores of the Red Sea, as in the days of his predecessors. But what about Abu Mazen, who for years has been dragging from summit to summit and repeatedly hearing those same declarations about "beginning the negotiations" and about a better future? In May 1996, Abu Mazen headed the Palestinian delegation to the opening ceremony of the final status talks in Taba. At the time, he called for the establishment of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and for a "just" solution to the refugee problem. Uri Savir, the head of the Israeli delegation, responded with a vague proposal about "separation between the nations, with the aim of achieving cooperation." Without borders, without refugees, without Jerusalem. [complete article]
Comment -- The U.S. government now has a serious message problem. If, as reported, it refuses to speak to any members of a Palestinian national unity government, it's going to have a hard time explaining why a national unity government -- a government whose unity is the best way of preventing a civil war -- does not possess inherent legitimacy and thus deserve international support.
The State Department's current line in steering attention away from the fact that Hamas won free and fair democratic elections a year ago (and thus it is Hamas that gives the new government its legitimacy), is to insist that the Palestinians must get the kind of government they deserve. Note -- the government they deserve, not the government they chose. This is how Sean McCormack put it today: "That is the core of our policy position that the Palestinian people deserve that kind of government -- the government that can meet their expectations as well as the expectations of the international community."
A government that meets the expectations of the people as well as the expectations of the international community -- if only we were so lucky as to have such a government in Washington! Tehran's Iraq role unclear, U.S. now says
By Borzou Daragahi and James Gerstenzang, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2007
U.S. officials from President Bush to a top general in Baghdad said Wednesday that there was no solid evidence that high-ranking officials in Iran had ordered deadly weapons to be sent to Iraq for use against American troops, backing away from claims made by military and intelligence officials in Baghdad this week.
But Bush continued to maintain an aggressive posture toward Tehran, saying elite Iranian Quds Force operatives were supplying weapons to insurgents in Iraq.
"What we don't know is whether or not the head leaders of Iran ordered the Quds Force to do what they did," he said. [complete article]
Iran's elite and mysterious fighters
By Borzou Daragahi and Peter Spiegel, Los Angeles Times, February 15, 2007
The Quds Force and its predecessors consisted of the [Revolutionary] Guard's most skilled warriors. Experts said they were highly secretive commando units sent abroad to help Shiites usurp monarchies in the Persian Gulf, gun down enemies and battle Israeli forces in southern Lebanon. They also reportedly have run operations in Sudan, South Asia and Western Europe.
Their plans sometimes coincided with U.S. interests, as when they supported Afghans fighting the Soviet Union in the 1980s and Bosnian Muslims battling Serbs in the 1990s.
The Quds Force also has been involved in Iraq. It assisted Kurdish rebels fighting Saddam Hussein in the 1980s and Shiites battling his regime in the 1990s. Even Ahmad Chalabi's expatriate Iraqi National Congress had Quds Force help, experts say.
Skepticism over Iraq haunts U.S. Iran policy
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, February 15, 2007
"In the old days, if the U.S. government had come out and said, 'We've got this, here's our assessment,' reasonable people would have taken it at face value," the official said of the Baghdad briefing. "That's never going to happen again."
In yesterday's White House news conference, Bush grappled with the issue head-on. "What makes you so certain," a reporter asked Bush, of the military's charge that "the highest levels of Tehran's government" are responsible for shipments of lethal weapons to Iraq for use against U.S. troops?
Bush contradicted the military's account, saying, "We don't know ... whether the head leaders of Iran ordered" it.
"But here's my point," he added. "Either they knew or didn't know, and what matters is, is that [the weapons] they're there."
Yet, as questions that have peppered senior officials all week suggest, what matters in the post-Iraq invasion era is whether the administration can prove it. [complete article]
Comment -- The skepticism expressed about evidence of an Iranian weapons supply is predictable yet misplaced. A large part of this comes from journalists who got burnt once, not wanting to get burnt twice. It's about trying to avoid the appearance of complicity in the start of another war. Yet complicity can take many forms.
Journalists and critics of the Bush administration, by cleaving too closely to the question about whether the evidence against Iran is sound, may end up playing into the hands of those they doubt.
If over time the administration is able to prove its case, it will then be greatly empowered in defining an appropriate response to Iranian interference in Iraq's American affairs.
The key question is this: If Iran is currently causing difficulties for U.S. forces, what should be of greater concern? What they are supposedly doing now, or what they could do in the future (i.e. if or when the U.S. was to attack Iran)?
Since the Quds Force has been described as a "remarkably efficient organization, quite possibly one of the best special forces units in the world," it seems reasonable to infer that it's activities in Iraq, far from being a concerted effort to challenge U.S. operations, serve more as a way of saying: Watch out! Iraq plays down Sadr's 'short visit' to Iran
By Sabah Jerges, AFP, February 15, 2007
Radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr is on a short trip to Iran, an Iraqi official has said, denying that the anti-US firebrand had fled a crackdown on militias such as his feared Mahdi Army.
Sadr will be back in Iraq soon, said Sami al-Askari Thursday, an aide to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, confirming a disputed claim by the US military but criticizing the Americans for stirring up controversy. [complete article]
Anti-American cleric Sadr reported seen in Iraq
By Borzou Daragahi and Saif Hameed, February 14, 2007
An Iraqi lawmaker with close ties to radical cleric Muqtada Sadr said today that he saw the Shiite Muslim leader four days ago in Iraq, continuing a war of words with U.S. officials about Sadr's whereabouts.
U.S. officials told reporters this week that the anti-American cleric had left Iraq weeks ago, possibly to avoid a security crackdown getting underway in Baghdad. His Al Mahdi army militia has clashed at times with U.S.-led forces.
But lawmaker Fattah Sheik said in an interview that he met with the cleric in the holy city of Najaf, where Sadr lives. [complete article]
See also, Muqtada: Here, there and everywhere (Sami Moubayed). The State Department's rosy deception on Iraq refugees
By Noah Merrill, Electronic Iraq, February 9, 2007
A press release by the State Department dated February 6 describes the creation of a new task force on Iraqi refugees created by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.
In a friendly sort of way, this piece highlights the good intentions of the US government, describing new steps to be taken, from "emergency cash assistance" to counseling by social workers to "small infrastructure projects" to aid provided to "education and vocational training." The message from the State Department paints a picture that is filled with the positivity of good works being carried out in the name of America.
From Jordan the view is different. Here, close to a million Iraqis, forced to flee violence in their neighborhoods and throughout their country, try to keep a low profile and scratch out an existence in a climate that is neither welcoming nor supportive. As more and more Iraqis are displaced inside and outside Iraq, the attitudes of host governments are becoming more and more hostile. [complete article] Iraq war plan assumed only 5,000 U.S. troops still there by December 2006
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing, February 14, 2007
The U.S. Central Command's war plan for invading Iraq postulated in August 2002 that the U.S. would have only 5,000 troops left in Iraq as of December 2006, according to the Command's PowerPoint briefing slides, which were obtained through the Freedom of Information Act and are posted on the Web today by the National Security Archive (www.nsarchive.org).
The PowerPoint slides, prepared by CentCom planners for Gen. Tommy Franks under code name POLO STEP, for briefings during 2002 for President Bush, the NSC, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, the JCS, and Franks' commanders, refer to the "Phase IV" post-hostilities period as "UNKNOWN" and "months" in duration, but assume that U.S. forces would be almost completely "re-deployed" out of Iraq within 45 months of the invasion (i.e. December 2006).
"Completely unrealistic assumptions about a post-Saddam Iraq permeate these war plans," said National Security Archive Executive Director Thomas Blanton. "First, they assumed that a provisional government would be in place by 'D-Day', then that the Iraqis would stay in their garrisons and be reliable partners, and finally that the post-hostilities phase would be a matter of mere 'months'. All of these were delusions." [complete article] Rumsfeld's long march - part one
By Roger Morris, TomDispatch, February 14, 2007
The customary Pentagon-State Department bureaucratic war Rumsfeld waged against Kissinger (with a vengeance fired by the Defense Secretary's presidential ambitions) involved a furtive alliance with Capitol Hill's ubër-hard-line Democrat, Armed Services Committee Chairman (and Kissinger nemesis) Henry "Scoop" Jackson. A Washington State backwoods, shoreline-county prosecutor, he had become the "Senator from Boeing." Jackson's Russophobia, demagoguery on arms control, and zealous backing of Israel (especially on the then-charged issue of Jewish emigration from the USSR) would land Rumsfeld in the milieu of the Israeli lobby, already formidable if only a kernel of the special interest colossus it would later become.
Jackson's Cold War mania was fattening military budgets along with the requisite Puget Sound contracts, not to speak of the senator's own war chest for a 1976 presidential run, and all this was being fomented by a bustling, pretentious, pear-shaped young Jackson aide named Richard Perle. Perle's somber, if oily, manner hid his own considerable lack of intellect or knowledge about either Russia or the Middle East, but his hard-line anti-Soviet and Zionist zeal gave him, as Jackson's policy broker in the politics of the moment, a cachet and following far beyond his meager substance. Rumsfeld's collusion with Jackson would thus introduce him to some of the still marginal publicists, ideologues, and Washington hangers-on who would take the term neoconservative as the label for their career-plumping chauvinism and, less audibly, their tragically intermingled allegiances to right-wings in both the U.S. and Israel. [complete article] Ex-aide says Rice misled U.S. Congress on Iran
Reuters, February 14, 2007
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice misled the U.S. Congress when she said last week that she had not seen a 2003 Iranian proposal for talks with the United States, a former senior government official said on Wednesday.
Flynt Leverett, who worked on the National Security Council when it was headed by Rice, likened the proposal to the 1972 U.S. opening to China. He said he was confident it was seen by Rice and then-Secretary of State Colin Powell but "the administration rejected the overture."
Speaking at a conference on Capitol Hill, Leverett said "this was a serious proposal, a serious effort" by Iran to lay out a comprehensive agenda for U.S.-Iranian rapprochement. [complete article]
Comment -- Flynt Leverett is on the wrong track here. He can accuse Rice of having read the Iranian proposal and she can say she has no recollection of having seen it. That's a dead end.
She does however acknowledge her awareness of the proposal's existence. "I have read about this so-called proposal from Iran," Rice told the House Foreign Affairs Committee last week. So the question is, if you knew about it's existence as National Security Advisor then, or as Secretary of State now, why have you not demanded to see it and study it? To not do so is a sign of either gross incompetence or wilful neglect.
My assumption is that other than Powell, all the principals in the administration went out of their way not to see this proposal. Had they seen it they would have then been pressed to respond to questions not about its existence but about its substance. Pushed into that position they would then have found it extremely difficult to maintain the policy that the administration was committed to: regime change in Tehran. And that's why the strongly worded message they sent back to the Swiss was: Don't send us any other Iranian proposals. N. Korea nuclear pact marks major shift for Bush
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2007
The tentative international nuclear agreement with North Korea marks a fundamental shift in direction for the Bush administration, which for years had sternly demanded that the country's leadership abandon its nuclear program before receiving any rewards.
In his first term, President Bush rejected Clinton administration attempts to win North Korean cooperation with aid, and declared that only after "complete, verified, irreversible dismantlement" of its nuclear program could the autocratic regime in Pyongyang, the capital, receive American help.
But as the White House held fast to its hard-line approach, Kim Jong Il's rickety government built an estimated eight to 10 bombs, experimented with missile launches, conducted a nuclear test, and seemed poised to continue the buildup with impunity.
The agreement reached Tuesday would bring Pyongyang back to the bargaining table, with pledges to freeze its primary nuclear reactor and to discuss dismantling its entire nuclear infrastructure. It was hailed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as a "breakthrough." [complete article]
See also, Behind Bush's N. Korea reversal (Michael Hirsh) and Diplomacy is deal-making (Aaron David Miller).
Comment -- It's less than a month since Condoleezza Rice famously declared that diplomacy is not about making deals. And President Bush -- as a recovering unilateralist -- still insists that bilateral negotiations are not the way to go. Fortunately for both Bush and Rice, the administration that they nominally run is not completely shackled by the rigidity of thought inside its leadership. Deal-making and bilateral talks were key to this unexpected development. This is absolutely a case of better late than never.
The leaders of this administration have always operated with the attitude that they could maintain a self-righteous contempt for their enemies and opponents. On that basis other governments are referred to in terms of their behavior. Bad behavior must be punished and good behavior can be rewared. Not surprisingly, anyone on the receiving end of this treatment will bristle in reaction to the idea that they should demean themselves by being obliged to please America.
In contrast, bilateral negotiations require that both parties approach each other with respect. To be willing to sit down, talk and listen, is to show respect. To refuse to talk is to express contempt.
Iranians understand this, as do most people. This is a mark of civilized behavior. The willingness to talk is not a gift for the Bush administration to dole out to those it favors; it is the oil that lubricates the wheels of the civilized world. Israel ready 'to confront Iran alone'
By , February , 2007
Israel alone will have to confront the perceived nuclear threat from arch enemy Iran, the country's ultra-rightwing Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman said today.
"We will have to face the Iranians alone, because Israel cannot remain with its arms folded, waiting patiently for Iran to develop non-conventional weapons," he told public radio when asked about a possible Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear installations.
He criticised an EU report leaked to the Financial Times that said with Iran unlikely to negotiate seriously on its nuclear programme, the international community can do little to prevent Tehran from developing an atomic bomb. [complete article]
2003 memo says Iranian leaders backed talks
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 14, 2007
The Swiss ambassador to Iran informed U.S. officials in 2003 that an Iranian proposal for comprehensive talks with the United States had been reviewed and approved by Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei; then-President Mohammad Khatami; and then-Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, according to a copy of the cover letter to the Iranian document.
"I got the clear impression that there is a strong will of the regime to tackle the problem with the U.S. now and to try it with this initiative," Tim Guldimann, the ambassador, wrote in a cover letter that was faxed to the State Department on May 4, 2003. Guldimann attached a one-page Iranian document labeled "Roadmap" that listed U.S. and Iranian aims for potential negotiations, putting on the table such issues as an end to Iran's support for anti-Israeli militants, action against terrorist groups on Iranian soil and acceptance of Israel's right to exist.
The cover letter, which had not been previously disclosed, was provided by a source who felt its contents were mischaracterized by State Department officials. Switzerland serves as a diplomatic channel for communications between Tehran and Washington because the two countries broke off relations after the 1979 seizure of U.S. Embassy personnel. [complete article]
Saudi says no bar to nuclear cooperation with Russia
By Andrew Hammond, Reuters, February 14, 2007
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter and a key U.S. ally, said on Wednesday the kingdom does not see any obstacle to cooperating with Russia on developing a nuclear energy program.
"There is no obstacle to cooperate with Russia on ... nuclear energy," Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal told a news conference.
Analysts said the plan by Sunni bastion Saudi Arabia is a warning shot to Shi'ite Iran that it could enter the regional arms race and start developing nuclear capability. [complete article] To root out Taliban, Pakistan to expel 2.4 million Afghans
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2007
Like more than 100,000 Afghans, Maulana Mohammed Afzal has lived in the mud-baked lanes of this refugee camp ever since he fled war-ravaged Afghanistan 26 years ago. The camp is home for his family, but Pakistan's government says it's a threat to national security.
In its most recent effort to clamp down on Taliban activity within its borders, Pakistan has announced that all 2.4 million Afghan refugees, most living in camps, must return home by 2009. This and three other camps near the Afghan border, which together hold 230,000 refugees, are scheduled to be closed by the end of August.
"The problem of cross-border militancy is closely related to the presence of ... Afghan refugees in Pakistan," Munir Akram, Pakistan's Permanent Representative to the United Nations, wrote recently to the UN Security Council. "These camps have often given rise to complaints that they provide shelter to undesirable elements and Taliban."
Many disagree, however, saying Pakistan's Afghan refugees, most of whom are Pashtun and share the same tribal ethnicity as the Taliban movement, are only being made a scapegoat. [complete article] The road map to despotism
By Chris Hedges, Truthdig, February 11, 2007
Professor Sami Al-Arian, whose persecution and show trial are parts of a long string of egregious acts of injustice perpetrated by the Bush administration, has been on a hunger strike since Jan. 22 to protest the prolongation of his imprisonment.
Al-Arian's travels through the halls of American justice, and now the subterranean corridors of the nation's Stygian prison system, reads like a bad rip-off of Kafka. Al-Arian was acquitted on eight of the 17 counts against him by a Florida jury, which deadlocked on the rest. He agreed to plead guilty to one of the remaining charges four months later in exchange for being released and deported. The judge gave Al-Arian as much prison time as possible under a plea deal -- 57 months at his sentencing. He was set to be released this April, something that now appears unlikely.
The trial was a stinging rebuke to the Bush administration's drive to turn the American judicial system into kangaroo courts. Over the six-month trial a parade of 80 witnesses, including 21 from Israel, attempted to brand the Florida professor as a terrorist. The government submitted thousands of documents, phone interceptions and physical surveillance culled from 12 years of investigations. The trial cost taxpayers an estimated $80 million. The 94 charges against Al-Arian and his co-defendants resulted in no convictions. But because Al-Arian has twice refused to testify before a grand jury in Virginia in a case involving a Muslim think tank, he has now been charged with contempt of court. The date of his release could be extended by as much as 18 months. [complete article] The ideological animal
By Jay Dixit, Psychology Today, January/February, 2007
Cinnamon Stillwell never thought she'd be the founder of a political organization. She certainly never expected to start a group for conservatives, most of whom became conservatives on the same day -- September 11, 2001. She organized the group, the 911 Neocons, as a haven for people like her -- "former lefties" who did political 180s after 9/11.
Stillwell, now a conservative columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, had been a liberal her whole life, writing off all Republicans as "ignorant, intolerant yahoos." Yet on 9/11, everything changed for her, as it did for so many. In the days after the attacks, the world seemed "topsy-turvy." On the political left, she wrote, "There was little sympathy for the victims," and it seemed to her that progressives were "consumed with hatred for this country" and had "extended their misguided sympathies to tyrants and terrorists."
Disgusted, she looked elsewhere. She found solace among conservative talk-show hosts and columnists. At first, she felt resonance with the right about the war on terror. But soon she found herself concurring about "smaller government, traditional societal structures, respect and reverence for life, the importance of family, personal responsibility, national unity over identity politics." She embraced gun rights for the first time, drawn to "the idea of self-preservation in perilous times." Her marriage broke up due in part to political differences. In the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, she began going to pro-war rallies.
In 2005, she wrote a column called "The Making of a 9/11 Republican." Over the year that followed, she received thousands of e-mails from people who'd had similar experiences. There were so many of them that she decided to form a group. And so the 911 Neocons were born.
We tend to believe our political views have evolved by a process of rational thought, as we consider arguments, weigh evidence, and draw conclusions. But the truth is more complicated. Our political preferences are equally the result of factors we're not aware of -- such as how educated we are, how scary the world seems at a given moment, and personality traits that are first apparent in early childhood. Among the most potent motivators, it turns out, is fear. How the United States should confront the threat of terrorism remains a subject of endless political debate. But Americans' response to threats of attack is now more clear-cut than ever. The fear of death alone is surprisingly effective in shaping our political decisions -- more powerful, often, than thought itself. [complete article] U.S. briefing on Iran discredits the official line
By Gareth Porter, February 14, 2007
The first major effort by the George W. Bush administration to substantiate its case that the Iranian government has been providing weapons to Iraqi Shi'ites who oppose the occupation undermines the administration's political line by showing that it has been unable to find any real evidence of an Iranian government role.
Contradicting recent claims by both Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates that U.S. intelligence had proof of Iranian government responsibility for the supply of such weapons, the unnamed officials who briefed the media Sunday admitted that the claim is merely "an inference" rather than based on a trail of evidence. [complete article]
Doubts raised on linking of Iran to U.S. deaths in Iraq
By Farah Stockman and Thanassis Cambanis, Boston Globe, February 14, 2007
Security analysts and critics of the Bush administration are questioning the quality of intelligence presented by three unidentified US officials in Baghdad on Sunday to demonstrate the Iranian government's ties to sophisticated explosives that have killed 170 US soldiers in Iraq.
Some skeptics also say that US officials in Iraq and their British counterparts have known for more than two years that armor-piercing explosives were being smuggled from Iran, but had never displayed them to the media until Sunday, prompting critics to ask why the administration is choosing this moment to highlight the alleged misdeeds of the Iranian regime. [complete article]
Real EFP: pocket-sized tank killer
By David Hambling, Defense Tech, February 14, 2007
The pictures released last week of Iraqi high-tech explosives surprised me. These special 'superbombs' that have caused so many US casualties -- they look like they had been assembled in someone's garage. [complete article]
See also, Iraq plans to suspend checkpoints at Syria, Iran borders (WP) and U.S. says "sophisticated weaponry" hit chopper in Iraq (Reuters).
Comment -- The part of the Iranian meddling story that doesn't add up is this: If the Iranian government was really serious about stirring up trouble for U.S. forces in Iraq, why wouldn't the evidence and the effects be much more dramatic? Why are they making such a half-hearted effort? In terms of what has been presented, it's reasonable to conclude that absent the threat from these purportedly Iranian EFP's, the U.S. would be in no less difficulty than it already is. Troops sweep 3 Shiite areas in Baghdad push
By Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Damien Cave, New York Times, February 14, 2007
Thousands of American troops in armored Stryker vehicles swarmed three mostly Shiite neighborhoods of northeastern Baghdad on Wednesday, encountering little resistance during what commanders described as the first major sweep of the new security plan for the capital.
The push into the Shaab, Bayda and Ur neighborhoods, on the northern edge of Sadr City -- coming one day after the top Iraqi general asserted broad powers to search, detain and move residents from their homes -- was the largest of several operations that signaled an escalation of American and Iraqi efforts to stop Baghdad’s bloody violence. And it was clearly an American-led assault: only 200 Iraqi police officers and soldiers were involved, commanders said, working alongside about 2,500 Americans. [complete article]
U.S. says powerful Iraqi cleric is living in Iran
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, February 14, 2007
The powerful Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr has left Iraq and has been living in Iran for the past several weeks, senior Bush administration officials said Tuesday.
With fresh American forces arriving in Baghdad as part of the White House plan to stabilize the capital, officials in Washington suggested that Mr. Sadr might have fled Iraq to avoid being captured or killed during the crackdown.
But officials also said that Mr. Sadr, who has family in Iran, had gone to Tehran in the past and that it was unclear why he had chosen to leave Iraq at this time. Mr. Sadr’s departure from Iraq was first reported Tuesday night by ABC News.
Neutralizing the power of Mr. Sadr, whose Mahdi Army has sporadically battled American forces for the past four years, has been a particular concern for American officials as they try to rein in powerful Shiite militias in Baghdad. [complete article]
Comment -- Wherever Sadr is, this announcement by U.S. officials sounds very much like its part of a psy-ops campaign to sow confusion among the Shia militias. Yet it also seems like a very dangerous move in as much as it serves as an invitation for militia units to operate independently. It's a call to come out and fight -- with American soldiers being served up as the bait. Iraqi insurgency hits home
By Said Rifai, Los Angeles Times, February 14, 2007
In early January, I went on an assignment outside Baghdad. When I got back two weeks later, my mother sent me a text message from Jordan, telling me to check on our house. When I called our neighbor, Abu Adil, he told me armed men had come through the neighborhood telling everyone to leave or be "slaughtered."
"Can you ask the Americans to intervene?" he begged.
I could not. The gunmen took over our house, Abu Adil's and others in the neighborhood. A few days later, Abu Adil's 22-year-old son went to his family's house. He argued with the insurgents. They killed him, dumping his body in the street. [complete article] Abbas puts off declaring formation of unity gov't
By Avi Isscharoff, Haaretz, February 14, 2007
Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has canceled an address scheduled for Thursday in which he was officially to assign Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh the task of forming a unity government.
Abbas announced Wednesday his decision to cancel the address, which he was to give at noon on Thursday, due to increasing tensions between the rival Hamas and Fatah factions. [complete article]
U.S. Congress freezes transfer of $86 million in aid to Abbas
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, February 14, 2007
The United States Congress last week decided to freeze the transfer of $86 million in aid that was to be allocated to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. It is unclear when and if the aid will be transferred.
The Bush administration had publicly promised to ask Congress to transfer the funds in order to bolster Abbas and his forces. Due to the uncertainty of a few legislators, the transfer has been postponed indefinitely.
The State Department was informed of the decision ten days ago by Democratic Congresswoman Nita Lowey, who also chairs the House of Representative's Subcommittee on Foreign Operations, Export Financing and Related Agencies. [complete article]
Abbas running into trouble selling unity deal
By Wafa Amr, Reuters, February 14, 2007
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is having trouble persuading Western powers to lift sanctions on a unity government with Hamas that does not fully meet their demands, officials said on Tuesday.
The officials, some of whom were dispatched by Abbas to lobby Western policymakers to back the power-sharing government, said they found them to generally feel the deal did not go far enough toward recognising Israel, renouncing violence and accepting interim peace deals as demanded by the "Quartet" of Middle East mediators.
"I am finding it hard to sell the agreement," said one of the aides dispatched by Abbas. "Some are hesitant, others are unconvinced, others still say they have to wait and see what the Quartet will decide in their Feb. 21 meeting." [complete article]
See also, The Mecca summit, or how to revive the 2002 Arab peace plan (Smadar Perry). Israeli Arabs: 'Who are we and what do we want?'
By Rima Merriman, Electronic Intifada, February 13, 2007
While Palestinians under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza are scrambling to come up with a new national Palestinian vision, Israeli Arabs are looking for ways to wrest equal citizenship rights for themselves as non-Jews in a state whose reason for existence is to nurture Jewish identity and culture.
According to a recent New York Times news item, "A group of prominent Israeli Arabs [in a report issued in December 2006] has called on Israel to stop defining itself as a Jewish State and become a 'consensual democracy for both Arabs and Jews,' prompting consternation and debate across the country." The report is called "The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" and the strategies in the report will be implemented by The National Committee of the Local Arab Authorities in Israel.
The term "Israeli Arabs", as used above by the New York Times, is widespread inside and outside Israel, both in the media and in scholarly articles. The emphasis is on the second word -- "Arabs" rather than on the qualifier "Israeli". The alternative term "Palestinian Israelis" would come as a rude shock to many Israelis, even secular nationalists, conditioned as they are to think of the Palestinians amongst them (20 percent of the population) as a people who had no hand in the agrarian or industrial building of the Zionist State. These people are tolerated at best, so long as they submit themselves to the Zionist ideal. Arab Israelis, for example, must acknowledge "the existence of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people" before they can even participate in the political process (1992 Basic Law). [complete article] Media fall for pro-Israel hate group's "Terror Free Oil"
By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, February 13, 2007
In recent days, National Public Radio and the BBC have been among the countless media outlets to give prominent publicity to an organization calling itself "Terror Free Oil," (TFO) which claims to have established gasoline filling stations in several US cities, that do not sell oil from the Middle East.
Much of the coverage has read like a press release for the organization, or has treated it as a cute feature story, accepting at face value the claims made by its spokesman. The fundamentally racist nature of the claims TFO makes, and the long history of anti-Muslim statements and activities of its founder have been totally ignored. [complete article] MP: U.S. policy 'has always brought harm to Lebanon'
Daily Star, February 14, 2007
Hizbullah MP Hussein Hajj Hassan lashed out Tuesday at Jeffrey Feltman, saying Lebanon would only prosper when the US ambassador "spares us his devious advice and democracy-promotion schemes." "US foreign policy has always brought harm to Lebanon, and various political events in the history of Lebanon denote that," Hassan said.
The MP said that contrary to Feltman's allegations the day before, the summer 2006 war was "initially an American arrangement performed by Israel to wipe out Hizbullah."
The Hizbullah MP also insinuated that the US might have had an indirect hand in the bombing of two buses near the town of Bikfaya Tuesday morning that left at least three people dead and 20 others wounded. [complete article]
US seen as more aggressive, not less, in Lebanon, following the Mecca agreement
By Badger, Missing Links, February 14, 2007
Joseph Samaha, in his regular column in Al-Akhbar, writes about the relationship between the "Mecca agreement" respecting Palestine, and the situation in Lebanon. There has been optimism recently, he says, about the chances of applying the Mecca-agreement idea to Lebanon, partly bolstered by the reported Saudi-Iranian talks. Samaha explains where he thinks the big difference lies. [complete article]
Anti-Syrian Lebanese crowds honor slain Hariri
By Yara Bayoumy, Reuters, February 14, 2007
Around 300,000 Lebanese waving flags and blue balloons demonstrated in Beirut on Wednesday to honor Rafik al-Hariri, two years after the ex-premier's killing, and show support for the anti-Syrian government.
Police guarded Hariri's tomb in central Beirut's Martyrs Square where a digital sign showed 730 -- the number of days that have passed without his assassins being brought to justice.
Hariri, a Sunni Muslim billionaire tycoon with close ties to Saudi Arabia and France, masterminded Lebanon's reconstruction after its 1975-90 civil war. He had fallen out with Syria, then the dominant power in Lebanon, in the months before his death. [complete article] EU endorses damning report on CIA
BBC News, February 14, 2007
The European parliament has approved a damning report on secret CIA flights, condemning member states which had colluded in the operations.
The UK, Germany and Italy were among 14 states which allowed the US to forcibly remove terror suspects, MEPs said.
The EU parliament voted to accept a resolution condemning member states which accepted or ignored the practice. [complete article] Secretary General faces a backlash
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, February 14, 2007
When U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon paid his first official visit to Washington last month, he received the White House version of a seal of approval: a presidential pat on the back and an invitation to phone President Bush whenever he needs help in responding to an international crisis.
Ban's warm reception appeared to signal an end to an era of U.S. confrontation with the United Nations that was marked by quarrels over the Iraq war, Republican-led corruption hearings on Capitol Hill and relentless threats of funding cuts.
But such a turn of fortune in Washington comes at a price: Ban is facing a diplomatic backlash from developing nations, which suspect the former South Korean foreign minister of seeking to reshape the United Nations to accommodate U.S. interests and the desires of other wealthy member nations. They have stonewalled his early attempt to reorganize the U.N. bureaucracy. [complete article] The U.S. campaign to topple the Palestinian government
Alastair Crooke interviewed by Al Jazeera, January 24, 2007
If we look at the region everywhere and what we would argue is that you would see Islamists either win or do extremely well in elections throughout the Muslim world if free elections were held. And I think the US and the West has stepped back from that and they say, "No, we support moderates". But they do not mean "moderates" because if you look at the public opinion, most of the Muslim opinion would say Hamas is moderate, Hezbollah is moderate and the Muslim Brotherhood is moderate.
So what they mean by saying "we support moderates" is that they support people who are close to the interests of the US and the West. They may not be moderate at all but we call them "moderates" in our interest. We are in the process of trying to support people that we believe will most closely follow the Western interest. I think this is a huge strategic mistake -- and a great mistake for the Europeans particularly, because we live next to the Middle East; this is our neighbourhood -- to be involved in any process which is trying to support one faction against the other and decide who is legitimate in the Muslim world. This is in a sense to say that this person is moderate and therefore they are legitimate and other people therefore are extremists and can be isolated, and that we do not have to listen them and they can be excluded from the political process. This is the recipe for instability and I believe we may face a year ahead of enormous instability in the region because of these policies that we have seen. [complete article]
Our unity can now pave the way for peace and justice
By Khalid Mish'al, The Guardian, February 13, 2007
Now that Hamas and Fatah have agreed to form a national unity government, the international community has no excuse to maintain the siege against our people. We know that many governments around the world are unhappy with these sanctions and want to see an end to them. The Palestinian national accord achieved in Mecca envisages the establishment of a truly sovereign and independent Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in June 1967 - with Jerusalem as its capital, the dismantling of the settlements in the West Bank, the release of all Palestinian prisoners and the acknowledgement of the right of the refugees to return to their homes.
Once translated into reality, this vision will pave the way for real peace in the region. There must be no more blackmail of Palestinians, for there is nothing else they can give away. Global powers should have learned by now that neither sanctions nor any other form of pressure or bribery will force the Palestinians to abandon their struggle for freedom and independence.
All previous peace proposals have failed because they were intended to impose an unjust pro-Israel settlement on our people, and were based on the assumption that the Palestinian struggle was a form of terrorism that the Palestinians had to renounce. The attempt to divide Palestinians into moderates and extremists or peacemakers and terrorists has failed. Now we are united in our determination to seek an end to oppression and occupation. [complete article]
See also, Palestinian PM urges boycott end (BBC) and PM's lines in sand for summit: J'lem, refugees, '67 lines (Haaretz) Springtime for Ahmadinejad
By Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, February 13, 2007
After arriving in Washington from London five weeks ago, one of the biggest surprises has been the drumbeat along the Potomac. In London, the idea of an air strike against Iran is widely discarded as improbable and impracticable, especially after Iraq. But on this side of the Atlantic such military action is talked about as a real possibility. [complete article]
See also, Lessons from another U.S.-Iran war (Christopher Dickey).
Comment -- America's idolatrous fascination with the office of the presidency has two sides: light and dark. The light side -- or more accurately, the dazzlingly lustrous golden side -- is the president as emperor: The most powerful man in the most powerful nation on earth. But the dark side is equally awesome and is now manifest in the sinister fusion of the two-for-the-price-of-one Bush-Cheney presidency. The idolatry allows no room for frailty.
My instincts tell me (and of course I might be horribly wrong) that the big secret inside the White House and the Vice-President's Office is that even now, they don't have a plan and the reason the Iranians aren't afraid is because they see quite clearly that neither the U.S. nor the Israeli government is in any position to launch another war.
Hawks at the American Enterprise Institute might like to characterize a strike on Iran as some kind of nuclear-house-cleaning exercise. "I do not think anyone in the U.S. is talking about invasion," says Joshua Muravchik. "Precision strikes," hitting "carefully chose targets" with "pinpoint accuracy" would all be the order of the day, but just as the Iranians express no fear they likewise leave no doubt that, if attacked, they will retaliate. Air strikes would be how the war begins but it would certainly not be how it ends.
In the meantime, Dick Cheney -- a man long possessed by the fear of looking weak -- will be pushing at all possible ways of looking strong by generating fear. He may now derive some perverse satisfaction from knowing that he has the power to frighten most Americans, but in much of the world he and his sidekick (the illustrious President of the United States of America) increasingly look like a pair of blustering fools.
George and Dick are still dangerous men while they remain armed, but part of the process of disarming them requires that we recognize their weakness and confusion. Iran seen as key to untangling Iraq
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2007
Iranian officials Monday called U.S. accusations that Tehran is arming Shiite militias in Iraq with tank-piercing explosives "unfounded," and said that Iran was committed to joining a regional effort to halt the tightening spiral of violence.
But the back-and-forth charges between Tehran and Washington highlight a growing recognition of Iran's substantial influence on its next-door neighbor and its ability, if nothing else, to prevent the U.S. from untangling the political conflicts that have plunged Iraq into mounting sectarian warfare.
Here in the capital of the Islamic Republic, it is an open secret that Iran is operating a quiet network of influence in Iraq that it can use either to help settle the conflict or to prevent the U.S. from reaching its goals there. Iranian officials say they are committed to quelling the instability they see as a threat to their own security.
Indeed, Iranians say, their image of an ideal settlement in Iraq looks remarkably like America's: a strong, democratically elected government in Baghdad -- that would, by dint of Iraq's Shiite Muslim majority, be a natural ally of Tehran -- an end to the violence, and preservation of territorial integrity. [complete article]
See also, West adds to strains on Iran's lifeline (NYT). Iranian president ducks charge that Iran is arming Iraqi insurgents
ABC News, February 13, 2007
Sawyer: Are [Iranians] training militia forces?
Ahmadinejad: I do not know what you mean by militia?
Sawyer: ... talking about Shiite forces. [complete article]
See also, General says he knows nothing tying leaders to arms in Iraq
Comment -- Diane Sawyer, when pushed by President Ahmadinejad to explain what she meant by "militia" didn't say "...talking about Shiite forces" (the text including elipse as it appears on the ABC web site). She said, "Well, we're talking about the insurgent forces." There are Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents -- Sawyer apparently doesn't know the difference. Given that most attacks against American forces have come from Sunni insurgents and so far no American official has made the absurd suggestion that the Sunnis are being armed by Iran, mixing up insurgents and militias is much more than a semantic gaffe. Thus ABC's obliging webmasters kindly covered up Sawyer's mistake. The day civil war erupted in Iraq
By Louise Roug, Los Angeles Times, February 13, 2007
The town is quiet, its residents asleep. A minute after midnight, the on-duty officer at a small U.S. base in the middle of Samarra starts his log. A solitary ambulance carries a sick child through the cold February night. Then, at 6:43 a.m., Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Gallas notes the sound of two explosions. Four minutes later: "Nighthawk elements report Main Dome on the Golden Mosque has been blown up."
Gallas does not know it yet, but the attack he has just recorded will reverberate throughout Iraq and the rest of the world.
The twin explosions last February claimed no lives. But because of the attack -- the destruction of a Shiite Muslim shrine in a Sunni Arab city -- thousands have died as Iraqis have engaged in a frenzy of vengeance, torching mosques and publicly executing civilians.
This was the dawn of Iraq's civil war. [complete article]
See also, One year later, Golden Mosque is still in ruins (NYT) and Silent prayers. Then the inferno (The Guardian). In shift, accord on North Korea seems to be set
By Jim Yardley and David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 13, 2007
The United States and four other nations reached a tentative agreement to provide North Korea with roughly $400 million in fuel oil and aid, in return for the North's starting to disable its nuclear facilities and allowing nuclear inspectors back into the country, according to American officials who have reviewed the proposed text.
While the accord sets a 60-day deadline for North Korea to accomplish those first steps toward disarmament, it leaves until an undefined moment in the future -- and to another negotiation -- the actual removal of North Korea's nuclear weapons and the fuel that it has manufactured to produce them.
Bush administration officials said they believed that the other nations participating in the talks -- China, Japan, South Korea and Russia -- would consent to the tentative agreement as soon as Tuesday. The parties still await a final confirmation from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il. The tentative agreement was forwarded to the respective national capitals Tuesday morning. [complete article] Bombs sow fear in Lebanon before Hariri anniversary
By Alistair Lyon, Reuters, February 13, 2007
Twin bus bombs in Lebanon on the eve of a planned mass memorial for Rafik al-Hariri have sent further tremors through a country still struggling with the aftershocks of the former prime minister's assassination.
The explosions, which dismembered ordinary people on their way to work, killed at least three commuters and wounded 17 in a Christian mountain area near Beirut on Tuesday.
A string of previous attacks, mostly aimed at anti-Syrian politicians and journalists, had shaken Lebanon since the Feb. 14, 2005 killing of Hariri, a billionaire who had led his country's drive to rebuild after its 1975-90 civil war. [complete article] Wave of overnight attacks rocks Somalia's capital
By Mohamed Olad Hassan, The Independent, February 13, 2007
Gunfire, mortars and rockets slammed into Somalia's capital early yesterday in a series of attacks that killed a six-year-old boy and his father as they slept, and wounded at least seven people, witnesses said.
The violence, which hit residential areas as well as the presidential palace, a radio station and a police station, was among the worst since Somalia's government moved into the capital late last year. Somali troops, with the help of soldiers from neighboring Ethiopia, drove out a radical Islamic militia known as the Council of Islamic Courts. [complete article] Stoking the fire
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, February 8, 2007
We Americans immodestly celebrate and tirelessly extol what we view as our own gift to the world. Democracy, the right of every people to determine their own leaders through free, fair and open elections, is (we say) a uniquely American export. Democracy is more important than the latest American fashion, more lasting than any Hollywood movie, more satisfying than a Big Mac. The liturgy of this particular faith has been a lodestone of American policy, from Washington to Wilson, from John Kennedy to Jimmy Carter. George Bush embraced this heritage, in May of 2005, when he characterized the 60 years of American engagement in the Arab world as 60 years of failure. To end this failure, Bush said, all that need be done is for the Arab world to accept our gift. Hold elections, he said. We Americans, he graciously added, might not always like the results, but we would accept them. [complete article]
Republic or empire?
By Chalmers Johnson, Harpers, February 7, 2007
The United States remains, for the moment, the most powerful nation in history, but it faces a violent contradiction between its long republican tradition and its more recent imperial ambitions.
The fate of previous democratic empires suggests that such a conflict is unsustainable and will be resolved in one of two ways. Rome attempted to keep its empire and lost its democracy. Britain chose to remain democratic and in the process let go its empire. Intentionally or not, the people of the United States already are well embarked upon the course of non-democratic empire. [complete article]
The U.S. says it is fighting for democracy - but is deaf to the cries of the Iraqis
By Noam Chomsky, The Independent, February 11, 2007
...even the most dedicated scholar/advocates of "democracy promotion" recognise that there is a "strong line of continuity" in US efforts to promote democracy going back as far as you like and reaching the present: democracy is supported if and only if it conforms to strategic and economic objectives. For example, supporting the brutal punishment of people who committed the crime of voting "the wrong way" in a free election, as in Palestine right now, with pretexts that would inspire ridicule in a free society. As for democracy in the US, elite opinion has generally considered it a dangerous threat which must be resisted. [complete article] Across Arab world, a widening rift
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, February 12, 2007
Egypt is the Arab world's largest Sunni Muslim country, but as a writer once quipped, it has a Shiite heart and a Sunni mind. In its eclectic popular culture, Sunnis enjoy a sweet dish with raisins and nuts to mark Ashura, the most sacred Shiite Muslim holiday. Raucous festivals bring Cairenes into the street to celebrate the birthdays of Shiite saints, a practice disparaged by austere Sunnis. The city's Islamic quarter tangles like a vine around a shrine to Imam Hussein, Shiite Islam's most revered figure.
The syncretic blend makes the words of Mahmoud Ahmed, a book vendor sitting on the shrine's marble and granite promenade, even more striking.
"The Shiites are rising," he said, arching his eyebrows in an expression suggesting both revelation and fear.
The growing Sunni-Shiite divide is roiling an Arab world as unsettled as at any time in a generation. Fought in speeches, newspaper columns, rumors swirling through cafes and the Internet, and occasional bursts of strife, the conflict is predominantly shaped by politics: a disintegrating Iraq, an ascendant Iran, a sense of Arab powerlessness and a persistent suspicion of American intentions. But the division has begun to seep into the region's social fabric, too. The sectarian fault line has long existed and sometimes ruptured, but never, perhaps, has it been revealed in such a stark, disruptive fashion. [complete article] The case for U.S. military disengagement from Iraq [PDF]
By Steven N. Simon, Council on Foreign Relations, February, 2007
The United States has already achieved all that it is likely to achieve in Iraq: the removal of Saddam, the end of the Ba'athist regime, the elimination of the Iraqi regional threat, the snuffing out of Iraq's unrequited aspiration to weapons of mass destruction, and the opening of a door, however narrow, to a constitutionally based electoral democracy. Staying in Iraq can only drive up the price of these gains in blood, treasure, and strategic position. Any realistic reckoning for the future will have to acknowledge six grim realities:
*The United States cannot determine political outcomes or achieve its remaining political aims via military means. American military forces have not brought the violence to an end or under control and will not do so in the future. In the absence of the understanding and the intelligence needed to operate effectively in the complex and violent political situation in Iraq, this should not be surprising.The United States should therefore make clear now to the Iraqi government that, as the results of the anticipated surge become apparent, the two sides will begin to negotiate a U.S. military disengagement from Iraq. That would entail withdrawing the bulk of American forces from Iraq within twelve to eighteen months (that is to say, over the course of calendar year 2008); shifting the American focus to containment of the conflict and strengthening the U.S. military position elsewhere in the region; and engaging Iraq's neighbors, including Iran and Syria, members of the UN Security Council, and potential donors in an Iraq stabilization plan. [complete report PDF] Military ties Iran to arms in Iraq
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, February 12, 2007
Iraq's deputy foreign minister, Labeed M. Abbawi, said in an interview Sunday that the Iraqi government remains in the dark about the full U.S. investigation into Iranian activities in Iraq. "It is difficult for us here in the diplomatic circles just to accept whatever the American forces say is evidence," he said.
"If they have anything really conclusive, then they should come out and say it openly, then we will pick it up from there and use diplomatic channels" to discuss it with Iran, he said. "The method or the way it's being done should be changed, to have more cooperation with us."
U.S. military officials in Iraq had previously described the use of "explosively shaped charges" to target vehicles, but Sunday's briefing was the first time they displayed pieces of what they called an "explosively formed penetrator" or EFP. [complete article]
Comment -- Although there remains a broad consensus that the Bush administration is pushing itself on a trajectory towards war with Iran, in an interesting analysis of some of the Arabic media coverage of the "Iranian weapons" story, "Badger" points to a much more immediate driving force behind U.S. rhetoric: "The Iran-weapons show was part of American pressure to make sure the Iraqi government agrees to include Shiite targets as well as Sunni targets in the new security plan." Baghdad surges into hell
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, February 12, 2007
In his Iraq policy address on January 10, President Bush promised three new initiatives: a "surge" of American troops accompanied by a new "clear, hold, and build" strategy in Sunni insurgent strongholds; an offensive against Shia militias, particularly the Sadrist Mahdi Army which "U.S. military officials now identify as the greatest security threat in Iraq"; and forceful action to prevent Iran from further increasing its influence in Iraq and the Middle East.
Events in the last few weeks make it clear that all three prongs of this strategy are being enacted, even while the Congress is engaged in a prolonged debate over its (non-binding) opposition to the "surge" part of the new regional plan. The "surge" strategy was actually initiated one day before the speech was even given -- in an offensive on Baghdad's Haifa Street that briefly dominated the headlines. The new initiative aimed at Shia militias appears to have begun with a battle outside of Najaf in which about 200 members of the Al-Hawatim and al-Khazali tribes were killed by American and Iraqi forces -- apparently because the tribal militias had been involved in a growing (if under-reported) "anti-U.S. and anti-Baghdad" guerrilla war that "has been spreading like wildfire" in the Shia south. And the new aggressiveness towards Iran is now being played out not only in Iraq, but in the increasingly credible threats of an American or Israeli, or combined American and Israeli, air assault on Iran itself. [complete article]
Insurgents stepping up efforts to down U.S. helicopters in Iraq
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 12, 2007
A deputy commanding general in Iraq whose duties include aviation said Sunday that insurgents had adopted new tactics and stepped up their efforts to shoot down American helicopters, and he acknowledged that the rash of recent incidents included a previously unreported downing of a Black Hawk late last month.
The unreported incident took place on Jan. 25 near the Euphrates River town of Hit when a Black Hawk was struck by automatic weapons fire from the ground, said Maj. Gen. Jim Simmons, a deputy commanding general for the American-led Multi-National Force in Iraq. All aboard were evacuated and there were no casualties, General Simmons said.
Depending on the outcome of an investigation into the crash last Wednesday of a Marine CH-46 Sea Knight helicopter, the latest report brings the number of American military and civilian helicopters shot down in Iraq in the past 21 days to either six or seven. General Simmons said preliminary findings suggested that the Sea Knight went down because of mechanical problems, but some witness reports indicated that the helicopter was shot down. All seven people aboard died.
"I will tell you that someone who is involved in a fight, who is adaptive and thinking, will develop the tactics to be able to engage people," General Simmons said, speaking of the insurgents. "I believe that is what we have seen here."
General Simmons said he also believed that the insurgents might be especially motivated to shoot down helicopters as a way of discrediting the new American and Iraqi security plan. [complete article]
See also, Copters' missile threat (and how to stop it) (Defense Tech) and Thousands of Army Humvees lack armor upgrade (WP). Iran softens tone, declares readiness to resume talks
By Craig Whitlock and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, February 12, 2007
Facing the prospect of broader international sanctions, Iran's president and national security chief on Sunday offered to resume negotiations over their country's nuclear program and eased up on some of the contentious rhetoric of the past, including threats to destroy Israel.
In Munich, Ali Larijani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, briefly met with European diplomats for the first time since talks collapsed in September and said Iran was willing to return to formal discussions.
He also said his country had "no intention of aggression against any country," adding that Iran "posed no threat to Israel" in particular, despite past vows from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel "off the map."
Meanwhile in Tehran, Ahmadinejad also said that Iran was willing to resume negotiations, although both he and Larijani rejected a condition for talks set by the U.N. Security Council that Iran first freeze its uranium enrichment program. "We are prepared for dialogue but won't suspend our activities," Ahmadinejad said. [complete article]
The nuclear ambiguity route
By Avner Cohen, Haaretz, February 12, 2007
It is difficult not to see a certain historical similarity between Iran's nuclear situation today and Israel's nuclear situation in the early 1960s: countries in the midst of an ambitious national nuclear initiative designed to create a nuclear option, but which do not yet have a clear idea of what its nature will be in the future. Clearly they will have something, some kind of nuclear capability, but in spite of their determination nobody can prophesy what they can achieve: the technological capability to produce fissionable material, a bomb in the basement, or perhaps, in the case of Iran, a manifest bomb. Everything depends on the world's determination to oppose and confront their nuclear ambitions. [complete article] Cheney testimony in Libby trial would carry high risk
By Scott Shane and Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, February 12, 2007
One figure has dominated the trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. without even showing up in the courtroom. Day after day, the jury has heard accounts of the actions of Vice President Dick Cheney, watched as his handwritten notes were displayed on a giant screen, heard how he directed leaks to the news media and ordered the White House to publicly defend Mr. Libby, his top aide and close confidante.
Now, as the defense phase of the perjury trial begins, Mr. Cheney is expected to make a historic appearance on the witness stand. It is an act of loyalty that carries considerable risk for Mr. Cheney, a powerful figure in the administration who has in recent months suffered a series of major political and policy setbacks.
If he testifies, Mr. Cheney will bring to the jurors the awesome authority of his office and could attest to Mr. Libby's character as policy adviser and family man, and to his crushing workload and dedication to keeping the country safe. That could give extra heft to Mr. Libby's defense against the charge that he lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the grand jury: that he was so occupied with important matters of state, he did not accurately remember conversations from July 2003.
But the first 10 days of testimony have already exposed some of the long-hidden workings of Mr. Cheney's extraordinary vice presidency, revealing how deeply Mr. Cheney himself was engaged during 2003 in managing public relations as the administrationÂ?s case for war came under attack. [complete article]
Comment -- One of the many reasons that it would be good to see Cheney in the witness stand is that it might provide an opportunity for journalists to stop using phrases like "awesome authority."
All too often in America, executive power is idolatrized in the figures of the president and vice-president. Men elected to perform a service to their country are honored like regents -- substitute monarchs who patronize their subjects by propagating the conceit that anyone can become king.
So once Cheney takes the oath, instead of intimidating anyone by being able to apply any awesome powers, he gets to be just like any other witness; he's expected to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And if he tries to weasel out of that obligation, then the prosecutor can try and slap some straight answers out of him. And Cheney need have no fear whether he'll be treated fairly -- the "slapping" will of course just be figurative. Hamas government to step down
By Karin Laub, AP, February 12, 2007
Senior Palestinian officials said Monday they will start forming a new, national unity government in coming days, but acknowledged that previous dealbreakers, such as control over the security forces and the fate of Hamas' militia, have still not been resolved.
Under the power-sharing deal reached last week in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the Hamas-led Cabinet is to step down in the coming days to make way for a coalition government with the rival Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The two sides have agreed to a division of Cabinet posts, but have not yet reached agreement on the names of most of the government ministers. One unresolved issue is who will be interior minister and thus exert considerable control over the security forces. Wrangling over such control helped spark deadly Hamas-Fatah clashes in Gaza in recent months. [complete article]
Haniyeh urges world to respect PA unity deal and lift sanctions
AP, February 12, 2007
Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh appealed to the international community to honor the unity deal signed by warring Palestinian factions last week and to lift economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority.
Today there is a cautious, pessimistic U.S. position towards this agreement," said Haniyeh. "I say to the Quartet and to the European Union that this is the will of the Palestinian people, and they should respect it and they should work to end the status of siege," he said.
Senior Palestinian officials said Monday they will start forming a new, national unity government in coming days, but acknowledged that previous dealbreakers, such as control over the security forces and the fate of Hamas' militia, have still not been resolved. [complete article]
Meshal: Hamas is not under control of any foreign power
Reuters, February 12, 2007
Exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshal on Monday denied the Palestinian Islamist group was being controlled by a foreign power, in an apparent reference to Iran.
"It is Hamas' leadership that makes Hamas decisions and no one has control over us," Meshaal said in an interview broadcast on Saudi state-run television channel al-Ikhbariya on Monday.
Shi'ite Muslim Iran has given the Hamas-led government financial support after Western countries blocked aid because of the group's refusal to recognize Israel or renounce violence after it was elected last year. [complete article] Majadele: Jerusalem mayor knew Mugrabi dig was illegal
By Jonathan Lis, Haaretz, February 12, 2007
Israel's first Arab minister, Ghaleb Majadele, on Monday accused Jerusalem Mayor Uri Lupolianski of approving controversial construction work in the Old City of the capital, even though he knew it was illegal.
The excavation and building work at the Mugrabi Ascent, some 60 meters away from the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount, has sparked demonstrations and criticism across the Muslim world.
Majadele, speaking at a stormy meeting of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, accused the mayor of agreeing to the work without first obtaining the correct authorization required by law. [complete article]
More than a walkway
By Daoud Kuttab, Jerusalem Post, February 11, 2007
If Israeli officials felt that the protest against work near Al-Aksa mosque was a local problem that would soon go away, they were not watching Lebanese television.
Some might think that the Arab world's most popular TV program, Star Academy, is all about singing youth and half-dressed presenters. But on Friday, February 9, the students at Star Academy joined together in singing the song of Lebanese superstar Fairuz about Jerusalem.
Dressed in chic black outfits, the entire class of Star Academy 4 joined hands in front of sets depicting Jerusalem's Old City walls as they sang "Zahrat al Madain" (The flower of cities).
Without making a single reference to the latest controversy over the Mughrabi Gate walkway, the directors of this musical program made a huge political sensation. The lyrics of the song, written just after the 1967 occupation, reminded the tens of millions of young Arab viewers of Jerusalem's centrality to the Arab and Islamic cause more than any politician ever could have. [complete article] A road map out of Iraq
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2007
The war in Iraq is a historic strategic and moral calamity undertaken under false assumptions. It is undermining America's global legitimacy. Its collateral civilian casualties, as well as some abuses, are tarnishing America's moral credentials. Driven by Manichean impulses and imperial hubris, it is intensifying regional instability.
Yet major strategic decisions in the Bush administration continue to be made within a very narrow circle of individuals -- perhaps not more than the fingers on one hand. With the exception of the new Defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, these are the same individuals who have been involved from the start of this misadventure, who made the original decision to go to war in Iraq and who used the original false justifications for going to war. It is human nature to be reluctant to undertake actions that would imply a significant reversal of policy.
From the standpoint of U.S. national interest, this is particularly ominous. If the United States continues to be bogged down in protracted, bloody involvement in Iraq, the final destination on this downhill track is likely to be a head-on conflict with Iran and much of the Islamic world. [complete article] Putin hits U.S. over unilateral approach
By Thomas E. Ricks and Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, February 11, 2007
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in some of his harshest criticism of the United States since he took office seven years ago, said Saturday that Washington's unilateral, militaristic approach had made the world a more dangerous place than at any time during the Cold War.
"The United States has overstepped its national borders in every way," he said in an address at an annual international security conference here. "Nobody feels secure anymore, because nobody can take safety behind the stone wall of international law."
Putin criticized the expansion of NATO, saying the alliance's placement of military forces on Russia's borders reduces "the level of mutual trust." He said the U.S. desire to place antimissile systems in Eastern Europe could further upset the international balance of power and embolden the United States in its foreign policy decisions. [complete article] Rumors of war
By Michael Hirsh and Maziar Bahari, Newsweek, February 19, 2007
American military officials and politicians accuse the Iranian government of providing Iraqis with an new arsenal of advanced rocket-propelled-grenade launchers, heavy-duty mortars and the newest armor-piercing technology for roadside bombs—explosively formed projectiles (EFPs), said to have been developed by Hizbullah. Military security experts are especially worried by "passive infrared sensors," readily available devices that are often used for burglar alarms or automatic light switches but increasingly seen as triggers for improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Unlike cell phones, remote-control systems and garage-door openers, the sensors emit no signal, making them that much tougher to spot before they detonate.
What's scant is hard evidence that the weapons are provided by the Iranian government, rather than arms dealers or rogue Revolutionary Guard elements. "Iranian lethal support for select groups of Iraqi Shia militants clearly intensifies the conflict in Iraq," says the latest National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq. But the most that can be said with certainty is that Tehran is failing to stop the traffic. The Iranians themselves admit they're not trying as hard as they could. "I can give you my word that we don't give IEDs to the Mahdi Army," says an Iranian intelligence official who asked not to be named because secrecy is his business. "But if you asked me if we could control our borders better if we wanted to, I would say: 'Yes, if we knew that the Americans would not use Iraq as a base to attack Iran'."
Comment -- As the propaganda war heats up, it seems curious that among the various unsubstantiated accusations against Iran being floated by U.S. sources, nothing (as far as I'm aware) is being said tying Iran to the numerous strikes against American helicopters in recent weeks.
I can only speculate on why Iran is not being blamed but here's one possible explanation.
The vulnerability of its helicopters was one of the key factors leading to the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. If the spate of U.S. crashes isn't quickly stemmed, then it will become increasingly clear to most Americans that U.S. forces (just like their Soviet counterparts two decades ago) likewise have no tenable foothold in Iraq. Rather than blame the Iranians as the source of this threat, the Pentagon would rather pretend the threat doesn't exist since no amount of saber rattling or even an attack on Iran would make American helicopters any safer. As the Baltimore Sun reports:
With 4,000 to 5,000 increasingly sophisticated surface-to-air missiles in the hands of insurgents via the international arms markets, analysts say, American chopper pilots are caught in a narrowing flight envelope in which they can operate with relative safety. It takes years for the Pentagon to develop and field new defensive technology such as infrared jammers.The Pentagon might be able to resign itself to the prospect of facing an American political defeat in Iraq, but now it may be facing an even more unthinkable prospect: an outright military defeat. Iran reformists want U.S. to tone it down
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2007
...many Iranians say the international dispute over Iran's nuclear program has become a rallying point for a president who otherwise would be facing substantial public dissatisfaction over soaring inflation, rising unemployment and widespread censorship.
This has been a source of frustration to Iran's reformists, who dealt the president's party a blow at the polls in local elections in December but complain that the Bush administration's threatening rhetoric has pulled the rug out from under them.
"You are harmful for us. We try to tell politicians in Washington, D.C., please don't do anything in favor of reform or to promote democracy in Iran. Because in 100% of the cases, it benefits the right wing," said Saeed Leylaz, a business consultant and advocate of economic reform and greater dialogue with the West.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad tries to make the international situation worse and worse. And now with the U.N. Security Council resolution, he can say, 'Look, we are in a dangerous position, and nobody can say anything against us, because the enemy is coming into the country.' Exactly like George W. Bush in Washington, D.C. They are helping each other. They need each other, I believe." [complete article] U.S. keeps pressure on Iran but decreases saber rattling
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, February 11, 2007
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates insisted again Friday that, despite persistent reports to the contrary circulating in Washington and around the world, the United States is not planning military action against Iran.
"I don't know how many times the president, Secretary Rice and I have had to repeat that we have no intention of attacking Iran," an exasperated Gates told reporters at a NATO meeting in Spain. In fact, he said, the administration has consciously tried to "tone down" its rhetoric on the subject.
Similar statements in recent weeks by President Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and others follow a high-level policy assessment in January that U.S. and multilateral pressure on Tehran, to the surprise of many in the administration, might be showing signs of progress.
Officials highlighted growing internal public and political criticism of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as well as the reemergence, after months of public silence, of Tehran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. Larijani arrived in Munich yesterday for talks with European Union officials.
As a result, new talking points distributed to senior policymakers in the administration directed them to actively play down any suggestion of war planning. [complete article] Iran insists on nuclear programme
BBC News, February 11, 2007
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has insisted on Iran's right to develop nuclear fuel while staying within international rules.
Mr Ahmadinejad accused the West of making false offers - calling for talks and then insisting that Tehran first halts its uranium enrichment work.
The president was addressing a mass rally in Tehran, marking the 28th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. [complete article] Victory is not an option
By William E. Odom, Washington Post, February 11, 2007
The new National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq starkly delineates the gulf that separates President Bush's illusions from the realities of the war. Victory, as the president sees it, requires a stable liberal democracy in Iraq that is pro-American. The NIE describes a war that has no chance of producing that result. In this critical respect, the NIE, the consensus judgment of all the U.S. intelligence agencies, is a declaration of defeat.
Its gloomy implications -- hedged, as intelligence agencies prefer, in rubbery language that cannot soften its impact -- put the intelligence community and the American public on the same page. The public awakened to the reality of failure in Iraq last year and turned the Republicans out of control of Congress to wake it up. But a majority of its members are still asleep, or only half-awake to their new writ to end the war soon.
Perhaps this is not surprising. Americans do not warm to defeat or failure, and our politicians are famously reluctant to admit their own responsibility for anything resembling those un-American outcomes. So they beat around the bush, wringing hands and debating "nonbinding resolutions" that oppose the president's plan to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq. [complete article] An Iraq interrogator's nightmare
By Eric Fair, Washington Post, February 9, 2007
A man with no face stares at me from the corner of a room. He pleads for help, but I'm afraid to move. He begins to cry. It is a pitiful sound, and it sickens me. He screams, but as I awaken, I realize the screams are mine.
That dream, along with a host of other nightmares, has plagued me since my return from Iraq in the summer of 2004. Though the man in this particular nightmare has no face, I know who he is. I assisted in his interrogation at a detention facility in Fallujah. I was one of two civilian interrogators assigned to the division interrogation facility (DIF) of the 82nd Airborne Division. The man, whose name I've long since forgotten, was a suspected associate of Khamis Sirhan al-Muhammad, the Baath Party leader in Anbar province who had been captured two months earlier.
The lead interrogator at the DIF had given me specific instructions: I was to deprive the detainee of sleep during my 12-hour shift by opening his cell every hour, forcing him to stand in a corner and stripping him of his clothes. Three years later the tables have turned. It is rare that I sleep through the night without a visit from this man. His memory harasses me as I once harassed him. [complete article] Legitimacy was step one
By Gian P. Gentile, Washington Post, February 11, 2007
I learned as a tactical battalion commander in Baghdad's Amiriyah district last year that government legitimacy was exponentially more important than the number of coalition and Iraqi army forces patrolling the streets, the number of coalition advisers with Iraqi army and police units, or money spent improving services. Indeed, legitimacy of the government of Iraq as seen through the eyes of all Iraqis -- Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds -- is the necessary condition for peace based on reconciliation.
In Amiriyah we were neither winning nor losing; we were in stasis. Between August and November last year, I substantially increased the number of combined American and Iraqi army patrols there and the capacity of the American adviser team that worked with a local Iraqi army battalion. Still, the deadlock did not break. [complete article] Jewish inroads in Muslim quarter
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, February 11, 2007
From the roof of his home just inside the Old City walls, Palestinian landlord Nasser Karain has a view of the valleys and plateaus where scriptures say Solomon built the first Temple, Jesus was betrayed and Muhammad rose to heaven.
A new landmark may soon rise next to his family compound.
The Israeli government is funding the first construction of a Jewish settlement in the Old City's Muslim Quarter since taking control of it nearly four decades ago. The Flowers Gate development plan calls for more than 20 apartments and a domed synagogue that would alter the skyline of the Old City.
Karain's property is at the center of an accelerating campaign by Jewish settler organizations to change the ethnic and physical character of this city's oldest Arab neighborhoods. The Israeli government is financing projects that dovetail with the settlers' goals, which they say are to secure the Old City and an adjacent valley for Israel in any final peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Resistance is growing. Last week, Palestinians protested throughout the West Bank over an Israeli renovation project in the Old City, leading to some of the worst clashes with Israeli police in years. Surrounded by crenelated walls, the Old City is divided into four quarters -- Armenian, Christian, Jewish and Muslim -- that contain some of the holiest sites in Christendom, Islam and Judaism. [complete article] Olmert non-committal on Palestinian unity pact
By Jeffrey Heller, Reuters, February 11, 2007
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert reserved judgment on Sunday on a Palestinian unity deal and a senior Israeli official said a U.S.-brokered summit with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be held as planned.
"Israel neither rejects nor accepts the agreements," Olmert said about a power-sharing pact signed by Hamas and Fatah, an accord that failed to meet a core demand by the United States and other Middle East peace mediators to recognize Israel.
"At this stage, we, like the international community are learning what was exactly accomplished and what was said," he said in broadcast remarks at the weekly cabinet meeting. [complete article]
A potential turning point
Editorial, Haaretz, February 11, 2007
The agreement signed in Mecca between Hamas and Fatah will not realize Israel's dream. It does not explicitly recognize Israel and there is no mention of ending terror. It greatly reinforces Hamas' grip on the Palestinian unity government in the making, leaves Ismail Haniyeh in the office of the prime minister and gives Hamas - more precisely, its political leader, Khaled Meshal - veto power over the decisions of the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Ostensibly, the right-wing extremists in the Israeli government can point to the agreement as proof that not only is there no common ground for discussions with Hamas, but in addition, Fatah has accepted this more radical direction.
This simplistic view of the agreement, however, is misleading. Hamas has come a long way along two important roads: The organization is willing to honor - even if it has not promised to implement - the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the PA with Israel, and it had adopted the international and Arab League resolutions, including the latter's Beirut Declaration of 2002. This resolution can be interpreted as accepting, in effect, all of the Quartet's conditions. Those who honor the international agreements and adopt the Beirut resolution are in any event honoring the Oslo Accords, which include recognition of Israel and an end to warfare against it. [complete article]
Deal's future: The devil is in the details
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 10, 2007
The images from Friday in Mecca would have seemed impossible a few days earlier. There, in white robes and circling the sacred Kaaba stone, were Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas' arch enemy Mohammed Dahlan.
In the next few days, we may expect other sticky displays of unity, like Meshal's statement that Hamas has adopted a new policy in the Mecca talks.
Celebrations notwithstanding, the government unity agreement has not yet been completed. Hamas must appoint the most important minister - the interior minister, who will control the Palestinian security forces and whose vote could tip the balance in critical cabinet decisions. [complete article] Sunni, Shi'a and the "Trotskyists of Islam"
By Fred Halliday, Open Democracy, February 9, 2007
The conflict now besetting the middle east is, like all major international conflicts, multidimensional. It involves not just one major axis of violence (Israel/Arabs, United States/terrorism, west/Iran) but several overlapping conflicts that draw states and armed movements into their arena. The major concern of strategists and analysts remains the polarisation between the US and its foes in Iraq and, increasingly, in Iran. But there is another important, ominous, conflict accompanying these that has little to do with the machinations of Washington or Israel, and is less likely to be contained by political compromise: the spread, in a way radically new for the middle east, of direct conflict between Sunni and Shi'a Muslims.
Many generalisations and simplifications accompany the whole issue of Sunni and Shi'a Islam. In the aftermath of the Iranian revolution, when Ayatollah Khomeini produced a radical, populist, third-world rhetoric that denounced the west and the "golden idols" or taghut who served imperialist interests in the region (among them the Shah of Iran, Anwar Sadat, Saddam Hussein, and the Gulf rulers), it was claimed by many that Shi'ism, the belief of around 10% of all Muslims, was inherently militant. [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Israel sounds alarm on Iran's nuclear efforts
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, February 7, 2007
How not to inflame Iraq
By Javad Zarif, New York Times, February 8, 2007
Time to talk to Iran
The case for diplomatic solutions on Iran
Crisis Action, February 5, 2007
Bush's campaign to pin the Iraq quagmire on Iranian meddling won't wash
By Gareth Porter, The American Prospect, February 2, 2007
Rice denies seeing Iranian proposal in '03
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, February 8, 2007
How to pump up war fever without starting a war
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, February 7, 2007
These moderates are in fact fanatics, torturers and killers
By Mai Yamani, The Guardian, February 6, 2007
Hamas is not going away
Editorial, Haaretz, February 5, 2007
Condi encounters resistance
By Paul Woodward, Conflicts Forum, February 4, 2007
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