The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
The fall of modernity
By Michael Vlahos, The American Conservative, February 26, 2007

Our Islamofascist branding makes every movement of Muslim resistance an attack on us. Yet most resistance instead speaks to local yearnings. By seeing an enemy of civilization in every Muslim non-state actor, we unthinkingly widen the struggle. Alternative communities are indelible in the "evil" world landscape painted by the global war on terrorism -- the ongoing metamorphosis of the global other into the Mordor of our imagination.

Then there are meta-communities of piety. Modernity's greatest failure is spiritual -- neon-lit in Europe, where old piety has crashed and burned. But among the global other scorched by modernity's "creative destruction," it is not that people have abandoned piety but that it has abandoned them. In globalization's mixing bowl, the meditative power of old ethos has been lost. Yet American modernity offers nothing to take its place: just ask an Afghani or an Iraqi.

Piety is a cry for meaning in a stripped world. Two movements stand out: the Pentecostalist and the Islamist. Both share a deep repudiation of the Western nation state as the supreme human ideal -- not because they are intrinsically anti-Western but because they see modernity as antithetical to what people need. If this seems harsh, just feel the fervor and the fulfillment they offer.

Calling them throwbacks from a primitive past denies what we need to see: that modernity itself has been stripping, not giving. Denial robs us of insight into what people need, while calling their piety "primitive" encourages us to see the global other as a lesser humanity. We have after all declared that the lowest bar we will accept for Muslims is "moderate Islam," where we will ratify what is correct.

Like American modernity, Romans also presided over a humanity left behind, a welter of cults jostling in the social and spiritual vacuum. Romans also proscribed resister cults, defining Christians the way we define terrorists -- as threats to civilization. Yet then, as now, the spiritual alternatives people sought could not be controlled. The great success stories then were Christianity and Islam. Today's evangelists reach back to their passionate origins: the martyrs of the early Church and Al Ansar, the brotherhood of Muhammad. We fear to face the passionate fusion of alternative community and transcendental faith because the prospect of true meta-communities of piety leverages and multiplies the energies of local resistance.

In modernity's youth, those who resisted simply ended up as notches on history's belt, the fate of all who stand in the way of progress. What is different today is that resistance grows everywhere in the face of modernity's "power." They are fighters -- and they know how to beat us. Ideas, visions, and sacrifice meant nothing in the Victorian face of the Maxim gun, but our grand war narrative has endowed a counter-narrative of resistance. [complete article]
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U.S. takes harder line on talks between Jerusalem, Damascus
By Ze'ev Schiff, Amos Harel and Yoav Stern, Haaretz, February 24, 2007

The United States demanded that Israel desist from even exploratory contacts with Syria, of the sort that would test whether Damascus is serious in its declared intentions to hold peace talks with Israel.

In meetings with Israeli officials recently, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was forceful in expressing Washington's view on the matter.

The American argument is that even "exploratory talks" would be considered a prize in Damascus, whose policy and actions continue to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and the functioning of its government, while it also continues to stir unrest in Iraq, to the detriment of the U.S. presence there. [complete article]

Will Saudi Arabia solve America's problems?
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, February 19, 2007

There has been considerable chest beating by supporters of the Bush administration over the prospect of splitting Syria from Iran and forcing it to relinquish, not only its Palestinian and Iraqi cards, but also its Lebanon card. As proof of Syria's impending downfall, they point to the frequent meetings between Saudi and Iranian mediators, which they claim cut Syria out of the picture. They point to the Mecca deal between Hamas and the PLO, brokered by Saudi Arabia, and to the failure of Hizbullah to carry out a coup against the American backed Siniora government, and even the impending downfall of Nabih Berri, the Shiite president of the Parliament. What is more, they point to new European resolve to back US attempts to impose sanctions on Syria and get the international court fully mandated to try Syria for the Hariri murder. Stratfor concludes its most recent report, claiming: "But from all appearances, the rumors of a rift between Iran and Syria may indeed have some merit."

This confidence seems far fetched, largely because it rests on fragile supports. First, it is driven by President Bush's success in pushing through his troop surge for Iraq in the face of democratic success at the polls and the Baker-Hamilton advice to return to diplomacy. This success will be temporary. The US cannot sustain the cost of or concentration on Iraq. Secondly, it is driven by the administration's seeming success in saddling up the Saudis to do the heavy lifting against Iran and Syria. Some argue that putting US eggs in Saudi Arabia's basket is smart and crafty. By playing on Muslim sectarian fears, the US can harness Sunnis to spend their money and political capital to defeat the growing Shi'a crescent.

No only is this unwise because Wahhabism, which under-girds Saudi legitimacy, is neither tolerant nor a force of moderation in the region, but also because Saudi interests diverge from those of the United States on several important points. [complete article]
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Israel seeks all clear for Iran air strike
By Con Coughlin, The Telegraph, February 23, 2007

Israel is negotiating with the United States for permission to fly over Iraq as part of a plan to attack Iran's nuclear facilities, The Daily Telegraph can reveal.

To conduct surgical air strikes against Iran's nuclear programme, Israeli war planes would need to fly across Iraq. But to do so the Israeli military authorities in Tel Aviv need permission from the Pentagon.

A senior Israeli defence official said negotiations were now underway between the two countries for the US-led coalition in Iraq to provide an "air corridor" in the event of the Israeli government deciding on unilateral military action to prevent Teheran developing nuclear weapons. [complete article]

See also, Israel denies report it is planning an Iran attack (Reuters).
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Fears grow over Iran
By Tom Baldwin and Philip Webster, The Times, February 23, 2007

Tony Blair has declared himself at odds with hawks in the US Administration by saying publicly for the first time that it would be wrong to take military action against Iran. The Prime Minister's comments came hours before the UN’s nuclear watchdog raised the stakes in the West's showdown with Tehran.

The International Atomic Energy Agency concluded that Iran had expanded its nuclear programme, defying UN demands for it to be suspended. Hundreds of uranium-spinning centrifuges in an underground hall are expected to be increased to thousands by May when Iran moves to "industrial-scale production". Senior British government sources have told The Times that they fear President Bush will seek to "settle the Iranian question through military means" next year, before the end of his second term if he concludes that diplomacy has failed. "He will not want to leave it unresolved for his successor," said one.

But there are deep fissures within the US Administration. Robert Gates, the Defence Secretary, who has previously called for direct talks with Tehran, is said to be totally opposed to military action. [complete article]

U.S. intelligence on Iran does not stand up, say Vienna sources
By Julian Borger, The Guardian, February 23, 2007

Much of the intelligence on Iran's nuclear facilities provided to UN inspectors by American spy agencies has turned out to be unfounded, according to diplomatic sources in Vienna.

The claims, reminiscent of the intelligence fiasco surrounding the Iraq war, coincided with a sharp increase in international tension as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran was defying a UN security council ultimatum to freeze its nuclear programme.

That report, delivered to the security council by the IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, sets the stage for a fierce international debate on the imposition of stricter sanctions on Iran, and raises the possibility that the US might resort to military action against Iranian nuclear sites.

At the heart of the debate are accusations, spearheaded by the US, that Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons. However, most of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed sources in Vienna. [complete article]

See also, Rice warns Iran it risks further U.N. sanctions (WP) and Iran's nuclear effort in high gear, U.N. says (LAT).
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U.S. seizes son of a top Shiite, stirring uproar
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, February 24, 2007

American troops seized and then released the eldest son of Abdul Aziz al-Hakim, perhaps the most powerful Shiite political leader in Iraq, after he crossed the border from Iran into Iraq on Friday morning.

The detention heightened tensions with one of Iraq's most formidable political movements just as the planned American troop buildup was beginning in Baghdad to try to rescue the capital from the grip of Shiite militias and Sunni insurgents.

Allies of the Hakim family denounced the detention as a serious insult, and a senior adviser to the family asserted that American forces also had assaulted several guards. The Hakims control the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, the backbone of the Shiite political alliance that has dominated politics during the occupation. [complete article]
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Europeans' chill deepens on U.S. policy
By Robert Marquand, Christian Science Monitor, February 23, 2007

The resignation of Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi underscores the difficulty in Europe of governments trying to support US foreign policy on terror while at the same time pleasing their own publics.

Mr. Prodi, who has been in office less than a year, stepped down Wednesday after he was unable to convince his parliament of the "profound difference" between sending Italian troops to Afghanistan and sending them to Iraq. Italy currently deploys 1,950 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO mission of some 30,000 soldiers from European states.

The Prodi drama came hours after Britain and Denmark announced the start of troop withdrawals from Iraq – a blow to the White House as it deploys an additional 21,000 soldiers to stabilize Baghdad. In a further departure from perfect alignment with US policy in the Middle East, British prime minister Tony Blair also said this week that he will consider dealing with the Palestinian group Hamas as part of a new "national unity" government in the occupied territories. [complete article]

See also, Arms race fears fulfilled (Simon Tisdall).
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The modern Muslim
Tariq Ramadan interviewed by Steve Paulson, Salon, February 20, 2007

Why are there so few moderate Muslims speaking out against Islamic terrorism? That's a common complaint heard in the West, but in truth, plenty of Muslims are critical of suicide bombers. What's harder to find are Muslim leaders who condemn terrorism while also maintaining credibility among disaffected Muslims, and intellectuals who can appeal to both secular Europeans and Middle Eastern imams. That's why the Swiss-born Tariq Ramadan is such a compelling figure.

Ramadan has been called the Muslim Martin Luther King, and he's often described as Europe's most important Muslim intellectual. He has no shortage of charisma -- a quality that serves him well as he reaches out to various constituencies. There's no doubt that Ramadan commands a large following. Hundreds of young Muslims turn up at his public talks, and tapes of his lectures are widely circulated. He travels frequently throughout the Islamic world, trying to build bridges between European Muslims and conservative clerics.

But there are some countries Ramadan can't visit. The United States, Egypt and Saudi Arabia have all banned him -- each for different reasons. In 2004 Ramadan was all set to move his family to Indiana, where he'd accepted a teaching position at Notre Dame. But the U.S. State Department revoked his visa -- though exactly why remains a mystery. Ramadan says it's because he's an outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policy. His critics say he has ties to Muslim terrorists. No evidence of a direct link to terrorism has ever surfaced, though plenty of people have looked for one. [complete article]
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Is this America?
By Nat Hentoff, Village Voice, February 19, 2007

On the day the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia ended in 1787, Benjamin Franklin told an inquiring citizen: "We have a Republic—if we can keep it." Two years later, in a letter to a friend, Franklin was more rhapsodic about the long-term impact of the American Revolution and its Constitution:

"God grant that not only the love of liberty, but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man, may [through our Revolution] pervade all the nations of the earth."

But on January 18, 2007, Vermont senator Patrick Leahy assessed how Bush's war on terrorism has affected many people around the world who do not hate us but no longer trust us as a lover of liberty and the rights of man. Said Leahy: "The administration's secret policies have reduced America's standing around the world to one of the lowest points in our history." [complete article]
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Taliban 'in control' in Helmand
By James Bays, Al Jazeera, February 22, 2007

Behind Taliban lines, we travelled with a group of fighters across the deserts of Helmand province.

These hardened men are well-armed, ready for battle - and they told me they are ready for martyrdom too.

The journeys are often at break-neck speed – because of the risk of Nato air strikes.

Nato may be the master of the skies - but the Taliban claim that they control large swathes of territory on the ground.

They took us on a trip - to show us how they operate almost unhindered in many areas. [complete article]
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Review: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaida's Road to 9/11
By James Meek, London Review of Books, February 8, 2007

The familiar narrative of bin Laden's course after Afghanistan has it that he genuinely believed he and his band of irregulars had spearheaded the defeat of a superpower; that he urged the Saudi government to put him at the head of a similar, larger host of local mujahidin to wage jihad against Saddam Hussein when the Iraqi dictator invaded Kuwait; that he was deeply offended by his government’s curt rejection of his plan, and outraged when they invited hundreds of thousands of jahili American troops to the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia to do the job instead; and that he vowed from that moment to defeat the Americans as he had defeated the Russians.

Wright does not contradict this version. But the picture that emerges from his account is of a more indecisive, whimsical bin Laden, ill-informed about the reality of America, conscious of a world of injustice and full of a sense of his own destiny but uncertain at what point the two would meet – the archetypal rebel without a cause. [complete article]
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The British defeat in the South and the uncertain Bush "strategy" in Iraq [PDF]
By Anthony H. Cordesman, CSIS, February 21, 2007

There are many definitions of "strategy," some of which are virtually indistinguishable from "tactics." To use one of the better dictionary definitions, however, "strategy" is "the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war."

By this definition, and any other meaningful definition of "strategy," a meaningful US strategy in Iraq cannot simply focus on winning in Baghdad and going on with efforts to fight the insurgents in the most troubled. A meaningful US strategy in Iraq has to combine all of the necessary means to achieve a clearly defined objective and it has to have an end game.

In practice, any form of US action that ends in some form of "victory" means finding a strategy that allows the US to withdraw most US forces from an Iraq that is stable enough to have reduced internal violence to low levels that can be controlled by local forces, that is secure against its neighbors, that is politically and economically unified enough to function and develop as a state, and which is pluralistic enough to preserve the basic rights of all of its sectarian and ethnic factions.

Things in Iraq may have deteriorated to the point where none of the "least bad" options now available allow the US to achieve these goals. From a perceptual viewpoint, "victory" may already be impossible because most of the people in Iraq, the region, and Arab and Muslim worlds will probably view the US effort as a failure and as a partial defeat even if the US can leave Iraq as a relatively stable and secure state at some point in the future. The perceived cost of the US-led invasion and occupation has simply been too high in terms of local opinion (and most polls of opinion in Europe and the rest of the world.) [complete report - PDF]

See also, British leave Basra to its own devices (Sami Moubayed).
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Quiet in Baghdad. Too quiet
By Charles Crain, Time, February 21, 2007

The silence is eerie. After opening the U.S. Army's first combat outpost (COP) in Baghdad last month the men of Charlie Company, 2-12 Cavalry, had gotten used to gunfights raging nearby, the crack of bullets passing overhead, and the explosion of rocket-propelled grenades. After all, this was Ghazaliyah, where Sunni insurgents and Shi'a militiamen have battled each other, the Iraqi army and police, and the Americans for months.

In the past week, though, the men have been unnerved by absence of the sounds of war. "It's been quiet -- really, really, quiet," said Sgt. Sergej Michaud, 24. Michaud has cropped his dark hair nearly to the scalp, and he has a tattoo of a helmeted skull on his left forearm with TANKER printed below. Like many other soldiers at the COP he relishes the chance to drive towards gunfire and separate the combatants in Iraq's sectarian war. That was routine for his platoon until a few days ago, when the violence suddenly dropped almost to nothing. One soldier said he used to doze off at night by imagining the gunfire was the sound of rain on a tin roof. Now the nights are virtually silent. That's unusual for any Baghdad neighborhood, and eerie for a notoriously violent place like Ghazaliyah. Gunfights with insurgents and militiamen worry Sgt. Michaud less than figuring out where those enemies have gone. "I have no idea," he said. "It's kind of scary. It's kind of scary." [complete article]
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Insurgents broaden arsenal in battles with U.S., Iraqi forces
By Ann Scott Tyson and Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, February 23, 2007

Insurgents in Iraq are employing a variety of new tactics -- from an unprecedented string of helicopter shoot-downs to unusual chlorine bomb attacks and direct assaults on U.S. military bases -- that American commanders say are intended to create chaos and undermine the U.S. and Iraqi military push to quell violence in Baghdad.

Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the second-ranking U.S. commander in Iraq, said Thursday that he believed a U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter that went down Wednesday north of Baghdad had been shot down -- which would make it the eighth U.S. military or civilian aircraft to be downed by insurgents since Jan. 20.

"Initial reports that I have seen indicate enemy fire," Odierno told Pentagon reporters during a teleconference from Baghdad. Helicopters are essential to U.S. military operations, he said, and will fly an estimated 400,000 hours in Iraq this year, making it vital to protect them. [complete article]
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Britain's Prince Harry is bound for Iraq
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 23, 2007

To the troops he commands, he will be 2nd Lt. Wales -- as in, son of the Prince of.

A mixture of approval and national unease greeted confirmation from the Defense Ministry on Thursday that the nation's beloved Prince Harry is headed for Iraq.

Publicly, there was appreciation for the 22-year-old prince's determination to serve with his mates in the Household Cavalry Regiment, bound for a six-month deployment in southern Iraq this spring.

Privately, there was the dreadful image of the third in line to the British throne possibly staring out of an Islamic militant kidnap video. [complete article]

Comment -- Maybe there's a lesson here for the Bush family. Attached to regal privelages come civic obligations.
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Sunni Arab clerics demand justice for alleged rape victims in Iraq; insurgent groups call for revenge
AP, February 23, 2007

Sunni Arab clerics on Friday demanded justice for two women who claim they were sexually assaulted by the Shiite-dominated security forces, as several insurgent groups called for revenge attacks.

In the capital's Abu Hanifa mosque, Sunni Islam's holiest shrine in Iraq, Sheik Sameer al-Obeidi charged that the allegations showed that "gross human rights violations" were marring a major security sweep in Baghdad and demanded that the capital's women be treated with respect during the operations.

"No arrests of women, no rape of women and no nighttime raids," he demanded.

Another Sunni imam, Sheik Jamaleddin al-Kobeisi, preaching at al-Shawaf mosque in the capital's Yarmouk district, sought to steer his sermon from the Shiite-Sunni divide, saying Iraq's Sunnis did not wish to see the rape allegations fuel the sectarian violence and only wanted justice for the victims.

"The proud among us believe that killing all of Iraq's men is easier to accept than violating the honor of one Iraqi woman," he told worshippers. [complete article]
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U.S. soldier gets 100 years for Iraq rape, killings
AP, February 23, 2007

A U.S. soldier was sentenced to 100 years in prison Thursday for the gang rape and murder of an Iraqi girl and the killing of her family last year.

Sgt. Paul E. Cortez, 24, also was given a dishonorable discharge. He will be eligible for parole in 10 years under the terms of his plea agreement.

Cortez, of Barstow, California, pleaded guilty this week to four counts of felony murder, rape and conspiracy to rape in a case considered among the worst atrocities by U.S. military personnel in Iraq. [complete article]
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U.S. used base in Ethiopia to hunt Al Qaeda in Africa
By Michael R. Gordon and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, February 22, 2007

The American military quietly waged a campaign from Ethiopia last month to capture or kill top leaders of Al Qaeda in the Horn of Africa, including the use of an airstrip in eastern Ethiopia to mount airstrikes against Islamic militants in neighboring Somalia, according to American officials.

The close and largely clandestine relationship with Ethiopia also included significant sharing of intelligence on the Islamic militants' positions and information from American spy satellites with the Ethiopian military. Members of a secret American Special Operations unit, Task Force 88, were deployed in Ethiopia and Kenya, and ventured into Somalia, the officials said.

The counterterrorism effort was described by American officials as a qualified success that disrupted terrorist networks in Somalia, led to the death or capture of several Islamic militants and involved a collaborative relationship with Ethiopia that had been developing for years. [complete article]
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Blogger gets 4-year prison sentence in Egypt
By Miret el Naggar and Hannah Allam, McClatchy, February 22, 2007

An Egyptian court on Thursday sentenced an anti-government Internet blogger to a four-year prison term in a landmark case that has sent shockwaves through the country's growing community of online dissidents.

The case against Kareem Amer, 23, a former student at the Islamic institute of al-Azhar, was Egypt's first prosecution of a blogger specifically for online writings; other bloggers had been detained for their offline political activities.

Amer received three years in prison on charges of contempt of religion and an additional year for defaming U.S.-allied President Hosni Mubarak.

"He's only 23 years old. This verdict will ruin his future," said Mohamed el Sharkawy, another blogger and opposition figure who was arrested and allegedly tortured in a crackdown on dissidents last year. "Security officials tailor-made this charge to shove bloggers and activists into jail. This means that the state cannot tolerate anyone voicing his opinion." [complete article]

See also, The 'crime' of blogging in Egypt (WP) and Democracy is possible, Arab bloggers assure us every day (Esraa al-Shafei).

Comment -- Meanwhile, there is little risk that Egypt will lose its status as a "moderate" Arab nation. What America expects from its friends is loyalty above all else -- along with the occasional empty gesture in acknowledgement of "human rights," "democracy," "freedom," and all that noble stuff.
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Cleric alleges torture after CIA kidnap
CBS/AP, February 22, 2007

An Egyptian cleric allegedly kidnapped by CIA agents off the streets of an Italian city and taken to Egypt said Thursday he was tortured in an Egyptian prison and that he wants to return to Italy.

Osama Hassan Mustafa Nasr, known as Abu Omar, made his first public appearance since he was released from Egyptian custody last week.

His torture allegations could fuel the controversy over the first criminal case involving the CIA's extraordinary rendition program, in which U.S. authorities secretly transferred terror suspects for interrogation to third countries where critics say they faced torture. [complete article]
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Palestinian universities dragged into factional clashes
By Greg Myre, New York Times, February 23, 2007

The computer center in the Islamic University's library is ankle-deep in ashes, and the few computers that survived a recent grenade attack and fire are misshapen and melted, as if painted by Salvador Dalí.

Just next door, at Al Azhar University, a rocket mangled the protective metal bars as it crashed through the windows of the president's office this month, destroying his desk and pocking his walls with shrapnel.

Many Palestinians never imagined that the violence in their streets would spread to these institutions, sources of great pride to all Palestinians. But as infighting spun out of control at the beginning of this month, it consumed the major universities that represent one of the few hopes of a better life here in the impoverished Gaza Strip.

Islamic University is closely identified with one of the main Palestinian factions -- Hamas -- while Al Azhar is a stronghold for its main rival, Fatah. For three days this month, from Feb. 1 to 3, the side-by-side campuses became a battleground for gunmen from the two factions while the universities were on winter break and largely deserted.

"I never thought this could happen," said Ahmed Bahar, a Hamas leader and the deputy speaker of the Palestinian parliament, who toured the Islamic University on Sunday. "When we saw the university burning, it was like our hearts were burning, because this institution is very dear to us." [complete article]
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Blair hints U.K. may deal with Hamas
By Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Daniel Dombey, Financial Times, February , 2007

The UK has indicated it could be prepared to do business with the Islamic group Hamas, in comments that underlined the growing difference in approach between Europe and the US on how best to pursue peace in the Middle East.

Speaking in London on Thursday ahead of a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president, Tony Blair, British prime minister, welcomed the agreement earlier this month to form a Palestinian government of national unity. He even anticipated working with officials from Hamas, which agreed during talks in Mecca to set up the government with Mr Abbas's Fatah party.

"It's far easier to deal with the situation in Palestine if there is a national unity government," he said. "I hope we can make progress, including even with the more sensible elements of Hamas." [complete article]

Splits emerge between U.S. and Europe over aid for Palestinians (NYT), Hamas: Quartet stand encouraging (Al Jazeera), and U.S. favorite accepts key Palestinian ministry post (Reuters).

Hamas urges U.S. to back Palestinian unity efforts
AFP, February 22, 2007

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal called on the United States Thursday to change its position towards the Palestinians and recognise the "new realities" after Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government.

"I think America has no alternative but to accommodate itself to the new Palestinian and Arab facts," he told reporters in Cairo after talks with Arab League Secretary General Amr Mussa.

"There is a change in the European position," he said.

"There is a policy of waiting and seeing and we encourage the Quartet and even the American administration to change its position and realise that there is a new reality after the Mecca agreement." [complete article]
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Blair says he is prepared to work with Syria, Iran
By Jeffrey Stinson, USA Today, February 21, 2007

Syria is showing signs that it could help improve security in Iraq but Iran is doing little and may be making the situation worse, British Prime Minister Tony Blair said today.

Blair said that he was prepared to work with Syria and Iran to bring stability to Iraq and the rest of the Mideast region if they are prepared to help. "But the issue is: are they prepared to do so?" he said. [complete article]

Peretz urges Israel to avoid verbal escalation with Syria
By Amos Harel, Aluf Benn and Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, February 22, 2007

Responding to a Haaretz report that Syria is boosting its army and moving troops closer to its border with Israel, Defense Minister Amir Peretz said Thursday that Israel should refrain from making further statements regarding Syria, and urged officials to avoid a verbal escalation of tensions.

Speaking at his weekly meeting with Defense Ministry officials, Peretz said that the situation would be assessed based on concrete information, and that the army would prepare itself as necessary.

Earlier Thursday, Israel Radio quoting Syrian parliament member Mohammed Habash as denying the Haaretz report. According to the radio, Habash told the Dubai-based Al Arabiya satellite channel that nothing has changed in terms of troop size along the border, but "Syria is fully prepared for any situation [that may develop]." [complete article]
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Why the British are scaling back in Iraq
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2007

Britain's decision to pull 1,600 troops out of Iraq by spring, touted by U.S. and British leaders as a turning point in Iraqi sovereignty, was widely seen Wednesday as a telling admission that the British military could no longer sustain simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The British military is approaching "operational failure," former defense staff chief Charles Guthrie warned this week.

"Because the British army is in essence fighting a far more intensive counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, there's been a realization that there has to be some sort of transfer of resources from Iraq to Afghanistan," said Clive Jones, a senior lecturer in Middle East politics at the University of Leeds, who has closely followed Britain's Iraq deployment.

"It's either that, or you risk in some ways losing both," he said. "It's the classic case of 'Let's declare victory and get out.' " [complete article]

See also, Ally's timing is awkward for Bush (WP).
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Arabs say Israel is not just for Jews
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, February 22, 2007

A broadly representative elite of Israel's Arab minority has rejected the idea of Israel as a Jewish state and demanded a partnership in governing the country to ensure that Arab citizens get equal treatment and more control over their communities.

In a manifesto that is stirring anger and soul-searching among Jews, Arab leaders have declared that Israel's 1.4 million Arab citizens are an indigenous group with collective rights, not just individual rights. The document argues that Arabs are entitled to share power in a binational state and block policies that discriminate against them.

Arab citizens, who make up about one-fifth of Israel's population, have always felt alienated by the Star of David on Israel's flag and a national anthem that expresses the Jewish yearning for a return to Zion. They have long protested the disproportionate Jewish share of budget resources, public services and land.

Until now, though, only small groups of Arab intellectuals had dared to advocate collective equality or the abolition of Jewish national symbols.

"The Future Vision of the Palestinian Arabs in Israel" is the first such sweeping demand by Israel's Arab mainstream. The manifesto was drafted by 40 academics and activists under the sponsorship of the Committee of Arab Mayors in Israel and has been endorsed by an unprecedented range of Arab community leaders. [complete article]

Comment -- There are interesting parallels between Israel and India. Israel declared its independence a year after the Indians kicked out the British. Both countries pride themselves as modern democracies in largely undemocratic regions. Each is dominated by one religious grouping -- India is 80% Hindu, Israel 76% Jewish. Each has a significant Muslim minority -- 13% in India and 16% in Israel.

The key difference is that whereas it is possible to be fully Indian without being Hindu, Israel in its conception and actualization has done no more than pay lip service to the idea that its non-Jewish citizens are or could become an integral part of the nation.

Israel has a choice: It can either be a Jewish state or a democracy. It should stop pretending to be both.
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Israel building 3,000 new settler homes: watchdog
By Allyn Fisher-Ilan, Reuters, February 21, 2007

Israel is building more than 3,000 homes in Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank despite a commitment under a U.S.-backed peace plan to stop such expansion, the Peace Now group said in a report on Wednesday.

In its annual report, the anti-settlement watchdog said there had been fewer housing starts in 2006 than in 2005, and that the number of settlements had not grown, although their population had increased over the year by 5 percent.

Construction is under way on more than 3,000 new homes, said the Jerusalem-based peace activist group, which says the 121 settlements Israel has built on land captured in the 1967 Middle East war are obstacles to peace with the Palestinians.

The report said most of the construction is taking place in major settlement enclaves Israel says it would keep under any peace deal, including Maaleh Adumim, Ariel and the Gush Etsion bloc.

The expansion of settlements "does not indicate any intention (by Israel) to withdraw from any part of the West Bank," the report said. [complete article]
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In the Middle East, the U.S. is off the road and in the ditch
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, February 22, 2007

"Are you on the road, or in the ditch?" Back when I covered labor negotiations 30 years ago, that was the question reporters would ask to get a sense of how contract talks were going. The phrase came back to me last weekend as I listened to a series of relentlessly negative presentations at a conference here on America's relations with the Muslim world.

We are in the ditch in the Middle East. As bad as you think it is watching TV, it's worse. It's not just Iraq but the whole pattern of America's dealings with the Arab world. People aren't just angry at America -- they've been that way to varying degrees since I first came here 27 years ago. What's worse is that they're giving up on us -- on our ability to make good decisions, to solve problems, to play the role of honest broker.

Let's start with some poll numbers presented at the Doha conference by Shibley Telhami, a University of Maryland professor and a fellow of the Saban Center at the Brookings Institution, which co-sponsored the conference with the Qatari foreign ministry. The polling was done last year by Zogby International in six countries that are usually regarded as pro-American: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In these six "friendly" countries, only 12 percent of those surveyed expressed favorable attitudes toward the United States. America's leaders have surpassed Israel's as objects of anger. Asked which foreign leader they disliked most, 38 percent named George Bush; Ariel Sharon was a distant second at 11 percent; and Ehud Olmert was third with 7 percent.

The poll data show a deep suspicion of American motives: 65 percent of those surveyed said they didn't think democracy was a real U.S. objective in the Middle East. Asked to name two countries that had the most freedom and democracy, only 14 percent said America, putting it far behind France and Germany. And remember, folks, this is coming from our friends. [complete article]

Comment -- David Ignatius, true to form, finds the message from the Middle East deeply disturbing even while he shies from acknowledging the validity of the criticism of America that he cites. He writes:
Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a fiery Sunni preacher who appears regularly on al-Jazeera, said that America acted as if "some people were created to lead and others to be led," and that America had "lost the trust and confidence" of Muslims. Well, okay, he's notorious for his anti-American and anti-Israeli views. But I heard the same thing from Amr Moussa, the head of the Arab League, who said Arabs were "losing confidence in the U.S. role" as a peace broker.
What's Ignatius' point? That if this view was just coming from the "fiery preacher" it could be dismissed, but when it comes from the head of the Arab League, then Washington should be disturbed that its "moderate" friends are unhappy? (And by the way, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are not six "friendly countries," they're six friendly governments -- big difference! Isn't that exactly what the poll numbers reveal!?)

America has lost the trust and confidence of Muslims. This is a statement of fact. What should be most disturbing is that this could come as news to anyone in Washington or the rest of America. The fact that this can justifiably be presented as news tells us a lot of the enduring and pitiful ignorance of this nation and its leaders.

But back to Ignatius:
I winced when I heard Prime Minister Olmert say last weekend in Jerusalem that "the American and Israeli positions are totally identical" on the terms for recognizing a Palestinian unity government. The Israelis are right in insisting that Hamas must recognize Israel's right to exist. But how to get there? What if Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had responded: America is a mediator in this conflict. Its positions are independent of either side, and it is willing to talk to all parties to achieve peace.
In other words, the Washington Post's learned correspondent winces when he hears the Israeli prime minister tell the truth but would be happy to hear the Secretary of State tell a lie! He thinks that the "America-bashers" he's been meeting in Doha would be astonished if Condoleezza Rice professed that the United States is assuming the role of honest broker in the Middle East conflict.

What would really be astonishing is the idea that anyone could regard such a claim as credible. Does Ignatius think the Arabs are fools?
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Tehran falling into a U.S. psy-ops trap
By Mahan Abedin, Asia Times, February 23, 2007

Psychological warfare is fast emerging as the key component of the conflict between Iran and the United States. It is being used extensively by the latter to influence Iranian behavior in Iraq and secure a climbdown by the Islamic Republic in the intricate negotiations over the country's controversial nuclear program.

As the Iranians analyze and react to this carefully crafted psychological-warfare campaign, they run the risk of miscalculating broader developments in the region. The most important of these is Saudi Arabia's new proactive foreign policy. In this climate of heightened tensions and widespread misunderstanding it is easy for the Iranians to dismiss Saudi diplomacy as yet another plank of America's psychological warfare against the Islamic Republic. Miscalculations of this kind can have drastic long-term consequences for Iranian interests in the Middle East. [complete article]

Iranian official offers glimpse from within: A desire for U.S. ally
By Christiane Amanpour, CNN, February 21, 2007

As I sat down recently with a senior Iranian government official, he urgently waved a column by Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in my face, one about how the United States and Iran need to engage each other.

"Natural allies," this official said.

It was a surprising choice of words considering the barbs Washington and Tehran have been trading of late.

"We are not after conflict. We are not after crisis. We are not after war," said this official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "But we don't know whether the same is true in the U.S. or not. If the same is true on the U.S. side, the first step must be to end this vicious cycle that can lead to dangerous action -- war." [complete article]

The view from Tehran
By Hooman Majd, Salon, February 21, 2007

Much has been made in the media of growing discontent inside Iran with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and in Tehran sentiments are indeed openly expressed against him and his administration in many quarters, including some of his own. It may be tempting, therefore, to imagine that the "Iranian people," those to whom President Bush often refers as aspiring to the very same thing we do, i.e., "freedom," are becoming as dissatisfied with their political system as they are with their president. However, it would be dangerous -- and all the more so if the imagining is done by the White House -- to make such a presumption.

Iran's rather unique notion of democracy may not jibe with Western notions, but there are remarkable similarities that are often overlooked by analysts sitting at their desks a few thousand miles away. Iranians, like Americans, vote for their president and fully expect him, perhaps as naively as we do, to deliver on his campaign promises. As Bill Clinton's campaign slogan once went -- "It's the economy, stupid" -- so it goes in Iran. Foreign policy -- what we are most concerned with when it comes to Iran and its unusual leader -- is relevant to the Iranian masses only inasmuch as it affects their pocketbooks and, of course, their broader sense of security. [complete article]

Iran 'swiftly seeks nuclear goal'
BBC News, February 21, 2007

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said Iran will try to achieve nuclear capability as soon as possible.

His comments, reported by Iran's Isna news agency, come as a UN deadline for Tehran to freeze its uranium enrichment programme expires.

For the first time, a political party in Iran has called on Mr Ahmadinejad to accept the UN's demands.
But one small radical reformist political party, the Islamic Revolutionary Mujahadin Organisation, has complained that Iran's drive to produce nuclear energy has endangered national security, the national interest and the destiny of the Iranian people.

"The [Iranian] officials should open talks before [UN] Resolution 1737's deadline runs out and accept its sensitive requirements to prevent the adoption of new resolutions against our country," the party was quoted by AFP news agency as saying.

"This nation has other more important and undeniable rights which should not be sacrificed for this one," it said in a statement. [complete article]
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Antimissile plan by U.S. strains ties with Russia
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, February 21, 2007

An increasingly angry dispute over U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Central Europe is adding strain to already fragile U.S.-Russian relations.

Under the proposal, the United States would build silos in Poland to hold 10 interceptor rockets that could destroy intercontinental ballistic missiles fired at the United States or even command sites in Europe. The accompanying radar system would be located in the Czech Republic.

U.S. officials say the system is not directed against Russia, but at the potential threat posed by missiles being developed by Iran. [complete article]

Comment -- Now if these U.S. officials are to be taken at their word, does that mean that the Bush administration has no faith in its ability to prevent Iran becoming a nuclear state? If so, it's aggressive posture towards Tehran would seem to be simply that: a posture.

U.S. admiral questions Iran's motives
By Barbara Starr, CNN, February 21, 2007

The White House on Tuesday emphasized diplomacy over potential military action against Iran -- just a day after a top naval commander questioned the intentions behind Iran's recent exercises in the Persian Gulf.

Meeting with reporters at his headquarters in Bahrain on Monday, Vice Adm. Patrick Walsh, commander of the Fifth Fleet, said Iran is sending a message to the region that is "provocative and intimidating."

"Specifically, the concern with Iran is the combination of rhetoric and the exercises have taken on a very bellicose and pugnacious tone." [complete article]

Huge Gulf spending at arms fair
Al Jazeera, February 21, 2007

Delegates from Arab states are meeting at an arms fair in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), embarking on huge military spending in a bid to contain a perceived threat from Iran.

Gulf leaders will use billions of dollars in oil revenue to buy the arms, with many of the deals to be finalised at the Idex arms fair which began in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

Saudi Arabia is thought to have ordered almost $50bn in military hardware, including fighter aircraft, cruise missiles, attack helicopters and more than 300 new tanks. [complete article]

Comment -- So who's being provocative and intimidating? Rhetoric coming from Vice Admiral Walsh and others in Washington and Israel is a great way to help seal all those deals in Abu Dhabi.

Wars present and predicted in the Middle East help push up the price of oil and then the oil revenues get ploughed back into the defense industry. It's what defense investment analysts must refer to as "synergy"?
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Blair announces Iraq troops cut
BBC News, February 21, 2007

Prime Minister Tony Blair has told MPs that 1,600 British troops will return from Iraq within the next few months.

He said the 7,100 serving troops would be cut to 5,500 soon, with hopes that 500 more will leave by late summer.

Mr Blair said some soldiers, stationed at Basra air base, would remain into 2008 to help secure supply routes, the Iran border and to support Iraqis. [complete article]

See also, Denmark to withdraw from Iraq (AP) and White House puts positive spin on British plans for Iraq withdrawal (AFP).
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Copter attacks in Iraq may indicate new battle strategy
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, February 21, 2007

The Army's senior aviation officer in Iraq said yesterday that Sunni fighters probably used a sophisticated SA-14 or SA-16 shoulder-fired missile to shoot down a Marine helicopter on Feb. 7, killing all seven people on board.

If confirmed by an ongoing Marine Corps investigation, it would mark the first time since last summer that insurgents in Iraq struck U.S. aircraft with such an anti-aircraft missile, and it would provide fresh evidence of a new strategy of targeting helicopters, according to Maj. Gen. James E. Simmons, deputy U.S. commander in Iraq.

Simmons said that, upon reviewing a videotape of the attack on the Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight transport helicopter, it appeared that the missile used was not the Vietnam-era SA-7, which insurgents and militias are known to have, but more likely an SA-14 or SA-16. Those pose a bigger threat because they have greater range, size and ability to overcome aircraft defensive systems. The helicopter's defensive system did not appear to deploy properly, the Marine Corps commandant, Gen. James T. Conway, testified before the Senate last week.

The Russian-manufactured SA-14 or SA-16 probably would have been brought into the country from abroad relatively recently, Simmons said in an interview. [complete article]

Comment -- There's also another explanation -- this coming from a Cobra attack helicopter pilot who flew in Anbar province:
...the command has made the decision that small arms are the big threat: AK47s and RPGs. Those hit you when you fly down low. They've pushed all the altitudes they want helicopters flying up to 1,500 feet. Well now you're in the surface-to-missile envelope. So, you're damned if you do and damned if you don't as a helicopter pilot.
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Popularizing torture
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, February 12, 2007

This past November, U.S. Army Brigadier General Patrick Finnegan, the dean of the United States Military Academy at West Point, flew to Southern California to meet with the creative team behind "24" [, the popular counterterrorism drama on Fox television.] Finnegan, who was accompanied by three of the most experienced military and F.B.I. interrogators in the country, arrived on the set as the crew was filming. At first, Finnegan -- wearing an immaculate Army uniform, his chest covered in ribbons and medals -- aroused confusion: he was taken for an actor and was asked by someone what time his "call" was.

In fact, Finnegan and the others had come to voice their concern that the show's central political premise -- that the letter of American law must be sacrificed for the country's security -- was having a toxic effect. In their view, the show promoted unethical and illegal behavior and had adversely affected the training and performance of real American soldiers. "I'd like them to stop," Finnegan said of the show's producers. "They should do a show where torture backfires."
Finnegan told the producers that "24," by suggesting that the U.S. government perpetrates myriad forms of torture, hurts the country's image internationally. Finnegan, who is a lawyer, has for a number of years taught a course on the laws of war to West Point seniors -- cadets who would soon be commanders in the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. He always tries, he said, to get his students to sort out not just what is legal but what is right. However, it had become increasingly hard to convince some cadets that America had to respect the rule of law and human rights, even when terrorists did not. One reason for the growing resistance, he suggested, was misperceptions spread by "24," which was exceptionally popular with his students. As he told me, "The kids see it, and say, 'If torture is wrong, what about "24"?'" He continued, "The disturbing thing is that although torture may cause [the show's central character,] Jack Bauer some angst, it is always the patriotic thing to do."

Gary Solis, a retired law professor who designed and taught the Law of War for Commanders curriculum at West Point, told me that he had similar arguments with his students. He said that, under both U.S. and international law, "Jack Bauer is a criminal. In real life, he would be prosecuted." Yet the motto of many of his students was identical to Jack Bauer's: "Whatever it takes." His students were particularly impressed by a scene in which Bauer barges into a room where a stubborn suspect is being held, shoots him in one leg, and threatens to shoot the other if he doesn't talk. In less than ten seconds, the suspect reveals that his associates plan to assassinate the Secretary of Defense. Solis told me, "I tried to impress on them that this technique would open the wrong doors, but it was like trying to stomp out an anthill."

The "24" producers told the military and law-enforcement experts that they were careful not to glamorize torture; they noted that Bauer never enjoys inflicting pain, and that it had clearly exacted a psychological toll on the character. (As Gordon put it to me, "Jack is basically damned.") Finnegan and the others disagreed, pointing out that Bauer remains coolly rational after committing barbarous acts, including the decapitation of a state's witness with a hacksaw. Joe Navarro, one of the F.B.I.'s top experts in questioning techniques, attended the meeting; he told me, "Only a psychopath can torture and be unaffected. You don't want people like that in your organization. They are untrustworthy, and tend to have grotesque other problems."

[Bob] Cochran [-- who with Joel Surnow co-created the show --], who has a law degree, listened politely to the delegation's complaints. He told me that he supports the use of torture "in narrow circumstances" and believes that it can be justified under the Constitution. "The Doctrine of Necessity says you can occasionally break the law to prevent greater harm," he said. "I think that could supersede the Convention Against Torture." (Few legal scholars agree with this argument.) At the meeting, Cochran demanded to know what the interrogators would do if they faced the imminent threat of a nuclear blast in New York City, and had custody of a suspect who knew how to stop it. One interrogator said that he would apply physical coercion only if he received a personal directive from the President. But Navarro, who estimates that he has conducted some twelve thousand interrogations, replied that torture was not an effective response. "These are very determined people, and they won't turn just because you pull a fingernail out," he told me. And Finnegan argued that torturing fanatical Islamist terrorists is particularly pointless. "They almost welcome torture," he said. "They expect it. They want to be martyred." A ticking time bomb, he pointed out, would make a suspect only more unwilling to talk. "They know if they can simply hold out several hours, all the more glory -- the ticking time bomb will go off!" [complete article]
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Time to change tacks on Iran
By Ray Takeyh, Newsweek, February 26, 2007

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution, the United States has pursued a series of failed policies toward Iran. It has variously sought to topple the regime, threatened military action and proposed strictly limited dialogue -- all with an eye toward boxing Tehran in and limiting its influence in the region. This strategy of "containment" continues to dominate U.S. policy.

President George W. Bush repeatedly insists that "all options are on the table" -- a not-so-subtle reminder that Washington might yet use force to halt Tehran's nuclear program. Yet realistically, the United States has no military option. Iran has dispersed many nuclear facilities and hardened others. Even if U.S. forces could find and destroy those targets -- quality intelligence is a serious hurdle -- they could be rebuilt relatively quickly. The bottom line: Washington must accept certain distasteful facts -- beginning with Iran's ascendance as a regional power and the staying power of its regime. It should open talks with Iran, not in order to limit its growing power -- an impossibility -- but with a view toward regulating it and curbing potential excesses. In other words, Washington should embrace a policy of detente, just as it did in the past with such seemingly intractable enemies as China and the Soviet Union. [complete article]

Comment -- Actually, the United States' policy blunders in dealing with Iran go back to 1953 when America strangled Iranian democracy by ousting Mohammed Mossadegh.

Why North Korea and not the Middle East?
By Rami Khouri, Middle East Online, February 19, 2007

The North Korean precedent is very relevant to the Middle East because the United States is involved in a direct, perhaps escalating, confrontation with several important players in this region, namely Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas and a series of other Islamist movements that reflect huge segments of public opinion. These are unsavory characters in Washington’s view, and should not be approached other than with ultimatums, threats, sanctions, military moves and the like.

Yet the policy of confrontation, encirclement and attack that the United States has pursued in much of the Middle East seems only to have made this region a more violent and unstable place. Where Washington does offer to engage and talk, it usually does so on the back of severe preconditions -- such as Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program, or Hamas unilaterally recognizing Israel without any reciprocal Israeli gesture to the Palestinians. Such offers to talk, engage and negotiate are not serious, because they cannot possibly be accepted by those to whom they are made. They require the a priori acceptance of American-Israeli demands by Arabs or Iranians, instead of getting to such acceptance through the diplomatic process.

The Iranians, Palestinians, Syrians and others have a range of both sensible and unreasonable positions on a variety of issues, as does every party to any dispute anywhere in the world. Yet when one side in a dispute offers to talk without preconditions, and to explore how differences could be narrowed and agreement achieved, it would seem useful to call its bluff and explore what can be achieved through peaceful talks. [complete article]

Israeli rightist warns that Bush's Iraq policy could hurt effort to combat Iran
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, February 16, 2007

Efraim "Effi" Eitam, a leader of Israel's right-wing Orthodox Zionist camp, is criticizing President Bush's Iraq policy, saying it could end up undermining efforts to confront Iran.

Eitam, who sits on the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and is the leader of the Renewed National Religious Zionist party, spent three days last week in Washington briefing the administration, Congress and think tanks about the Iranian threat. Eitam told the Forward that, during his trip, he criticized Bush's decision to send more troops to Baghdad and the emphasis that his administration is putting on spreading democracy.

The main concern, Eitam said, is that the continuing presence of American troops in Iraq would make it hard to build support for an American strike against Iran.

"The most important commodity we have is the U.S. support for war against Iran, so we need to build on this," he said. "The administration is unpopular but can still take a strategic decision on Iran. Still, I'm concerned Bush is so committed to Iraq that he will lose the possibility of dealing with Iran."

Eitam said that Bush's message to the American public should be that although Iraq was the wrong war, the principle of depriving a rogue state from acquiring nuclear weapons is still a good one. [complete article]
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Moral waivers
Editorial, IHT, February 20, 2007

To keep filling the ranks in Iraq, the U.S. Army has had to keep lowering its expectations. Diluting educational, aptitude and medical standards has not been enough. Nor have larger enlistment bonuses plugged the gap. So the Army has found itself recklessly expanding the granting of "moral waivers," which let people convicted of serious misdemeanors and even some felonies enlist in its ranks.

Last year, such waivers were granted to 8,129 men and women -- or more than one out of every 10 new recruits. That number is up 65 percent since 2003, the year President George W. Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq. In the last three years, more than 125,000 moral waivers have been granted by America's four military services.

Most of last year's Army waivers were for serious misdemeanors, like aggravated assault, robbery, burglary and vehicular homicide. But about 900 -- double the number in 2003 -- were for felonies. Worse, the Army does no systematic tracking of recruits with waivers once it signs them up, and it does not always pay enough attention to any adjustment problems. Without adequate monitoring and counseling, handing out guns to people who have already committed crimes poses a danger to the other soldiers they serve with and to the innocent civilians they are supposed to protect. [complete article]
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Bush draws parallel between U.S. revolution, 'war on terror'
AFP, February 20, 2007

US President George W. Bush praised the determination of American revolutionary icon George Washington, as the White House faced a battle in Congress over funding the Iraq war.

Bush drew a parallel between the global "war on terror" and the US fight for independence as he invoked Washington's unshakeable resolve in the face of dispiriting setbacks on the battlefield against colonial master Britain in the 18th century.

"In the end, General Washington understood that the Revolutionary War was a test of wills, and his will was unbreakable," Bush said during a speech marking the Presidents' Day national holiday. [complete article]

Comment -- It's easy to simply imagine that Bush is now scraping the barrel in pursuit of viable metaphors, but to liken the war on terrorism to America's war of independence is both inappropriate and telling. Inappropriate, because America's revolutionary fighters were on the short end of the balance of power -- insurgents willing to challenge British military might with the same spirit that no doubt now animates many a fighter in Iraq. Telling, because the White House recognizes that the politically most useful part of the American psyche that it can exploit is the fear bequeathed by America's forefathers: fear of mighty malevolent foreign forces intent on depriving ordinary Americans of the right to live their lives as they choose. This is the mindset of the little good American who is bold enough to stand up against the big bad world.

Of course the message falls flat coming from a man who in the face of staggering failures nevertheless vainly clings to his own fantasies of greatness.
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Court rules against Guantanamo detainees
MSNBC, February 20, 2007

Guantanamo Bay detainees may not challenge their detention in U.S. courts, a federal appeals court said Tuesday in a ruling upholding a key provision in President Bush’s anti-terrorism law.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2-1 that civilian courts no longer have the authority to consider whether the military is illegally holding foreigners.

"Federal courts have no jurisdiction in these cases," Judge A. Raymond Randolph wrote for the court majority in his 25-page opinion. [complete article]
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War losses mount for small towns
By Kimberly Hefling, AP, February 20, 2007

Raised in the projects in an old steel town, Edward "Willie" Carman saw the Army as a chance to build a new life.

"I'm not doing it to you, I'm doing it for me," the then-18-year-old told his mother, Joanna Hawthorne, after coming home from high school one day and surprising her with the news.

When Carman died in Iraq three years ago at age 27, he had money saved for college, a fiancee and two kids -- including a baby son he'd never met. Neighbors in Hawthorne's mobile home park collected $400 and left it in an envelope in her door.

"When they came and told me he was gone, oh my God, it just crushed me," Hawthorne said. "There was actual pain in my heart. It felt like someone was in there just ripping it apart."

McKeesport is not alone in its mourning. Nearly half of the more than 3,100 U.S. military fatalities in Iraq have come from towns like McKeesport, where fewer than 25,000 people live, according to an analysis by The Associated Press. One in five hailed from hometowns of less than 5,000. [complete article]

Comment -- Whether AP were purposefully taking their lead from Tom Engelhardt, I have no way of knowing, but he should be commended for drawing attention to the same issue in January in Where do the American dead come from?.
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Terrorist networks lure young Moroccans to war in far-off Iraq
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, February 20, 2007

In the Arab world, this hilly North African city is about as far as you can get from Iraq. But for many young men here, the call to join what they view as a holy war resonates loudly across the 3,000-mile divide.

About two dozen men from Tetouan and nearby towns in the Rif Mountains have traveled to Iraq in the past 18 months to volunteer as fighters or suicide bombers, according to local residents and officials. Moroccan authorities said the men were recruited by international terrorist networks affiliated with al-Qaeda that have deepened their roots in North Africa since the invasion of Iraq four years ago.

To stanch the flow, U.S. intelligence and military officials have tried to trace the fighters' steps. On the basis of DNA evidence recovered from the scenes of suicide attacks, as well as other clues, officials have confirmed that at least two bombers came from Tetouan, a city of more than 320,000 across the Strait of Gibraltar from southern Spain.

One of them, Abdelmonaim el-Amrani, a 22-year-old laborer, abandoned his wife and infant child in Tetouan to go to Iraq. On March 6, 2006, just before sunset, he drove a red Volkswagen Passat stuffed with explosives into a funeral tent in a village near Baqubah, Iraq, according to witnesses. Six people were reported killed and 27 injured. It was months before Amrani's family in Tetouan learned of his fate from Moroccan police.

Foreign fighters in Iraq account for only a small percentage of the combatants attacking U.S. troops and their Iraqi allies. U.S. military officials and independent analysts peg the number at no more than a few thousand. But as the war drags on, it continues to serve as a powerful rallying tool for radical Islamic networks around the world that have developed recruiting pipelines as far afield as Europe and Southeast Asia. [complete article]
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Rape claim splits Iraq government
BBC News, February 20, 2007

An allegation that Iraqi police raped a Sunni woman while enforcing a new security plan in Baghdad has opened sectarian splits within the government.

The woman said she was assaulted at a police garrison on Sunday where she was falsely held for supporting insurgents.

Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who is Shia, dismissed the claims, but senior Sunni officials insist it is true.

Observers say the row could undermine the security plan, in which mainly-Shia police are deployed in Sunni areas. [complete article]

See also, Maliki's Reaction... (Baghdad Burning).
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Rice declares success after Israeli, Palestinian leaders agree to talk
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, February 19, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to the Middle East for what was supposed to be the ambitious beginning of a concerted American campaign to resuscitate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which have stagnated for six years.

In the end, however, she had to settle for a modest achievement: that Monday's talks were held at all.

For the first time in her tenure, Rice sat down with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The three agreed to little more than to keep talking.

But that, Rice argued, was enough to declare success. [complete article]

Facing Mecca
By Uri Avnery, Middle East Online, February 18, 2007

It is not enough that Hamas recognize Israel in practice. Israel insists that its "right to exist" must also be recognized. Political recognition does not suffice, ideological recognition is required. By this logic, one could also demand that Khaled Mashal join the Zionist organization.

If one thinks that peace is more important for Israel than expansion and settlements, one must welcome the change in the position of Hamas - as expressed in the Mecca agreement - and encourage it to continue along this road. The king of Saudi Arabia, who has already convinced the leaders of all Arab countries to recognize Israel in exchange for the establishment of the state of Palestine across the Green Line, should be warmly congratulated.

But if one opposes peace because it would fix the final borders of Israel and allow for no more expansion, one will do everything to convince the Americans and Europeans to continue with the boycott on the Palestinian government and the blockade of the Palestinian people. [complete article]

The summit - a slap in the face to the Palestinians
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, February 20, 2007

One of the senior Palestinian Authority officials at Monday's summit sounded upbeat. "The Americans did not raise a white flag and the political horizon is still there. Olmert may reject the unity government but does not reject negotiations with the PLO chairman, Mahmoud Abbas," the senior official told Haaretz.

However, it's hard to tell on what concrete facts the Palestinian official is basing his assessment. Several hours after the meeting, Al-Ayam, a Palestinian daily, published an interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in which she said that there is no certainty that a Palestinian state would emerge during the tenure of President George W. Bush.

For many in the Palestinian camp this statement was regarded as a slap in the face for Abbas, and raised much concern about the future of negotiations. This was proof to them that the American administration was giving up on the two-state vision and on efforts to reach a final status agreement. [complete article]

Hamas vows to save PA unity government from 'U.S. pressure'
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 20, 2007

Hamas vowed to save the Palestinian Authority unity government "accord from foreign pressures" on Monday, following the trilateral summit between United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal's deputy, Moussa Abu Marzouk, said following the summit that the U.S. was "pressuring" Abbas to renounce the deal, and accused the United States on Monday of "sowing sedition" throughout the Middle East.

The senior Damascus-based Hamas official hailed the unity agreement as "a change in the Palestinian national course" and said it was "based on partnership not on domination of one party." [complete article]

Olmert insists PA unity gov't meet Quartet's 3 conditions
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 20, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert demanded Monday in talks with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the Palestinian unity government recognize Israel, renounce terror and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

Olmert said Israel would reject alternatives to the three conditions that are meant to make the unity government appear acceptable in the eyes of the world. The conditions were first set by the Quartet, comprised of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

Israel will not have any contact with Palestinian figures who are considered moderates, such as finance minister-designate Salam Fayad, if they serve in a government that does not accept the Quartet's conditions, Olmert said. In the Jerusalem meeting, he rejected the suggestion that Israel negotiate with the Palestine Liberation Organization, headed by Abbas, thereby freeing Hamas of the requirement to recognize Israel. [complete article]
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Remember Al Qaeda? They're baaack
By Bruce Hoffman, Los Angeles Times, February 20, 2007

"Al Qaeda," President Bush declared confidently in October, "is on the run." The extremists, he said, had "played their hand." The masterminds of the organization had been "brought to justice."

But just as we underestimated Al Qaeda before 9/11, we risk making the same mistake now. Although Al Qaeda is often spoken of as if it is in retreat -- a broken and beaten organization incapable of mounting attacks, its leadership cut off, living in caves somewhere in remotest Waziristan -- the truth is that the organization is not on the run but on the march. It has regrouped and reorganized from the setbacks it suffered during the initial phases of the global war on terrorism and is marshaling its forces to continue the epic struggle begun more than 10 years ago.

Rather than being degraded to the point that it can threaten only softer, more accessible targets like hotels and mass transit, Al Qaeda is very much sticking with its classic playbook of simultaneous, spectacular strikes against even hardened objectives. In other words, we have more to fear from this resilient organization, not less. [complete article]
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Taliban seize rural district in southwest as police flee
By Abdul Waheed Wafa, New York Times, February 20, 2007

Taliban insurgents seized control of a district in southwestern Afghanistan on Monday as the Afghan police abandoned their post and fled, officials said.

The district is the second to fall into Taliban hands this month, and its capture underlines the precarious hold of the government and NATO troops in the remote districts of southern Afghanistan.

The midmorning attack occurred in the Baqwa district of Farah Province, where few NATO or Afghan troops are deployed. A small number of American soldiers run a reconstruction team in the provincial capital, but the districts are left to the local police, who lack staff and weapons.

The police in Baqwa town warned their provincial headquarters that the Taliban were advancing in such large numbers they could not hold the district office, according to Baryalai Khan, the secretary to the provincial police chief. [complete article]
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Iran's chance: U.S. troubles in Iraq create opening for regional shift
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, February 19, 2007

...the cornerstone to [Iran's] regional plans lies in Baghdad.

In economic terms, Iran has an interest in a stable, Tehran-friendly Iraq. For decades, while Mr. Hussein was in power, Iraq was an economic obstacle for Iran, a wall blocking trading routes and diplomatic ties with its Arab neighbors.

The chaos in Iraq still means that Iran's trade with Syria has to be routed through Turkey. But Iranian officials say they hope someday to link the railroads of Iran and Syria with Iraq's, redrawing the economics of the region.

But Tehran's interests in Iraq cut much deeper than the economic. They range from its ideological desire to spread its influence throughout the Arab world -- part of the so-called Shiite revival -- to its connection to the people and holy sites of Iraq.

"Iran and Iraq's national interests are intertwined," said Farzaneh Roostaee, foreign editor of Shargh, a popular reformist daily in Iran that the government shut down late last year. "Both geographically and religiously, the two countries have many common interests. No matter how much Americans try, they can not separate these two countries from one another. It won't work." [complete article]
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U.S. 'Iran attack plans' revealed
BBC News, February 19, 2007

US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country's military infrastructure, the BBC has learned.

It is understood that any such attack - if ordered - would target Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.

The US insists it is not planning to attack, and is trying to persuade Tehran to stop uranium enrichment. [complete article]
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Iran alleges U.S. link to militant attack
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2007

Bullet cartridges bearing a U.S. insignia and English lettering were among the weaponry seized last week from Sunni militants suspected of killing 11 members of Shiite-dominated Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, Iranian officials said Sunday.

A photo of the cartridge box, along with an array of other ammunition, was published by Iranian newspapers and news agencies.

Iran did not provide access to the weapons and explosives, drawing skepticism from analysts, and there was no way of evaluating the claims independently. But Tehran is clearly worried that the U.S. is quietly helping Iranian opposition groups foment instability, even while the Bush administration is confronting Iran over its nuclear program and accusing it of arming Shiite militants in Iraq. [complete article]
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The Neocon dog that isn't barking
By Jim Lobe, IPS, February 17, 2007

No one doubts that the administration has developed detailed plans for attacking Iran and is certainly putting in place a formidable armada that, if so ordered, has the means to carry out those plans without delay.

But if indeed a decision has already been made, it appears that the faction that led the pro-war propaganda offensive in the run-up to the Iraq invasion and that has long favored "regime change" in Iraq – the neoconservatives – has either not been clued in, or more likely, believes that any such attack is still some time off, if it takes place at all. [complete article]

Rice to Haaretz: The year is not 1938, Iran is not Nazi Germany
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, February 19, 2007

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Sunday rejected any comparison between the international community's handling of Iran's nuclear program and its policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany in 1938.

"I am fond of historical analogies, but not that fond," Rice told Haaretz in an interview, responding to a question about the analogy frequently cited by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

However, she did lambaste Iran's behavior. "We clearly face a country that is pursuing policies in an assertive way that are contrary to the interests of the United States and are contrary to the interests of all people who want a peaceful Middle East," she said. [complete article]

Deciding on the enemy worth talking to
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, February 19, 2007

When it comes to finding a way to disarm your enemies, here is a puzzle: How do you decide which dictatorial, nuke-building regimes to negotiate with, and which to freeze out, sanction or intimidate with a couple of aircraft carriers?

That, in a nutshell, is a looming question raised by last week's long-delayed deal with North Korea. Even while hardliners and conservatives were assailing the administration last week for "selling out" to Kim Jong Il, some in the administration were wondering whether there are lessons here for dealing with Iran. [complete article]
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Iraqi militants launch attack on U.S. base
By Marc Santora, New York Times, February 20, 2007

In a rare coordinated assault on an American combat outpost north of Baghdad, suicide bombers drove one or more cars loaded with explosives into the compound on Monday, while other insurgents opened fire in the ensuing chaos, according to witnesses and the American military.

Two American soldiers were killed and at least 17 more were wounded.

The brazen attack, which was followed by fierce gun battles and an evacuation of the wounded by American helicopters, was almost surely the work of Sunni militants, most likely Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, according to American and Iraqi officials. It appeared to be part of a renewed drive by insurgents in recent weeks as more American and Iraqi troops flood the streets of Baghdad and thousands of Marines head to western Anbar Province to try to stem the violence. [complete article]
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'Rogue' Shi'ite militias using Iranian bombs
By Sharon Behn, Washington Times, February 18, 2007

Lethal Iranian bomb technology spotlighted by U.S. officials in Iraq last week is being used by rogue elements of Shi'ite militias that are not under any kind of central command, the U.S. military says.

The evidence presented at a briefing in Baghdad last week further confuses an enemy landscape in which death is as likely to come at the hands of government-allied Shi'ite militias as from disgruntled former Ba'athist extremists and their al Qaeda allies. [complete article]

Iraq VP wants Shi'ite militia named terror group
Reuters, February 18, 2007

The United States should classify radical Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mehdi Army militia as a "terrorist" group, Iraq's Vice President Tareq al-Hashemi said in comments aired on Sunday.

"What is expected from the U.S. administration, to avoid double standards, is to classify the Mehdi Army and the militias that worked under its umbrella and banner as terrorist militias and to apply international standards against them," al-Hashemi, a Sunni, told Al Jazeera television.

Deemed by the Pentagon to be the biggest threat to Iraq, the Mehdi Army has kept a low profile, appearing on the streets without their guns, since U.S. and Iraqi troops launched an offensive last week to quell sectarian violence. [complete article]
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Can a Saudi dealmaker rescue Bush?
By Jackson Diehl, Washington Post, February 19, 2007

For 22 years Prince Bandar bin Sultan wheeled and dealed his way through Washington as Saudi Arabia's ambassador. By his account -- provided expansively to favored journalists -- he had a hand in most of America's major initiatives in the Middle East over a generation. During George W. Bush's presidency, for example, he brokered U.S. rapprochement with Libya and previewed plans for the invasion of Iraq two months before the war.

For a while after returning home in the summer of 2005, Bandar kept a low profile. Some speculated he was out of favor with the kingdom's ruler, Abdullah, despite his appointment as national security adviser. Now he's back: Since the beginning of the year the prince has suddenly begun wheeling and dealing his way around the Middle East.

In the past month Bandar has held three meetings with the Iranian national security chief, Ali Larijani, most recently last Wednesday in Riyadh. He's met twice with Vladimir Putin, in Moscow and Riyadh, to talk about Middle East affairs; overseen talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leaders; and quietly shuttled to Washington to brief President Bush. He helped broker this month's Palestinian accord on a unity government as well as a Saudi-Iranian understanding to cool political conflict in Lebanon. And he's been talking with the most senior officials of the Iranian and U.S. governments about whether there's a way out of the standoff over Iran's nuclear weapons. [complete article]
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Global poll finds that religion and culture are not to blame for tensions between Islam and the West
World Public Opinion, February 19, 2007

The global public believes that tensions between Islam and the West arise from conflicts over political power and interests and not from differences of religion and culture, according to a BBC World Service poll across 27 countries.

While three in ten (29%) believe religious or cultural differences are the cause of tensions, a slight majority (52%) say tensions are due to conflicting interests.

The poll also reveals that most people see the problems arising from intolerant minorities and not the cultures as a whole. While 26 percent believe fundamental differences in cultures are to blame, 58 percent say intolerant minorities are causing the conflict – with most of these (39% of the full sample) saying that the intolerant minorities are on both sides.

The idea that violent conflict is inevitable between Islam and the West is mainly rejected by Muslims, non-Muslims and Westerners alike. While more than a quarter of all respondents (28%) think that violent conflict is inevitable, twice as many (56%) believe that "common ground can be found." [complete article]

See also The middle ground on Islam and West (BBC).
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One-third of Iraqis live in poverty
By Christian Berthelsen, Los Angeles Times, February 19, 2007

A third of Iraqis live in poverty, according to a study released under United Nations auspices Sunday, dire findings for a nation that enjoyed widespread prosperity less than three decades ago.

The report, produced by a division of the Iraqi government and the United Nations Development Program, examined access to, and the quality of, a wide range of basic needs.

It found that by 2004, Iraqi living standards had deteriorated considerably compared with that of the 1970s and '80s, particularly in the areas of water, electricity, sanitation, jobs, income and assets. [complete article]

Out of stricken Baghdad, into uncertainty
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, February 16, 2007

A mortar tumbled out of the sky and onto the Baghdad elementary school. Two of their three children were inside. The girls escaped, panicked but unharmed. Parents Mayada and Ali Hussein al-Obeidy decided enough was enough. They were getting out of Iraq.

That was six months ago. Since fleeing Adamiyah, a once middle-class area turned nightmare-zone even by Baghdad standards, the Obeidy family has taken shelter in Amman, Jordan. They spend days waiting. Like most Iraqis here, they aren't allowed to work and haven't been able to renew their temporary residency permits that expired months ago.

But they consider themselves fortunate: At least the children are safe and in school. The Jordanian government has said this is the last year it will allow Iraqis to send their children to class. With anywhere from 700,000 to 1 million Iraqi refugees pushing Jordan's already-stretched public services to bursting, the Iraqi presence in Jordan has become – in the words last month of the chief government spokesman – "a burden." [complete article]
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Iraqi Sunni lands show new oil and gas promise
By James Glanz, New York Times, February 19, 2007

In a remote patch of the Anbar desert just 20 miles from the Syrian border, a single blue pillar of flanges and valves sits atop an enormous deposit of oil and natural gas that would be routine in this petroleum-rich country except for one fact: this is Sunni territory.

Huge petroleum deposits have long been known in Iraq's Kurdish north and Shiite south. But now, Iraq has substantially increased its estimates of the amount of oil and natural gas in deposits on Sunni lands after quietly paying foreign oil companies tens of millions of dollars over the past two years to re-examine old seismic data across the country and retrain Iraqi petroleum engineers.

The development is likely to have significant political effects: the lack of natural resources in the central and western regions where Sunnis hold sway has fed their disenchantment with the nation they once ruled. And it has driven their insistence on a strong central government, one that would collect oil revenues and spread them equitably among the country's factions, rather than any division of the country along sectarian regional boundaries. [complete article]
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The hotel aftermath
By Anne Hull and Dana Priest, Washington Post, February 19, 2007

McLeod, 41, has lived at Mologne House for a year while the Army figures out what to do with him. He worked in textile and steel mills in rural South Carolina before deploying. Now he takes 23 pills a day, prescribed by various doctors at Walter Reed. Crowds frighten him. He is too anxious to drive. When panic strikes, a soldier friend named Oscar takes him to Baskin-Robbins for vanilla ice cream.

"They find ways to soothe each other," Annette says.

Mostly what the soldiers do together is wait: for appointments, evaluations, signatures and lost paperwork to be found. It's like another wife told Annette McLeod: "If Iraq don't kill you, Walter Reed will."

The conflict in Iraq has hatched a virtual town of desperation and dysfunction, clinging to the pilings of Walter Reed. The wounded are socked away for months and years in random buildings and barracks in and around this military post. [complete article]
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Al Qaeda chiefs are seen to regain power
By Mark Mazzetti and David Rhode, New York Times, February 19, 2007

Senior leaders of Al Qaeda operating from Pakistan have re-established significant control over their once-battered worldwide terror network and over the past year have set up a band of training camps in the tribal regions near the Afghan border, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

American officials said there was mounting evidence that Osama bin Laden and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, had been steadily building an operations hub in the mountainous Pakistani tribal area of North Waziristan. Until recently, the Bush administration had described Mr. bin Laden and Mr. Zawahri as detached from their followers and cut off from operational control of Al Qaeda.

The United States has also identified several new Qaeda compounds in North Waziristan, including one that officials said might be training operatives for strikes against targets beyond Afghanistan. [complete article]
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Mubarak's spring chill
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, February 19, 2007

Ostensibly building on limited political reforms enacted in 2005, Hosni Mubarak has proposed more than 30 constitutional amendments to be decided by referendum in April. But the veteran president's bid to nurture a second "Egyptian spring" faces deep-rooted public scepticism, and the most tangible development to date has been wholly regressive: mass arrests of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the officially banned, non-violent Islamist group that is the country's strongest opposition force.

Mr Mubarak's decision to allow multi-candidate presidential elections two years ago and parliamentary polls that saw 88 Muslim Brothers elected as "independents" now look like the high watermark of the Egyptian reformation. Middle East leaders are watching the process closely and US democracy-promoters are keen to learn how to accommodate, or defang, grassroots Islamists. But Mr Mubarak and his National Democratic party have not proved the most enlightened teachers. [complete article]
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For the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas, a bad day on Capitol Hill
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, February 16, 2007

If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wanted to get a feel for just how upset Congress is over his decision to form a coalition government with Hamas, he should have caught Rep. Gary Ackerman's opening comments Wednesday at the meeting of the Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Ackerman, the New York Democrat who chairs the subcommittee, had been a leading proponent on Capitol Hill of the position that the United States should be doing more to back Abbas in his power struggle with Hamas.

Not anymore.

"What has Abu Mazen done to strengthen himself? He's capitulated to Hamas," Ackerman said. "The Mecca Accord neither strengthens him nor helps the cause of peace.... We now have what Secretary Rice once said we could not accept: a Palestinian Authority with one foot in terror and one foot in democracy."

Ackerman concluded that Abbas "has gutted his own credibility."

Ackerman's attack on the Mecca accords set the tone for the rest of the meeting. The ranking Republican on the subcommittee, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana, asked how Congress could be expected to support funding for the P.A. when Abbas sides with Hamas. Other lawmakers followed a similar line, urging the administration to continue insisting that the new Palestinian government recognize Israel and to avoid linking the situation in Iraq to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In just one session, the Democratic-led subcommittee made it clear that at least on issues regarding the Palestinian conflict, it stands to the right of the Bush administration. [complete article]

Comment -- If the last six years have resulted in any maturing of the American political consciousness, one would hope that would include a wider understanding that foreign policy matters. One might also imagine there would be a heightened awareness about the importance of addressing and resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yet what do we see in Congress? The Democratic-led Middle East subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee is even more reactionary than the Bush administration.

And while members of Congress express their anger that President Mahmoud Abbas is not fulfilling his responsibility to serve the Israeli and American governments more dutifully than his own people, there are new hints that Ariel Sharon had a hand in dispatching the Palestinians' last "non-partner for peace," Yasser Arafat.

A biography of Sharon by Israeli reporter Uri Dan (who died in December) has just been published. In a review in Haaretz:
Dan reveals a little and conceals much when he hints that Arafat's death was not caused by any illness. He himself suggested to Sharon that Arafat be captured and brought to trial in Jerusalem, like Eichmann, but Sharon reassured him that he was dealing with the problem in his own way. Then Arafat fell ill, was flown to Paris for treatment and died. Was Sharon involved? This is what Dan wrote then in Maariv that in the history books prime minister Ariel Sharon will be remembered as the man who eliminated Yasser Arafat without killing him. Let every reader figure it out for himself.
Dan also sheds light on why Osama bin Laden was not captured at Tora Bora:
Speaking of George Bush, with whom Sharon developed a very close relationship, Uri Dan recalls that Sharon's delicacy made him reluctant to repeat what the president had told him when they discussed Osama bin Laden. Finally he relented. And here is what the leader of the Western world, valiant warrior in the battle of cultures, promised to do to bin Laden if he caught him: "I will screw him in the ass!"
Perhaps this explains why the Bush administration (with Congress' unquestioning support) maintains its policy of "not talking to terrorists." They don't want to risk seeing President Bush put himself in a compromising position.
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Should the West dialogue with Islamists?
Alastair Crooke interviewed by Abdullah Faliq, The Cordoba Foundation, October-December, 2006

AF: Is it true that Arabs, Muslims and third world nations hate the US and the West generally and why is that? This anti-Western feeling is growing, is it not? How could we rectify this situation?

AC: I take issue with this. I think there is a real conflation here between two things. I don't accept this proposition because what Muslims hate is the West's monopoly on the socio-economic implementation of values such as justice, freedom, good governance, which all Muslims share. Muslims don't believe simply that the West is the only model of the implementation of these values, and the only way you can have good governance is to have Western good governance. In fact, they are not sure the West has good governance in many respects. I think it is a mistake to view a desire to contest Western hegemony over these issues with being hatred towards the West as such. Nor should Muslim criticism of Israeli policies automatically be regarded as anti-Semitic. Muslims in my experience want to take what they see as best from Western experience but they don't want all the flaws like the sink cities, the problem that we have with young people, and the social problems too. I don't think that equates simply to hatred of the West. Yes, there may be a few who do hate the West but that is really limited to a few people. [complete article]
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U.N. anti-racism panel questions Israel over non-Jewish holy sites
AP, February 19, 2007

A United Nations anti-racism panel is scheduled to hold a hearing later this week over Israel's attitude toward sites considered holy by its Arab population.

Israel's government has also been asked to explain if it discriminates between Jewish citizens and its Arab citizens in how it provides housing, education, public services, land rights and legal protection against acts of violence, according to a list of issues released by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.

The panel of 18 independent experts overseeing compliance with the United Nations' 38-year-old anti-racism treaty has submitted questions in writing on Israel's policy for preserving holy sites and asked the government to explain why it only grants special protection for places considered sacred by Jews.

The committee asked for a clarification over the fact that to date, 120 places have been declared holy sites, all of which are Jewish. The list of questions was formulated before the recent furor over a construction project in Jerusalem that some Muslims have charged could damage the Al-Aqsa Mosque. [complete article]
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Rove said to have received 2003 Iranian proposal
By Gareth Porter, IPS, February 17, 2007

Karl Rove, then White House deputy chief of staff for President George W. Bush, received a copy of the secret Iranian proposal for negotiations with the United States from former Republican Congressman Bob Ney in early May 2003, according to an Iranian-American scholar who was then on his Congressional staff.

Ney, who pleaded guilty last year and was sentenced to prison in January for his role in the Jack Abramov lobbying scandal, was named by former aide Trita Parsi as an intermediary who took a copy of the Iranian proposal to the White House.

Parsi is now a specialist on Iranian national security policy and president of the National Iranian-American Council (NIAC), a non-partisan organization that supports a negotiated settlement of the conflict between Iran and the United States.

Parsi revealed that the document was delivered specifically to Rove, in an exclusive interview with IPS. Within two hours of the delivery of the document, according to Parsi, Ney received a phone call from Rove confirming his receipt of the document. Parsi said the proposal was delivered to Rove the same week that the State Department received it by fax, which was on or about May 4, 2003, according to the cover letter accompanying it.

Ney was chosen by Swiss Ambassador in Tehran Tim Guldimann to carry the Iranian proposal to the White House, according to Parsi, because he knew the Ohio Congressman to be the only Farsi-speaking member of Congress and particularly interested in Iran. [complete article]

Fax from Swiss Ambassador Guldimann
To the State Department, May 4, 2003

1. On April 21, I had a longer discussion with Sadeq Kharrazi who came to see me (S. Kh. is the Iranian Ambassador in Paris, former Deputy-FM and nephew of the Foreign Minister, his sister is married to the son of the Religious Leader Khamenei). During this discussion a first draft of the enclosed Roadmap was developed. He said he would discuss this with the Leader and the Foreign Minister.

2. On May 2, I met him again for three hours. He told me that he had two long discussions with the Leader on the Roadmap. In these meetings, which both lasted almost two hours, only President Khatami and FM Kharrazi were present; "we went through every word of this paper". (He additionally had a series of separat [sic] meetings with both). - The question is dealt with in high secrecy, therefore no one else has been informed. (S.Kh. himself has become also very discreet in our last contacts). - S. Kh. presented the paper to the Leader as a proposal which he had discussed, with a friend in Europe who has close contacts with higher echelons in the DoS. The Leader explicitly hat [sic] asked him whether this is a US-proposal and S.Kh. denied this, saying that, if it is accepted, this friend could convey it to Washington as the basis for opening the bilateral discussion.

3. The S. Kh. told me that the Leader uttered some reservations as for some points; the President and the Foreign Minister were very positive, there was no problem from their side. Then he said "They (meaning above all the Leader) agree with 85%-90% of the paper. But everything can be negotiated." (By 'agree' he meant to agree with the points themselvers [sic] referred to as 'US aims' in the Roadmap, and not only to agree that the US puts these points on the agenda). - "There is a clear interest to tackle the problem of our relations with the US. I told them, this is a golden opportunity, one day we must find a solution". - Then S. Kh. asked me whether I could present the enclosed Roadmap very confidentially to someone very high in the DoS in order to get to know the US-reaction on it. - He asked me to make some minor changes in the Roadmap draft of our previous meeting, we re-wrote for instance the Iranian statement on the Middle East, and he said he thinks, that this statement would be acceptable - "the peace process is a reality".

4. Then he said: "If the Americans agree to have a discreet bilateral meeting on the basis of this Roadmap, then this meeting could be arranged very soon. In this meeting our remaining reservations could be discussed as well as the US would bring in their reservations on this paper. I am sure that these differences can be eliminated. If we can agree on a Roadmap to clarify the procedure, as a next step it could already be decided in this first meeting that the two Foreign Ministers could meet for starting the process "along the lines of the Roadmap, to decide on how to proceed to resolve everything from A till Z". - Asked whether the meeting between the two foreign ministers has been agreed by the Leader, he said: "Look, if we can agree on the procedure, I believe honestly that it is O.K. for the meeting of the foreign ministers in Paris or Geneva, there is soon an occasion." Asked whom he thinks would participate in the first discreet meeting, he mentioned Armitage, referring to the positive positions of the latter on Iranian democracy. - I told him that I think that this is impossible, but he mentioned a meeting these days between Khalizad and Zarif (Ambassador to the UN) in Geneva on terrorism and said it could be a similar level from the DoS and on their side maybe him or Zarif or both.

5. When I tried to obtain from him a precise answer on what exactly the Leader explicitly has agreed, he said that the lack of trust in the US imposes them to proceed very carefully and confidentially. After discussing this problem with him I understood that they want to be sure that if this iniative failed, and if anything about the new Iranian flexibility outlined in it became known, they would - also for internal reasons - not be bound to it. - However, I got the clear impression that there is a strong will of the regime to tackle the problem with the US now and to try it with this initiative.

(A copy of the fax which includes the Roadmap can be viewed here [PDF], while the text of the Roadmap appears at the end of this article.)
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Planning seen in Iraqi attacks on U.S. copters
By Michael R. Gordon and David S. Cloud, New York Times, February 18, 2007

Documents captured from Iraqi insurgents indicate that some of the recent fatal attacks against American helicopters are a result of a carefully planned strategy to focus on downing coalition aircraft, one that American officials say has been carried out by mounting coordinated assaults with machine guns, rockets and surface-to-air missiles.

The documents, said to have been drafted by Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, show that the militants were preparing to "concentrate on the air force." The contents of the documents are described in an American intelligence report that was reviewed by The New York Times. [complete article]

Veterans of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan predict failure in Iraq
By Matthew Schofield, McClatchy, February 15, 2007

Eighteen years after the Soviet army pulled out of Afghanistan in a humiliating defeat that hastened the collapse of an empire, many soldiers who fought there believe they're seeing history repeat itself.

The United States - then the force behind the Afghan resistance - now appears trapped in a similar downward spiral in Iraq, besieged by a collection of forces not unlike those it trained and equipped to cripple the Soviets two decades ago. [complete article]
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Jailed 2 years, Iraqi tells of abuse by Americans
By Michael Moss and Souad Mekhennet, New York Times, February 18, 2007

In the early hours of Jan. 6, Laith al-Ani stood in a jail near the Baghdad airport waiting to be released by the American military after two years and three months in captivity.

He struggled to quell his hope. Other prisoners had gotten as far as the gate only to be brought back inside, he said, and he feared that would happen to him as punishment for letting his family discuss his case with a reporter.

But as the morning light grew, the American guards moved Mr. Ani, a 31-year-old father of two young children, methodically toward freedom. They swapped his yellow prison suit for street clothes, he said. They snipped off his white plastic identification bracelet. They scanned his irises into their database.

Then, shortly before 9 a.m., Mr. Ani said, he was brought to a table for one last step. He was handed a form and asked to place a check mark next to the sentence that best described how he had been treated:

"I didn't go through any abuse during detention," read the first option, in Arabic.

"I have gone through abuse during detention," read the second.

In the room, he said, stood three American guards carrying the type of electric stun devices that Mr. Ani and other detainees said had been used on them for infractions as minor as speaking out of turn.

"Even the translator told me to sign the first answer," said Mr. Ani, who gave a copy of his form to The New York Times. "I asked him what happens if I sign the second one, and he raised his hands," as if to say, Who knows?

"I thought if I don't sign the first one I am not going to get out of this place."

Shoving the memories of his detention aside, he checked the first box and minutes later was running through a cold rain to his waiting parents. "My heart was beating so hard," he said. "You can't believe how I cried." [complete article]

See also, Military justice goes AWOL (Stephen Budiansky).
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The politics of the man behind Fox's "24"
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, February 12, 2007

Bob Cochran, who created the show with Surnow, admitted, "Most terrorism experts will tell you that the 'ticking time bomb' situation never occurs in real life, or very rarely. But on our show it happens every week." According to Darius Rejali, a professor of political science at Reed College and the author of the forthcoming book "Torture and Democracy," the conceit of the ticking time bomb first appeared in Jean Larteguy's 1960 novel "Les Centurions," written during the brutal French occupation of Algeria. The book's hero, after beating a female Arab dissident into submission, uncovers an imminent plot to explode bombs all over Algeria and must race against the clock to stop it. Rejali, who has examined the available records of the conflict, told me that the story has no basis in fact. In his view, the story line of "Les Centurions" provided French liberals a more palatable rationale for torture than the racist explanations supplied by others (such as the notion that the Algerians, inherently simpleminded, understood only brute force). Larteguy's scenario exploited an insecurity shared by many liberal societies -- that their enlightened legal systems had made them vulnerable to security threats.

"24," which last year won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Drama Series, packs an improbable amount of intrigue into twenty-four hours, and its outlandishness marks it clearly as a fantasy, an heir to the baroque potboilers of Tom Clancy and Vince Flynn. Nevertheless, the show obviously plays off the anxieties that have beset the country since September 11th, and it sends a political message. The series, Surnow told me, is "ripped out of the Zeitgeist of what people's fears are -- their paranoia that we're going to be attacked," and it "makes people look at what we're dealing with" in terms of threats to national security. "There are not a lot of measures short of extreme measures that will get it done," he said, adding, "America wants the war on terror fought by Jack Bauer. He's a patriot."

For all its fictional liberties, "24" depicts the fight against Islamist extremism much as the Bush Administration has defined it: as an all-consuming struggle for America's survival that demands the toughest of tactics. Not long after September 11th, Vice-President Dick Cheney alluded vaguely to the fact that America must begin working through the "dark side" in countering terrorism. On "24," the dark side is on full view. Surnow, who has jokingly called himself a "right-wing nut job," shares his show's hard-line perspective. Speaking of torture, he said, "Isn't it obvious that if there was a nuke in New York City that was about to blow -- or any other city in this country -- that, even if you were going to go to jail, it would be the right thing to do?" [complete article]

Comment -- What Joel Surnow and Dick Cheney have in common is that they boldly talk the talk for someone else's walk. Those opening up the cultural and legal space into which torturers are invited to apply their dark skills, do so while insuring that they themselves will be exposed to the minimum of risk. Theirs is a cynical cowardice that masquerades as boldness.
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Soldiers face neglect, frustration at Army's top medical facility
By Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Washington Post, February 18, 2007

Behind the door of Army Spec. Jeremy Duncan's room, part of the wall is torn and hangs in the air, weighted down with black mold. When the wounded combat engineer stands in his shower and looks up, he can see the bathtub on the floor above through a rotted hole. The entire building, constructed between the world wars, often smells like greasy carry-out. Signs of neglect are everywhere: mouse droppings, belly-up cockroaches, stained carpets, cheap mattresses.

This is the world of Building 18, not the kind of place where Duncan expected to recover when he was evacuated to Walter Reed Army Medical Center from Iraq last February with a broken neck and a shredded left ear, nearly dead from blood loss. But the old lodge, just outside the gates of the hospital and five miles up the road from the White House, has housed hundreds of maimed soldiers recuperating from injuries suffered in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The common perception of Walter Reed is of a surgical hospital that shines as the crown jewel of military medicine. But 5 1/2 years of sustained combat have transformed the venerable 113-acre institution into something else entirely -- a holding ground for physically and psychologically damaged outpatients. Almost 700 of them -- the majority soldiers, with some Marines -- have been released from hospital beds but still need treatment or are awaiting bureaucratic decisions before being discharged or returned to active duty.

They suffer from brain injuries, severed arms and legs, organ and back damage, and various degrees of post-traumatic stress. Their legions have grown so exponentially -- they outnumber hospital patients at Walter Reed 17 to 1 -- that they take up every available bed on post and spill into dozens of nearby hotels and apartments leased by the Army. The average stay is 10 months, but some have been stuck there for as long as two years. [complete article]
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U.S. 'dumped' report into U.K. troops' crash ordeal
By Mark Townsend, The Observer, February 18, 2007

The Pentagon has been accused of obstructing an investigation into how three British soldiers almost died when an American tank transporter rammed them off a road in Iraq.

Lawyers for the UK troops claim that the US authorities tried to 'dump' their inquiry in a move to block a compensation claim. The American military also said it had no record of the incident, but it has emerged that the collision was officially recorded at the time.

The allegations risk creating fresh tensions between the UK and US coalition forces and arrive amid the ongoing inquest into the death of Lance Corporal Matty Hull, who was killed by American pilots after they mistakenly fired on his convoy. [complete article]
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The elusive Quds force
By Christopher Dickey and John Barry, Newsweek, February 17, 2007

The Iranian Special Operations unit called the Quds Force has for years been accused, with or without evidence, of assassinations and terrorist attacks as far away as Argentina. But its specialty is different: striking fear in the hearts of generals. Over the past 25 years, the Quds Force has proved ferociously effective at organizing, training and equipping guerrillas to confront the world's most vaunted armies. Quds played a vital role in creating Hizbullah to fight the Israelis in Lebanon. It supported the legendary Ahmed Shah Massoud against the Russians and his Taliban rivals in Afghanistan. Quds helped the Bosnians hold back the Serbian war machine. And now—it's in Iraq.

"What matters is that they're there," President George W. Bush said last week. Precisely why, at whose direction or invitation, and with what long-term goals: all that remains in doubt. Bush, even as he said the group had "harmed our troops," suggested how much remains unknown: "I do not know whether or not the Quds Force was ordered from the top echelons of [the Iranian] government. But my point is: what's worse—them ordering it and it happening, or them not ordering it and it happening?"

Actually, what's worse is that the unit appears to be as close to America's Shiite and Kurdish allies as to splinter groups accused of killing perhaps 170 of the more than 3,000 American soldiers who've died in Iraq. The relationship between the Quds Force and figures like Iraqi President Jalal Talabani or Abdul Aziz al-Hakim of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (both of whom have been received in the White House recently) goes back two decades to the days when only Tehran was aiding Saddam Hussein's enemies. "Do the Americans think they would stop working with us because Americans told them so?" says an Iranian intelligence official who is not authorized to speak on the record. Quds operatives captured recently were working directly under the protection, respectively, of Talabani and Hakim. [complete article]

See also, Iran's elite guards to hold war games (AP) and Syria, Iran vow unity against US plots (AFP).
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Abbas to Rice: World must give us a chance
By Ali Waked, Yedioth Internet, February 18, 2007

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas asked Sunday that the international community give the Palestinian unity government "a chance."

Abbas met with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in Ramallah to discuss a series of issues ahead of the two leaders' meeting with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert Monday. [complete article]

'Outposts' thriving in the West Bank
By Ravi Nessman, AP, February 17, 2007

With its playgrounds, identical houses and manicured flower beds, Bruchin looks like any placid Israeli suburb. Except that Bruchin is not supposed to exist.

Bruchin is among more than 100 West Bank outposts never officially authorized by the Israeli government. And Israel's repeated commitments to freeze settlement construction haven't hampered Bruchin's transformation from a cluster of trailers less than eight years ago into a thriving community of 380 people, girded by government supplied roads, electricity and water.

"Normally, when you think of an outpost you think of a water tower. This is a real town," said Amishai Shav-Tal, one of Bruchin's founders.

Unlike the full-blown settlements that have been built in the face of international criticism, the outposts have never gone through the public process of gaining official government approval. Many of them began as little more than a cell phone tower or trailer erected by settlers on a West Bank hilltop to establish a presence there, a seed they used to quickly establish a new community.

The outposts infuriate the Palestinians, who see them as part of a plan to strengthen the Jewish grip on land they want for an independent state. [complete article]

Golan settlers refuse to give peace a chance
By Harry de Quetteville, The Sunday Telegraph, February 18, 2007

On a wild and beautiful 40-mile-long plateau in the north of Israel, entrepreneurs are defying new pressure to sign up to peace with Syria by turning the Golan Heights into the country's trendiest destination.

The drive to transform the Golan into Israel's equivalent of California's Napa Valley - brimming with wineries, restaurants and ranches - comes despite Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, insisting this week that the land would have to be returned in any peace deal with Syria.

"The whole world knows that in any future negotiations in 2026 we will have to give up on the entire Golan Heights," he said in a furious debate in the Israeli parliament. [complete article]

Muslim prayer room found near Mugrabi Gate
By Ronny Shaked, Yedioth Internet, February 18, 2007

Remains of an ancient Muslim prayer room were found under the dirt embankment adjacent to the Mugrabi Gate in 2004, yet the findings, unearthed after part of the embankment collapsed into the Western Wall compound, were kept secret until now.

The information was withheld from the public but had been known to various Israeli officials. The findings were revealed in an article
posted on the Israel Antiquities Authority's internet site by archaeologist Yuval Baruch, who works in the Jerusalem district. [complete article]
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Rice: U.S. has doubts on Iraq democracy
By Anne Gearan, AP, February 17, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Iraqi government leaders Saturday that the contentious debate in Washington over President Bush's war strategy reflects U.S. doubts that democracy will prevail over violence.

'Some of the debate in Washington is in fact indicative of the concerns that some of the American people have ... if the Iraqi government doesn't do what it has said it will do,' Rice said she told leaders from all of Iraq's factions. [complete article]

Iran: Radical Shiite cleric is not here
AP, February 18, 2007

Iran's Foreign Ministry denied Sunday that radical Iraqi Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr was in Iran, calling statements by U.S. and Iraqi officials saying he had traveled to Iran "psychological warfare."

"No, he is not in Iran," Mohammad Ali Hoseini, spokesman for the Ministry, told journalists during a regular press briefing in Iran's first comment on the issue. "The report is baseless and a kind of psychological warfare against Iran by the U.S. to put more pressure on Iran." [complete article]

Audit finds $10 billion in fuzzy spending
By Dan Duray, Hearst Newspapers, February 16, 2007

More than $10 billion of the money paid to military contractors for Iraq reconstruction and troop support was either excessive or unsupported by documents, including $2.7 billion for contracts held by Halliburton or one of its subsidiaries, Congress was told Thursday.

The three top auditors overseeing work in Iraq told a House committee their review of $57 billion in Iraq contracts found that Defense and State department officials condoned or allowed repeated work delays, bloated expenses and payments for shoddy work or work never done.

William Reed, director of the Pentagon's Defense Contract Audit Agency, told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that his agency discovered the problems -- $4.9 billion in "questioned" or overly expensive charges, and $5.1 billion in "unsupported" or undocumented expenses -- after auditing $57 billion in Pentagon contracts. [complete article]
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Taliban offensive expected in spring
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2007

As the U.S. Black Hawk helicopter skimmed low over the desert, the signs of approaching spring were everywhere: melting frost in the hollows, the first shoots of green in the nearby fields, shrinking snowcaps on distant peaks.

In coming weeks, winter will loosen its grip on Afghanistan. Senior NATO generals insist that their troops are well positioned to confront the Taliban offensive that is expected to follow.

But some analysts, diplomats and other observers think the Western alliance, and the Afghan government it supports, has failed to use winter's relative lull in fighting to seize the initiative in advance of a new battle with the insurgents. [complete article]
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Demise of the foreign correspondent
By Pamela Constable, Washington Post, February 17, 2007

When I think back on the most momentous events of my professional life, they include scenes of both devastation and deliverance. The boulevards of Manila, flooded with peaceful demonstrators chanting for Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos to abandon power. The slums of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where a joyful, gyrating mob of slum-dwellers is celebrating the election of populist priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president. The highlands of Guatemala or Peru, where grave sites conceal the victims of atrocity.

If the Boston Globe had not sent me abroad as a foreign correspondent in 1983, and allowed me to spend a decade in Latin America and other regions of the world, I would never have been able to witness these historic changes -- and bring them alive to readers back home. Even then, the Globe was one of only a handful of American newspapers willing to invest in the luxury of its own foreign staff, and I was keenly aware of how privileged I was to do all this while drawing a steady paycheck.

Today, Americans' need to understand the struggles of distant peoples is greater than ever. Our troops are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, countries that we did not know enough about when we invaded them and that we are still trying to fathom. We have been victimized by foreign terrorists, yet we still cannot imagine why anyone would hate us. Our economy is intimately linked to global markets, our population is nearly 20 percent foreign-born, and our lives are directly affected by borderless scourges such as global warming and AIDS. Knowing about the world is not a luxury; it is an urgent necessity. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

A road map out of Iraq
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Los Angeles Times, February 11, 2007

What Iraq tells us about ourselves
By Col. W. Patrick Lang, Jr., Foreign Policy, February , 2007

In Iraq, anyone can make a bomb
By Andrew Cockburn, Los Angeles Times, February 16, 2007

The case for U.S. military disengagement from Iraq [PDF]
By Steven N. Simon, Council on Foreign Relations, February, 2007

Victory is not an option
By William E. Odom, Washington Post, February 11, 2007

The U.S. campaign to topple the Palestinian government
Alastair Crooke interviewed by Al Jazeera, January 24, 2007

Israel's surge of despair
By Gregory Levey, Salon, February 15, 2007

Across Arab world, a widening rift
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, February 12, 2007

To root out Taliban, Pakistan to expel 2.4 million Afghans
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, February 14, 2007

The ideological animal
By Jay Dixit, Psychology Today, January, 2007

Rumsfeld's long march
By Roger Morris, TomDispatch, February 14, 2007

The Rumsfeld legacy
By Roger Morris, TomDispatch, February 15, 2007

Iraq war plan assumed only 5,000 U.S. troops still there by December 2006
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing, February 14, 2007
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