The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Dick Cheney in twilight
By Michael Duffy, Time, March 8, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is executing an unmistakable course correction in U.S. foreign policy, quietly stepping away from the strident and unilateral positions of the neoconservatives and cutting deals with — or opening lines to — the remaining members of the axis of evil. Backed by a strong new team of career diplomats, Rice prevailed on Iraq to invite Iran to a regional conference on security and then swiftly agreed to attend, unwinding Washington's vow just a few weeks ago that it would have no direct contact with Tehran until it stopped enriching uranium.

A few weeks earlier, after working for months with the Chinese, President Bush signed off on a deal with North Korea to freeze its primary nuclear reactor in exchange for economic aid and closer diplomatic ties. That deal was strikingly reminiscent of a controversial pact that Bill Clinton inked with North Korea in 1994 — and that the Bush team criticized in the first term. When hard-liners inside the government complained to reporters that the White House was selling out to a dictator, Bush backed Rice in public. Even in intelligence matters, the area in which Cheney was once most dominant and in which he invited the most trouble in the Libby case, his hand has been weakened. For example, in public testimony before Congress lately, intelligence officials have emphasized more ambiguities and uncertainties in their conclusions about threats overseas than was commonplace at the height of Cheney's power. Democratic Senators report that a refreshing new degree of candor has returned in classified sessions as well. "Cheney's influence on intelligence has declined markedly," said Democratic Senator John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Cheney is hardly unaware of Rice's new dominance. A senior Administration official told TIME last week that Cheney has been part of all the arguments and has simply begun to lose some. But that alone means ideas that would have been unthinkable just a year or two ago -- early engagement, muscular multilateralism, even patient negotiation -- are becoming more acceptable in Bushland. American diplomats have asked the Jordanians for their notes on the Clinton-era negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis, seeking to restart the Middle East peace talks that fell apart abruptly at the end of 2000. That's yet another turnabout for an Administration that lampooned those very talks in 2002. [complete article]

'What has happened to Dick Cheney?'
By Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, March 8, 2007

The Libby trial revealed serious splits between Cheney and Bush's political team, led by Karl Rove, who suffered no legal consequences for his role in the scandal. The trial also served as another exercise in showing how Cheney has empowered his critics at home and his foes abroad: His excessive concern for secrecy and control by the executive branch has given new credibility and fundraising ability to the Democrats and to civil liberties organizations here, and it has won sympathy around the world for prisoners who may well be terrorists.

So listen up, diplomats: However beleaguered, Cheney will not resign over the president's refusal to take his advice. The only force that could drive him to that dramatic step would be that unshakable sense of loyalty to Bush, who desperately now needs a vice president in stable physical, emotional and political health. That is the equation you want to be watching. [complete article]

Comment -- As much as I share the widely held view that Dick Cheney constitutes a malevolent force in the world, that doesn't necessarily mean that he is a person who would stop at nothing to accomplish his aims. Indeed, if he is finding that with increasing frequency he is losing policy arguments it seems increasingly likely that, even if he isn't asked to step down (which I suspect he would willingly do), he may end up taking "early retirement" while still in office.

If I was a betting man, I'd waging (as I've suggested before) that Dick Cheney is more likely to become the ghost of Washington during the next two years, than the detonator for a war against Iran.
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U.S. and Iran have been talking, quietly
By Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2007

The White House insists that the United States won't talk directly with Iran until Tehran suspends its nuclear program. But U.S. officials have been discreetly meeting their Iranian counterparts one-on-one for more than a decade, often under the auspices of the United Nations.

The little-known history of these contacts between the two nations, which have not had formal diplomatic relations since the Iranian hostage crisis ended in 1980, is one of misunderstandings and missed opportunities. Budding cooperation on Afghanistan, Iraq and Al Qaeda has led to increased distrust and frustration instead of warmer ties -- a record that adds to tensions as representatives of both countries prepare to attend a regional summit this weekend in Baghdad.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's top Iraq advisor, David Satterfield, said Thursday that he would confront Iran about its alleged provision of materiel and training for attacks on U.S. troops in Iraq. He added that he would not seek out Iranian diplomats, but said, "If we are approached over orange juice … we are not going to turn and walk away."

Despite decades of tension, the continuing conversations reveal a slender swath of common ground upon which Washington and Tehran have built a delicate bridge: an interest in the region's security and resources. [complete article]

See also, U.S. open to talking about Iraq with Iran and Syria (WP), Iran looks to ease U.S. tensions with Baghdad meet (Reuters), and Iranians lose access to unlimited cheap fuel (FT).
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Iranian influence soaring in Iraq
By Liz Sly, Chicago Tribune, March 8, 2007

In the cafeteria of Iraq's parliament, Shiite legislators slip into Persian when they don't want their conversations overheard. In the holy city of Najaf, an Iranian charity helps newlyweds buy furniture. Iranian weapons, freshly manufactured, are turning up in arms caches seized from insurgents in and around Baghdad.

These are among the many ways in which Iran's soaring influence is being felt in Iraq, where Iran's complex entanglement in the affairs of its neighbor lies at the heart of the schism threatening to tear Iraq--and the region--apart.

To Iraq's Sunnis, Iran's ascendancy as a regional power and its close relationship with the Shiite-led government represent a pernicious threat to the survival of Iraq's Arab identity.

"America handed Iraq to Iran on a golden plate," says Sunni politician Saleh al-Mutlaq. "Everything Iran fought for in the Iran-Iraq war, America gave to it when it invaded." [complete article]
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Key Lebanese leaders meet for first time in first step to end political crisis
AP, March 9, 2007

An overnight meeting between the leader of Lebanon's parliamentary majority and the opposition parliament speaker -- the first such face-to-face in four months -- was welcomed on Friday as the first tangible step toward ending a political crisis that has divided the government and paralyzed the country.

It even prompted some politicians to say they expected a solution by the end of the month, possibly even before the Arab League summit scheduled for March 28-29 in the Saudi capital of Riyadh.

In Beirut, no statements were issued after the three-hour meeting late Thursday between Saad Hariri, leader of the largest bloc in Parliament, and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. But earlier, Hariri, who had returned from Saudi Arabia and met with religious and political allies, announced that he was seeking a solution for a crisis "that has gone for long." [complete article]

Soul war, street fear
By Serene Assir, Al-Ahram Weekly, March 8, 2007

With diplomatic initiatives, regional and domestic, shuffling at high speed in an apparent bid to resolve Lebanon's political crisis, and with reports of an imminent resolution, there has been a shift in the mood on the ground. No longer qualified as hopeless, the crisis seems set to reap results that both the government and the opposition have been clamouring for ever since the country ground to a political standstill.

Images of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's visit to Riyadh for talks with Saudi King Abdullah were broadcast on Lebanese television channels across the political spectrum. The apparent amicability, followed by statements from leading opposition figures of a possible reconciliation ahead of the 28 March Arab summit injected some hope into a situation previously nigh impossible to calm.

The solution that Saudi Ambassador to Beirut Abdel Aziz Khoja has been working on in liaison with government and opposition leaders involves both the establishment of a national unity government based on the 19-plus-11 formula the opposition has been calling for, and the approval of an international tribunal to try suspects alleged to have been involved in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Al-Hariri in February 2005. [complete article]
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Olmert: War in Lebanon was planned months in advance
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, March 8, 2007

Olmert has told the Winograd Commission that his decision to respond to the abduction of soldiers with a broad military operation was made as early as March 2006, four months before last summer's Lebanon war broke out.

The commission has transferred, at the request of one of the witnesses, the text of his testimony. Aside from that exception, the investigative materials will not be given to any outside sources.

Olmert testified before the Winograd Commission on February 1, and its questions focused on three basic issues: the circumstances surrounding Amir Peretz's appointment as defense minister; how and why the decision was made to go to war on July 12, several hours after reservists Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted by Hezbollah guerrillas on the northern border; and why Olmert decided to carry out a large-scale ground operation in Lebanon, 48 hours before the cease-fire, in which 33 soldiers were killed. [complete article]

See also, Officers: If PM planned war, why wasn't IDF prepared? (Haaretz).
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Frequent errors in FBI's secret records requests
By John Solomon and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, March 9, 2007

A Justice Department investigation has found pervasive errors in the FBI's use of its power to secretly demand telephone, e-mail and financial records in national security cases, officials with access to the report said yesterday.

The inspector general's audit found 22 possible breaches of internal FBI and Justice Department regulations -- some of which were potential violations of law -- in a sampling of 293 "national security letters." The letters were used by the FBI to obtain the personal records of U.S. residents or visitors between 2003 and 2005. The FBI identified 26 potential violations in other cases.

Officials said they could not be sure of the scope of the violations but suggested they could be more widespread, though not deliberate. In nearly a quarter of the case files Inspector General Glenn A. Fine reviewed, he found previously unreported potential violations.

The use of national security letters has grown exponentially since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In 2005 alone, the audit found, the FBI issued more than 19,000 such letters, amounting to 47,000 separate requests for information. [complete article]
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Democrats rally behind a pullout from Iraq in 08
By Jeff Zeleny and Robin Toner, New York Times, March 9, 2007

The proposals in the House and Senate reflected the growing sentiment among Democrats that the American public was ready for an end to the war and would not punish their party for escalating the pressure on Mr. Bush to do so. Still, Democratic leaders worked behind the scenes, from dawn to dusk, to sell the plans to the party's nervous conservatives and still unsatisfied liberals.

"This is extremely painful," said Representative Carol Shea-Porter, a New Hampshire Democrat elected last fall, in part, because of her opposition to the war. She is eager to end the conflict but intent on supporting the troops. "There are times that you have to search for a compromise for the good of the country."

In the House, Democratic leaders presented legislation to their members on Thursday that would place new conditions on military operations in Iraq as well as call for a troop withdrawal no later than August 2008. The proposals are attached to an emergency spending bill that will be considered next week in the Appropriations Committee and debated on the House floor before the end of the month.

The Democratic proposal in the House would require Mr. Bush to certify that the Iraqi government is meeting a series of military, political and economic benchmarks. If Mr. Bush cannot verify any progress in Iraq, the legislation calls for the majority of all combat troops to be removed beginning July of this year and completed by Dec. 31.

The legislation also would prohibit military action in Iran unless authorized by Congress. [complete article]

Bush threatens to veto Democrats' Iraq plan
By Jonathan Weisman and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post, March 9, 2007

Bush administration officials escalated the fight over a new spending package for the Iraq war yesterday, saying for the first time that the president will veto a House Democratic plan because it includes a timetable to start bringing troops home within a year and would undermine military efforts.

The veto threat came as House and Senate Democrats announced aggressive new measures to narrow U.S. involvement in Iraq, although party leaders acknowledged that their members are far from united on the efforts. Liberals want to start troop withdrawals immediately, but more conservative members worry that they are micromanaging the war, and House leaders have been struggling to come up with a compromise. [complete article]
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Petraeus says boost in troops may be needed past summer
By Ernesto Londono and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, March 9, 2007

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, said Thursday that he would examine "some months" from now whether to seek an extension of the administration's troop increase and that he had no plans "right now" to request additional forces.

"If you're going to achieve the kinds of effects that we probably need," Petraeus said during his first news conference since taking command a month ago, the increased troop level "would need to be sustained certainly for some time well beyond the summer."

That comment represented a shift from his predecessor's assessment of when results would be visible. Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said in January that "it's probably going to be the summer, late summer, before we get to the point where the people in Baghdad feel safe in their neighborhoods." [complete article]

U.S. general asks Sunni fighters to start talks
By Damien McElroy, The Telegraph, March 9, 2007

The senior US general in Iraq yesterday urged Sunni Muslim insurgents to agree a political settlement that would end the conflict.

General David Petraeus used his first public statement since arriving in Baghdad last month to make a plea to the extremists behind attacks on America's troop 'surge' which is intended to pacify the capital.

"There is no military solution to a problem like that in Iraq," he said. "Military action is necessary to improve security but it is not sufficient. It is crucial that in the long run we are talking to some of those who felt that the new Iraq did not have a place for them." [complete article]

See also, Petraeus: force won't end Iraq unrest (AP) and U.S. says it can't protect every Iraqi (LAT).
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Veterans face vast inequities over disability
By Ian Urbina and Ron Nixon, New York Times, March 9, 2007

Staff Sgt. Gregory L. Wilson, from the Texas National Guard, waited nearly two years for his veterans' disability check after he was injured in Iraq. If he had been an active-duty soldier, he would have gotten more help in cutting through the red tape.

Allen Curry of Chicago has fallen behind on his mortgage while waiting nearly two years for his disability check. If he had filed his claim in a state deploying fewer troops than Illinois, Mr. Curry, who was injured by a bomb blast when he was a staff sergeant in the Army Reserve in Iraq, would most likely have been paid sooner and gotten more in benefits.

Veterans face serious inequities in compensation for disabilities depending on where they live and whether they were on active duty or were members of the National Guard or the Reserve, an analysis by The New York Times has found. [complete article]

Caste out at Walter Reed
By Henry Allen, Washington Post, March 9, 2007

I'd guess that most veterans were as angry as I was on learning that combat-maimed soldiers have been warehoused and forgotten among roaches, rodents and mold at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

I'd also guess they weren't entirely surprised. That's because most veterans are enlisted. So was every one of the maltreated Building 18 soldiers and Marines quoted in The Post's revelations of the Walter Reed mess. When you're enlisted you get used to being treated certain ways by certain officers. Every outfit has them.

A little more than 80 percent of the military is enlisted. The enlisted are the privates, corporals, specialists, airmen, seamen and sergeants who have to salute and say "sir" to an elite called officers: lieutenants, commanders, captains, majors, colonels, generals and admirals. The officers wear the white collars, the enlisted wear blue. The two classes live on different sides of the tracks. [complete article]
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Guantanamo is not a prison
By Karen J. Greenberg, TomDispatch, March 8, 2007

Several weeks ago, I took the infamous media tour of the facilities at Guantanamo. From the moment I arrived on a dilapidated Air Sunshine plane to the time I boarded it heading home, I had no doubt that I was on a foreign planet or, at the very least, visiting an impeccably constructed movie set. Along with two European colleagues, I was treated to two-days-plus of a military-tour schedule packed with site visits and interviews (none with actual prisoners) designed to "make transparent" the base, its facilities, and its manifold contributions to our country's national security.

The multi-storied, maximum security complexes, rimmed in concertina wire, set off from the road by high wire-mesh fences, and the armed tower guards at Camp Delta, present a daunting sight. Even the less restrictive quarters for "compliant" inmates belied any notion that Guantanamo is merely a holding facility for those awaiting charges or possessing useful information.

In the course of my brief stay, thanks to my military handlers, I learned a great deal about Gitmo decorum, as the military would like us to practice it. My escorts told me how best to describe the goings-on at Guantanamo, regardless of what my own eyes and prior knowledge told me.

Here, in a nutshell, is what I picked up. Consider this a guide of sorts to what the officially sanctioned report on Guantanamo would look like, wrapped in the proper decorum and befitting the jewel-in-the-crown of American offshore prisons… or, to be Pentagon-accurate, "detention facilities." [complete article]

See also, Guantanamo to hold key hearings (BBC).
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E.U. ready to re-engage with Syria: Ireland
By Mark John, Reuters, March 9, 2007

The European Union plans to restart high-level contacts with Syria by sending foreign policy chief Javier Solana to Damascus for talks on Lebanon and the Middle East, Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern said on Friday.

French President Jacques Chirac has been blocking EU contacts with Syria over its alleged role in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri.

Ahern, whose country has troops in the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon, said there was a growing recognition the bloc needed to re-engage with Damascus because of its central role in the region. [complete article]

See also, Syria's envoy at secret talks to speak before Knesset committee (Haaretz).
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Israeli troops reportedly used child as shield
Reuters, March 9, 2007

Israeli soldiers used an 11-year-old Palestinian girl as a "human shield" during an operation against militants in the West Bank city of Nablus last week, an Israeli human rights group said Thursday.

The Israeli army said it was checking the report from the B'Tselem group, which monitors Israeli actions in the occupied territory. Israeli law bans the military from using human shields.

B'Tselem said the girl, Jihan Daadush, told the group's representatives that Israeli soldiers had entered her family's home and questioned her and her relatives about the whereabouts of gunmen who had fired at the troops. [complete article]
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Priests to purify site after Bush visit
By Juan Carlos Llorca, AP, March 9, 2007

Mayan priests will purify a sacred archaeological site to eliminate "bad spirits" after President Bush visits next week, an official with close ties to the group said Thursday.

"That a person like (Bush), with the persecution of our migrant brothers in the United States, with the wars he has provoked, is going to walk in our sacred lands, is an offense for the Mayan people and their culture," Juan Tiney, the director of a Mayan nongovernmental organization with close ties to Mayan religious and political leaders, said Thursday. [complete article]
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Report: Missing Iranian official being questioned in N. Europe
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, March 7, 2007

The Iranian former deputy defense minister who disappeared in neighboring Turkey last month is being questioned in a northern European country under strict supervision, the pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat reported Wednesday.

According to the newspaper, published in London, Ali Reza Asghari is undergoing thorough investigation by intelligence forces before being transferred to the United States.

Asghari, who is a retired general in the elite Revolutionary Guards, disappeared in Istanbul about a month ago. A hotel room was booked under Asghari's name, but several reports indicate that he never arrived at the hotel. [complete article]

Comment -- If General Asghari is in fact seeking asylum, it still remains uncertain whether he was originally abducted or if this was a genuine defection. The often-dubious DEBKAfile claims that he is "believed to have been linked to -- or participated in -- the armed group which stormed the US-Iraqi command center in Karbala south of Baghdad Jan. 20 and snatched five American officers." That's a story that would fit into the "Iranian meddling" narrative, though it's hard to picture the 63-year old, portly Asghari actually participating in any type of commando operation. But if he really was involved and subsequently fell into American hands, it seems more likely that he would then be offered a choice between "defection" or "disappearance." But then, assuming he opted to defect, it's hard not to imagine that he would be inclined to throw his interrogators the occasional curveball.

Meanwhile, returning to the story of the Karbala attack and abductions -- which on balance look likely to have been, at least in part, some kind of inside job -- there's a curious detail in the original AP report that seems to have been ignored. "The attackers captured four soldiers and fled with them and the computer east toward Mahawil, the U.S. military officials said." What computer? The report makes no other reference to a computer. Did military briefers tell reporters that the attackers snatched four soldiers and a computer, then subsequently request that the latter detail be withheld from reports? If so, a sloppy piece of copy editing might have resulted in a stray reference being left dangling, unnoticed. If these attackers were interested in snatching a computer as well as four American soldiers, this certainly has the sound of some type of intelligence operation.
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Questions about Cheney remain
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, March 7, 2007

In legal terms, the jury has spoken in the Libby case. In political terms, Dick Cheney is still awaiting a judgment.

For weeks, Washington watched, mesmerized, as the trial of I. Lewis Libby Jr. cast Vice President Cheney, his former boss, in the role of puppeteer, pulling the strings in a covert public relations campaign to defend the Bush administration's case for war in Iraq and discredit a critic.

"There is a cloud over the vice president," the prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, told the jury in summing up the case last month.

Mr. Cheney was not charged in the case, cooperated with the investigation and expressed a willingness to testify if called, though he never was. Yet he was a central figure throughout, fighting back against suggestions that he and President Bush had taken the country to war on the basis of flawed intelligence, showing himself to be keenly sensitive to how he was portrayed in the news media and backing Mr. Libby to the end. [complete article]

Libby verdict deals blow to Bush administration
By Dan Balz, Washington Post, March 7, 2007

The conviction of former White House official I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby today dealt another blow to President Bush's beleaguered administration and marked the latest chapter in a record of mistakes, missteps and setbacks growing out of an Iraq war policy that went badly awry.

The Libby verdict comes at an especially difficult time for the administration. Revelations about substandard living conditions and bureaucratic roadblocks for some wounded outpatient soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center have thrown the administration on the defensive over the sensitive issue of how the government treats its war veterans.

At the same time, the administration is coming under fire in Congress over the firing of a group of U.S. attorneys for what critics say were political reasons. Several of those former U.S. attorneys were testifying on Capitol Hill as the Libby verdict was announced at the federal courthouse a few blocks away. [complete article]

See also, Libby 'pilloried' for leak, panel members believed (WP), Trying times for Wilsons, too (WP), and Libby, lies and another bad war (Charles Kupchan and Ray Takeyh).

Comment -- After I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby was convicted yesterday, President Bush expressed his sorrow, Dick Cheney his disappointment, while Joe Wilson called on Bush to "express his sorrow to my wife, whose career was destroyed." But there's a part to this story that has not merely been forgotten -- it's barely even got a mention. It's about what Joe Wilson didn't do on January 29, 2003. In his now-famous New York Times op-ed, he says,
The next day, I reminded a friend at the State Department of my trip and suggested that if the president had been referring to Niger, then his conclusion was not borne out by the facts as I understood them. He replied that perhaps the president was speaking about one of the other three African countries that produce uranium: Gabon, South Africa or Namibia. At the time, I accepted the explanation. I didn't know that in December, a month before the president's address, the State Department had published a fact sheet that mentioned the Niger case.
What I don't understand, and what -- as far as I'm aware -- Wilson has never adequately explained, is why he was so diplomatic as to say nothing more than speak to his friend at the State Department. Wilson was no mere spectator when it came the question of where in Africa -- if anywhere -- Saddam might be trying to acquire uranium. The significance of the answer to that question was transparent. After all, in the State of the Union, the president had all but declared war on Iraq. His claim that Saddam was trying to buy "significant quantities of uranium from Africa" was a central plank in building the case for war.

Was it not incumbent on Joe Wilson on January 29, 2003, to step up and tell his story? "I don't know what uranium-procurement program President Bush was referring to last night, but I do know that Saddam could not be getting uranium from Niger and this is how I know." He might have been ignored, he might have alienated himself in Washington, he might have destroyed his own career, but he also might have helped avert a war.
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History today is not so much written by the victors as by the vanquished
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, March 6, 2007

I was in Spartanburg, South Carolina, a very long way from Baghdad, when I read the news that a street where I once spent a lot of time on my visits to Iraq, one where I learned a great deal about its people and their history, had been the target of a massive suicide car bomb.

Al-Mutanabi was the booksellers' street. I'd gone there a few times when Saddam Hussein was still in power and it seemed a sad, secretive, paranoid place. But I went there as often as I could in 2003 and 2004, after the American-led invasion that toppled the tyrant, because I thought I could find the spirit of freedom and liberty that our troops were supposed to have brought with them.

What I discovered were a growing number of stalls selling religious tomes and posters, especially iconic portraits of Ali and Hussein, the sainted imams of Shi'a Islam. But, for English speakers, there was also a thriving trade in histories. Under the dictator, quietly and quite illegally, merchants had been photocopying whatever books they could get their hands on that told of Iraq's past. Now they were anxious to sell them to the ancient capital's new arrivals.

So I bought a copy of Gertrude Bell's letters written from Baghdad when she was a leading architect of British occupation in the 1920s. I acquired a British officer's account of the grim battles in the swamps of southern Mesopotamia during World War I. (In those days, the Germans -- "The Huns" -- supposedly were inciting radical Shiite militias to attack the benevolent English.) I bought a rare copy of the national museum's catalogue, with wonderful old pictures of dozens of artifacts before they were looted under the unwatchful eyes of American soldiers.

Walking down the booksellers' street toward the Shah Bander cafe, where the city's literati once smoked water pipes, drank coffee and debated the meaning of T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land," was a little like a stroll through the stacks of a great library, except that the city, the history, the culture and the passion for it, was right there, all around you.

The Reuters dispatch about the bombing yesterday was spare and evocative: "As firefighters doused the flames which reached up to the third storey of some buildings, papers and book pages fluttered on the ground, some blackened, others bloody. Charred bodies lay almost unrecognizable, half buried in the rubble of shop fronts." More than 20 people were killed.

In Spartanburg, I thought the story of Al-Mutanabi street might be worth sharing. A good friend, poet and naturalist John Lane, had invited me to little Wofford College in this, one of the reddest corners of a very red state, to speak to students and townspeople about press coverage of the Middle East. And I accepted the invitation, not least because I often feel that Southerners are the only Americans who can understand in their guts the core problem we face in Iraq. They are the only ones ever to have felt the corrosive humiliation of occupation, in their case by northern forces after the Civil War. And the memory of that experience, even 142 years after Appomattox, still informs -- some would say inflames -- their view of the world. [complete article]
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146 Shiite pilgrims killed in Iraq attacks
By Ernesto Londono and Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, March 7, 2007

At least 146 Shiite pilgrims were killed in a series of attacks across central Iraq on Tuesday, a wave of violence on the eve of one of Shiite Islam's most sacred holidays that appeared intended to widen Iraq's sectarian divide.

Attacks continued Wednesday when at least 11 more people were killed by bombs and gunfire as they trekked toward a Muslim shrine for this weekend's holiday, the Associated Press reported.

A Sunni insurgent group asserted responsibility for the carnage, which occurred three weeks into a U.S. and Iraqi effort to bring security to Baghdad and other parts of the country. [complete article]

See also, Pilgrims ask, 'What is our guilt?' (WP).
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What We know about waste and war in Iraq
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, March 6, 2007

Let's start with the obvious waste. We know that hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have lost their lives since the Bush administration invaded their country in March 2003, that almost two million may have fled to other countries, and that possibly millions more have been displaced from their homes in ethnic-cleansing campaigns. We also know that an estimated 4.5 million Iraqi children are now malnourished and that this is but "the tip of the iceberg" in a country where diets are generally deteriorating, while children are dying of preventable diseases in significant numbers; that the Iraqi economy is in ruins and its oil industry functioning at levels significantly below its worst moments in Saddam Hussein's day -- and that there is no end in sight for any of this.

We know that, while the new crew of American military officials in Baghdad are starting to tout the "successes" of the President's "surge" plan, they actually fear a collapse of support at home within the next half-year, believe they lack the forces necessary to carry out their own plan, and doubt its ultimate success. What a tragic waste. [complete article]

President cites 'encouraging signs' from new Iraq plan
By Michael Abramowitz and Jonathan Weisman, Washington Post, March 7, 2007

President Bush said yesterday that there are "encouraging signs" that his new strategy in Iraq is working and bluntly challenged a divided Congress to provide funding for the war with no restrictions on commanders.

The president's appraisal, his first detailed assessment of the war since unveiling his new plan for Iraq on Jan. 10, was immediately attacked by congressional Democrats as a new attempt to raise false hopes about a deteriorating situation in Iraq. Advisers said Bush's comments were based on briefings from commanders on the ground and were designed to counter the argument from many Democrats on Capitol Hill that his Iraq strategy is destined to fail. [complete article]
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Sunnis will not be persuaded that Iran is their real enemy
By Azzam Tamimi, The Guardian, March 7, 2007

Despite the horrific failure of its adventures in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, the US is now said to be preparing to attack Iran. Meanwhile, all disputes in the Middle East have suddenly turned into sectarian conflicts and Iran is portrayed as the main culprit. Nothing now seems comprehensible to the western media and political establishments unless seen through the prism of Iranian ambitions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and even more distant conflicts such as Somalia and Darfur. Opponents of Iran and of whomever Iran is thought to support in the region no longer want us to see US interventions as the main issue - let alone the primary cause of the mayhem enveloping the entire Middle East. [complete article]

See also, Iran to attend conference on Iraq (AP).
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Israel responds cautiously to PA offer of truce for end to boycott
By Avi Issacharoff and Aluf Benn, Haaretz, March 7, 2007

Israel responded cautiously Wednesday to a Palestinian offer for a complete cease-fire if Jerusalem supports an end to the international aid boycott imposed on the Palestinians following Hamas' victory in the January 2006 parliamentary elections.

A senior Hamas official told Haaretz on Tuesday that if Israel agrees to persuade the international community not to boycott the new Palestinian unity government, the Palestinians "will offer a promise from Hamas and Fatah of a total cease-fire with Israel, including a complete halt to Qassam [rocket] fire and suicide bombings."

But said Prime Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisen, "We need to see that you can actually implement the ceasefire [in Gaza] before we can consider an extension." [complete article]

Who makes the decisions in Hamas?
By Saleh al Naeimi, Asharq Alawsat, March 3, 2007

[Dr. Yahya Moussa, the second in line in the Hamas bloc in the Legislative Council said that] the decisions made within Hamas' consultative institutions are based on unanimity rather than the rule of the majority, describing the objective behind these decisions to be: achieving the most unanimity within the ranks of the movement. He added that, "If we were to presume that the Hamas leadership in the prisons have a different opinion than the other three areas, it doesn't automatically follow that we go with the majority's opinion. Instead, we try in every possible way to reach an independent decision to unite us, which guarantees the solidarity and unity of the movement."

Moussa stated that any decision made always takes into consideration the internal, region and international climates, but that in all cases the considerations that govern the movement are those concerning the Palestinian national interest. Moreover, he added that Hamas forms its relations with all other parties based on its assessment of the extent of positive returns for the Palestinian national interest.

Odwan cites the Mecca Declaration as an example to illustrate a model for decision-making within Hamas, pointing out that the preparations leading to the agreement with Fatah towards forming a national unity government started long before the meeting was held in Mecca. He said that Hamas' Shura institutions had defined the maximum- and minimum- ceilings of demands that the movement would insist upon in any of the scenarios so that the distance between the two extremes would create room for maneuver for those involved in the negotiation process. [complete article]
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Rift splits Fatah as Barghouti and Dahlan vie for leadership
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, March 6, 2007

Infighting among leading members of Fatah, on all levels, is preventing the embattled organization from closing ranks in its struggle against Hamas.

A major struggle seems to be unfolding over control of Fatah's grass roots between jailed Marwan Barghouti and Gaza-based strongman Mohammed Dahlan.

Barghouti supporters say Dahlan is trying to undermine the position of the jailed leader within the organization. They say Dahlan is wary of Barghouti's strength in any future leadership bid and is therefore trying to distance him from decision making. [complete article]
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Ben-Eliezer cancels Egypt visit amid row over 1967 war charges
By Haaretz, March 6, 2007

Infrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer has cancelled his scheduled visit to Egypt in the wake of a row over media reports - denied by Ben-Eliezer - that during the 1967 Six-Day War, troops under his command executed 250 captured Egyptian soldiers.

Ben-Eliezer was to have met with Egyptian Chief of Intelligence Omar Suleiman Thursday. An aide to Ben-Eliezer confirmed the cancellation on Monday.

The allegations arose from media reports of material included in "Ruach Shaked" [The Spirit of Shaked] a documentary film by Israeli journalist Ron Edelist. The film aired on Israel Channel 1 television last week. [complete article]
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How the Saudis stole a march on the U.S.
By Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, March 5, 2007

...Elliott Abrams - the architect of US policy in the Middle East - was growing increasingly irritated with Rice's attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian talks. Abrams, supported by officials in the Office of the Vice President, had consistently argued that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a morass better left in the hands of the Israelis. That viewpoint was clear from the first days of the administration of President George W Bush, when Vice President Dick Cheney knocked down any attempt to re-engage with Israelis and Palestinians.

A Republican Party stalwart describes Cheney's views in blunt terms: "People would come to Bush and say we have to get focused on the peace process, and Cheney would sit there and say, 'Mr President, don't do it. These people have been fighting for 50 years. To hell with them. And look at what happened to [former president Bill] Clinton when he tried. It just got worse.' And Bush would nod his head and that would be the end of the discussion."

The NSC's concerns over Rice had deepened with reports that she had gone directly to Bush on a number of foreign-policy issues, circumventing both Abrams and Cheney. While it is traditional for a US secretary of state to confer directly with a president, Abrams, Rice and State Department official David Welch (the assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs) had formed a seemingly unbreakable triumvirate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the wake of the Hamas election victory last year, the three had authored a program supporting Fatah cadres in the West Bank and Gaza opposed to the Hamas government and successfully recruited Arab governments to join in a program of shipping lethal and non-lethal aide to anti-Hamas Fatah militias (see "Elliot Abrams uncivil war", Conflicts Forum, January 7). Now it appeared to Abrams that that program was being sidetracked; not only was Rice talking about restarting the peace process with Abu Mazen, but the US Congress had put US$86 million of aid to Fatah on hold over fears that some of the materiel could be used against Israel.

Even more disturbing, the NSC had been monitoring reports that Hamas leader Khalid Meshaal and Abu Mazen were on the verge of forming a unity government - a government that Bush had explicitly warned Abu Mazen against during his meeting with the Palestinian president in October on the sidelines of a United Nations Security Council meeting. [complete article]
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Portents of joy for the Palestinians
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, March 6, 2007

In this context [-- with the formation of a Palestinian unity government and the anticipated release of Gilad Shalit, parallel to the first stage of the release of hundreds of Palestinian security prisoners --], it is desirable for the government of Israel to decide to release the secretary general of Fatah in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti. It's the right opportunity to do so, as opined by Environmental Protection Minister Gideon Ezra, whose remarks have been given prominent play in the Palestinian media: "I know Barghouti well, and I know that he has the ability to strengthen Fatah and Abu Mazen."

Publicity like this does not always help Abu Mazen or the Fatah movement. If we assume the Palestinian unity government will not last and will fall apart shortly (a common assumption), another election race in the PA will be unavoidable. Then, the demand for Barghouti's release will grow, because only Barghouti is capable of coping with Hamas, and Israel might as well release him.

But freeing him in such circumstances could backfire. The Palestinian street could see such a move as a crude intervention in their elections and an attempt to dictate their vote - and will do the opposite. That is, they will vote for Hamas and trip up Barghouti. There is much discussion of such a possibility among Barghouti and acquaintances who visit him frequently in prison. Barghouti has been telling them that if Israel frees him so he can run against Hamas, he will refuse to be released. [complete article]
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France calls for closer EU-Palestinian ties
By Daniel Dombey and Harvey Morris, Financial Times, March 5, 2007

France pushed on Monday for the European Union to step up preparations for deeper ties with a Palestinian government of national unity – despite misgivings from countries such as Germany and the Netherlands.

The move came as Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority president, called for a "more even-handed" approach from the EU and accused Israel of "provocative and illegal actions".

The question of whether to resume contacts with and direct funding for the Palestinian Authority is set to race up the EU's agenda as the rival Fatah and Hamas factions move closer to working together. [complete article]
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Israel, Iran top 'negative list'
BBC News, March 6, 2007

A majority of people believe that Israel and Iran have a mainly negative influence in the world, a poll for the BBC World Service suggests. It shows that the two countries are closely followed by the United States and North Korea.

The poll asked 28,000 people in 27 countries to rate a dozen countries plus the EU in terms of whether they have a positive or negative influence. Canada, Japan and the EU are viewed most positively in the survey. [complete article]
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The enemy of my enemy
By Dilip Hiro, The Guardian, March 6, 2007

The Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's eight-hour trip to Riyadh on Saturday to meet King Abdullah marked an important milestone in the relations between their countries, which in the past have oscillated between competition and cooperation.

After their talks, centred round Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinians, the two leaders displayed mutual warmth as they embraced and smiled to cameras.

This enabled Ahmadinejad to declare on his return to Tehran that,
"Both Iran and Saudi Arabia are aware of the enemies' conspiracies. We decided to take measures to confront such plots. Hopefully, this will strengthen Muslim countries against oppressive pressure by the imperialist front."
Allowing for the customary bluster with which Ahmadinejad expresses himself, it seems that he and the Saudi king resolved to counter the efforts being made to accentuate Sunni-Shia relations in Iraq and Lebanon for the good of the region in particular and the Muslim world at large. [complete article]
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Webb bill limits Iran fight
By Christina Bellantoni, Washington Times, March 6, 2007

Freshman Sen. James H. Webb Jr. yesterday introduced legislation to force President Bush to seek congressional authorization before using force against Iran.

Democratic leaders, who indicated general support for the Virginia Democrat's plan last week, are still deciding whether they will attach it to an upcoming spending bill.

"This presidency has shot from the hip too many times for us to be able to trust it to act on its own," said Mr. Webb, a decorated Vietnam veteran who won a hotly contested Senate race last fall in part because of his opposition to the Iraq war. "We need the Congress to be involved in any decision to commence military activities absent an attack from the other side or a direct threat."

The backdrop of the discussion is the continuing Capitol Hill debate over the Iraq war. Democrats are still negotiating details of what legislative proposals they will offer to try to block Mr. Bush's plan to send 21,500 more troops to Iraq.

Mr. Webb's proposal comes in the form of an amendment to the Bush administration's $100 billion supplemental war-spending request, which Congress will consider in the coming month. [complete article]

See also, Democrats alter plan to restrict Iraq war (WP), Congress has the power to make and end war - not to manage it (Noah Feldman and Samuel Issacharoff), and Will Iraq become the Democrats' war? (David Swanson).
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Analysts question need for boost in combat troops
By Bryan Bender, Boston Globe, March 5, 2007

Despite broad political support for President Bush's plan to expand US ground forces by 92,000 troops, a growing number of military strategists and defense specialists are questioning the need for so many more conventional combat forces.

They say the additional troops will not be available in time to relieve the strain on the Army and Marines from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there has been virtually no discussion in Washington on the purpose for the largest military expansion since the end of the Cold War.

The specialists, who represent a diverse set of viewpoints, fundamentally question whether maintaining a larger standing military -- 547,000 active-duty Army soldiers and 202,000 Marines once the new troops are added -- is the most effective way to fight smaller but lethally innovative groups of Islamic terrorists and other less traditional security threats.

"The global war on terrorism and Iraq are being used as lame rationales" for enlarging the military, said retired Lieutenant Colonel Frank Hoffman, a researcher at the Marine Corps Center for Emerging Threats and Opportunities in Quantico, Va. "Unless you think we will have more than six brigades in Iraq in 2012, I don't see how this is relevant."

Nonetheless, the president's call to increase the Army and Marine Corps by nearly 15 percent over the next five years -- at an initial cost of nearly $100 billion and at least $15 billion per year thereafter -- has received nearly universal support in a Congress dominated by Democrats. [complete article]

Comment -- If Congress is not filled with morons, it is at least filled with moronic discourse. The military is over-stretched. The answer must be to recruit more troops -- it's a no-brainer? No, it's a no-brain response, but if you're a Congressman it's much more important to look strong than act smart.
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Gates, the 'anti-Rumsfeld'
AP, March 6, 2007

After heading the Pentagon for less than three months, Robert Gates is showing an instinct for decisiveness without the reflex for defensiveness that was a hallmark of his sometimes prickly predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld.

In both style and substance, Gates is being called the "anti-Rumsfeld."

Gates has not been confronted with the kind of tough decisions that faced Rumsfeld in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, nor is he attempting to press as broad an agenda as did Rumsfeld, who took over as defense secretary in January 2001 with a mandate from President Bush to transform the military.

Yet in ways large and small Gates is displaying more pragmatism in managing the Pentagon, even as he faces the mammoth task of overseeing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has taken a less confrontational approach to the news media and has improved relations with Congress. And in some cases he has publicly criticized what happened on Rumsfeld's watch. [complete article]
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The North Korea intel botch is worse than you think
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, March 1, 2007

It's too bad that the U.S. political system offers no way to take a vote of "no confidence," because that describes the state we're living in now. We have come to the point where nothing that the Bush administration says can—or should—be trusted. That is, the government deserves no confidence.

This judgment (which many might view as laughably late) is sparked by stories in Thursday's New York Times and Washington Post quoting senior U.S. intelligence officials saying that North Korea might not have an enriched-uranium program after all.

The revelation is stunning on two levels. [complete article]
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Déjà vu all over again
By Daryl G. Kimball, Arms Control Today, March, 2007

The Cold War may be over, but the nuclear-armed missiles and suspicions remain. Now, Washington's plan to deploy ground-based missile interceptors in the former Eastern Bloc -- coupled with the expansion of NATO and the Bush administration's resistance to further offensive nuclear reductions -- are increasing Moscow’s anxieties about U.S. strategic missile capabilities.

U.S. officials say their anti-missile systems are designed to deal with a potential Iranian missile force not Russia's. They correctly note that even if 10 U.S.-controlled missile interceptors are eventually stationed in Poland, Russia's missiles could overwhelm and evade the defenses with far cheaper countermeasures.

Rather than simply dismiss Russia's complaints as an overreaction, U.S. and European leaders should engage Russia in a broad strategic dialogue and negotiate further, verifiable reductions in U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. If the situation is mishandled, it could revive dormant tensions and instability. [complete article]
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Soldiers testify over poor care at Walter Reed
By Michael Luo, New York Times, March 6, 2007

Members of Congress heard wrenching testimony on Monday from wounded soldiers treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and contrite promises from top Army officials to correct the conditions there.

The general who most recently commanded Walter Reed, a premier military hospital in Washington, and the Army’s surgeon general accepted responsibility for the situation faced by some wounded troops, including poor housing, neglect and a hopelessly complicated bureaucratic maze.

The Army officials said they were working to address the problems at Walter Reed and were examining the situation at other medical centers.

"We have let some soldiers down," said Pete Geren, the acting secretary of the Army, addressing the panel before the hearing began. [complete article]

UN: 4.5 million Iraqi children malnourished
IRIN, March 5, 2007

Apart from dodging bombs and bullets in their schools and neighborhoods, children in Iraq are suffering from worryingly high levels of malnourishment, according to specialists.

Poverty and insecurity are said to be the main causes of the children's deteriorating diets. Despite efforts by NGOs and the Iraqi government, violence and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of people are making it very difficult for monthly food rations to reach those families that need them most.

"We are displaced and have to change our place [because of spreading sectarian violence] every month, making it difficult for us to get our food rations. As a result, our children are constantly ill and are malnourished because we don't have enough money to afford good food," said Samira Abdel-Kareem, a mother-of-three who was forced to flee her Yarmouk neighbourhood of Baghdad to the outskirts of the city.

"I lost a child three months ago because of malnutrition. He was only two years old. I don't want to lose my other three children and hope someone can help us overcome this problem," she added. [complete article]

Comment -- Speaking on National Public Radio yesterday, the father of one Marine who suffered severe brain injuries after been shot in Iraq and has since received poor medical treatment in a VA hospital, said this, when asked what he would say to lawmakers about remedying the situation in the VA hospital system:
I could care less about building Iraqi schools overseas for the children over there -- my concern is to give these wounded warriors everything they need. I don't care about dollars and cents -- give these wounded warriors everything they need and deserve as American fighting warriors.
This sentiment is commonplace, understandable, yet it goes to the heart of why America now finds itself in this mess. Not only did the Bush administration launch a war without a plan, but the nation blindly supported the war on condition that it could effectively be insulated from its effects. If by some miracle the Pentagon could have ensured that not a single American soldier had been killed or injured in Iraq, it seems reasonable to assume that most Americans would now be blithely indifferent (as many now actually are) to the chaos, destruction and misery that the United States was instrumental in unleashing in Iraq.
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Brotherhood of the blog
By Marc Lynch, The Guardian, March 5, 2007

The recent wave of internet activism in Egypt has followed an increasingly familiar pattern. A series of blogs devoted to Egyptians arrested for their political beliefs has sprung up, linked together by a few highly trafficked hubs. Some of the the blogs focus on personal matters, describing the prisoners' families, lives and good works. Most feature embedded videos from the courtrooms and high resolution photos of grim security forces and passionate protestors. There are online petitions to sign, banners to exchange, and an attempt to forge broad ideological coalitions. But this is not the "Free Kareem" campaign that has captured international attention. Instead, the latest Egyptian bloggers and their subjects are from the Muslim Brotherhood, and the man whose freedom is being demanded is the second deputy chairman of the organization.

Over the last few months, young Muslim Brotherhood members have begun blogging in force. This sudden, dramatic development may come as a surprise to western observers, who generally assume that blogging empowers liberal, pro-western voices. And it's true that the first wave of Arab political blogging featured mostly westernized, relatively liberal voices writing in English - often brilliantly individual voices who made little claim to represent the broader political spectrum. Much coverage of the Arab blogosphere continues to focus on these voices, and the attention has helped generate impressive global campaigns in support of bloggers like Kareem, an anti-Islamist writer sentenced to four years in prison for his blogging, and Alaa Abd al-Fattah, who spent 40 days in prison for his political activism.

But the Arab political blogosphere has changed. Over the last couple of years, a new wave of more politically engaged bloggers has emerged, often writing in Arabic and deeply connected to local political campaigns. The young Bahraini bloggers who denounce repression against human rights NGOs, or the young Egyptians using blogs to support the Kefaya movement and expose police brutality still fit a recognizably liberal story of popular empowerment. But the Egyptian Muslim Brothers using the same blogging platforms and the same campaign strategies to raise awareness of the imprisonment and mistreatment of their brethren do not. [complete article]

Syrians search for freedom online
By Guy Taylor, Reason, February, 2007

Shortly after I arrived in Damascus last June, Amr Nazir Salem, the minister of telecommunications and technology, told me that would be "a great site to check out." Champress was a locally produced independent news website -- an example, he assured me, of Syria's advances in media freedom. I took his advice as evidence that the site must be government propaganda. But my interest was piqued a few days later, when I attempted to visit it from one of the city's many Internet cafés and found only a blank page.

It didn't make sense. Salem had admitted that the Syrian authorities block websites -- namely pro-Israel and hyper-Islamist ones, those run by the illegal Muslim Brotherhood, and those calling for autonomy for Syrian Kurds. But Champress, one of the very sites the government was recommending I visit? It was a small example of the paradoxes that abound in Syria, an authoritarian state whose government, which has long maintained ownership and control over the media, claims now to be intent on spreading information technology to the masses.

The last six years have seen an explosion of Internet use in Syria, with close to 1 million of the country's 18 million people now online, compared to just 30,000 in 2000. Outside observers say the surge will continue, with Syrian users "projected to exceed 1.7 million by 2009," according to a recent study by the Jordan-based Arab Advisors Group. Damascus writers are already churning out hundreds of blogs in English and Arabic as well as dozens of broader independent news-and-commentary sites like Champress. The websites are run from homes and from more than two dozen cyber-cafes, where it costs about $1 to spend an hour online.

The technology is advancing so quickly that it seems impossible for Syrian authorities to maintain their stranglehold on the free flow of local news and ideas. Yet the government’s obsession with manipulating the content of independent sites and its apparent desire to extend traditional media restrictions into cyberspace raise the question of whether the country's rulers merely seek to use the Internet as a tool to enhance their own power. [complete article]
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Settlers launch first drive in U.S. to sell homes
By Daphna Berman, Haaretz, March 3, 2007

A campaign launched this week to convince American Jews to buy homes in the West Bank is the first organized sales effort of its kind, activists from both sides of the political spectrum said.

Amana, the settlement arm of Gush Emunim, hosted housing fairs in New York and New Jersey this week and plans are underway for similar events in Miami and Chicago.

Never before have Diaspora Jews been asked to directly underwrite settlement expansion by either buying or financing the building of West Bank homes. But spurred by what they have termed a successful start, Amana has set its sights on Jewish communities throughout the U.S., with hopes of expanding the new and somewhat surprising trend. [complete article]
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International aid agency: 80 percent of Gazans now rely on food aid
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, March 4, 2007

Eighty percent of Gazans receive food aid from the World Food Program or from UNRWA, WFP spokesperson Kirstie Campbell says, "and without it they are liable to starve."

The dozens of laborers who used to cross into Israel every day to work also found themselves unemployed as a result of laws prohibiting them from working and the construction of the separation barrier.

WFP officials refer to the people affected by these developments "the new poor," former members of the middle class who lost their source of income. Some were able to find other jobs, but the case of the Hassein family is particularly complex. [complete article]
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Arab Bank accused of funding terrorists
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2007

A three-year investigation into the activities of one of the Middle East's largest and most influential banks is producing extensive evidence of how tens of millions of dollars have flowed from wealthy Saudi Arabians to Palestinian groups that allegedly used some of the money to pay off suicide bombers and their survivors.

The information being turned up by government inquiries and lawyers suing Arab Bank "will give people a better understanding of the way money moves in that part of the world to support Hamas" and other militant groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, said Stephen Kroll, a terrorism finance specialist and until recently counsel to the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs.

"It's important in focusing the public's attention on the issue of what is and what is not acceptable for banks to be involved in," Kroll said. [complete article]
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I am not a state secret
By Khaled El-Masri, Los Angeles Times, March 3, 2007

On New Year's Eve in 2003, I was seized at the border of Serbia and Macedonia by Macedonian police who mistakenly believed that I was traveling on a false German passport. I was detained incommunicado for more than three weeks. Then I was handed over to the American Central Intelligence Agency and was stripped, severely beaten, shackled, dressed in a diaper, injected with drugs, chained to the floor of a plane and flown to Afghanistan, where I was imprisoned in a foul dungeon for more than four months.

Long after the American government realized that I was an entirely innocent man, I was blindfolded, put back on a plane, flown to Europe and left on a hilltop in Albania — without any explanation or apology for the nightmare that I had endured.

My story is well known. It has been described in literally hundreds of newspaper articles and television news programs — many of them relying on sources within the U.S. government. It has been the subject of numerous investigations and reports by intergovernmental bodies, including the European Parliament. Most recently, prosecutors in my own country of Germany are pursuing indictments against 13 CIA agents and contractors for their role in my kidnapping, abuse and detention. Although I never could have imagined it, and certainly never wished it, I have become the public face of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program.

Why, then, does the American government insist that my ordeal is a state secret? [complete article]
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Would air strikes work?
Understanding Iran's nuclear programme and the possible consequences of a military strike
[27-page PDF]

By Dr. Frank Barnaby, with a foreword by Dr. Hans Blix, Oxford Research Group, March , 2007

The prospect of a nuclear Iran causes acute concern not only in the UnitedStates and Israel, but also in Europe, the Middle East and most of the rest of the world. Recent indications from the USA point towards possible military strikes against Iranian nuclear and military targets. The aim of such strikes would be to put back by many years any ambitions elements in the Iranian regime may have for nuclear weapons.

This report is an assessment of:
-- What is known of Iran's nuclear programme.
-- How that programme could be diverted towards military ends.
-- Whether military strikes would succeed in preventing Iran getting a nuclear weapon.
Frank Barnaby concludes that far from stopping Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, military attacks would probably accelerate Iran's nuclear programme.

The reasons for this counter-intuitive outcome are that:
-- Limited intelligence about Iran's nuclear programme means that many hundreds of strikes would still not destroy all nuclear related facilities and materials.
-- Iran could then move from a gradual and relatively open nuclear programme, to a clandestine crash nuclear weapons programme using secret facilities, salvaged materials, and possibly procuring supplies from the black market, outside of Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty controls.
-- Under crash nuclear weapons programme conditions, Iran could build a nuclear weapon within two years if the decision was made. Which is less time than the evidence suggests Iran could manage with the current programme.
In the long-term, the report concludes, Iran cannot be deterred from attaining a nuclear weapons capability by bombing its facilities. [complete briefing paper -- 27-page PDF]
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No U.S. backup strategy for Iraq
By Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, March 5, 2007

During a White House meeting last week, a group of governors asked President Bush and Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, about their backup plan for Iraq. What would the administration do if its new strategy didn't work?

The conclusion they took away, the governors later said, was that there is no Plan B. "I'm a Marine," Pace told them, "and Marines don't talk about failure. They talk about victory."

Pace had a simple way of summarizing the administration's position, Gov. Phil Bredesen (D-Tenn.) recalled. "Plan B was to make Plan A work." [complete article]

Basra raid finds dozens detained by Iraq spy unit
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, March 5, 2007

Iraqi special forces and British troops stormed the offices of an Iraqi government intelligence agency in the southern city of Basra on Sunday, and British officials said they discovered about 30 prisoners, some showing signs of torture.

The raid appeared to catch Iraq's central government by surprise and raised new questions about the rule of law in the Shiite-dominated south, where less than two weeks ago Britain announced plans for a significant reduction in its forces because of improved stability. [complete article]
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Resistance wears new look
By Dina Ezzat, Al-Ahram Weekly, March 1, 2007

The debate is still on. No one can tell whether or not Hamas will eventually say in plain words that it recognises the right of Israel to exist, relinquishes all militant resistance action, and accepts all past agreements signed between Palestinian leaders and Israel. These three demands, set out by the Quartet and Israel as pre-conditions for the resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, in some measure were met when Hamas agreed to be part of a national unity government that accepts these three principles. For Washington and Tel Aviv, however, this is not enough. Both capitals insist that Hamas as a movement must succumb.

Speaking at a press conference in Cairo Friday at the conclusion of a two-day visit, Khaled Meshal, Hamas politburo chief, refrained from fiery invective against the US and Israel. He was clear, however, and underlined, that it is the national unity government's position, not that of Hamas itself, that should matter to the international community. The stance of Hamas, as an Islamist resistance movement, should not be questioned either by Israel, an occupying power, or the US, which has been supportive of the occupation.

During this press conference and others made during a tour that also included Khartoum and Moscow, Meshal appeared keen to adopt a new language of compromise -- indeed, he reiterated the acceptance by Hamas of the idea of an independent Palestinian state on pre-1967 borders. Nonetheless, Meshal was unequivocal in his message that Hamas would by all means -- including resort to internationally legal resistance to occupation -- protect the interests of Palestinians should Israel fail to meet the Palestinians half-way. [complete article]

See also, Unity government in labour (Al-Ahram Weekly).

From rebel movement to political party: the case of the Islamic Resistance Movement
By Alastair Crooke, Conflicts Forum, March 4, 2007

The view held by many in the West that transformation from an armed resistance movement to political party should be linear, should be preceded by a renunciation of violence, should be facilitated by civil society and brokered by moderate politicians has little reality for the case of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas). This is not to suggest that Hamas has not been subject to a political transformation: it has. But that transformation has been achieved in spite of Western efforts and not facilitated by those efforts. While remaining a resistance movement, Hamas has become the government of the Palestinian Authority and has modified its military posture. But this transformation has taken a different course from the one outlined in traditional conflict resolution models. Hamas and other Islamist groups continue to see themselves as resistance movements, but increasingly they see the prospect that their organizations may evolve into political currents that are focused on non-violent resistance.

Standard conflict resolution models rely heavily on Western experience in conflict resolution and often ignore the differences of approach in the Islamic history of peace-making. Not surprisingly, the Hamas approach to political negotiation is different in style to that of the West. Also, as an Islamist movement that shares the wider optic of the impact of the West on their societies, Hamas has requirements of authenticity and legitimacy within its own constituency that bear on the importance attached to maintaining an armed capability. These factors, together with the overwhelming effect of long term conflict on a community's psychology (an aspect that receives little attention in Western models that put preponderant weight on political analysis), suggests that the transformation process for Hamas has been very different from the transformation of arms movements in traditional analysis. In addition, the harsh landscape of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict gives the Hamas experience its special characteristics. [complete article]
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Saudi king meets with Iranian president
By Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, March 5, 2007

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia concluded an extraordinary meeting early Sunday promising a thaw in relations between the two regional powers. But they stopped short of agreeing on any concrete plans to tackle the escalating sectarian and political crises throughout the Middle East.

Mr. Ahmadinejad said that the two countries had agreed to try to curb tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims and that they had discussed in detail issues related to the Palestinians and Iraq.

The leaders are believed to have focused on finding ways to end the political standoff in Lebanon between Hezbollah, backed by Iran, and the government of Fouad Siniora, which is supported by the United States.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's first official visit to Saudi Arabia, which began Saturday, was marked by decidedly public shows of warmth and friendship between the leaders, as the men embraced, at times held hands in an Arab sign of close friendship, and smiled to cameras. The event marked the culmination of months of diplomatic efforts between senior Saudi and Iranian officials to ease the political standoff in Lebanon, cool sectarian violence in Iraq and possibly avert a looming Iranian confrontation with the United States. [complete article]

Comment -- Although I've used the International Herald Tribune's headline for this article, the Times' own headline reads, "Saudi-Iran meeting yields little substance."

It's a curious and particularly irritating habit of the Times' editors to use news headlines as an adjunct to its editorial positions. In this instance, Hassan Fattah's reporting is studiously impartial yet underlines the great significance of the mere fact that President Ahmadinejad and King Abdullah met. The Times' editors, on the other hand, clearly want the paper's cursory readers to conclude that the meeting was of little consequence. Why else use a headline that in effect says, "Don't bother reading this article -- nothing happened"?

Contrary to neither Washington's expectations (or desires) nor those of the elite's lapdogs at the New York Times, Saudi Arabia is emerging as a pivotal force in Middle East diplomacy by promoting the idea that the leaders of the Middle East can solve the problems of the Middle East. It's an idea that the West has long treated with contempt, yet it's also an idea that poses a threat -- it suggests that the United States and Europe do not in fact have an indispensable role in redefining the region. That means that the West, rather than seeing itself as the instrument of change, needs to assume a supportive rather than directive role. In other words, stop treating the people of the Middle East as though they are remedial students struggling to live up to Western standards.
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More civilians die in Afghanistan
BBC News, March 5, 2007

Nine Afghan civilians have been killed in a bombing raid in Kapisa province, Afghan officials say. US forces have confirmed carrying out an air strike in the area but say they have no accurate casualty information. The news comes shortly after US forces were accused of killing 10 civilians during a shoot out on Sunday in Nangarhar province.

Journalists say US troops confiscated their photos and video footage of the aftermath of the violence.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Kabul says the international mission to Afghanistan is to help the government and the people. But heavy fighting and suicide attacks have led to the death of thousands of innocent people over the past year. [complete article]
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Pakistan walks fine line with capture of high-level Taliban leader
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, March 5, 2007

The unconfirmed arrest on Friday of the Taliban's former defense minister, Mullah Obaidullah Akhund, could backfire for Islamabad, analysts here say, offering the most salient evidence to date of what Pakistan has long denied: that its soil is a sanctuary for Taliban leaders and their fighters.

The Pakistani government has yet to officially confirm the arrest, which was leaked to the media by anonymous government sources over the weekend. But, if true, it is the highest-level arrest of a Taliban commander on Pakistani soil since the Taliban's ouster in 2001.

The controversy sharpens rising concern, both here and abroad, that Pakistan could be playing a dangerous game of duplicity, appeasing Washington with high-profile arrests while refusing to sever fully its ties to old Taliban allies.

Sept. 11 was supposed to witness a dramatic U-turn in Pakistan's policy toward the Taliban, which it had supported for years as a tool for leverage in Afghanistan. Mr. Akhund's arrest on Pakistani soil is now reheating a debate as whether or not that ever happened. [complete article]
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Mid-East vow to curb sectarianism
BBC News, March 4, 2007

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah have agreed to work together to fight sectarian strife in the Middle East. The announcement followed a visit by Mr Ahmadinejad to Riyadh for rare talks.

Speaking on his return to Tehran, he said the two countries would stand together against "enemy plots" seeking to divide the Muslim world. [complete article]

Iran denies Saudi report it supports Arab peace plan
Haaretz, March 4, 2007

A spokesman for the Iranian presidency on Sunday denied that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had expressed support for the 2002 Arab peace initiative during talks with Saudi officials, as reported by Saudi Arabia's official news agency.

"During the summit, no discussions were held in this regard," Spokesman Ehsan Jahandideh told IRNA, the Iranian news agency.

Under the Saudi peace plan, adopted at an Arab League summit in Beirut in March 2002, Arab states would normalize relations with Israel in exchange for its withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. [complete article]

Comment -- Ever since Iran reached out to the United States with the framework for a "grand bargain" in 2003, it has been understood that Tehran might be willing to accept the 2002 Arab initiative for an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The cornerstone of that proposal requires an Israeli withdrawal from all territories occupied since 1967. Today's earlier reports -- in spite of subsequent denials -- suggest that Iran's support for this initiative remains a possibility.

In a way, a Saudi-Iranian alliance based around this peace initiative is probably the worst thing imaginable from the vantage point of the Israel lobby. If Iran gave its full support to the initiative, it seems likely that the strained but unified front presented by Europe and the United States in support of Israel would start to crumble. In that event, those whose machinations in recent years have revolved around the consolidation of a Greater Israel, would see their dream greatly imperiled. Their only hope would be that Sunni-Shia tensions become further inflamed and what better way is there to foster that hope than by pounding away at the claim that Iran poses a threat to the whole region -- and for that matter the whole world.

The Rice-promoted "political horizon" for resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict might seem like the glue for cementing a "moderate" alliance in opposition to Islamic extremism, yet an Arab-Iranian alliance could provide a much shorter route to Middle East peace. The crucial question is whether Israel can reconcile itself to the idea of reversing the territorial expansion it has been advancing for the last 40 years.
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Israel hardens its peace terms ahead of Saudi Arab summit
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, March 3, 2007

Israel has begun staking out its minimum conditions for any attempt by "moderate" Arab regimes to advance a peace process with the Palestinians, in the apparent hope of influencing a Saudi-convened Arab summit later this month.

Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, told the Palestinian newspaper Al Ayyam that "it was impossible to accept" the Saudi-inspired peace plan launched at the Beirut Arab League summit five years ago "in its current formulation". [complete article]

See also, Israel, U.S. to continue to fight flow of arms to terror groups (Haaretz).
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Iran poised to strike in wealthy Gulf states
By Colin Freeman, Sunday Telegraph, March 4, 2007

Iran has trained secret networks of agents across the Gulf states to attack Western interests and incite civil unrest in the event of a military strike against its nuclear programme, a former Iranian diplomat has told The Sunday Telegraph.

Spies working as teachers, doctors and nurses at Iranian-owned schools and hospitals have formed sleeper cells ready to be "unleashed" at the first sign of any serious threat to Teheran, it is claimed.

Trained by Iranian intelligence services, they are also said to be recruiting fellow Shias in the region, whose communities have traditionally been marginalised by the Gulf's ruling Sunni Arab clans.

Were America or Israel to attack Iran, such cells would be instructed to foment long-dormant sectarian grievances and attack the ex-tensive American and European business interests in wealthy states such as Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Such a scenario would bring chaos to the Gulf, one of the few areas of the Middle East that remains prosperous and has largely pro-Western governments. [complete article]
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Sects slice up Iraq as U.S. troops 'surge' misfires
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, March 4, 2007

Ahmad Hamad al-Tammimi used to live in the village of Quba. Before Iraq descended into sectarian war it was home to around 700 families. The vast majority were Sunnis. Tammimi, spiritual head of Diyala province's Shias and a follower of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq's most important religious leader, was the imam at the local mosque. He farmed groves of date palms and oranges close to the Diyala river. That was then. He has not seen his house, his farm or old mosque for close to two years.

'I get my information from a moderate Sunni family that lives in Quba,' he said. 'There is another family in my house. A Sunni family. Other people have taken over my groves. People from outside the village. Now I hear they have allowed my plants to dry up and wither.'

The Shias have left Quba, pushed out of their homes over two years of gradual, deadly ethnic cleansing that is now almost complete. Sectarian deaths are decreasing because there are few people left available to kill. [complete article]

Marriages between sects come under siege in Iraq
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, March 4, 2007

The note was slipped under the door of May Mahmoud's shop. Neatly typed on a computer, it read: "You must leave your home. We give you three days. Or we will kill you." It was addressed to her husband.

He was a Shiite Muslim. But she was a Sunni. Where would they go?

They fled from their mostly Sunni neighborhood to his mother's house in a nearby Shiite enclave. Within months, as Sunni insurgents pushed into that area, another death threat arrived at the shop. It was time to leave again. As she told the story, Mahmoud's voice shook, not out of anger, but despair.

"From that point on, our life became like hell," she said. [complete article]

In Baghdad, sectarian lines too deadly to cross
By Damien Cave, New York Times, March 4, 2007

After centuries full of vibrant interaction, of marrying, sharing and selling across sects and classes, Baghdad has become a capital of corrosive and violent borderlines. Streets never crossed. Conversations never started. Doors never entered.

Sunnis and Shiites in many professions now interact almost exclusively with colleagues of the same sect. Sunnis say they are afraid to visit hospitals because Shiites loyal to the cleric Moktada al-Sadr run the Health Ministry, while Shiite laborers who used to climb into the back of pickup trucks for work across the Tigris River in Sunni western Baghdad now take jobs only near home.

The goal of the new Baghdad security plan is to fix all of this -- to fashion a peace that stitches the city's cleaved neighborhoods back together. After three weeks, there are a few signs of progress. The number of bodies found daily has decreased to 20 or fewer from 35 to 50. In some areas closely patrolled by American troops, a few of the families that fled the violence are said to be returning.

But even in neighborhoods that are improving or are relatively calm, borders loom. Streets once crossed without a thought are now bullet-riddled and abandoned, the front lines of a block-by-block war among Shiite militias, Sunni insurgents, competing criminal gangs and Iraqi and American troops. [complete article]
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Sadr disavows a planned U.S.-Iraqi crackdown
By Tina Susman and Raheem Salman, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2007

Days before U.S. and Iraqi troops are expected to establish a permanent presence in the Shiite stronghold named for his father, the anti-American cleric Muqtada Sadr stepped up his rhetoric against the plan Saturday.

Sadr, in a statement issued by associates, did not threaten force against the troops, but he rejected U.S. and Iraqi officials' statements in the last week that negotiations had cleared the way for the establishment of the joint security station in Sadr City.

Sadr's words carry huge weight in Sadr City, a teeming poverty-stricken area in northeast Baghdad, and his opposition to the presence of American soldiers could throw a wrench into plans to set up the station.

Just hours before Sadr's office issued its statement, dozens of civic leaders in Sadr City met to discuss the security plan. They said they would cooperate with it but also issued a written statement urging U.S. troops to leave Iraq as soon as possible. Failing that, they said, U.S. forces should "come into Islam and declare publicly taking Islam as their religion." [complete article]

See also, U.S., Iraqi troops begin security sweep in Sadr City (WP).
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Iraq violence takes toll on aid groups
By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, March 4, 2007

First it was the curfew. Then the checkpoints and the car bombs. Later, it was the Iraqis' fear of being seen entering a compound occupied by foreigners.

Eventually, for the U.S. nonprofit organization training Iraqi healthcare workers, the risks outweighed the returns. Iraqis couldn't come to them. Americans couldn't go to the Iraqis.

So to avoid working in Baghdad, RTI International moved classes to Jordan and Egypt, flying trainees back and forth.

RTI trained hundreds of Iraqis, who in turn trained thousands more when they returned to Iraq. But the hurdles they encountered along the way are typical of the challenges facing the handful of international aid and development organizations still working in Iraq. [complete article]
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Kabul's peril
By Michael Hirsh and Sami Yousafzai, Newsweek, March 12, 2007

Dick Cheney was cool and collected, just as he had been on that September morning five years before when two Secret Service agents burst into his White House office and half-carried him into the bunker. Last week the vice president found himself under attack again -- and rushed into a bomb shelter by his Secret Service detail. Only this time Cheney was in Afghanistan, and the perpetrators were the resurgent Taliban. "I was sitting in my quarters when I heard a loud boom," Cheney recalled later to a small group of reporters accompanying him on his weeklong trip to Asia. "Shortly after, the Secret Service came in and said there had apparently been an attack on the main gate."

When the barbarians are at the gate, it may be time to get serious. The Feb. 27 attack on Baghram air base during Cheney's surprise visit was the most vivid reminder to date that, half a decade after they were supposedly vanquished, the Taliban is back in force, along with its onetime Qaeda guests. And the jihadists are now confident enough to launch a frontal suicide assault on the main U.S. stronghold in South Asia. Cheney shrugged off the attack, which killed 23 people including a U.S. soldier, noting that it did not affect his plans to visit the badly weakened Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, later that day in Kabul. "Never an option," he told reporters before he boarded his plane home carrying a thick book ("A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900," by the Tory historian Andrew Roberts). Even so, Cheney's visit was ordered by a worried President George W. Bush, who announced two weeks ago that he was extending the deployment of 3,200 U.S. troops in Afghanistan amid a doubling of the size of the Afghan Army. The Bush team's main concern now is that the Taliban's "spring offensive" could topple Karzai or turn him into a more isolated figure, hunkered down in Kabul. [complete article]
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How Barack Obama learned to love Israel
By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, March 4, 2007

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the The Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"

But Obama's gradual shift into the AIPAC camp had begun as early as 2002 as he planned his move from small time Illinois politics to the national scene. In 2003, Forward reported on how he had "been courting the pro-Israel constituency." He co-sponsored an amendment to the Illinois Pension Code allowing the state of Illinois to lend money to the Israeli government. Among his early backers was Penny Pritzker -- now his national campaign finance chair -- scion of the liberal but staunchly Zionist family that owns the Hyatt hotel chain. (The Hyatt Regency hotel on Mount Scopus was built on land forcibly expropriated from Palestinian owners after Israel occupied East Jerusalem in 1967). He has also appointed several prominent pro-Israel advisors. [complete article]
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Confessions of a torturer
By John Conroy, Chicago Reader, March 2, 2007

Lagouranis says the MPs didn't know anything about individual detainees, most of whom, in Lagouranis's estimation, had nothing to do with the insurgency. "The MPs don't read the paperwork, they don't talk to the guy, they don't know anything about it, other than they think this is a guy who’s been mortaring us and so they hate him. They'll abuse him if they can. They can do that in many ways. They can refuse his request for medical attention, refuse his request to go to the bathroom -- that was really common -- refuse his request for a blanket."

He says, "We had a lot of prisoners to deal with . . . so most of the prisoners didn't get the full treatment for as long as the warrant officer would have liked. But there were two brothers in particular that we were going on pretty hard. . . . We had some significant evidence on these guys which was so rare—we almost never had evidence on anybody. . . . We went on them hard for almost a month, I think, and these guys were just completely broken down, physically, mentally, by the end of it. One guy walked like a 90-year-old man when he was done. He was an ex-army guy, he was a real healthy young man when he came in, and by the end he was a mess. Psychologically they couldn't focus on things. Their emotions would change all the time. They were obviously showing signs of deterioration."

If a man can't focus, can he answer questions? "It made interrogation harder, but we weren’t getting information from these guys anyway. The person who was ordering all this stuff, the chief warrant officer, he never saw these prisoners, so there was no way for him to understand what was going on." The warrant officer's response to a lack of information, Lagouranis says, was simply to add another layer of abuse. [complete article]

Comment -- In as much as the war in Iraq can be understood as an act of national vengeance, it's natural that individual soldiers would also be looking for their own opportunities to act out. If Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, an Iraqi detainee might likewise have nothing to do with the insurgency, yet in both instances the sought "other" was a Middle Eastern proxy - a person or a nation who could stand in place of a small group of attackers whose own immolation ensured that they would elude punishment.
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Independent reporting drew Army coverup, secrecy, delays
By Craig Pyes, Nieman Reports, March 2, 2007

Last year, the Los Angeles Times decided to undertake something quite unusual: The newspaper would conduct a parallel investigation to the one being undertaken by the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (CID) into how a small U.S. Special Forces detachment in Afghanistan could be tied to two detainee deaths and two apparent cover-ups in less than two weeks.

The Army's investigations had been launched initially in September 2004 after the Times and the Crimes of War Project, a Washington-based nonprofit educational organization, had revealed that a young Afghan soldier had died in the custody of the Special Forces team after allegations that he had been tortured. The Pentagon said it had no record of the death.

The Times's disclosures remain one of the rare instances since American troops went to Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 in which independent reporting has uncovered potential war crimes by U.S. servicemen that had apparently been covered up, not only from the public, but from the military itself. The Times's 2004 story was published just two months after the Army's inspector general had issued a detailed report on detainee abuse in Afghanistan and Iraq. Its conclusion: that it had found "no incidents of abuse that had not been reported through command channels."

And while the Times's story led to the Army launching two criminal probes, human rights organizations at the same time were raising questions about the relatively low number of successful military prosecutions in criminal homicide and prisoner abuse cases and whether the military is capable of policing itself in times of war. [complete article]
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Nuclear warhead plan draws opposition
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, March 4, 2007

The selection of a basic design for what could become a new generation of U.S. nuclear warheads has drawn immediate opposition from some key members of Congress.

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced on Friday that it had selected a design by the California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). It would be the first of a new generation of secure and reliable nuclear warheads initially intended for the Navy's submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Within the next 12 months, a team from Livermore and the Navy is to put together cost estimates and an engineering and production plan that would be presented to Congress next year for approval, according to acting NNSA Administrator Thomas P. D'Agostino. [complete article]
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Officials: Abbas, Hamas forces expanding despite unity deal
Reuters, March 4, 2007

Forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the ruling Hamas movement are pushing ahead with expansion plans despite a unity government deal, Palestinian and Western officials said.

Workmen in the West Bank city of Jericho said they have stepped up construction of a 16-acre base for Abbas's presidential guard and are putting the finishing touches to a "college" for his intelligence service.

Since the power-sharing deal between Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas Islamists was signed on February 8 in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the presidential guard has set up a makeshift camp on newly-appropriated land next to the Karni commercial crossing in Gaza and has started training recruits there. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Time for détente with Iran
By Ray Takeyh, Foreign Affairs, February 27, 2007

The Iraq insurgency for beginners
Evan Kohlmann interviewed by Kevin Berger, Salon, March 2, 2007

The Iraq effect: war has increased terrorism sevenfold worldwide
By Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, Mother Jones, March 1, 2007

Will we suffer from the Iraq Syndrome?
By Ira Chernus, TomDispatch, March 1, 2007

Ghost prisoner: two years in secret CIA detention
Human Rights Watch, February, 2007

Watching Afghanistan fall
By Matthew Cole, Salon, February 27, 2007

America's Musharraf dilemma
By Najum Mushtaq, Foreign Policy in Focus, February 28, 2007

Israeli Arab group proposes new 'multi-cultural' constitution
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, February 28, 2007

U.S.'s Iraq oil grab is a done deal
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, February 28, 2007
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