The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
A bitter legacy
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, March 30, 2007

If the 15 British sailors currently held by Iran's revolutionary guards are shocked by the hostility to Britain shown by their captors, it will be less surprising to British diplomats engaged in the delicate process of securing their release. Hostility to all things British is, as every foreign office mandarin knows, the default mode of Iran's staunchly anti-western political leadership. From its perspective, Britain - along with America - is in the vanguard of "global arrogance", Iranian political shorthand for the contemporary western interventionism whose alleged goal is to dominate and control the resources of developing nations such as Iran.

But this is not just President Ahmadinejad. The antipathy goes back to colonial times, and the long and tortured history of British intervention in Iran.

This anti-British sentiment is shared by ordinary Iranians. Its resonance defies boundaries of age, education, social class or political affiliation. In the eyes of a broad cross-section of the population, Britain - as much, or even more than, the US - is the real enemy. Four decades after the sun set on its imperial might, the Machiavellian instincts of the "old coloniser" are believed to be alive, well and still acting against the interests of Iran. For every mishap - whether a bombing, rising living costs or simply the advent of an unpopular government - a hidden British hand is often thought to be at work.

I first became aware of this conviction 18 months ago on a visit to Ahvaz, capital of the south-western province of Khuzestan. A bomb attack - the latest in a series - had killed six people in the city's main street. The incident seemed to be linked to Arab separatists in the mainly Arabic-speaking province, but the Iranian authorities blamed Britain, pointing to the British military presence across the border in southern Iraq. Eulogists at public mourning ceremonies organised by the revolutionary guards railed against "criminal England". [complete article]

See also, Sharp words from UK have hardened Tehran's resolve (The Independent).
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A peculiar outrage
By Ronan Bennett, The Guardian, March 30, 2007

It's right that the government and media should be concerned about the treatment the 15 captured marines and sailors are receiving in Iran. Faye Turney's letters bear the marks of coercion, while parading the prisoners in front of TV cameras was demeaning. But the outrage expressed by ministers and leader writers is curious given the recent record of the "coalition of the willing" on the way it deals with prisoners.

Turney may have been "forced to wear the hijab", as the Daily Mail noted with fury, but so far as we know she has not been forced into an orange jumpsuit. Her comrades have not been shackled, blindfolded, forced into excruciating physical contortions for long periods, or denied liquids and food. As far as we know they have not had the Bible spat on, torn up or urinated on in front of their faces. They have not had electrodes attached to their genitals or been set on by attack dogs.

They have not been hung from a forklift truck and photographed for the amusement of their captors. They have not been pictured naked and smeared in their own excrement. They have not been bundled into a CIA-chartered plane and secretly "rendered" to a basement prison in a country where torturers are experienced and free to do their worst. [complete article]
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Boundary dispute seen as root of Iranian seizure of British sailors
By Jim Teeple, VOA, March 29, 2007

Britain continues to insist that it was within Iraqi territorial waters when Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized two small patrol craft and 15 sailors and marines. Iran maintains the boats were in Iranian waters. As VOA correspondent Gary Thomas reports, the waters in question have long been a point of dispute between Iran and Iraq.

With modern navigation devices such as the Global Positioning System (GPS) a ship can determine its position down to scant meters, a far cry from the days when ships navigated by a sextant and the stars.

But as Craig Murray, former chief of the Maritime Section of Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, points out, even the most sophisticated navigational devices are of no help in the current British-Iranian dispute because there is no clearly demarcated boundary. [complete article]

See also, Discord over gulf borders runs deep (LAT).
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Senate sets stage for Iraq face-off
By Peter Baker and Shailagh Murray, Washington Post, March 30, 2007

Faced with his second rebuke in a week from congressional Democrats on Iraq policy, President Bush yesterday summoned Republican allies to his side in an effort to shift momentum in the escalating battle over the course of the war.

Bush, who has alienated many Republicans on Capitol Hill, invited the entire House GOP caucus to the White House for the first time in his presidency. The meeting came on the same day that the Senate gave final approval to a $122 billion war spending bill that calls for the withdrawal of most U.S. forces from Iraq by March 31, 2008. [complete article]
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132 Iraqis killed in wave of bombings
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, March 30, 2007

A devastating series of bombings in a crowded market in a Shiite Muslim neighborhood of Baghdad and in a predominantly Shiite town north of the capital killed more than 130 Iraqis on Thursday, the same day a new U.S. envoy asserted at his swearing-in that the American mission in Iraq was not an "impossible" one.

The bombings, part of a pattern of attacks in predominantly Shiite areas, threatened to further inflame sectarian tensions that are at the boiling point across much of Iraq. U.S. officials believe the attacks are part of a systematic effort by Al Qaeda militants to foment violence by Shiite militias and scuttle the latest security effort. [complete article]
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Applying the golden rule
By Herbert C. Kelman, Boston Globe, March 30, 2007

An early return to the Middle East negotiating table is not a favor to the Palestinians, but an urgent requirement for protecting the vital interests of both Palestinians and Israelis.

That is because the long-term survival of Israel as a Jewish-majority state, giving political expression to the national identity of the Jewish people, depends on negotiating a fair two-state solution that establishes an independent, viable Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

Under the circumstances, it is counterproductive to impose conditions on Palestinian negotiating partners that are unbalanced, unrealistic and unnecessary. [complete article]
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U.S. Iraq role is called illegal by Saudi King
By Hassan M. Fatah, New York Times, March 29, 2007

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia told Arab leaders on Wednesday that the American occupation of Iraq was illegal and warned that unless Arab governments settled their differences, foreign powers like the United States would continue to dictate the region's politics.

The king's speech, at the opening of the Arab League meeting here, underscored growing differences between Saudi Arabia and the Bush administration as the Saudis take on a greater leadership role in the Middle East, partly at American urging.

The Saudis seem to be emphasizing that they will not be beholden to the policies of their longtime ally.

They brokered a deal between the two main Palestinian factions last month, but one that Israel and the United States found deeply problematic because it added to the power of the radical group Hamas rather than the more moderate Fatah. On Wednesday King Abdullah called for an end to the international boycott of the new Palestinian government. The United States and Israel want the boycott continued.

In addition, Abdullah invited President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran to Riyadh earlier this month, while the Americans want him shunned. And in trying to settle the tensions in Lebanon, the Saudis have been willing to negotiate with Iran and Hezbollah. [complete article]

Comment -- When Dick Cheney went to Riyadh last November, supposedly his purpose was to work on a "broad new initiative for the Middle East." He might have done better if he'd gone to Hollywood. An alliance between Israel and "moderate" Arabs rising up to defy the menace of the expanding "Shia crescent" -- this would definitely have been good material for a bloodcurdling summertime blockbuster. Unfortunately for Cheney, the Saudis clearly weren't very impressed with the script and now the man obsessed with perceptions of power has never looked so impotent.

(As for the Saudi advisor who said that on all issues the Saudis and the United States see "eye to eye", he was presumably too polite to point out that the United States is generally understood to be blind.)
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The fantasy of American diplomacy in the Middle East
By Tony Karon, TomDispatch, March 29, 2007

For months, we have been reading a fantasy version of American diplomacy in which Rice was at the center of a realignment of forces in the Middle East, building a united front of Arab moderates to stand alongside the U.S. and Israel against Iran and other "extremist" elements. Last week, we were asked to believe that Rice was now about to head back to the region to choreograph a complex and dramatic diplomatic dance that would include such "challenges" as "trying to get the Saudis to talk to the Israelis." Perhaps none of her aides bothered to let her in on the open secret that the Saudis have been doing that for months -- and not under the tutelage of, or at the prompting of, the Secretary of State either. [complete article]
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A sacred right
By Salman Abu-Sitta, The Guardian, March 29, 2007

Those are the words of Alex Stein, writing for Comment is free last week. A commendable admission of injustice to Palestinians, you would say. But then he derives conclusions that are contrary to this premise; that the right of a Palestinian to return to his home is neither sacred, legal nor possible.

This split-personality theme has been infamously adopted by Benny Morris who pored over hundreds of declassified Israeli files. Morris confirmed in minute detail that, in 1948, Israeli invasion forces committed massacres, expelled Palestinians, destroyed their villages, looted their property, burnt their crops, poisoned their wells and shot on the spot any Palestinian who tried to return to his home. Referring to the remaining minority, Morris then solemnly declared that he was sorry that Ben Gurion "did not finish the job".

Both Alex Stein and Menny Morris escape from the fact, slowly seeping into the western conscience, that Palestinians were - and are today - subject to the most massive, comprehensive, meticulously planned and executed and continuous ethnic cleansing operation in modern history. This has long been denied by Israeli historians. A notable exception is a brave and honest Israeli historian, Ilan Pappe.

The sensation created by Benny Morris's revelation about al-Nakba, grudgingly accepted by some Jews, is a stark measure of how the west was taken in by the Zionist propaganda for several decades. The Palestinians do not know whether to laugh or cry, for the "revelations" are only some of what they have been saying all along since 1948. Hundreds of thousands of refugees gave graphic details of their plight but these were dismissed by the Zionist Europeans as "a figment of oriental imagination" until an Israeli historian found damning evidence in Israeli files. [complete article]
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Film raises questions about Israel's use of military power
By Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, March 28, 2007

In the opening minutes of Joseph Cedar's new film "Beaufort," three Israeli soldiers hunker down behind concrete blast walls and talk about what brought them to an isolated mountaintop fortress in Lebanon.

"If you are here, you are here by mistake," one doomed soldier says to a new arrival sent to defuse a roadside bomb. "I wanted to be here. That was the mistake."

That message, which raises fundamental questions about Israel's use of military power, has struck a chord with moviegoers here at a time when the country is grappling with a pervasive sense of malaise in the wake of last summer's 34-day war in Lebanon against Hezbollah. [complete article]
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Strikes on Baghdad's Green Zone on the rise
By Karin Brulliard and Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 29, 2007

Iraqi insurgents are increasingly hitting Baghdad's fortresslike Green Zone with rockets and mortar shells, officials said Wednesday.

Insurgents have struck inside the Green Zone, which includes the U.S. Embassy, on six of the past seven days, once with deadly consequences. A U.S. soldier and a U.S. government contractor were killed Tuesday night by a rocket attack that also seriously wounded a civilian, military and embassy officials said. One soldier and at least three other civilians received minor injuries, U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said. [complete article]

70 killed in wave of revenge in northern Iraq
By Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, March 29, 2007

One of the bloodiest chapters in Iraq's sectarian strife unfolded over the past two days in the northern city of Tal Afar where gunmen, some of them apparently police officers, participated in the revenge killings of scores of Sunnis in the aftermath of a huge double suicide bombing in a Shiite area.

Two hours after the explosion of truck bombs, which killed 83 people and wounded more than 185, the gunmen -- some of whom witnesses recognized as police officers -- went house to house in a Sunni neighborhood, dragged people into the street and shot them in the head, witnesses and local leaders said. The killing went on for several hours before the Iraqi Army intervened. The police are mostly Shiites, although the city is mixed. [complete article]
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Iran ahead of the game - for now
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, March 30, 2007

"The US is not escalating tensions with Iran," said a Pentagon spokesperson in reference to the major US naval exercise in Persian Gulf "off the coast of Iran", per the wire reports. That is, a hair stretch beyond Iran's 12-nautical-mile territorial waters.

The Iranians can be excused if they think otherwise - that the purpose of the massive US maneuver at their doorstep, involving two aircraft-carrier task forces and some 10,000 troops, is to send a "strong signal" to them about the price they may have to pay if they persist in defying the will of US power and its allies. This is not to mention a French aircraft carrier making a solidarity appearance in Persian Gulf waters at the same time, thus adding to the overall Western menace with regard to Iran.

As usual, the US double-speak has continued unabated. Thus, precisely at a time when the overwhelming weight of US firepower is put on full display against the Iranians, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has expressed the his country's readiness to engage in "high-level" dialogue with Iran, as if to make a small dent in any Iranian paranoia about the military intentions of the United States. [complete article]
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Rights group challenges assurances on torture
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, March 29, 2007

Human Rights Watch on Wednesday challenged the value of "diplomatic assurances" routinely obtained by the United States from other governments that inmates returned home from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, will be treated humanely.

The New York-based advocacy group said governments with records of torture "don't suddenly change their behavior" because of agreements with Washington. The group called on the United States "to establish screening procedures so that a person being transferred from Guantanamo Bay has an effective opportunity to challenge his transfer before an impartial body."

If an inmate faces a credible threat of torture, then the United States should find a third country to settle the prisoner, the human rights group said. It noted that five Chinese Muslims from the Uighur ethnic minority who faced the risk of persecution in China were resettled in Albania. Other inmates, the group said, should have the same opportunity. [complete article]
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Ousted Chief Justice speaks out in Pakistan
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, March 29, 2007

The nation's suspended chief justice received a hero's welcome from some 2,000 lawyers Wednesday as he gave his first address since President Pervez Musharraf removed him from the bench nearly three weeks ago.

The Supreme Court judge, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, was showered with rose petals and greeted with boisterous chants of "Go, Musharraf, go!" by supporters who have rallied to Chaudhry's side and want Pakistan's president to resign.

The clash between Musharraf and Chaudhry has riveted the nation since the judge was suspended on March 9, and many here feel it represents the most serious domestic challenge to Musharraf since he came to power in a military coup eight years ago. [complete article]
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Rumsfeld torture suit dismissed
BBC News, March 27, 2007

A US court has dismissed a lawsuit against former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld over claims prisoners were tortured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The court accepted that the nine men who sued had been tortured - and detailed the torture in its ruling.

But Judge Thomas Hogan ruled the five Iraqis and four Afghans did not have US constitutional rights, and also that Mr Rumsfeld was immune from such suits. [complete article]

See also, ACLU and Human Rights First express disappointment at dismissal of Rumsfeld torture case (ACLU).

Comment -- In newsrooms across America yesterday, editors saw the word "dismissed" and instantly judged that the Rumsfeld torture-suit story had been wrapped up -- wire service reports would suffice.

Yet look at these words from Chief Judge Thomas A. Hogan of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, in his 60-page ruling:
...the facts alleged in the complaint stand as an indictment of the humanity with which the United States treats its detainees.
Rumsfeld was not exonerated, the US Constitution failed and the message that Judge Hogan sent to the world (with his own apparent reluctance, but little interest from the media) was that US officials working outside the United States have legal immunity to give prisoners in their custody severe and repeated beatings, cutting with knives, sexual humiliation and assault, mock executions, death threats, and restraint in contorted and excruciating positions. The only apparent limitation is that the prisoners must not be Americans.

Perhaps it's time that the US government abandoned the pretense that is has any concern about human rights -- apparently the only rights worth having are American rights.

Rumsfeld lawsuit embarrasses German authorities
By Ulrike Demmer, Der Spiegel, March 26, 2007

A 384-page document is currently sitting in the offices of Germany's federal prosecutor in Karlsruhe -- and causing headaches for the authorities there. They never asked for it, but now they have to deal with it. The only question is how.

The reason the authorities would be quite happy if the lengthy document would simply go away is because it is a lawsuit against 14 powerful men and one woman. Donald Rumsfeld, the former United States Secretary of Defense, is one of them. Others include Alberto Gonzales, the current Attorney General of the United States, CIA director George Tenet, and Lieutenant General Ricardo S. Sanchez, the US general who served as the commander of coalition forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004. According to the document, these members of the US elite violated both international law and the United Nations Convention Against Torture in Abu Ghraib prison and the Guantanamo Bay detention camp.

The lawsuit was filed by Berlin-based lawyer Wolfgang Kaleck. Politically, it's a time-bomb which could cause serious problems for US-German relations. Angela Merkel has made a persistent effort during recent months to cultivate a good relationship with Germany's overseas ally. An arrest warrant for top US military authorities and government members would likely reverse a lot of this work and lead to a new low point in trans-Atlantic relations. Representatives have been negotiating behind closed doors for months about whether Germany should investigate Rumsfeld's alleged crimes or not. Germany's federal prosecutor Monika Harms will reach a decision on the issue during the coming weeks. [complete article]

Comment -- If the German legal system fails, the only hope for justice surely lies with the International Criminal Court. The court was created in order to prosecute war crimes when national courts are unwilling or unable to investigate or prosecute such crimes.

Presidential candidates are currently falling over themselves in their eagerness to end the war in Iraq. Are there any with enough guts to advocate that in 2009 the United States should sign and ratify the Rome Statute?
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Torturer's toll
By Tara McKelvey, The American Prospect, March 26, 2007

[Tony] Lagouranis studied ancient Greek at St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and he learned Arabic at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. As he explained in his book and in conversations with me, he is familiar with classical and modern texts about warfare and the Middle East as well as with international law that protects the rights of prisoners of war.

He and other soldiers discussed the Geneva Conventions during military training at Fort Gordon, Georgia, in 2003, before being deployed to Iraq. But it became clear they were not always expected to abide by them, he says. Some of the soldiers and officers had been influenced by Mark Bowden's October 2003 Atlantic Monthly article, "The Dark Art of Interrogation," which describes techniques that, in the author's words, are "excruciating for the victim" yet "leave no permanent marks and do no lasting physical harm."

"It seems to me Bowden was advocating what he calls 'torture lite,'" Lagouranis tells me. "That made an impression on a lot of people. The feeling was that what we had been taught about the Geneva Conventions was not going to be followed anymore. We would be following a new set of rules -- and that was what Bowden was talking about."

Things seemed different in Iraq. "I started realizing that most of the prisoners were innocent," Lagouranis says. "We were torturing people for no reason. I started getting really angry and really remorseful and by the time I got back I completely broke down." [complete article]

Guantanamo's new detainee
By Joanne Mariner, FindLaw, March 28, 2007

Yesterday's papers all ran stories about the guilty plea made by David Hicks, the Australian held at Guantanamo. But there was little news coverage of what may be a more significant development: the arrival of a new detainee.

Except for the 14 prisoners moved from CIA custody in September 2006, transfers to Guantanamo ended in September 2004. For two-and-a-half years, even as the Bush administration has continued to defend the facility's usefulness, Guantanamo's population has been steadily shrinking. Several hundred detainees have now been released, and ex-detainees currently outnumber those who are imprisoned there.

Yet on Monday, in a surprise move, the Pentagon announced that it had transferred a detainee named Abdul Malik to Guantanamo over the weekend. It gave little information about the new arrival, saying only that he was a "dangerous terror suspect," that he had confessed to terrorist acts, and that he had been arrested "as a result of our ongoing conflict against Al Qaida."

While the Pentagon disclosed neither the detainee's nationality nor where he had been arrested, knowledgeable observers knew that he was a Kenyan picked up in Kenya a few weeks ago. He was reportedly arrested at a foreign exchange bureau in the city of Mombasa, held for a time in Kenyan police custody, and then handed over to the United States.

Malik is accused of serious terrorist crimes, and was arrested far from any zone of combat. So why is he now at Guantanamo and not in U.S. federal court? [complete article]
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Arab states unanimously approve Saudi peace initiative
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, March 28, 2007

Arab leaders gathering for a two-day summit in Saudi Arabia unanimously approved Wednesday the Saudi peace initiative originally launched in 2002.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas voted in favor of the initiative, although Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas abstained in the vote.

The plan offers Israel recognition and permanent peace with all Arab countries in return for Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Six Day War. It also calls for setting up a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital and a just solution to the issue of Palestinian refugees. [complete article]

See also, Saudi King calls for end to Palestinian blockade (Reuters).

Why is King Abdullah saying no to dinner?
By Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, March 28, 2007

President Bush enjoys hosting formal state dinners about as much as having a root canal. Or proposing tax increases. So his decision to schedule a mid-April White House gala for Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah signified the president's high regard for an Arab monarch who is also a Bush family friend.

Now the White House ponders what Abdullah's sudden and sparsely explained cancellation of the dinner signifies. Nothing good -- especially for Condoleezza Rice's most important Middle East initiatives -- is the clearest available answer.

Abdullah's bowing out of the April 17 event is, in fact, one more warning sign that the Bush administration's downward spiral at home is undermining its ability to achieve its policy objectives abroad. Friends as well as foes see the need, or the chance, to distance themselves from the politically besieged Bush. [complete article]
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Study: Arabs may be poorer, but Jews get more welfare funds
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, March 28, 2007

The government spends more in welfare on the Jewish sector that it does on Arab citizens, even though the Arab population has a higher rate of poverty, according a report issued by the Sikui Association for the Advancement of Equal Opportunity on Thursday.

According to official data examined by Sikui, the state spends an average of NIS 378 on each Jewish citizen and only NIS 246 on each Arab citizen - a discrepancy of 35 percent, although there are three times as many Arab families under the poverty line as Jewish families. [complete article]

Study: Israeli Jews live four years longer than Israeli Arabs
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, March 28, 2007

The life expectancy of Jewish citizens in Israel is four years higher than that of Arab citizens, according to the equality index published Wednesday by Sikkuy: The Association for the Advancement of Civic Equality in Israel. The data also reveals that the mortality rate for Arab infants under the age of 12 months is double that of their Jewish counterparts. [complete article]

Comment -- This study documents the gross inequities between Jews and Arabs all of whom are Israeli citizens. Why then should it be a surprising or a contentious observation that Israel institutes a form of Apartheid in the Occupied Territories where Palestinians do not even enjoy the basic rights of citizenship? The question should not be whether racism is embedded in Zionism, but for how long will the West (with its supposed reverence for human rights) pretend not to notice?
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Richard Nixon's Mideast blunder
By Milton Viorst, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2007

In her acclaimed new book, "Nixon and Mao," Margaret MacMillan reminds readers, quite accurately, that Richard Nixon's bold act of diplomacy in promoting the American opening to China in 1972 made the world a safer, more stable place. But, at the same time, readers reflect on Nixon's missed opportunity for boldness in the Middle East, which has left the world far more volatile and dangerous than it might have been.

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice tries to patch things up between Palestinians and Israelis in 2007, we forget that Nixon's first secretary of State, William P. Rogers, made a similar effort in the region. The situation was more fluid then. Though Israel's huge victory in the Six-Day War of 1967 had ripened local animosities, the occupied territories were still free of Israeli settlers.

Rogers' most formidable obstacle wasn't those belligerents, it was Henry Kissinger, Nixon's national security advisor. The two saw the world differently. Rogers' concern was that the region was a powder keg for World War III. Kissinger saw it as an arena for defeating the Russians. And, of the two, Kissinger was the better political infighter.

The Rogers Plan was based on U.N. Resolution 242, which the U.S. had pushed through, establishing the land-for-peace principle. In 1969, Rogers declared: "To call for Israeli withdrawal as envisaged in the U.N. resolution without achieving agreement on peace would be partisan toward the Arabs. To accept peace without Israeli withdrawal would be partisan toward Israel.... Any changes in the pre-existing [border] lines should not reflect the weight of conquest [but] should be confined to insubstantial alterations required for mutual security.... Our policy is and will continue to be a balanced one."

But, in fact, the "balance" that Rogers proposed was not U.S. policy at all. Israel, claiming the right to design its own borders, was upset at Rogers' call for "insubstantial" territorial changes. Its politicians were also being pressured by right-wingers to allow the colonization of the conquered lands. Israel, calling the Rogers Plan appeasement, rejected it outright. Stubborn themselves, so did the Arab states. Rogers persisted but, under Kissinger's influence, Nixon declined to make the plan his own. Without presidential support, the Rogers Plan died. [complete article]
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British pawns in an Iranian game
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 29, 2007

Western corporate media overwhelmingly take for granted that the British were in Iraqi or "international" waters (wrong: these are disputed Iran/Iraq waters). Tehran has accused the British of "blatant aggression" and reminded world public opinion "this is not the first time that Britain commits such illegal acts" (which is true). Tehran diplomats later suggested that the British might be charged with espionage (which is actually the case in Khuzestan province in Iran, conducted by US Special Forces).

The coverage of the sensitive Shatt-al-Arab incident in the Iranian press was quite a smash: initially there was none. Everything was closed for Nowrouz - the one-week Iranian New Year holiday. But this has not prevented radicalization.

Hardliners like the Republican Guards and the Basiji - Iran's volunteer Islamist militia - asked the government of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad not to release the sailors until the five Iranian diplomats arrested by the US in Iraq were freed. They also demanded that the new United Nations sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear program be scrapped. And all this was under the watchful eyes (and ears) of the US Navy's 5th Fleet in Bahrain. [complete article]

UK reveals Iran dispute evidence
BBC News, March 28, 2007

Satellite data proves 15 navy personnel being held in Iran were 1.7 nautical miles inside Iraqi waters when they were seized, UK defence officials say.

Vice Admiral Charles Style said the sailors had been "ambushed" in the Gulf after searching a vessel and their detention was "unjustified and wrong". [complete article]
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U.S. is open to a deeper Iran dialogue, Gates says
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, March 28, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that the U.S. government is open to higher-level exchanges with Iran, and he called talks this month in Baghdad that included Iranian, Syrian and U.S. officials "a good start."

In his first domestic public speech since taking office in December, Gates laid out a pragmatic approach to foreign policy -- one that emphasizes using diplomacy to overcome disagreements with Turkey, Iran and other nations regarding Iraq.

Gates, who had advocated dialogue with Iran before becoming defense secretary, said "the regional talks recently held in Baghdad were a good start toward improved cooperation, and our government is open to higher-level exchanges." [complete article]
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'Shia police' kill dozens in Iraq
Al Jazeera, March 28, 2007

At least 45 people are reported to have been shot dead by off-duty Shia policemen in the northwestern Iraqi town of Tal Afar a day after deadly lorry bombings hit a Shia area of the town.

The policemen roamed the town's Sunni neighbourhoods for two hours shooting at Sunni residents and homes early on Wednesday, security officials said.

"I wish you can come and see all the bodies. They are lying in the grounds. We don't have enough space in the hospital. All of the victims were shot in the head," a doctor at the town's main hospital said. [complete article]
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McCaffrey paints gloomy picture of Iraq
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, March 28, 2007

An influential retired Army general released a dire assessment of the situation in Iraq, based on a recent round of meetings there with Gen. David H. Petraeus and 16 other senior U.S. commanders.

"The population is in despair," retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey wrote in an eight-page document compiled in his capacity as a professor at West Point. "Life in many of the urban areas is now desperate."

McCaffrey is widely respected in the military, having fought in the Vietnam War, commanded a division in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, and later served as the commander for U.S. military operations in Central America and South America. After retiring, he became President Bill Clinton's director of drug policy. [complete article]
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An enclave of normalcy in fearful Baghdad
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, March 27, 2007

In front of a blue metal gate, women in black abayas clutch food ration cards and exhibit a confidence rarely felt in the Iraqi capital. They will feed their families tonight. Several yards away, men sit behind wooden desks poring over hundreds of colorful folders, one each for Shiite families forced to flee their homes. Every family will be given a new life.

This busy office in the heart of the vast Shiite slum of Sadr City is not an arm of the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Nor is it a relief agency. It is the domain of the 33-year-old Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Here, Sadr doles out aid to his neediest followers, from cradle to grave, filling a void in a desperately uncertain country.

"We get no help from Maliki. Only Sayyid Moqtada helps us," said Saleh al-Ghathbawi, a tall, balding clerk in a blue tracksuit, using the honorific that signifies Sadr's descent from the prophet Muhammad.

As the United States and Iraq proceed with a six-week-old security offensive to pacify the capital, Sadr's black-clad fighters have melted away. His advisers have fled to evade arrest. His own whereabouts are contested. U.S. intelligence officials say elements of his Mahdi Army militia have splintered off beyond his control.

Yet nowhere is Sadr's power more visible than in the sprawling district in eastern Baghdad that bears his family's name. Through legacy, symbolism and money, he has built up his street credentials by helping and protecting Iraq's Shiite majority. His militiamen have made Sadr City into the safest, most homogenous enclave in a capital scarred by war and ruled by a fragile government. It often appears to operate like a separate nation, where Sadr's words carry the weight of law. [complete article]

Senate signals support for Iraq timeline
By William Branigin, Washington Post, March 27, 2007

The Senate today narrowly endorsed a Democratic-led effort to set a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq a year from now, voting down a Republican amendment that would have stripped the provision from a $122 emergency spending bill.

Senators voted 50 to 48 to reject the amendment, which was introduced by Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

In vote several weeks ago on a similar measure, only 48 senators supported the timeline for withdrawal. But today, the Democrats secured the votes of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.). [complete article]

Have the car-bombers already defeated the surge?
By Mike Davis, TomDispatch, March 27, 2007

Despite heroic reassurances from both the White House and the Pentagon that the six-week-old U.S. escalation in Baghdad and al-Anbar Province is proceeding on course, suicide car-bombers continue to devastate Shiite and Sunni neighborhoods, often under the noses of reinforced American patrols and checkpoints. Indeed, February was a record month for car bombings, with at least 44 deadly explosions in Baghdad alone, and March promises to duplicate the carnage.

Car bombs, moreover, continue to evolve in horror and lethality. In January and March, the first chemical "dirty bomb" explosions took place using chlorine gas, giving potential new meaning to the President's missing weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. The sectarian guerrillas who claim affiliation with "al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia" are now striking savagely, and seemingly at will, against dissident Sunni tribes in al-Anbar province as well as Shiite areas of Baghdad and Shiite pilgrims on the highways to the south of the capital. With each massacre, the bombers refute Bush administration claims that the U.S. military can "take back and secure" Baghdad block-by-block or establish its own patrols and new, fortified mini-bases as a realistic substitute for local self-defense militias. [complete article]

Iraqis announce new steps aimed at reconciling Sunnis and Shiites
By Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, March 27, 2007

Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki and President Jalal Talabani announced Monday that they plan to introduce a proposal that would allow thousands more former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to serve in the government.

The plan, if it were to gain approval, would be an important step toward reconciling Iraq’s warring Shiites, who lead the government now, and Sunnis, who dominated the Hussein government. [complete article]

Insurgents report a split with Al Qaeda in Iraq
By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2007

Insurgent leaders and Sunni Arab politicians say divisions between insurgent groups and Al Qaeda in Iraq have widened and have led to combat in some areas of the country, a schism that U.S. officials hope to exploit.

The Sunni Arab insurgent leaders said they disagreed with the leadership of Al Qaeda in Iraq over tactics, including attacks on civilians, as well as over command of the movement.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, on his last day in Iraq, said Monday that American officials were actively pursuing negotiations with the Sunni factions in an effort to further isolate Al Qaeda. [complete article]

Proposed Iraqi law would restore jobs for Baath members
By Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, March 27, 2007

Iraq's prime minister and president have approved a draft law allowing many former members of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party to return to their government jobs, and it could be voted on this week, officials said Monday.

The legislation, seen by the United States as crucial to pacifying Iraq, will go to parliament as soon as it is reviewed by cabinet officials, said Ahmed Shames, a spokesman for Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. [complete article]
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U.S. hawks see strikes on Iran as less likely now
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 2007

Earlier this month when House leader Nancy Pelosi struck a provision from a $100-billion spending bill that would have specifically required President Bush to seek congressional approval before any military strike on Iran, it was seen as a victory for the hawks in Washington.

After all, the Democrats took control of Congress last year in large part because of voter anger over the Iraq war. If they were saying that Bush doesn't need their permission to take action against Iran, then his "all options are on the table" rhetoric looks stronger, and raises the possibility of expanded conflict in the Middle East.

But war with Iran, or even targeted air strikes at presumed nuclear facilities, is looking less and less likely. Despite tough rhetoric from both sides and increased tension over Iran's move to detain 15 British sailors last week, a variety of influential thinkers who championed the US-led invasion of Iraq are now saying that containment, not confrontation, is the best approach to Iran. [complete article]

UK in 'discreet talks' with Iran
BBC News, March 27, 2007

The government is attempting to "discreetly" talk to the Iranians to secure the release of 15 Royal Navy personnel, Downing Street has said.

Tony Blair's spokesman said that if the talks were unsuccessful, the government may have to become "more explicit". [complete article]

Blair escalates pressure on Iran to release sailors
By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2007

British prime minister Tony Blair today warned that Britain is prepared to move to "a different phase" if Iran does not quickly release 15 British sailors being held for an alleged incursion into Iranian waterways.

As Iran announced it had begun to interrogate the detainees, Britain was considering upping the ante in its campaign to win their release, diplomats said, because of growing concerns that quiet diplomacy has proved fruitless. [complete article]
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Hamas adopts 'ambiguity policy' on peace initiative
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, March 28, 2007

Hamas will refrain from expressing its views on the Arab Peace Initiative that members of the Arab League, including the Palestinian Authority, are expected to support during a summit in Riyadh Wednesday.

In discussions with Haaretz Tuesday, a number of leading Hamas figures in the Gaza Strip revealed that the organization will adopt a policy of ambiguity on its stance vis-a-vis the peace initiative.However, senior Hamas officials admitted that they are opposed to parts of the initiative relating to a peace agreement with Israel or its recognition.

Palestinian sources said Tuesday that Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshal has promised Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah not to disrupt the decisions of the summit. [complete article]

Rice's show: Is it comedy or horror?
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, March 28, 2007

I sensed something was slightly unreal about the Jordanian capital Amman when I was there on Monday. The distorted reality, I quickly discovered, reflected the presence in town of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, whose Middle East diplomatic efforts increasingly look like a self-deceiving world of mirrors and make-believe. As she intensified the elusive search for "moderate Sunni Arabs" to share in her adventure, Rice also launched a process of "parallel talks" with Israeli and Palestinian leaders who have gotten nowhere talking to each other once every few months. To overcome the chronic stalemate of bilateral Palestinian-Israeli diplomacy, she is now expanding this into a trilateral failure, as the principal parties who won't talk to each other only to talk to her. It's hard to decide if this is a comedy or a horror show.

The most galling thing about Rice's and Washington's approach is its fundamental dishonesty. The Bush administration spent its first six years avoiding any serious engagement in the Arab-Israeli conflict, or decisively siding with the Israelis on most key contested points, like refugees, security or settlements. Now - with little time left for Rice, President George W. Bush on the ropes, his administration in tatters, America's army in trouble in Iraq, Washington's credibility shattered in the region and around the world, and the Middle East slipping into greater strife and dislocation - we are asked to believe that she will dedicate her remaining time in office to securing the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Does Rice take us in the Arab world for robotic idiots - simply another generation of hapless Arabs who have no options and must go along docilely with every American-Israeli initiative, no matter how insulting, insincere or desperate it may be? This initiative is all three. [complete article]
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Plea of guilty from detainee in Guantanamo
By William Glaberson, New York Times, March 27, 2007

In the first conviction of a Guantanamo detainee before a military commission, an Australian who was trained by Al Qaeda pleaded guilty here Monday to providing material support to a terrorist organization.

The guilty plea by the detainee, David Hicks, was the first under a new military commission law passed by Congress in the fall after the Supreme Court struck down the Bush administration's first system for trying inmates at Guantanamo.

The guilty plea is sure to be seen by administration supporters as an affirmation of its efforts to detain and try terrorism suspects here, although the government's detention policies still face significant legal and political challenges. [complete article]
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Cut Hamas some slack, to contain Al-Qaeda
By Khalid Hroub, Daily Star, March 26, 2007

Last week I spoke to a group of former militants in the Khan Younes refugee camp in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. Many assured me that it was only a matter of time before Al-Qaeda arrived in Palestine. The atmosphere in Palestinian areas is charged with anger and frustration, thanks to the political impasse, poor economic conditions, and continued mistrust between Hamas and Fatah. When I asked Hamas leaders in Gaza about the Al-Qaeda scenario, they expressed serious concerns. So long as there were no gains from Hamas' triumph in the January 2006 election, angry voices within Hamas would continue to rise against the present situation - and "God knows what these angry voices will do or where they will go," the leaders added.

Recently, Ayman al-Zawahri, the number-two man in Al-Qaeda, offered an option when he launched an unprecedented attack on Hamas. Zawahri accused Hamas of capitulating to Israel and selling out on Palestine. In reality, he was appealing to the military ranks of Hamas who have been respecting a self-imposed, if imperfect and shaky, truce with Israel for almost two years now. The formation of Al-Qaeda cells in Gaza could mean the "Iraqization of Palestine" - a war of all against all.

That is why the formation of the Palestinian national unity government after weeks of difficult negotiations between Hamas and Fatah was a tremendous achievement. At least for the time being, the government prevented the replication of an Iraq-like situation. The government was a political victory Hamas leaders could promote within their own ranks to pacify angry militants, by arguing that the relative sidelining of armed resistance also brought Hamas regional and international legitimacy. [complete article]

Sliding toward Somalia in Gaza
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, March 26, 2007

The bullet-riddled body - 30 slugs in all - of Arafat Nufal, an officer in the Palestinian Preventive Security Service, was found Friday morning hanging from a pole in the Al Moraka district near Gaza. The details of his murder tell the story of the Gaza Strip since the Mecca agreement was signed in early February.

This is the story of how Gaza is becoming a Palestinian Somalia, as Palestinian politicians celebrate the artificial unity deal. [complete article]

A dangerous masked ball
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, March 26, 2007

Democracy is an exalted value for the United States. Yet, when the PA became the only place in the Arab world in which free elections were held, the rest of the world turned its back on it. What does the world wish to signal to the Palestinians? That elections are a just mechanism, but only if the results are predetermined? This is a blatantly anti-democratic message for the budding Palestinian democracy. It is also a negative message with respect to nonviolence: Hamas, which adopted a cease-fire, is not receiving any political return.

If it is possible to understand this boycott visit of Condoleezza Rice, the mother of the boycott doctrine, and also perhaps that of Angela Merkel, whose country needs to tread carefully concerning its policies vis-a-vis Israel - it is impossible to understand the boycott on the part of the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Who appointed him to boycott an elected prime minister? Was there a decision by the UN General Assembly that the world should boycott the unity government? Is this how an honest broker behaves?

It is no less revolting that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is playing along with this charade. If he were a leader of some standing, he would tell his guests: "Ahlan wa sahlan [welcome] - but no boycotts." And he would say: I also have an intense debate with my prime minister, but that argument needs to be settled with dialogue, not by boycott. You wish to meet with me? Then also meet with Haniyeh. You want to invite me to Washington? Then include my senior partner. [complete article]
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Few Americans share Iraq war's sacrifices
By Gordon Lubold, Christian Science Monitor, March 26, 2007

Ask Navy corpsman Adam Shepherd what he wants Americans to know about his service in Iraq and he says it boils down to one thing. "Just don't forget that we sacrificed a lot to be out here," says the medic, stationed at Camp Taqaddum, Iraq.

It's a sentiment that many servicemen and women express. Five years after President Bush declared war on Islamic extremism, the military has lost 3,599 troops and spent $503 billion in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet unlike past wars, even unpopular ones, most Americans have contributed little directly. Tire and paper drives of World War II are a dim memory. An increasingly narrow slice of the population serves in the military.

Now, a growing number of observers question whether Americans should make some kind of sacrifice for what Bush himself calls the "decisive ideological struggle of our time." Despite the billions spent on defense, which represents 4 percent of the gross domestic product, many inside the administration and conservatives outside it believe it's time to spend more. But raising defense spending at a time when Americans are frustrated with the Iraq war is problematic. It also raises questions for the growing number of Americans who don't support the president's war strategy. So what should citizens do – if anything – to support US troops? [complete article]

Sunni Baghdad becomes land of silent ruins
By Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, March 26, 2007

The cityscape of Iraq's capital tells a stark story of the toll the past four years have taken on Iraq's once powerful Sunni Arabs.

Theirs is a world of ruined buildings, damaged mosques, streets pitted by mortar shells, uncollected trash and so little electricity that many people have abandoned using refrigerators altogether.

The contrast with Shiite neighborhoods is sharp. Markets there are in full swing, community projects are under way, and while electricity is scarce throughout the city, there is less trouble finding fuel for generators in those areas. When the government cannot provide services, civilian arms of the Shiite militias step in to try to fill the gap.

But in Adhamiya, a community with a Sunni majority, any semblance of normal life vanished more than a year ago. Its only hospital, Al Numan, is so short of basic items like gauze and cotton pads that when mortar attacks hit the community last fall, the doctors broadcast appeals for supplies over local mosque loudspeakers. [complete article]

Iraq's good terrorists, bad terrorists
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, March 27, 2007

Aides at the office of Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki recently said that "people at the US Embassy" had informed them that the United States will withdraw support from the Iraqi premier if benchmarks are not met by June 3.

Only Zalmay Khalilzad, the outgoing US ambassador, could have delivered such a message. During his 21-month tenure in Iraq, Khalilzad has tried to get Maliki to court Iraq's Sunnis and bring them into the political process. Courting them, showing them respect and making them share power, he has argued, would also make them share in responsibility for a stable Iraq, and use their influence to curb or end the Sunni insurgency. [complete article]

U.S. envoy says he met with Iraq rebels
By Edward Wong, New York Times, March 26, 2007

The senior American envoy in Iraq, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, held talks last year with men he believed represented major insurgent groups in a drive to bring militant Sunni Arabs into politics.

"There were discussions with the representatives of various groups in the aftermath of the elections, and during the formation of the government before the Samarra incident, and some discussions afterwards as well," Mr. Khalilzad said in a farewell interview on Friday at his home inside the fortified Green Zone. He is the first American official to publicly acknowledge holding such talks.

The meetings began in early 2006 and were quite possibly the first attempts at sustained contact between senior American officials here and the Sunni Arab insurgency. Mr. Khalilzad flew to Jordan for some of the talks, which included self-identified representatives of the Islamic Army of Iraq and the 1920 Revolution Brigades, two leading nationalist factions, American and Iraqi officials said. Mr. Khalilzad declined to give details on the meetings, but other officials said the efforts had foundered by the summer, after the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra set off waves of sectarian violence. [complete article]
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At the table with Iran, what could the US concede?
By John K. Cooley, Christian Science Monitor, March 26, 2007

The UN Security Council Saturday unanimously passed a resolution to sharpen sanctions against Iran for its presumed nuclear-weapons ambitions. This unanimity provides the West with an occasion for a bold new diplomatic initiative.

The US should propose a comprehensive, formal dialogue with Iran on nuclear matters that also covers all issues that have divided Washington and Tehran since the cleric-led revolution toppled America's former ally, Shah Muhammad Reza Pahlevi, in 1979.

Before beginning such a dialogue, however, the top officials of the Bush administration should first agree among themselves and with congressional leaders on the discussion's minimum aims – and the maximum concessions the West can offer. [complete article]

American raid and arrests set scene for capture of marines
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, March 26, 2007

At 3am on 11 January US military forces raided the Iranian liaison office in the Kurdish capital Arbil and detained five Iranian officials who are still prisoners.

The attack marked a significant escalation in the confrontation between the US and Iran.

Britain is inevitably involved in this as America's only important foreign ally in Iraq. In fact the US raid could have had even more significant consequences if the Americans had captured the Iranian official they were targeting. Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff of the Kurdish president Massoud Barzani, told The Independent that "they were after Mohammed Jafari, the deputy chairman of Iran's National Security Council." [complete article]

Iran partly suspends nuclear pledges
By Nasser Karimi, AP, March 26, 2007

The Iranian government announced Sunday that it was partially suspending cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, citing the "illegal" sanctions the Security Council imposed on the country Saturday for its refusal to stop enriching uranium.

Gholam Hossein Elham, a government spokesman, said on state television that the suspension would "continue until Iran's nuclear case is referred back" to the International Atomic Energy Agency. [complete article]

Iran: A mountain that doesn't move
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, March 27, 2007

Even though Security Council Resolution 1747 was passed this weekend to impose tougher new sanctions on Iran over its nuclear program, the mood at the United Nations was anything but celebratory.

The latest sanctions block Iranian arms exports and impose an international freeze on the assets of 28 people and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs. The measures were adopted in a unanimous vote and give Iran another 60 days to comply with the UN's nuclear demands to stop uranium-enrichment activities or, most likely, face even harsher measures.

Yet with the council's South African president expressing "deep disappointment" about the disregard by the permanent five (the United States, France, the United Kingdom, China and Russia) plus Germany for a call for a 90-day time-out, and other non-permanent members criticizing the council's "selectivity", the vote was cast under a growing internal fissure at the UN. [complete article]

Iran feels pinch as major banks curtail business
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, March 26, 2007

More than 40 major international banks and financial institutions have either cut off or cut back business with the Iranian government or private sector as a result of a quiet campaign launched by the Treasury and State departments last September, according to Treasury and State officials.

The financial squeeze has seriously crimped Tehran's ability to finance petroleum industry projects and to pay for imports. It has also limited Iran's use of the international financial system to help fund allies and extremist militias in the Middle East, say U.S. officials and economists who track Iran. [complete article]
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Obstacle or opportunity?
By Daoud Kuttab, Washington Post, March 26, 2007

When Henry Kissinger coined the term "constructive ambiguity" during his attempts to negotiate Arab-Israeli peace, he couldn't have expected that one day Palestinians would use it in their own peace initiative. The ambiguity in the agenda of the new Palestinian "unity government" depends on whether one sees the cup as half full or half empty. If Israel and the United States want to move forward on the peace process, the cup is half full. But if there is no real will to pay the price for peace, the cup is half empty.

More than a year ago, with international encouragement, the Palestinian people adopted electoral democracy, even before they enjoyed sovereignty and the end of the Israeli occupation. They threw out their longtime Fatah secularist leaders and replaced them with Hamas. The unjust freeze on Palestinian aid that followed sparked a social revolt and the beginnings of a civil war; this was stopped in part by the recent Fatah-Hamas coalition that produced the unity government. [complete article]
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For many Palestinians, 'return' is not a goal
By Hassan M. Fatah, New York Times, March 26, 2007

For nearly 60 years Nimr Abu Ghneim has waited, angrily but patiently, for the day he would return to the home he left in 1948.

A resident of a sprawling Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, Mr. Abu Ghneim, like most Arabs, says there can be no peace with Israel until he and 700,000 other Palestinians are permitted back to the homes they left in the 1948 fighting that led to Israel's creation.

But with the Arab League expected to focus later this week on the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, there is another, albeit quieter, approach being voiced, especially by younger and wealthier Palestinians: it may be neither possible nor desirable to go back.

"Every time people talk peace, you hear discussion of this subject," said Hanin Abu Rub, 33, a Web content manager at a Jordanian Internet startup, Shoofeetv, who has been active in Palestinian politics. "But now it is a major part of the discussions we have. When people think, 'Is it possible for us to go back?' deep inside they now know they are not going back."

Even having such a debate -- rethinking a sacred principle -- was once impossible. Now the discussion is centering on how to define the right of return in a new way. Some have come to see the issue as two separate demands: the acceptance, by Israel, that its creation caused the displacement and plight of the Palestinians; and the ability to move back to the lands they or their families left. [complete article]

Comment -- Israel's unwillingness to forthrightly address the issue of the right of return exposes the hypocrisy embedded in the very conception of the Jewish state. On the one hand a "right" of any Jew of any line of ancestry to "return" to Israel irrespective of how many centuries ago their families left -- this is held as sacrosanct, a right on which the perpetuation of the state depends. At the same time, Palestinians born in the land that became Israel are afforded no corresponding right. Neither are they allowed to reclaim property that they were forced to abandon.

There is no mystery to the political sensitivity of the issue of the right of return since the willingness to address this matter would require many Israelis to acknowledge that they are living in stolen property on stolen land. Ironically, even while Palestinian rights continue to be ignored, Jewish settlers who were evicted from West Bank settlements in 2005 are already mounting their own campaign for a "return to every settlement."
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Egypt referendum sparks protests
Al Jazeera, March 26, 2007

The Egyptian government has deployed thousands of extra security men in Cairo as the country holds a referendum on constitutional changes which many see as a step back for civil rights.

Turnout for the referendum on Monday had been expected to be low as opposition groups plan to boycott it saying it is an attempt to bar Islamists from politics.

Police and plainclothes officers tried to stop people demonstrating in the centre of the capital on Sunday night. [complete article]
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Afghan hearts and minds refuse to be won
By Damien McElroy, Daily Telegraph, March 26, 2007

Troops fighting in Afghanistan are meeting resistance not only from the Taliban, but from the people they are there to support.

In the dustbowl settlement of Ghowrak in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan, a senior Allied delegation, lead by a British colonel, flies in on a hearts-and-minds mission to halt the leaching of support for the Allied mission.

"I'd say that was an artillery shell," said Col Simon Marr, of the 1st Bn Fusiliers, as the distinctive crump of high explosives reverberated across the scorched plateau.

It was good preparation for the verbal attack his delegation was to endure.

"You do not need to be here in town," said Ghowrak's headman, Haji Pasha. "With your soldiers standing looking over us, watching our women and driving their vehicles destroying our land. Go into the hills to find the Taliban, don't disturb us." [complete article]
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Confident Turkey looks east, not west
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, March 26, 2007

Turkey was not invited to Europe's big birthday bash yesterday despite being an official candidate for EU membership. Ankara expressed disappointment at a "missed opportunity". Media reaction to the perceived snub was sharper.

"In the 1990s, the EU was a giant organisation governed by prominent leaders," said leading columnist Mehmet Ali Birand. "Today it has become a fat midget that lacks perspective and is governed by small-thinkers."

Disillusion with the EU has deepened since Brussels part-suspended talks in December after a row over Cyprus. The hostility, as seen from Ankara, of French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has poisoned the pot further.

But anger and frustration is slowly giving way to a new, more assertive idea: that perhaps Turkey does not really need Europe after all ... - ... and the EU will come to regret its insultingly complacent chauvinism as Turkey goes its own way. [complete article]
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Terrorized by 'war on terror'
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Washington Post, March 25, 2007

The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. [complete article]

Comment -- Brzezinski's statement here demands frequent repetition and thereafter distillation in words that far too few Americans will ever dare utter: I oppose the war on terrorism!

One of the keys to understanding the psychology behind the war on terrorism is to recognize the significance of the fusion of the words "terrorism" and "terror." Since these terms have now come to be used so widely as synonyms it might sound pedantic to quibble about usage. Yet when we call terrorism, terror, we are not only fusing together two words whose meaning should be distinguished; we are binding together a cause and an effect. Terrorism is the act of violence (the catalyst isolated in time and space), while terror is the desired effect (an effect intended to penetrate far beyond its source).

What the Bush administration did after 9/11 was to willingly serve as an indispensable instrument without which al Qaeda might never have been able to globalize its campaign. George Bush and Dick Cheney translated terrorism into terror and thereby served as the finest recruits that Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri could ever have imagined!

It is easy to see the administration's response to 9/11 as having been shaped by opportunistic neoconservatives who were clamoring to push their own agenda. Even so, we should not underestimate the effects of Bush and Cheney's own fear in response to becoming targets of terrorism. Each was quick to call on the services of the state to stage an impressive demonstration of American power, yet neither the president nor vice-president at that time or subsequently provided a convincing demonstration of their own personal courage.

9/11 presented a challenge to America and its leaders: should we pursue a fear-driven quest for security, or could we be courageous in spite of our fears. In lockstep with its fearful leaders, America allowed itself to become a nation governed by fear. In a collective infantile regression, we clung to the sense that feeling safe is all that matters.
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Ex-captive in Guantanamo makes run for office in Australia
By Raymond Bonner, New York Times, March 25, 2007

Mamdouh Habib cannot drink cold water. He vomits when he tries to, he said. He knows he must drink water, so he engages in vigorous exercise in order to force some lukewarm water down.

He says his doctor has told him his stomach has been damaged. Mr. Habib thinks it is from having gas forced into it through some kind of tubes inserted into his rectum when he was detained and, he says, tortured in Egypt.

"It made you feel like you were flying," he said.

Mr. Habib, an unemployed 51-year-old father of four, was an early case of rendition. He was seized in Pakistan in October 2001, where he has alleged that he was tortured, then bound up by tough English-speaking men in black and secretly flown to Egypt, where he was held and, by his accounts, tortured for several months, before being shipped to the American detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in April 2002.

He was released from Guantanamo and returned to Australia in February 2005 without any charges filed against him, because the Bush administration did not want the torture allegations aired in court, Australian and American officials have said. [complete article]

The president's prison
Editorial, New York Times, March 25, 2007

George Bush does not want to be rescued.

The president has been told countless times, by a secretary of state, by members of Congress, by heads of friendly governments -- and by the American public -- that the Guantanamo Bay detention camp has profoundly damaged this nation's credibility as a champion of justice and human rights. But Mr. Bush ignored those voices -- and now it seems he has done the same to his new defense secretary, Robert Gates, the man Mr. Bush brought in to clean up Donald Rumsfeld's mess.

Thom Shanker and David Sanger reported in Friday's Times that in his first weeks on the job, Mr. Gates told Mr. Bush that the world would never consider trials at Guantanamo to be legitimate. He said that the camp should be shut, and that inmates who should stand trial should be brought to the United States and taken to real military courts.

Mr. Bush rejected that sound advice, heeding instead the chief enablers of his worst instincts, Vice President Dick Cheney and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Their opposition was no surprise. The Guantanamo operation was central to Mr. Cheney's drive to expand the powers of the presidency at the expense of Congress and the courts, and Mr. Gonzales was one of the chief architects of the policies underpinning the detainee system. Mr. Bush and his inner circle are clearly afraid that if Guantanamo detainees are tried under the actual rule of law, many of the cases will collapse because they are based on illegal detention, torture and abuse -- or that American officials could someday be held criminally liable for their mistreatment of detainees. [complete article]

CIA awaits rules on interrogation of terror suspects
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, March 25, 2007

A sharp debate within the Bush administration over the future of the Central Intelligence Agency's detention and interrogation program has left the agency without the authority to use harsh interrogation techniques that the White House said last fall were necessary in questioning terrorism suspects, according to administration and Congressional officials.

The agency for months has been awaiting approval for rules that would give intelligence operatives greater latitude than military interrogators in questioning terrorism suspects but would not include some of the most controversial interrogation procedures the spy agency has used in the past.

But the internal debate has left the C.I.A. program in limbo as top officials struggle over where to set boundaries in the treatment of people suspected of being involved in terrorist activities. Until the debate is resolved, C.I.A. interrogators are authorized to use only interrogation procedures approved by the Pentagon. [complete article]

See also, Terror database has quadrupled in four years (WP).
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But who's against the next war?
By David Rieff, New York Times, March 25, 2007

To hear the Democrats vying for the 2008 presidential nomination tell it, their foreign-policy views represent a sharp, even radical break with the course the Bush administration has pursued since 9/11. Senator Hillary Clinton has contrasted President Bush's unilateralism with what she has called her own internationalism. Senator Barack Obama vowed to provide "the kind of leadership we need to re-establish our standing in the world and renew our allies' respect." Former Senator John Edwards has emphasized his differences with the administration's domestic policy, but he has also promised to abandon a foreign policy "based on ideology" and to "return America to its place of moral leadership."

Upon closer examination, however, the differences between these candidates and President Bush hardly seem as consequential as all that. To be sure, all three Democrats have denounced the administration's policies in Iraq, with Obama and Edwards saying the war was a mistake and Clinton, though she has refused to apologize for her vote authorizing the war, increasingly coming around to the same position. But this has been a debate about the past rather than the future, and even the Bush administration, Vice President Cheney excepted, has largely climbed down from its rhetoric about what the United States can accomplish in Iraq. Clinton, Edwards and Obama have bitterly assailed one another's Iraq positions, but it often seems as if they are splitting rather small differences. Senator Edwards has called for a complete withdrawal of our forces in 12 to 18 months; Senator Obama has called for "phased redeployment" of troops beginning no later than May 1; and Senator Clinton has called for a pullout to begin within 90 days but has been vague on how many American troops should leave Iraq and under what circumstances.

But it is their positions on Iran's nuclear program, a subject that is almost certain to bedevil whoever becomes president in 2009, that most strongly suggest that the foreign-policy differences between Democratic and Republican policy elites have been vastly overblown. [complete article]
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And they call it peace: Inside Iraq, four years on
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, March 25, 2007

The difficulty of reporting Iraq is that it is impossibly dangerous to know what is happening in most of the country outside central Baghdad. Bush and Blair hint that large parts of Iraq are at peace; untrue, but difficult to disprove without getting killed in the attempt. My best bet was to go to Sulaymaniyah, an attractive city ringed by snow-covered mountains in eastern Kurdistan. I would then drive south, sticking to a road running through Kurdish towns and villages to Khanaqin, a relatively safe Kurdish enclave in north-east Diyala province, one of the more violent places in Iraq. [complete article]

A searing assault on Iraq's intellectuals
By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2007

Artist Jabbar Muhaybis stood amid the ashes of Baghdad's storied literary bazaar. Bloodstained pages were scattered at his feet. A wooden crate, eerily reminiscent of a coffin, covered his head.

Muhaybis spread his arms wide and, in a symbolic gesture, sadly intoned from the darkness of his crate: "The light will not shine here again."

Days after a suicide bomber plowed his explosives-laden truck into the heart of Mutanabi Street, Baghdad's intellectual icons gathered to mourn a place that had been their inspiration and refuge through decades of invasion, war and dictatorship.

Iraq's urban, educated, largely secular middle class had everything to gain from the fall of Saddam Hussein's oppressive and isolating regime. Four years later, it is on the way to being wiped out. [complete article]
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Iran remains defiant despite new Security Council sanctions
By Maggie Farley, Los Angeles Times, March 25, 2007

The Security Council unanimously adopted new sanctions against Iran on Saturday over its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment -- a move meant to show that Tehran's defiance would leave it increasingly isolated, but compliance would bring it rewards.

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, immediately decried the U.N. resolution, calling it "unlawful" and an "abuse" of the Security Council's power.

Mottaki, insisting that Iran was not developing nuclear weapons, said his country would never stop its enrichment activities or give up its right to develop nuclear energy. [complete article]
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Iran 'to try Britons for espionage'
By Uzi Mahnaimi, Michael Smith and David Cracknell, The Sunday Times, March 25, 2007

British sailors and marines arrested by Iran's Revolutionary Guards off the coast of Iraq may be charged with spying.

A website run by associates of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, reported last night that the Britons would be put before a court and indicted.

Referring to them as "insurgents", the site concluded: "If it is proven that they deliberately entered Iranian territory, they will be charged with espionage. If that is proven, they can expect a very serious penalty since according to Iranian law, espionage is one of the most serious offences."

The warning followed claims by Iranian officials that the British navy personnel had been taken to Tehran, the capital, to explain their "aggressive action" in entering Iranian waters. British officials insist the servicemen were in Iraqi waters when they were held. [complete article]

Stormy past of waterway that separates old enemies
By Trevor Royle, Sunday Herald, March 25, 2007

In common with most disputed waterways which provide a border between two countries - in this case Iraq and Iran - the Shatt al-Arab (or Arab River) is a difficult place to demarcate. As a result, it has been the scene of countless disputes in which shots have been fired or people have been arrested. The 120-mile stretch of water, formed by the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, is a vital channel for Iraq as it provides its only access to the Persian Gulf. The river also supplies fresh water to southern Iraq and Kuwait, but its main importance is the channel it provides for ships to travel as far as Basra, Iraq's principal port.

The dispute goes back to the foundation of Iraq in 1921 following the demise of the Ottoman empire, with both countries demanding that they had priority in navigation rights. In 1935, the League of Nations gave Iraq total control of the Shatt al-Arab, leaving Persia (as Iran was then known) with control only of the approaches to Abadan and Khorramshahr, its chief ports. This also meant Persia was unable to develop new port facilities in the delta and forced it to look further south to the Persian Gulf for the country's main access to the outside world. [complete article]

Exclusive: Iranians had showdown with U.S. forces
By Anna Mulrine, US News, March 23, 2007

As the British government demanded the immediate release of 15 of its sailors whose boats were seized by Iranian naval vessels in the Persian Gulf on Friday, U.S. News has learned that this is not the first showdown that coalition forces have had with the Iranian military.

According to a U.S. Army report out of Iraq obtained by U.S. News, American troops, acting as advisers for Iraqi border guards, were recently surrounded and attacked by a larger unit of Iranian soldiers, well within the border of Iraq. [complete article]
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Settlers plan defiant return to West Bank
By Joshua Mitnick, Sunday Telegraph, March 25, 2007

A group of deeply religious Jewish settlers is planning to take advantage of the Israeli prime minister's political weakness by retaking the abandoned West Bank town of Homesh.

Leaders of the Homesh First group have toured settlements on the West Bank to drum up support, handing out maps of the approach routes to their destroyed hilltop town and manuals instructing thousands of followers on how to thwart soldiers and police who are preparing to block them.

The group is hoping to benefit from the growing pressure on prime minister Ehud Olmert to resign over his handling of last year's war against Hezbollah. Mr Olmert has been further handicapped by a series of corruption scandals allegedly involving himself and other cabinet ministers. "The government is weak and it won't want clashes," said Rabbi Motti Ganeram, a Homesh evacuee. [complete article]

Rice presses Arab states on peace plan
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, March 25, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice pressed Arab officials on Saturday to follow up a peace offering to Israel with sustained diplomacy. At the same time, she encountered a backlash from Egypt's government over her criticism of constitutional amendments that are being put to a referendum Monday.

Rice's meetings in this historic southern city on the Nile highlighted the challenges she faces as she tries to reinvigorate the Middle East peace process while maintaining at least a rhetorical commitment to pushing for democracy in the region. Egypt, the largest Arab country and one of the few that recognizes Israel, plays a central role in peace efforts. Rice has come under fire in recent months for appearing to remain silent as President Hosni Mubarak rolled back electoral freedoms. [complete article]

See also, 'No comment' from Israeli officials on Olmert-Saudi meeting reports (Haaretz).

Olmert blasts Abbas for broken promise
By Matti Friedman, AP, March 25, 2007

In unusually blunt criticism, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Sunday that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas "blatantly violated" a promise to free a captive Israeli soldier before forming a new national unity government.

Olmert spoke before the weekly Cabinet meeting and ahead of high-profile talks Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon, both visiting the region.

"We can't ignore the fact that the chairman of the Palestinian Authority blatantly violated a series of commitments to Israel, especially the commitment that no national unity government would be formed before Gilad Shalit's release," Olmert said. [complete article]
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The moderate Muslim Brotherhood
By Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke, Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2007

The Muslim Brotherhood is the world's oldest, largest, and most influential Islamist organization. It is also the most controversial, condemned by both conventional opinion in the West and radical opinion in the Middle East. American commentators have called the Muslim Brothers "radical Islamists" and "a vital component of the enemy's assault force ... deeply hostile to the United States." Al Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri sneers at them for "lur[ing] thousands of young Muslim men into lines for elections ... instead of into the lines of jihad."

Jihadists loathe the Muslim Brotherhood (known in Arabic as al-Ikhwan al-Muslimeen) for rejecting global jihad and embracing democracy. These positions seem to make them moderates, the very thing the United States, short on allies in the Muslim world, seeks. But the Ikhwan also assails U.S. foreign policy, especially Washington's support for Israel, and questions linger about its actual commitment to the democratic process. [complete article - PDF]

See also, Strategic thinking about the Muslim Brotherhood (Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke).

Hear out Muslim Brotherhood
By Joshua Stacher and Samer Shehata, Boston Globe, March 25, 2007

On a quiet, one-way street in Cairo's middle-class Manial district, two bored security guards sit idly sipping tea. The building behind them houses a small apartment that serves as the main offices of the Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist group in the Middle East. In Egypt, the Brotherhood is the country's largest opposition group and its best-organized political force. No one would know it from the headquarters' modest appearance, but the Brotherhood is likely to be the dominant force in Egyptian politics in the future. Yet the United States stubbornly refuses to deal with the Brotherhood, taking its cue from the sclerotic and hopelessly corrupt regime of Hosni Mubarak.

According to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the United States does not deal with the group because it is illegal under Egyptian law. But basing policy on an authoritarian government's legal manipulations is not in America's interests. If American policy is to be effective or credible in Egypt and the wider region, the United States should engage with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the most popular and organized political movement in Egypt. Rice is scheduled to be in Egypt this weekend to meet with Mubarak, so now is an ideal time for talks with the Brotherhood. [complete article]

'Actors in a play of democracy'
By Zvika Krieger, Newsweek, March 23, 2007

A half dozen opposition members of Egypt's parliament stepped out of the People's Assembly a little after noon last Tuesday, expecting to join hoards of protesters there. Instead, they were met with an eerily empty street, blocked on both sides by plainclothes police agents manning iron barricades. What was meant to be a show of popular discontent against restrictive legislation passed in the parliament hours earlier became yet another illustration of how far freedoms have been rolled back in Egypt in recent months. While some of the parliamentarians tried to make the best of the situation by delivering bombastic statements of outrage to the few that made it past security officials, there was no ignoring the pervasive air of defeat.

"This is a dark comedy," said Hamdeen Sabahy, an opposition M.P. in the People's Assembly and head of the Nasserist Karama Party, as he walked away from the protest. "We are all simply actors in a play of democracy," he said. "A poorly directed play," added a fellow parliamentarian. [complete article]
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Taliban 'invite' 10,000 Uzbeks to Helmand
By Massoud Ansari, Sunday Telegraph, March 25, 2007

Islamic militants linked to Osama bin Laden have been offered a safe haven by the Taliban in Afghanistan, bringing them into conflict with British troops patrolling the lawless province of Helmand.

Uzbek gunmen, who fought a series of bloody battles last week with Pakistani tribesmen in the border region of Waziristan, where they had been living, have been told they should join the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan instead.

The move raises the prospect of a major upsurge in violence in Helmand, where 43 British soldiers have been killed in clashes with militants over the last five years.

The group of around 10,000 Uzbeks are led by Tahir Yuldashev, a close associate of the al-Qaeda terrorist chief, who is believed to be hiding out in the mountainous border area with his chief henchman Ayman al-Zawahiri. [complete article]
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Protests shatter image of Musharraf's invincibility
By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 2007

Even as he oversaw a show of military might Friday to commemorate a milestone in Pakistani history, President Pervez Musharraf is facing the most serious domestic crisis of his tenure as leader of the nation and the army, one that experts say has weakened him heading into elections this year.

An outcry over Musharraf's suspension of Pakistan's top judge has brought protesters into the streets, prompted calls for the president to step down and refocused attention on the iron grip of the military establishment.

The demonstrations have tapped into a wellspring of public anger over the fact that, nearly eight years after Musharraf seized power in a bloodless coup, the rule of law and the role of democratic institutions here remain tenuous at best. [complete article]
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Al-Jazeera: the matchbox that roared
By Fred Halliday, Open Democracy, March 23, 2007

Doha, capital of the small Gulf state of Qatar (adult citizen population around 80,000), was once the centre of the most retrograde of the region's British-ruled statelets. Things have changed a little since then. With around 15% of the world's gas, Qatar now has (at around $70,000) the highest per-capita income on earth; its capital is a fast-moving city of skyscrapers and seaside motorways; its emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani (who came to power in June 1995 by following family tradition and deposing his father) a shrewd and ambitious ruler.

Yet for all the modernity, drivers here take their direction by reference to roundabouts, most named after local landmarks or symbols - "clocktower roundabout'", "oryx roundabout", and..."television roundabout". Welcome to the studios of al-Jazeera, perhaps the most famous broadcasting station in the world.

A few minutes from the centre of town, past a gatehouse with the proverbially sleepy guard, here it is: two extensive, single-storey buildings containing respectively the studios of al-Jazeera's Arabic service (founded in 1996) and the newer English-language channel. At first sight the headquarters seem nondescript (Egypt's Hosni Mubarak, a regular target of criticism on al-Jazeera's programmes, was heard to remark after a surprise midnight visit: "All this trouble from a matchbox!") [complete article]
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