The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Iran: U.S. 'supporting terrorists'
Al Jazeera, April 6, 2007

The United States is supporting anti-Iranian groups operating out of Pakistan's remote border regions, the speaker of Iran's parliament has said.

Gholamali Haddadadel accused the US of trying to put pressure on the government in Tehran, but said Pakistan was not involved in the operations.

"There is no doubt in our minds that the United States spares no effort to put pressure on the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said.

The US television station ABC News reported on Tuesday that the US had been secretly advising and encouraging a Pakistani group that had carried out raids in Iran. [complete article]

Comment -- "U.S.-sponsored terrorism" is a phrase that never gets used in the mainstream media, yet unlike the Vice President's persistent claims of a Saddam-al-Qaeda connection, there is no disputing that the United States is harboring an organization designated by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization: the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (MEK). So while Cheney continues making assertions that don't have credibility even inside his own government, the speaker of the Iranian parliament can accuse the U.S. of backing other terrorist organizations and his accusations will not only be reported by the international media but be widely accepted as well-founded.

As for Iran's image, now that it has released its British prisoners, the propaganda coup it undoubtedly won came in the form of an icon that will forever stand in contrast to the images from Abu Ghraib: suited, smiling, waving captives. The message to the world (one that Hezbollah already seems to have keyed on to) is this: Look, we're not like the Americans -- we don't torture our prisoners; nor are we like the Jihadists -- we don't decapitate them. We treat our captives humanely and with civility.

This is a message that won't play well (or even be attended to) by much of the West, but let's not forget -- we're in the minority.
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Britain's humiliation -- and Europe's
By Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post, April 6, 2007

Iran has pulled off a tidy little success with its seizure and release of those 15 British sailors and marines: a pointed humiliation of Britain, with a bonus demonstration of Iran's intention to push back against coalition challenges to its assets in Iraq. All with total impunity. Further, it exposed the impotence of all those transnational institutions -- most prominently the European Union and the United Nations -- that pretend to maintain international order.

You would think maintaining international order means, at least, challenging acts of piracy. No challenge here. Instead, a quiet capitulation.

The quid pro quos were not terribly subtle. An Iranian "diplomat" who had been held for two months in Iraq is suddenly released. Equally suddenly, Iran is granted access to the five Iranian "consular officials" -- Revolutionary Guards who had been training Shiite militias to kill Americans and others -- whom the United States had arrested in Irbil in January. There may have been other concessions we will never hear about. But the salient point is that American action is what got this unstuck. [complete article]

Comment -- I've always found Charles Krauthammer an irritating fellow but all is forgiven. This is priceless! And its clear that Krauthammer needs to pursue his real vocation: comedy -- this guy has a genuine talent for deadpan humor.

I guess Krauthammer thinks the latest Bush-Blair dialogue went something like this:

Bush - Hate to tell you this Bambi, but you know you can never rely on those Europeans to pull your chestnuts out of the fire.
Blair - I know -- and I'll be eternally grateful that you had the forethought to take some Iranians hostage before our boys (and girl) got caught. It was extremely generous of you to trade one of them in. I guess if the hostage exchange-rate doesn't fluctuate in the coming months we can stand to lose another 75 soldiers. I do have one question though, Mr President: There isn't any chance that our troops are at more risk while you hold on to the remaining hostages?
Bush - Not a chance. I checked with the Vice President and he assured me it's impossible.
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Syria, Hizbullah, Iran prepare in case of war
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, April 6, 2007

The prospect of an attack by the United States against Iran has triggered a flurry of military activity around the Middle East as Tehran mobilizes its allies to prepare a defense. In a region where suspicion dominates and trust is rare, politicians and analysts warn, mounting tensions between the US and Iran could spark a war by accident.

"The situation is such that you can't rule out an unplanned development," says Zvi Shtauber, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University in Israel. "Since we're living in an era where there is no negotiation, it looks like everything is open.... things are so fragile that you could have an accidental development."

Those concerns were voiced this week by Amos Yadlin, Israel's chief of military intelligence, who told the government that Lebanese Hizbullah, Syria, and Iran are making defensive preparations in expectation of war. "We are closely monitoring these preparations because [Iran, Syria and Hizbullah] could misinterpret various moves in the region," Mr. Yadlin was quoted by the Israeli Haaretz daily as saying. Israeli media reported that Israel asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to relay to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during her visit to Damascus Wednesday a message of reassurance that Israel has no intention of attacking. [complete article]
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Why Teheran takes an interest in Iraqi politics
By David Blair, The Telegraph, April 6, 2007

Every operation by Iran's proxy militias in Basra serves as a reminder that no country has a more vital interest in the future shape of Iraqi politics than its larger neighbour.

From the moment that Saddam Hussein was deposed almost exactly four years ago, Iran began trying to influence Iraq's new political factions as they emerged from decades of oppressive rule.

Iran has numerous interests at stake. First and foremost is national security. Iran was invaded by Iraq in 1980 and suffered deeply at the hands of Saddam's regime.

The war started by Baghdad lasted for eight years and cost perhaps one million lives. Neither side gained anything from this bloody conflict which ended in stalemate.

Iran wants to guarantee that this nightmare will never recur. Its chosen method of achieving this aim is by ensuring the emergence of a pliant regime in Baghdad. [complete article]

Comment -- Contrary to the Bush administration's portrayal of Iran as a destabilizing factor in Iraq, the Iranians clearly have a much deeper vested interest in long-term peace. The struggle between the U.S. and Iran is not between stability and instability; it simply hinges on alliance. Should Baghdad be more closely aligned to the capital 400 miles away or the one 6000 miles away?
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Somali battles bring charges of war crimes
By Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times, April 6, 2007

European diplomats said Thursday that they were investigating whether Ethiopian and Somali government forces committed war crimes last week during heavy fighting in Somalia's capital that killed more than 300 civilians.

The fighting, some of the bloodiest in Somalia in the past 15 years, pitted Ethiopian and Somali forces against bands of insurgents. It reduced blocks of buildings in Mogadishu, the capital, to smoldering rubble. Many residents have complained to human rights groups, saying the government used excessive force and indiscriminately shelled their neighborhoods.

Eric van der Linden, the chief of the European Commission's delegation to Kenya, said he had appointed a team to look into several war crime allegations stemming from the civilian casualties. "These are hefty accusations," Mr. van der Linden said. "We are examining them very prudently." [complete article]
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The semiwarriors
By Andrew C. Bacevich, The Nation, April 23, 2007

In books, essays and op-eds, complaints about presidential power run amok have once again become legion--with the still-unfolding saga of the Gonzales Eight the most recent, if hardly the most egregious, example. These complaints derive from a common source: the perceived excesses of the Bush Administration, perpetrated under the pretext of prosecuting the Global War on Terror. Yet as a close reading of the books considered here makes plain, "unchecked and unbalanced" presidential power is itself not the problem but merely its outward manifestation. The imperial presidency is not the disease; it is a symptom. To imagine that getting rid of Bush will cure what ails the body politic is akin to assuming that excising a tumor will alone suffice to cure cancer.

The real affliction is more insidious. For want of a better label, call it "semiwar," a term coined after World War II by James Forrestal to promote permanent quasi mobilization as the essential response to permanent global crisis. A man who saw demons everywhere, Forrestal was convinced that he alone grasped the danger they posed to the United States.

Forrestal was also a zealot, the prototype for a whole line of national security ideologues stretching across six decades from Dean Acheson to Donald Rumsfeld, from Paul Nitze to Paul Wolfowitz. Geoffrey Perret's acerbic description of Acheson applies to them all: His "mind turned to the apocalyptic as easily, if not as often, as other men's thoughts turn toward money or sex." For semiwarriors, time is always short. The need for action is always urgent. The penalty for hesitation always promises to be dire.

From Forrestal's day to the present, semiwarriors have viewed democratic politics as problematic. Debate means delay. To engage in give-and-take or compromise is to forfeit clarity and suggests a lack of conviction. The effective management of national security requires specialized knowledge, a capacity for clear-eyed analysis and above all an unflinching willingness to make decisions, whatever the cost. With the advent of semiwar, therefore, national security policy became the preserve of experts, few in number, almost always unelected, habitually operating in secret, persuading themselves that to exclude the public from such matters was to serve the public interest. After all, the people had no demonstrable "need to know." In a time of perpetual crisis, the anointed role of the citizen was to be pliant, deferential and afraid. [complete article]
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How to get out of Iraq
By Juan Cole, The Nation, April 23, 2007

Both houses of Congress have now backed a timeline for withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq in 2008, which George W. Bush has vowed to veto. He gives two major rationales for rejecting withdrawal. At times he has warned that Iraq could become an Al Qaeda stronghold, at others that "a contagion of violence could spill out across the country--and in time, the entire region could be drawn into the conflict." These are bogeymen with which Bush has attempted to frighten the public. Regarding the first, Turkey, Jordan and Iran are not going to put up with an Al Qaeda stronghold on their borders; nor would Shiite and Kurdish Iraqis. Most Sunni Iraqis are relatively secular, and there are only an estimated 1,000 foreign jihadis in Iraq, who would be forced to return home if the Americans left.

Bush's ineptitude has made a regional proxy war a real possibility, so the question is how to avoid it. One Saudi official admitted that if the United States withdrew and Iraq's Sunnis seemed in danger, Riyadh would likely intervene. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has threatened to invade if Iraq's Kurds declare independence. And Iran would surely try to rescue Iraqi Shiites if they seemed on the verge of being massacred.

But Bush is profoundly in error to think that continued US military occupation can forestall further warfare. Sunni Arabs perceive the Americans to have tortured them, destroyed several of their cities and to be keeping them under siege at the behest of the joint Shiite-Kurdish government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. American missteps have steadily driven more and more Sunnis to violence and the support of violence. The Pentagon's own polling shows that between 2003 and 2006 the percentage of Sunni Arabs who thought attacking US troops was legitimate grew from 14 to more than 70. [complete article]
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As Musharraf's woes grow, enter an old rival, again
By Somini Sengupta, New York Times, April 6, 2007

As the Pakistani president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, wrestles with swelling public disaffection over his rule, one of his key political rivals, Benazir Bhutto, has embarked on an international campaign to revive her political standing.

In recent weeks, Ms. Bhutto, 53, a former prime minister and the leader of the Pakistan People's Party who has lived in exile since 1999, has stepped up her criticism of the Taliban who operate in the remote regions of the country. She has sought to marginalize Islamist political parties from an opposition party alliance that has emerged in anticipation of elections later this year.

Seeking to assure Washington that she would be a staunch ally, she has suggested that as an elected leader, she would be more credible in selling antiterrorism efforts to the public than General Musharraf, who has been criticized by Washington for a mixed record in combating the Taliban and Al Qaeda within Pakistan's borders. She has even brought her campaign here, to the capital of her nation's archrival: India. [complete article]
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The isolation of the isolator
By Tom Raum, AP, April 5, 2007

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi engages Syrian President Bashar Assad in Damascus and passes him a peace message from Israel. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad frees 15 British captives, defusing a crisis with Britain. Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah moves to take the lead in pressing for Mideast peace.

The missing thread in these international developments? President Bush. [complete article]

See also, The Pelosi visit (Joshua Landis), Pelosi meets Syrian president despite objections from Bush (WP), and Speaker's role in foreign policy is a recent, and sensitive, issue (WP).

Comment -- Bush's campaign of isolation is working tremendously well. Before long it'll just be him, Cheney, Laura and Barney.
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Saudi source: No talks before Israel accepts Arab peace plan
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, April 5, 2007

Saudi Arabia said Tuesday that Israel must first accept the Arab peace initiative before it would agree to any direct talks with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.

Olmert has called for a summit with the Saudis in order to discuss the peace process, following an Arab League decision to re-launch a 2002 peace initiative that calls for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 boundaries and a just and agreed solution to the refugee problem.

A Saudi source told The Associated Press that Israel must accept the proposal "before any meeting is considered." [complete article]
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Israel's protests are said to stall Gulf arms sale
By David S. Cloud and Helene Cooper, New York Times, April 5, 2007

A major arms-sale package that the Bush administration is planning to offer Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf allies to deter Iran has been delayed because of objections from Israel, which says that the advanced weaponry would erode its military advantage over its regional rivals, according to senior United States officials.

Israeli officials, including the former defense minister, Shaul Mofaz, have come to Washington in recent months to argue against elements of the planned sales. In particular, the Israelis are concerned about the possible transfer of precision-guided weapons that would give Saudi warplanes much more accurate ability to strike targets, officials said.

The United States has made few, if any, sales of satellite-guided ordnance to gulf countries, several officials said. Israel has been supplied with such weapons since the 1990s and used them extensively in its war against Hezbollah last summer. [complete article]
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In the heart of Little Fallujah
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 6, 2007

This proliferation of Little Iraqs [for refugees] accounts for the biggest exodus in the Middle East since the Palestinians were forced to abandon their own lands in 1948 as the State of Israel was being created. In every single month in Iraq at least 40,000 people are displaced. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, there may be as many as 50,000 a month. Were that rate to continue, before 2020, all the population of Iraq would have been "liberated" from its own country.

In northern Damascus, a crammed room inside the Iraqi Embassy compound is pure Dante's purgatory - waves and waves of Iraqis desperately in search of the right missing papers to request political asylum in a Western embassy. Thousands may be planning to stay in Syria, but for the great majority the promised land really means a visa for Canada, Australia or the ever-elusive European Union.

Whichever Iraq one picks in Damascus, the mantra is recited in unison. Any glimmer of hope for the future hinges on the Americans leaving - and the establishment, by Iraqis, with no foreign interference, of a non-sectarian government. [complete article]
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The secret war against Iran
By Brian Ross and Christopher Isham, ABC, April 3, 2007

A Pakistani tribal militant group responsible for a series of deadly guerrilla raids inside Iran has been secretly encouraged and advised by American officials since 2005, U.S. and Pakistani intelligence sources tell ABC News.

The group, called Jundullah, is made up of members of the Baluchi tribe and operates out of the Baluchistan province in Pakistan, just across the border from Iran.

It has taken responsibility for the deaths and kidnappings of more than a dozen Iranian soldiers and officials. [complete article]
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U.K. to meet Hamas PM over reporter
BBC News, April 5, 2007

A UK diplomat is preparing to meet the Palestinian prime minister - a member of the militant Hamas movement - for talks on a missing BBC journalist.

It would be the UK's first meeting with Ismail Haniya. The government normally boycotts Hamas as a terrorist group. [complete article]

See also, The other kidnapped Briton (Tim McGirk).
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Colombia seeks Israelis accused of training death squads
AP, April 5, 2007

Interpol issued an international arrest warrant Tuesday for three Israelis accused of training private armies of Colombian drug cartels and right-wing death squads.

Yair Klein, Melnik Ferri and Tzedaka Abraham were being sought on charges of criminal conspiracy and instruction in terrorism and face nearly 11 years in prison if convicted, a spokesman for Colombia's domestic intelligence agency said, speaking on the condition that he not be identified.

The men are accused of helping set up training camps to teach private armies working for drug lords Pablo Escobar and Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha about explosives, car bombs and high-profile killings. The armies later morphed into Colombia's right-wing death squads. [complete article]
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U.S. lets Red Cross see seized Iranians
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, April 5, 2007

The U.S. military has allowed the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit five Iranian officials who were detained in Iraq nearly three months ago on suspicion of plotting against American and Iraqi forces.

A Red Cross delegation that included one Iranian citizen visited the detainees, and a request for a formal consular visit with them is "being assessed at this time" by the U.S. military, said Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell, the top U.S. military spokesman in Iraq.

In a briefing for reporters Wednesday, Caldwell did not say when the visit took place or whether it was connected to the case of the 15 British sailors and marines detained by Iran on March 23; Iran subsequently announced that they would be released. [complete article]
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Tehran's 'man of action' mayor keeps his eye on national office
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 5, 2007

The tree-planting ceremony in Tehran's Dialogue Park feels more like an early stop on Iran's presidential campaign trail than a bid by a humble local mayor to turn Iran's largest city green.

Some break through the photographers ringing Mayor Mohammed Baqr Qalibaf and give voice to one of the biggest questions in Iran's political future: the ambitions of this former national police chief and moderate conservative for top office.

"Can I have an autograph?" asks one Gulf Arab diplomat after planting his nation's tree in the park. Mr. Qalibaf laughs, and, in mock surprise, asks why.

"Tomorrow you will be president!" enthuses the diplomat, evoking a smile from the square-jawed mayor with receding hair and designer sunglasses. [complete article]
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Jock diplomacy
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 5, 2007

Now that the 15 Royal Navy crew members are back on British soil, Tony Blair insists they were released "without any deal, without any negotiation, without any side agreement of any nature." So what's been going on for the last two weeks? A protracted Internet search for the cheapest flight from Tehran to Heathrow airport? Tony Blair must subscribe to the Rice school of diplomacy which is not about "making deals" but instead about assuming a suitably striking pose (along with a carefully chosen outfit) all for the sake of "success" in each challenging diplomatic photo-opportunity.

Or should we assume that the terms of the deal with Iran stipulated that all parties would insist that there was no deal?

Given that we may never know whether there was or wasn't a deal, commentators naturally prefer to accept the line "there was no quid pro quo," than acknowledge that they are fumbling in the dark when it comes to explaining what happened. By skirting around the deal-issue, everyone is now well positioned to launch into the "lessons learned" phase of the story. Nevertheless, it is a tad presumptuous to start talking about lessons learned if we don't know what happened.

It would perhaps be closer to the mark if we acknowledged that "lessons learned" is really just shorthand for, "once they recognize that their approach to foreign relations is self-defeating and just plain dumb, these are the lessons we dearly wish the Bush administration might learn."

Predictably, preeminent among these lessons-wished-to-be-learned is this: diplomacy works. And contrary to whatever Tony Blair and Condoleezza Rice might assert, diplomacy obviously involves making deals.

Nevertheless, rather than dream of the day that George Bush and Dick Cheney have an epiphany and realize that presidential power flows through and is not impeded by the capacity to communicate, it might be more useful to reconsider the basis for this administration's communication deficit. Again, we need to go back to 9/11 -- the event that molded the Bush presidency.

Before 9/11, George Bush as an untested president was at least a risk and at worst, a disaster waiting to happen. Bush's first challenge came on April 1, 2001, with the collision between a U.S. spy plane and a Chinese fighter jet. To everyone's relief Bush dodged that particular diplomatic bullet yet no one foresaw the magnitude of the challenges that lay ahead.

Then came 9/11.

The American phallus collapsed and Viagra-based foreign policy kicked in.

Popular support for the administration hinged not on a coherent explanation about what had happened or what might constitute a rational response -- it rested on an emotive narrative (America under attack) and a visceral response ("pride in power" -- "we're going to kick ass").

As a result, in the years that have followed, "jock culture" has dominated Washington and resonated across American society.

America's anti-elitist roots long ago spawned a popular view of intellectualism, intelligence, nuanced analysis, and sophisticated communication, that treated these attributes as suspect and effete. Couple that perspective with the machismo that 9/11 provoked and it's easy to see why the Bush administration would thereafter treat diplomacy with undiluted contempt.

As characterized by former sports reporter and columnist for the New York Times Robert Lipsyte, jock culture requires:
shunning of anyone considered to be "not on the team," an unyielding mission to dominate opponents totally -- "winning is not enough" -- disdain for those considered to be weak, and the belief that "empathy can cost you the win."
The cultural reinforcers are humiliation and shame.

This is how President Bush operates. Jock culture sets the tone for the conduct of the administration, for handling the press, for resisting political opposition and worst of all it shapes the form and substance of America's foreign affairs.

In as much as the administration has allowed room for a particular approach to diplomacy this is one that has little to do with compromise, the identification of mutual interests, or the art of reconciliation. On the contrary, diplomacy here means the use of force without the premature discharge of weapons; it is a method for accomplishing the aims of war without needing to go to war; it is the art through which a lesser will can be bent into conformity with the desires of a greater will. It is one way through which America persists in its efforts to get its way. Diplomacy in this sense is simply another name for domination.

So what lessons should we imagine the administration is now gleaning from Downing Street?

That emasculated Englishman, Tony Blair (or "Bambi" as he is contemptuously referred to by many Brits) can survive a humiliation that would destroy any self-respecting American leader.

The Iranians might be laughing right now, but it's just a matter of time before we find an opportunity to kick them in the balls.

These kinds of thoughts are, I imagine, uppermost in the Bush-Cheney brain.

Diplomacy works? Nah! That's just for those whimpy Brits who don't have any muscle they can flex.

But maybe I'm wrong -- maybe as I now write, the White House is already reflecting on the recommendations from a fine op-ed in today's New York Times. Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh wisely observe that:
A judicious engagement policy will require patience and must begin with a fundamental shift in the style and content of American diplomacy. The breakthrough in American-Chinese relations during the Nixon administration followed such a course. Beijing responded favorably to engagement only after two years of unilateral American gestures. As part of a similar effort toward Iran, the Unites States should try to create a more suitable environment for diplomacy by taking actions that gradually breach the walls of mistrust.

Washington can begin by ending its provocative naval deployments in the Persian Gulf, easing its efforts to get European and Asian banks to divest from Iran and inviting Iranian representatives to all regional and international conferences dealing with the Middle East. Along this path, the language of American diplomacy would also have to alter. The administration cannot propose negotiations while castigating Iran as part of an "axis of evil" or the "central banker of terrorism" and forming a regional alliance to roll back Iranian influence.

Once a more suitable environment has been created, the United States should propose dialogue without conditions with the aim of normalizing relations. For too long, proposed talks with Iran have focused on areas of American concern: nuclear proliferation and Iraq. A more comprehensive platform would involve the totality of disagreements between the two countries and also address Iran's regional interests.
The question is, what would be the catalyst for such a "fundamental shift in the style and content of American diplomacy"?

Such a shift would demand that George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney discover that they would not lose their manhood by venturing outside jock culture. But since that culture has for so many years provided them with their own self-definition, this is like hoping that they will find the courage to jump into an abyss. It's not going to happen.
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Hostage exchange close to completion
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 4, 2007

If the White House hasn't already figured out that America is going to pay a price for state-sponsored kidnapping, isn't about time that its policies relating to U.S.-sanctioned abductions got closer scrutiny from both Congress and the press?

After Iranian diplomat, Jalal Sharafi (the second secretary at Iran's mission in Baghdad who had been kidnapped in February) and was released yesterday, Ahmad Chalabi observed that the timing -- during ongoing negotiations for the release of the British soldiers -- was "a curious coincidence." Curious indeed -- and I'm sure Chalabi was sporting his trademark smirk when he alluded to the unfolding hostage deal.

Now that Iran has announced it will release its British prisoners, in accordance with the diplomatic rules of the game, President Ahmadinejad says that no deal was made. "If we were to move forward on that basis things would have looked different." Presumably he means that the five other Iranian hostages captured by U.S. forces in Irbil in January would also have been released in advance.

The British and Americans on the other hand, having already asserted that there would be no quid pro quo, clearly needed to stipulate to the Iranians that the actual quid pro quo would have to avoid the appearance of a straight exchange. Surely no one is fooled by this charade?

The U.S. government now has a problem. Having implausibly claimed that it had nothing to do with Jalal Sharafi's kidnapping, the New York Times reports that sources "familiar with the case said they believed that those responsible worked for the Iraqi Intelligence Service, which is affiliated with the Central Intelligence Agency." Indeed, it has always seemed most likely that this would have been a U.S.-sponsored operation.

Let's not forget that before a new Iraqi government had been formed, back in the summer of 2003, the United States was covertly recruiting former henchmen from Saddam's security services to an form a new intelligence service clearly designed to serve U.S. interests. The Times might in its usual mealy-mouthed fashion say that the IIS is "affiliated" with the CIA -- what would probably be much closer to the truth is to say that Iraq's intelligence operatives are answerable to the CIA. After all, is it not rather strange that Iraq's Shia government would have a Baathist-run intelligence service?

How long will it be before the U.S. "completes its investigations" and releases the remaining Iranian hostages? Both Kurdish and Iraqi government officials are running out of patience while the U.S. persists with its maverick operations, though there are already signs that the U.S. may soon relent. Having held its captives in detention in a secret location, the U.S. is apparently going to allow Iran access to the five Iranian prisoners -- a small concession perhaps, since such access is required by international law.

Assuming that these Iranian officials are released, it remains an open question whether the White House and the Pentagon will engage in any serious review of their kidnapping policies.

The status of former Iranian deputy defence minister, Ali Reza Asgari, remains an open question. After the U.S. and Israel declared that Asgari had "defected", he seems to have sunk without trace. The timing of his defection was supposedly dictated by the time required for his family to escape from Iran. Yet Mahan Abedin, former editor of the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor, reports that: has now emerged that his family, including his wife, are safe in Tehran and desperately waiting for news on the whereabouts of the former IRGC commander. Asgari's wife even ... [said] that she believes her husband was kidnapped by American intelligence in Istanbul.
Many questions thus remain unanswered, but perhaps the question that every American should be demanding that this administration answer is this: Is the U.S. government's own use and support of kidnapping, placing every U.S. citizen -- and especially those overseas -- at risk?
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Last chance for Mideast peace
By Gary Kamiya, Salon, April 3, 2007

George W. Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert are letting what could be the last, best opportunity to resolve the world's most dangerous conflict slip through their fingers. Unless both leaders somehow find the wisdom and vision to seize the moment, 2007 may be remembered as the year when the chance for a lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians slipped away for the last time.

Last week Saudi Arabia revived the Arab League's 2002 peace initiative. This offer, backed by every Arab country, offers a fair solution to the crisis. It is basically a land-for-peace deal along the lines of the Clinton parameters and the 2003 Geneva accord. The rudiments of the plan are that Israel will return to its pre-1967 borders, with some territory swaps to be negotiated; a reasonable compromise will be worked out on the issue of refugees; and East Jerusalem will become the capital of Palestine, with Israel maintaining control over the Jewish holy sites and Jewish neighborhoods. Such a plan represents the only solution that will be acceptable to both sides. Essentially, the Arab states have told Israel: Whatever you work out with the Palestinians will be agreeable to us.

But despite U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's suddenly more active diplomacy and Olmert's invitation to Arab leaders to meet at a future regional peace conference, there is no indication that either the Israelis or the Americans are willing to take the steps necessary to make peace. [complete article]
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Britain vs Iran: A high-stakes game of chess
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, April 4, 2007

The stand-off over the 15 British sailors and marines captured by Iran looks to be moving towards a de facto prisoner exchange, despite denials by Britain and Iran that a swap was intended.

The first sign of a breakthrough yesterday was the release of Jalal Sharafi, an Iranian diplomat abducted from the streets of Baghdad two months ago, whom Iran claimed had been seized by Iraqi commandos controlled by the US. At the same time, an Iraqi Foreign Ministry official said the Iraqi government was "intensively" seeking the release of five Iranian officials captured in a US helicopter raid on a long-established Iranian liaison office in the Kurdish capital of Arbil in January.

The rhetoric in Tehran and London became more diplomatic as Tony Blair said the next two days would be "fairly critical" in resolving the crisis, though the Prime Minister gave no details. Iran continues to deny it seized the British naval detachment in the northern Persian Gulf on 23 March to force an exchange of hostages, while Britain said it would not bargain for their release. [complete article]

See also, U.S. strategy on Iran may have backfired (LAT).
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Iraq brought al-Qaeda back to life
By Lawrence Wright, Bitter Lemons, March 29, 2007

It is a terrible mistake to discount al-Qaeda's operational abilities, now and in the future. If you read the accounts of al-Qaeda insiders, the war on terror was essentially over in December 2001, after US and coalition forces swept aside the Taliban and pummeled al-Qaeda. According to al-Qaeda's own inner circle, 80 percent of its members were captured or killed. Yes, the leaders escaped, but they were scattered, destitute and unable to communicate with each other. The organization lived a kind of zombie existence, neither dead nor fully alive.

Iraq brought it back to life.

Al-Qaeda now has four major branches: Europe, Iraq, North Africa and the old mother ship, centered in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan. Obviously, most of its effort is in Iraq, but when the US inevitably begins to withdraw from that country, al-Qaeda will be able to boast of an extraordinary victory over the last remaining superpower. The jihadis who went to Iraq will begin to return to their own countries, empowering the local cells that have been proliferating in the Arab world and the West and have only lacked a degree of high-level training to make them really lethal. These veterans, with their experience, their networks and their resolve will become leaders of this new generation of jihadis. There is every reason to expect that they will be as cunning and dangerous as their predecessors, if not more so. [complete article]
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The Sadr-Sistani relationship
By Babak Rahimi, Terrorism Monitor, March 29, 2007

One of the oddest developments in the recent history of Iraq has been the growing connection between the young firebrand cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, and the highest-ranking Shiite cleric, Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. Earlier in 2003, the erratic politics of al-Sadr, with his mix of Arab nationalism and militant chiliastic ideology, was considered to eventually collide with al-Sistani's quietist form of Shi'ism, which advocates that clerics should maintain a clear distance from day-to-day state politics. Since 2004, however, an unlikely alliance has gradually taken form between the former adversaries, which is bound to reshape Iraqi Shiite politics in the years to come. By and large, the relationship between the two clerics has been one of asymmetrical partnership, in which al-Sistani plays the superior partner, guiding the younger and less experienced al-Sadr in his quest for becoming a legitimate leader of the Iraqi Shiite community. In doing so, al-Sistani has tried to tame al-Sadr by bringing him into the mainstream Najaf establishment in order to form a united Shiite front against extremist Sunnis and the United States. In return, al-Sadr, who lacks religious credentials, has been using al-Sistani's support to legitimize his religious authority and expand his influence in southern Iraq. The relationship is mutually opportunistic, but also pragmatic, since the two clerics have not been able to ignore each other. In broad terms, such an alliance signals two significant changes: first, a dramatic shift in the balance of power in Shiite Iraq in terms of the revival of the Hawza, as a cluster of seminaries and religious scholarly institutions in Najaf, and, second, an increase of tension between Shiites and Sunnis in Iraq. Moreover, the growing alliance between al-Sadr and al-Sistani also underlines another vital feature tied to the Shiite ascendancy in Iraq: the rise of Iran as a regional power. Iran has been playing a crucial role in the shaping of Sadr-Sistani relations, since any alliance between Shiite leaders is intertwined with the Qom-Tehran nexus and Iranian politics in the greater Middle East. [complete article]

See also, Cracks in Sadr's army (LAT).
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How bogus letter became a case for war
By Peter Eisner, Washington Post, April 3, 2007

It was 3 a.m. in Italy on Jan. 29, 2003, when President Bush in Washington began reading his State of the Union address that included the now famous -- later retracted -- 16 words: "The British Government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa."

Like most Europeans, Elisabetta Burba, an investigative reporter for the Italian newsweekly Panorama, waited until the next day to read the newspaper accounts of Bush's remarks. But when she came to the 16 words, she recalled, she got a sudden sinking feeling in her stomach. She wondered: How could the American president have mentioned a uranium sale from Africa?

Burba felt uneasy because more than three months earlier, she had turned over to the U.S. Embassy in Rome documents about an alleged uranium sale by the central African nation of Niger. And she knew now that the documents were fraudulent and the 16 words wrong. [complete article]
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How Specialist Town lost his benefits
By Joshua Kors, The Nation, April 9, 2007

Jon Town has spent the last few years fighting two battles, one against his body, the other against the US Army. Both began in October 2004 in Ramadi, Iraq. He was standing in the doorway of his battalion's headquarters when a 107-millimeter rocket struck two feet above his head. The impact punched a piano-sized hole in the concrete facade, sparked a huge fireball and tossed the 25-year-old Army specialist to the floor, where he lay blacked out among the rubble.

"The next thing I remember is waking up on the ground." Men from his unit had gathered around his body and were screaming his name. "They started shaking me. But I was numb all over," he says. "And it's weird because... because for a few minutes you feel like you're not really there. I could see them, but I couldn't hear them. I couldn't hear anything. I started shaking because I thought I was dead."

Eventually the rocket shrapnel was removed from Town's neck and his ears stopped leaking blood. But his hearing never really recovered, and in many ways, neither has his life. A soldier honored twelve times during his seven years in uniform, Town has spent the last three struggling with deafness, memory failure and depression. By September 2006 he and the Army agreed he was no longer combat-ready.

But instead of sending Town to a medical board and discharging him because of his injuries, doctors at Fort Carson, Colorado, did something strange: They claimed Town's wounds were actually caused by a "personality disorder." Town was then booted from the Army and told that under a personality disorder discharge, he would never receive disability or medical benefits. [complete article]
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McCain wrong on Iraq security, merchants say
By Kirk Semple, New York Times, April 2, 2007

A day after members of an American Congressional delegation led by Senator John McCain pointed to their brief visit to Baghdad's central market as evidence that the new security plan for the city was working, the merchants there were incredulous about the Americans' conclusions.

"What are they talking about?" Ali Jassim Faiyad, the owner of an electrical appliances shop in the market, said Monday. "The security procedures were abnormal!"

The delegation arrived at the market, which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees -- the equivalent of an entire company -- and attack helicopters circled overhead, a senior American military official in Baghdad said. The soldiers redirected traffic from the area and restricted access to the Americans, witnesses said, and sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests throughout their hourlong visit. [complete article]
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The Bush administration's campaign of kidnapping
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 3, 2007

"...American operatives have carried out numerous kidnappings in European and Middle Eastern cities in the past few years."

This is a statement of fact that should provoke shock, outrage, and national debate, yet it is apparently a matter of national indifference.

The U.S. government's practices of illegal abduction and imprisonment have been most widely reported and thoroughly documented in the cases of Khalid El-Masri and Abu Omar, both of whom were targets of "extraordinary rendition."

The mainstream media willingly uses the term "rendition" and the victims invariably have Middle Eastern names. As a result there has been little public debate inside America about the fact that for several years, the U.S. government has been in the business of kidnapping. In the Orwellian world we have constructed, if U.S. officials snatch someone off a street -- so long as it doesn't happen on an American street or to a U.S. citizen -- we supposedly have little reason to be concerned.

The problem with kidnapping -- beyond the fact that it is illegal -- is that inevitably invites retaliation in kind. So, it should come as no surprise that the preponderance of evidence now suggests that Iran's capture of British soldiers came in response to a string of provocations involving kidnapping.

The Independent's Patrick Cockburn now reports that Iran was retaliating against a botched U.S. raid in January in which U.S. forces tried to capture "Mohammed Jafari, the powerful deputy head of the Iranian National Security Council, and General Minojahar Frouzanda, the chief of intelligence of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard."

In a new development, Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at the Iranian Embassy in Baghdad who was kidnapped in early February, has been released. At that time, Iran accused the U.S. of being behind Sharafi's kidnapping. The timing of his release lends strong support to that theory. If in the next 72 hours Iran also releases its British prisoners, it will he hard not to conclude that Sharafi's release was part of a secret deal.

Moreover, it is also now alleged that former Iranian deputy defence minister, Ali Reza Asgari, contrary to Western media reports, did not defect to the West, but was the target of another U.S. kidnapping operation.

Mahan Abedin, former editor of the Jamestown Foundation's Terrorism Monitor, says that:
The assault on the consulate in Erbil and the kidnapping of Jalal Sharafi follow U.S. President George Bush's warning on 10 January that American forces had been instructed to seek out and destroy Iranian intelligence networks in Iraq. However, if Ali Reza Asgari has indeed been kidnapped by American agents, this would signal a significant escalation in the American campaign against Iran. It is going well beyond psychological warfare and appears to be a global campaign targeting specific Iranian intelligence assets in key locations.
In recent months, concern inside Washington and most European capitals has tended to focus on the risk of U.S. military strikes on Iran. What should perhaps be of much greater concern is the extent to which the United States is operating as a rogue state that not only undermines international law but through its actions is fostering global lawlessness.
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The Tao of smart foreign relations
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 2, 2007

In Western media coverage of Iran, there are two prevailing images. Firstly, that President Ahmadinejad is a dangerous, unpredictable and reckless leader, and secondly, that the labyrinth of Iran's political structures makes it extremely difficult for anyone to be sure about who is doing what.

Viewed through the American psychological prism with its fixation on power and status, in detaining 15 British soldiers Iran seems to have acted recklessly -- perhaps in retaliation for the detention of officials in Iraq and/or in response to the latest UN sanctions against its nuclear program. As the British scramble to find a diplomatic resolution to the crisis, President Bush accuses Tehran of "inexcusable behavior." Snatching Brits is viewed from the West as an act in defiance of both British and American authority.

But let's not think about this in terms of a challenge to power relations and instead acknowledge that the Iranians might not actually be engaged in a petulant act of defiance. And let's suppose that the soldiers have been detained for logical (even if not acceptable) reasons. So what might be the logic behind the Iranian government's actions and what would be a logical response?

A reader of this site who chooses anonymity (but says that he works as a professional trader) suggests the following analysis.

If the Bush administration was to make use of both this analysis and consequent recommendations it would be displaying an unusual degree of imagination running counter to all its previous tendencies. But as Winston Churchill famously declared, "Americans can always be counted upon to do the right thing, after all other possibilities have been exhausted."

Have we now reached that point?

Victory by withdrawal

To understand Iran's move, follow the money. Oil is Iran's main source of foreign revenue. Using WTI as benchmark, on Friday March 23 the barrel was at $62. On Friday March 30 it was at $66. So revenue per barrel went up 6%. Even more important is to evaluate the Iranian "fiscal surplus" per barrel because, due to its populist economic policies, the Iranian government needs an oil price of around $50 for its finances to break even. Using $50, fiscal surplus per barrel jumped from $12 to $16 or 33%. Not bad at all.

In this light, it is easy to see that every increase of tension in the Gulf plays right into the Iranian regime's pockets. And that if the Bush administration wants to undermine the Iranian regime's support base (and at the same time strengthen its own), it should follow a policy of aggressive reduction of tensions in the Gulf.

A look at a chart of the oil price can easily confirm this. From Christmas to January 16 the price plunged from $63 to $50. On Thursday January 18 the EIA issued an extremely bearish weekly inventory report (stocks had risen much more than expected). However, all the price did was to touch again $50 and start a relentless rise. Why? Because by then the market had started digesting the implications of the January 10 Bush announcement of the deployment of an additional carrier strike group and Patriot air defense systems to the Gulf region (as commented by Tony Karon's January 11 post "Bush’s New Iraq Plan: Bomb Tehran").

The point is that there is currently about a $20 risk premium embedded in the oil price. So that if the probability of military conflict in the Gulf dropped to zero, the oil price would drop below $50 and the Iranian regime's financial bottom line would drop into the red. Together with the financial sanctions already in place (which should be kept and hardened) that would make the regime's populist economic policies unsustainable and its popular support thinner and thinner. Given that Iran is a democracy and that Ahmadinejad's performance in last December's elections was already disastrous, it's clear that a decisive move towards less military pressure in the Gulf is the shortest way to relegate Iran's hardliners to the dustbin of history.

This view is in line with the following observations from a recent document from Yossi Mekelberg (Head of the International Relations Department in the Webster Graduate Centre and an Associate Fellow of the Middle East Programme at Chatham House/RIIA):
Despite the rhetoric from Tehran, Iran's mismanaged economy is vulnerable to international pressure. President Ahmadinejad was elected to improve the economy and eradicate corruption, not to pursue an antagonistic foreign policy towards large parts of the world. On 4 December 2006 the Iranian parliament, the Majlis, voted overwhelmingly to cut short his term in office by more than a year by holding the presidential elections alongside the upcoming parliamentary ones. Moreover, opponents of Ahmadinejad were successful in the local elections of 15 December 2006. Moderate conservatives opposed to him won a majority of the seats, followed by reformists ousting ultra-conservatives loyal to him. The results were widely seen as a response by the Iranian electorate to the President's constant power struggle with major international forces.

In January 2007, in an unprecedented action against a sitting president, 150 of the 290 members of the Majlis signed a letter blaming Ahmadinejad for raging inflation and high unemployment, and criticizing his travel abroad at time when he was due to present the Majlis with a draft budget for the coming fiscal year. All this indicates that Iran's political system is more responsive to engagement with the world than is believed by many in the international community, especially in the US and Israel.
The extent to which a bold move to reduce tensions in the Gulf is conducive to the Bush administration's interests has been greatly increased lately by the Saudi king's statements at the Arab League summit (and by the UAE's conspicuous "preemption" of any US activity hostile to Iran that could be launched from their territory). This is equivalent to a girlfriend telling you that the relationship is over. There are basically two ways to react to that. A loser would look disconcerted and beg "Please think again. I need you." A winner would smile and say "Glad you said that. It was exactly what I wanted to hear. I'm free again at last!" So to be a winner, Mr Bush should go out and say at the very least "We are delighted to see that the Arab leaders have faced up to the challenge of taking the issues of Middle East peace and security in their own hands and have engaged Iran and Syria in that process. And we are extremely pleased that this development allow us to immediately withdraw one carrier strike group from the region."

Now, if I were Mr Bush I would add "and we will start conversations with each of the Gulf countries in order to phase out the US military presence in the region in two years. After that, our military presence there will be limited strictly to the extent each country explicitly asks the US to have. This includes Iraq."

I call this strategy "Victory by withdrawal". And there is a wonderful opportunity to embrace it now.

(The author of this article works as a professional trader.)
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Iran makes £55 million from hostage crisis as oil prices soar
By Gerri Peev, The Scotsman, April 2, 2007

Iran is gaining up to £5 million a day from detaining 15 British sailors and marines as the crisis causes the price of oil to rise dramatically.

Since Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the Britons 11 days ago, the price of oil has soared 10 per cent, reaching six-month highs of $66 per barrel in New York last week.

According to OPEC figures, Iran exports 2.3 million barrels of oil per day, meaning Tehran has profited from the crisis by up to £5 million a day. By the end of today, the extra cash it has raked in could total £55 million.

While the oil price has risen, the public pressure on Iran was lowered yesterday as more conciliatory stances were adopted. [complete article]

See also, Iran digs in for lengthy standoff (AP), Iranian radio reports 'positive changes' (AP), and Tehran screens televised 'confession' by two more British service personnel (The Guardian).
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Duel for leverage fuels conflict, not diplomacy
By Trita Parsi, IPS, March 30, 2007

Whether the British were in Iranian waters or not -- and whether the Iranians believe the British were in Iranian waters or not -- Tehran seems to be using the incident to regain leverage over the West in the confrontation over its nuclear programme and its rising power and influence in the Middle East.

Much indicates that both Iran and the U.S. have come to recognise that it is becoming increasingly difficult to avoid some sort of diplomatic confrontation between them. This is particularly problematic for the George W. Bush administration, which for several years has adamantly opposed the idea of talking to Tehran.

The sudden realisation of the near-impossibility to avoid real diplomacy caused much anxiety in the Bush administration earlier this year. Washington had no shortage of contingency war plans with Iran -- but no contingency plans for diplomacy, and consequently no preparation for such negotiations.

So when the Iraq Study Group and Congress pushed the White House to recognise the need for diplomacy with Iraq's neighbours, including Iran, the Bush administration balked. It lacked leverage to negotiate with Iran, it said. [complete article]

See also, The feuding camps behind Iran crisis (The Observer) and Wildest card in turbulent landscape lies beyond reach of normal diplomacy (The Guardian).
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381 killed in 4 days of Somalia battles
By Salad Duhul, AP, April 2, 2007

Four days of fierce fighting between Somali forces and Islamic insurgents has killed 381 people in Mogadishu, a local human rights organization said Monday, as the government warned residents to abandon their homes ahead of a new military offensive.

During a lull in the violence, civilians were told to leave insurgent-held areas in Mogadishu as Somalia's transitional government said it planned new attacks with Ethiopian troops, tanks and helicopters to crush insurgents, backed by the remnants of an Islamic group driven from power in December.

On foot, using donkey carts, cars and trucks they poured out of the ruined coastal city, joining the exodus of 47,000 people - mainly women and children - who have sought safety in the last 10 days, according to the U.N.'s refugee agency. Since February almost 100,000 people have fled the growing violence. [complete article]

See also, Government urges Somalis to flee homes (AP) and Uneasy calm as Mogadishu guns fall silent (Reuters).

Comment -- Responsibility for this hugely underreported calamity rests squarely at the feet of the Bush administration. The only period of peace that Somalia has experienced in recent memory came during six months of Islamist governance in the second half of 2006. Yet just as the Bush administration finds an Islamist-controlled government unacceptable in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, likewise, in spite of popular support, governance by the Union of Islamic Courts in Somalia was deemed unacceptable -- thus the administration gave the green light to Ethiopia's intervention. If the choice is between life under Islamist rule, or death and destruction through war, the United States apparently favors the latter.
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Qaeda is seen as restoring leadership
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, April 2, 2007

As Al Qaeda rebuilds in Pakistan's tribal areas, a new generation of leaders has emerged under Osama bin Laden to cement control over the network's operations, according to American intelligence and counterterrorism officials.

The new leaders rose from within the organization after the death or capture of the operatives that built Al Qaeda before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, leading to surprise and dismay within United States intelligence agencies about the group’s ability to rebound from an American-led offensive.

It has been known that American officials were focusing on a band of Al Qaeda training camps in Pakistan's remote mountains, but a clearer picture is emerging about those who are running the camps and thought to be involved in plotting attacks. [complete article]
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Battle brews over rule by military in Pakistan
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, April 2, 2007

For weeks, lawyers in black suits have paraded through the streets of Pakistan's cities, demanding that Gen. Pervez Musharraf step down as president. But it is Musharraf's other job -- as head of the army -- that rankles the protesters most.

The controversy that began March 9 when Musharraf suspended the nation's chief justice is shaping up to be a much broader contest in Pakistan between civilian and military rule. Elements of civil society that have been either supportive of Musharraf or relatively quiet in their opposition, including lawyers, journalists and political parties, are becoming increasingly forceful in demanding that Pakistan no longer be run by a man in uniform.

"The nonmilitary institutions are asserting their rights," said Talat Masood, a retired Pakistani general and military analyst. "You can't just ignore those institutions and act like they're not important. But that's what Musharraf has been trying to do. He's been trying to run a one-man democracy." [complete article]
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Losing the war in Afghanistan
By Robert I. Rotberg, Boston Globe, April 2, 2007

The United States and NATO are about to lose the war in Afghanistan to an insurgent, revived Taliban. Deprived of sufficient firepower and soldiers, Allied forces are failing to hunt down and contain the Taliban, especially in the southern part of the country. Moreover, the crucial battle for Pashtun hearts and minds is also about to be lost. Only the rapid provision of security, roads, electricity, and educational and health services can counter the appeal of the renewed and reinvigorated Taliban. Urgently required are more troops for security and more funds for rebuilding essential services.

Narco-trafficking is fueling the Taliban, and fat profits from poppies and opium are partially responsible for the militants' resurgence . Indeed, Afghanistan is supplying about 90 percent of the world's opium and nearly all of the heroin that ends up in Europe. A recent study by the UN Office for Drugs and Crime forecasts a record crop of poppies this year, on top of last year's bumper harvest.

To undercut the ability of the Taliban to purchase arms, pay soldiers, and buy the support of villagers, the United States and NATO need to break the back of the drug trade in and out of Afghanistan. However, reliance on eradication -- the current weapon of choice -- is foolish and wasteful. Uprooting crops and spraying have both had limited local effect. What is needed is a radically new, incentive-based method to provide better incomes to farmers from substitute crops. [complete article]
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Khalilzad: Afghan, Levantine, realist and neocon
By Michael Young, Daily Star, April 2, 2007

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the American University of Beirut was hardly the likeliest of places to find a budding neoconservative - even less so a budding neoconservative and his future wife. Yet that's where Zalmay Khalilzad, the outgoing US ambassador to Iraq who will soon take up as US ambassador to the United Nations, did his undergraduate work, and where he met his wife, Cheryl Benard. In those years AUB was in the throes of Third World fervor and enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause. A university yearbook from the early 1970s had a drawing of a Palestinian militant on its cover, his head covered with a keffiyeh.

Describing Khalilzad as a "neoconservative" may be simplistic. In an interview published on Monday to mark Khalilzad's departure from Iraq, The New York Times used the term unhesitatingly. But then one remembers what Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, had to say about the man with whom he worked closely in supporting the Afghan mujahideen between 1979 and 1980: "He is a broad-minded pragmatist and an insightful strategist." [complete article]
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Russia's 'cool war' against the U.S. in the Middle East
By Konstantin Eggert, Daily Star, April 2, 2007

Moscow's growing attention to the Middle East continues, part of a new global strategy espoused by a more assertive and ambitious Russia. President Vladimir Putin pays much more attention to the region than his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, ever did. In the last two years, he has paid a historic first visit to Israel, visited oil- and gas-rich Algeria and, in another diplomatic first, toured the Gulf states.

He has established a firm personal friendship with King Abdullah II of Jordan and charmed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Moscow makes a point of regularly talking to those the United States, and sometimes even Europe, consider pariahs - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad, and the Hamas leadership. Major Russian companies are eyeing the region closely and Russian arms manufacturers hold out firmly against Western competitors and continue to irritate Washington by selling arms to Iran and Syria.

Why? There is one overriding reason: Russia's - or rather the Kremlin's - enduring obsession with the US victory in the Cold War. The current policy is aimed at getting at least partially even with America. The policy itself is nothing new. Originally from the Soviet days, it came back into fashion in the mid-1990s, especially after Yevgeny Primakov became Russia's foreign minister and later prime minister. It was he who was (and still is) one of the most prominent proponents of the so called "multi-polar world" view - a theory that really just serves as a flimsy disguise for opposing America's preponderance in global affairs. [complete article]
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BBC journalist begins fourth week of Gaza captivity
By Sakher Abu El Oun, AFP, April 2, 2007

Palestinian journalists protested on Monday against the abduction of BBC journalist Alan Johnston in Gaza as the veteran reporter began a fourth week in captivity, the longest a foreigner has been held in the lawless territory.

Around 300 journalists, their mouths tied, held a demonstration in central Gaza City in solidarity with the seasonsed reporter who was forced at gunpoint from his car as he drove home from work in Gaza City on March 12.

Carrying signs calling for Johnston's liberation, the protestors marched to the government compound in the city. Several hundred journalists held a similar protest in front of president Mahmud Abbas's office in Ramallah in the West Bank. [complete article]
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U.K. seek deal with Iran for captives
By Sean Rayment, Tim Shipman and Patrick Hennessy, Sunday Telegraph, April 1, 2007

Ministers are preparing a compromise deal to allow Iran to save face and release its 15 British military captives by promising that the Royal Navy will never knowingly enter Iranian waters without permission.

The Sunday Telegraph has learnt of plans to send a Royal Navy captain or commodore to Teheran, as a special envoy of the Government, to deliver a public assurance that officials hope will end the diplomatic standoff.

The move, which was discussed at a meeting of Whitehall's Cobra crisis committee yesterday, came as Downing Street officials explicitly cautioned against hopes of a speedy outcome and said that families of the hostages should prepare for the "long haul". [complete article]

See also, Bush says Iran must release 'hostages' (WP).
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Ex-aide details a loss of faith in the president
By Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, April 1, 2007

In 1999, Matthew Dowd became a symbol of George W. Bush's early success at positioning himself as a Republican with Democratic appeal.

A top strategist for the Texas Democrats who was disappointed by the Bill Clinton years, Mr. Dowd was impressed by the pledge of Mr. Bush, then governor of Texas, to bring a spirit of cooperation to Washington. He switched parties, joined Mr. Bush's political brain trust and dedicated the next six years to getting him to the Oval Office and keeping him there. In 2004, he was appointed the president's chief campaign strategist.

Looking back, Mr. Dowd now says his faith in Mr. Bush was misplaced.

In a wide-ranging interview here, Mr. Dowd called for a withdrawal from Iraq and expressed his disappointment in Mr. Bush's leadership.

He criticized the president as failing to call the nation to a shared sense of sacrifice at a time of war, failing to reach across the political divide to build consensus and ignoring the will of the people on Iraq. He said he believed the president had not moved aggressively enough to hold anyone accountable for the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and that Mr. Bush still approached governing with a "my way or the highway" mentality reinforced by a shrinking circle of trusted aides. [complete article]
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Who leads the Middle East?
By Christopher Dickey, April 9, 2007

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah often has the weary air of a simple man who's lived long enough to see it all, and in many ways he has. He was born more than 80 years ago, into a world of desert warriors where his father had yet to conquer the holy cities of Mecca and Medina or found the nation that Abdullah rules today. No oil flowed from beneath the sands. No Israel existed. The whole of the modern Middle East, for better or worse, has been created in his lifetime.

Yet now, say senior Saudi princes and members of the government, Abdullah has grown so angry and "emotional" about the disasters confronting the region that he's decided to take on a new role. No longer will Saudi Arabia play backup while its ally the United States fronts the band. Abdullah has grown frustrated, almost bitter, with the fecklessness of a divided Arab world. As if taking a line from Plato's Republic—"He who refuses to rule is liable to be ruled by one worse than himself"—the old king is now trying to lead on virtually every sensitive issue in the Middle East, from an Arab-Israeli peace to Darfur.

This surge of diplomatic initiative has baffled Washington. Bush officials worry whether Abdullah's new activism will ultimately support U.S. policy or undermine it. The Saudi monarch minced few words last week in his address to the summit of Arab kings, princes, prime ministers and presidents in Riyadh. Without diplomatic nicety, he condemned the "illegitimate foreign occupation" of Iraq. "Blood flows between brothers ... threatening a civil war," he harshly declared. American officials quickly noted that U.S. forces operate under a United Nations mandate, renewed every year. But there was no mistaking Abdullah's angry frustration with both the Americans' failure to bring order, after launching an ill-conceived invasion, and the Iraqis' own penchant for violence. [complete article]

See also, A conversation with the Saudi foreign minister (Christopher Dickey).
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Iraq prepares to resettle Arabs sent to Kirkuk by Hussein edict
By Karin Brulliard, Washington Post, April 1, 2007

The Iraqi government will soon begin relocating Arabs who were moved to Kirkuk under an edict by Saddam Hussein to force Kurds out of the disputed northern city, officials said Saturday.

The controversial step for the oil-rich city could help determine whether it becomes part of an autonomous Kurdish region, but critics warned that it would stoke sectarian tensions.

Iraq's cabinet on Thursday endorsed a committee's recent recommendation to compensate eligible Arabs who voluntarily leave the city, said Sadiq al-Rikabi, a political adviser to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Those who choose to move will receive about $15,000 and a plot of land in their home town. Officials will soon accept applications to determine eligibility, he said.

"This can, in a humanitarian framework, fix the mistakes of the previous regime," said Razgar Ali, a Kurd and the leader of Kirkuk's city council.

The future of one of Iraq's largest cities and its vast oil reserves has long been a divisive issue across the country. Kurds hope to make Kirkuk -- whose population includes Arabs, Kurds and ethnic Turkmens -- part of an autonomous Kurdish region, which Iraqi Arabs fear would lead to a partitioning of the nation.

The government's decision on relocation, critics said, could enable Kurds to cement their voting power ahead of a citywide referendum on whether to join an autonomous Kurdish region. [complete article]

Why Nouri al-Maliki is blocking an international conference
By Jim Hoagland, Washington Post, April 1, 2007

U.S. efforts to bring the world's great powers together with Iraq's quarrelsome neighbors to stabilize the government in Baghdad have predictably run into strong opposition. Didn't President Bush warn Jim Baker and Lee Hamilton that Syria and Iran were not interested in stopping the turmoil in Iraq?

Well, yes, he did. But the source of crippling opposition to a high-profile international conference in Turkey this month turns out not to have been foreseen by the president or by his critics on the Iraq Study Group, chaired by Baker and Hamilton. The gathering being pushed by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been blocked for weeks by Nouri al-Maliki, the surprisingly strong-willed prime minister of Iraq. [complete article]

Iraq death toll jumps 15 percent in March
AFP, April 1, 2007

At least 2,078 people died in Iraq last month, 15 percent more than in February despite a massive security crackdown in Baghdad, the epicentre of violence, a security official said on Sunday.

On average, 67 people died across the country every day in March, compared to 64 in February.

A significant increase in Iraqi civilian, army and police deaths was evident last month, the official said, based on detailed statistics collected by the defence, interior and health ministries. [complete article]

See also, Iraq says truck bomb in north killed 152 (NYT).

U.S. toll in March is twice Iraq forces
By Steven R. Hirst, AP, April 1, 2007

The U.S. military death toll in March, the first full month of the security crackdown, was nearly twice that of the Iraqi army, which American and Iraqi officials say is taking the leading role in the latest attempt to curb violence in the capital, surrounding cities and Anbar province, according to figures compiled on Saturday.

The Associated Press count of U.S. military deaths for the month was 81, including a soldier who died from non-combat causes Friday. Figures compiled from officials in the Iraqi ministries of Defense, Health and Interior showed the Iraqi military toll was 44. The Iraqi figures showed that 165 Iraqi police were killed in March. Many of the police serve in paramilitary units. [complete article]

How the U.S. Army broke in Iraq
By Phillip Carter, Slate, March 30, 2007

The U.S. Army broke in the 1970s in the wake of the Vietnam War and the end of the draft. But if you ask officers who served during that period, few will recall the sounds of creaking planks, snapping beams, or rupturing buildings as the institution disintegrated. Instead, the crumbling occurred over time, becoming apparent only decades later.

Today's Army is stretched past its breaking point by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The sounds of its collapse may be faint enough for policymakers in Washington to ignore, but they are there. An exodus of junior and midlevel personnel illustrates the crisis. Their exit has forced the Army to apply tourniquets like "stop loss" to halt the hemorrhaging, and it has also dropped its standards for recruiting and retention. [complete article]

See also, 2 suicide vests found in Green Zone (AP).
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Australian Gitmo detainee gets 9 months
By Michael Melia, March 31, 2007

An American military tribunal sentenced an Australian to nine months in prison Friday after he pleaded guilty to supporting terrorism - in the first conviction at a U.S. war-crimes trial since World War II.

A panel of military officers had recommended a term of seven years, but a section of a plea agreement that had been kept secret from the panel capped the sentence at nine months for David Hicks, who has been held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay for more than five years.

Under the agreement, the confessed Taliban-allied gunman will be allowed to serve his sentence in an Australian prison, but must remain silent about any alleged abuse while in custody. [complete article]

A tailor-made guilty plea
ACLU Blog, March 27, 2007

It was an extraordinary, though typically chaotic, day at the Guantánamo Military Commissions. David Hicks began the proceedings with three lawyers sitting beside him at counsel table. After a series of dubious rulings by the trial judge, he ended the day with only one. Hours later, he agreed to enter a plea of guilty to a single charge of providing material support to a terrorist organization.

Hicks maintained, under questioning, that his guilty plea was unrelated to the loss of his attorneys, but the facts speak for themselves. Though not overtly coerced, Hicks's guilty plea was the product of a coercive system. And this outcome will do little to reduce the perception that the United States has created a result-driven system that is incapable of providing fair trials free of controversy. [complete article]

See also, Hicks's father slams release conditions (ABC-AU).
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Detainee says he confessed to stop torture
By Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2007

A detainee accused of being Al Qaeda's Persian Gulf operations chief said in court that his U.S. captors tortured him for years and forced him to falsely confess to the bombing of the U.S. destroyer Cole and to many other terrorist plots, according to a Pentagon transcript released Friday.

Abd al Rahim al Nashiri, a Saudi of Yemeni descent, told a military board at the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that he had nothing to do with the bombing of the warship in Yemen in 2000 — or with any other terrorist activity.

Speaking under oath, he said he made up a long list of Al Qaeda plots and attacks so his captors would stop torturing him, even telling interrogators that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden had a nuclear bomb.

"I just said those things to make the people happy. But when they freed me, I told them all, 'I only told you these things to make you happy,' " Nashiri said at a March 14 hearing held by military officials to determine if he should be designated as an enemy combatant and tried before a military commission. [complete article]
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Fatah training new force in Egypt for renewed infighting
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, March 31, 2007

Fatah has established a new security apparatus in the Gaza Strip and is recruiting thousands of militants in preparation for another round of violent clashes with Hamas. So far the organization - known as the Special Force - has recruited 1,400 combatants, a thousand of which have undergone military training.

Fatah intends to recruit an addition of at least 1,000 men to the organization, loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The organization is headed by Sami Abu Samhadana, a notable operative in the first intifada.

Palestinian sources told Haaretz that the new recruitment effort was initiated some six weeks ago. According to the sources, officers from Palestinian General Intelligence service and the National Security Force were assigned to the ranks of the new organization. [complete article]

See also, Israel warns of Hamas military buildup in Gaza (NYT) and IDF ready for major Gaza foray (Haaretz).
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Hizbullah: U.N. troops welcome in South
Daily Star, March 31, 2007

Hizbullah's number two said on Friday that the resistance group welcomes the presence of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) "as long as it abides by its missions and does not overstep its jurisdiction." In an interview with Sawt Ash-Shaab radio station, Sheikh Naim Qassem said that the presence of UNIFIL troops in South Lebanon "is welcome - provided that the peacekeeping force supports the Lebanese Army in preventing any armed presence and preventing Israel from attacking the South."

"Hizbullah does not have any problem with UNIFIL ... [and] the relation remains positive," Qassem said.

Qassem said some parties are trying to sow discord between UNIFIL and Hizbullah, adding that "strife cannot be instigated with the resistance group."

"Our resistance is ready to defy a second Israeli attack on Lebanon, should the need arise," he added. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Terrorized by 'war on terror'
By Zbigniew Brzezinski, Washington Post, March 25, 2007

British pawns in an Iranian game
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, March 29, 2007

The imperial shadow: the roots of Iranian hostility towards the British
By Robert Tait, The Guardian, March 30, 2007

U.S. hawks see strikes on Iran as less likely now
By Dan Murphy, Christian Science Monitor, March 28, 2007

An enclave of normalcy in fearful Baghdad
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, March 27, 2007

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

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

Cut Hamas some slack, to contain Al-Qaeda
By Khalid Hroub, Daily Star, March 26, 2007

The folly of Israel and Washington's rejectionists
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, March 26, 2007

The right of return
By Salman Abu-Sitta, The Guardian, March 29, 2007
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