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Missing American feared a victim of 'dirty war'
By Guy Dinmore in Washington and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, April 13, 2007

Just why Robert Levinson, a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent and now private investigator, should venture into Iran to meet a American fugitive wanted for murder in the US remains a mystery that the highest Bush administration authorities are trying to unravel.

As the Financial Times revealed this week, Mr Levinson disappeared on March 8 after a six-hour meeting on the Iranian island of Kish with Dawud Salahuddin, an American who converted to Islam and was recruited by revolutionaries to assassinate an Iranian opposition activist near Washington in 1980.

Friends of Mr Levinson are mystified that he took the risk of travelling for such a meeting. They fear he is the victim of a sting operation by Iranian secret services engaged in an escalating "dirty war" between the US and Iran, involving hostage-taking and covert cross-border operations. [complete article]

U.S. decides against freeing 5 Iranian "agents"
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, April 14, 2007

After intense internal debate, the Bush administration has decided to hold on to five Iranian Revolutionary Guard intelligence agents captured in Iraq, overruling a State Department recommendation to release them, according to U.S. officials.

At a meeting of the president's foreign policy team Tuesday, the administration decided the five Iranians will remain in custody and go through a periodic six-month review used for the 250 other foreign detainees held in Iraq, U.S. officials said. The next review is not expected until July, officials say.

The five, seized in a Jan. 11 raid by U.S. forces in the Kurdish city of Irbil, are at the center of increasing tensions between Washington and Tehran. The decision is certain to further irritate Tehran, which has ratcheted up pressure on the United States and on its allies and even its friends in the Iraqi government to win freedom for the Irbil five.

The decision came as Iraq's government spokesman, on a White House visit Friday, urged better ties. "We feel that the improvement and the better relations between the United States and Iran could minimize -- could make the [Iranian] interference less," Ali Dabbagh said in a news briefing with White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

Differences over the five Iranians reflect an emerging divide on how to deal with Iran. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice went into the meeting Tuesday advising that the men be freed because they are no longer useful, but after a review of options she went along with the consensus, U.S. officials say. Vice President Cheney's office made the firmest case for keeping them. Their capture signals that Iran's actions are monitored and that Iranian operatives face seizure. [complete article]

Comment -- Tack the phrase, "according to U.S. officials," onto the end of a sentence and journalists like Robin Wright apparently feel no responsibility for the unsubstantiated assertions that precede the disclaimer. (I'm just a humble reporter repeating what the official told me.) In this case, the Bush administration's decision not to release its Iranian captives gets conflated with the administration's claims about who the Iranians are and what they were doing in Irbil. Moreover, the insinuation that members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard have no right to be in Iraq is left unchallenged. Wright makes no reference to the fact that at the time of the abduction of the Iranians, Revolutionary Guard commanders were in the region at the invitation of Iraq's president.

Wright also refers to an Iranian brigadier general and a colonel as having been "nabbed" by U.S. troops and then released under pressure from the Iraqi government. The implication is that the Iranians had no right to be where they were and that the U.S. had to release them for purely political reasons. I guess when the Iraqi government attempts to assert its sovereignty, in the eyes of the U.S. military, the U.S. government, and many American journalists, the Iraqis are just playing politics. Who do the Iraqis think they are? Don't they know who's in charge?

Only a week ago, the Post made it clear that "the Irbil five" are merely accused of belonging to Iran's Revolutionary Guard and thus identified them neutrally as "Iranian officials." At the same time, a Kurdish official, in no lesser person than Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish regional government, accused the U.S. of capturing the five Iranians by mistake. According to Al Jazeera:
Barzani suggested that the US forces had instead hoped to captured senior members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards who were visiting the area at the time.

"There was an Iranian delegation, including Revolutionary Guards commanders, and they came as guests of the president," Barzani said, referring to Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi president who is a Kurd.
Whether or not Cheney has heard that story, it's clear he's in no mood to let go of his hostages. Just as "Iranian operatives face seizure" -- according to the Vice President's orifice (called his "office") -- there is little doubt that a mirror image of the same principal, "American operatives face seizure," must look just as convincing to Tehran.
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Crackdown on the secret war against Iran
By Alexis Debat, ABC News, April 13, 2007

Pakistani security sources tell ABC News that the Iranian and Pakistani governments have launched a crackdown on the Baluchi militant group Jundullah, which ABC News reported has been secretly encouraged and advised by U.S. officials to stage guerrilla attacks inside Iran.

On Wednesday, a contingent of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, acting with what the Pakistani source called "specific intelligence," moved against several Jundullah hideouts in and around the towns of Pishin and Zahedan in Iranian Baluchistan. Ninety members of Jundullah were reported arrested, and weapons caches were seized, some of them containing what the source described as "heavy weapons." [complete article]
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Sunni factions split with Al-Qaeda group
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, April 14, 2007

Key Sunni militant groups are severing their association with al-Qaeda in Iraq, a Sunni group that claims allegiance to the organization led by Osama bin Laden. The split could help isolate a primary foe of the United States in Iraq but could also further splinter the Sunni insurgency and make it even harder to control, according to insurgent leaders and Iraqi and U.S. officials.

In the Sunni heartland of Anbar and other provinces, Sunni groups are accusing al-Qaeda in Iraq of killing, kidnapping and torturing dozens of their fighters, clerics and followers. One leading Sunni extremist organization, the Islamic Army, says al-Qaeda has killed more than 30 fighters from different armed factions in recent weeks.

Last weekend, the Islamic Army posted on insurgent Web sites a nine-page letter urging bin Laden to stop those killing in his name. "He should rise up for his faith and assume religious and organizational responsibility for al-Qaeda and search for the truth," the letter said. "It is not enough to disown those actions, but it is imperative to correct the path."
The Islamic State of Iraq, a Sunni umbrella organization said to have been created by the group al-Qaeda in Iraq, has said it would kill any Sunni suspected of being an agent of the United States or the Iraqi government, according to Islamic State spokesman Abu Hasnah al-Dulaimi.

"Those armed groups have no choice," Dulaimi said in a telephone interview from Anbar's provincial capital, Ramadi. "They have to either join us in forming the Islamic State project in the Sunni areas or hand over their weapons to us before we are forced to act against them forcefully. It will not save them that they have fought the Americans and resisted them in the last few years."

He said his group would act against Sunnis "before they sit down at the negotiating table with the Americans, because we have warned them before."

"Al-Qaeda has killed more Iraqi Sunnis in Anbar province during the past month than the soldiers of the American occupation have killed within three months. People are tired of the torture," said Abu Mohammad al-Salmani, an Islamic Army commander, who said the group had written the letter to bin Laden. "We cannot keep silent anymore." [complete article]
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Excessive force by Marines alleged
By Ann Scott Tyson and Josh White, Washington Post, April 14, 2007

A platoon of elite Marine Special Operations troops reacted with "excessive force" after an ambush in Afghanistan last month, opening fire on pedestrians and civilian vehicles along a 10-mile stretch of road and killing 12 people -- including a 4-year-old girl, a 1-year-old boy and three elderly villagers -- an investigation by an Afghan human rights commission alleges.

The investigation, based on dozens of eyewitness interviews, found that Marines in a convoy of Humvees continued shooting at at least six locations along the road, miles beyond the site where they were ambushed by a suicide bomber in a van. They fired at stationary vehicles, passersby and others who were "exclusively civilian in nature" and had made "no kind of provocative or threatening behavior," according to a draft report of the investigation obtained by The Washington Post.

In addition to the 12 Afghans killed, including at least two women, 35 were wounded, and one Marine was injured by shrapnel. [complete article]
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The World Bank, stuck in the mud
By Sebastian Mallaby, Washington Post, April 13, 2007

After Sept. 11, the world launched the Doha round of trade talks, which was supposed to help developing countries; now Doha has fizzled. After Sept. 11, there was hope for more humanitarian intervention; now the Iraq syndrome undermines the Western will to intervene, even in the extreme case of Darfur. The most lasting impact of Sept. 11 on the West's attitude toward development is perhaps a negative one. Opponents of immigration have been handed a convenient argument, with the result that workers from poor countries may have fewer legal opportunities to earn paychecks in rich countries and send money home.

Then there is the aid story. After Sept. 11, foreign assistance from governments doubled from $52 billion in 2001 to $107 billion in 2005; and that year, the leaders of the industrialized nations gathered at the Group of Eight summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, and pledged a further doubling of aid to sub-Saharan Africa. But the Gleneagles promise is proving empty. The latest data show that governments gave less in 2006 than they had a year earlier. An analysis by the Center for Global Development projects that aid to sub-Saharan Africa will grow at less than half the rate promised at Gleneagles.

The West's financial retreat is a policy retreat, too, because an alternative patron of poor nations is emerging in the form of China. So long as Western governments dominated the aid business, African governments had reason to listen to their advice on fighting corruption and building institutions. But as Western aid budgets tighten, more African leaders will turn to China for cash and technical assistance. China cares little for controlling corruption and still less for democratic notions of accountability. Even though China has developed marvelously itself, its new sway in Africa is likely to set back the struggle against poverty.

In times like these, the West needs a clear voice to make the case for development. In the past, this has frequently come from the World Bank: As the bank's president in the 1970s, Robert McNamara coined the phrase "absolute poverty." And James Wolfensohn, his most illustrious successor, did more than anybody else to forge the post-Sept. 11 consensus in favor of development. But there is no moral clarity emanating from the bank right now. Instead, there is demoralizing scandal.

The scandal centers on the pay of people around Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank president. Kevin Kellems, an unremarkable press-officer-cum-aide who had previously worked for Wolfowitz at the Pentagon, pulls down $240,000 tax-free -- the low end of the salary scale for World Bank vice presidents, who typically have PhDs and 25 years of development experience. Robin Cleveland, who also parachuted in with Wolfowitz, gets $250,000 and a free pass from the IRS, far more than her rank justifies. Kellems and Cleveland have contracts that don't expire when Wolfowitz's term is up. They have been granted quasi-tenure.

Then there is the matter of Shaha Riza, a long-standing bank official who is Wolfowitz's romantic partner. She went on paid leave (seconded to the State Department) after Wolfowitz arrived; her salary has since jumped from $133,000 to $194,000. When questions were first asked about Riza's rewards, a spokesman declared that the matter had been handled by the bank's board and general counsel, implying that the bank president himself had not been responsible. But the truth was that Wolfowitz had been closely involved, as a contrite Wolfowitz admitted yesterday. [complete article]

See also, Woman in World Bank controversy working on Mideast "democracy" project (WP), Wolfowitz dictated girlfriend's pay deal (WP), and Wolfowitz fight has subplot (NYT).
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Fugitive says he met missing ex-FBI agent in Iran
By Guy Dinmore and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Financial Times, April 13, 2007

An American fugitive living in Iran since he murdered an Iranian opposition activist in the US in 1980 has revealed that he met a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent shortly before the latter disappeared on the Iranian island of Kish a month ago.

US authorities have been anxiously seeking information about the former agent, Robert Levinson, for several weeks. The Iranian foreign ministry says it is trying to clarify his whereabouts. US officials suspect he is in Iranian detention.

European diplomats in Washington hesitate to describe Mr Levinson as a "hostage", saying details of his case remain murky.

They are concerned that the US, Britain and Iran are stumbling into a new phase of tit-for-tat prisoner-taking that was kicked off when the US detained five Iranian officials in Iraq in January, sparking anger in Tehran.

The US State Department has revealed few details about Mr Levinson's visit to Iran, insisting he was there on purely private business.

But Dawud Salahuddin, an American who converted to Islam and was given refuge in Iran in 1980, shed light on the mystery when he confirmed to the Financial Times in Tehran that he had met Mr Levinson in a hotel on Kish on March 8. [complete article]

Comment -- As a fugitive from the FBI, Dawud Salahuddin might not sound like the most credible source, but I recommend listening to an interview he gave to NPR in 2005. As an outspoken supporter of former President Khatami, I don't think Salahuddin would willingly serve the Iranian government in order to feed baseless rumors to the Western media. Moreover, from the FT's reporting, it is apparent that Salahuddin has a personal interest in Levinson's well-being. For that reason, there seems little doubt that Iran now holds an American hostage.

The Iranians clearly want to play their cards carefully, meaning that so far, both Tehran and Washington want to pretend they don't know what's happened to Levinson. Nevertheless, based on their experience in handling their recent British detainees, it's clear that at a time of their choosing, the Iranians will try to extract the greatest political advantage from the pawn they now hold.
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The Baghdad gulag
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, April 14, 2007

The Sunni Arab muqawama (resistance) has already celebrated the arrival of the Baghdad gulag - by attacking the heart of the system itself, the Green Zone. The bomb that exploded on Thursday in the cafeteria of the Baghdad Convention Center - which houses the Iraqi Parliament, inside the Green Zone - was yet another crystal-clear message: we can strike you as we please, and where we please.

It has been an open secret in Baghdad for months now that strands of the muqawama boast they can sweep over the Green Zone and decimate the innocuous government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki whenever they choose to.

Then what must have been al-Qaeda in Iraq complemented the new Green Zone bombing with a kamikaze suicide truck bombing of Al-Surafiya Bridge, one of the oldest of the 10 bridges over the Tigris. This bridge used to separate still predominantly Sunni Adhamiya from still mixed Bab al-Muazzam, with which it is literally at war. The logic here would be to protect Adhamiya from Shi'ite militia-conducted ethnic cleansing.

The Green Zone bomb at the Parliament cafeteria is metaphorical in more ways than one. This is already a bombed-out Parliament. Sadrists, holding 32 seats, are threatening a boycott. Unlike throngs of SCIRI (Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq), Da'wa Party and Kurdish parlamentarians who prefer to watch Chelsea soccer matches in London drinking vintage scotch, Sadrists actually go to work every day in the Green Zone. If the Sadrists and the Islamic Virtue Party representatives actually decided to boycott it, along with the hardcore Sunni members of the Iraqi Accord Front, this Parliament would be no more.

Crucially, this would mean no passing of the Holy of Holies, the new Iraqi oil law. It's also an open secret in Baghdad - as well as among Iraqi refugees in Damascus - that the Bush administration's now famous "June deadline" to the Maliki government is only about oil. If the oil law is not approved by then, "all options are on the table", and that means a white coup with the reinstallation of former Central Intelligence Agency asset, former interim prime minister, former "butcher of Fallujah" Iyad Allawi, whose main task would be ... to get the oil law approved. [complete article]

In an instant, a junkyard of humanity
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, April 13, 2007

The bomber blew himself up no more than a few yards away. First, a brilliant flash of orange light like a starburst, then a giant popping sound. A gust of debris, flesh and blood threw me from my chair as if I were made of cardboard.

I was lying on a bed of shattered glass on the floor of the cafeteria in the Iraqi parliament building, covered with ashes and dust. Small pieces of flesh clung to my bluejeans. Blood, someone else's, speckled the left lens of my silver-rimmed glasses. Blood, mine, oozed from my left hand, punctured by a tiny shard of glass.

"Are you okay? Are you okay?" asked Saad al-Izzi, one of The Post's Iraqi correspondents, standing over me, his face framed by an eerie yellowish glow, his voice distant. I did not reply.

I had always thought about this moment. In Iraq, every journalist does. But I did not expect a bomber to take lives inside the Green Zone, the nerve center of the Iraqi government and its backer, the United States. To enter, you must pass heavily armed U.S. soldiers, Peruvian security contractors, bomb-sniffing dogs, body searches, metal detectors and several identity checks. Once you are inside, there are checkpoints sealed by concrete barriers on nearly every stretch of road. Then, more body searches, metal detectors, bomb-sniffing dogs and identity checks. [complete article]

See also, A bloody message from Iraq: nowhere is safe... (Patrick Cockburn).
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Brzezinski's plan for getting out of Iraq
By Linda Feldmann, Christian Science Monitor, April 13, 2007

The week the Iraq war started, in March 2003, Zbigniew Brzezinski received a briefing from President Bush's top security advisers: Secretary of State Colin Powell, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice.

Dr. Brzezinski, who served as national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, asked them whether they were "really confident" that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.

"I've known some of them for 20 years," he recalled at a Monitor breakfast Thursday. "They looked me in the eye, and each of them said, 'We know, Zbig, we know they have weapons of mass destruction.' I was skeptical."

Brzezinski then recounted appearing on national television the day the war started, and saying that he prayed to God that there are WMD in Iraq, "because if we started this war on false assumptions, it's going to be very costly."

Today, Brzezinski says, his fears have been realized. In the session with reporters, he said he believes Mr. Bush has resigned himself to bequeathing the war to his successor – and that whoever succeeds him will end the war. The question is, how? [complete article]
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Betrayed - the Iraqis who trusted America the most
By George Packer, The New Yorker, March 26, 2007

Millions of Iraqis, spanning the country's religious and ethnic spectrum, welcomed the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But the mostly young men and women who embraced America’s project so enthusiastically that they were prepared to risk their lives for it may constitute Iraq's smallest minority. I came across them in every city: the young man in Mosul who loved Metallica and signed up to be a translator at a U.S. Army base; the DVD salesman in Najaf whose plans to study medicine were crushed by Baath Party favoritism, and who offered his services to the first American Humvee that entered his city. They had learned English from American movies and music, and from listening secretly to the BBC. Before the war, their only chance at a normal life was to flee the country -- a nearly impossible feat. Their future in Saddam’s Iraq was, as the Metallica fan in Mosul put it, "a one-way road leading to nothing." I thought of them as oddballs, like misunderstood high-school students whose isolation ends when they go off to college. In a similar way, the four years of the war created intense friendships, but they were forged through collective disappointment. The arc from hope to betrayal that traverses the Iraq war is nowhere more vivid than in the lives of these Iraqis. America's failure to understand, trust, and protect its closest friends in Iraq is a small drama that contains the larger history of defeat. [complete article]

See also, Iraqi refugees speak of escape from hell (Dahr Jamail) and Holbrooke blasts Bush over Iraq refugees (AP).
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Turmoil grows for Wolfowitz at World Bank
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, April 13, 2007

The World Bank's executive board said today it plans to move quickly to decide what action to take regarding its president, Paul D. Wolfowitz, who apologized Thursday for his role in giving his girlfriend, a World Bank employee, a raise and transfer.

On Thursday, the World Bank's 24-member executive board, the body that elected Mr. Wolfowitz to the job after he was nominated by President Bush in 2005, held hurried meetings amid mounting speculation that it might reprimand Mr. Wolfowitz or ask him to resign.

In a statement released early today, the board said it would "move expeditiously to reach a conclusion on possible actions to take."

In a chaotic day of revelations and meetings at a normally staid institution on Thursday, Mr. Wolfowitz apologized for his role in the raise and transfer of Shaha Ali Riza, his companion, to the State Department, where she remained on the bank's payroll.

He made the comments to a few hundred staff members assembled in the bank building atrium, only to be greeted by booing, catcalls and cries for his resignation. [complete article]

See also, Why he's failing (again) (Michael Hirsh).
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American to be freed by Ethiopia faces hurdle
By Stephanie McCrummen and Dafna Linzer, Washington Post, April 13, 2007

A U.S. citizen arrested in Somalia and held without charge in a secret Ethiopian prison was set to be released and flown back to the United States as early as Friday. But State Department officials booking his flight discovered that his name had been placed on a no-fly list at the request of the FBI and that no airline would take him, U.S. officials said.

The FBI has no plans to charge Amir Meshal, 24, and did not inform the State Department that his name had been placed on the list, said the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue remains unresolved.

"Clearly, there had been a hitch," said an official involved in efforts to return Meshal to his family in Tinton Falls, N.J. [complete article]
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Al-Qaeda: a brand name now being franchised globally
By Faisal Devji, Daily Star, April 13, 2007

Al-Qaeda's life as a movement lies in its death as an organization. Given the militant obsession with martyrdom, this life after death should come as no surprise to us. Indeed it is precisely because the movement can no longer be tied to some traditional form of political organization, ideology or even purpose that its influence can spread so rapidly globally.

Al-Qaeda operates as a set of services linked to a brand name that is franchised across the globe. But for this to happen its founding organization, established to fight the Cold War's last battle in Afghanistan, is compelled to shrink to a symbolic point. Similar is the fate of Al-Qaeda's anti-Soviet ideology, which Alice-in-Wonderland-like has to pass through globalization's looking glass in miniature form, reduced to a half-dozen or so sound bites for the benefit of a do-it-yourself jihad.

All this can be seen very clearly in the various bombings that followed the spectacular September 11, 2001, attacks, which in one move established Al-Qaeda as the most potent brand name in the militants' marketplace. Thus the official reports on the London bombings tell us that the mobilization of its perpetrators was unprecedented in its rapidity, and that unlike cults, secret societies or radical groups in the past, these men did not have to be removed from everyday life and immersed in some special environment in order to be indoctrinated. [complete article]
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Dismay as Israeli settlers take over Hebron home
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, April 13, 2007

It's late afternoon in this troubled town when an Israeli army jeep comes whizzing up the road, ferrying a few soldiers with orders: tack up an eviction notice on the large building that Jewish settlers took over 2-1/2 weeks ago.

Palestinian neighbors step into their doorways or peek out the windows, watching as a soldier tapes up small signs, telling the settlers that they've got 30 days to leave.

When the soldiers are gone, the signs are, too. They are quickly removed by settlers who say they're here to stay, and, in the words of one woman among the 13 families living here, to "see the redemption of another piece of the land of Israel."

Palestinians next door are dismayed, but not surprised. Their lives have become more miserable, they say, ever since Hebron was divided almost 10 years ago into two supposedly autonomous parts, one Israeli and one Palestinian.

At first glance, it might look like an old tango between Israelis and Palestinians – performed one too many times for anyone to get passionate about.

But this round has many unprecedented elements. The standoff over the big house on a hill, which local Palestinians say is owned by the Jaberi family and which Israeli settlers plan to name Heroes' Peak or Martyrs' Peak (both names were tacked on the bulletin board inside, as if trying them on for size), is not just one of those issues that complicates efforts to bring Israeli and Palestinian leaders back to the negotiating table, but also highlights internal struggles in both societies. [complete article]
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Security sources: Hamas is arming Islamic Jihad with Qassams
By Ze'ev Schiff and Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, April 13, 2007

Security sources on Thursday said Hamas is supporting Islamic Jihad's rocket attacks against Israel with behind-the-scenes activities that include arming the organization's militants with Qassam rockets.

They said Hamas is emerging as the lynchpin of Palestinian terrorist activities against Israel.

While Hamas is maintaining a front of abiding by the cease-fire with Israel in the Gaza Strip, it is providing Qassam rockets to Islamic Jihad militants who are targeting Israeli towns in the south, the security sources said.

Meanwhile, for the first time on Thursday, Hamas extremists openly demonstrated against the leadership of the group. [complete article]

Comment -- There's a mixed message in the reporting here. On the one hand Hamas is being characterized as engaging in a policy of "duality," but at the same time we are provided with detailed evidence of serious divisions inside the movement:
Hamas has adopted a strategy of duality, which will be maintained under all circumstances, including a situation of a general cease-fire. On the basis of this strategy, a Palestinian organization will continue violent activities against Israel notwithstanding a cease-fire.

This was a similar strategy used by Yasser Arafat, who committed the PLO in agreements to preserve cease-fires, but was always careful to retain his ties with extremist organizations that would continue their terrorist activities against Israel.
When a non-violent political process provides no tangible rewards, the most militant factions of any resistance movement inevitably get empowered.
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Suicide attack kills 8 in Iraqi parliament cafeteria
CNN, April 12, 2007

A suicide attack in Iraq's parliament building on Thursday killed eight people, including two Iraqi lawmakers, and wounded 20, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

After the attack in the building's cafeteria, more explosives were found near the parliament room and were destroyed in a controlled detonation, according to Iraqi lawmaker Iman al-Asadi.

It's unclear how a bomber was able to pass through the multiple security checkpoints required to enter the parliament building, which is in Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone. [complete article]

Suicide bomb collapses Baghdad bridge
By Lauren Frayer, Canadian Press, April 12, 2007

A suicide truck bomb exploded on a major bridge in Baghdad early Thursday, collapsing the steel structure and sending cars tumbling into the Tigris River below, police and witnesses said. At least 10 people were killed.

Hospital officials said another 26 were injured, and police were trying to rescue as many as 20 people whose cars plummeted off the al-Sarafiya bridge. [complete article]

Comment -- As the Green Zone turns red, the recent depositing of suicide belts inside the security zone now looks like an audacious taunt -- a signal from insurgents that it was simply a matter of time before an attack such as today's would be launched.
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Iraqi group 'splits' from al-Qaeda
Al Jazeera, April 12, 2007

One of Iraq's main armed groups has confirmed a split with al-Qaeda, according to a spokesman for the dissenting organisation.

Ibrahim al-Shammari told Al Jazeera on Thursday that the Islamic Army in Iraq had decided to disunite from al-Qaeda in Iraq after its members were threatened.

"In the beginning, we were dealing with Tawhid and Jihad organisation, which turned into al-Qaeda in Iraq," he said, his identity obscured for security reasons.

"Specifically after Abu Musab al-Zarqawi died, the gap between us [and al-Qaeda] widened, because [they] started to target our members." [complete article]
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Iran giving arms to Iraq's Sunnis, U.S. military says
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, April 12, 2007

The chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq asserted Wednesday that Iranian-made arms, manufactured as recently as last year, have reached Sunni insurgents here, which if true would mark a new development in the four-year-old conflict.

Citing testimony from detainees in U.S. custody, Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell said Iranian intelligence operatives were backing the Sunni militants inside Iraq while at the same time training Shiite extremists in Iran.

"We have, in fact, found some cases recently where Iranian intelligence services have provided to some Sunni insurgent groups some support," Caldwell told reporters, adding that he was aware of only Shiite extremists being trained inside Iran. Caldwell cited a collection of munitions on a nearby table that he said were made in Iran and found two days ago in a majority-Sunni neighborhood in Baghdad. [complete article]

Comment -- So what's the U.S. military up to now? Attempting to give the insurgents and Iran false confidence by cunningly reinforcing the impression that the Americans are clueless?
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Divide and rule - America's plan for Baghdad
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 12, 2007

Faced with an ever-more ruthless insurgency in Baghdad - despite President George Bush's "surge" in troops - US forces in the city are now planning a massive and highly controversial counter-insurgency operation that will seal off vast areas of the city, enclosing whole neighbourhoods with barricades and allowing only Iraqis with newly issued ID cards to enter.

The campaign of "gated communities" - whose genesis was in the Vietnam War - will involve up to 30 of the city's 89 official districts and will be the most ambitious counter-insurgency programme yet mounted by the US in Iraq.

The system has been used - and has spectacularly failed - in the past, and its inauguration in Iraq is as much a sign of American desperation at the country's continued descent into civil conflict as it is of US determination to "win" the war against an Iraqi insurgency that has cost the lives of more than 3,200 American troops. The system of "gating" areas under foreign occupation failed during the French war against FLN insurgents in Algeria and again during the American war in Vietnam. Israel has employed similar practices during its occupation of Palestinian territory - again, with little success. [complete article]
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Civilian claims on U.S. suggest the toll of war
By Paul von Zielbauer, New York Times, April 12, 2007

In February 2006, nervous American soldiers in Tikrit killed an Iraqi fisherman on the Tigris River after he leaned over to switch off his engine. A year earlier, a civilian filling his car and an Iraqi Army officer directing traffic were shot by American soldiers in a passing convoy in Balad, for no apparent reason.

The incidents are among many thousands of claims submitted to the Army by Iraqi and Afghan civilians seeking payment for noncombat killings, injuries or property damage American forces inflicted on them or their relatives.

The claims provide a rare window into the daily chaos and violence faced by civilians and troops in the two war zones. Recently, the Army disclosed roughly 500 claims to the American Civil Liberties Union in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. They are the first to be made public.

They represent only a small fraction of the claims filed. In all, the military has paid more than $32 million to Iraqi and Afghan civilians for noncombat-related killings, injuries and property damage, an Army spokeswoman said. That figure does not include condolence payments made at a unit commander's discretion. [complete article]

Comment -- Of course this figure would be astronomically larger if the U.S. government was forced to treat the lives lost in Iraq and Afghanistan as being of equal value to those lost on 9/11. Yet the simple, literal message to the world is that if you aren't an American you aren't worth much. We killed your husband? Here's $2,000 cash and you can go on your way.
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Iraq: Why the media failed
By Gary Kamiya, Salon, April 10, 2007

It's no secret that the period of time between 9/11 and the invasion of Iraq represents one of the greatest collapses in the history of the American media. Every branch of the media failed, from daily newspapers, magazines and Web sites to television networks, cable channels and radio. I'm not going to go into chapter and verse about the media's specific failures, its credulousness about aluminum tubes and mushroom clouds and failure to make clear that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 -- they're too well known to repeat. In any case, the real failing was not in any one area; it was across the board. Bush administration lies and distortions went unchallenged, or were actively promoted. Fundamental and problematic assumptions about terrorism and the "war on terror" were rarely debated or even discussed. Vital historical context was almost never provided. And it wasn't just a failure of analysis. With some honorable exceptions, good old-fashioned reporting was also absent.

But perhaps the press's most notable failure was its inability to determine just why this disastrous war was ever launched. Kristina Borjesson, author of "Feet to the Fire," a collection of interviews with 21 journalists about why the press collapsed, summed this up succinctly. "The thing that I found really profound was that there really was no consensus among this nation's top messengers about why we went to war," Borjesson told AlterNet. "[War is the] most extreme activity a nation can engage in, and if they weren't clear about it, that means the public wasn't necessarily clear about the real reasons. And I still don't think the American people are clear about it."

Of course, the media was not alone in its collapse. Congress rolled over and gave Bush authorization to go to war. And the majority of the American people, traumatized by 9/11, followed their delusional president down the primrose path. Had the media done its job, Bush's war of choice might still have taken place. But we'll never know. [complete article]
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A convenient untruth
By George Joffe, The Guardian, April 12, 2007

Algeria's premier, Abdelaziz Belkhadem, was still outraged by the apparent attack on his life at his offices in central Algiers on April 11 when he appeared on al-Arabiya television that evening. A suicide bomber had rammed a truck into the guard post outside his offices before it exploded, in the first attack in the centre of the country's capital for many years. Al-Qaida, he told his region-wide Arab audience, was responsible for "this cowardly attack, this rejection of reconciliation".

It is, of course, a very convenient explanation, for it means that Algeria, in common with the western world and its North African and Middle Eastern neigbours, is plagued by a transnational existential threat, to which the only meaningful response is force. And, of course, Algeria should know, for it only recently ended a decade-long civil war which broke out after the Algerian army aborted legislative elections in 1991, causing at least 200,000 deaths, because of its fears that an Islamist party would win them.

Yet, that experience highlights the dilemma as to whether the bombings were really part of the global terrorist threat or whether they reflected, as the civil war had done, more localised, purely Algerian problems. One of the major reasons for the civil war was the widespread view in Algeria that, over the previous 30 years, the country's government had betrayed its revolution and the bloody war with France between 1954 and 1962. [complete article]

See also, Al-Qaeda branch claims Algeria blasts (WP) and Al-Qaeda and Algeria's GSPC: part of a much bigger picture (Michael Scheuer).

Comment -- The "global war on terrorism" is an ideological straitjacket that the U.S. created for itself. Just as governments know that they can enlist U.S. support by joining the struggle against terrorism, extremists are equally capable of capitalizing on the brand-value of becoming an al-Qaeda affiliate. For that reason, what happened in Algeria in all likelihood says much more about the global reach of the al-Qaeda franchise than it suggests about global operations.
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How a CIA coup d'etat in Iran and my life became one
By Behzad Yaghmaian, TomDispatch, April 12, 2007

I am a child of the coup d'etat, born in Iran a few days after the CIA helped overthrow the popular, democratic government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953.

Not long before my birth, facing nationwide protests, the Shah of Iran was forced to abdicate his power and flee the country. My mother used to tell me how men and women celebrated in the streets, how strangers gave flowers and sweets to each other. "The Shah left," they cried with joy. However, the celebration did not last long. In just a few more days, the political landscape changed again. Men paid by the U.S. government began to roam the streets of Tehran, armed with truncheons and chains, assaulting Mossadegh's supporters. Soon the Shah returned and Mossadegh was put under house arrest. That was when I was born.

A witch-hunt for the followers of Mossadegh, communists, anyone who opposed the Shah and the coup d'etat now began. Many were jailed -- and tortured. Some opposition figures went underground or left the country; the rest lived in fear of the Shah and, within a few years, the SAVAK, his brutal secret police (also set up with CIA help). [complete article]
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Norway to resume direct aid to Palestinian government
AFP, April 12, 2007

Norway, the only Western country to normalise ties with the new Palestinian government, is ready to resume direct aid to the Palestinian Authority, Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said on Thursday.

The aid would resume once the final technical details are resolved.

"Once the minister says the situation is cleared we will be ready to resume direct budget support to the Palestinian Authority," Stoere said following talks with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayaad in Oslo. [complete article]
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Suleiman: Peace agreement with Syria possible within 6 months
By Shahar Ilan, Nir Hasson, and Barak Ravid, Haaretz, April 12, 2007

Syrian-American negotiator Ibrahim Suleiman said Thursday that Damascus is prepared to begin peace talks with Israel, adding that he believed an initial agreement could be reached within six months.

"Since 1948 Israeli leaders have said they are ready to talk peace anytime and anywhere," Suleiman told reporters at a news conference after addressing the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. "Syria right now is ready to speak peace."

"I challenged the Israeli government to answer President Bashar [Assad]'s call for peace and sit down together," he added. "I think it can happen in six months." [complete article]

The truth about Syria: Will the U.N. vote for a tribunal? (Joshua Landis).

Comment -- Liz Cheney says that, "Talking to the Syrians emboldens and rewards them at the expense of America and our allies in the Middle East."

Perhaps the Bush administration's stance on talking to adversaries would be clarified if they avoided using that utterly confusing term "talk." In truth, the administration doesn't talk to anyone; it grants audiences. To have an audience is to be given the privilege of coming into the presence of a member of the administration. Those so fortunate to receive such an opportunity may, if they're lucky, come away with a photograph of a warm handshake.

This then is the essential feature of Bush-era foreign policy: determining who is worthy or unworthy of a handshake.
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U.S. hopes to ease Israeli fears over arms sales to Saudi Arabia
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, April 12, 2007

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates will visit Israel next week for a series of meetings with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz on the strategic situation in the Middle East. During his visit, Gates may attempt to persuade Israel to ease its objections to the sale of advanced weapons systems to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.

The American defense establishment is determined to sell these systems to Arab states and will seek a compromise formula in order to prevent supporters of Israel in Congress from foiling the deal. Israel has also expressed interest in procuring a number of advanced systems from the U.S. and it is possible that Washington will agree to reconsider the sale of these to Israel in exchange for an easing of Israeli objections to the Saudi deal. [complete article]

Comment -- 40 years ago, Senator Fulbright, then chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, bemoaned the fact that the Israelis "think they have control of the Senate and they can do as they please." That the U.S. Defense Secretary now feels obliged to persuade Israel to ease its objections to U.S. weapons sales makes it pretty clear who's still calling the shots in Washington.
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On video: Palestinian as human shield
By Josef Federman, AP, April 12, 2007

Sameh Amira was fast asleep when he was jolted awake by pounding at the front door. Israeli troops were on a manhunt for wanted militants in the West Bank and decided to draft help.

The terror-stricken 24-year-old Palestinian soon found himself forced onto the front lines of Israel's shadowy war against militants, a human shield as he led heavily armed soldiers from house to house. "I was afraid I would die," he said in a recent interview.

For several years, Palestinians had complained about the army's use of human shields, but proof was difficult to come by. Then in late February, Associated Press Television News captured footage of the incident involving Amira.

The video has prompted the army to launch a rare criminal investigation into whether its soldiers violated a landmark Israeli Supreme Court 2005 ruling barring the use of human shields. Others, including an 11-year-old girl, have been emboldened to come forward with similar accounts of being compelled to walk ahead of soldiers looking for militants. [complete article]
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Family appeal for missing BBC man
BBC News, April 12, 2007

The parents of BBC correspondent Alan Johnston have made a direct appeal to his captors in Gaza for his release.

In an open letter, Mr Johnston's father read: "You have family. Please think about what this is doing to my family. Please let my son go now, today."

The appeal comes on an international day of action to highlight the plight of the veteran reporter, who was seized by gunmen one month ago. [complete article]
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Tribesmen 'kill 300 foreigners'
By Barbara Plett, BBC News, April 12, 2007

Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf says tribesmen have killed about 300 foreign militants in fighting near the Afghan border.

This is the highest number reported after several weeks of battles between local Pashtuns and Uzbek militants. Local sources put the figure much lower than the army, at fewer than 100 dead. [complete article]
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The U.S., but not democracy, is losing among Arabs
By Shlomo Ben-Ami, Daily Star, April 11, 2007

Four years into a disastrous military adventure in Iraq and with the global war on terror against ill-defined forces of darkness still inconclusive, the collapse of America's grand strategy has exposed how ill-conceived was its simplistic recipe for democratic change in the Arab world.

The paradox is that America might be winning the war for Arab democracy, even if by default, but cannot reap the benefits, simply because the emerging pattern of Islamic pluralistic politics does not coincide with the West's brand of secular liberal democracy. The shift of the Arab world's mainstream fundamentalist movements to democratic politics is tantamount to a repudiation of the jihadist project and of Al-Qaeda's apocalyptic strategies. The failure of jihadism is paving the way for a potentially promising restructuring of Islamic politics, but the West either doesn't recognize the changes or is hostile to them.

The rise of Islamists throughout the region as the sole power capable of exploiting the opportunities of free elections (Hamas' victory in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood's spectacular gains in the 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections are but the most noteworthy); the ascendancy to regional hegemony of Shiite Iran; and the sense among Arab rulers that the embattled Bush administration is running out of steam have all combined to stall the promising drive to political reform in the region.

The US retreated from its democratic designs once it realized that Arab democracy was not being identified with the liberal secular opposition - a political force that practically does not exist in the Arab world - but with Islamic radicals that seek to repudiate US policies and reconciliation with Israel. That this should be so has much to do with America's traditional policy of sustaining the Arab world's pro-Western dictators.

But the notion that the genie of democratization can now be squeezed back into the bottle is a self-serving fantasy. The move of mainstream Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, Hamas in Palestine, the Renaissance Party in Tunisia, or the Party of Justice and Development in Morocco, away from jihadism to political participation started well before America's democracy promotion campaign, and is not an attempt to please the West. It is a genuine response to the needs and demands of their supporters. [complete article]
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Analysis: Attacks in Morocco and Algeria point to revitalised Al-Qaeda
By Sammy Ketz, AFP, April 11, 2007

Suicide blasts by suspected Islamists in Algeria and Morocco which killed at least 28 people are the first signs of a re-emergent Al-Qaeda cell in North Africa, terrorism experts warned Wednesday.

Twenty three people were killed when two car bombs exploded in the Algerian capital on Wednesday, a day after five died in Morocco in an incident that saw three militants blow themselves up.

More than 160 people were injured in the explosions in Algiers -- one directly outside central government headquarters.

In Morocco's financial capital Casablanca three militants blew themselves up on Tuesday as they were pursued by police. A fourth died of gunshot wounds, while a policeman was killed in one of the suicide blasts. [complete article]
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Hizbullah accuses U.S. of secret war and arming opponents
By Clancy Chassay, The Guardian, April 11, 2007

Washington is waging a covert war against Hizbullah, according to the militant group, which accuses the US administration of arming anti-Hizbullah militias and seeking to undermine the Lebanese army in moves which could plunge the country back into civil war.

"Dick Cheney [US vice president] has given orders for a covert war against Hizbullah...there is now an American programme that is using Lebanon to further its goals in the region," Sheikh Naim Qasim, Hizbullah's deputy secretary general, told the Guardian in an interview in a safe house deep in Beirut's Hizbullah-controlled southern suburbs.

The accusation follows reports in the US and British media that the CIA has been authorised to take covert action against the militant Shia group, which receives substantial military backing from Iran, as part of wider strategy by the Bush administration to prevent the spread of Iranian influence in the region. [complete article]
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Iranian envoy wounds 'confirmed'
BBC News, April 11, 2007

The head of the International Red Cross in Tehran says he saw wounds on an Iranian diplomat who has alleged that US forces in Iraq tortured him.

Peter Stoeker said there were marks on Jalal Sharafi's feet, legs, back and nose but he was unable to say if they were the result of torture.

Iranian media quoted Mr Sharafi saying the CIA tortured him "day and night". [complete article]
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Iran may be spinning itself into a corner
By Ramin Mostaghim and Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2007

Iran's efforts to trumpet its nuclear program are cementing the country's confrontation with the West regardless of whether its claims this week of technological progress are true, several analysts said Tuesday.

The head of Iran's atomic energy program on Tuesday reiterated Tehran's long-held claim that it eventually will install 50,000 centrifuges, used to enrich uranium, at its facility in Natanz. That many centrifuges operating at full capacity theoretically could produce nuclear material for 15 atomic bombs a year.

"When we say we have entered industrial-scale enrichment, [it means] there is no way back," said Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency. "Installation of centrifuges will continue steadily to reach a stage where all the 50,000 centrifuges are launched." [complete article]
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Egypt: planned anti-terror law could intensify abuses
Amnesty International, April 11, 2007

The Egyptian authorities are committing systematic abuses of human rights in the name of national security -- and a planned new anti-terror law could make the situation worse, according to a report which Amnesty International (AI) published on 11 April in Cairo.

Thousands of Egyptians have been locked up, with many sentenced after grossly unfair trials in emergency and military courts. Torture and prolonged detention without trial are rife in detention centres across the country. A planned new anti-terrorism law, expected to be introduced following last month's controversial amendments to the constitution, could pave the way for further abuses.

Egypt's State Security Investigations (SSI) services enjoy huge powers under the state of emergency the government has maintained almost continuously for the past 40 years. Torture is widely used by the SSI officers, but allegations are rarely investigated. [complete article]
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3 generals spurn the position of war 'czar'
By Peter Baker and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, April 11, 2007

The White House wants to appoint a high-powered czar to oversee the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with authority to issue directions to the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies, but it has had trouble finding anyone able and willing to take the job, according to people close to the situation.

At least three retired four-star generals approached by the White House in recent weeks have declined to be considered for the position, the sources said, underscoring the administration's difficulty in enlisting its top recruits to join the team after five years of warfare that have taxed the United States and its military.

"The very fundamental issue is, they don't know where the hell they're going," said retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan, a former top NATO commander who was among those rejecting the job. Sheehan said he believes that Vice President Cheney and his hawkish allies remain more powerful within the administration than pragmatists looking for a way out of Iraq. "So rather than go over there, develop an ulcer and eventually leave, I said, 'No, thanks,' " he said. [complete article]
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Female bomber kills 19 at Iraqi police station
By Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2007

The eager young applicants gathered early Tuesday outside a police station northeast of Baghdad to find out who had clinched a coveted job on the force. But they were not the only ones who knew this was the day the selection would be made.

Shortly after 8:30 a.m., a woman shrouded in black appeared among the more than 200 men milling outside the concrete blast walls of the station in Muqdadiya. Before anyone could question her, she detonated the explosives hidden under her gown, killing as many as 19 people and injuring 33, police and witnesses said.

As the smoke and dust settled, a horrific scene was revealed: writhing bodies, severed limbs and charred, bloodied survivors screaming on the ground.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack in the mostly Sunni Muslim town, a rare case of a bombing carried out by a woman. But it came at a time of growing friction within the embattled minority that dominated Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

A number of Sunni Arab clans and local insurgent groups have turned against the militants of Al Qaeda in Iraq, whom they once harbored, accusing the foreign-dominated network of indiscriminate attacks against Iraqi civilians. Sunnis are now joining the police in areas where they once refused to cooperate with the Iraqi government. [complete article]

A mosque raid sets off Sunnis in Iraq's capital
By Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, April 11, 2007

Sunni militants and residents of the Baghdad neighborhood of Fadhil fought a fierce daylong battle with the Iraqi Army and American soldiers on Tuesday in what appeared to be the most sustained confrontation since the start of the security plan to calm violence in the capital.

The battle left seven people dead, three insurgents and four Iraqi soldiers, and wounded 16 United States soldiers, according to a statement from the American military. Two Iraqi Army soldiers and one child were also wounded, the statement said.

But neighborhood residents reported far higher fatalities and said local gunmen had destroyed five Iraqi Army Humvees. The fighting damaged an Apache helicopter, the United States military said. [complete article]

Iraq: Sadrists threaten to leave gov't
By Qassim Abdul-Zahra, AP, April 11, 2007

Iraqi Cabinet ministers allied to radical cleric Muqtada al-Sadr threatened Wednesday to quit the government to protest the prime minister's lack of support for a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, according to a statement.

Such a pullout by the very bloc that put Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in office could collapse his already perilously weak government. The threat comes two months into a U.S. effort to pacify Baghdad in order to give al-Maliki's government room to function.

Al-Sadr's political committee issued the statement a day after al-Maliki rejected an immediate U.S. troop withdrawal. [complete article]
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New strategy in Taliban's offensive
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, April 11, 2007

Like any modern fighting force, the Taliban have learned the benefits of emotional warfare.

As the Taliban's spring offensive gets under way, kidnappings have become their new weapon of choice, targeting a growing chink in NATO's armor: Across Europe, the United States, and Canada, public opinion for the war in Afghanistan is sliding.

That disenchantment is proving as devastating as any bomb. Last month, after the Taliban kidnapped Italian journalist Daniele Mastrogiacomo, the Italian government nearly collapsed when opposition parties raised a storm of protest. Out of fear that Italy's parliament might decide to withdraw its 1,950 troops – what could have been a hefty blow to NATO's mission – President Hamid Karzai traded five Taliban prisoners for Mr. Mastrogiacomo's release, a stunning and highly criticized victory for the extremists.

And when Mr. Karzai refused to negotiate for Adjmal Naqshbandi, Mastrogiacomo's Afghan translator, the Taliban won again. Mr. Naqshbandi was beheaded on Sunday, prompting expressions of outrage and betrayal for the apparent double standard and further driving a wedge between Karzai and the Afghan public.

Now, buoyed by the "Italian deal," the Taliban say they have kidnapped a total of two French aid workers and 13 Afghans. The Taliban also threatened to kill four Afghan medical personnel this week if a similar deal is not struck for the release of more Taliban prisoners. [complete article]
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Russia threatening new cold war over missile defence
By Luke Harding, The Guardian, April 11, 2007

Russia is preparing its own military response to the US's controversial plans to build a new missile defence system in eastern Europe, according to Kremlin officials, in a move likely to increase fears of a cold war-style arms race.

The Kremlin is considering active counter-measures in response to Washington's decision to base interceptor missiles and radar installations in Poland and the Czech Republic, a move Russia says will change "the world's strategic stability".

The Kremlin has not publicly spelt out its plans. But defence experts said its response is likely to include upgrading its nuclear missile arsenal so that it is harder to shoot down, putting more missiles on mobile launchers, and moving its fleet of nuclear submarines to the north pole, where they are virtually undetectable. [complete article]
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Forget Pelosi. What about Syria?
By Robert Malley, Los Angeles Times, April 11, 2007

Undertaking her first major diplomatic foray, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got an earful. As she met with Syrian President Bashar Assad, she came under immediate, stinging attack. The White House condemned her encounter as counterproductive, asserting that it undermined U.S. policy aimed at marginalizing a so-called pariah regime.

The charge is, on its face, absurd. The European Union's top diplomatic envoy just visited Syria. Assad attended the recent Arab League summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Republican and Democratic officials have been traveling to Damascus for months. The Syrian regime is no more isolated in the world than the Bush administration is embraced by it. But the fuss about Pelosi's perfectly legitimate visit obscured a far more intriguing question: What should be done about Syria?

Over the last several years, the consistent response from Israel and the United States has been: Ignore it. It is difficult to recall the last time Israel rejected an Arab invitation to negotiate — let alone the last time the U.S. actively encouraged it to do so — but in this case that is exactly what it has done. [complete article]
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Clan says recent Mogadishu deaths exceed 1,000
By Stephanie McCrummen, Washington Post, April 11, 2007

A particularly brutal episode of fighting in the Somali capital of Mogadishu killed more than 1,000 civilians and injured more than 4,000, according to a report by one of the city's largest clans, which was targeted in the violence.

The most recent casualty total is five times that of a tally released last week by a Mogadishu human rights group. None of the casualty figures from the recent violence could be independently verified.

The new report estimates that more than half the city's population of about 2.5 million fled as fighting escalated late last month between the Ethiopian-backed transitional government and an urban insurgency comprising disaffected clan militias and remnants of a popular Islamic movement that the Ethiopians, with tacit U.S. support, ousted in a December military offensive. [complete article]
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Insurgents against al-Qaida
By Marc Lynch, The Guardian, April 10, 2007

Optimism about developments in the Sunni quarters of Iraq has become surprisingly common these days. From American military officials to surge-architect Frederick Kagan's wife, there seems to be an emerging consensus that Anbar province has "turned the corner" thanks to tribes and other insurgents turning on al-Qaida. While things are indeed happening in Iraqi Sunni politics, they are not necessarily what meets the eye. In the world of conservative pundits and American military officials, the tide has supposedly been turning against the Sunni insurgency nearly constantly over the last four years. Oddly, it continues to rage.

While there is little reason to take upbeat assessments at face value, several important developments last week suggest that there may be some meat this time to long-rumoured divisions between al-Qaida in Iraq and the rest of the Sunni Islamist insurgency. But those developments have more to do with al-Qaida's possibly premature bid for hegemony over the Islamic insurgency than with America's 'surge'. If they come to fruition, it may actually make the anti-American insurgency stronger. The bright side is that a shift against al-Qaida could work in America's favour should it decide to withdraw from Iraq. The less bright side is that such a shift would probably make for a more effective, popular, and legitimate insurgency should the US forces remain. [complete article]

See also, IAI: the most dangerous document (Mark Lynch).
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Muqtada raises the stakes in Iraq
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, April 11, 2007

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has raised the stakes in Iraq by calling on his militia, the Mehdi Army, and Iraqi security forces to stop fighting each other. In a statement delivered by Muqtada from a hiding place inside Iraq (believed to be Kufa), he said, "O army and police of Iraq, do not follow the occupier - he is an enemy."

Muqtada is charismatic - certainly by Iraqi standards - and his appeal to the men in uniform to split from the US carries much weight, as they see him as a resistance leader dedicated to the liberation of Iraq.

Muqtada's call comes as the Mehdi Army is engaged in fighting with Iraqi and US forces in the central city of Diwaniya. The fighting broke out on Friday after the United States launched Operation Black Eagle aimed at returning control of Diwaniya to the Iraqi government. The US military says more than 60 militants have been killed or captured by the about 3,300 US and Iraqi troops. In the past year the town has been a battlefield for Shi'ite and Sunni militias. [complete article]

See also, Learning to live with the Mahdi Army (WP) and Huge protest in Iraq demands U.S. withdraw (NYT).
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Two ways out
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, April 9, 2007

Two new essays on how to disengage from Iraq are making the rounds, and though they hail from very different quarters (one, by Steven Simon, is published by the Council on Foreign Relations; the other, by Juan Cole, appears in the Nation), their conclusions are strikingly similar.

They both reject the Bush administration's stay-the-course surge and the congressional Democrats' insistence on a fixed timetable for withdrawal.

And they're also both utterly unlikely to receive the slightest attention from President George W. Bush.

In short, it seems, we're all stuck in a holding pattern, doomed to mere "muddling through," until somebody else sets up shop in the White House on Jan. 20, 2009—an unbelievable 651 days of mayhem to go. [complete article]
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A win, win, win ending for Tehran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, April 11, 2007

Even as Iran basks in worldwide praise for its handling of the crisis over the 15 British sailors and marines it seized and then released after two weeks, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has ensured that the focus stays on his country by announcing that Iran has the ability to produce enriched uranium at "industrial scale".

This presses the point that, technologically speaking, Iran has reached a point of no return and henceforth the best the West can hope for is to negotiate over the "objective guarantees" regarding the peaceful use of Iran's nuclear technology.

In a speech at Natanz, Iran's main nuclear site, Ahmadinejad said on Monday that 3,000 centrifuges had been installed in an underground facility, allowing Iran "to produce nuclear fuel on an industrial scale". [complete article]

See also, Interview with David Albright (Newsweek).
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Worse than apartheid?
By Robert D. Novak, Washington Post, April 9, 2007

Hani Hayek, an accountant who is the Christian mayor of the tiny majority-Christian Palestinian village of Beit Sahour, was angry last week as he drove me along the Israeli security wall. "They are taking our communal lands," he said, pointing to the massive Israeli settlement of Har Homa. "They don't want us to live here. They want us to leave."

Har Homa, dwarfing nearby dwellings of Beit Sahour, seemed larger than when I saw it at Holy Week a year ago. It is. The Israeli government has steadily enlarged settlements on the occupied West Bank, and I could see both the construction at Har Homa and road building for a dual transportation system for Israelis and Palestinians.

Jimmy Carter raised hackles by titling his book about the Palestinian question "Peace Not Apartheid." But Palestinians allege this is worse than the former South African racial separation. Nearing the 40th anniversary of the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank, the territory has been so fragmented that a genuine Palestinian state and a "two-state solution" seem increasingly difficult.

The security wall has led to virtual elimination of suicide bombings and short-term peace. But life is hard for Palestinians, whose deaths because of conflict increased 272 percent in 2006 while Israeli casualties declined. In a minor incident last week of the type that goes unnoticed internationally, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) troopers killed a Palestinian man accused of illegally entering a firing zone while collecting metal scraps to sell. The Britain-based organization Save the Children estimates that half the children in the occupied territories are psychologically traumatized. [complete article]

Comment -- Robert Novak has been classified as one of five columnists (now reduced to four after Edward Said's death) in the U.S. "likely to be reflexively anti-Israel and/or pro-Palestinian regardless of circumstance." This handy classification system came from Eric Alterman -- no doubt with the good intention of pointing out how heavily weighted op-ed writing in the U.S. is in favor of Israel, though also with the unfortunate effect of reinforcing a widespread tendency among readers to pigeonhole opinion without reflecting carefully on its content.

It's clear from the comments following this piece that many readers are shocked that a conservative commentator could also sympathize with the Palestinians. Yet Novak raises an issue that might actually concern many American Christian conservatives: the disappearance of Christians in the land of Christianity's birthplace. And while fire-breathing Christian Zionists like Pastor Hagee would have his followers believe Islam poses a threat to Christians, the Christians leaving Bethlehem clearly have no such fear.
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Shin Bet: Hamas planned major Tel Aviv Passover bombing
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, April 10, 2007

The Shin Bet announced Tuesday morning that in late March it broke up a Hamas cell in the West Bank city of Qalqilyah that had planned to detonate a car bomb in Tel Aviv during Pesach, apparently at the time of the seder, on the holiday's first night.

According to the details released by the security service, the driver, a suicide bomber, had managed to cross into Israel in a vehicle laden with about 100 kilograms of explosives. However, once he reached Tel Aviv, and for reasons that are still unclear, he changed his mind and returned to Qalqilyah.

Nineteen members in the cell have been arrested by the security forces. No names of the suspects were released for publication. [complete article]

Comment -- There are two narratives here -- one predictable and explicit, the other one likely to receive much less attention.

The terrorism narrative is that Hamas' real nature is that it is a terrorist organization which merely assumes a political posture of convenience. It is thus inevitable that whatever political theater it may engage in, sooner or later the true face of terror bursts through.

The political narrative, on the other hand, is more plausible but more complex. Terrorism is a means to an end and the members of the Hamas cell caught by Shin Bet are clearly casting a vote of no confidence in the new Palestinian unity government.

A smart response from Israel and the U.S. would start from the understanding that undermining Hamas' political strength is a sure way for empowering the militants. Now more than ever, it's time for the West to start working with instead of against the Palestinian government.
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The true story of free speech in America
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, April 7, 2007

Laila al-Arian was wearing her headscarf at her desk at Nation Books, one of my New York publishers. No, she told me, it would be difficult to telephone her father. At the medical facility of his North Carolina prison, he can only make a few calls - monitored, of course - and he was growing steadily weaker.

Sami al-Arian is 49 but he stayed on hunger strike for 60 days to protest the government outrage committed against him, a burlesque of justice which has, of course, largely failed to rouse the sleeping dogs of American journalism in New York, Washington and Los Angeles.

All praise, then, to the journalist John Sugg from Tampa, Florida, who has been cataloging al-Arian's little Golgotha for months, along with Alexander Cockburn of Counter Punch.

The story so far: Sami al-Arian, a Kuwaiti-born Palestinian, was a respected computer professor at the University of South Florida who tried, however vainly, to communicate the real tragedy of Palestinian Arabs to the US government. But according to Sugg, Israel's lobbyists were enraged by his lessons - al-Arian's family was driven from Palestine in 1948 - and in 2003, at the instigation of Attorney General Ashcroft, he was arrested and charged with conspiring "to murder and maim" outside the United States and with raising money for Islamic Jihad in "Palestine". He was held for two and a half years in solitary confinement, hobbling half a mile, his hands and feet shackled, merely to talk to his lawyers.

Al-Arian's $50m (£25m) Tampa trial lasted six months; the government called 80 witnesses (21 from Israel) and used 400 intercepted phone calls along with evidence of a conversation that a co-defendant had with al-Arian in - wait for it - a dream. The local judge, a certain James Moody, vetoed any remarks about Israeli military occupation or about UN Security Council Resolution 242, on the grounds that they would endanger the impartiality of the jurors. [complete article]

See also, An interview with Nahla Al-Arian (Counterpunch).
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High stakes: Chavez plays the oil card
By Simon Romero and Clifford Krauss, New York Times, April 10, 2007

With President Hugo Chavez setting a May 1 deadline for an ambitious plan to wrest control of several major oil projects from American and European companies, a showdown is looming here over access to some of the most coveted energy resources outside the Middle East.

Moving beyond empty threats to cut off all oil exports to the United States, officials have recently stepped up the pressure on the oil companies operating here, warning that they might sell American refineries meant to process Venezuelan crude oil even as they seek new outlets in China and elsewhere around the world.

"Chavez is playing a game of chicken with the largest oil companies in the world," said Pietro Pitts, an oil analyst who publishes LatinPetroleum, an industry magazine based here. "And for the moment he is winning." [complete article]
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Reporter recalls the layers of truth told in Iraq
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, April 10, 2007

Since first arriving in Iraq 4 1/2 years ago, first as a freelance reporter and then as the Los Angeles Times bureau chief, I had kept up the pretense that I was playing it safe.

Now that I am out of Iraq, I can begin to be honest.

For years, I had swaddled myself in layers of half-truths: I was an Iranian heading to the shrine cities. I was an average Joe from the Midwest who liked to go canoeing in the summer. I was a reporter for Radio Canada here to tell the truth about what's happening in Iraq. I was an Iranian journalist visiting the brave fighters of Sadr City.

Sometimes I went beyond the truth in the name of survival. I was a Sunni Arab with a speech impediment. I was a sympathetic journalist visiting the brave Sunni patriots of west Baghdad. I was among a group of pharmacists heading down to visit a hospital caring for truck bomb victims. Anything to get the story and get out.

In fact, I am an Iranian American reporter from Chicago, a graduate of Columbia University's journalism school, where I was taught that the greatest journalists were impartial and balanced.

But in Iraq, I measured success through my ability to make it past checkpoints and gunfire, to melt into the background as mysterious masked gunmen flashed by, to ease back into the office compound alive, story in hand, and to breeze past any of the day's complications in chats with my editors. [complete article]
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The chimera of Arab solidarity
By M K Bhadrakumar, Asia Times, April 11, 2007

All the brave attempts by spin doctors (in the region and abroad) to portray the summit as coupling Saudi Arabia's weight with an Arab mandate for carrying the so-called Arab Peace Initiative to a new threshold never really carried any conviction.

In the popular Arab perception, there was no doubt that the real bet was on the ability of the Saudi leadership to get the United States and Israel to accept the Arab initiative. But even assuming that US President George W Bush is inclined to pressure Israel, the plain reality is that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert lacks the personal or political credentials to take a major step toward peace in the Arab-Israel conflict.

He is the weakest prime minister Israel has ever had. Evidently, his priority is political survival in Israel's murky, vicious domestic politics. Meanwhile, he hopes somehow to keep the so-called peace process solely on the Palestinian track and to stick to the hardline stance vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas-led Palestinian government. [complete article]
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Al-Sadr attempts to re-position himself as a leader of all Iraqis
By Leila Fadel and Shashank Bengali, McClatchy, April 8, 2007

With his powerful anti-American movement losing its footing amid U.S.-led round-ups and military operations, the Shiite Muslim cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is trying to recast himself in his one-time image as a national resistance figure for all Iraqis - Shiite and Sunni alike.

In central Baghdad, a large billboard featuring al-Sadr's defiant visage proclaims: "I'm not Shiite/I'm not Sunni/But I am Iraqi."

On Monday, the fourth anniversary of the U.S. conquest of Baghdad, al-Sadr ordered his followers to unite in the holy city of Najaf in a "mammoth demonstration" against the U.S. military presence and to "raise the Iraqi flag above all others." [complete article]

See also, Sadr blames 'evil' U.S. for violence (WP).

Iraqi Shias protest in holy city
BBC News, April 9, 2007

Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shias have demonstrated in the holy city of Najaf, calling for US-led troops to leave Iraq.

The protesters were responding to an appeal by cleric Moqtada Sadr, who branded US forces "your arch enemy" in a statement. [complete article]

See also, 4 years after Hussein's fall, regret in Iraq (WP) and Patterns of war shift in Iraq amid buildup of U.S. force (NYT).
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'Your Iraq plan?' is a pointless question
By Andrew J. Bacevich, Los Angeles Times, April 9, 2007

For today's presidential candidates, the question is unavoidable: What is your plan for Iraq?

In interviews and town hall meetings, on talk shows and at fundraisers, Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, Mitt Romney and Rudolph W. Giuliani and all the others aspiring to succeed President Bush confront a battery of Iraq questions: Are you for the surge or against it? If the surge fails, what's your Plan B? How will you help the troops win? How will you get the troops out?

However sincere, such questions are also pointless. To pose them is to invite dissembling. The truth is that next to nothing can be done to salvage Iraq. It no longer lies within the capacity of the United States to determine the outcome of events there. Iraqis will decide their own fate. We are spectators, witnesses, bystanders caught in a conflagration that we ourselves, in an act of monumental folly, touched off.

The questions that ought to be asked now -- but so far have not been -- are of a different order. [complete article]
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Insurgents transform U.S. military jails into 'terror training camps'
By James Hider, The Times, April 7, 2007

America's high-security prisons in Iraq have become "terrorist academies" for the most dangerous militant groups, according to former inmates and Iraqi government officials.

Inmates are left largely to run their blocks, which are segregated on sectarian lines. The policy has created a closed world run by Iraq's worst terrorists and militias, into which detainees with no links to insurgent groups are often thrown.

Inmates from Camp Cropper, the US prison at Baghdad airport, described to The Times seeing al-Qaeda terrorists club to death a man suspected of being an informer. Others dished out retribution with razor wire stolen from the fences. [complete article]
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Iran expands uranium enrichment
By Ali Akbar Dareini, AP, April 9, 2007

Iran announced Monday that it has begun enriching uranium with 3,000 centrifuges, defiantly expanding a nuclear program that has drawn U.N. sanctions and condemnation from the West.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at a ceremony at the enrichment facility at Natanz that Iran was now capable of enriching nuclear fuel "on an industrial scale."

Asked if Iran has begun injecting uranium gas into 3,000 centrifuges for enrichment, top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani replied, "Yes." He did not elaborate, but it was the first confirmation that Iran had installed the larger set of centrifuges after months of saying it intends to do so. Until now, Iran was only known to have 328 centrifuges operating. [complete article]
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CIA tortured me, says Iran envoy
BBC News, April 7, 2007

An Iranian diplomat freed last week after being abducted in Iraq in February has said he was tortured by his captors, including CIA agents.

Jalal Sharafi, the second secretary at Iran's embassy in Baghdad, told Iranian media the agents had interrogated him on his country's role in Iraq. [complete article]

Iran stories sale criticism grows
BBC News, April 9, 2007

The head of the Army, General Sir Richard Dannat, is understood to have banned all soldiers from selling their stories to the media.

It comes as criticism mounts over the decision to allow the 15 Royal Navy personnel held in Iran to sell stories. [complete article]

Comment -- After diplomat Jalal Sharafi's release and return to Tehran, Iran's Fars news agency said: "He showed reporters the marks left by torture on his body that are now being treated by doctors."

In contrast, the British tabloid, "The Sun", today reports, "Freed British hostage Faye Turney told last night how she feared she was being measured for her COFFIN by her evil Iranian captors."

While Sharafi's torture claim remains open to question, it now seems reasonable to assume Turney was being measured for her release outfit -- not a coffin.

The British government's desperation in its efforts to regain lost ground in its propaganda war with Iran, is clearly evident in the decision to allow service members to sell their stories. But since when were market forces the best tool for promoting credible journalism?

Britain's problem is that it is trying to challenge images whose propaganda power comes from their own credibility.

Suited soldiers waving to the press provide a crudely choreographed image; that they were vulnerable and jubilant young people eager to go home was a inconvenient reality that undermines a myth of military invulnerability.

An Iranian diplomat's accusations that he was tortured by the CIA may or may not be based on fact; that the CIA is implicated in the widespread use of torture is well-documented and beyond doubt.

When the government outsources its own propaganda campaign to the tabloid press, this is all about promoting self-serving jingoistic journalism and nothing to do with getting out the truth. Are we supposed to believe that the only motive anyone ever has for telling their story is in order to make money? In these "exceptional circumstances" these military members could from the outset have been allowed to freely tell their stories, freely. What the British government ended up doing was guaranteeing that the tabloids would be given a head start.

U.S. captured 'wrong Iranians'
Al Jazeera, April 6, 2007

US soldiers who captured five Iranians in the Iraq's northern city of Irbil three months ago were hoping to seize commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, a senior Kurdish leader has said.

Massoud Barzani, president of the Kurdish region government, said senior Guards leaders had been visiting Kurdish officials at the time of the January raid.

The five Iranian diplomats who were arrested in the raid on a house in Irbil were all innocent of US charges that they were helping co-ordinate attacks against US and Iraqi forces, Barzani told Dubai-based Al-Arabiyah television in remarks broadcast on Friday. [complete article]

Buoyant Teheran warns of further kidnappings
By Gethin Chamberlain, Philip Sherwell and Tim Shipman, Sunday Telegraph, April 7, 2007

Hardliners in the Iranian regime have warned that the seizure of British naval personnel demonstrates that they can make trouble for the West whenever they want to and do so with impunity.

The bullish reaction from Teheran will reinforce the fears of western diplomats and military officials that more kidnap attempts may be planned.

The British handling of the crisis has been regarded with some concern in Washington, and a Pentagon defence official told The Sunday Telegraph: "The fear now is that this could be the first of many. If the Brits don't change their rules of engagement, the Iranians could take more hostages almost at will. [complete article]

Americans offered 'aggressive patrols' in Iranian airspace
By Ewen MacAskill, Julian Borger, Michael Howard and John Hooper, The Guardian, April 7, 2007

The US offered to take military action on behalf of the 15 British sailors and marines held by Iran, including buzzing Iranian Revolutionary Guard positions with warplanes, the Guardian has learned.

In the first few days after the captives were seized and British diplomats were getting no news from Tehran on their whereabouts, Pentagon officials asked their British counterparts: what do you want us to do? They offered a series of military options, a list which remains top secret given the mounting risk of war between the US and Iran. But one of the options was for US combat aircraft to mount aggressive patrols over Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases in Iran, to underline the seriousness of the situation.

The British declined the offer and said the US could calm the situation by staying out of it. London also asked the US to tone down military exercises that were already under way in the Gulf. Three days before the capture of the 15 Britons , a second carrier group arrived having been ordered there by president George Bush in January. The aim was to add to pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme and alleged operations inside Iraq against coalition forces. [complete article]

Pawns in a losing game: Britain's policy in tatters
By Raymond Whitaker, Anne Penketh and Angus McDowall, The Independent, April 8, 2007

If anything symbolised the degree to which Tony Blair's adventurous foreign policy has embroiled Britain in dangerous, unpredictable conflicts and wholly unintended consequences, it was the juxtaposition of joy and horror last Thursday.

The television news channels ran endless footage of 15 sailors and Royal Marines, freed by Iran after a two-week hostage saga that had taken almost daily twists and turns. But scrolling across the bottom of the screens was the news that four other service personnel, two of them women, and an Iraqi interpreter had been killed by an explosion in southern Iraq, the worst British loss of life in a single incident there for several months. A fifth soldier remains in a critical condition. [complete article]
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Hunger strike breaks out at Guantanamo
By Tim Golden, New York Times, April 8, 2007

A new, long-term hunger strike has broken out at the American detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, with more than a dozen detainees subjecting themselves to daily force-feeding to protest their treatment, military officials and lawyers for the detainees said.

Lawyers for several hunger strikers said their clients' actions were driven by harsh conditions in a new maximum security complex to which about 160 prisoners have been moved since December.

The 13 detainees now on hunger strikes is the highest number to endure the force-feeding regimen on an extended basis since early 2006, when the military broke a long-running strike with a new policy of strapping prisoners into "restraint chairs" while they are fed by plastic tubes inserted through their nostrils.

The hunger strikers are now monitored so closely the they have virtually no chance to starve themselves. Yet their persistence underscores how the struggle between detainees and guards at Guantanamo has continued even as the military has tightened its control. [complete article]

Cruel and inhuman: Conditions of isolation for detainees at Guantanamo Bay
Amnesty International, April 5, 2007

As of 1 April 2007, approximately 385 men of around 30 nationalities were detained without trial in the US military base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Designated by the US authorities as "unlawful enemy combatants", many have been held for more than five years without knowing if or when they will be released or brought to any form of judicial process. None of those currently held has had the lawfulness of his detention reviewed by a court. A few face the prospect of trials by military commission under procedures that violate international fair trial standards.

Amnesty International has raised concerns about the treatment of the detainees ever since the first of them were transferred by plane from Afghanistan to Guantanamo – hooded, shackled and tied down – in January 2002. From the outset, the US authorities have asserted that all the detainees in its custody are treated "humanely". That such assertions should be treated with extreme caution has become clear over the years. Even when official investigations have revealed interrogation techniques and detention conditions that clearly violate the international prohibition on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, US investigators and officials have concluded that no law was breached.

Despite being provided with what the US government has called "high quality" medical care, adequate food, sanitation and access to religious items, most detainees have languished in harsh conditions throughout their detention, confined to mesh cages or enclosed maximum security cells. Moreover, in December 2006, a new facility opened on the base. This facility, known as Camp 6, has created even harsher and apparently more permanent conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation in which detainees are confined to almost completely sealed, individual cells, with minimal contact with any other human being.

The US authorities have described Camp 6 as a "state of the art modern facility" which is safer for guards and "more comfortable" for the detainees. However, Amnesty International believes that conditions in Camp 6, as shown in photographs or described by detainees and their attorneys, contravene international standards for humane treatment. In certain respects, they appear more severe than the most restrictive levels of "super-maximum" custody on the US mainland, where conditions in some units have been criticized by international bodies and US courts as incompatible with human rights and US correctional standards. [complete article]

Guantanamo follies
Editorial, New York Times, April 6, 2007

There has been much speculation about the Supreme Court's decision not to hear an appeal from a group of Guantanamo Bay inmates until they have exhausted their legal options. Was the court signaling that the appeal had no merit? Were the court's liberals waiting for a better chance to review President Bush’s unconstitutional detention system for "illegal enemy combatants"?

Whatever the justices' intentions, we saw one clear message in their decision, and we hope that Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, and Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, saw it too. It is past time for Congress to undo the grievous damage done by President Bush’s abuse of the Constitution when he created his system of secret prisons and public internment camps to detain selected foreigners indefinitely without any real legal challenge.

In the months since Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the administration has pushed ahead with the show trials permitted by the law. Each development in that courtroom brings fresh evidence of how urgent it is for the courts to strike down that law and for Congress to rewrite it. [complete article]
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Nasrallah vows Hezbollah will stay armed to offset Israel
AP, April 9, 2007

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, on Sunday vowed that Hezbollah will keep its weapons until a strong Lebanese army capable of defending the country against Israeli attacks is established.

The Hezbollah leader apparently was responding to repeated calls by the country's anti-Syrian parliamentary majority for his group to disarm in line with a UN resolution that ended last summer's Israel-Hezbollah war.

"The only solution is that there must be a strong state and a strong army capable of confronting any Israeli aggression on Lebanon," he said. [complete article]

See also, In Beirut, a crisis settles into a routine (WP).
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North Koreans arm Ethiopians as U.S. assents
By Michael R. Gordon and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, April 8, 2007

Three months after the United States successfully pressed the United Nations to impose strict sanctions on North Korea because of the country's nuclear test, Bush administration officials allowed Ethiopia to complete a secret arms purchase from the North, in what appears to be a violation of the restrictions, according to senior American officials.

The United States allowed the arms delivery to go through in January in part because Ethiopia was in the midst of a military offensive against Islamic militias inside Somalia, a campaign that aided the American policy of combating religious extremists in the Horn of Africa.

American officials said that they were still encouraging Ethiopia to wean itself from its longstanding reliance on North Korea for cheap Soviet-era military equipment to supply its armed forces and that Ethiopian officials appeared receptive. But the arms deal is an example of the compromises that result from the clash of two foreign policy absolutes: the Bush administration's commitment to fighting Islamic radicalism and its effort to starve the North Korean government of money it could use to build up its nuclear weapons program.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, as the administration has made counterterrorism its top foreign policy concern, the White House has sometimes shown a willingness to tolerate misconduct by allies that it might otherwise criticize, like human rights violations in Central Asia and antidemocratic crackdowns in a number of Arab nations. [complete article]

Comment -- The U.S.-Ethiopian war against Somalia has been justified on the principle that Somalia, under Islamist rule, was providing a safe-haven for terrorists. This is a highly debatable supposition for numerous reasons not the least of which is this: although war, not peace, provides the most fertile breeding ground for all forms of violence, in Somalia the U.S. is promoting war and obstructing peace.

U.S. military strikes in January did not hit their "al Qaeda targets" but did kill innocent civilians. And under America's watch, Ethiopian forces have not only been receiving military support from North Korea but, it is now alleged, have also committed war crimes.

After years of anarchy and civil war, last summer the Islamic Courts Union defeated the warlords and brought six months of peace to Somalia. For the first time in a decade, one of the clearest signs of civil order occurred: there was a garbage collection in Mogadishu! Whether Islamic rule turned out to be too harsh in certain respects is open to debate; what is not is that for this brief period Somalia had a popular government.

In spite of this, the Bush administration demonstrated yet again its visceral opposition to Islamic rule. Small wonder that across the Muslim world the perception has been further reinforced that America is not conducting a war against terrorism, but a war on Islam.
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Why is Hezbollah on the terrorism list?
By Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch, April 6, 2007

It was a sign of the times last week (March 27) when House Armed Services Committee Staff Director Erin Conaton declared in a memo to committee staffers that the powerful committee was scrapping the Bush Administration shop worn phrase, Global War on Terrorism. Conaton's boss, Rep. Ike Skelton,( D-Mo) the new Chairman of the Committee commented that "the overused label had become an embarrassment and had lost its meaning".

Recent research in Lebanon has turned up information previously unavailable which sheds light of the misapplication of the Terrorism label by the Bush administration.

The "T word" is often misapplied as former National Security Advisor Brzezinski reminds us as he tours the country promoting his new book, Second Chance and focusing on the "catastrophic leadership" crisis caused by the Bush administration's foreign policy.

Another area that would benefit from discarding the "terrorist label" is the Bush administration's ongoing campaign against Hezbollah. There is considerable doubt among international lawyers whether Hezbollah should ever have been classified as a terrorist organization. [complete article]
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Allies desert 'lame duck president'
By Tim Shipman, Sunday Telegraph, April 7, 2007

George W Bush's presidency is effectively over on the home front two years before he is due to quit the White House, according to former aides and allies.

David Frum, a former White House speech writer, and Jim Nuzzo, a West Wing aide to Mr Bush's father, have both told The Sunday Telegraph that the president cannot achieve anything more in domestic politics and is now a captive of international events.

Mr Nuzzo branded Mr Bush a "lame duck" who had forfeited the support of senior Republicans.

They spoke out after a week in which a former member of Mr Bush's inner circle launched a withering description of how the president had "become more secluded and bubbled-in" with a shrinking band of loyalists. [complete article]

The sounds of silence
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, April 6, 2007

Washington seems to believe that by standing back from dialogue with any of the many forces it deems unsavory and unworthy, it can so frustrate their desire for recognition that they’ll bend to whatever conditions the administration imposes. But the obtuseness of such obstinacy is, well, obvious. The American silent treatment is creating more noise all the time. The world is trying to work around Washington as if it were a stalled 18-wheeler in the middle of a busy highway. You can’t just ignore it, but if you can squeeze by, you do, and a lot of the time you’re honking your horn. [complete article]
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Israel doesn't want peace
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, April 8, 2007

The moment of truth has arrived, and it has to be said: Israel does not want peace. The arsenal of excuses has run out, and the chorus of Israeli rejection already rings hollow. Until recently, it was still possible to accept the Israeli refrain that "there is no partner" for peace and that "the time isn't right" to deal with our enemies. Today, the new reality before our eyes leaves no room for doubt and the tired refrain that "Israel supports peace" has been left shattered.

It's hard to determine when the breaking point occurred. Was it the absolute dismissal of the Saudi initiative? The refusal to acknowledge the Syrian initiative? Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's annual Passover interviews? The revulsion at the statements made by Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, in Damascus, alleging that Israel was ready to renew peace talks with Syria?

Who would have believed it? A high-ranking U.S. official says Israel wants peace talks to resume and instantly her president "severely" denies the veracity of her words. Is Israel even hearing these voices? Are we digesting the significance of these voices for peace? Seven million apathetic Israeli citizens prove that we are not. [complete article]

In Jordanian camps, a sense of nihilism
By Anthony Shadid, Washington Post, April 7, 2007

Ahmed Abu Amira stared down a road of the Hussein Refugee Camp, strewn with moist garbage and bordered with concrete and cinder block in a generic scene of poverty. It headed west, as it has for six decades, toward the home of his parents.

"Palestine is a long way away," he said, standing amid customers picking through his potpourri of cheap goods: combs, toothpaste, leather wallets and nail polish in yellow and green. "This conflict doesn't have any end. It will end when the world does." Bahdala, he called it, a mess. "I swear to God," he said, his face contorted in the anger of resignation, "death would be preferable."

The more than 1.8 million Palestinian refugees and their descendants in Jordan registered by the United Nations, along with hundreds of thousands of others in Lebanon and Syria, remain a sideshow to the region's more turbulent crises and wars, a 60-year-old diaspora whose permanence denies the notion that refugee status is temporary. But in conversations along the streets of Jordan's 10 camps, the Palestinians tell a story, however anecdotal, of a landscape where secular politics has withered, Islamic activism is ascendant and, perhaps more important, a sense of dejection, even nihilism, is rising, with uncertain consequences. [complete article]
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Five more years in Iraq, say defence papers
By Sean Rayment, Sunday Telegraph, April 7, 2007

Britain's "overstretched" armed forces will fight in Iraq for at least another five years.

A confidential planning document drawn up by defence chiefs called the Operational Tour Plot, parts of which have been disclosed to this newspaper, reveals that troops will be serving on operations in the Gulf until at least 2012. [complete article]

Politics collide with Iraq realities
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, April 8, 2007

There are two Iraq wars being waged, according to military officers on the ground and defense experts: the one fought in the streets of Baghdad, and the war as it is perceived in Washington.

Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, who took over as the top U.S. commander in Iraq in February, cited the disparity last week. "The Washington clock is moving more rapidly than the Baghdad clock," he said in a television interview. "So we're obviously trying to speed up the Baghdad clock a bit and to produce some progress on the ground that can, perhaps . . . put a little more time on the Washington clock."

While Washington appears headed toward a political endgame on Iraq, with the White House and Congress sparring over benchmarks and pullout dates, the war on the ground is at an ebb tide. All sides -- including U.S. military strategists and Iraqi sectarian leaders and insurgents, as well as regional players such as Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey -- are waiting to see whether the new U.S. approach to make the Iraqi capital safer will work. Soldiers on the ground tend to see the Washington debate as irrelevant, and the perspective of many politicians in Washington is that the military schedule is simply too slow.

"The time scale to succeed is years," said John J. Hamre, a former deputy defense secretary, while "the time scale for tolerance here is 12 months for Democrats and 18 months for Republicans." [complete article]

A shock wave of brain injuries
By Ronald Glasser, Washington Post, April 8, 2007

"We can save you. But you might not be what you were."
Neurosurgeon, Combat Support Hospital, Balad, Iraq

This is the new physics of war. Three 155mm shells, linked together and combined with 100 pounds of Semtex plastic explosive, covered by canisters of butane or barrels of gasoline, can upend a 70-ton tank, destroy a Humvee or blow an engine block through the hood of a truck. Those deadly ingredients form the signature weapon of the war in Iraq: improvised explosive devices, known by anybody who watches the news as IEDs.

Some of the impact of these roadside bombs is brutally clear: Troops are maimed by projectiles, poisoned by clouds of bacteria-laced debris and burned by post-blast flames. But the IEDs have added a new dimension to battlefield injuries: wounds and even deaths among troops who have no external signs of trauma but whose brains have been severely damaged. Iraq has brought back one of the worst afflictions of World War I trench warfare: shell shock. The brain of a soldier exposed to a roadside bomb is shocked, truly. [complete article]

Comment -- In the Orwellian process through which government and bureaucracy strips the power of language, the evocative and emotionally-charged term "shell shock" is first transformed into the coldly clinical "traumatic brain injury." It then gets reduced even further through the tyranny of acronyms: IED's leave GI's with TBI's -- a statement as inhuman as a technical description of a malfunction in an industrial facility.

U.S. fights Iraqi militia in South
By Karin Brulliard and Saad Sarhan, Washington Post, April 8, 2007

American and Iraqi troops engaged in fierce fighting with Shiite militiamen in southern Iraq on Saturday, the second day of clashes that have raised the specter of a resurgence by the Mahdi Army after weeks of lying low.

As combat aircraft zoomed overhead, U.S. and Iraqi troops fought the militia in street shootouts and hunted down fighters in house-to-house raids in what the U.S. military said was an attempt to wrest control of the city of Diwaniyah from loyalists of firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. It was the third major clash between U.S.-allied forces and the Shiite militia in Diwaniyah in the past eight months.

Sadr has appeared to cooperate with U.S. and Iraqi troops as they carry out a U.S.-led plan to stabilize Baghdad and other parts of the country, even as he has continued to criticize the U.S. presence in Iraq and has called on his followers to resist it. As troops swept through his stronghold of Sadr City -- a Shiite district of Baghdad seen as crucial in the quest to temper violence in the capital -- his Mahdi Army has stood down on the orders of its leader. [complete article]
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We want the Taliban back, say ordinary Afghans
By Chris Sands, The Independent, April 8, 2007

Faiz Mohammed Karigar, a father of two, fled Kandahar when the Taliban held power in Afghanistan because he was against their restrictions on education. Now he wants the fundamentalists back.

"When the Taliban were here, I escaped to the border with Iran, but I was never worried about my family," he said. "Every single minute of the last three years I have been very worried. Maybe tonight the Americans will come to my house, molest my wife and children and arrest me."

Last week, President Hamid Karzai acknowledged for the first time that he had held talks with the Taliban in an attempt to reach a peace deal and avert a bloody struggle for control in the south and east of the country, where the movement has enjoyed a resurgence in the past year. [complete article]

Suicide offensive
By Sami Yousafzai and Ron Moreau, Newsweek, April 16, 2007

The village was in Taliban country, roughly 170 miles southwest of Kabul and more than an hour by foot from the main road. When a NEWSWEEK reporter walked in alone through the snow one cold February day, a guerrilla with an AK-47 was there to meet him. The visit had been arranged in advance through Taliban officials who have been consistently reliable news sources. Our aim was to speak to volunteers who had trained to be suicide bombers, hoping to shed light on their minds and motives. The guide led our reporter to a mud-brick house, where a boy of 10 or so hauled out something heavy in a flour sack. The Taliban man took the sack and slung it over his shoulder, heading toward another house. Then he told his visitor what was in the bag: a pair of suicide vests, stuffed with explosives. "If these jackets go off, anyone within 100 meters will be killed," the fighter warned, with a twisted smile. [complete article]
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U.S. congressman meets with Mubarak's banned rival
AP, April 7, 2007

A top U.S. Democratic congressman met a leader of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's most powerful rival, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, U.S. officials and the Islamist group said Saturday.

Visiting House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer met with the head of the Muslim Brotherhood's parliamentary bloc, Mohammed Saad el-Katatni, twice on Thursday -- once at the parliament building and then at the home of the U.S. ambassador to Egypt, said Brotherhood spokesman Hamdi Hassan.

U.S. Embassy spokesman John Berry would confirm only that Hoyer, who represents Maryland, met with el-Katatni at U.S. Ambassador Francis Ricciardone's home at a reception with other politicians and parliament members.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has refused in the past to meet with the Muslim Brotherhood, the country's largest opposition group. [complete article]
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White House looked past alarms on Kerik
By John Solomon and Peter Baker, Washington Post, April 8, 2007

When former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani urged President Bush to make Bernard B. Kerik the next secretary of homeland security, White House aides knew Kerik as the take-charge top cop from Sept. 11, 2001. But it did not take them long to compile an extensive dossier of damaging information about the would-be Cabinet officer.

They learned about questionable financial deals, an ethics violation, allegations of mismanagement and a top deputy prosecuted for corruption. Most disturbing, according to people close to the process, was Kerik's friendship with a businessman who was linked to organized crime. The businessman had told federal authorities that Kerik received gifts, including $165,000 in apartment renovations, from a New Jersey family with alleged Mafia ties.

Alarmed about the raft of allegations, several White House aides tried to raise red flags. But the normal investigation process was short-circuited, the sources said. Bush's top lawyer, Alberto R. Gonzales, took charge of the vetting, repeatedly grilling Kerik about the issues that had been raised. In the end, despite the concerns, the White House moved forward with his nomination -- only to have it collapse a week later.

The selection of Kerik in December 2004 for one of the most sensitive posts in government became an acute but brief embarrassment for Bush at the start of his second term. More than two years later, it has reemerged as part of a federal criminal investigation of Kerik that raises questions about the decisions made by the president, the Republican front-runner to replace him and the embattled attorney general. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The semiwarriors and the imperial presidency
By Andrew C. Bacevich, The Nation, April 23, 2007

How to get out of Iraq
By Juan Cole, The Nation, April 23, 2007

Jock diplomacy
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 5, 2007

Ex-aide details a loss of faith in the president
By Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, April 1, 2007

America winning war of words with Iran, but the real battles are far from over
By Mahan Abedin, Saudi Debate, March 29, 2007

Who leads the Middle East?
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, April 9, 2007

Last chance for Mideast peace
By Gary Kamiya, Salon, April 3, 2007

The Sadr-Sistani relationship
By Babak Rahimi, Terrorism Monitor, March 29, 2007
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