The War in Context Christopher Dickey quote
  Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives     
Finding an intelligent alternative to the war on terrorism
By Paul Woodward, The War in Context, April 27, 2007

If the next administration in Washington is blessed with great imagination -- I know that's a big if, but it's worth considering what that could mean -- then one of the first policy changes the next president needs to make is to end the war on terrorism. This so-called war need not be declared won or lost, but it needs to be ended because it was ill-conceived and has done far more harm than good. It needs to be replaced by an intelligent response to revolutionary jihadism.

The starting point of that response will be a recognition that America's efforts to crush al Qaeda have had the opposite effect. The ideology that al Qaeda epitomizes and the global movement that it spawned are now stronger than ever.

After 9/11, America's drive to "fight back" was rooted in the unquestioned predicate that fighting terrorism was first and foremost an act of will. The question that for the last six years no one in Washington appears to have been willing to seriously consider is this: Is challenging al Qaeda and the philosophy it espouses a task that the United States is competent to assume?

Thus far, the paradigm that has dominated the U.S.'s counter-terrorism strategy is that of crushing the enemy. The war on terrorism has been engaged as though it was somehow akin to the World Health Organization's campaign to eradicate smallpox -- even though everyone knows that killing terrorists does nothing to destroy the motivation of future recruits. Indeed, the war on terrorism has probably served as the greatest terrorist recruiting exercise in history.

As a campaign of eradication the war on terrorism has been worse than a failure.

An intelligent response to revolutionary jihadism begins by asking, what would make a would-be terrorist choose a different vocation? Embedded in that question is an acknowledgment that revolutionary jihadism is a vocation. The willingness to die in the service of a greater cause reflects a level of passion and intentionality that cannot be redirected towards some trivial pursuit. Moreover, in those for whom revolutionary jihadism feels like "the answer," a viable alternative must look equally if not more compelling. The idea that would-be extremists can be persuaded to opt for moderation without their core sense of purpose still being served is simply unrealistic.

We already know that revolutionary jihadism is fueled by the sense that Islam is under threat from infidels and that the political regimes and religious establishment across the Muslim world do not serve as defenders of the faith. It follows therefore that an alternative path is not going to arise out of the very elements that seem to threaten Islam from the outside or those that are failing to defend it from within.

An intelligent response to revolutionary jihadism already exists. It doesn't need American support -- in fact, such support would almost certainly be counterproductive. But it does need Western recognition -- an acknowledgement that such a response exists, that it can be effective, but that its effectiveness has thus far been undermined by America's fear of Islamism.

The Muslim Brotherhood presents just such an intelligent response to revolutionary jihadism. It is time we started listening to what they have to say.

The moderate Muslim Brotherhood
By Robert Leiken and Steven Brooke, Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2007

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

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

Over the past year, we have met with dozens of Brotherhood leaders and activists from Egypt, France, Jordan, Spain, Syria, Tunisia, and the United Kingdom. In long and sometimes heated discussions, we explored the Brotherhood's stance on democracy and jihad, Israel and Iraq, the United States, and what sort of society the group seeks to create. The Brotherhood is a collection of national groups with differing outlooks, and the various factions disagree about how best to advance its mission. But all reject global jihad while embracing elections and other features of democracy. There is also a current within the Brotherhood willing to engage with the United States. In the past several decades, this current -- along with the realities of practical politics -- has pushed much of the Brotherhood toward moderation. [complete article]

See also, To talk or not to talk? -- that is the question (Robert S. Leiken) and, Strategic thinking about the Muslim Brotherhood (Robert S. Leiken and Steven Brooke).

Smoke and mirrors
By Gihan Shahine, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 26, 2007

The relationship between the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood and the US administration seems to have been receiving much foreign and local media attention in recent weeks. This month's issue of Newsweek, for instance, features a lead story suggesting an "apparent softening" in the US approach towards the banned group. The article maintains that the issue of how the US should handle the Brotherhood has recently been a bone of contention among US officials and experts.

What seems to have brought the US-Brotherhood issue back to the fore is the recent controversy surrounding two brief encounters on 8 April between US House of Representatives majority leader Steny Hoyer and Mohamed Saad El-Katatni, a Brotherhood member and leader of an independent bloc in the People's Assembly allied with the movement. Hoyer and El-Katatni first met in parliament during a visit by a congressional group which got together with MPs of different political stripes, and then later the same day at a cocktail party held at the residence of US Ambassador to Cairo Francis Ricciardone. [complete article]
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Army officer accuses generals of 'intellectual and moral failures'
By Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, April 27, 2007

An active-duty Army officer is publishing a blistering attack on U.S. generals, saying they have botched the war in Iraq and misled Congress about the situation there.

"America's generals have repeated the mistakes of Vietnam in Iraq," charges Lt. Col. Paul Yingling, an Iraq veteran who is deputy commander of the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. "The intellectual and moral failures . . . constitute a crisis in American generals."

Yingling's comments are especially striking because his unit's performance in securing the northwestern Iraqi city of Tall Afar was cited by President Bush in a March 2006 speech and provided the model for the new security plan underway in Baghdad. [complete article]
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On whose side is Al-Qaeda?
By Lamis Andoni, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 26, 2007

Al-Qaeda's Islamic State of Iraq has signalled the beginning of an offensive that sets it apart from Iraqi resistance groups in a brazen and violent struggle not only against foreign occupation but also and mainly for power in Iraq.

If Al-Qaeda was responsible, as it claims, for the suicide bombing at the Iraqi parliament, the attack represents its most daring act yet aimed at asserting a monopoly of representation of Iraqis. The bombing, as much as it shattered the American security plan, signals that Al-Qaeda has embarked on an irreversible path of wrestling for power even before a withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. [complete article]
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Reluctant reconciliation
By Salah Hemeid, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 26, 2007

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki kicked off a regional tour in Cairo this week, attempting to seek help to stabilise his beleaguered and violence-torn country. During his first tour of the Arab region, he also tried to drum up support for next month's international conference in Egypt aimed at quelling the raging bloodshed in Iraq. His tour comes against a backdrop of the warning directed by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates to Iraqi leaders that they need to work faster to reconcile their rival factions as American support cannot be taken for granted for ever.

In Cairo, Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told Al-Maliki that Egypt supports Iraq's attempt to achieve peace, security and stability but he strongly emphasised "the need to achieve national reconciliation between all sects of Iraqi society". Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa delivered a similar message to Al-Maliki. But the Middle East News Agency elaborated further when it quoted an Egyptian diplomatic source as saying that the Arab governments will link their support for Al-Maliki's government to a package of reforms they have suggested. [complete article]
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Ex-CIA chief, in book, assails Cheney on Iraq
By Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, April 27, 2007

George J. Tenet, the former director of central intelligence, has lashed out against Vice President Dick Cheney and other Bush administration officials in a new book, saying they pushed the country to war in Iraq without ever conducting a "serious debate" about whether Saddam Hussein posed an imminent threat to the United States.

The 549-page book, "At the Center of the Storm," is to be published by HarperCollins on Monday. By turns accusatory, defensive, and modestly self-critical, it is the first detailed account by a member of the president's inner circle of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the decision to invade Iraq and the failure to find the unconventional weapons that were a major justification for the war. [complete article]
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In Ahmadinejad's Iran, Jews still find a space
By Scott Peterson, Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2007

Enmity runs deep between arch-foes Iran and Israel. And that confrontation complicates the lives of Iranian Jews, who make up the largest community of Jews in the Middle East outside the Jewish state.

Iran's Jews are buffeted by inflammatory rhetoric from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about "wiping Israel off the map" and denying the Holocaust, and a politically charged environment that often equates all Jews with Israel and routinely witnesses the burning of the "enemy" flag.

But despite what appears to be a dwindling minority under constant threat of persecution, Iranian Jews say they live in relative freedom in the Islamic Republic, remain loyal to the land of their birth, and are striving to separate politics from religion.

They caution against comparing Iran's official and visceral opposition to the creation of Israel and Zionism with the regime's acceptance of Jews and Judaism itself. [complete article]
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Echoes of terror case haunt California Pakistanis
By Neil MacFarquhar, New York Times, April 27, 2007

Khalid Farooq has shunned the low-slung yellow bungalow that serves as the Pakistani community's mosque here for nearly two years, ever since a father and son who worshiped there were arrested on suspicion of being foot soldiers for Al Qaeda.

If he runs an errand at someplace like Wal-Mart, away from the neat, tree-lined streets that constitute the heart of Lodi's Pakistani neighborhood, Mr. Farooq trades his traditional baggy clothes for standard American attire, he said, as often as four times in one day.

"Something has changed in the air; it's a scary time," said Mr. Farooq, who first arrived to work in the flat, black fields that surround this town 25 years ago. "We don't want to talk; we're all afraid."

The tide of fear rolled in and has never quite receded after an informant incriminated two Lodi men, Umer Hayat, an ice cream truck driver, and his son Hamid, who were arrested in June 2005. Their trial ended a year ago with the younger Mr. Hayat, 24, convicted of providing material support for terrorism by attending a training camp in Pakistan. His lawyers recently began seeking a new trial based on arguments that the jury was tainted. [complete article]
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Can Guantanamo be closed?
By Karen J. Greenberg, TomDispatch, April 26, 2007

A surprising number of Americans of note are in agreement. Guantanamo should be closed. The New York Times and the human rights community have, of course, called for it to be shut down, but so has the new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. So has President Bush. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has given indications that she seconds Bush's call. Senator John McCain has said he would close the prison immediately upon becoming president.

On the Democratic side, while John Edwards and Bill Richardson have both called for Guantanamo's closing, the larger field of Democratic candidates has remained curiously silent on the subject. Do they know something we don't? Admittedly, one Democratic Congressman, James Moran of Virginia, has mentioned the possibility of including funds to close Guantanamo in the 2008 Defense Appropriations Bill, but the leading Democratic presidential hopefuls have as yet said very little about Guantanamo. [complete article]
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An Iran nuclear compromise?
By Tony Karon,, April 25, 2007

Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, meets with his Western counterpart, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, on Wednesday in Turkey, amid growing signs that the diplomatic process may be inching towards some sort of breakthrough.

For one thing, a senior former Iranian diplomat was reported Tuesday as revealing that Larijani had been given "authority for compromise" by Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. As Iran's leaders reportedly grow increasingly concerned about a confrontation with the U.S. and subjecting their troubled economy to the added pressure of sanctions, the search for a formula that would allow both sides to stand down has become more urgent. [complete article]
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Why the U.S. can't leave Iraq
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, April 26, 2007

The debate in Washington over troop withdrawals from Iraq is largely a pantomime for domestic political consumption -- the Democrats are maneuvering to disassociate themselves from an unpopular war that they originally backed, and that they know can't be ended any time soon but for which they don't want to share the blame come election year 2008. The reality is that the U.S. can't leave Iraq for the foreseeable future without fundamentally altering the basic goals of its Middle East policy over the past half century, and the Democrats talk of "benchmarks" and "deadlines" is unlikely to be taken seriously by the Iraqi players -- except to the extent that they need to humor the Americans. The failure of the Iraqi government to make significant "progress" towards achieving the Bush Administration's benchmarks may be routinely reported here has a sign of infighting among them or their political weakness, but the reality may be that they have no intention of acting out Washington's script. [complete article]

See also, Democrats' timetable allows U.S. war in Sunni region to go on (Gareth Porter).
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Abu Roman: significance of Hamas Iraq
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, April 26, 2007

Mohamed Abu Roman, one of the smartest Jordanian writers on Islamist issues, turns his attention today to Hamas Iraq. Like me, Abu Roman places the appearance of Hamas Iraq directly within the context of the growing intellectual and political divide within the Sunni insurgency between al-Qaeda on the one hand, and groups such as the Islamic Army of Iraq on the other.

According to Abu Roman, this clash was a long time coming and was widely expected due to the serious underlying strategic and intellectual differences (and thus, though he doesn't say so, has little to do with the American "surge"). What brought these differences to a head, he argues, were the appearance of the Islamic State of Iraq and its attempt to impose its control over the other factions, and the beginning of political negotiations between some insurgency factions and the United States (which al-Qaeda fiercely opposed). Let's just repeat that: the splits within the Iraqi insurgency are driven by al-Qaeda's power grab and by attempted negotiations - not by the surge or the changed American military strategy.

Abu Roman suggests an important role for external Arab and Muslim actors in the formation of Hamas Iraq, particularly on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood (which, as I noted when it happened, took the unusual step of publicizing its initial communique on its official website; also note the significance of the fact that al-Jazeera broadcast an excerpt of its announcement of its political program). The Muslim Brotherhood across the Arab world, he writes, sees its choice of a name as a signal of its acceptance of the Brotherhood's program rather than al-Qaeda's. [complete article]
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Taliban: bin Laden plans attack targeting Cheney
Xinhuanet, April 26, 2007

Osama bin Laden personally ordered and managed a February suicide attack targeting U.S. vice president Dick Cheney during his visit to Afghanistan, a top Taliban commander said in an interview aired by Al-Jazeera Wednesday.

Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban's main military commander in southern Afghanistan, said Bin Laden was behind the suicide blast that killed 23 people outside the Bagram U.S. military base on Feb. 27, while Cheney was there.

"You may remember the martyr operation inside the Bagram base, which targeted a senior U.S. official. ... That operation was the result of his wise planning. He (Bin Laden) planned that operation and guided us through it. The operation was a success," said Dadullah, thought to be surrounded by Afghan and NATO forces in the country's Uruzgan province. [complete article]
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Gates not enthusiastic about al-Maliki
AP, April 25, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Wednesday offered a less-than-enthusiastic endorsement of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, days after expressing impatience with the Iraqi leader during his third visit to Iraq since becoming the Pentagon chief.

At a news conference here, Gates was asked about the viability of the new U.S. approach to establishing security in Baghdad and his assessment of al-Maliki's ability to achieve a political reconciliation among the Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds.

"This government (of al-Maliki's) is the one we have to work with," Gates said, noting that al-Maliki is the elected leader of the Iraqi government.

But Gates also said that if he did not believe al-Maliki could be successful he would not have recently urged Egypt, Jordan and other governments in the region to support al-Maliki. [complete article]

Mubarak and the Saudi king decide to dispense with the traditional Arab hospitality
Azzaman (translated by Missing Links), April 26, 2007

[Maliki] failed in his efforts to meet with Saudi king Abdullah, who initially excused himself from such a meeting for reasons of protocol and because his schedule was full, but it wasn't long before a Saudi diplomatic source told the German news agency that one reason for the refusal was "his unhelpful attitude toward certain groups in Iraq, and his favoritism toward other groups, along with his efforts to strengthen the role of Iran in Iraq." Maliki had relied on the Americans to arrange the visit [to Riyadh] before going on to the Sultanat of Oman for a protocol visit described by observers as without political value, [adding] Maliki was anxious to visit Muskat, on the heels of a visit there by former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi.

[In Cairo, Mubarak] received Maliki at the beginning of his Arab tour, and appeared sullen. A political source told the Azzaman reporter in Cairo that Mubarak insisted the meeting include Maliki himself only, and refused to allow the participation of Iraqi security officials who were accompanying [Maliki on his tour]. Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmad Nazif said after the meeting: "Egypt urges the government of Iraq to carry out reconciliation [or reforms]". And the same Egyptian source said the visit of Maliki to Cairo was in trouble from the start, and likely [a Maliki-Mubarak meeting] wouldn't have happened at all, if not for the fact there is to be a conference soon in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt. [complete article]
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Baghdad's fissures and mistrust keep political goals out of reach
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, April 26, 2007

U.S. military commanders say a key goal of the ongoing security offensive is to buy time for Iraq's leaders to reach political benchmarks that can unite its fractured coalition government and persuade insurgents to stop fighting.

But in pressuring the Iraqis to speed up, U.S. officials are encountering a variety of hurdles: The parliament is riven by personality and sect, and some politicians are abandoning Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's government. There is deep mistrust of U.S. intentions, especially among Shiites who see American efforts to bring Sunnis into the political process as an attempt to weaken the Shiites' grip on power.

Many Iraqi politicians view the U.S. pressure as bullying that reminds them they are under occupation. And the security offensive, bolstered by additional U.S. forces, has failed to stop the violence that is widening the sectarian divide.

"The Americans should take into consideration the Iraqi situation and its complications, not just their own internal politics," said Mahmoud Othman, an independent Kurdish legislator. [complete article]

See also, Iraq criticises U.S. pull-out bill (BBC), Senate approves war spending bill (WP), and House passes Iraq pullout timetable (WP).
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U.S. officials exclude car bombs in touting drop in Iraq violence
By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy, April 25, 2007

U.S. officials who say there has been a dramatic drop in sectarian violence in Iraq since President Bush began sending more American troops into Baghdad aren't counting one of the main killers of Iraqi civilians.

Car bombs and other explosive devices have killed thousands of Iraqis in the past three years, but the administration doesn't include them in the casualty counts it has been citing as evidence that the surge of additional U.S. forces is beginning to defuse tensions between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. [complete article]

See also, U.N. report and Times data paint grim Iraq picture (LAT).

The temperature rises in Kirkuk
By Jason Motlagh, Asia Times, April 27, 2007

The latest wave of deadly attacks to hit the oil-rich, ethnically combustible city of Kirkuk appears to be a prelude of worse to come, with a referendum looming to decide its status by the end of the year. Concern that the north is poised to become a new front in the Iraq conflict is saddled by the possibility that neighboring Turkey will also join the fight.

The fate of Kirkuk, which sits atop one of the world's biggest oilfields, is set to be resolved in a local referendum as laid out in the Iraqi constitution. After a forced "Arabization" campaign under Saddam Hussein that brought tens of thousands of Shi'ite Arabs to displace the Kurdish population, an estimated 350,000 Kurds have moved back since April 2003 and are now said to hold a majority that would carry the vote. [complete article]
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The puppet who cleared the way for Iraq's destruction
By Andrew Cockburn, The Guardian, April 26, 2007

Among those relishing the exposure of World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz's manoeuvres on behalf of his girlfriend, Shaha Riza, in recent weeks was almost certainly the former US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld. Rumsfeld was driven from public life thanks to the catastrophe of Iraq, and for the moment at least lurks in obscurity. Wolfowitz, his deputy until 2005, contributed in almost equal measure to the debacle, yet managed to slide from the Pentagon into the presidency of a leading international institution with every chance to redeem himself. Blame for torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo, bungling over troop levels, chaos in Iraq's reconstruction, and the general meltdown in Pentagon management has all too often been laid at Rumsfeld's door alone. However, Wolfowitz was an energetic enabler of these outrages and many other notorious initiatives. [complete article]

Wolfowitz escalates battle to stay at bank
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, April 26, 2007

Escalating his campaign to remain president of the World Bank, Paul D. Wolfowitz accused the bank's board on Wednesday of treating him "shabbily and unfairly," and appealed for more time to defend himself against allegations of favoritism and other matters.

Mr. Wolfowitz, increasingly isolated at the bank and facing a board seemingly determined to force his resignation, sent a letter to the head of a board panel dealing with issues affecting his leadership, asking to appear before the board next week in the interest of "fairness to me" and "good governance" at the bank.

The letter was described by people who had seen it.

Bank officials described many on the 24-member board as having been taken aback by the tough tone of the letter but said the board appeared likely to grant Mr. Wolfowitz at least some of his request, perhaps by allowing him to appear next week, though not necessarily with his newly hired lawyer, Robert S. Bennett. [complete article]

Comment -- While it is invariably true that power is never relinquished without a struggle, what Paul Wolfowitz -- like many of his buddies back in the Bush administration -- doesn't seem to grasp is that his authority isn't embedded in a set of rules of governance; it is sustained by the agreement of those beneath him not to rebel. But clearly, a rebellion is already in full swing and there will be no gem of legal advice from the likes of Robert Bennett that can now quieten the dissent.

Given that the board and staff of the World Bank are in no doubt that Wolfowitz must go, the question remains, what is he now fighting for? A generous severance package?
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Thousands flee as shelling by Ethiopian tanks kills hundreds of civilians in Somali capital
By Chris McGreal, The Guardian, April 26, 2007

The Somali capital Mogadishu suffered some of the heaviest bombardment in nine days of fighting today, as Ethiopian tanks supporting the interim government shelled new areas of the city despite a claim by the Somali prime minister to have routed Islamist insurgents.

The Ethiopian assault has killed several hundred people, many of them civilians harmed by indiscriminate shelling that has destroyed homes and shops, and forced tens of thousands to flee the city as it spread to previously relatively peaceful parts of Mogadishu. Corpses lay scattered on the streets because it is too dangerous to collect them.

More than 1,000 people were killed in an earlier round of fighting last month. More than a third of the civilian population — some 340,000 people — have fled in the past three months. [complete article]
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Israel's choice: "Jewish only" or democratic?
By Sonja Karkar, Electronic Intifada, April 25, 2007

The time will have to come for Israel to declare its hand: is it "a state of the Jewish people throughout the world" as it defines itself, or a state of all its citizens, both Jewish and non-Jewish? So far Israel has managed to convince the Western world that it is the only democracy in the region, but neglects to add that this democracy works only for its Jewish citizens. This is the conundrum: Israel has been unable to reconcile what it says it is, with want it wants to be -- democratic and exclusively Jewish. [complete article]
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Palestinians renew truce, demand it include W.Bank
By Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters, April 26, 2007

Palestinian armed factions renewed their commitment to a Gaza Strip truce on Thursday but said rocket salvoes from the territory could resume if Israel did not halt military operations in the occupied West Bank.

The message was delivered to Israel by an Egyptian mediator who has been trying to prevent major confrontation after Hamas's armed wing fired rockets and declared the Gaza truce dead on Tuesday, Palestinian sources familiar with the talks said.

Egyptian Major-General Burhan Hammad "informed the Israelis of the new commitment by the factions and at same time stressed that factions demanded the calm be reciprocal and simultaneous, covering Gaza and the West Bank," one of the sources said. [complete article]
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Israeli PM's future in balance ahead of Lebanon war report
By Jean-Luc Renaudie, AFP, April 26, 2007

The political future of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, implicated in a series of corruption probes, hung in the balance on Thursday ahead of a report on last year's war against Hezbollah.

An Israeli commission investigating the 34-day conflict with Lebanon's Shiite militia will on Monday present its eagerly awaited interim findings that many observers say will determine Olmert's fate.

Speculation mounted over whether the report would explicitly recommend that Olmert and his Defence Minister Amir Peretz resign over a war that is widely seen as a failure inside

"The pressure is rising all around Ehud Olmert and his chair could soon be vacated," said a commentator on army radio. [complete article]
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Hezbollah taunts Israel with picture of captive soldiers
By Jihad Siqlawi, AFP, April 26, 2007

Shiite militants of Hezbollah erected a large photograph of two Israeli soldiers it is holding on Lebanon's border with the Jewish state Thursday, an AFP correspondent saw.

A crowd of the group's supporters chanted slogans as the three-metre by five-metre (10 foot by 16 foot) photograph was put up by unarmed Hezbollah militants in this border district near where the soldiers were seized.

The photograph was a montage of old pictures already circulated in
Israel of the two men in civilian clothes before their capture in the deadly July 12, 2006, raid that triggered a 34-day Israeli war on Hezbollah in Lebanon. [complete article]
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Bishara: I will return
AP, April 26, 2007

An Israeli Arab politician suspected of aiding the enemy said Thursday that he would return to Israel, but he was waiting for the fuss over his foreign contacts to quiet down.

"My stay outside is temporary," Azmi Bishara said in a phone interview from Doha, Qatar.

A court in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva said Wednesday that Bishara, who resigned from parliament this week, was suspected of aiding enemies of the state in times of war, passing intelligence to the enemy, contacting foreign agents and receiving money in violation of anti-money laundering laws. [complete article]
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Putin suspends treaty in response to U.S. plan
By Peter Finn, Washington Post, April 26, 2007

President Vladimir Putin said Thursday that he was suspending Russia's obligations under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, ratcheting up a tense stand-off with NATO over U.S. plans to station a missile defense system in Eastern Europe.

Putin linked his decision, which he said could lead to full withdrawal from the treaty, to U.S. plans to deploy a missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic.

U.S. and NATO officials expressed concern about Putin's remarks, and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice flatly denied that the planned missile defense system was a threat to Moscow. [complete article]
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The last thing the Middle East's main players want is U.S. troops to leave Iraq
By Hussein Agha, The Guardian, April 25, 2007

Al-Qaida and its affiliates arguably benefit most from the occupation. They established themselves, brought in recruits, sustained operations against the Americans and expanded. The last thing they want is for the Americans to leave and deny them targets and motivation for new members. Other Sunni armed groups need the Americans for similar reasons and for protection against Shias. For Sunni politicians, the occupation prevents a total Shia takeover of state institutions and helps increase their influence.

Of all ethnic groups, the Kurds have made best use of the Americans. Protected by the US from their powerful and ruthless historical foes, Arab and Turk, they have built quasi-independent institutions and prospered amid relative security. They have no reason to want this situation to end.

In common with neighbouring states, Iraqi Shias, Sunnis and Kurds are united in being able to use the Americans' presence to pursue separate and often conflicting political agendas. The grand disconnect in the region is between the political sentiments of ordinary people, which are overwhelmingly for an end to occupation, and the political calculations of leaders, which emphasise the benefits of using the Americans and consequently of extending their stay - at least for the time being.

In this grim picture, the Americans appear the least sure and most confused. With unattainable objectives, wobbly plans, changing tactics, shifting alliances and ever-increasing casualties, it is not clear any longer what they want or how they are going to achieve it. By setting themselves up to be manipulated, they give credence to an old Arab saying: the magic has taken over the magician. [complete article]

See also, Is the surge backfiring? (Time).
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Bush gives mixed view of progress in Iraq
By Peter Baker and Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, April 25, 2007

President Bush said Tuesday that the verdict is still out on whether the Iraqi government can make the political changes necessary to end sectarian violence as he offered a mixed report card on the progress of his new Iraq strategy.

Bush told PBS talk-show host Charlie Rose that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has followed through on commitments to bolster Iraqi forces in Baghdad but that he has "still got a lot of work to do" on the political front, such as holding provincial elections and passing a law to share oil revenues.

The assessment was one of Bush's more nuanced in recent weeks, which have largely been devoted to pressuring Congress to approve money for military operations in Iraq and elsewhere. Bush said the U.S. commander in Iraq will need until September to "have a pretty good feel" for whether the Baghdad security plan is working.

"The good news is that sectarian death is down in Baghdad," Bush said. "The bad news is that spectacular car bombs still go off, in a way that tends to shake the confidence of the Iraqi people that their government can protect them." [complete article]

See also, U.N. criticises Iraq for concealing casualty figures (AFP).

Comment -- President Bush clearly recognizes that for a government to work, it must have the confidence of the people it serves -- at least, that is, when it comes to governments other than his own.

At the same time, Bush's own authority derives primarily and at times exclusively from his office. Because of this he has over the last six years focused much of his attention on buttressing and expanding the power of the office. Confidence, it seems, is something that this president can dole out to others without needing to receive any himself.

In the American system of government, Bush faces no threat from a vote of no confidence, yet if he was to shed some of his psychological armor he would see that neither the majority of the nation, nor many of his political allies, nor many of his closest colleagues, have much confidence in his capacity to serve this country effectively. A president who has lost the people's confidence, still retains legal and political power yet possesses no real authority. He can stay in office but can serve no good.
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Divide is seen within Iraq's Baath Party
By Peter Spiegel and Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2007

Iraq's Baath Party, once the machine of Saddam Hussein's tyrannical rule and now a key player in the country's civil war, has been divided by an internal power struggle pitting one of Hussein's top aides against a former general, U.S. and Iraqi government officials say.

U.S. military and intelligence officials are still debating whether to welcome the power struggle or fear it. But they agree the outcome could strongly influence the course of the Sunni-led insurgency against Iraq's U.S.-backed government. [complete article]

Shi'ite power struggle escalates
By Babak Rahimi, Asia Times, April 26, 2007

Since the political bloc loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr abandoned Parliament and Iraqi government ministries on April 16 - in a move to demand that Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki set a timetable for the withdrawal of foreign troops - the Sadrist movement now appears to be tilting toward a more militant stance, separated from the political process and, consequently, relying more on the influence of the Mehdi Army for control over the Shi'ite population.

This new development entails multiple factors, one of which is primarily an apparent increase in the level of rivalry between Shi'ite militias in the main urban centers in southern Iraq. The eruption of violence in the first week of April in the northern part of the predominately Shi'ite city of Diwaniya, which is the administrative center of al-Qadissiya province, underlines the escalation of competition for power among militia organizations, as followers of Muqtada lead the way to claim the mantle of Shi'ite leadership. [complete article]
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The Oval Office bunker
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, April 25, 2007

The disconnect that is destroying what's left of the Bush presidency was clear in an image from the Oval Office this week. President Bush was sitting warily in his chair, pursing his lips as if he had just eaten a bad radish, as a reporter asked about the performance of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in recent congressional testimony concerning the firing of U.S. attorneys.

Prominent Republicans had criticized Gonzales's testimony as evasive and inadequate. But Bush responded blandly that his attorney general had given "a very candid assessment and answered every question he could possibly answer ... in a way that increased my confidence in his ability to do the job."

Now, say what you like about Gonzales, but only a visitor from another planet would describe as "very candid" the responses of a man who, by one count, repeated 64 times during his testimony the phrase "I don't know" and similar variants. It was as if Bush didn't know or care that everyone in Washington had watched Gonzales duck questions before a Senate committee a few days earlier. [complete article]
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U.S. quietly increasing back-channel contacts with Iran
By Warren P. Strobel and Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy, April 24, 2007

The United States has quietly increased its back-channel diplomatic contacts with Iran in recent months, a sign that those who favor engagement with Tehran have strengthened their hand in the Bush administration, according to U.S. officials.

Using Switzerland as an intermediary, American and Iranian officials have exchanged diplomatic messages on a variety of nuts-and-bolts subjects, including the fate of a U.S. citizen missing in Iran, the future of five Iranian operatives whom American forces seized in Iraq, and old financial and property disputes.

The contacts amount to a shift for the White House, which rebuffed an Iranian offer of wide-ranging talks on Iran's nuclear program, Middle East peace and direct relations after the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Instead of engaging Iran, the White House largely shut down the Swiss channel, which both countries use in the absence of formal diplomatic relations. [complete article]
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Azmi Bishara: I have been targeted
Al Jazeera, April 25, 2007

Al Jazeera: You are being investigated by Israeli police for unpublished charges. You have been in this situation before. Do you think that, being an Arab member of the Knesset, you are being targeted?

Bishara: Well, yes, I have been targeted. It is a reality now because, in the last few years, I was two times brought to court and this is the third investigation.

The first two times had to do with my political opinions. Once because I was not recognising the Jewish character of the state and calling for a state of its citizens.

The second time was for visiting an enemy country. They consider Syria and Lebanon as enemy countries. I was charged with that.

Actually we do not accept that the enemies of Israel are our enemies as Arabs and Palestinians. We think we are part of the Arab world too and not only citizens of the state of Israel.

This is the third time. We can see the first two charges were once probably constitutional charges or normal felonies and I was stripped of my immunity, but I was not guilty because the court did not accept the Israeli charges.

It seems for me it has to succeed in Israel because the charge is about security. Something has to do with our connections to journalists and friends in the Arab world, as if passing the information to the enemy at a time of war, which is a very serious charge but had to do with what we think as normal for our relations with the Arab world.

Israel wants to use this as a tool in order to get rid of this position in Israel which calls for Israel to be the state of its citizens and accepting the national character of the Arabs in the country.

How do you balance your interests? You say that Syria and Lebanon, particularly Hezbollah, are not your enemy, but they are enemies of the Israeli state?

The Israeli state was established in 1948 on the ruins of the Palestinian people. Now if you want, in the language which will be known probably in Australia or America or even in South Africa, we are indigenous people, the natives of the place.

And Israel was built on our ruins. We did not immigrate to Israel in order to become Israelis like many French people would like the Algerians to integrate into France or to accept as equal citizens.

But these people immigrated to France and they chose to be French. We did not choose to be Israelis. Israel came to Palestine, destroyed Palestine and emerged from the ruins of Palestine.

We are Arab Palestinians. Israeli identity does not exist even according to Israel, they insist their identity is Jewish. There is no such thing as Israeli identity.

Our Israeli citizenship was forced upon us. Now we use it as a framework for work to demand for equality. But this does not amount to identification with the goals of the country in the region, which we do not accept. We are not Zionists and we do not consider Syria and Lebanon our enemies, on the contrary. [complete article]
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Cracks in unity as Hamas ends ceasefire
By Rory McCarthy, The Guardian, April 25, 2007

The first public signs of division within the Hamas movement emerged yesterday when the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist movement fired rockets from Gaza into Israel and announced the end of a ceasefire.

A spokesman for the Hamas-dominated government, however, said it wanted the ceasefire with Israel, which has lasted six months, to continue. Several mortars and crude rockets were fired early yesterday from the Gaza strip as Israelis celebrated their 59th Independence Day. Nobody was injured, but for the first time since the November ceasefire, Hamas claimed responsibility. Dozens of homemade Qassam rockets have been fired out of Gaza in recent months, but by other militant groups.

Abu Obeida, a recognised spokesman for the armed wing of Hamas, the Izzedin al-Qassam Brigades, told a Palestinian radio station that this marked the end of the ceasefire between Israel and the armed groups in Gaza. "The ceasefire has been over for a long time, and Israel is responsible for that," he said. "This is a message to the Zionist enemy that our strikes will continue. We are ready to kidnap more and kill more of your soldiers," he said. [complete article]

See also, Israel opts for limited response to Hamas attacks (Reuters).
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Report: Israel, Hezbollah to complete prisoner swap by summer's end
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, April 25, 2007

An United Arab Emirates newspaper said Wednesday that a prisoner exchange between Israel and Hezbollah, which will include the two Israel Defense Forces soldiers held by the Lebanese-based guerilla group, will be concluded by the end of the summer.

Al-Ittihad said that the talks on the swap for the two soldiers are at the stage of "determining names."

It is impossible to determine the veracity of the report, which came from the paper's reporter in Beirut and credits political sources. [complete article]
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Critics doubt official looking into Rove
By Tom Hamburger, Los Angeles Times, April 25, 2007

Even as Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch moved forward with plans for a sweeping probe of the Bush administration, several advocacy groups complained that his ties to the administration and to conservative groups, as well as his record on gay rights and whistle-blowers, made him the wrong man for the job.

"There is a serious question as to whether Bloch will just provide cover for an administration that is covering for him," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a Democratic-leaning group.

A spokesman for the Office of Special Counsel, communications director James Mitchell, waved away the complaints, saying agency staffers have already begun to form an internal task force, led in part by career staff, to probe three broad areas of activity involving the White House and senior advisor Karl Rove. [complete article]
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Iraq insurgency developments
By Marc Lynch, Abu Aardvark, April 23, 2007

The split in the 1920 Revolution Brigade, with the rump faction renaming itself Hamas Iraq, was one piece of evidence I offered of the growing divide between the locally oriented insurgency and the globally oriented trend led by al-Qaeda... and of why that divide doesn't mean what the administration's supporters want people to think it means. Hamas Iraq has just released a detailed political program (which I mentioned seeing on al-Jazeera yesterday). Among its key provisions, for my purposes:
  • "The movement believes in armed jihad as a means for expelling the occupier, and calls on public opinion and agencies and international institutions to respect this right... of all peoplese to resist occupation, and to distinguish between that and armed crimes which target innocent civilians."

  • "We believe in a necessary link between military efforts and political action as two mutually supportive instruments for achieving the goals of resistance for liberation and salvation and preventing the fundamentalist movements [al-harakat al-asuliya] from harvesting the fruits of the resistance."

  • "We confirm the necessity of continuing the killing until the exit of the last soldier from the occupying armies, and to not negotiate with the enemy except with an agreement of the factions of the jihad and the Iraqi resistance; and under the appropriate circumstances and conditions."
  • The program also rejects sectarianism (a sharp contrast to the fierce anti-Shia rhetoric in the al-Qaeda rhetoric) and calls for peaceful dialogue among all factions and an absolute rejection of the use of violence to settle internal political disputes. The Hamas Iraq program seems to be about as clear a statement of the position I was describing as possible: against al-Qaeda and the Islamic Iraqi State, but for armed insurgency against the American occupation until the occupying armies depart; against negotiations now but for them under the appropriate conditions and within a united insurgency front. I'm not sure why I haven't read about this anywhere else. [complete article]

    See also, Al-Qaida-linked group claims U.S. deaths (AP).

    Comment -- Ultimately, the power and durability of the insurgency will rest in its political coherence. While this has often seemed to be what it lacked, this is exactly what now appears to be emerging. And this -- the insurgency's political strength -- is what threatens the U.S. occupation more than anything else.
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    Military officials defend new barrier in Baghdad
    By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2007

    U.S. and Iraqi military officials scrambling to deflect criticism of a wall being erected to separate a volatile Sunni Muslim neighborhood from surrounding Shiite areas insisted Monday that the structure is not a wall at all.

    It's a barrier.

    The distinction comes because it is a temporary structure, they said of the 14,000-pound slabs of concrete placed side by side on the edge of Sunni-dominated Adhamiya, in northeastern Baghdad. When completed, it is expected to be 3 miles long.

    The comments were the latest attempt to quiet a controversy that erupted last week after the U.S. military unit building the structure proudly announced its mission and dubbed the project "The Great Wall of Adhamiya." In a press release, it said Adhamiya, which has fallen into severe disrepair as a result of the war, would be like "an exclusive gated community" when the barrier was completed. [complete article]

    See also, We build walls, not nations (Pepe Escobar).

    Comment -- The U.S. is not only imitating the Israelis in adopting the use of a wall; it is also now trying to employ the same PR tactics for deflecting criticism.
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    A return to realism?
    By Edward Luce, Lionel Barber and Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, April 23, 2007

    Whether it is Ms Rice's willingness to talk to North Korea, with whom she struck a controversial six-party deal in February, or her offer last year of talks with Iran on condition that it first agree to suspend uranium enrichment, gone are the days when the Bush administration tended to shoot first and ask questions later. The career diplomats at the state department, who in the first Bush term were largely ignored, are back centre-stage.

    "[Under Secretary Rice] the permanent bureaucracy is reasserting itself," says John Bolton. For believers in pre-emptive force, there can be few more damaging criticisms than this. But there is an alternative, equally plausible, way of interpreting Ms Rice's record so far, which is at variance with the neo-conservative charge sheet.

    Far from having a road-to-Damascus experience in which she has embraced the merits of realism, Ms Rice has been forced by America's drastically compromised situation in Iraq into making changes from a position of weakness. "When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail," said a former senior diplomat in the Clinton administration. "But because of Iraq, these guys don't have much of a hammer any more." [complete article]
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    Muslims believe U.S. seeks to undermine Islam
    World Public Opinion, April 24, 2007

    An in-depth poll of four major Muslim countries has found that in all of them large majorities believe that undermining Islam is a key goal of US foreign policy. Most want US military forces out of the Middle East and many approve of attacks on US troops there.

    Most respondents have mixed feelings about al Qaeda. Large majorities agree with many of its goals, but believe that terrorist attacks on civilians are contrary to Islam.

    There is strong support for enhancing the role of Islam in all of the countries polled, through such measures as the imposition of sharia (Islamic law). This does not mean that they want to isolate their societies from outside influences: Most view globalization positively and favor democracy and freedom of religion. [complete article]
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    Low-key office launches high-profile inquiry
    By Tom Hamburger, Los Angeles Times, April 24, 2007

    Most of the time, an obscure federal investigative unit known as the Office of Special Counsel confines itself to monitoring the activities of relatively low-level government employees, stepping in with reprimands and other routine administrative actions for such offenses as discriminating against military personnel or engaging in prohibited political activities.

    But the Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

    The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House. [complete article]
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    My father, 9/11 scapegoat
    By Laila al-Arian, Huffington Post, April 23, 2007

    My father, a Palestinian professor named Sami Al-Arian, was arrested over four years ago on trumped up terrorism charges and submitted to a prosecution over the course of six months that bordered on the farcical. Though he was ultimately acquitted by a jury of the most serious charges against him, the Bush administration has prolonged his imprisonment indefinitely. My father now languishes in a Virginia jail, another victim of the demagogic politics of the so-called war on terror.

    Many have wondered why my father would be targeted so vigorously, especially after the government lost a case that cost $50 million. But as with its firing of the eight federal prosecutors who "chafed" against its radical agenda, the administration of President George W. Bush has injected its politics into the system, prolonging my father's imprisonment to punish him for the humiliation his acquittal caused them. [complete article]
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    The road from Mecca
    By Hussein Agha and Robert Malley, New York Review of Books, May 10, 2007

    The idea that negotiations conducted bilaterally between Israelis and Palestinians somehow can produce a final agreement is dead. The world, slowly, is coming to this realization. Its fate was sealed in part because neither side has the ability, on its own, to close the gaps between the positions they have taken. The two parties also lack any sense of trust, but that, too, is not an overriding explanation. If bilateral negotiations have become a fast track to a dead end it is because today neither the Palestinian nor the Israeli political system possesses the requisite degree of coherence and cohesion. [complete article]
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    Hamas fighters end Israel truce
    BBC News, April 24, 2007

    The armed wing of the Palestinian Hamas movement has said it is ending its five-month truce with Israel.

    Earlier in the day the group launched a sustained barrage of rockets and mortars into Israel, the first such attack since November.

    The group, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said the attacks were in revenge for recent killings of Palestinians by Israeli forces. [complete article]
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    Fighting cripples Somali capital
    Al Jazeera, April 24, 2007

    Somalia remains in a state of chaos as heavy shelling and tank fire shook the capital for a seventh day, killing at least three people.

    Tuesday's battles came as Ethiopian troops stepped up their campaign to drive out fighters loyal to the Union of Islamic Courts.

    After a night of sporadic gunfire, Ethiopian tanks pounded positions in northern and southern Mogadishu in a bid to weaken the fighters, whose grip on the city has prevented the weak interim Somali government from functioning. [complete article]
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    Turkey 'must have secular leader'
    BBC News, April 24, 2007

    Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul has pledged to adhere to secular principles if, as expected, he is elected president.

    PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Tuesday that Mr Gul had been named the governing AK party's candidate.

    The decision came after thousands had taken to the streets to urge Mr Erdogan not to stand.

    Secularists fear that a president from the AK - a party with Islamist roots - could undermine Turkey's secular order.

    Mr Gul insisted that "the president must be loyal to secular principles", adding: "If I am elected I will act accordingly". [complete article]
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    Dancing with wolves: the importance of talking to your enemies
    By Michael Ancram, Conflicts Forum, April 19, 2007

    "It is often a better use of time to talk to your enemies than your friends," so said a wise, experienced and senior Israeli to me a few weeks ago. In a similar vein last summer following the cessation of hostilities in Lebanon I wrote in The Independent newspaper: "It is time to start dancing with wolves, to start talking to terrorists." We live in an age where never has there been a greater failure by the West to engage in dialogue. The result is increasing incidence of standoff, of fear, and of violence. Nowhere is this more the case today than in the Middle East.

    I am neither pacifist nor liberal appeaser. As deputy leader of the British Conservative Party I called on my colleagues in Parliament to vote for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, without which vote Tony Blair would have had no mandate to join the US in toppling Saddam Hussein. I come from what might be described as the Northern Ireland school of conflict-resolution. I was sent there as political minister in 1993, after twenty-five years of troubles and 3000 out of a population of 1.5 million dead with many more injured and traumatised1. It was as bad and intractable a conflict as any.

    While drawing too close analogies between different conflicts is dangerous, there are lessons in common which can be shared. I want therefore to set out my experiences in Northern Ireland from which I believe some lessons can be learned, particularly as the process we developed in pursuit of peace had largely to be constructed as I went along.

    When I arrived, violence was at a new peak; mass bombings, assassinations, sectarian violence, gun-running and outside interference. No one was talking to anyone, not governments, not parties, not insurgents. I was frequently advised that the problem was intractable, that I was wasting my time, and that the 'war' would have to go on until it was won. [complete article]
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    Africa's secret - the men, women and children 'vanished' in the war on terror
    By Xan Rice, The Guardian, April 23, 2007

    Fatma Ahmed Chande was cold. It was 3am and raining. The 25-year-old Tanzanian woman was kneeling on the taxiway at Nairobi's international airport.

    Headlights from a convoy of police vehicles punched holes in the darkness. She saw a group of blindfolded men being led towards a plane. She recognised some of the shackled women and children who followed them.

    A policeman jerked Ms Ahmed's scarf over her eyes. He tied her hands behind her back with a pair of plastic handcuffs that cut into her wrists. It was the same man who had threatened to kill her if she did not admit that her husband had supported al-Qaida terrorists in Somalia.

    "This is it," she thought. "I am going to die."

    The quiet 25-year-old from Moshi, at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, did not die in the early hours of January 27. But the ordeal that had begun when she was arrested at Kenya's northern border three weeks before while fleeing the war in Somalia was far from over.

    Bundled aboard African Express flight AXK-527 she was about to become part of the first mass "renditions" in Africa, where prisoners accused of supporting terrorists in Somalia were secretly transferred from country to country for interrogation outside the boundaries of domestic or international law.

    Along with at least 85 others from 20 countries, she was flown back to Somalia - a war zone with no effective government or law - and on to Ethiopia. There, American intelligence agents joined the interrogations - photographing and taking DNA samples, even from the children.

    On April 7, three months after her arrest, Ms Ahmed was released. Salim Awadh Salim, her husband and father of her unborn baby, is still in detention. So, too, are 78 of the other passengers aboard the three secret rendition flights. At least 18 are children under 15. [complete article]
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    Baghdad wall sparks confusion, divisions in Iraq
    By Dean Yates, Reuters, April 23, 2007

    A plan by U.S. soldiers to protect a Sunni enclave in Baghdad by building a wall around it descended into total confusion on Monday after Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki ordered a halt to construction.

    Many residents in Adhamiya, a Sunni Arab area surrounded on three sides by Shi'ite communities, had complained bitterly that the concrete barriers of the 5-km (3-mile) wall would isolate them from other communities and sharpen sectarian tensions. [complete article]

    See also, U.S. to re-assess Baghdad wall after PM orders halt (AFP).

    What the separation-walls mean
    By Badger, Missing Links, April 22, 2007

    Let's give credit where credit is due. The building of isolation-walls around troublesome residential areas in Iraq was part of a series of war-winning ideas published over four months ago by the neo-con Nibras Kazimi, former Chalabi employee and De-Baathification implementer, now at the Hudson Institute (see his personnel blurb there), in a December 1 2006 post that included this:
    I propose a 'closed canton' method for Baghdad's Sunni-heavy suburbs of Hai al-Jami'a, 'Amiriya, Jihad, Ghazaliya, Yarmouk, Dora, Khadra' and 'Adhamiya, closing each off unto itself. A similar fix should be extended to the rural Sunni satellite towns (the housing clusters) to the north, west and south of Baghdad: Mushahdeh, Khan Dhari, Mahmoudiya, Yusufiya, and 'Arab Jbour.

    This should be done using the Israeli method: fence them with concrete and technology. The Israelis have been building a separating wall between them and the Palestinians over the past two years....
    Israeli separation walls for Iraq seemed a bizarre figment of the neocon imagination at the time, but now that it appears to be US policy, it's worth taking a look at the politics of this. Kazimi called for high-profile development projects to be undertaken in the walled-off areas, and also this: "...a systematic effort to match the Saddam regime's personnel archives to the current addresses of these ex-officers from the military and intelligence services should be undertaken. Most of these officers were given state-sponsored housing in the above mentioned neighborhoods during the Saddam era..." In other words, if we take Kazimi as an index of the neo-con approach, it would appear a major political aim of this walling-off strategy has to do with more-efficient hunting down of ex-Baathists, contrary to the supposed US strategy, which is to ease de-Baathification and try and negotiate with the domestic (non-AlQaeda/ISI) resistance. [complete article]
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    Victims of terror aren't terrorists
    By Anna Husarska, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2007

    After the United Nations or another nongovernmental agency determines that a person has a "well-founded fear of persecution" in his country of origin, the refugee is interviewed by officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The screening process includes detailed questions to make sure all of the anti-terrorism provisions of the Patriot Act and the Real ID Act are met.

    This is understandable -- but there is a flaw in the laws. The definition of who provides "material support" to terrorists is unreasonably broad. There have been several legislative attempts to fix it, but the provisions still stand, largely unchanged, preventing resettlement of Iraqis like these three I met in February and March.

    • The liquor store owner is a Christian Iraqi. In July, he found a threatening note slipped under the door of his store in Baghdad. (Selling alcohol violates Islamic law.) The police could not help. With no other means of supporting his wife and seven children still at home, he kept the shop open. The next week, five men entered the store, beat him, emptied the cash register, took his cellphone and demanded $10,000. Four days later, kidnappers snatched his 1-year-old son and demanded a ransom of $30,000. With the help of an adult son in Australia, he raised $10,000 and delivered it as instructed. The next morning he found a package on the porch: one plastic bag with the head of his son and another with a little beheaded body. The liquor store owner buried his son, and the family fled Iraq as soon as they got their travel documents.

    What the Americans will want to know is whether the kidnappers were just after cash. Those who act "for mere personal monetary gain" have not committed "terrorist activities." Then -- and only then -- would paying them a ransom not be considered "material support of terrorist activities." [complete article]
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    For the good of the World Bank, Paul Wolfowitz should resign
    Letter to the Financial Times, April 22, 2007

    We are a group of ex-World Bank Group staff who occupied senior positions in the institution (MDs, Senior VPs, VPs, Directors), and write in our personal capacities. Some of us have worked under Paul Wolfowitz, some of us have not, but all of us are watching with great concern the ongoing events at the Bank because of their impact on development and the interests of the poor. At a time when fighting poverty remains crucial in building a more hopeful, more balanced, and more secure world, the World Bank must remain credible if it is to speak with the moral authority necessary to move the poverty agenda forward.

    For the Bank to succeed, it must be effective, especially on matters of good governance which Mr. Wolfowitz rightly emphasized as crucial to poverty reduction. What staff objected to was not the principle -- which they applauded. Rather it was that the policy was implemented with no consultation, and little transparency or apparent consistency. Now, as a result of a process of broad consultation that he was forced to undertake by the Board, Mr. Wolfowitz has been able to forge a consensus on how to raise the bar on corruption in a practical way. It is this that can serve as a lasting legacy at the Bank.

    Mr. Wolfowitz says he believes in the mission of the Bank and wishes to continue. We believe that he can no longer be an effective leader. He has lost the trust and respect of Bank staff at all levels, provoked a rift among senior managers, developed tense relations with the Board, damaged his own credibility on good governance –his flagship issue, and alienated some key shareholders at a time when their support is essential for a successful replenishment of the resources needed to help the poorest countries, especially in Africa. [complete article]

    See also, Scandal threatens World Bank's role (FT).
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    Ceasefire under threat after Israeli raids kill nine
    The Guardian, April 23, 2007

    A five-month ceasefire between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza was today under threat after weekend Israeli army raids killed nine people, including a Palestinian teenager.

    Hamas called for retaliatory attacks and attempted to rally other Palestinian militant groups in a new offensive.

    "The blood of our people is not cheap," it said in a statement calling on Palestinians to unite and "use all possible means of resistance and to respond to the massacres". [complete article]
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    Palestinian minister tries to go
    BBC News, April 23, 2007

    A key figure has submitted his resignation from the Palestinian unity government but it has been refused by the prime minister, officials say.

    Interior minister Hani Qawasmi's move is the first crack to appear in the unity government formed one month ago.

    The government is currently in a cabinet meeting, where the matter is being discussed. [complete article]
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    Former Arab Israeli MP to whip up support campaign
    By Ezzedine Said, AFP, April 23, 2007

    Prominent Arab Israeli Azmi Bishara plans to whip up an international support campaign before returning from abroad to face accusations that led him to resign from parliament after 11 years.

    Bishara, close to Syria and a vocal critic of Israel's policies towards the Palestinians, submitted his resignation on Sunday while in Cairo, saying he would not initially return to Israel where he faces a police investigation.

    "He will stay abroad to mobilise an Arab and international solidarity campaign to prepare to confront" the Israeli authorities, the secretary general of his National Democratic Assembly party, Awad Abdelfattah, told AFP.

    Abdelfattah said that Bishara, who in 1999 became the first Arab Israeli to run for prime minister, would still lead the party, known by its Hebrew acronym Balad, and would "continue his political activities." [complete article]
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    Abolish the Jewish National Fund
    By Uri Avnery, Znet, April 21, 2007

    What would we say if an American institution, holding a seventh of all the land in the United States, adopted statutes that allowed it to sell or rent land only to White Anglo-Saxon Protestants?

    We would not believe it. And it is, indeed, impossible.

    But that's the way things are in Israel. This us now the subject of a stormy public debate.

    These are the facts: The Jewish National Fund (in Hebrew Keren Kayemet le-Israel - KKL) holds 13% of all the land in Israel. Its statutes explicitly prohibit the sale or rental of land to non-Jews. This means that every Jew in the world, living anywhere from Timbuktu to Kamchatka, can get land from the KKL, without even coming to Israel, while an Arab citizen of Israel, whose forefathers have lived here for hundreds - or even thousands - of years, cannot acquire a house or an apartment on its land.

    The debate arose after a recent ruling of the Israeli Supreme Court which proscribed discrimination between citizens in the distribution of land. On the strength of this, the KKL has been sued. Now the Attorney General has decided that the Government cannot discriminate against Arab citizens, even while distributing land belonging to the KKL.

    This is all very nice, but there is a "but". The best legal brains looked for a way out: How to keep the discrimination alive in spite of the court's decision? No Problem. The Attorney General simply proposes that for every dunam (1000 square meters, a Turkish measure still applied in Israel) that the KKL will have to distribute - God forbid - to Arabs, the government will compensate it with another dunam somewhere else. The alternative land will be in the "peripheral" areas, the Negev and the Galilee, where it is much more profitable. And for good measure, the government will guarantee that the annual revenues of the KKL will reach half a billion Shekels. Thus the cake will be divided but remain whole. [complete article]
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    No fairytales allowed
    By Clive Stafford Smith, The Guardian, April 21, 2007

    In a December 2004 press conference, the US navy secretary Gordon England tried to defend conditions in Guantanamo by producing the novel argument that the camp was rehabilitative: "People have learned to read and have learned to write, and so it's not just being incarcerated. We do try to get people prepared for a better life." Prisoners had some difficulty exercising their new-found abilities. Indeed, contrary to England's statement, prisoners in Guantanamo were certainly not considered "people" and the guards were not even allowed to call them "prisoners". One of the escorts told me that, on pain of punishment, soldiers are required to call them "detainees". He wouldn't even say the word "prisoner" out loud. The Pentagon had come to the conclusion that it sounds better for us to "detain" someone for several years, given that he has not been offered a trial. Naturally I set about avoiding the word "detainee".

    Meanwhile the authorities exercised rigid control over any information that the prisoners received. Each time I went to visit, I would take a suitcase full of reading materials. I maintained a log reflecting the fate of each publication. Magazines awarded the stamp DENIED included National Geographic, Scientific American and Runner's World. On one occasion it seemed justified, since that month's National Geographic had a story about building an atomic bomb, but the editions about whales and African tribes hardly seemed a threat to national security. One soldier explained the censorship of Scientific American to me: the prisoner might learn about some hi-tech weapons system. Banning Runner's World was less obvious, given the naval base was surrounded on one side by a Cuban minefield and on the other three by ocean.

    I was surprised - and Shaker Aamer was incensed - that they would not let in The African-American Slave by Frederick Douglass. Uncle Tom's Cabin was also barred. I dropped off an anthology of first world war poetry for Omar Deghayes that included Wilfred Owen's poem Futility, about the ghastly violence of war. It was returned DENIED. [complete article]
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    The Iraqi crisis that has no name
    By Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch, April 22, 2007

    Since the shock-and-awe invasion of Iraq began in March 2003, that country's explosive unraveling has never left the news or long been off the front page. Yet the fallout beyond its borders from the destruction, disintegration, and ethnic mayhem in Iraq has almost avoided notice. And yet with -- according to United Nations estimates -- approximately 50,000 Iraqis fleeing their country each month (and untold numbers of others being displaced internally), Iraq is producing one of the -- if not the -- most severe refugee crisis on the planet, a crisis without a name and without significant attention.

    For the last two weeks, I've been in Syria, visiting refugee centers and camps, the offices and employees of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and poor neighborhoods in Damascus that are filling up with desperate, almost penniless Iraqi refugees, sometimes living 15 to a room. In statistical and human terms, these few days offered a small window into the magnitude of a catastrophe that is still unfolding and shows no sign of abating in any immediately imaginable future. [complete article]
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    Halliburton and the war in Iraq
    By Scott Horton, Harper's, April 20, 2007

    As James Madison said, the greatest stress to our constitutional system comes in wartime. The powers of the president wax, monies flow without peacetime controls, the potential for corruption is enormous. It tests the pillars of democracy and presents the very real threat of conversion of a democratic state into a tyranny. And it explains one of the most fascinating aspects of the Constitutional Convention: the deep-seated opposition to a permanent army. The experience of the Iraq war has been traumatic in this regard, and the performance of the Congress in upholding its oversight role has been nothing short of shameful. Will this change with an opposition Congress? Certainly it was not always so. During World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, Congress zealously performed its oversight role—indeed, it was a distinctly bipartisan function. Great political careers were built on oversight of defense contractorse, rooting out the sort of corruption that inevitably creeps into this process. [complete article]
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    21 Iraqis killed in religious violence
    By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, April 23, 2007

    A forbidden love affair that ended with a young woman being stoned to death led to more bloodshed Sunday when gunmen dragged 21 members of a religious minority off a bus and shot them dead, Iraqi police and witnesses said.

    The incident in the northern city of Mosul was shocking in its brutality and frightening for the specter it raised: that violence between Muslims and non-Muslims could aggravate the already volatile ethnic conflict there between Arabs and Kurds. The victims were Yazidis, an ancient sect that is neither Christian nor Muslim and whose Kurdish followers have faced persecution under a succession of rulers. [complete article]

    The story of a slain Iraqi journalist
    By Leila Fadel, McClatchy, April 22, 2007

    Mohammed Sadiq Falhee walked into his home and averted his eyes from the cigarette butt in the ashtray. He turned to avoid the half-finished cup of coffee and grabbed a picture of his wife on their wedding day, in a flowing white gown. He left and didn't return.

    His wife, Khamael Muhsen, was a journalist with Radio Free Europe, the U.S.-government funded broadcaster. She'd been a famous television personality in Saddam Hussein's era. Now the 54-year-old is a statistic, her body dumped on the side of the road like so much garbage, one of at least 158 journalists, most of them Iraqis, who've been killed since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

    On what would be her last day alive, she called Falhee after an argument they'd had the night before. He wanted to move out of their al-Qaida-controlled neighborhood. Their two daughters were safe for now in Syria, but it was only a matter of time: They were Shiite Muslims and targets for Sunni extremists. She told her husband that she wouldn't be forced from her home. [complete article]
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    U.S. urges Iran to join Iraq talks
    Financial Times, April 22, 2007

    Condoleezza Rice is urging Iran to join her at a high-level conference on the future of Iraq next week, signalling that Washington is now ready for a serious exchange of views with Tehran after several months of resisting Iran's advances in the region.

    In an interview with the Financial Times, the US secretary of state said it would be a "missed opportunity" if Manouchehr Mottaki, Iran's foreign minister, did not attend the minister-level meeting to be hosted by Egypt.

    Ms Rice denied that the Bush administration's Iran policy had ever been directed at regime change, insisting that the aim was to "have a change in regime behaviour". [complete article]
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    U.K. to issue West's first Islamic bonds
    By ames Blitz and Gillian Tett, Financial Times, April 22, 2007

    The British government will announce on Monday that it is set to become the first western state to issue Islamic bonds, seeking to meet what it believes is a significant demand for this financial product both inside and outside the UK.

    In what ministers believe will be an important gesture to Britain's Muslim community, the Treasury will say Monday that it is paving the way for the launch of the first Sharia compliant UK government bonds by 2008.

    The move, to be announced by Ed Balls, the City of London minister, is unprecedented by any western state. [complete article]
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    The changing face of radical Islam
    By Stephen Glain, Newsweek, April 30, 2007

    If it once was the very epitome of radical Islam, the Muslim Brotherhood today draws its growing strength from precisely the opposite -- its perceived balance between the ideological extremes of Al Qaeda and the administration of George W. Bush. Their cosmic struggle of good versus evil is of scant concern to most Muslims, and the Brotherhood knows it. Ask an ordinary Arab what it stands for, and the likely response would be affordable health care, schools and vocational training. Far from constituting a dangerous underground, the Muslim Brotherhood increasingly draws its core constituency from the ranks of law-abiding professional elites -- pious doctors, lawyers, engineers and educators alienated equally by U.S. policies and Al Qaeda's violent intolerance. "Does Muslim Brotherhood want to be the ruling party?" asks Mohammed Mahdi Akef, the supreme guide of the Ikhwan's Egyptian chapter. "Yes, but only through the ballot box."

    In contrast to the region's corrupt and lethargic governments, the Muslim Brotherhood is respected for delivering on an impressive array of social programs, especially for the poor and disenfranchised. It finances a sewage-treatment plant in the slums of Cairo. In Jordan, it runs one of Amman's largest hospitals, offering free medical services to those who might not otherwise receive health care. In Lebanon and the Palestinian territories, it runs schools and job programs.

    The Ikhwan has not foresworn its former political agenda, to be sure. In Jordan and elsewhere, for example, it advocates an Islamic justice system.

    And certainly, Middle East regimes have cause to be concerned. "They are increasingly afraid," says a senior Western diplomat in Cairo -- not merely because the Brotherhood might come to power, but because it might rule more honestly and effectively than those currently in office. But from the point of view of the Arab man on the street, would that be so bad? [complete article]

    Comment -- As a former Middle East correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, contributing editor for Newsweek International, and author of Mullahs, Merchants, and Militants: The Economic Collapse of the Arab World (2004), Stephen Glain is not presenting some starry-eyed view of the Muslim Brotherhood. This makes it all the more noteworthy that in a mainstream American magazine, the Ikhwan can be presented as a political force of moderation.

    Through its non-violent, democratic, and socially-oriented pursuit of an Islamist agenda, the Ikhwan is defeating al Qaeda politically -- something the war on terrorism can never accomplish. Yet the more successful it is, the more exposed the West's autocratic Middle East allies become. The real emerging threat -- the threat that no Western leader can name without exposing their own political illegitimacy -- is democracy. Are you for it or against it, Messrs. Bush, Cheney, Blair, Olmert, and Mubarak?
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    Say it loud. Improvise. Keep 'em guessing.
    By Edward Wong, New York Times, April 22, 2007

    Moktada al-Sadr's power is felt from Baghdad to the Beltway even when he has vanished from sight.

    For the last month, from a secret location, the young Shiite cleric has fanned the flames of Iraqi nationalism and anti-American sentiment, a sure path to popularity in his frightened, frustrated land.

    He organized a protest that drew tens of thousands of people to the Shiite holy city of Najaf to demand an end to the American military presence. They burned American flags and chanted, "Death to America!" Then, last week, he withdrew his six cabinet ministers from the government, complaining that it was not doing enough to rid the country of the Americans.

    But press his aides for concrete details of a timetable to present to the Americans, and the picture becomes murkier. They say they want the Americans out. But not just yet. [complete article]
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    Iraq's desperate exodus
    Editorial, New York Times, April 22, 2007

    Four years of war have exacted a terrible toll on Iraqis, with no end in sight. Car bombings and other violence now kill an average of 100 people a day. Two out of three Iraqis have no regular access to clean water. Children are malnourished and too many are dying from preventable diseases and the near collapse of the health care system.

    And an incredible total of four million people — one out of every seven Iraqis -- have been forced to flee their homes. If Iraq continues this descent, the refugee tide could turn into a regional tsunami, with potentially convulsive political consequences.

    Yet, as with so much about this war, the Bush administration is refusing to acknowledge the human cost of its horrendous errors and pretending that the problem will be contained within Iraq's borders. It will not.

    Half of Iraq's displaced people have already fled. Jordan, a country of six million people, is now sheltering 750,000 Iraqis. Syria, with a population of 19 million, has about 1.2 million Iraqi refugees. Their governments say they are unable to keep coping with such large inflows. Jordan has already moved to limit new arrivals -- barring Iraqi men between the ages of 17 and 35. Others have been less welcoming. Kuwait has completely shut its doors. Saudi Arabia is building a $7 billion border fence to keep Iraqis out. [complete article]
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    Maliki's political survival tied to security effort
    By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, April 22, 2007

    Iraq's first constitutionally elected government may rise or fall with the success of an ongoing U.S.-Iraqi security crackdown in Baghdad, Iraqi politicians and analysts said Saturday.

    Amid growing signs that the government of national unity is beginning to fracture, experts say Prime Minister Nouri Maliki has increasingly gambled his political survival on the ambitious, 2-month-old security campaign. After a promising start, which led to a noticeable decline in certain types of sectarian attacks, violence is once more increasing.

    On Wednesday, at least 172 people died in five car bombings in and around Baghdad, making it one of the deadliest days in the capital. Six days earlier, a suicide attacker infiltrated the fortified Green Zone and detonated a bomb in the Iraqi parliament cafeteria, killing a lawmaker. The daily count of victims killed execution-style is rising again, and residents are expressing outrage at some U.S. tactics, such as constructing concrete walls to separate Sunni and Shiite Muslim neighborhoods.

    Such complaints could spell trouble for Maliki, critics say. [complete article]
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    After Iraqi troops do dirty work, 3 detainees talk
    By Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, April 22, 2007

    Out here in what the soldiers call Baghdad's wild west, sometimes the choices are all bad.

    In one of the new joint American-Iraqi security stations in the capital this month, in the volatile Ghazaliya neighborhood, Capt. Darren Fowler was heaping praise on his Iraqi counterparts for helping capture three insurgent suspects who had provided information he believed would save American lives.

    "The detainee gave us names from the highest to the lowest," Captain Fowler told the Iraqi soldiers. "He showed us their safe houses, where they store weapons and I.E.D.'s and where they keep kidnap victims, how they get weapons, where weapons come from, how they place I.E.D.'s, attack us and go away. Because you detained this guy this is the first intelligence linking everything together. Good job. Very good job."

    The Iraqi officers beamed. What the Americans did not know and what the Iraqis had not told them was that before handing over the detainees to the Americans, the Iraqi soldiers had beaten one of them in front of the other two, the Iraqis said. The stripes on the detainee's back, which appeared to be the product of a whipping with electrical cables, were later shown briefly to a photographer, who was not allowed to take a picture.

    To the Iraqi soldiers, the treatment was normal and necessary. They were proud of their technique and proud to have helped the Americans.

    "I prepared him for the Americans and let them take his confession," Capt. Bassim Hassan said through an interpreter. "We know how to make them talk. We know their back streets. We beat them. I don't beat them that much, but enough so he feels the pain and it makes him desperate." [complete article]
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    U.S. erects Baghdad wall to keep sects apart
    By Edward Wong and David S. Cloud, New York Times, April 21, 2007

    American military commanders in Baghdad are trying a radical new strategy to quell the widening sectarian violence by building a 12-foot-high, three-mile-long wall separating a historic Sunni enclave from Shiite neighborhoods.

    Soldiers in the Adhamiya district of northern Baghdad, a Sunni Arab stronghold, began construction of the wall last week and expect to finish it within a month. Iraqi Army soldiers would then control movement through a few checkpoints. The wall has already drawn intense criticism from residents of the neighborhood, who say that it will increase sectarian tensions and that it is part of a plan by the Shiite-led Iraqi government to box in the minority Sunnis.

    A doctor in Adhamiya, Abu Hassan, said the wall would transform the residents into caged animals.

    "It's unbelievable that they treat us in such an inhumane manner," he said in a telephone interview. "They're trying to isolate us from other parts of Baghdad. The hatred will be much greater between the two sects."

    "The Native Americans were treated better than us," he added. [complete article]
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    Troops in Diyala face a skilled, flexible foe
    By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, April 22, 2007

    The pale blue light inside the Chinook helicopter cast a faint glow on the young soldiers, shoulder to shoulder, tensed for battle. They crossed themselves and bowed their heads.

    The battalion was flying in the middle of the night toward an Iraqi village, one unexplored by American troops and believed to be dominated by Sunni insurgents. The troops had heard the stories -- militant camps hidden in palm groves, underground torture prisons, sniper teams on rooftops -- and were ready for a fight. As a lone soldier had roared on the tarmac amid the thudding rotors: "Battle hard!"

    But when the 600 soldiers descended on Buhriz al-Barra with machine guns and night-vision lenses early Monday, they found the village largely devoid of men. Soldiers fanned out from the rocky field where they had landed, combing riverbanks, palm groves and hundreds of concrete and cinder-block homes, only to find many abandoned and others inhabited only by nervous women and children.

    "The biggest dry hole ever," said 1st Lt. James Brandon Prisock, 28, a platoon leader on the operation, after several hours in the village. "These guys all took off. They knew we were coming."

    In Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the American military is engaged in an intractable guerrilla fight against an elusive and sophisticated enemy more deadly than many battle-hardened soldiers have ever encountered in Iraq. The attacks on U.S. and Iraqi soldiers here have risen sharply in recent months, a problem compounded by an influx of fighters in search of safer havens outside Baghdad. Many of the insurgents are well-trained, highly mobile fighters who refuse to get dragged into open confrontations in which American forces can deploy their overpowering weaponry.

    The insurgents "fight in small numbers, they try and hit you through subterfuge, they like using snipers," said Sgt. 1st Class Benjamin Hanner, 35, of Redding, Calif., part of an armored unit of Stryker combat vehicles that took part in the Buhriz al-Barra assault. "These guys know what they're doing. They're controlled, their planning is good, their human intel network and early-warning networks are effective." [complete article]
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    "U.S. training Sunni extremists to attack Hizbullah; operations to be attributed to AlQaeda"
    Badger, Missing Links, April 19, 2007

    Issam Naaman is a Lebanese lawyer and writer, former Minister of Telecommunications under one of the governments led by Salim al-Hoss, and a member of a small political group that considers itself a third alternative beween the Hariri-led establishment, and the Hizbullah-led opposition. He wrote on April 18 in Al-Quds al-Arabi about information gleaned from the recent Pelosi delegation, and other US delegations at about the same time, mostly by a friend of his who is a think-tank type and didn't want his name used.

    His main points were that Bush seems to be stymied in his desire to attack Iran, both by the political opposition of the Democrats, and the popular revulsion in the US against further military adventures that would be seen as at the expense of things like health insurance and the US standard of living. (By contrast, Bush policy on Palestine will be unchanged, because in the case of Palestine there is no pressure for change from Congress, in fact the Democrats outdo the Republicans in their support for Israel). As a "substitute" for not being able to strike Iran, the Bush administration plans an escalation in Lebanon. [complete article]
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    Israel: Syria readying for war
    By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, April 21, 2007

    The gist of the Israeli message in its recent talks with United States Defense Secretary Robert Gates is that Syria is preparing for a military confrontation with Israel.

    The U.S. message to Israel on Syria, in contrast, remained unchanged: Israel should at present avoid diplomatic talks with Damascus because President Bashar Assad plans on using such talks to extricate Syria from its isolation. Israeli talks with Damascus would be a knife in the back of the government of Fouad Siniora in Lebanon.

    No tangible evidence exists, Israel told the U.S., that Damascus is planning an all-out war with Israel. But it is believed that Damascus has concluded that Israel might respond to various Syrian actions and that would be the cause of a full-blown confrontation. [complete article]

    U.S. eyes potential $65 million bomb sale to Israel
    By Jim Wolf, Reuters, April 20, 2007

    The Bush administration announced on Friday what would be the first officially disclosed sale of U.S. military equipment to Israel since the end of Israel's armed conflict with Lebanon in 2006.

    In a notice to Congress, the Pentagon's Defense Security Cooperation Agency said Israel had requested as many as 3,500 MK-84 "general purpose" bombs, spares and repair parts plus U.S. government technical assistance in a deal worth up to $65 million if all options are exercised

    General Dynamics Corp. would be the prime contractor. Such congressional notices are required by law for sales that meet certain thresholds, and Congress can block a proposed sale. [complete article]
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    Hamas seeks Jordan's explanation
    Al Jazeera, April 21, 2007

    Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) have denounced statements attributed by an Israeli daily to the Jordanian monarch in favour of paying compensation to Palestinian refugees instead of ensuring their right of return, Al Jazeera reports.

    Hamas further demanded on Saturday that Jordan clarify Friday's report in Haaretz claiming that King Abdullah II had recently told a visiting Israeli delegation led by Dalia Itzik, the Knesset [parliament] speaker and acting president, that he favoured the payments over the right of return.

    The Syrian office of Hamas also wanted an explanation for the statements about "common enemies" facing Jordan and Israel, ascribed to Abdullah by Haaretz's sources. [complete article]

    Jordan denies remarks ascribed to Abdullah on right of return
    DPA, April 21, 2007

    The Jordanian royal court on Saturday denied as "utterly baseless" remarks attributed by Haaretz on Friday to King Abdullah II.

    "What some Israeli newspapers quoted the king to have said during his meeting on Thursday with the Speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Dalia Itzik, is completely baseless," said Amjad Adayleh, the head of the Media Department at the royal court.

    The reported quotes had "nothing to do with the connotations of the dialogue that took place during the encounter," he added. [complete article]
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    Bishara resigns from Knesset
    Al Jazeera, April 22, 2007

    Azmi Bishara, an Israeli Arab MP and leader of the National Democratic Assembly, has submitted his resignation from the Knesset at the Israeli embassy in Cairo.

    Bishara handed over his resignation on Sunday following a meeting with Shalom Cohen, the Israeli ambassador to Egypt.

    Bishara is subject of an Israeli police investigation into unspecified criminal charges.

    "Exile is not an option. Return is definite but the matter will take some time and arrangements. I want to set the rules of the game," Bishara told Al Jazeera. [complete article]

    Knesset Member: Bishara's resignation a gift to Israel
    By Amnon Meranda, Ynet, April 22, 2007

    Israel should consider trapping Balad Chairman Azmi Bishara in order to bring him to justice, Knesset Member Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said Sunday, following Bishara's resignation from the Knesset.

    According to Foreign Ministry officials, the MK submitted his resignation letter to Israeli Ambassador to Egypt Shalom Cohen. His faction member, MK Jamal Zahalka, confirmed the report.

    MK Arieh Eldad (National Religious Party) said, "I praise Bishara for his decision, and call all members of Arab Knesset factions to follow in his footsteps and rid the Israeli Knesset of the presence of those who aid enemies of the state. I hope Bishara seeks political asylum in Syria or among his friends from Hizbullah."

    National Religious Party chairman, MK Zevulun Orlev, said that "it's good that Bishara realized his place is in prison, not in the Knesset. The judicial authorities should bring him to justice.

    "I intend to push for a bill making it illegal for those who visited enemy countries to be elected to Knesset," he added. [complete article]
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    Israeli troops kill 8 Palestinians
    By Ali Daraghmeh, AP, April 22, 2007

    Israeli troops killed eight Palestinians, including a 17-year-old girl, in a two-day surge of fighting across the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said Sunday.

    The dead also included three militants traveling together in a car in the northern West Bank, and a man in Gaza killed in an Israeli airstrike in response to a Palestinian rocket attack.

    Israeli troops killed two Palestinian militants, including a top bombmaker, during an arrest raid early Sunday, Palestinian officials said. The Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, a militant group linked to President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party, said the men were killed after Israeli troops surrounded a building where they were hiding and ordered people out. Most occupants came out, but the two militants remained holed up inside. An exchange of fire broke out, and the two men were killed, the group said. [complete article]

    Hamas calls for new attacks on Israel after surge in fighting
    AP, April 22, 2007

    The Islamic militant group Hamas on Sunday called for new attacks on Israel after eight Palestinians were killed in a surge of fighting over the weekend.

    Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum urged Palestinians to be prepared for a new round of confrontation.

    "The blood of our people is not cheap," he said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press. "Therefore we are calling on ... (Hamas' armed wing) and the Palestinian resistance groups to be united in the trench of resistance and to use all possible means of resistance and to respond to the massacres." [complete article]
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    U.N. envoy: Israel's imprisonment of Palestinian children feeds violence
    AP, April 22, 2007

    A United Nations envoy said Thursday that Israel's detention of Palestinian children and failure give them proper trials are a problem that feeds the violence in the region.

    The UN's Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflicts, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said she visited the Hasharon prison in central Israel, where she said more than 150 minors are held for security and criminal offenses.

    She said she urged Israeli officials to consider rehabilitation instead of detention for children detained on minor charges. Some 398 youths 12 years or older are held in Israeli jails, she said. This week the Israeli Prisons Authority said 371 Palestinian children under 18 are held in prisons. [complete article]

    Israeli PM suffers blow ahead of report
    By Josef Federman, AP, April 22, 2007

    Embattled Prime Minister Ehud Olmert suffered a new blow Sunday when his finance minister agreed to temporarily step down while police investigated embezzlement allegations against him.

    The announcement was the latest scandal to hit Olmert's government and robbed the prime minister of a key ally ahead of the release of a potentially explosive government report on last summer's war in Lebanon. The report, expected to be released next week, could determine Olmert's political fate.

    Media reports said that Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson was suspected of failing to report embezzlement committed under his watch -- and may have taken some money himself -- when he headed a workers' union in 2003. Hirchson has undergone several rounds of police questioning. [complete article]

    Settlers' defiance reflects postwar Israeli changes
    By Jennifer Medina, New York Times, April 22, 2007

    One night last month, 100 Jewish settlers marched down the main road here with little more than a stack of sleeping bags and claimed a vacant four-story building in the middle of an Arab neighborhood.

    When an Israeli officer arrived to investigate, they handed him papers that they said proved they were the new rightful owners. After he left, they danced and sang to celebrate the first major compound that Jews had acquired in the ancient city of Hebron in two decades.

    Spring 2007 was not expected to be a time of settler assertion. After the evacuation of 9,000 Jewish settlers from Gaza 20 months ago, Ehud Olmert was elected prime minister on a platform that included removing thousands more settlers from the West Bank and an end to the occupation of large swaths of that territory.

    But much has changed in the past year. The militants of Hamas are in power in the Palestinian government, and Israel's war with the Lebanese militia Hezbollah last summer has left Mr. Olmert politically weak.

    Those who took over the Hebron building now say with confidence that they will stay for many decades. [complete article]
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    Carter's Mideast message plays in Iowa
    By James Zogby, Huffington Post, April 20, 2007

    This week I traveled to Iowa. After visiting three cities where I delivered three speeches, met with two newspaper editorial boards, and held meetings with activists and community leaders - I left convinced that a sizable body of voters in Iowa want to work to change U.S. Middle East policy. From what I heard: they want U.S. leadership to be more balanced in seeking a resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict; they want a responsible end to the Iraq war; and they are eager to know more about the Arab World and Islam. [complete article]
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    Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

    From radical jihad to the politics of compromise
    By Shlomo Ben-Ami, Haaretz, April 20, 2007

    Defining the enemy: Israel's campaign against Azmi Bishara
    By Amira Howeidy, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 19, 2007

    Meeting the resistance in Iraq
    Steve Connors and Molly Bingham interviewed by Kevin Prosen, Counterpunch, April 18, 2007

    Questioning the Shia crescent
    By Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, Al-Ahram Weekly, April 19, 2007

    The Israel Lobby debate
    By Hagit Borer, James Petras, and Norman Finkelstein, Dissident Voice, April 17, 2007

    Iraq: Our enemy's enemy
    By Marc Lynch, The American Prospect, April 18, 2007

    Aid and comfort for torturers
    By Stephen Soldz, Counterpunch, April 13, 2007

    Torture, secrecy, and the Bush administration
    By Scott Horton, Harper's, April 14, 2007
    [permanent link to this entry] [home]

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