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Maliki and Sadr
Baghdad correspondent, Conflicts Forum, May 17, 2007

American troops entering Baghdad on April 9, 2003 noted the strange quiet that enveloped large parts of the city. While Baathist gunmen continued to launch spoiling raids north of the the city, large segments of the population remained calm. This was particularly true in the largest Shia neighborhoods to the east, where Baghdad's population seemed almost eerily nonchalant about the American victory. Two days later, and at the express orders of their enterprising commanding officer, two Arabic-speaking American lieutenants were escorted by a small fireteam of U.S. soldiers into the heart of the newly renamed Sadr City. Their assignment was to listen to Friday prayers -- and give an assessment of the mood of the city's Shia population.

What they heard should have warned American leaders that they faced an organized movement that was dedicated to redressing the wrongs of the Saddam era. A disciplined militia, clothed in black, had been deployed along the major thoroughfares of Sadr City to keep order, the lieutenants reported. The lightly armed militia was under the control of a fiery, young and charismatic leader name Moqtada al-Sadr. The lieutenants reported that al-Sadr was responsible for shaping the message of the the open-air sermons they heard that day: that all Iraqis must live by Islamic law, that all Iraqis must oppose foreign domination, that Iraqi clerics living in Iranian exile were not qualified to lead the people, that clerics not born in Iraq were not fit to speak on Iraq's future, and that "Allah and not the United States has freed us."

From that moment, the United States should have been put on notice that they faced a strong, home-grown Iraqi Shia opposition that was dedicated to speaking for Iraqis and forming the new Iraqi government. [complete article]
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Iraq on verge of becoming failed state, think tank warns
AFP, May 17, 2007

Iraq, its government already largely irrelevant, is on the "verge of becoming a failed state" that risks collapse and fragmentation, a leading think tank warned Thursday.

"The coming year will be pivotal for Iraq," said Gareth Stansfield, author of the report "Accepting Realities in Iraq" [PDF] for the Chatham House research institute in London.

"The internecine fighting and continual struggle for power threatens the nations very existence in its current form," he said. [complete article]
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Civil war?
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, May 17, 2007

The consensus in Western reporting about the violence in Gaza is quite clear:
Intensifying factional fighting brought the Palestinians' two-month-old power-sharing government closer to collapse Wednesday as Israeli military aircraft fired on a Hamas operations camp in the Gaza Strip in an effort to end days of rocket attacks on Israeli targets. -- Washington Post

The latest fighting between the rival militias – so far about three dozen Palestinians have been killed this week – has wrecked a Hamas-Fatah truce reached in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, in February and exposed the parties' "unity" government as ineffectual, say analysts. -- Christian Science Monitor

Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah wage battles in the streets of the Gaza Strip. Three truces have come and gone. In four days, at least 40 people have been killed, including 14 on Wednesday, as an increasingly violent struggle threatens to bring down what had been touted as a Palestinian "unity" government. -- LA Times

At least 19 Palestinians were killed on Wednesday — more than 40 have been killed over the past four days — in fighting between Fatah and Hamas as their unity government fractures and rage rises on both sides. -- New York Times

Gaza was on the brink of civil war last night as violent clashes between Palestinian factions spiralled out of control. -- The Times
The message that all of this seems to convey is that Hamas and Fatah have irreconcilable differences and that the Palestinians' frail political structure is destined to collapse. It's sad to see, but what's the world to do? It's the Palestinians' problem.

Lost in this picture is any suggestion that the United States might have played an instrumental role in fueling the conflict ( -- for some background on that, see Elliott Abram's uncivil war), yet if Hamas and Fatah truly could not possibly work together, how come we find this statement buried all the way at the end of the New York Times' report?:
Jibril Rajoub of Fatah, the former Palestinian security chief in the West Bank, said that Mr. Abbas had made a mistake by appointing Muhammad Dahlan, the former security chief in Gaza, who is hated by Hamas, as his national security adviser immediately after the formation of the unity government.

Mr. Abbas should have "tried to make Hamas feel more comfortable," Mr. Rajoub said. He said he had urged Mr. Abbas to replace General Shbak, who is closely allied to Mr. Dahlan, for the same reason.
Were it not for American meddling, it's quite possible that Rajoub would currently hold the position now occupied by Dahlan. And what difference would that have made? Rajoub is a pragmatist who has demonstrated his willingness to work hand-in-hand with the Hamas government. He recognizes that Palestinian solidarity is currently more important than anything else. But if the Palestinian government collapses, the two people whose influence will have been more instrumental than any others in making that happen are Elliot Ahrams and Muhammad Dahlan. And that's the story you won't learn about in the mainstream press.

For an excellent account of how the current round of violence has unfolded, read Tony Karon's Palestinian Pinochet making his move? And for an interesting analysis from an Israeli perspective, read Avi Issacharoff's piece in Haaretz in which he all but says, Dahlan's "our guy".
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Netanyahu: Cut off the water and power supply to the Gaza Strip
By Shahar Ilan and Barak Ravid, Haaretz, May 17, 2007

Likud Chairman Benjamin Netanyahu called the government on Thursday to cut the power and water supply in the Gaza Strip in a controlled manner.

The opposition leader added that he supports a limited ground excursion into the Qassam firing area, roughly four kilometers past the border.

Speaking from the Menachem Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, where the Likud party was marking 30 years since they first won a election, Netanyahu said that the paralysis and helplessness of the government "must leave this world". [complete article]
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Hamas threatens Israel suicide bombings
By Mark Tran, The Guardian, May 17, 2007

Hamas today threatened to resume suicide bombings in Israel after an Israeli air strike on one of its compounds killed at least one person and injured more than 45.

"This is an open war launched against Hamas. All options are open, including martyrdom operations," Abu Ubaida, a spokesman for the organisation's armed wing, said.

Today's air strike followed warnings from Israel that it would respond to rocket attacks from Gaza. "I can confirm that we have carried out an air strike," an Israeli army spokesman said. [complete article]

See also, At least 4 Hamas men dead as IAF strikes across northern Gaza Strip (Haaretz).
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A double Nakba in Gaza
By Rami Almeghari, Electronic Intifada, May 15, 2007

My pen is bleeding, my hand is shaking, my heart is sighing and my mind is stuffed with the bitter experiences of the past 14 months. The latest is today's anniversary of the Palestinian catastrophe (Nakba); today is a double Nakba.

My ideas are scrambled; however, I must rein them all in and allow my words to flow, with the hope of reaching hearts, minds and souls.

"I prefer death to these days; death is much better than these moments when a brother kills his brother", said Yousef Almadhoun, also known as Abu Mohammad, a 77-year-old man from the northern Gaza Strip town of Beit Lahiya. [complete article]

See also, As Gaza burns (Laila El-Haddad).
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Torture betrays us and breeds new enemies
By Charles C. Krulak and Joseph P. Hoar, Washington Post, May 17, 2007

Fear can be a strong motivator. It led Franklin Roosevelt to intern tens of thousands of innocent U.S. citizens during World War II; it led to Joseph McCarthy's witch hunt, which ruined the lives of hundreds of Americans. And it led the United States to adopt a policy at the highest levels that condoned and even authorized torture of prisoners in our custody.

Fear is the justification offered for this policy by former CIA director George Tenet as he promotes his new book. Tenet oversaw the secret CIA interrogation program in which torture techniques euphemistically called "waterboarding," "sensory deprivation," "sleep deprivation" and "stress positions" -- conduct we used to call war crimes -- were used. In defending these abuses, Tenet revealed: "Everybody forgets one central context of what we lived through: the palpable fear that we felt on the basis of the fact that there was so much we did not know."

We have served in combat; we understand the reality of fear and the havoc it can wreak if left unchecked or fostered. Fear breeds panic, and it can lead people and nations to act in ways inconsistent with their character.

The American people are understandably fearful about another attack like the one we sustained on Sept. 11, 2001. But it is the duty of the commander in chief to lead the country away from the grip of fear, not into its grasp. [complete article]
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The second coming of Saladin
By Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, May 18, 2007

Conditions are more than ripe for the advent of a new Saladin - after the Nakhba, the 1967 lightning Israeli victory against the Arabs, the failures of pan-Arabism, the occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, the Israeli attack on Lebanon, the limited appeal of Salafi-jihadism, the non-stop stifling of nationalist movements by Western-backed brutal dictatorships/client monarchies.

When the future Saladin looks at the troubled and dejected Middle East, the first thing he sees is US Vice President Dick Cheney shopping for yet another war - skipping the "axis of evil" (Iran, unofficial member Syria) and ordering support from the "axis of fear" (Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, the Emirates) in his relentless demonizing of Iran. After inflating sectarianism in Iraq, this time the imperial "divide and rule" weapon of choice is Arabs vs Persians.

The administration of US President George W Bush may have taken a leaf from former colonial power France - which invented Greater Lebanon as a confessional state, thus prone to perennial turbulence - to apply it in Iraq. But plunging Iraq into civil war to control better it is not enough (and there's still the matter of securing the oilfields).

Forcing a practically de facto partition of Iraq into three warring crypto-states - a Kurdistan, a southern "Shi'iteistan" and a small central, oil-deprived Sunnistan - mired in a sea of blood in the heart of the Middle East is not enough. For Cheney, the industrial-military complex and assorted Ziocon (Zionist/neo-conservative) warriors, the big prize is the subjugation of Iran. Because Iran, apart from its natural wealth, is the only power capable - at least potentially - of challenging regional US hegemony. [complete article]

Is imperial liquidation possible for America?
By Chalmers Johnson, TomDispatch, May 14, 2007

Even though large numbers of voters vaguely suspect that the failings of the political system itself led the country into its current crisis, most evidently expect the system to perform a course correction more or less automatically. As Adam Nagourney of the New York Times reported, by the end of March 2007, at least 280,000 American citizens had already contributed some $113.6 million to the presidential campaigns of Hillary Rodham Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards, Mitt Romney, Rudolph Giuliani, or John McCain.

If these people actually believe a presidential election a year-and-a-half from now will significantly alter how the country is run, they have almost surely wasted their money. As Andrew Bacevich, author of The New American Militarism, puts it: "None of the Democrats vying to replace President Bush is doing so with the promise of reviving the system of check and balances.... The aim of the party out of power is not to cut the presidency down to size but to seize it, not to reduce the prerogatives of the executive branch but to regain them." [complete article]

Pentagon hopes to expand aid program
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, May 13, 2007

The Pentagon is seeking to make permanent and expand to other countries some security and foreign assistance programs underway in Iraq and Afghanistan that traditionally have been supervised by the State Department and the Agency for International Development.

Legislation sent to Capitol Hill -- under the title of Building Global Partnerships Act of 2007 -- would allow the secretary of defense, "with the concurrence of the secretary of state," to spend up to $750 million to help foreign governments build up not only their military forces, but also police and other "security forces" to "combat terrorism and enhance stability."

In a Jan. 25 memo for top Pentagon officials, Robert L. Wilkie, assistant secretary of defense for legislative affairs, said the act would increase "speed and efficiency" in training and equipping other countries and would give the Pentagon greater ability to assist partners deployed "alongside or instead of U.S. forces." He called the act "the centerpiece of our legislative program in 2007." [complete article]
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Iran is safe ... for now
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, May 17, 2007

Shadow-boxing over Iran, pitting hard-right American neo-cons against European liberal progressives, is obscuring a reality neither camp cares to acknowledge: the threat of a US or Israeli military attack on Iran this year has receded to the point of invisibility.

Those in Europe who believe otherwise fail to understand the extent of the political paralysis now gripping the Bush administration in Washington. This is mostly but not entirely a consequence of the Iraq quagmire. Although technically George Bush still gives the orders, nobody - especially in Baghdad - is really listening any more.

The question that matters, for Congress, for the 2008 presidential candidates, and for a vast majority of the American public, is when will the troop drawdown/withdrawal/retreat in Iraq begin?

Bush's Iraq policy now amounts to little more than delaying the inevitable, according to one former senior administration official. And when General David Petraeus, coalition commander in Iraq, tells Congress in early September that the Bush surge has failed to turn the country decisively around, the White House will finally and irretrievably lose control of the policy. [complete article]
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Bush appears to side with Israel on new initiative
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, May 18, 2007

With momentum building for the Arab League's Middle East plan, the Bush administration appears to be siding with Israel over how to proceed.

The initiative -- which was first presented by the Saudis, later adopted by the Arab League in 2002 in Beirut and then reaffirmed in Riyadh two months ago -- calls for a full normalization of relations between Israel and its Arab neighbors in return for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories, and for the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem.

The Bush administration has indicated its support for the Israeli view, which is that the proposal should be subject to immediate negotiations between Jerusalem and representatives of the Arab League. Arab officials, on the other hand, insist that for now, no changes can be made to their proposal, and that any wider Israeli-Arab talks can come only after the Israelis and Palestinians reach an agreement. [complete article]
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Afghan refugee crisis brewing
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, May 17, 2007

A severe crisis threatening Afghanistan is unfolding just over its borders.

In the past three weeks, Iran has forcefully deported 85,000 Afghan refugees back over Afghanistan's southern and southeastern borders, where fighting between the Taliban and coalition forces is escalating. And in neighboring Pakistan, security forces yesterday killed four Afghan refugees during an eviction drive at a camp in Balochistan, according to reports from Agence France Presse (AFP) and other news outlets.

The forceful evictions of the refugees, who have lived in Iran and Pakistan for nearly three decades, are part of the two countries' larger plans to repatriate all Afghan refugees within a few years. Iran says it will send 1 million by next March. Pakistan, according to local media reports, plans to use force and economic sanctions to compel thousands of Afghans to leave camps that many call home. [complete article]
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Loyal to Bush but big thorn in Republicans' side
By Scott Shane and David Johnston, New York Times, May 17, 2007

For a loyal George W. Bush Republican, James B. Comey has made a remarkable amount of trouble for the White House.

As deputy attorney general in 2003, he appointed his old friend Patrick J. Fitzgerald as independent counsel in the C.I.A. leak case, leading to the perjury conviction of Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis Libby Jr.

In 2004, he backed Justice Department subordinates who withdrew a legal memorandum justifying harsh interrogations of suspected terrorists. This spring, more than a year after leaving the government, he publicly praised several United States attorneys who had been dismissed, undermining the administration’s claim that they were removed for poor performance.

Finally, at a Senate hearing on Tuesday, Mr. Comey gave a riveting account of how he intervened in 2004 at the hospital bedside of Attorney General John Ashcroft to prevent two top White House officials from persuading Mr. Ashcroft to reauthorize the National Security Agency's domestic eavesdropping program. The Justice Department had ruled that the program would not be lawful without certain changes, and President Bush subsequently directed that the changes be made. [complete article]

See also, No dissent on spying, says Justice Dept. (WP).
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Nuclear threats vs. existential threats
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, May 16, 2007

In response to news that Iran has passed the so-called "point of no return" and acquired the know-how to produce enriched uranium on an industrial scale, the Bush administration still insists, "We do believe that we are on the right course, that there is still time to resolve this diplomatically." A diplomatic resolution is unlikely to be found, however, if the administration refuses to use the primary tool of diplomacy: negotiation.

IAEA director, Mohamed ElBaradei, was sending out a pretty clear message that the U.S.'s hamstrung approach to diplomacy has been ineffective and indeed has worked to Iran's advantage. Yet if ElBaradei's intent was to inject a sense of urgency inside the administration about the need to stop dragging its feet in approaching the bargaining table, he must also have been keenly aware that he would also be providing ammunition to the bomb-Iran brigade.

The message that has gone out from the White House to the right wing Christian crusaders is -- as James Dobson put it on Monday -- "the future of the world may be hanging in the balance..." Expanding on a message clearly designed to provoke mass hysteria among evangelicals, Dobson continued: was the same thing before Pearl Harbor -- and there're a lot of parallels there. But I heard about this danger not only at the White House, but from other pro-family leaders with whom I met during that week in Washington. Many people in a position to know are talking about the possibility of losing a city to nuclear or biological or chemical attack, and if we can lose one, we can lose ten, and if we can lose ten, we can lose a hundred -- especially if North Korea and China and Russia pile on.
In a similar vein (minus Biblical authority) John Bolton was out raising the alarm. As the Telegraph reported:
President George W Bush privately refers to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has pledged to wipe Israel "off the map", as a 21st Century Adolf Hitler and Mr Bolton, who remains a close ally of Vice President Dick Cheney, said the Iranian leader presented a similar threat.

"If the choice is them continuing [towards a nuclear bomb] or the use of force, I think you're at a Hitler marching into the Rhineland point. If you don't stop it then, the future is in his hands, not in your hands, just as the future decisions on their nuclear programme would be in Iran's hands, not ours."
Meanwhile, Richard Perle warns about the threat posed inside the administration by a president who "came ill-equipped for the job and has failed to master it." In Perle's view, the danger from Iran is now compounded by Bush's willingness to let the State Department shape the U.S.'s Iran policy, State's failing being that it is "institutionally disposed to settle problems through compromise, to settle rather than to fight."

What the fear/war-mongers don't point out is that serious analysts inside Israel don't actually see the Iranian nuclear threat being that Israel might get wiped off the map. They recognize that Iran is not a state with a death wish and that Israel's own nuclear arsenal would deter an Iranian nuclear attack. What the Israelis fear is their loss of a nuclear deterrence to conventional attack from hostile neighbors. Minus the military invulnerability Israel once enjoyed (an invulnerability that has already been severely undermined by last summer's war against Hezbollah), fewer and fewer Jews from the diaspora would choose to move to Israel, while in increasing numbers, Jews would decide to leave Israel. In that event, Iran's nuclear weapons would not pose an immediate existential threat but would contribute to the demographic threat -- the risk that Israel could no longer sustain its Jewish majority.

Yet dire as the threat from Iran might appear to some, the dangers posed by a preemptive attack should not be underestimated. Writing in Haaretz, Yossi Melman says that:
The U.S. will have to decide whether to attack Iran, in order to delay its nuclear program and prevent Tehran from developing its first nuclear weapon. If the U.S. chooses not to attack, the issue may have to be decided by Israel's leadership. An attack against Iran's nuclear installations, its air defenses, airports and communications, would likely lead to an Iranian response that could draw the entire region into war. Israel would be at the epicenter of such a war.
And although Israel has been busy improving its missile defense systems, a pre-nuclear Iran could actually pose a nuclear threat to Israel. The Iranians have warned that if its nuclear facilities are attacked, it would retaliate with strikes against Israel's own nuclear plant at Dimona.

One of the U.S.'s own plans to attack Iran -- the "McInerney Plan" -- includes targeting Iran's Shahab-3 offensive missile forces, yet whether this was a U.S. or Israeli air campaign, no one can assume that not a single Iranian missile could reach its target. The ultimate irony would of course be if in its desperate efforts to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, Israel fell victim to fallout from its own nuclear materials.

Yet behind all these military and strategic calculations, the issue that gets lost is the one that should preempt all other considerations: that in the near sixty years of its existence, Israel has failed to fully engage with the political issue that must ultimately determine the state's viability -- the need for reconciliation with its neighbors, adversaries and those who it has chosen to govern without consent.
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Palestinian Pinochet making his move?
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, May 16, 2007

There's something a little misleading in the media reports that routinely describe the fighting in Gaza as pitting Hamas against Fatah forces or security personnel "loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas." That characterization suggests somehow that this catastrophic civil war that has killed more than 25 Palestinians since Sunday is a showdown between Abbas and the Hamas leadership -- which simply isn't true, although such a showdown would certainly conform to the desires of those running the White House Middle East policy.

The Fatah gunmen who are reported to have initiated the breakdown of the Palestinian unity government and provoked the latest fighting may profess fealty to President Abbas, but it's not from him that they get their orders. The leader to whom they answer is Mohammed Dahlan, the Gaza warlord who has long been Washington's anointed favorite to play the role of a Palestinian Pinochet. [complete article]

See also, Gunmen storm home of Gaza security chief (FT).
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Washington's worldwide woes
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, May 15, 2007

American accusations that European countries have ganged up against the Bush administration in the Paul Wolfowitz row hide a deeper worry: that the rapidly declining power at home of the most unpopular, least respected president since Richard Nixon is encouraging multiple challenges to US authority and interests around the world.

Washington's insecurity is rooted in the collapse in George Bush's domestic support and an apparent accompanying failure of national confidence. The president's approval rating hit a new low of 28% earlier this month, according to a Newsweek poll. His aggregate figures have been stuck at 35% or less since last autumn - far below the norm for an incumbent half way through a second term.

The "badness of King George", as Mr Bush's fall from imperial grace has been dubbed, is creating a power vacuum around the White House. The earliest ever start to the election campaign to replace him is now being matched, according to many commentators, by the longest ever "lame duck" presidency. [complete article]
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Bush taps skeptic of buildup as 'war czar'
By Peter Baker and Robin Wright, Washington Post, May 16, 2007

Some Iraq experts were encouraged [by the appointment of Army Lt. Gen. Douglas E. Lute yesterday to serve as a new White House "war czar"]. "This is an unusually talented guy," said Ellen Laipson, president of the Henry L. Stimson Center, who returned from Iraq yesterday. "He's one of those intellectual soldiers who also exudes strong personal leadership qualities."

Yet Lute will face enormous obstacles four years into the war. "The most serious problem everyone has in any coordinated approach to Iraq is that the problems are beyond his control -- including relations between the White House and Congress," said Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. "He is also a coordinator who works for a White House that has no long-term plan or strategy."

That was the reason given by other generals who turned down the job, including retired Marine Gen. John J. "Jack" Sheehan. "I wish the guy luck," Sheehan said of Lute yesterday. "He's got his work cut out for him." [complete article]
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Commander's veto sank threatening Gulf buildup
By Gareth Porter, IPS, May 15, 2007

Admiral William Fallon, then President George W. Bush's nominee to head the Central Command (CENTCOM), expressed strong opposition in February to an administration plan to increase the number of carrier strike groups in the Persian Gulf from two to three and vowed privately there would be no war against Iran as long as he was chief of CENTCOM, according to sources with access to his thinking.

Fallon's resistance to the proposed deployment of a third aircraft carrier was followed by a shift in the Bush administration's Iran policy in February and March away from increased military threats and toward diplomatic engagement with Iran. That shift, for which no credible explanation has been offered by administration officials, suggests that Fallon's resistance to a crucial deployment was a major factor in the intra-administration struggle over policy toward Iran. [complete article]
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A.Q. Khan nuclear network alive and kicking
By David Isenberg, Asia Times, May 15, 2007

When US President George W Bush announced on February 11, 2004, that the infamous nuclear-black-market network run by Pakistan's Abdul Qadeer Khan had been rolled up, everyone concerned with nuclear-proliferation issues breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Khan's network had helped facilitate the development of nuclear weapons and weapons programs of all the most worrisome states in the previous couple of decades, including Pakistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya and North Korea, sparking crises such as the one over Iran that continue to this day. But while Khan was relieved of his job as head of Khan Research Laboratories and was put under house arrest, where he remains today, it seems that the relief was premature.

Though it seems like a plot line from a James Bond film, clandestine acquisition of nuclear technologies and materials is still very much with us, according to a newly released study. Preventing nuclear proliferation by both state and non-state actors is very much an action-reaction process. Proliferators illicitly acquire materials and technologies critical to constructing nuclear weapons, then states try to tighten loopholes or strengthen export-control rules to prevent this from happening in the future. But proliferators find new ways to stay ahead. [complete article]
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Bush opens door to Wolfowitz's resigning
By Steven R. Weisman, New York Times, May 16, 2007

The Bush administration, shifting strategy in the face of mounting opposition to Paul D. Wolfowitz, opened the door Tuesday to his resigning voluntarily as World Bank president if the bank board dropped its drive to declare him unfit to remain in office.

But the administration's new approach -- outlined in a telephone conference call between the Treasury Department in Washington and economic ministries in Japan, Canada and Europe -- appeared to gain few immediate supporters, various officials said.

Indeed, bank officials said the board seemed determined on Tuesday evening to endorse the findings of a special committee that Mr. Wolfowitz broke bank rules, ethics and governance standards in arranging for, and concealing, a pay and promotion package for his companion, Shaha Ali Riza, in 2005.

The officials said the 52-page report of the committee, released Monday evening, had emboldened Mr. Wolfowitz's critics on the board, and made it difficult for the board to avoid concluding that he could no longer lead the institution. [complete article]
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Ailing Ashcroft pressured on spy program, former deputy says
By Dan Eggen and Paul Kane, Washington Post, May 16, 2007

On the night of March 10, 2004, as Attorney General John D. Ashcroft lay ill in an intensive-care unit, his deputy, James B. Comey, received an urgent call.

White House Counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and President Bush's chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., were on their way to the hospital to persuade Ashcroft to reauthorize Bush's domestic surveillance program, which the Justice Department had just determined was illegal.

In vivid testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, Comey said he alerted FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III and raced, sirens blaring, to join Ashcroft in his hospital room, arriving minutes before Gonzales and Card. Ashcroft, summoning the strength to lift his head and speak, refused to sign the papers they had brought. Gonzales and Card, who had never acknowledged Comey's presence in the room, turned and left.

The sickbed visit was the start of a dramatic showdown between the White House and the Justice Department in early 2004 that, according to Comey, was resolved only when Bush overruled Gonzales and Card. But that was not before Ashcroft, Comey, Mueller and their aides prepared a mass resignation, Comey said. The domestic spying by the National Security Agency continued for several weeks without Justice approval, he said. [complete article]
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'Soviets engineered Six Day War'
By David Horovitz, Jerusalem Post, May 16, 2007

In a new book that "totally contradicts everything that has been accepted to this day" about the Six Day War, two Israeli authors claim that the conflict was deliberately engineered by the Soviet Union to create the conditions in which Israel's nuclear program could be destroyed.

Having received information about Israel's progress towards nuclear arms, the Soviets aimed to draw Israel into a confrontation in which their counterstrike would include a joint Egyptian-Soviet bombing of the reactor at Dimona. They had also geared up for a naval landing on Israel's beaches.

"The conventional view is that the Soviet Union triggered the conflict via disinformation on Israeli troop movements, but that it didn't intend for a full-scale war to break out and that it then did its best to defuse the war in cooperation with the United States," Gideon Remez, who co-wrote Foxbats over Dimona, told The Jerusalem Post Tuesday. Essentially, the Soviet Union at the time was regarded as having evolved "a cautious and responsible foreign policy," the book elaborates. "But we propose a completely new outlook on all this," said Remez. [complete article]
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Inspectors cite big gain by Iran on nuclear fuel
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 15, 2007

Inspectors for the International Atomic Energy Agency have concluded that Iran appears to have solved most of its technological problems and is now beginning to enrich uranium on a far larger scale than before, according to the agency’s top officials.

The findings may change the calculus of diplomacy in Europe and in Washington, which has aimed to force a suspension of Iran's enrichment activities in large part to prevent it from learning how to produce weapons-grade material.

In a short-notice inspection of Iran's main nuclear facility at Natanz on Sunday, conducted in advance of a report to the United Nations Security Council due early next week, the inspectors found that Iranian engineers were already using roughly 1,300 centrifuges and were producing fuel suitable for nuclear reactors, according to diplomats and nuclear experts here. Until recently, the Iranians were having difficulty keeping the delicate centrifuges spinning at the tremendous speeds necessary to make nuclear fuel, and often were running them empty, or not at all.

Now, those roadblocks appear to have been surmounted. "We believe they pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich," said Mohamed ElBaradei, the director general of the energy agency, who clashed with the Bush administration four years ago when he declared that there was no evidence that Iraq had resumed its nuclear program. "From now on, it is simply a question of perfecting that knowledge. People will not like to hear it, but that's a fact." [complete article]

Iran courts the U.S. at Russia's expense
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, May 16, 2007

Iran's relations with the Arab world have taken a dramatic turn for the better, in light of Iran's overtures toward the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, as well as in President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's announcement that Iran is prepared to resume full diplomatic relations with Egypt.

That announcement was made on Monday as Ahmadinejad visited the United Arab Emirates and received a rousing official welcome. Widely interpreted as Iran's timely response to US Vice President Dick Cheney's tour of the region and his warning that the United States will not allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or to dominate the region, Ahmadinejad's arrival in Dubai coincided with an Iranian olive branch toward not only Egypt but also the US. This is illustrated by Tehran's announcement that it has accepted the United States' invitation for direct talks between American and Iranian ambassadors in Baghdad.

"Iran's foreign policy is moving in the direction of constructive engagement on all fronts," a member of Iran's parliament, the Majlis, announced, adding that the resumption of relations with Egypt will have "positive effects on the whole region". [complete article]

Losses in Iraq require U.S. success in Iran
By Guy Dinmore, Financial Times, May 14, 2007

The US strategy of containment, launched aggressively against Iran in January, is not succeeding, just as the parallel "surge" of US troops into Iraq also shows signs of failing to achieve its political objectives, according to analysts, diplomats and some officials in Washington.

Condoleezza Rice, the ?secretary of state, calls her Iran strategy "rebalancing" – a concerted and comprehensive effort to push back against Tehran’s advances in the region and in its nuclear programme.

In his January 10 speech announcing the decision to send more troops to Baghdad, George W.?Bush made it clear that Iran was also a key concern by ordering a second aircraft carrier strike group and Patriot missiles to the Gulf while promising to disrupt the republic's activities in Iraq.

Driving the president's point home, US forces that night seized five Iranian officials in the Kurdish-controlled city of Arbil.

In public, US officials led by Nicholas Burns, the State Department's co-ordinator and cheerleader for the twin economic and political tracks, argue that sanctions are successfully hurting Iran's economy and that the United Nation's Security Council showed its unity in passing two resolutions ?punishing Iran for refusing to suspend its nuclear fuel programme.

In Iraq, the surge is said to be making progress. To admit otherwise – as some officials do in private – would leave the administration facing difficult alternatives over Iran.

The choices range from engagement without conditions, as "realist" Democrats and Republicans are urging; imposing tougher unilateral sanctions at the risk of ?losing allies, as supported by "liberal hawks" in both ?parties; or following the path illuminated by some once influential neoconservatives and going to war. [complete article]

See also, Tehran both warns and reassures U.S. (WP) and Can Europe end the lose-lose game with Iran? (Trita Parsi).

Comment - With the Bush administration in the visible process of decay and the GOP increasingly fearful about the electoral fallout from Iraq, the president appears to be keen to reach out to the last remaining Americans who apparently take him seriously. The message going out -- as conveyed yesterday by Focus on the Family Founder and Chairman James Dobson, is beyond being alarmist. This is what Dobson (who has been described as "America's most influential evangelical leader") had to say after returning from a week in Washington where he and about a dozen Christian right leaders met privately with Bush for 90 minutes. (Dobson's comments are transcribed from his Monday broadcast):
James Dobson: We are living in very perilous times and the future generations of Americans depends on how we rise to that challenge today -- I'm absolutely convinced of that.

Iran has promised to blow Israel off the face of the earth and they've made no bones about that and then they plan to come after us -- they've said it repeatedly. They don't care if they die in the process -- and we're not speaking of all Muslims of course, and I'll elaborate on that in a minute. We're talking about the leaders of Iran and perhaps Syria and other places around the world -- that jihad is their sacred duty. And as I personally believe, the leaders of Iran -- especially the president of Iran, fully intend to wage war on us. And they'll do it when they have the nuclear and biological weapons to do so. And they're working on that feverishly at this time, and no one questions that. That's the interesting thing -- you don't hear the warning note coming from the secular media -- that's the interesting thing to me and it's a frustrating thing, that if you listen to Fox News and NBC and CBS and ABC and MSNBC and CNN, all day, you'll learn more than you ever wanted to know about the popular culture and Nicole Smith and Britney Spears and their like, but the future of the world may be hanging in the balance and yet the ... very few news programs even address it. I don't understand that.

Presenter: It's bad enough and disturbing enough that so much tension is rising to the surface, seemingly, but it's really alarming that you just don't hear about it -- as you just said -- in much of the mainstream news.

Dobson: Well, it was the same thing before Pearl Harbor -- and there're a lot of parallels there. But I heard about this danger not only at the White House, but from other pro-family leaders with whom I met during that week in Washington. Many people in a position to know are talking about the possibility of losing a city to nuclear or biological or chemical attack, and if we can lose one, we can lose ten, and if we can lose ten, we can lose a hundred -- especially if North Korea and China and Russia pile on.
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Document details 'U.S.' plan to sink Hamas
By Mark Perry and Paul Woodward, Asia Times, May 15, 2007

On April 30, the Jordanian weekly newspaper Al-Majd published a story about a 16-page secret document, an "Action Plan for the Palestinian Presidency" that called for undermining and replacing the Palestinian national-unity government.

The document outlined steps that would strengthen Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, build up Palestinian security forces under his command, lead to the dissolution of the Palestinian Parliament, and strengthen US allies in Fatah in a lead-up to parliamentary elections that Abbas would call for early this autumn.

The Majd document is based on a Jordanian government translation of a reputed US intelligence document that was obtained by the newspaper from a Jordanian government official. The document, an official at the newspaper said, was drawn up by "Arab and American parties" and "presented to Palestinian President Abbas by the head of an Arab intelligence agency". The document is explosive. [complete article]
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Olmert: I'm ready to negotiate Saudi peace plan with Arab leaders
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, May 15, 2007

While visiting Jordan Tuesday, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert invited 22 leaders of Arab nations to convene and invite Israel to negotiate the Saudi peace plan without preconditions. Olmert added that if they were willing to invite him somewhere for talks, then "I'm ready to come."

The Saudi peace plan calls normalized ties between Israel and the Arab world in return for a full Israeli withdrawal from lands captured in the 1967 Six-Day War.

"We heard about the Arab peace initiative and we say come and present it to us. You want to talk to us about it, we are ready to sit down and talk about it carefully," Olmert told reporters. [complete article]
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New Israeli Arab declaration: Israel must own up to Nakba
By Yoav Stern, Haaretz, May 15, 2007

A group of Israeli Arab intellectuals are calling on Israel to recognize its responsibility for the Nakba ("The Catastrophe," the Palestinians' term for what happened to them after 1948) and to act to implement the Palestinian refugees' right of return and establishment of a Palestinian state.

These moves will pave the way to a historic reconciliation between the Jewish nation in Israel and the Palestinian people, says a position paper entitled "The Haifa Declaration" published in Haaretz for the first time on Tuesday. The composers urge Israel to become a democratic state that upholds "national equality" between Jews and Arabs. [complete article]

Comment -- For a compelling narrative account of how the Nakba unfolded, see the 33-minute documentary, Deir Yassin Remembered. See also, Fifty-nine years of dispossession (Samar Assad).

Although Haaretz refers to their publication of the Haifa Declaration, I couldn't find it anywhere on their site. The complete declaration can be read here [PDF], and here is an extract:
We look towards a future in which we can reach historic reconciliation between the Jewish Israeli people and the Arab Palestinian people. This reconciliation requires the State of Israel to recognize the historical injustice that it committed against the Palestinian people through its establishment, to accept responsibility for the Nakba, which befell all parts of the Palestinian people, and also for the war crimes and crimes of occupation that it has committed in the Occupied Territories. Reconciliation also requires recognizing the Right of Return and acting to implement it in accordance with United Nations Resolution 194, ending the Occupation and removing the settlements from all Arab territory occupied since 1967, recognizing the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and to an independent and sovereign state, and recognizing the rights of Palestinian citizens in Israel, which derive from being a homeland minority. Furthermore, such an historical reconciliation between the two peoples must be part of a comprehensive change in Israeli policy, whereby Israel abandons its destructive role towards the peoples of the region, especially in the context of a hegemonic U.S. policy which supports certain Arab regimes in oppressing their citizens, stripping them of their resources, obstructing their development, and impeding the democratic process in the Arab world.

This historic reconciliation also requires us, Palestinians and Arabs, to recognize the right of the Israeli Jewish people to self-determination and to life in peace, dignity, and security with the Palestinian and the other peoples of the region.

We are aware of the tragic history of the Jews in Europe, which reached its peak in one of the most horrific human crimes in the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis against the Jews, and we are fully cognizant of the tragedies that the survivors have lived through. We sympathize with the victims of the Holocaust, those who perished and those who survived.

We believe that exploiting this tragedy and its consequences in order to legitimize the right of the Jews to establish a state at the expense of the Palestinian people serves to belittle universal, human, and moral lessons to be learned from this catastrophic event, which concerns the whole of humanity.

Our vision for the future relations between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli Jews in this country is to create a democratic state founded on equality between the two national groups. This solution would guarantee the rights of the two groups in a just and equitable manner. This would require a change in the constitutional structure and a change in the definition of the State of Israel from a Jewish state to a democratic state established on national and civil equality between the two national groups, and enshrining the principles of banning discrimination and of equality between all of its citizens and residents. In practice, this means annulling all laws that discriminate directly or indirectly on the basis of nationality, ethnicity, or religion – first and foremost the laws of immigration and citizenship – and enacting laws rooted in the principles of justice and equality. It also means the application of equality between the Arabic and Hebrew languages as two official languages of equal status in the country; ensuring the principle of
multiculturalism for all groups; securing the effective participation of the Palestinian minority in government and in decision making; guaranteeing the Palestinian citizens in Israel the right of veto in all matters that concern their status and rights; guaranteeing their right to cultural autonomy, which includes the rights to develop policies for and to administer their own cultural and educational affairs; and distributing resources in accordance with the principles of distributive and corrective justice. It is these principles that can guarantee our right to self-determination as a homeland minority.
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The clock is ticking
By Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, May 14, 2007

Weekend bloodshed in Karachi, nationwide political turmoil, and border clashes between Pakistani and Afghan troops have heightened the sense that a potentially unstoppable, many-fronted crisis is about to engulf Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf.

After almost eight years of smartly pressed, barely legitimate uniformed rule from his colonial era residence in Rawalpindi, Gen Musharraf is fast shedding friends at home and abroad. This is not wholly surprising. In Pakistan, it is often said, military strongmen rarely depart the scene happily or even alive.

"The battle lines are now drawn. There is Musharraf and the ruling political party and the MQM (the Karachi-based Mohajir movement) on one side and the rest of Pakistan on the other," said Najam Sethi, editor of the Daily Times. "He is facing the worst period of his rule." [complete article]

See also, Pervez Musharraf's grip may be loosening (The Economist) and Q&A: Pakistan's judicial crisis (BBC).
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What price slaughter?
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, May 13, 2007

What value has a human life?

We usually think of this in terms of sentiment -- of memories, grief, love, longing, of everything, in short, that is too deep and valuable to put a price upon. Then again, is anything in our world truly priceless?

As anyone who has ever taken out a life insurance policy knows, we humans are quite capable of putting a price on life -- and death. In her book Pricing the Priceless Child, Viviana Zelizer reminds us that, starting in the 1870s in the U.S., in that era before child labor laws, the business of insuring working-class children, who were then quite valuable to poor families, achieved enormous success. For a few pennies a week, ten dollars in all, you could, for instance, insure your one year-old against the future loss to the family of his or her earning power.

The courts weighed in, assessing the literal value of an earning child to a family. In those days, poor urban children died regularly in staggering numbers under horse's hooves, the wheels of street cars, and trains. In an 1893 editorial, the New York Times referred to this as "child slaughter," and juries reacted accordingly. When Ettie Pressman, just seven years old, died under a team of horses in 1893, while crossing New York's Ludlow Street with her nine year-old sister, a court granted her father $1,000 to compensate him for "his daughter's services and earnings." ("Yes," her father testified, with "what I earn and what the children earn used together we have enough. They earn three dollars each week.")

This came to mind recently, thanks to a New York Times report on another kind of "child slaughter" -- in this case by U.S. Marines, who, in early March, went on a killing rampage near Jalalabad in Afghanistan. Sorry, in Pentagon parlance, this is referred to as "using excessive force." [complete article]
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Disappeared without a trace: more than 10,000 Iraqis
By Shashank Bengali, McClatchy, May 13, 2007

When her heart is heaviest, Sahira Kereem tries to think of the little things her husband did that annoyed her. She remembers times when she suggested they visit her parents, and he just rolled his eyes.

The mental trick rarely brings her comfort. The fact remains that Riyadh Juma Saleh, her husband of nearly 15 years, went missing one day nearly three years ago and Kareem has no idea what became of him.

Over the past four years, as sectarian kidnappings and killings have gripped Iraq and U.S. forces have arrested untold numbers in an effort to pacify the country, tens of thousands of Iraqis have vanished, often in circumstances as baffling as that of Kereem's husband, a Shiite Muslim father of three. [complete article]
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The Iraq war, MTV-style
By Edmund Sanders, Los Angeles Times, May 15, 2007

There's no tribal council or immunity challenge. Viewers don't vote off their least favorite. But reality TV has come of age in Iraq with a new show about some well-spoken twentysomethings who share their lives, fears and dreams as cameras follow them around one of the world's most dangerous cities.

It's part documentary, part "The Real World -- Baghdad." Capitalizing on the personalized video craze popularized by Internet sites such as YouTube and MySpace, the Web-based series, called "Hometown Baghdad," has attracted hundreds of thousands of viewers worldwide since its March debut. It's popular everywhere, that is, except Iraq, where the program remains largely unknown because of the scarcity of high-speed Internet. [complete article]

See also, the web documentary series about life in Baghdad Hometown Baghdad and the production company, Chat the Planet.
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The terrorist Bush isn't after
By Stephen Kinzer, The Guardian, May 15, 2007

One October day in 1976, a Cuban airliner exploded over the Caribbean and crashed, killing all 73 people aboard. There should have been 74. I had a ticket on that flight, but changed my reservation at the last moment and flew to Havana on an earlier plane.

I was sitting by the pool of the Hotel Riviera when I heard news of the crash. A few days later, I attended a powerfully moving ceremony at which one million Cubans turned out to hear Fidel Castro denounce the bomb attack. On the reviewing stand next to him were flag-draped coffins of the few victims whose remains had been found.

Investigators in Venezuela, where the doomed flight originated, quickly determined that a famous anti-Castro terrorist, Luis Posada Carriles, had probably planned this attack. More than 30 years later, however, Posada remains amazingly immune to prosecution. Instead of going to jail, he went to work for the CIA.

Last week a federal judge in Texas threw out a case against Posada. The Bush administration has power under the Patriot Act to detain him indefinitely, and could even extradite him to Venezuela. Instead it has chosen to protect him. [complete article]
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Angry Wolfowitz in four-letter tirade
By Richard Adams, The Guardian, May 15, 2007

An angry and bitter Paul Wolfowitz poured abuse and threatened retaliations on senior World Bank staff if his orders for pay rises and promotions for his partner were revealed, according to new details published last night.

Under fire for the lavish package given to Shaha Riza, a World Bank employee and Mr Wolfowitz's girlfriend when he became president, an official investigation into the controversy has found that Mr Wolfowitz broke bank rules and violated his own contract – setting off a struggle between US and European governments over Mr Wolfowitz's future.

Sounding more like a cast member of the Sopranos than an international leader, in testimony by one key witness Mr Wolfowitz declares: "If they fuck with me or Shaha, I have enough on them to fuck them too."

The remarks were published in a report detailing the controversy that erupted last month after the size of Ms Riza's pay rises was revealed. The report slates Mr Wolfowitz for his "questionable judgment and a preoccupation with self-interest", saying: "Mr Wolfowitz saw himself as the outsider to whom the established rules and standards did not apply." [complete article]

See also, Bank's report says Wolfowitz violated ethics (NYT) and Paul Wolfowitz's fatal weakness (Juan Cole).
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Reporters face unusual limits at Padilla terror trial
By Warren Richey, Christian Science Monitor, May 14, 2007

Sometimes working as a news reporter covering a major terrorism trial comes with a few surprises.

Security is extraordinarily tight at the trial of alleged Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla and two codefendants. This is no surprise. US marshals have flown here to Miami from across the country to help ensure that the trial is conducted without threat or incident.

But court security officers are enforcing an unusual rule for the trial, which is set to get under way with opening statements Monday. They are prepared to prevent members of the media from asking questions of defense lawyers or federal prosecutors at the trial.

In effect, newspaper, radio, and television reporters are being granted observer status – they may sit quietly, watch the trial, and take notes. But if during a court recess they approach a defense lawyer or prosecutor in the courtroom with a question, they risk being whisked away by security officials. [complete article]
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Turkish city counters fear of Islam's reach
By Sabrina Tavernise, New York Times, May 15, 2007

In the not too distant past here in Turkey's religious heartland, women would not appear in public unless they were modestly dressed, a single woman was not able to rent an apartment on her own, and the mayor proposed segregating city buses by sex.

Fears of such restrictions, inflamed by secularist politicians, have led thousands of Turks to march in major cities in the past month. A political party with a past in Islamic politics led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has tried to capture the country's highest secular post.

Once it succeeds, the secularists' argument goes, Turkey will be dragged back to an earlier era when Islam ran the state. [Another march drew a million people in Izmir on Sunday.]

But here in Konya, a leafy city on the plains of central Turkey, Mr. Erdogan's party has done no such thing. In the paradox of modern Turkey, the party here has had a moderating influence, helping to open a guarded society and make it more flexible. [complete article]
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Top Bush adviser says Rice's push for Mideast peace is 'just process'
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, May 11, 2007

As Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presses Israelis and Palestinians to meet a new set of policy benchmarks, the White House is reassuring Jewish groups and conservatives that the president has no plans to pressure Jerusalem.

Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams told a group of Jewish communal leaders last week that the president would ensure that the process does not lead to Israel being pushed into an agreement with which it is uncomfortable.

Also last week, at a regular gathering of Jewish Republicans, sources said, Abrams described President Bush as an "emergency brake" who would prevent Israel from being pressed into a deal; during the breakfast gathering, the White House official also said that a lot of what is done during Rice's frequent trips to the region is "just process" -- steps needed in order to keep the Europeans and moderate Arab countries "on the team" and to make sure they feel that the United States is promoting peace in the Middle East. [complete article]
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Gaza crisis prompts security push
BBC News, May 14, 2007

The Palestinian Authority has mobilised all of its security forces in an attempt to end a fierce upsurge in factional fighting in the Gaza Strip.

Information Minister Mustapha Barghouti urged members of rival factions Hamas and Fatah to unite behind the effort but gun battles have continued all day.

Mr Barghouti said that Prime Minister Ismail Haniya would be taking personal control of security in Gaza. [complete article]
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Defense skirts State in reviving Iraqi industry
By Rajiv Chandrasekaran, Washington Post, May 14, 2007

Paul Brinkley, a deputy undersecretary of defense, has been called a Stalinist by U.S. diplomats in Iraq. One has accused him of helping insurgents build better bombs. The State Department has even taken the unusual step of enlisting the CIA to dispute the validity of Brinkley's work.

His transgression? To begin reopening dozens of government-owned factories in Iraq.

Brinkley and his colleagues at the Pentagon believe that rehabilitating shuttered, state-run enterprises could reduce violence by employing tens of thousands of Iraqis. Officials at State counter that the initiative is antithetical to free-market reforms the United States should promote in Iraq.

The bureaucratic knife fight over the best way to revive Iraq's moribund economy illustrates how the two principal players in the reconstruction of Iraq -- the departments of Defense and State -- remain at odds over basic economic and political measures. The bickering has hamstrung initiatives to promote stability four years after Saddam Hussein's fall.

Under pressure from Congress to demonstrate progress on the ground, the military often favors immediate solutions aimed at quelling violence. That has prompted objections from some at State who question the long-term consequences of that expeditious approach.

In recent months, the two departments have squabbled over the degree to which Iraqi farmers should be aided by subsidies and tariffs. They also remain at odds over State's desire to deploy reconstruction teams to two Shiite-dominated provinces in central Iraq. Defense officials are balking at providing robust security for the teams, preferring to deploy as many troops as possible in Baghdad. State contends that well-protected American civilians in those provinces will build relationships with future Shiite leaders.

"There has been a surprising degree of venom and hostility" between the departments, said a senior U.S. government official involved in Iraq policy.

The dispute between State and Brinkley has become so pitched that he has effectively stopped working with the U.S. Embassy and is setting up his office elsewhere in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone. [complete article]

Comment -- There are many strands to this story worth considering -- that it illustrates the long-standing power struggle between State and Defense; that that struggle is in part a product of lack of leadership resulting from Bush's weak political vision; and that the reconstruction of Iraq has consistently been shackled by the imposition of American ideological agendas. Yet the underlying story is the story of the enduring neo-colonial mentality in the Bush administration's approach to Iraq -- an approach in which the Iraqi people and Iraqi leaders are always subordinates, in need of being won over, corralled, cajoled, and when necessary, killed.
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Dadullah's death hits Taliban hard
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, May 15, 2007

Now that Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah is dead, everybody, including Pakistani militants, al-Qaeda, Washington, Kabul and Islamabad, is weighing how this will affect the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan.

The one-legged Dadullah, 41, was killed on Saturday in the southern province of Helmand, US and Afghan officials said on Sunday. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization's International Security Assistance Force confirmed the death, saying that after Dadullah had left his "sanctuary" in the south, he was killed in a US-led coalition operation supported by NATO and Afghan troops.

One thing is clear. Dadullah's death will have no impact on the Taliban's formal political command structure. Mullah Omar remains firmly as head of the Taliban, with Jalaluddin Haqqani as his deputy chief.

However, Dadullah's death is certainly a serious blow to the Taliban's "soul" and their field strategy, as Dadullah had emerged as a ruthlessly efficient leader in the battlefield. [complete article]

See also, Key Taliban leader is killed in Afghanistan in joint operation (NYT) and U.S. soldier shot to death in Pakistan (AP).
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U.S., Iran plan talks on pacifying Iraq
By Michael Abramowitz and Robin Wright, Washington Post, May 14, 2007

The White House confirmed yesterday that the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad is likely to meet in the next several weeks with Iranian officials about stabilizing Iraq, as the administration embraces a tactic outsiders have long recommended as essential to reducing sectarian violence in Iraq.

A White House spokesman said that Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker will meet with Iranian counterparts in Baghdad to prod Tehran to play a "productive role in Iraq." The confirmation came after the official Iranian news agency disclosed that the two sides had agreed to meet in Baghdad. U.S. officials said the meeting could occur as early as next week.

"The president authorized this channel because we must take every step possible to stabilize Iraq and reduce the risk to our troops, even as our military continue to act against hostile Iranian-backed activity in Iraq," said Gordon D. Johndroe, the spokesman for the National Security Council. [complete article]

Comment -- So when the vice president issued his threats to Iran from aboard his floating bunker (USS John C. Stennis) last week, was he on or off his leash? I imagine there are as many observers inside Washington as there are inside Tehran who don't know the answer to that question.
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A way forward to help the Palestinians
By Brigitte Herremans and Stephanie Kourky, Daily Star, May 14, 2007

More than a year has passed since the European Union suspended its direct budget support to the Palestinian Authority (PA) in response to the formation of the Hamas-led government. Although the EU's intention was to pressure Hamas into accepting the Quartet's conditions, the suspension of aid did not achieve this effect. Europe is now confronted with the failure of this policy, and has undermined its own objective of Palestinian state-building. Yet it does have a way forward.

The EU suspended budgetary aid soon after Israel's January 2006 decision to cease transferring to the PA its tax revenues in response to Hamas' election victory. These revenues account for half of the PA's budget. Anticipating the consequences of its action, the European Commission created the Temporary International Mechanism (TIM) to circumvent the new government and provide some basic services, while excluding others such as education.

In response to criticism, the EU points out that its aid to the Palestinian territories increased overall by 26 percent to $700 million last year and costs of essential services that would normally fall on the government, such as medical care, allowances and the provision of electricity and fuel, have been paid through the TIM. The EU response, however, misses the point. [complete article]
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Report: Palestinians abandon 1,000 Hebron homes under IDF, settler pressure
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, May 14, 2007

A report by two major Israeli civil rights organizations that was issued Sunday indicates that Palestinians abandoned more than 1,000 homes and at least 1,829 businesses in the center of Hebron due to pressure by the Israel Defense Forces, the police and Jewish settlers. Many of those referred to fled during the second intifada, beginning in September 2000.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) and B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Civil Rights in the Occupied Territories, claim that a "policy of separation on a national basis" is being imposed in Hebron.

In areas of the city close to the settlers' neighborhoods, at least 1,014 residential units (41.9 percent of the total number of homes in the area) were abandoned by their residents. Of these, 659 (65 percent) were abandoned during the second intifada. In addition, 76.6 percent of the businesses were abandoned, 1,141 (62.4 percent) of them during the same period; at least 440 were closed by IDF order. [complete article]

See also, Where silence reigns: Israel's separation policy and forced eviction of Palestinians from the center of Hebron (Joint report of B'Tselem with The Association for Civil Rights in Israel).
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Will Fort Dix plotters turn out to be the next 'Seas of David'?
By Paul McLeary, CJR Daily, May 9, 2007

Foiling terrorist plots against the United States is no laughing matter, and with the arrest of six men in New Jersey yesterday who were allegedly planning to attack Fort Dix, the threat has been brought home once again.

It's hard for the press not to run with stories of possible domestic terrorism, and for good reason -- it's serious and scary business. That said, not all plots are created equal, and lumping them all together into one grab bag of thwarted domestic terrorism cases is something reporters should avoid, especially given some of the absurd plots that have been uncovered over the last couple years. This is not to say that all leads shouldn't be investigated -- they should -- or that anyone discovered in any stage of planning an attack shouldn't be scooped up -- they should-- but we've seen a couple of cases in the last few years be blown way out of proportion, and that makes us wonder what the Fort Dix story will become. [complete article]
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War vs. democracy: untold stories from the Lynch/Tillman hearing
By Diane Farsetta, Center for Media and Democracy, May 11, 2007

What does it mean to be a nation at war? Is it possible to exercise democratic control over a wartime government that dismisses honest criticism as unpatriotic? What should citizens do when members of their military not only commit crimes -- as happens during every war -- but also rely on propaganda to hide mistakes and to embellish or even create victories, as happened in the cases of Army Ranger Pat Tillman and Private Jessica Lynch?

Those are big questions, but a few things are clear. One is that the secrecy, deception and constraints sought by wartime administrations are anathema to the transparency, accountability and freedom necessary to democracy. As James Madison warned, "Of all the enemies of public liberty, war is perhaps the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other." [complete article]
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It is not only God that will be Blair's judge over Iraq
By Avi Shlaim, The Guardian, May 14, 2007

Tony Blair's opposition to an immediate ceasefire in the Lebanon war last summer precipitated his downfall. Now that he has announced the date of his departure from Downing Street, his entire Middle East record needs to be placed under an uncompromising lens.

Blair came to office with no experience of, and virtually no interest in, foreign affairs, and ended by taking this country to war five times. Blair boasts that his foreign policy was guided by the doctrine of liberal interventionism. But the war in Iraq is the antithesis of liberal intervention. It is an illegal, immoral and unnecessary war, a war undertaken on a false prospectus and without sanction from the UN.

Blair's entire record in the Middle East is one of catastrophic failure. He used to portray Britain as a bridge between the two sides of the Atlantic. By siding with America against Europe on Iraq, however, he helped to destroy the bridge. Preserving the special relationship with America was the be all and end all of Blair's foreign policy. He presumably supported the Bush administration over Iraq in the hope of exercising influence on its policy. Yet there is no evidence that he exercised influence on any significant policy issue. His support for the neoconservative agenda on Iraq was uncritical and unconditional. [complete article]
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The flight from Iraq
By Nir Rosen, New York Times, May 13, 2007

At a meeting in mid-April in Geneva, held by Antonio Guterres, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, the numbers presented confirmed what had long been suspected: the collapse of Iraq had created a refugee crisis, and that crisis was threatening to precipitate the collapse of the region. The numbers dwarfed anything that the Middle East had seen since the dislocations brought on by the establishment of Israel in 1948. In Syria, there were estimated to be 1.2 million Iraqi refugees. There were another 750,000 in Jordan, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran, 40,000 in Lebanon and 10,000 in Turkey. The overall estimate for the number of Iraqis who had fled Iraq was put at two million by Guterres. The number of displaced Iraqis still inside Iraq's borders was given as 1.9 million. This would mean about 15 percent of Iraqis have left their homes.

Most of this movement has occurred in the last two years. An outflow began after the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003. But since the upsurge of violence following the bombing of a Shiite holy site in Samarra 14 months ago, the flight has been large and constant. It now reaches a rate of up to 50,000 people per month. [complete article]
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Jihad deja vu
By William Dalrymple, Los Angeles Times, May 13, 2007

In early May 1857 -- 150 years ago this month -- the British empire found itself threatened by the largest and bloodiest anti-colonial revolt to face any European empire anywhere in the world during the 19th century.

The British had been trading in India through the East India Co. since the early 1600s. But in the late 1700s, the dynamic had begun to shift. A new group of conservatives came to power, determined to radically expand British power abroad and to defend the economic interests of Britain against all threats. The governor general of India, Lord Wellesley, called his new, aggressive approach the "forward policy." Wellesley was determined to establish British dominance over all its European rivals, and he firmly believed in removing hostile Muslim regimes preemptively if they presumed to resist the West's growing power.

There were many voices in the right-wing press supporting this view. They argued that the puppet Muslim allies that effectively allowed the empire to run their affairs could stay for the time being, but that those governments that were intent on resisting the advance of the West were simply not to be tolerated.

Nor was there any doubt who would be the first to go: a dictator whose family had usurped power in a military coup. According to British sources close to government, he was "a cruel and relentless enemy," an "intolerant bigot," a "furious fanatic" who had "perpetually on his tongue the projects of jihad." This dictator was also deemed to be an "oppressive and unjust ruler ... [and a] perfidious negotiator."

Wellesley had arrived in India in 1798 with specific instructions to effect regime change and replace this dictator -- Tipu Sultan of Mysore -- with a Western-backed puppet. First, however, Wellesley had to justify publicly a policy the outcome of which had already been decided in private. It was only by marshaling a body of apparently persuasive evidence against opponents that the bellyaching anti-imperialists at home -- in this case the coterie that had gathered around the statesman and political theorist Edmund Burke -- could be shut up.

It was with this in mind that Wellesley and his allies began a comprehensive campaign of vilification against Tipu, portraying him as a vicious and aggressive Muslim monster who planned to wipe the British off the map of India. This essay in imperial villain-making duly opened the way for a lucrative conquest and the installation of a more pliable regime. [complete article]
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At least 40 dead amid political violence in Pakistan
By Griff Witte, Washington Post, May 13, 2007

Clashes between government supporters and opposition activists continued in Karachi on Sunday, bringing the death toll for the weekend to about 40 in the worst political violence the nation has seen in years.

The governing Mutahidda Qaumi Movement, or MQM, blamed the opposition for provoking the fight. But opposition leaders said the MQM, a coalition partner of President Pervez Musharraf, had carried out attacks on demonstrators in a premeditated act of violence, and allowed security forces to stand by and watch while bands of gunmen fired into the crowds. They said MQM fired on protesters who were heading to the airport to welcome the nation's suspended chief justice.

Opposition leaders have called for a nationwide strike on Monday to protest the attacks. [complete article]

Pakistan's long march
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly, May 10, 2007

There is now a clear consensus in Pakistan that the "chief justice affair" is the gravest political crisis Musharraf has faced since he stole power in a coup in 1999. But there is no consensus as to how it can be resolved. Although the military government is tottering, it is not yet toppling, say analysts. And while there are exits, none are desirable for an army that covets political power. [complete article]
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U.S. Iraqi initiatives; much a do about nothing
By Burhan Al-Chalabi, Middle East Online, May 12, 2007

If the US administration is serious and honest about addressing the concerns of the international community about Iraq, they should do so by talking to the main protagonist in this conflict. That is Iraqis who refused and are resisting the occupation. The British government did not resolve the conflict in Northern Ireland by talking to the French or the Germans. They did so by talking to Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA. The situation in Iraq is no different. General Sir Micheal Rose, a former British Army Commander told the BBC "Insurgents in Iraq are right to try to force US troops out of the country". This is the present reality of the conflict in Iraq that must be faced, by the current US and UK incumbent, or their immanent future replacements.

Reacting to power sharing in the Northern Ireland assembly, Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Fein commented "I think what today proves is that dialogue and perseverance and tenacity and persistence can bring about results".

In making the case for war, dialogue and diplomacy were deliberately sidelined in favor of a pro-war agenda of deception, disinformation and misinformation. The waste of innocent lives, British, Iraqis and Americans, should now weigh heavily in favor of righting the wrongs of the war. North Ireland is a province of the UK that suffered injustice. The situation in Iraq is much more fundamental. Until the invasion, Iraq was a sovereign independent state, and a founding member of the UN. Today Iraq's territorial integrity has been violated by an act of illegal war. This is hard to accept in a nation where dignity, self respect and above all pride represent the most basic fundamentals of life. Iraqis deserves more than US initiatives that are much ado about nothing. [complete article]
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Iraq: the question
Dialogue with Rory Stewart, former Deputy Governor of the southern provinces of Maysan and Dhi Qar in the CPA, April, 20, 2007

What would I do in Iraq now? I am not an expert, but I believe that the time has come to withdraw, that our presence is infantilizing the Iraqi political system. That we're like an inadequate antibiotic. We are sufficiently strong to have turned what might have been a conventional civil war into a highly unconventional neighborhood conflict. But we're not strong enough to eliminate it entirely. At the same time I fear that, without intending to, we have discredited democracy in the eyes of many Iraqis. We have created a situation in which many Iraqis now feel that the only way to keep security is to bring back a strongman. They are extremely skeptical of our programs and suggestions for development.

I think that Iraqi politicians are considerably more competent, canny, and capable of compromise than we acknowledge. Iraqi nationalism, in my view, can trump the Shiite–Sunni divisions. Our continuing presence is encouraging Iraqi politicians to play hard-ball with each other. Were we to leave, they would be weaker and under more pressure to compromise. In our relations with the Iraqis we often blocked negotiations with Moqtada al-Sadr or Sunni insurgency leaders, or the offer of troop withdrawals and amnesties for former Baathists and insurgents, among others. Yet these will probably be elements in any kind of settlement. [complete article]
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Israeli riddle: Love Jerusalem, hate living there
By Greg Myre, New York Times, May 13, 2007

Israel is facing a challenge it never expected when it captured East Jerusalem and reunited the city in the 1967 war: each year, Jerusalem's population is becoming more Arab and less Jewish.

For four decades, Israel has pushed to build and expand Jewish neighborhoods, while trying to restrict the growth in Arab parts of the city. Yet two trends are unchanged: Jews moving out of Jerusalem have outnumbered those moving in for 27 of the last 29 years. And the Palestinian growth rate has been high.

In a 1967 census taken shortly after the war, the population of Jerusalem was 74 percent Jewish and 26 percent Arab. Today, the city is 66 percent Jewish and 34 percent Arab, with the gap narrowing by about 1 percentage point a year, according to the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

Jerusalem's profound religious and historical significance makes its status perhaps the single most explosive issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict. And that status clearly would become even more contentious were the balance of the population to tip toward the Arabs. This is a specter that worries Israelis, even as the 40th anniversary of their victory in the June 1967 war approaches. [complete article]

See also, Poll: 96% of Israeli Jews won't give up Western Wall for peace (Haaretz).
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Civilian deaths undermine war on Taliban
By Carlotta Gall and David E. Sanger, New York Times, May 13, 2007

Scores of civilian deaths over the past months from heavy American and allied reliance on airstrikes to battle Taliban insurgents are threatening popular support for the Afghan government and creating severe strains within the NATO alliance.

Afghan, American and other foreign officials say they worry about the political toll the civilian deaths are exacting on President Hamid Karzai, who last week issued another harsh condemnation of the American and NATO tactics, and even of the entire international effort here.

What angers Afghans are not just the bombings, but also the raids of homes, the shootings of civilians in the streets and at checkpoints, and the failure to address those issues over the five years of war. Afghan patience is wearing dangerously thin, officials warn.

The civilian deaths are also exposing tensions between American commanders and commanders from other NATO countries, who have never fully agreed on the strategy to fight the war here, in a country where there are no clear battle lines between civilians and Taliban insurgents. [complete article]
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