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Rice plays down hawkish talk about Iran
By Helene Cooper, New York Times, June 2, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought Friday to minimize any sense of division within the Bush administration over Iran after the head of the United Nations nuclear watchdog agency delivered a pointed warning against what he called the "new crazies" pushing for military action against Tehran.

"The president of the United States has made it clear that we are on a course that is a diplomatic course," Ms. Rice said here. "That policy is supported by all of the members of the cabinet, and by the vice president of the United States."

Ms. Rice's assurance came as senior officials at the State Department were expressing fury over reports that members of Vice President Dick Cheney's staff have told others that Mr. Cheney believes the diplomatic track with Iran is pointless, and is looking for ways to persuade Mr. Bush to confront Iran militarily. [complete article]

Comment -- We are told that "a senior Bush administration official" said, "The vice president is not necessarily responsible for every single thing that comes out of the mouth of every single member of his staff," and I guess it's possible that that anonymous official might have been Cheney himself -- it wouldn't be the first time he'd spoken anonymously about himself. Even so, it's Cheney's challenge -- not Rice's -- to prove that he's not the ringleader for "the new crazies."
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For a secular democratic state
By Saree Makdisi, The Nation, June 18, 2007

Although some people claim there are fundamental differences between the disposition of the territories Israel captured in 1967 and the territories it captured during its creation in 1948--or even that there are important moral and political differences between Israel pre- and post-1967--such sentiments of entitlement, and the use of force that necessarily accompanies them, reveal the seamless continuity of the Zionist project in Palestine from 1948 to our own time. "There are circumstances in history that justify ethnic cleansing," argues Israeli historian Benny Morris, with reference to the creation of Israel. "A Jewish state would not have come into being without the uprooting of 700,000 Palestinians. Therefore it was necessary to uproot them. There was no choice but to expel that population. It was necessary to cleanse the hinterland and cleanse the border areas and cleanse the main roads. It was necessary to cleanse the villages from which our convoys and our settlements were fired on."

Israel's post-1967 occupation policies are demonstrably driven by the same dispossessive logic. If hundreds of thousands have not literally been forced into flight, their existence has been reduced to penury. Just as Israel could have come into being in 1948 only by sweeping aside hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, Israel's ongoing colonization of Palestinian territory--its imposition of itself and its desires on the land's indigenous population--requires, and will always require, the use of force and the continual brutalization of an entire people. [complete article]
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Documents claim Israel aided Entebbe hijack
By Mark Tran, The Guardian, June 1, 2007

The Israeli secret service and radical Palestinians may have engineered the hijacking of an Air France plane that flew to Entebbe in Uganda, according to a claim in newly released government documents.

This extraordinary interpretation on the Entebbe raid was cited by a British diplomat, DH Colvin of the Paris embassy, in June 30 1976 as the world was transfixed by the hostage crisis in Entebbe, which features in the recent film The Last King of Scotland.

In a document released by the National Archives, Mr Colvin, citing an unnamed contact at the Euro-Arab parliamentary association, wrote: "According to his information, the hijack was the work of the PFLP [Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine], with help from the Israeli secret service, the Shin Beit."

Describing the collaboration as an unholy alliance, he went on: "The operation was designed to torpedo the PLO's [Palestine Liberation Organisation] standing in France and to prevent what they see as a growing rapprochement between the PLO and the Americans. [complete article]
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Time to cut Israel off
By Ramzy Baroud, Al-Ahram Weekly, May 31, 2007

South Africa's Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils whispered to me as I sat down following a most enthusiastic speech I gave at a recent conference in Cape Town: "if you want the world to heed to your call for boycotting Israel, the call has to originate from the Palestinian leadership itself."

Kasrils is obviously right. The call for boycotting the racist Apartheid government was an exclusively South African endeavour, made resonantly and repeatedly by the African National Council (ANC) and backed by the various liberation movements in the country and in exile. It took years for the dedicated campaign to be effective. The message communicated to the international community was clear and simply persuasive: put an end to Apartheid. It was but only a facet of various methods of struggle, notwithstanding the armed struggle which spread to Namibia, Angola and other African countries. Nonetheless it was a committed strategy. One of the architects of the campaign which boycotted banks involved in investing in South Africa, presented me with an elaborate plan to involve civil societies in holding to account banks that facilitate the Israeli occupation economically and thereby help to facilitate its existence. It comprised a clear strategy, a straightforward plan of action and non-negotiable demands.

Is a similar campaign possible in the Palestinian case? Many people seem to think so. In fact, calls for boycotting Israel have dotted the political landscape of the Arab-Israeli and later Palestinian-Israeli conflict for years. The main obstacle to utilising civil societies in compelling Israel to end its brutal policies against the Palestinians is that these efforts are neither centralised nor do they emanate from a respected Palestinian authority and leadership. Despite their good intentions, and their sincere solidarity, they remain uncoordinated and lack a clear set of objectives. [complete article]
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Destroying Hamas
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram Weekly, May 31, 2007

... there have been consistent reports describing a tripartite plan by Israel, the US and unidentified regional Arab governments to destroy or at least weaken Hamas for the purpose of facilitating the dismantling of the current Palestinian Authority.

According to the plan, Israel would arrest the vast bulk of the Hamas leadership in the West Bank in order to leave the Hamas rank and file leaderless and off-balance. And in the Gaza Strip, the US would pour money and weapons unto the Dahlan Camp for the purpose of strengthening it against Hamas.

With a weaker and leaderless Hamas, Abbas, the plan envisages, would dissolve the Palestinian national unity government and call for early general elections. These would be widely manipulated by American-Israeli intervention, including a pledge by them to lift the crippling embargo against the Palestinians and pay the outstanding salaries of civil servants.

Elliot Abrams, the apparent mastermind behind the plan, hopes that a sizeable majority of Palestinians would vote for a "moderate" Fatah leadership, which would eventually accept a "reasonable peace settlement" with Israel whereby the Palestinians would give up the right of return, the bulk of East Jerusalem and allow Israel to maintain most, if not all, of the West Bank settlements including Mael Adumim, Ariel, and Pisgat Zeev.

Moreover, the contemplated final settlement would also include a "Palestinian-Israeli agreement" which would allow the Jewish state to maintain an undisclosed number of military bases and early warning stations on major hilltops in the West Bank as well as in the Jordan valley, for at least 30 years. [complete article]
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Baghdad burns, Calgary booms
By Naomi Klein, The Nation, May 31, 2007

The invasion of Iraq has set off what could be the largest oil boom in history. All the signs are there: multinationals free to gobble up national firms at will, ship unlimited profits home, enjoy leisurely "tax holidays" and pay a laughable 1 percent in royalties to the government.

This isn't the boom in Iraq sparked by the proposed new oil law--that will come later. This boom is already in full swing, and it is happening about as far away from the carnage in Baghdad as you can get, in the wilds of northern Alberta. For four years now, Alberta and Iraq have been connected to each other through a kind of invisible seesaw: As Baghdad burns, destabilizing the entire region and sending oil prices soaring, Calgary booms.

Here is how chaos in Iraq unleashed what the Financial Times recently called "north America's biggest resources boom since the Klondike gold rush." Albertans have always known that in the northern part of their province, there are vast deposits of bitumen--black, tarlike goo that is mixed with sand, clay, water and oil. There are approximately 2.5 trillion barrels of the stuff, the largest hydrocarbon deposits in the world. [complete article]
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U.S. paid nearly $31 million in condolence payments to Iraqis, Afghanis
By Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy, May 31, 2007

The Department of Defense spent nearly $31 million in three years in condolence payments to civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it didn't track how it doled out the money, a Government Accountability Office report found.

The report, released Thursday, is the most detailed public study of compensation payments in the two wars. It found, for example, that the Defense Department paid $26 million to settle 21,450 claims, or an average of $1,212 per claim.

The military makes condolence payments for killing or injuring a civilian or for damaging property. Generally, Iraqis and Afghanis received up to $2,500 for property damage or death. In April 2006, military officials in Iraq raised the maximum payment to $10,000. In addition, U.S. officials began paying the relatives of Iraqi soldiers and police who were killed because of U.S. operations, the report states.

But the department doesn't indicate how many of those payments went for killed civilians, injured civilians or for property damage. U.S. officials have never released statistics on how many civilians have been killed by U.S. troops. [complete article]
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An egghead for the Oval Office
By Eugene Robinson, Washington Post, June 1, 2007

Al Gore has been in town launching his new book, "The Assault on Reason," and you could have predicted the buzz: Is he about to jump into the race? What you probably wouldn't have predicted is the counter-buzz that Gore, poor fellow, is just too ostentatiously smart to be elected president.

In the book, you see, Gore betrays familiarity with history, economics, even science. He uses big words, often several in the same sentence. And in public appearances he doesn't even try to disguise his erudition. These supposedly are glaring shortcomings that should keep Gore on the sidelines, rereading Gibbon and exchanging ideas about the structure of the cosmos with Stephen Hawking.

Leave aside the question of whether Gore is even thinking about another presidential run, or how he would stack up against the other candidates. I'm making a more general point: One thing that should be clear to anyone who's been paying attention these past few years is that we need to go out and get ourselves the smartest president we can find. We need a brainiac president, a regular Mister or Miss Smarty-Pants. We need to elect the kid you hated in high school, the teacher's pet with perfect grades.

When I look at what the next president will have to deal with, I don't see much that can be solved with just a winning smile, a firm handshake and a ton of resolve. I see conundrums, dilemmas, quandaries, impasses, gnarly thickets of fateful possibility with no obvious way out. Iraq is the obvious place he or she will have to start; I want a president smart enough to figure out how to minimize the damage. [complete article]
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Norway resumes aid to Palestinians
AP, June 1, 2007

Norway resumed direct aid to the Palestinian administration with a $10 million transfer, after it became the first Western country to recognize the new Hamas-led coalition, the foreign minister said Thursday.

"We hope our contribution will help ease the social crisis the Palestinians are now going through," said Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere. He said the aid will be used to pay wages for civilian public servants. [complete article]
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Surprising conversations
By Ze'ev Schiff, Haaretz, June 1, 2007

A few days after the Six-Day War, major general Ariel Sharon asked me to come to his office. Sharon, who had been the commander of a division, was already considered one of the war's heroes. Sharon's appointment to this position had been an emergency one; at the end of the war he returned to his regular job as head of the training division in the General Staff.

Sharon had a highly unusual request of me. "I would like to ask you not to criticize prime minister Levy Eshkol anymore," he said. I expressed amazement on how it was possible that he, of all people, who had levied such harsh criticism on the prime minister during the war, was approaching me with a request like this. "What happened? What's the reason for this change of heart?" I asked.

Sharon replied frankly. "Understand," he said, "at a time like this in particular, after the victory, it's desirable that Israel should have a weak prime minister. This will make it possible to quickly transfer the Israel Defense Forces' training camps and military exercises to the West Bank. That will be my job, and that's what I will have to deal with as head of the training division. A weak prime minister will be wary of interfering in a move of this kind. But he must not be made too weak; otherwise he could be toppled." [complete article]
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Repudiation, not impeachment
By Scott Ritter, Truthdig, May 31, 2007

The impeachment of President Bush would not in and of itself terminate executive unilateralism. It would only limit its implementation on the most visible periphery, driving its destructive designs back into the shadows of government, away from the public eye, and as such, public accountability. Impeach President Bush, yes, if in fact he can be charged with the commission of acts which meet the constitutional standard for impeachment (and I believe he could, if Congress only had the will to do its job). But to truly heal America, we must repudiate everything President Bush stands for, in terms of not only public and foreign policy, but also in terms of his style of governance, since the former is derived from the latter.

Repudiation is a strong term, defined as "rejecting as having no authority or binding force," to "cast off or disown," or to "reject with disapproval or condemnation." In my opinion, the complete repudiation of the presidency of George W. Bush is the only recourse we have collectively as a people to not only seek redress for the wrongs committed by the Bush administration, but also to purge society of this cancer that threatens to consume and destroy us as a whole, and which would continue to manifest itself in our system of governance even after any impeachment proceedings.

Like any cancerous growth, the Bush administration has attached its malignancy to the American nation in a cruel fashion, its poisonous tentacles stretching deep into our national fabric in a manner that makes difficult the task of culling out the healthy from the diseased. But we cannot truly repudiate something without its complete and utter elimination from our midst. As such, there must be a litmus test to help us differentiate the good from the bad, that which must be restored from that which must be eliminated. For me, there is only one true test: that of constitutionality. [complete article]

Comment -- America, as a nation founded on ideals, is a nation that shuns its own shadow. It holds aloft the emblems of those ideals -- none loftier than the Constitution itself -- while straining to avoid a clear and cold account of the history that has made it what it is. For that reason, repudiating everything that the Bush presidency stands for -- disowning the malignancy that this administration has become -- might merely provide a salve to the American conscience, as though the president and his policies never actually claimed widespread support.

As much as Bush can be accused of having led this country astray, he can equally be accused of having mirrored its sentiments all too faithfully. In the worst possible way, he gave the people what they wanted.

That the population by and large passively acquiesced to a foreign policy that received very little critical scrutiny is a reflection of this country's enduring ignorance of the world and the sense that America's destiny is not intertwined with the fate of humanity.

Ignorance, however, should never be confused with innocence.

The political indifference among ordinary Americans that oiled the wheels of the neoconservative endeavor, rested on a casual assumption that letting Washington do what Washington does would have no lasting impact on our ability to live as we choose. The Faustian bargain that the American people made and still makes with Washington is that we will not bother too greatly about what you do in our name, if in exchange we can carry on with the business of business.

* * *

America as a religion will always be plagued by self-infatuation. Alternatively, if we were to see ourself as merely another nation we might be better disposed to recognize our own flaws and see ourself as one among many rather than the One above all.

Scott Ritter, as a devout, evangelical, and well-meaning congregant in the American religion sees the present time as "the Constitution's time of need." The salvation of America rests, in his mind, in the defense of the Constitution. That's true, but only when we think in terms of America as an ideal.

America as an actuality must first own before it can disown the ugliness that it hopes to transcend. The greatest challenge for any people that over-invests in hope is not in striving for a better future but in facing a stark reality.

In his litany of repudiations, Ritter exhorts us to:
Repudiate consumerism, especially the virulent form it takes in the selfish framework of American-centric capitalism.
Certainly! But then America would not be America. This consumerism is no mere appendage to the American way of life -- it is the heart of the machine.

The insularity and indifference through which the American people provide their own government with such latitude, is a product of the consumerism that Ritter (and I) detest. Collective interdependence has been cast off in exchange for personal comfort and independence -- a societal transition that would be extremely difficult to reverse. Having taken care of our own needs so well, we have little compulsion to be concerned about the needs of others. Our material comfort sustains our political torpor.

Before we utter our repudiations, first we must engage in a steady reckoning: take full account of what we are and see what we have done.
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Bush sees long-term role for troops
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2007

President Bush would like to see the U.S. military provide long-term stability in Iraq as it has in South Korea, where thousands of American troops have been based for more than half a century, the White House said Wednesday.

Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, told reporters that Bush believes U.S. forces eventually will end their combat role in Iraq but will continue to be needed in the country to deter threats and to help handle potential crises, as they have done in South Korea.

The United States has 30,000 troops in South Korea; its military presence there dates to the 1950-53 Korean War. [complete article]

See also, Can the Iraq 'surge' be salvaged? (WSJ).
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Time for 'Plan B-H' in Iraq?
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, May 31, 2007

President Bush said publicly last Thursday what his top aides have been discussing privately for weeks. He talked about a transition to "a different configuration" in Iraq after the surge of U.S. troops is completed this summer. When pressed on whether he was talking about a post-surge Plan B, Bush answered: "Actually, I would call that a plan recommended by Baker-Hamilton, so that would be a Plan B-H."

Let's make sure we've got that right: This would be the same Baker-Hamilton plan whose authors were lampooned by the conservative New York Post in December as "surrender monkeys"? The same Baker-Hamilton report that seemed to be all but buried by Bush's January embrace of a surge of 30,000 U.S. troops into Iraq?

Yes, that same Baker-Hamilton plan now seems to be official White House policy. Administration officials insist that the president supported it all along, though you could have fooled me. Now it's back -- six months later than it should have been, with six extra months of political poison to corrode its bipartisan spirit. But better late than never. [complete article]

See also, Endgame ahead (David Broder) and The lessons of Vietnam (Henry Kissinger).
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Fear and celebration greets Hariri tribunal vote by U.N.
By Nico Hines, The Times, May 31, 2007

The Lebanese parliament has until now been unable to agree over the scope and remit of a tribunal to study the circumstances of the former Prime Minister's death.

The Security Council voted yesterday by 10-0 in favour of the tribunal, but five countries abstained. Russia, China, South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar objected to using Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which deals with threats to international peace and allows military enforcement, as a basis for the resolution.

Wang Guangya, the Chinese ambassador to the UN, warned that only a tribunal supported by all Lebanese factions would be effective.

The council's move "will give rise to a series of political and legal problems, likely to add to the uncertainties embedded in the already turbulent political and security and situation in Lebanon," he said. [complete article]
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Internal conflict and paralysis is corroding our credibility
By Ahmad Samih Khalidi, The Guardian, May 31, 2007

There was something both deeply sad and painfully predictable about last week's scenes of renewed internecine violence on the streets of Gaza. For Palestinians everywhere, there is nothing worse than the spectre of a civil war, not only because it is so reprehensible in itself, but also because the moral grounding of the Palestinian cause is thereby undermined: if Palestinians are so ready to kill each other the question is inevitably raised, why should anyone feel sympathy for them in their struggle with Israel?

But that was not all. In the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared in north Lebanon, the Lebanese army was battling it out with the renegade Islamist faction Fatah al-Islam. After sustaining unexpected casualties in a surprise attack by the faction, the army retaliated with a largely indiscriminate bombardment of the camp, leaving many civilian casualties. The Lebanese army's actions echoed those of Israel in Gaza, posing yet another pernicious question: if an Arab army is allowed to assault Palestinian civilians in pursuit of "terrorists", who can blame the Israelis for doing the same?

The actions in Gaza and north Lebanon represent a new low for a cause that has become accustomed to setbacks, retreats and defeats. Just days before the 40th anniversary of the six-day war of June 1967, the sight of Palestinian civilians fleeing Nahr al-Bared, terrified children clinging to women with meagre belongings carried on their heads, evoked the very worst images of recent Palestinian history. [complete article]
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Jihadist groups fill a Palestinian power vacuum
By Steven Erlanger and Hassan M. Fattah, New York Times, May 31, 2007

Hamas's choice to enter politics and the Palestinian government created an opening for a [jihadist] minority who think that the group is giving up its principles -- its opposition to Israel and commitment to "resistance."
"Hamas has sold out so it can keep a hold of a third of government," [al Qaeda leader, Ayman al-Zawahri]... said. "But what government? A government that doesn't even have the right to enter or leave without Israeli permission."

The criticism stung, Mr. Rabbani, ... [a Jordanian-based] Palestinian analyst, noted. Hamas, which had dismissed Mr. Zawahri's criticism a year before as irrelevant, chose to answer in detail.

But after a year in power, Hamas had little to show, making the criticism more pointed. Its coalition deal with Fatah has not ended the Western diplomatic and financial isolation of the Hamas-led government.

"Hamas is heading in the direction of being neither fish nor fowl," Mr. Rabbani said. "They're neither engaged in a meaningful political process or in military action, while claiming to be both and having found the magic formula for reconciling the two."

In an atmosphere of increasing disillusionment, he noted, it is Hamas, powerful in Gaza, which is also most at risk. "The emergence of anything like Al Qaeda in Gaza will be a much more significant threat to Hamas than to Fatah," he said. [complete article]

Comment -- When Hamas first arose there were those in Israel who believed that the group might undermine Palestinian nationalism and provide a useful "counterweight" to the PLO. Moreover, the group's political value was not diminished by its use of violence. As UPI's Richard Sale wrote:
...some in Israel saw some benefits to be had in trying to continue to give Hamas support: "The thinking on the part of some of the right-wing Israeli establishment was that Hamas and the others, if they gained control, would refuse to have any part of the peace process and would torpedo any agreements put in place," said a U.S. government official who asked not to be named.

"Israel would still be the only democracy in the region for the United States to deal with," he said.
As jihadist groups now start to emerge in Gaza and the refugee camps in Lebanon, it appears that there is an Israeli-US faction that similarly sees this as a welcome development. Among those who scoff at the idea that the Palestinians would ever be willing to live in peace alongside the Jewish state, there is an enduring hope that the Palestinian will can be utterly crushed. Steady pressure from Israel, although ostensibly intended to force compromise among Palestinian leaders, has on the contrary made the Palestinian government seem ineffectual and opened the door to those who believe that any kind of political engagement is inherently flawed.

A year ago, Israel had the opportunity to engage with a Hamas-led government with political legitimacy and the capacity to enforce security agreements. That opportunity has been squandered because of the false assumption that it serves Israel's interests to weaken Hamas. Come the day that it is widely recognized that, relatively speaking, Hamas represents a moderate political force that answers to a broad political constituency, it may be too late to turn that fact to anyone's advantage.
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In Lebanon's camps, rising sympathy for Islamists
By Nicholas Blanford, Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2007

A two-month police crackdown against suspected extremists, and the killing of a Lebanese Islamist last week, is stirring anger among residents of this city and a backlash of sympathy for Islamic militants battling Lebanese troops near here.

Tripoli, a traditionally conservative Sunni Muslim city, has long been fertile ground for the growth of Islamic radicalism. And analysts and religious leaders here say that dozens of foreign militants – many of them veterans of the war in Iraq – have relocated to Tripoli in recent months, some of them joining Fatah al-Islam, a new Al Qaeda-linked faction bottled up in the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, 10 miles to the north.

The presence of foreign fighters and the week-long battles between the Lebanese Army and Fatah al-Islam are giving rise to concerns that groups inspired by Al Qaeda are seeking to take advantage of Lebanon's political turmoil to establish a foothold here. [complete article]
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A new/old idea for Palestinian peace
By Ilene R. Prusher, Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2007

It was almost 40 years ago that this city, like the rest of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, fell out of Jordanian hands and into Israeli control in the course of the Six-Day War.

Call it retro geopolitics, or history repeating itself, but the idea of the Palestinian territories – at least the West Bank – rejoining the Hashemite Kingdom to form some kind of confederation seems to be gaining traction on both sides of the Jordan River.

The concept has been raised quietly before but was deemed taboo, in part because Palestinian leaders feared it could squelch their larger aspirations for an independent state.

But given the deteriorating security in the Palestinian territories amid an ongoing power struggle between Fatah and Hamas, some Palestinians are again looking east to Jordan – a country whose majority population is of Palestinian descent. Jordan's King Abdullah II – concerned about a full collapse of the Palestinian Authority as well as unilateral Israeli moves in the West Bank – is increasingly involved in bringing opinion-shapers and would-be peacemakers together to reconsider the idea. [complete article]
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Guantanamo inmate found dead
By Peter Walker, The Guardian, May 31, 2007

A Saudi detainee at Guantanamo Bay has been found dead in a suspected suicide, authorities at the US prison camp said today.

"The detainee was found unresponsive and not breathing in his cell by guards," the military said in a statement.

The statement described the death as "apparent suicide", but did not identify the prisoner or say exactly how he died. He was pronounced dead "after all lifesaving measures had been exhausted", it added. [complete article]

See also, U.S.: dead detainee was of high value (AP).
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Analysis: Islam, democracy not mutually exclusive
By Mel Frykberg, Middle East Times, May 16, 2007

Islam and democracy are not mutually exclusive concepts, argues Diaa Rashwan, an Egyptian specialist on Islamist ideology and the Muslim Brotherhood.

"What is needed is a broadening of the concept of democracy and respect for other cultures and civilizations outside the narrow Western perspective," said Rashwan, who is the director of the Comparative Politics Unit at the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and editor-in-chief of Directory of World Islamic Movements.

Several Egyptian analysts have debated the pace of political reform and the implementation of democracy in Egypt with some arguing that the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, particularly in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood, has hobbled the pace of progressive change. Other analysts argued that in fact Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) conveniently use the Brotherhood as an excuse to prevent serious reform and as a way to continue their tenuous grip on power.

Rashwan concurs with the latter theory. "From the beginning of the Mubarak era we had the Emergency Law, which gave the police broad sweeping powers of surveillance and arrest of political opponents. This law was used against all opposition groups and movements, covering the entire political spectrum from left to right, not just the Muslim Brotherhood," Rashwan told the Middle East Times. [complete article]

Egypt: Faces of a crackdown
Human Rights Watch, May 30, 2007

When Human Rights Watch began videotaping interviews with former detainees from Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, researchers asked whether the subjects might face repercussions for speaking out about their detentions.

"They've all been in jail before, some many times over. The government's arresting people all the time," replied Ahmad 'Izz al-Din, a newspaper editor and the press secretary to the supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood. "They will be arrested again sooner or later. Sooner, later -- what's the difference?"

A few weeks later, on December 14, 2006, State Security and police officers arrested 'Izz al-Din at his home in a predawn raid. [complete article]
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U.S., Saudis at odds over TV station
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, May 31, 2007

Outraged by video footage of bloody attacks on American troops, U.S. officials have worked for about half a year to close down a satellite television station that promotes the cause of Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgents to millions of viewers in the region.

Yet Al Zawraa is still beaming calls for violent resistance -- thanks to one of America's most important Mideast allies, Saudi Arabia. [complete article]
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Pakistan losing territory to radicals
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, May 29, 2007

The rise of a powerful cleric exposes economic and political failures in a government-administered area. [complete article]

Moderate voices from a Pakistani city
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, May 30, 2007

In Kohat, near Pakistan's restive tribal areas, many say the remote border regions need more government engagement to curb rising extremism. [complete article]

Pakistani girls' schools in radicals' sights
By David Montero, Christian Science Monitor, May 31, 2007

As militancy surges in Pakistan's remote tribal areas, girls' schools have become targets. Despite the threats, girls' enrollment has continued to rise. [complete article]
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"Verschärfte Vernehmung"
By Andrew Sullivan, The Daily Dish, Atlantic Online, May 29, 2007

The phrase "Verschärfte Vernehmung" is German for "enhanced interrogation". Other translations include "intensified interrogation" or "sharpened interrogation". It's a phrase that appears to have been concocted in 1937, to describe a form of torture that would leave no marks, and hence save the embarrassment pre-war Nazi officials were experiencing as their wounded torture victims ended up in court. The methods... are indistinguishable from those described as "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the president. As you can see from the Gestapo memo, moreover, the Nazis were adamant that their "enhanced interrogation techniques" would be carefully restricted and controlled, monitored by an elite professional staff, of the kind recommended by Charles Krauthammer, and strictly reserved for certain categories of prisoner. At least, that was the original plan. [complete article]

Advisers fault harsh methods in interrogation
By Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, May 30, 2007

As the Bush administration completes secret new rules governing interrogations, a group of experts advising the intelligence agencies are arguing that the harsh techniques used since the 2001 terrorist attacks are outmoded, amateurish and unreliable.

The psychologists and other specialists, commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board, make the case that more than five years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the Bush administration has yet to create an elite corps of interrogators trained to glean secrets from terrorism suspects.

While billions are spent each year to upgrade satellites and other high-tech spy machinery, the experts say, interrogation methods — possibly the most important source of information on groups like Al Qaeda — are a hodgepodge that date from the 1950s, or are modeled on old Soviet practices.

Some of the study participants argue that interrogation should be restructured using lessons from many fields, including the tricks of veteran homicide detectives, the persuasive techniques of sophisticated marketing and models from American history. [complete article]

See also, the newly declassified Review of DoD-Directed Investigations of Detainee Abuse [PDF] and Pentagon IG report details central role of psychologists in detainee interrogations and abuse (Stephen Soldz).
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From Iraq to Algeria, al-Qaeda's long reach
By Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, May 30, 2007

Al-Qaeda has rapidly extended its influence across North Africa by aiding and organizing local groups that are demonstrating a renewed ability to launch terrorist attacks in the region, such as the triple suicide bombings that killed 33 people here last month, according to counterterrorism officials and analysts.

The bombers who struck the Government Palace and a police station in Algiers, the capital, are believed to have been local residents. But Algerian authorities are examining evidence that the bombers were siphoned from recruiting pipelines that have sent hundreds of North African fighters to Iraq and perhaps were trained by veterans of the Iraqi insurgency, U.S. and European intelligence officials said.

The April 11 attacks were the first suicide bombings in this war-torn country in more than a decade and the worst strike in Algiers in several years. In terms of tactics and targets, however, they mirrored scores of recent bombings in Iraq, right down to the photos of the three "martyrs" posted on the Internet hours later by a group claiming to act on behalf of al-Qaeda. [complete article]

See also, Group in Algeria turned to al-Qaeda for assistance (WP.
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Exit from Iraq should be through Iran
By William E. Odom, YaleGlobal, May 29, 2007

Increasingly bogged down in the sands of Iraq, the US thrashes about looking for an honorable exit. Restoring cooperation between Washington and Tehran is the single most important step that could be taken to rescue the US from its predicament in Iraq. Understanding why requires some historical reflection.

Since the mid-1950s, US policy in the Middle East and Persian Gulf region was implicitly based on three pillars – Israel, Iran and Saudi Arabia. As the British withdrew, Washington established nervous but lasting ties with Saudi Arabia. At the same time, the US built strong relations with the shah of Iran. After 1948, when it recognized the new state of Israel, the US slowly became a guarantor of that new state's survival. London's role in the entire region became marginal, especially after the Suez crisis in 1956, when President Dwight Eisenhower abruptly stopped the joint British-Israeli military operation to seize the Suez Canal. [complete article]
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Rice cautions Israel on Syria
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, May 30, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday cautioned against a growing sentiment in Israel to pursue peace with Syria instead of with warring Palestinian factions, saying there is "no substitute" for creating a Palestinian state.

Rice, who will discuss the stalled peace process with diplomats here Wednesday, has worked for months to lay the groundwork for Palestinians and Israelis to begin discussing what she calls a "political horizon" -- the parameters of a possible Palestinian state.

But with violence erupting between Palestinian factions -- and with Israel under constant attack from rockets launched from the Gaza Strip -- Rice has faced criticism from some outside experts for spending so much time on a diplomatic long shot, rather than seeking to quickly end the violence. [complete article]

Defiant Hamas leader says attacks on Israel will go on despite heavy human cost in Gaza
By Ian Black, The Guardian, May 30, 2007

The Hamas leader, who helped Saudi Arabia broker February's Mecca agreement creating a Palestinian unity government, ending clashes with the rival Fatah movement, blamed outsiders for recent renewed fighting between the two sides.

"Palestinians have made some mistakes and wrong bets," he admitted. "But negative foreign intervention, especially by the US and Israel, is responsible for these internal conflicts." US financial support and training for Fatah is intended to boost its ability to control security and confront Hamas.

Problems have been compounded by the siege imposed on the Palestinian Authority by the US and EU after Hamas won democratic elections in 2005, Mr Mashal said.

"The siege is collective punishment, and a crime. And the crime is even worse after the Mecca agreement because Palestinians had expected the siege would be lifted.

"Now the international community is trying to undermine Hamas. That will lead to an explosion that will be in the face of the Israeli occupation. The damage will affect the stability of the entire region." [complete article]

The sixty year wound
By Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, May 30, 2007

The bloody battles that have erupted around the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp near Tripoli in Lebanon remind us that the refugee problem has not disappeared. On the contrary, 60 years after the "Nakba", the Palestinian catastrophe of 1948, it is again the center of attention throughout the world.

This is an open wound. Anyone who imagines that a solution to the Israel-Arab conflict is possible without healing this wound is deluding himself.

From Tripoli to Sderot, from Riyadh to Jerusalem, the Palestinian refugee problem continues to cast its shadow across the whole region. This week, the media were again full of photos of Israeli and Palestinian refugees fleeing from their homes and of mothers mourning the death of their loved ones in Hebrew and Arabic--as if nothing had changed since 1948. [complete article]

See also, British lecturers back boycott of Israel (The Guardian).
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In north Iraq, Sunni Arabs drive out Kurds
By Edward Wong, New York Times, May 30, 2007

The letter tossed into Mustafa Abu Bakr Muhammad's front yard got right to the point.

"You will be killed," it read, for collaborating with the Kurdish militias. Then came the bullet through a window at night.

A cousin had already been gunned down. So Mr. Muhammad and three generations of his family joined tens of thousands of other Kurds who have fled growing ethnic violence by Sunni Arab insurgents here and moved east, to the safety of Iraqi Kurdistan.

"We had our home in Mosul and it was good there, but things are now very bad between Arabs and Kurds," said Mr. Muhammad, 70, standing outside his new, scorpion-infested cinderblock house in the nearby town of Khabat.

While the American military is trying to tamp down the vicious fighting between rival Arab sects in Baghdad, conflict between Arabs and Kurds is intensifying here, adding another dimension to Iraq's civil war. Sunni Arab militants, reinforced by insurgents fleeing the new security plan in Baghdad, are trying to rid Mosul of its Kurdish population through violence and intimidation, Kurdish officials said. [complete article]

See also, Turkey-Iraq border tension grows (BBC), U.S. transfers three provinces to Kurdish Regional Government control (IraqSlogger), and Kurds drawn into Iraq's firing line (IPS).
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Iranian arms to Taliban may be retaliation for U.S. policy
By Jonathan S. Landay, McClatchy, May 29, 2007

"The Iranians don't want the Taliban back," said Barnett Rubin, a leading scholar on Afghanistan who met with Iranian officials during a recent visit to Kabul. "That is a red line for them."

Tehran quietly supported the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban in 2001, still has better relations with Afghanistan than with any of its other neighbors do, has poured some $200 million into reconstruction projects in Afghanistan and is profiting from brisk cross-border commerce. Moreover, Tehran and Kabul have been cooperating closely in other areas, including fighting trafficking in Afghanistan's record-high opium production.

U.S. officials and experts think that Iran's apparent shift in Afghanistan is part of a wider response by hard-liners, led by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to what they consider the Bush administration's efforts to destabilize the Islamic Republic.

The reported interceptions of Iranian arms in Afghanistan have coincided with an American air and naval buildup in the Persian Gulf, the detentions of five Iranian operatives in Iraq and a U.S.-led crackdown on Iraqi Shiite militias aligned with Tehran.

Iran, they said, appears to be sending a warning that it can raise the cost to the United States and its allies in Afghanistan and elsewhere if the Bush administration continues pressing Iran to halt its suspected nuclear-weapons program and its support for Shiite militias in Iraq and radical groups in Lebanon, the Palestinian territories and elsewhere.

"They do want to bleed the United States and its allies," said a U.S. intelligence official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. "What you are seeing now is potentially only a small taste of what could be done." [complete article]
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Iran makes last minute delegation change before U.S. meeting
By Ali Nourizadeh, Asharq Al-Awsat, May 29, 2007

Tehran has dispatched three officers from the IRGC and the Al Quds force intelligence who are involved in Iranian affairs, as well as a diplomat who is a specialist in Iraqi affairs, to Baghdad to accompany Ambassador Kazemi-Qomi in his meeting with Ambassador Ryan Crocker and those accompanying him, according to a source from Asharq Al-Awsat.

The Iranian delegation will present a paper containing preliminary claims that Tehran believes need to be achieved as a serious first step towards a comprehensive settlement of the problems that have existed between the two countries since the past 28 years.

The demands include:

- Putting an end to all activities that aim at destabilizing the regime in Tehran, including the propaganda against the Iranian regime broadcast by the ‘Voice of America’ satellite channel, which has a large audience in Iran.

- The expulsion of elements of Mujahedin el-Khalq (MEK) from Iraq as a goodwill gesture, especially since the US considers MEK and the affiliated resistance council as terrorist organizations.

This is despite the fact that American forces allowed approximately 3,000 members of the MEK to remain in Iraq after they were disarmed at Camp Ashraf in the al Khales area (60 kilometers north of Baghdad) and remain under the tight grip of a Bulgarian battalion. Tehran believes that Washington might use these elements, as it did in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance forces, to stir up unrest in Iran and in preparation for its potentially possible military attack.

- The release of the five detained officers of Al-Quds Corps who were arrested over four months ago in the area of Arbil in northern Iraq. Releasing dozens of Iraqis of Iranian origin who were detained by US forces in Iraq on various charges, including mediating in terrorist activities and supporting terrorists.

- The cancellation of arbitrary measures against Iranian clerics coming to Iraq to study in the hawzas of Najaf and Karbala, and to allow Iranians to visit holy shrines regularly without subjecting them to interrogation or provocative procedures. [complete article]

See also, U.S., Iran open dialogue on Iraq (WP).
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Tripoli: The Salafi gateway
By Sanaa al Jack, Asharq Alawsat, May 27, 2007

Terrorism inspired by religious fanaticism was always considered a frightening myth that many in Lebanon refused to acknowledge despite all warnings that indicated otherwise.

However, the myth became a reality with the confrontation between the militant Fatah al-Islam group and the Lebanese army currently taking place at Nahr al Bared and Tripoli in northern Lebanon.

The clash at the camp is the bloodiest internal conflict in Lebanon since the civil war ended 17 years ago, and poses a long term threat to Lebanon's internal security.

Fatah al Islam is not the forerunner of violent extremism in Lebanon. The 1990s saw a similar phenomena that was born and based in Palestinian refugee camps, with the emergence of groups like Osbat al-Ansar; (who are accused of murdering Sheik Nazar al Halabi, the chairman of the Islamic Societies, in late August 1995.) and Jund al Sham, which formed in May 2004 and supports the Islamic caliphate concept, and are one of the many active Islamic militant groups in the Palestinian Ain al Hilweh refugee camp located in the southern Lebanese city of Sidon. [complete article]
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Al-Qaida inspired militant group calls on Syrians to kill country's president
AP, May 29, 2007

A militant Islamic group inspired by Al-Qaida called on the Syrian people Monday to assassinate their country's president, a day after the government held a referendum on granting him a second term.

Abu Jandal al-Dimashqi, the self-declared leader of Tawhid and Jihad in Syria, also urged all Arabs to topple their leaders, accusing them of being renegades, in an audiotape posted on a Web site commonly used by Islamic militants.

"Our people in Syria, how do you accept to be ruled by the vulgar Nassiries (Alawites) ... rise up as one man to chop their legs and heads," al-Dimashqi said in the 45-minute audiotape, the authenticity of which could not be verified. [complete article]

Comment -- So this group would like to see Syrian President Bashar Assad beheaded, while Ayman al-Zawahiri is calling for an Islamic "greater Syria" in which Assad would obviously be unwelcome, and yet we're supposed to believe that al Qaeda-sympathetic Fatah al Islam is acting in the interests of the Syrian regime. Really?
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Al-Qaeda chief urges Iraqis to export jihad
By Uzi Mahnaimi, The Times, May 27, 2007

The deputy leader of Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, has urged supporters in Iraq to extend their "holy war" to other Middle Eastern countries.

In a letter sent to the leader of Al-Qaeda in Iraq in the past few weeks, Zawahiri claims that it is defeating US forces and urges followers to expand their campaign of terror.

He conjures a vision of an Islamic state comprising Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, where Al-Qaeda has already gained its first footholds.

The goal of an Islamic "greater Syria", first outlined by Zawahiri two years ago, is detailed in the letter amid growing concern about the activities of new groups under Al-Qaeda's influence in the countries concerned. [complete article]
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A Shi'ite storm in the making
By Babak Rahimi, Asia Times, May 30, 2007

Post-Ba'athist Iraqi politics are undergoing a dramatic change, and the Sadrists and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), formerly known as the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), are leading the way by bringing a major shift in the balance of power.

With the gradual decomposition of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's national-unity government, mainly dominated by Shi'ite and Kurdish parties, Iraq is entering a new political era. As splintered political factions, such as the Sadrists, seek to form a new coalition made up of Sunni parties, formerly exiled Shi'ite groups such as Da'wa and the SIIC face new challenges in maintaining a dominant political bloc in Baghdad.

Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's call to create a "reform and reconciliation project", which would include Sunnis, is a radical departure from his sectarian base, which was formed with the United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) and under the spiritual leadership of Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in 2004. [complete article]
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Bush and the generals
By Michael Desch, Foreign Affairs, May 29, 2007

It is no secret that the relationship between the U.S. military and civilians in the Bush administration has deteriorated markedly since the start of the Iraq war. In 2006, according to a Military Times poll, almost 60 percent of servicemen and servicewomen did not believe that civilians in the Pentagon had their "best interests at heart." In its December 2006 report, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group -- of which Robert Gates was a member until President George W. Bush tapped him to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense last year -- explicitly recommended that "the new Secretary of Defense should make every effort to build healthy civil-military relations, by creating an environment in which the senior military feel free to offer independent advice not only to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon but also to the President and the National Security Council."

But the tensions in civil-military relations hardly started with Iraq; the quagmire there has simply exposed a rift that has existed for decades. During the Vietnam War, many military officers came to believe that their unquestioning obedience to civilian leaders had contributed to the debacle -- and that, in the future, senior military leaders should not quietly acquiesce when the civilians in Washington start leading them into strategic blunders. [complete article]
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Special operations: high profile, but in shadow
By Thom Shanker, New York Times, May 29, 2007

Every night in Iraq, American Special Operations forces carry out as many as a dozen raids aimed at terrorist leaders allied with Al Qaeda, other insurgent fighters and militia targets. Their after-action reports are the first thing that Gen. David H. Petraeus, the senior American commander in Baghdad, reads the next day.

The missions also are closely watched by senior policy makers in Washington, who differ on whether the small number of elite units should focus on capturing and killing leaders of the group that calls itself Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and foreign fighters in Iraq, or whether the greater threat comes from the Sunni- and Shiite-based insurgency.

In the shadows of the troop increase ordered by President Bush, Special Operations forces conduct between 6 and 12 missions every night across the country. A vast majority -- between 80 percent and 90 percent -- are aimed at Qaeda-allied targets, while the rest attack other extremist elements, say senior military officers in Baghdad and Pentagon officials. [complete article]

Comment -- Now if we didn't already know that these are impeccably trained American soldiers serving their country, this would sound very much like the use of death squads performing extra-judicial killings. The Pentagon is famous for not doing body counts and I wonder whether the "targets" here all end up in unmarked graves?
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Beyond American hegemony
By Michael Lind, The National Interest, May/June, 2007

Precisely because the hegemony strategy is so alien to American and international foreign policy traditions, and so potentially costly in its open-ended strategic and budgetary commitments, many of its supporters have suggested that it should be kept secret from the wider American public, since it is so at odds with what most Americans think. In the January/February 2007 issue of The National Interest, Daniel Drezner summed up the general public's view:
To be sure, Americans are comfortable with the idea of America as a superpower. This does not mean, however, that the public endorses unilateral American leadership... .[I]n every Pew survey since 1993, fewer than 15 percent of Americans endorsed the idea that America should be the "single world leader"... .Americans do not shrink from uses of force to advance security interests, but it is far from the first resort for the public. When acting abroad, polling demonstrates robust American support for acting in concert with allied countries and, to some extent, multilateral institutions.
Michael Mandelbaum concedes, in his book The Case for Goliath: How America Acts as the World's Government in the 21st Century, that the case for U.S. global hegemony might not "persuade the American public, which might well reject the proposition that it should pay for providing the world with government services. American citizens see their country's foreign policy as a series of discrete measures designed to safeguard the interests, above all the supreme interest of physical security, of the United States itself. They have never been asked to ratify their country's status as the principal supplier of international public goods, and if they were asked explicitly to do so, they would undoubtedly ask in turn whether the United States ought to contribute as much to providing them, and other countries as little, as was the case in the first decade of the twenty-first century."

So he concludes that it may be necessary to keep the American public in the dark because "the American role in the world may depend in part on Americans not scrutinizing it too closely." [complete article]
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Who's behind the fighting in North Lebanon?
By Franklin Lamb, Counterpunch, May 24, 2007

To understand what is going on with Fatah al-Islam at Nahr el-Bared one would want a brief introduction to Lebanon's amazing, but shadowy 'Welch Club'.

The Club is named for its godfather, David Welch, assistant to Secretary of State Rice who is the point man for the Bush administration and is guided by Eliot Abrams.

Key Lebanese members of the Welch Club (aka: the 'Club') include:
  • The Lebanese civil war veteran, warlord, feudalist and mercurial Walid Jumblatt of the Druze party( the Progressive Socialist Party or PSP)

  • Another civil war veteran, warlord, terrorist (Served 11 years in prison for massacres committed against fellow Christians among others) Samir Geagea. Leader of the extremist Phalange party and its Lebanese Forces (LF) the group that conducted the Israel organized massacre at Sabra-Shatilla (although led by Elie Hobeika, once Geagea's mentor, Geagea did not take part in the Sept. 1982 slaughter of 1,700 Palestinian and Lebanese).

  • The billionaire, Saudi Sheikh and Club president Saad Hariri leader of the Sunni Future Movement (FM).
  • Over a year ago Hariri's Future Movement started setting up Sunni Islamist terrorist cells (the PSP and LF already had their own militia since the civil war and despite the Taif Accords requiring militia to disarm they are now rearmed and itching for action and trying hard to provoke Hezbollah).

    The FM created Sunni Islamist 'terrorist' cells were to serve as a cover for (anti-Hezbollah) Welch Club projects. The plan was that actions of these cells, of which Fatah el-Islam is one, could be blamed on al Qaeda or Syria or anyone but the Club.

    To staff the new militias, FM rounded up remnants of previous extremists in the Palestinian Refugee camps that had been subdued, marginalized and diminished during the Syrian occupation of Lebanon. Each fighter got $700 per month, not bad in today's Lebanon.

    The first Welch Club funded militia, set up by FM, is known locally as Jund-al-Sham (Soldiers of Sham, where "Sham" in Arabic denotes Syria, Lebanon, Palestine & Jordan) created in Ain-el-Hilwa Palestinian refugee camp near Sidon. This group is also referred to in the Camps as Jund-el-Sitt (Soldiers of the Sitt, where "Sitt" in Sidon, Ain-el-Hilwa and the outskirts pertain to Bahia Hariri, the sister of Rafiq Hariri, aunt of Saad, and Member of Parliament).

    The second was Fateh-al-Islam (The name cleverly put together, joining Fateh as in Palestinian and the word Islam as in Qaeda). FM set this Club cell up in Nahr-al-Bared refugee camp north of Tripoli for geographical balance.

    Fatah el-Islam had about 400 well paid fighters until three days ago. Today they may have more or fewer plus volunteers. The leaders were provided with ocean view luxury apartments in Tripoli where they stored arms and chilled when not in Nahr-al-Bared. Guess who owns the apartments?

    According to members of both Fatah el-Islam and Jund-al-Sham their groups acted on the directive of the Club president, Saad Hariri.
    So what went wrong? "Why the bank robbery" and the slaughter at Nahr el-Baled?

    According to operatives of Fatah el-Islam, the Bush administration got cold feet with people like Seymour Hirsh snooping around and with the White House post-Iraq discipline in free fall. Moreover, Hezbollah intelligence knew all about the Clubs activities and was in a position to flip the two groups who were supposed to ignite a Sunni ­Shia civil war which Hezbollah vows to prevent.

    Things started to go very wrong quickly for the Club last week.

    FM "stopped" the payroll of Fateh el-Islam's account at the Hariri family owned back.

    Fateh-al-Islam, tried to negotiate at least 'severance pay' with no luck and they felt betrayed. (Remember many of their fighters are easily frustrated teenagers and their pay supports their families). Militia members knocked off the bank which issued their worthless checks. They were doubly angry when they learned FM is claiming in the media a loss much greater than they actually snatched and that the Club is going to stiff the insurance company and actually make a huge profit. [complete article]

    Comment -- In his most recent report, Franklin Lamb says, "Will try to send results shortly of my interviews with 11 Fatah al-Islam fighters regarding who paid them and got them travel documents and weapons and what was their mission. There was no bank robbery by them. That was a fake story put out by the Welch Club. Sorry I misreported it. BBC was suckered."

    A Dutch reporter, Sietske Galama, asks "Who is Franklin Lamb?," and says, "if he's for real, he's real good." Galama notes, "The man is right now inside the Palestinian camp Nahr el-Bared. While all of us journalists are sort of hovering on the outskirts of the camp, this man actually went inside. Or at least that is what he writes."

    From the little that I could find out, Lamb is described as an "international lawyer," is or was a researcher at the Center for Arab and Middle East Studies, American University of Beirut, and is the author of The price we pay: a quarter-century of Israel's use of American weapons against civilians in Lebanon (1978-2006).

    For broader analysis of this story, see Missing Links' A possible explanation and The war scenario.
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    Militants widen reach as terror seeps out of Iraq
    By Michael Moss and Souad Mekhennet, New York Times, May 27, 2007

    Militant leaders warn that the situation in Lebanon is indicative of the spread of fighters. "You have 50 fighters from Iraq in Lebanon now, but with good caution I can say there are a hundred times that many, 5,000 or higher, who are just waiting for the right moment to act," Dr. Mohammad al-Massari, a Saudi dissident in Britain who runs the jihadist Internet forum,, said in an interview on Friday. "The flow of fighters is already going back and forth, and the fight will be everywhere until the United States is willing to cease and desist."

    There are signs of that traffic in and out of Iraq in other places.

    In Saudi Arabia last month, government officials said they had arrested 172 men who had plans to attack oil installations, public officials and military posts, and some of the men appeared to have trained in Iraq.

    Officials in Europe have said in interviews that they are trying to monitor small numbers of Muslim men who have returned home after traveling for short periods to Iraq, where they were likely to have fought alongside insurgents.

    One of them, an Iraqi-born Dutch citizen, Wesam al-Delaema, was accused by United States prosecutors of making repeated trips to Iraq from his home in the Netherlands to prepare instructional videos on making roadside bombs, charges he denies. He was extradited to the United States in January and charged with conspiring to kill American citizens, possessing a destructive device and teaching the making or use of explosives.

    In an April 17 report written for the United States government, Dennis Pluchinsky, a former senior intelligence analyst at the State Department, said battle-hardened militants from Iraq posed a greater threat to the West than extremists who trained in Afghanistan because Iraq had become a laboratory for urban guerrilla tactics.

    "There are some operational parallels between the urban terrorist activity in Iraq and the urban environments in Europe and the United States," Mr. Pluchinsky wrote. "More relevant terrorist skills are transferable from Iraq to Europe than from Afghanistan to Europe," he went on, citing the use of safe houses, surveillance, bomb making and mortars.

    A top American military official who tracks terrorism in Iraq and the surrounding region, and who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the topic, said: "Do I think in the future the jihad will be fueled from the battlefield of Iraq? Yes. More so than the battlefield of Afghanistan." [complete article]

    Comment -- The line used to be, "we're fighting them over there so that we don't have to fight them here." Instead, we created a massive bootcamp for international jihadists who are now scattering far and wide in search of opportunities to apply their newfound skills.

    This was predictable, yet in the narrative of the war on terrorism, terrorists were paradoxically seen as finite in number -- thus capable of being hunted down -- even while they supposedly constituted a global threat. Had we instead recognized that terrorism manifests at the conjunction of a set of circumstances, we might have given more attention to those circumstances that engender terrorism than to terrorism itself.
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    As allies turn foe, disillusion rises in some G.I.'s
    By Michael Kamber, New York Times, May 27, 2007

    Staff Sgt. David Safstrom does not regret his previous tours in Iraq, not even a difficult second stint when two comrades were killed while trying to capture insurgents.

    "In Mosul, in 2003, it felt like we were making the city a better place," he said. "There was no sectarian violence, Saddam was gone, we were tracking down the bad guys. It felt awesome."

    But now on his third deployment in Iraq, he is no longer a believer in the mission. The pivotal moment came, he says, this February when soldiers killed a man setting a roadside bomb. When they searched the bomber's body, they found identification showing him to be a sergeant in the Iraqi Army.

    "I thought: 'What are we doing here? Why are we still here?' " said Sergeant Safstrom, a member of Delta Company of the First Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division. "We're helping guys that are trying to kill us. We help them in the day. They turn around at night and try to kill us." [complete article]
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    Report: Terrorism not focus of Homeland Security
    Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University, May 27, 2007

    Among the key findings of the study are the following:
  • Despite repeated claims by high officials of the Bush Administration that fighting terrorism has been the central mission of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) since it began operating, the data show that in the last three years a claim of terrorism was made against only 12 (0.0015%) out of 814,073 individuals against whom the DHS has filed charges in the immigration courts.

  • A separate, but somewhat broader, grouping of immigration court cases concern what are called "national security" charges. Here, an examination of the data in the FY 2004 to 2006 period revealed that such charges were made against only 114, or 0.014% of the 800,000-plus individuals. When it comes to actual removals, the record is even smaller, with DHS being credited for only 37 such cases in the three year period.

  • Similarly, while combating human traffickers, drug dealers, and other kinds of traditional criminals has also been repeatedly proclaimed as a central mission of the immigration enforcement agencies within the DHS, the records show that these kinds of allegations were made against only 13 out of 100 of all individuals charged in the courts since FY 2004.

  • In fact, according to the detailed case-by-case information obtained from the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR), practically all the charges — 86.5% of them — involved a variety of immigration violations such as entering the U.S. without an inspection, not having a valid immigrant visa, or overstaying a student visa.
  • [complete report]
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    I lost my son to a war I oppose. We were both doing our duty
    By Andrew J. Bacevich, Washington Post, May 27, 2007

    Memorial Day orators will say that a G.I.'s life is priceless. Don't believe it. I know what value the U.S. government assigns to a soldier's life: I've been handed the check. It's roughly what the Yankees will pay Roger Clemens per inning once he starts pitching next month.

    Money maintains the Republican/Democratic duopoly of trivialized politics. It confines the debate over U.S. policy to well-hewn channels. It preserves intact the cliches of 1933-45 about isolationism, appeasement and the nation's call to "global leadership." It inhibits any serious accounting of exactly how much our misadventure in Iraq is costing. It ignores completely the question of who actually pays. It negates democracy, rendering free speech little more than a means of recording dissent.

    This is not some great conspiracy. It's the way our system works. [complete article]

    Comment -- Perhaps the most telling difference between the antiwar movement against the war in Vietnam, and that opposed to the war in Iraq, is that the former took place within a milieu of thoroughgoing questioning and criticism of American culture.

    Evidence that the current movement lacked the appetite to challenge not simply the administration but more broadly the values of the culture, was apparent early on in the war when protesters adopted the cute, PR-savvy slogan, "support the troops -- bring them home." A lesson from Vietnam was that opposition to the war should not be directed at those participating in it -- even though now, unlike then, participation was not compelled by a draft. The new antiwar movement dared not risk allowing itself to be cast as an anti-American movement.

    In the shadow of 9/11, dissent has been at pains to demonstrate its patriotic vigor. While holding on to some inchoate sense of America's wholesomeness, we prefer to see the nation as having been misled into war rather than bear responsibility for our own willing acquiescence.

    In truth, American troops are now stuck in Iraq because most Americans were willing to accept the flimsiest of justifications for war. Bush and Cheney tricked the nation and Congress into supporting the war but it's easier to focus on their trickery than on the ease with which this country could be tricked. What does it say about a country (and not simply its government) that war could be embarked upon so casually?

    The war in Iraq -- the casual war -- won popular support for no better reason than that it served to boost American pride in the aftermath of the humiliation of 9/11. The promise of an easy victory sealed the deal.

    That there is now popular opposition to the war says nothing about any self-knowledge or critical awareness that America as a nation might have acquired in the last four years. Now, just as then, America sees itself set apart from the world. An adventure in domination has turned sour; in its wake comes the desire to retreat. The world we cannot master, remains a world by which we still seem unwilling to be instructed.
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    Now that Bush has talked about our kids, can we ask about his?
    By John Dickerson, Slate, May 27, 2007

    During his press conference Thursday, the president got personal when talking about the threat from al-Qaida terrorists. "They are a threat to your children, David," he said to NBC's David Gregory. It's an understandable instinct. To persuade, we try to appeal to common experience. Policy debates can get abstract. Mention someone's children, though, and they get concrete fast. The president found this such a useful tool that he used it a second time in the same press conference. "I would hope our world hasn't become so cynical that they don't take the threats of al-Qaida seriously, because they're real, and it's a danger to the American people," he said in response to a question about the war from Jim Rutenberg of the New York Times. "It's a danger to your children, Jim."

    For Bush, this line of argument is not a two-way street. Over the years, reporters have been censured and scowled at for asking about the president's or vice president's children in the context of a policy debate. The tone was set in the early months of 2001. After the president publicly urged parents to talk to their children about drugs and drinking, Houston Chronicle reporter Bennett Roth asked then-press secretary Ari Fleischer if Bush had taken his own advice with his daughters, one of whom had just been cited for underage drinking. Roth got no answer. He was later told ominously that his question had "been noted in the building," as if he should expect to wake to the sight of a horse head. [complete article]

    Comment -- The hallmark of sanity -- something that surely ought to be a job requirement for any U.S. president -- is a sense of proportion. Without a sense of proportion, it is impossible to prioritize and to formulate a sane agenda.

    In the upcoming presidential election, I can think of no better way of testing each candidate's sense of proportion than to ask: Which poses the greatest threat to our children? Al Qaeda or global warming?
    [permanent link to this entry] [home]

    Get Carter
    By Gaby Wood, The Observer, May 27, 2007

    Is [Jimmy] Carter a valiant truth-teller, or a dangerous loose cannon? Conservatives this past week have been happy to embrace the latter view. The New Republic's editor-in-chief, Marty Peretz, said when Carter's Palestine book was published in the US late last year that the former president, who famously brokered a peace treaty between Israel and Egypt in the 1970s, would 'go down in history as a Jew-hater'. Last week he added that 'besides his other sins Carter is a downright liar'. Christopher Hitchens, writing in Slate, said that 'worst in history' was 'a title for which [Carter] has himself been actively contending since 1976'. Thus, an unlikely side-effect of Carter's comments was that Peretz and Hitchens, sworn enemies for a quarter of a century, were suddenly united. 'Carter brought together [Egyptian president Anwar] Sadat and [Israeli prime mister Menachem] Begin,' Carter's former speechwriter Hendrik Hertzberg told me, speaking of the Camp David Accords of 1978, 'and now he's brought together Hitchens and Peretz - you can't say he didn't deserve his Nobel Peace Prize.'

    To his supporters, the only surprise was that in a television interview the following Monday, Carter attempted to retract some of his statement, appearing to regret breaking an unspoken rule - that past presidents do not insult current incumbents. 'I thought he was holding back,' Carter's former communications director Jerry Rafshoon told me later. 'Just foreign policy? How about domestic policy? How about everything? There's a misconception that ex-presidents aren't supposed to talk about a current administration. But he's been out of office almost 30 years, and he thinks the country is being hurt by this president: why should he hold back? I mean, what is the statute of limitations on keeping your mouth shut?' [complete article]
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    Strife foreseen in Iraq exit, but experts split on degree
    By Michael R. Gordon and Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, May 27, 2007

    There is one matter on which American military commanders, many Iraqis and some of the Bush administration's staunchest Congressional critics agree: if the United States withdrew its forces from Baghdad’s streets this fall, the murder and mayhem would increase.

    But that is where the agreement ends. The wrangling in Washington over war financing, still fierce despite the Democrats' decision to forgo for now withdrawal deadlines, has obscured a more fundamental debate over what Iraq's future might look like without American troops. [complete article]

    U.S. security contractors open fire in Baghdad
    By Steve Fainaru and Saad al-Izzi, Washington Post, May 27, 2007

    Employees of Blackwater USA, a private security firm under contract to the State Department, opened fire on the streets of Baghdad twice in two days last week, and one of the incidents provoked a standoff between the security contractors and Iraqi forces, U.S. and Iraqi officials said.

    A Blackwater guard shot and killed an Iraqi driver Thursday near the Interior Ministry, according to three U.S. officials and one Iraqi official who were briefed on the incident but spoke on condition of anonymity because of a pending investigation. On Wednesday, a Blackwater-protected convoy was ambushed in downtown Baghdad, triggering a furious battle in which the security contractors, U.S. and Iraqi troops and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters were firing in a congested area.

    Blackwater confirmed that its employees were involved in two shootings but could neither confirm nor deny that there had been any casualties, according to a company official who declined to be identified because of the firm's policy of not addressing incidents publicly.

    Blackwater's security consulting division holds at least $109 million worth of State Department contracts in Iraq, and its employees operate in a perilous environment that sometimes requires the use of deadly force. But last week's incidents underscored how deeply these hired guns have been drawn into the war, their murky legal status and the grave consequences that can ensue when they take aggressive action. [complete article]
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    Talking to Iran - or talking war?
    By Adam Zagorin, Time, May , 2007

    When representatives of the U.S. and Iran meet in Baghdad on Monday, it will mark the first substantive encounter between the two sides since before the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Officially, the agenda is supposed to include security in Iraq, avoiding the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West, and other contentious issues.

    But the talks are occurring in an atmosphere of mutual suspicion, in which confrontational invective is growing. Just days after the U.S.-Iran meeting, a group of powerful neo-conservatives -- including some of those who were most active in promoting the invasion of Iraq -- plan to gather for an all-expenses-paid conference entitled "Confronting The Iranian Threat: The Way Forward" at a luxurious resort in the Bahamas. Many of the 30 or so invited guests have been strident critics of Iran and hard-liners on maintaining the U.S. presence in Iraq. They include six current Bush Administration officials -- among them U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad and his wife, Undersecretary of State Paula Dobriansky -- as well as think-tank academics, conservative opinion columnists and Uri Lubrani, the top adviser on Iran to Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Though it is not clear how many will actually attend the conference, a spokesman for the organizers, the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the meeting was intended "to bring together a wide range of experts to examine all options for dealing with Iran." [complete article]

    Bush sanctions 'black ops' against Iran
    By Tim Shipman, Sunday Telegraph, May 27, 2007

    President George W Bush has given the CIA approval to launch covert "black" operations to achieve regime change in Iran, intelligence sources have revealed.

    Mr Bush has signed an official document endorsing CIA plans for a propaganda and disinformation campaign intended to destabilise, and eventually topple, the theocratic rule of the mullahs.

    Under the plan, pressure will be brought to bear on the Iranian economy by manipulating the country's currency and international financial transactions.

    Details have also emerged of a covert scheme to sabotage the - Iranian nuclear programme, which United Nations nuclear watchdogs said last week could lead to a bomb within three years. [complete article]

    U.S. to tell Iran how it could help steady Iraq
    By Robin Wright, Washington Post, May 27, 2007

    "Iran has every advantage in these talks -- in geography, demography and time -- and they know it. Iran has better relations with every political party, militia and warlord in the Shiite and Kurdish communities than we do. It has the best intelligence apparatus in Iraq. And it has the advantage of a religious relationship with the majority population that is unique," said Bruce Riedel, a Middle East expert at the Brookings Institution who previously served at the National Security Council and the CIA.

    U.S. and Iraqi forces uncovered a new cache of bomb-making equipment from Iran and large amounts of Iranian cash in a Wednesday raid on Baghdad's Sadr City, according to U.S. military officials. The Bush administration will lay out details tomorrow about Iranian war material used by Iraqi extremists against U.S. troops, a pattern that has increased since late last year, U.S. officials said. Washington is particularly concerned about explosively formed projectiles, which can pierce armor and have killed many U.S. troops in Iraq.

    A senior Iranian official said yesterday that the agenda of Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, will be to discuss "practical" ways to help the Iraqi government. But expectations are low on both sides. The talks, expected to last at least two hours, are seen as a test of intent, U.S. and Iranian officials say. [complete article]

    Ya'alon: Bring down Iran regime, send ground troops into Gaza
    By Yuval Azoulay, Haaretz, May 27, 2007

    Attempts to prevent the nuclearization of Iran will fail, according to former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Ya'alon, who asserted Saturday that the military option should be examined and the Iranian regime should be brought down. [complete article]

    See also, Iran 'uncovers U.S. spy networks' (BBC) and Tehran ignores the bluff and bluster (M K Bhadrakumar).
    [permanent link to this entry] [home]

    Interview: As'ad Abukhalil on the Nahr al-Bared siege
    Electronic Intifada, May 24, 2007

    EI: What triggered the violence in Nahr al-Bared?

    ABUKHALIL: That's where it gets really bizarre and raises a lot of questions. After the assassination of Rafiq Hariri in February 2005, the Hariri family did not trust the existing state security and intelligence forces, so with supervision and funding from the United States as well as Saudi, Jordanian and UAE support, they established their own quasi-militia called the Lebanese Internal Security Forces. They also established something called Jihaz al-Ma'alumat, the Intelligence Apparatus, which does not have a mandate to exist under Lebanese law. Be that as it may, they are now the most important security and intelligence forces in Lebanon and they are marginalizing all the others.

    Prior to the outbreak of the violence, just the day before, the Hariri newspaper Al-Mustaqbal reported on the front page about a bank robbery near Tripoli. The newspaper said this was done by Fath al-Islam. One now asks, if it was known who robbed the bank, why did the authorities not follow them on the spot to arrest them?

    According to the reports I am distilling for your readers, the Hariri security apparatus were apparently planning to do a spectacular raid on an apartment belonging to Fath al-Islam in Tripoli, and they wanted to take credit in order to impress the Lebanese viewers and they took along with them crews from Hariri TV stations. Well, they went there on that particular day to do the raid. It was botched from beginning to end. They were overwhelmed by the handful of fighters of Fath al-Islam. That's when they called in the Lebanese army. The Lebanese press reported that the Lebanese army were not told about all this and were not briefed beforehand and they just called them in on the spot after the Lebanese Intelligence and Security Forces had botched the raid that was supposed to impress the Lebanese public. [complete article]

    Lebanon gunmen dig in for 'two-year battle'
    By Harry de Quetteville, Sunday Telegraph, May 27, 2007

    Islamic fighters in the siege at Lebanon's Nahr al Bared refugee camp claim to have spent months digging underground bunkers ahead of a battle they promise will last "two years or more".

    In an echo of last summer's war in Lebanon, when Hezbollah fighters used tunnel networks to inflict casualties on Israeli troops, militants at the camp north of Beirut say they have dug in for guerrilla combat with the Lebanese army. Shihab al-Qaddour, the deputy leader of the Fatah al Islam group, promised that his band of several hundred "battle-hardened" fighters had built extensive subterranean fortifications.

    "We are prepared for a battle that will last two years or more," he said in an interview with the London-based Al Hayat newspaper. "We are ready to blow up Beirut and every other place in Lebanon." [complete article]
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    Israel, U.S., and Egypt back Fatah's fight against Hamas
    By Dan Murphy and Joshua Mitnick, Christian Science Monitor, May 25, 2007

    Senior US officials in Washington on Wednesday promised ongoing military support for secular Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas amid his power struggle with Islamist Hamas as part of an $84 million aid package largely aimed at improving the fighting ability of an elite corps of loyalists from his Fatah Party.

    Israel, too, is making overtures to Mr. Abbas, reported the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Wednesday, allowing light arms to flow to members of his Presidential Guard and saying that it would allow some of the US training of his forces to take place in the West Bank.

    That policy puts the US and Israel on a highly unusual course in the history of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict: Four-square support for Fatah to contain, if not defeat, the growing power of Hamas, which won the Palestinian Authority's (PA) last election. [complete article]

    See also, Gen. Dayton admits U.S. is helping Fatah (Jerusaem Post) and U.S. and Israel push for Palestinian coup (Green Left).
    [permanent link to this entry] [home]

    Help our fight for real Democracy
    By Wael Abbas, Washington Post, May 27, 2007

    Last Thursday, I returned to my country, Egypt, after several weeks in the United States on a Freedom House fellowship. I came home full of anxiety. I feared that the authorities would arrest me as soon as I set foot on Egyptian soil.

    That didn't happen. But as I went through the airport arrival procedures, I felt that I was being closely watched and followed. Men using walkie-talkies observed me from a distance. When I joined my family members outside the terminal, they, too, told me that they had been watched while waiting for me.

    I could still be arrested. And if I am, it will be because I dared to speak the truth about President Hosni Mubarak's regime, which continues to receive billions in foreign aid from the U.S. government -- including funds ostensibly intended to support democracy. It will be because I dared to expose the actions that have made Mubarak's administration one of the world's foremost violators of human rights, according to human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House.

    I am an Egyptian blogger. And the Mubarak regime is out to get me and others like me. [complete article]
    [permanent link to this entry] [home]

    Hunt for 'traitors' splits Taliban
    By Jason Burke, The Observer, May 27, 2007

    Taliban insurgents fighting in Afghanistan and Pakistan have been hit by a wave of defections and betrayals that has resulted in a witch-hunt within the militant movement.

    The news has boosted morale among commanders of the Nato operation in Afghanistan, which includes more than 6,000 British soldiers. The British contingent has struggled to contain the insurgency in the country's southern provinces over the past 18 months. Last week saw renewed violence with a series of suicide bombings.

    However, two of the Taliban's most senior commanders have now been killed after being betrayed by close associates. Up to a dozen middle-ranking commanders have died in airstrikes or other operations by Afghan, Nato or Pakistani forces based on precise details of their movements received from informers. Few details have been publicly released, but senior military sources speak of 'major hits' that they wish they could talk about openly. [complete article]
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