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Welcome to 'Palestine'
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, June 16, 2007

How troublesome the Muslims of the Middle East are. First, we demand that the Palestinians embrace democracy and then they elect the wrong party - Hamas - and then Hamas wins a mini-civil war and presides over the Gaza Strip. And we Westerners still want to negotiate with the discredited President, Mahmoud Abbas. Today "Palestine" - and let's keep those quotation marks in place - has two prime ministers. Welcome to the Middle East.

Who can we negotiate with? To whom do we talk? Well of course, we should have talked to Hamas months ago. But we didn't like the democratically elected government of the Palestinian people. They were supposed to have voted for Fatah and its corrupt leadership. But they voted for Hamas, which declines to recognise Israel or abide by the totally discredited Oslo agreement.

No one asked - on our side - which particular Israel Hamas was supposed to recognise. The Israel of 1948? The Israel of the post-1967 borders? The Israel which builds - and goes on building - vast settlements for Jews and Jews only on Arab land, gobbling up even more of the 22 per cent of "Palestine" still left to negotiate over ? [complete article]
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Fatah militants storm parliament
BBC News, June 16, 2007

Fatah gunmen have stormed the Hamas-controlled Palestinian parliament building in Ramallah in the West Bank.

The gunmen reportedly tried to seize the Palestinian Legislative Council's second deputy speaker, Hassan Khuraishah, but staff intervened.

Mr Khuraishah told the BBC he had been beaten up as he tried to prevent Fatah gunmen from raising their flag. [complete article]
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Iran strategy stirs debate at White House
By Helene Cooper and David E. Sanger, New York Times, June 16, 2007

A year after President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced a new strategy toward Iran, a behind-the-scenes debate has broken out within the administration over whether the approach has any hope of reining in Iran’s nuclear program, according to senior administration officials.

The debate has pitted Ms. Rice and her deputies, who appear to be winning so far, against the few remaining hawks inside the administration, especially those in Vice President Dick Cheney's office who, according to some people familiar with the discussions, are pressing for greater consideration of military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. [complete article]
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Iraq contractors face growing parallel war
By Steve Fainaru, Washington Post, June 16, 2007

Private security companies, funded by billions of dollars in U.S. military and State Department contracts, are fighting insurgents on a widening scale in Iraq, enduring daily attacks, returning fire and taking hundreds of casualties that have been underreported and sometimes concealed, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials and company representatives.

While the military has built up troops in an ongoing campaign to secure Baghdad, the security companies, out of public view, have been engaged in a parallel surge, boosting manpower, adding expensive armor and stepping up evasive action as attacks increase, the officials and company representatives said. One in seven supply convoys protected by private forces has come under attack this year, according to previously unreleased statistics; one security company reported nearly 300 "hostile actions" in the first four months.

The majority of the more than 100 security companies operate outside of Iraqi law, in part because of bureaucratic delays and corruption in the Iraqi government licensing process, according to U.S. officials. Blackwater USA, a prominent North Carolina firm that protects U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker, and several other companies have not applied, U.S. and Iraqi officials said. Blackwater said that it obtained a one-year license in 2005 but that shifting Iraqi government policy has impeded its attempts to renew. [complete article]
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Meshal: Hamas does not want to seize power in PA
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, June 15, 2007

Damascus-based Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal said Friday his group does not want to seize power in the Palestinian Authority, adding that Hamas recognizes Abbas as the Palestinian Authority chairman.

Addressing media in the Syrian capital, Meshal said that Hamas had not wanted to take over the Gaza Strip.

"Hamas does not want to seize power ... We are faithful to the Palestinian people," Meshal said, promising to help rebuild Palestinian homes damaged in the months of bloody infighting.

"What happened in Gaza was a necessary step. The people were suffering from chaos and lack of security and this treatment was needed," Meshal continued. "The lack of security drove the crisis toward explosion."

"Abbas has legitimacy," Meshal said, "There's no one who would question or doubt that, he is an elected president, and we will cooperate with him for the sake of national interest." [complete article]

Comment -- In the West and Israel, elected officials will say (and probably think) otherwise, but I have little doubt that in diplomatic circles it is widely recognized that the real practitioners of statesmanship right now are Khaled Meshal and Ismail Haniyeh. Unfortunately, Mahmoud Abbas (most likely at Condoleezza Rice's prompting) has already backed himself into a corner by dismissing the government and appointing a new prime minister. Hamas' leaders, nevertheless, are unequivocal in stating their bona fides as Palestinian nationalists. Is it not time for other Palestinian leaders to do the same?
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Olmert to tell Bush: We need to separate Gaza Strip, West Bank
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, June 15, 2007

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is planning to tell United States President George Bush at their meeting at the White House next Tuesday that there is an urgent need to view the West Bank and the Gaza Strip as separate entities and prevent contact between them, political sources in Jerusalem said Thursday.

According to the sources, the defense establishment is recommending a "separation policy" for the two territories, and is emphasizing the importance of "ensuring that what is happening this week in Gaza will not happen in the West Bank."

Bush and Olmert's meeting will center on Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in recent days, and they will discuss whether it is possible to move the peace process forward, and in what ways. [complete article]

See also, U.S., Israel plan to ease sanctions to boost Abbas (Reuters).

Comment -- It's clear that Israel and the U.S. are now going to vigorously pursue a strategy of divide and rule. Abbas is being offered the "bribe" of withheld taxes -- an offer he can hardly refuse since this is money that should already have gone into Palestinian government accounts. Nevertheless, what should be transparent to every Palestinian is that the strings attached to this particular "gift" are intended to strangle any hope for the creation of a Palestinian state.
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Source: Johnston's captors promise to free him within 24 hours
Haaretz, June 15, 2007

The captors of kidnapped journalist Alan Johnston have promised to release the British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent within 24 hours, a source close to the negotiations said Friday.

Hamas' armed wing issued a statement Friday, saying it was in an advanced stage of negotiations and "begun practical steps to secure [Johnston's] release."

In Damascus, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal said he was in contact with Hamas operatives in Gaza to secure the release of Johnston. [complete article]

See also, Hamas to grant amnesty to Fatah leaders (AP).
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The original sin
By Danny Rubinstein, Haaretz, May 22, 2007

In countless speeches, media interviews and street-corner conversations, Palestinians have been asking one another: How did we get to this low point? The headlines in Gaza that are on everyone's tongue say: "Israel is killing us from the air, and Hamas and Fatah are killing us on the ground."

And the question that goes along with the situation is why do we deserve this?

Without a doubt, a series of reasons - political, economic, social and others - have brought these troubles down on the Palestinians. However, the direct cause of what is happening now in the Gaza Strip is that the traditional Palestinian leadership (i.e. the top echelon of Fatah) was not prepared to transfer authority to the elected Hamas leadership. [complete article]

Comment -- Danny Rubenstein's piece is as relevant now as it was when it was published almost a month ago. And when State Department officials come out and say that the administration stands shoulder to shoulder with Fatah, everyone should recognize that as always, America's choice of allies has nothing to do with promoting democracy, simply services rendered.
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Gaza tense as humanitarian crisis looms
By David Byers, The Times, June 15, 2007

Hamas fighters patrolled an uneasy Gaza today as the Islamists appeared to be attempting to defuse tensions in the Strip by releasing imprisoned Fatah commanders.

As the territory's 1.5 million residents faced the prospect of a humanitarian crisis on the Islamists' first day in military control, the West was expected to try and bolster the waning authority of President Mahmoud Abbas.

The Islamist's military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said it had "extended an amnesty" to the Fatah fighters who it had captured yesterday, which included Fatah's head of national security, presidential commander and national security spokesman. [complete article]
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Palestinian statehood hopes in peril
By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times, June 15, 2007

The deadly factional fighting in the Gaza Strip between the militant Hamas movement and Fatah could doom the long-held Palestinian vision of uniting Gaza and the West Bank into a single independent state.

The latest clashes highlight a growing schism between the two areas, raising the possibility that the power struggle will turn them into ministates, each ruled by its own faction: Hamas in the coastal strip and Fatah in the West Bank.

The violence has dimmed hopes that Palestinians and Israelis might someday reach an agreement for side-by-side nations and raised questions over how Israel responds to having Hamas, which calls for the Jewish state's destruction, indisputably in charge in Gaza.

The severity of the latest internecine fighting is driving a growing number of Palestinians to consider drastic scenarios, including dissolving the Palestinian Authority or allowing Hamas to manage Gaza more or less on its own.

"Hamas is working toward that. They want Gaza," Hafez Barghouti, a newspaper editor in the West Bank city of Ramallah, said bitterly. "They are destroying the Palestinian national project."

It is possible that the two Palestinian factions can find a way to govern together after the fighting, which Hamas characterizes as an effort to weed out troublemakers intent on toppling the government it heads rather than as a bid to eradicate Fatah. A Hamas triumph could bring a halt to the chaos that has made Gazans miserable for months. [complete article]
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Takeover by Hamas illustrates failure of Bush's Mideast vision
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, June 15, 2007

Five years ago this month, President Bush stood in the Rose Garden and laid out a vision for the Middle East that included Israel and a state called Palestine living together in peace. "I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror," the president declared.

The takeover this week of the Gaza Strip by the Hamas militant group dedicated to the elimination of Israel demonstrates how much that vision has failed to materialize, in part because of actions taken by the administration. The United States championed Israel's departure from the Gaza Strip as a first step toward peace and then pressed both Israelis and Palestinians to schedule legislative elections, which Hamas unexpectedly won. Now Hamas is the unchallenged power in Gaza.

After his reelection in 2004, Bush said he would use his "political capital" to help create a Palestinian state by the end of his second term. In his final 18 months as president, he faces the prospect of a shattered Palestinian Authority, a radical Islamic state on Israel's border and increasingly dwindling options to turn the tide against Hamas and create a functioning Palestinian state. [complete article]
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The enemy's new tools in Iraq
By Bobby Ghosh, Time, June 14, 2007

Saif Abdallah says his inventions have helped kill or maim scores, possibly hundreds, of Americans. For more than four years, he has been developing remote-control devices that Sunni insurgents use to detonate improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the roadside bombs that are the No. 1 killer of U.S. soldiers in Iraq. The only time he ever felt a pang of regret was in the spring of 2006, when he heard that the Pentagon, in a bid to fight the growing IED menace, had roped in a team of scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Abdallah, an electronics engineer by training, once dreamed of studying for a Ph.D. there. "I thought to myself, If my life had gone differently, who knows? I might have been on that team," he says, his eyes widening as he imagines that now impossible scenario. Then he shrugs. "God decided I should be on the other side."

Thin-voiced and thickly bespectacled, Abdallah, 28, fits every geek stereotype, right down to the acne and the flash drive on his key chain. His laboratory is a workbench in the bedroom of his Baghdad home. He says his tools are primitive -- soldering irons, old printed circuit boards, discarded TV remotes and other bits of electronic detritus. But he has a talent for fashioning instruments of death from such dreck, turning an old toy walkie-talkie into a trigger for an explosion 100 yards away or programming a washing-machine timer to set off an IED two hours later. Such capacity for destruction makes him invaluable to the disparate groups that make up the Sunni insurgency, including al-Qaeda. "In our circle, everyone has heard of him," says the commander of one rebel group, al-Nasr Salahdin. [complete article]
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Robo-tripping at Abu Ghraib
By Tara McKelvey, The American Prospect, June 15, 2007

One fall morning in 2003, Sam Provance was wandering around a building complex, the 519th/325th Logistical Support Area of Abu Ghraib, and found himself alone in a small room. Part of the area had been blown out -- in some kind of mortar explosion, apparently. "There were brains splattered across the wall. The wall was red -- a really old, dark, dried-blood red. There were pieces of matter in it," he says, sitting at a table in the Hartley Inn Restaurant in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania, more than three years after the incident. "I was like, 'Oh, my God, where am I?'"

At 32, Provance has blond hair, blue eyes, and a slightly dated Goth look with a black, lace-up tunic-style shirt and "Harley Davidson boots," as he describes them. A former student at Holmes Bible College in Greenville, South Carolina, Provance is now an avid reader of the late Anton Szandor LaVey, author of The Satanic Bible. Like many whistleblowers, Provance is unconventional.

He belongs to a small group of individuals who alerted the world to the abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and in U.S.-run detention facilities in Iraq. From September 2003 to February 2004, Provance says he saw how detainees were mistreated at Abu Ghraib: A 16-year-old boy, for example, was hooded, shackled, and interrogated not because he knew anything about the insurgency but because it would upset an Iraqi general, Hamid Zabar, who was his father. Provance also heard about beatings and assaults of other detainees. He reported the abuses, but he says no one aggressively pursued the leads. Out of frustration, he agreed to appear on ABC's World News Tonight with Peter Jennings on May 18, 2004. [complete article]
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FBI finds it frequently overstepped in collecting data
By John Solomon, Washington Post, June 14, 2007

An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism.

The new audit covers just 10 percent of the bureau's national security investigations since 2002, and so the mistakes in the FBI's domestic surveillance efforts probably number several thousand, bureau officials said in interviews. The earlier report found 22 violations in a much smaller sampling.

The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway in their files, which mostly concerned suspected terrorist or espionage activities. [complete article]
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Hamas calls for Israel ties on Gaza civilian needs
Haaretz, June 15, 2007

The Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip, Fawzi Barhoum, told Haaretz on Thursday that the militant group, which earlier seized control of the last symbols of Fatah supremacy in the Strip, is interested in remaining in contact with Israel to attending to the needs of the civilian population there.

Earlier Thursday, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the unity government his Fatah party shares with Hamas, and declared a state of emergency and dismissing Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, from Hamas, and his government, which included representatives of Abbas' Fatah.

Haniyeh said early Friday that Abbas' decision to fire him and his government over Gaza violence was hasty, pledging to maintain the unity coalition. [complete article]
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'There will be no dialogue with Fatah, only the sword and the rifle'
By Paul Martin, Sonia Verma and James Hider, The Times, June 15, 2007

Triumphant Hamas fighters are planning to celebrate their final Gaza victory with Friday prayers today in the captured presidential compound of the routed secular President.

The pledge came from a leading preacher as the Islamist forces overran the last strongholds of their rivals.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President and Fatah leader, declared a state of emergency last night and dissolved the Hamas-led Government. He said that he would call new elections "as soon as the situation allows".

The President cut an increasingly weak figure, however, and such orders appeared simply to acknowledge the realities of the unfolding chaos. [complete article]

Fatah militants turn on leader who 'left them to fight without orders'
By Sonia Verma, The Times, June 15, 2007

Pulling a black ski mask over his head, Daash Qannah, a senior Fatah fighter in Nablus, loaded cans of petrol into the boot of his car and carefully placed three loaded Kalashnikov rifles on the back seat.

His fellow fighters had rounded up more than 90 Hamas loyalists across the West Bank. One was a Hamas preacher, whom they shot several times in the leg. Another was a city councillor from Ramallah.

"The kidnappings are over with, now we will start with the killing," Mr Qannah declared before driving off, with vague plans of burning Hamas buildings to the ground.

Mr Qannah and his gunmen said that they weren’t acting on anybody's orders. To them, that was precisely the problem.

In five days of fierce fighting with Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and Palestinian President, has failed to supply his forces in Gaza with any rules of engagement, raising questions about whether his political career can survive. Hamas, by contrast, appeared to be more organised and disciplined than Fatah in nearly every battle. [complete article]

Comment -- Mahmoud Abbas' declaration of an emergency and dissolution of the Palestinian government in response to Hamas' victory in Gaza, is leading many Western observers to conclude that Gaza is now in the process of becoming an Islamist state -- already dubbed from the outside as "Hamastan." That conclusion seems premature. What seems more likely is that Abbas' move has come at the urging of the U.S. and those in Fatah who still cling to their own memories of power. Ismail Haniyeh, on the other hand, has already rejected the suggestion that Gaza might become a separate Palestinian state.
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An obituary of hope
By Ian Black, The Guardian, June 14, 2007

Alvaro de Soto is hardly a household name in his native Peru, let alone in the Middle East, though he spent two years there as the United Nations special coordinator for what is still called "the peace process." But the veteran diplomat has now made an extraordinary splash with his final despatch, a valedictory time bomb that exploded all over the Guardian today - just as Gaza was exploding into what looks like fully-fledged civil war.

De Soto's frank farewell is a devastating account of two disastrous years in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and the almost total failure of international efforts to contain it, never mind to manage or resolve it. As the UN's senior man in the region, he was a fly on the wall of crucial decisions that made things even worse than they needed to be. His elegantly written 52 pages (pdf) read like an obituary of hopes that the conflict will ever be resolved. My guess is that it will be quoted in the history books for many years to come. It certainly should be scrutinised carefully by anyone involved today. [complete article]
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Hamas victory a blow to U.S. policy
By Tim McGirk, Time, June 14, 2007

The fall of Gaza to the fighters of Hamas has dealt a serious blow to U.S. policy toward the Palestinians. Thursday's announcement that President Mahmoud Abbas will dissolve the Palestinian unity government headed by Hamas and call for the deployment of an international security force in Gaza appears to confirm that the Islamist movement has decisively won the vicious battle for control of the territory that has raged between its forces and those of Abbas's Fatah movement for the past four days. Though Abbas's decision to disband the government is unlikely to be accepted by Hamas — which won the last Palestinian elections in January 2006 — the outcome of the battle effectively leaves the Palestinian Authority politically partitioned. Gaza is in the hands of Hamas, while Fatah rules the West Bank, and the prospect of turning this entity into a Palestinian state alongside Israel appears even more remote than at any time since the failure of the Camp David talks in 2000. [complete article]

See also, Hamas hails 'liberation' of Gaza (BBC) and Muslim states: No need for multinational force on Gaza-Egypt border (Haaretz).
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Gaza: another mess made in U.S.
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, June 14, 2007

Coming, as he does, from Fox News, Tony Snow is obviously a deeply cynical fellow, but this takes some beating: Asked to comment Wednesday on the bloodbath in Gaza, he answered: "Ultimately, the Palestinians are going to have to sort out their politics and figure out which pathway they want to pursue -- the pathway toward two states living peaceably side-by-side, or whether this sort of chaos is going to become a problem."

Everyone following the conflict in Gaza knows full well that the reason for the violence is not that Palestinians have not "sorted out their politics" -- they've made their political preferences abundantly clear in democratic elections, and later in a power-sharing agreement brokered by the Saudis. The problem is that the U.S. and the corrupt and self-serving warlords of Fatah did not accept either the election result or the unity government, and have conspired actively ever since to reverse both by all available means, including starving the Palestinian economy of funds, refusing to hand over power over the Palestinian Authority to the elected government, and arming and training Fatah loyalists to militarily restore their party's power. Unfortunately, after three days of some of the most savage fighting ever seen in Gaza, that strategy now lies in tatters. Fatah is, quite simply, no longer a credible fighting force in Gaza, where it has long been in decline as a credible political force. [complete article]
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Another J. Edgar Hoover?
By Kenneth D. Ackerman, Los Angeles Times, June 14, 2007

What created J. Edgar Hoover? He reigned with an iron fist as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation for 48 years, until the day he died in 1972. By then, Hoover had evolved into an untouchable autocrat, a man who kept secret files on millions of Americans over the years and used them to blackmail presidents, senators and movie stars. He ordered burglaries, secret wiretaps or sabotage against anyone he personally considered subversive. His target list included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Albert Einstein, even Eleanor Roosevelt.

Yet when Hoover showed up for his first day of work at the Department of Justice in June 1917, he was a bright 22-year-old, just out of law school. He still had boyish good looks and was cocky and driven. The country had just entered World War I, and Hoover had avoided the wartime draft. Instead, he was ready to help win the war at home, to save the country from spies and subversives.

What changed this young eager beaver into the crass, cynical tyrant of later years?

The fact is, Hoover learned his attitudes and worldview from teachers at the Justice Department during his early years there, when the country was going through a period much like today's war on terror. [complete article]

See also, Terror war legal edifice weakens (WSJ).
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The Pentagon v. peak oil
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, June , 2007

Sixteen gallons of oil. That's how much the average American soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan consumes on a daily basis -- either directly, through the use of Humvees, tanks, trucks, and helicopters, or indirectly, by calling in air strikes. Multiply this figure by 162,000 soldiers in Iraq, 24,000 in Afghanistan, and 30,000 in the surrounding region (including sailors aboard U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf) and you arrive at approximately 3.5 million gallons of oil: the daily petroleum tab for U.S. combat operations in the Middle East war zone.

Multiply that daily tab by 365 and you get 1.3 billion gallons: the estimated annual oil expenditure for U.S. combat operations in Southwest Asia. That's greater than the total annual oil usage of Bangladesh, population 150 million -- and yet it's a gross underestimate of the Pentagon's wartime consumption.

Such numbers cannot do full justice to the extraordinary gas-guzzling expense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. After all, for every soldier stationed "in theater," there are two more in transit, in training, or otherwise in line for eventual deployment to the war zone -- soldiers who also consume enormous amounts of oil, even if less than their compatriots overseas. Moreover, to sustain an "expeditionary" army located halfway around the world, the Department of Defense must move millions of tons of arms, ammunition, food, fuel, and equipment every year by plane or ship, consuming additional tanker-loads of petroleum. Add this to the tally and the Pentagon's war-related oil budget jumps appreciably, though exactly how much we have no real way of knowing. [complete article]

World oil supplies are set to run out faster than expected, warn scientists
By Daniel Howden, The Independent, June 14, 2007

Scientists have criticised a major review of the world's remaining oil reserves, warning that the end of oil is coming sooner than governments and oil companies are prepared to admit.

BP's Statistical Review of World Energy, published yesterday, appears to show that the world still has enough "proven" reserves to provide 40 years of consumption at current rates. The assessment, based on officially reported figures, has once again pushed back the estimate of when the world will run dry.

However, scientists led by the London-based Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, say that global production of oil is set to peak in the next four years before entering a steepening decline which will have massive consequences for the world economy and the way that we live our lives. [complete article]
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No drop in Iraq violence seen since troop buildup
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, June 14, 2007

Three months into the new U.S. military strategy that has sent tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq, overall levels of violence in the country have not decreased, as attacks have shifted away from Baghdad and Anbar, where American forces are concentrated, only to rise in most other provinces, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday.

The report [PDF] -- the first comprehensive statistical overview of the new U.S. military strategy in Iraq -- coincided with renewed fears of sectarian violence after the bombing yesterday of the same Shiite shrine north of Baghdad that was attacked in February 2006, unleashing a spiral of retaliatory bloodshed. Iraq's government imposed an immediate curfew in Baghdad yesterday to prevent an outbreak of revenge killings. [complete article]
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Portrait of the modern terrorist as an idiot
By Bruce Schneier, Wired, June 14, 2007

The recently publicized terrorist plot to blow up John F. Kennedy International Airport, like so many of the terrorist plots over the past few years, is a study in alarmism and incompetence: on the part of the terrorists, our government and the press.

Terrorism is a real threat, and one that needs to be addressed by appropriate means. But allowing ourselves to be terrorized by wannabe terrorists and unrealistic plots -- and worse, allowing our essential freedoms to be lost by using them as an excuse -- is wrong. [complete article]
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"I like this violence"
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 13, 2007

It is often assumed that "men of violence" always wear masks and brandish weapons, but those who stand on the sidelines and cheer the fight are also men of violence, none more so than Assistant Secretary of State and US Envoy to the Middle East, David Welch.

"I like the violence" -- these were Welch's words when fighting erupted between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza earlier this year. Welch may be in a less celebratory mood right now, but not because the violence is worse -- simply because his side (a small faction inside Fatah) is losing.

The fact that the Bush administration has been instrumental in trying to foment a Palestinian civil war has been clearly documented by Conflicts Forum, but since the press in Washington has been too timid to dig in to this story, it has largely been ignored.

But now Conflicts Forum's accusations are backed up by a diplomat of the highest rank. Just-retired UN coordinator for the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, wrote the following in May, 2007, in a confidential report [PDF] addressed to Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary-general:
...the US clearly pushed for a confrontation between Fateh and Hamas -- so much so that, a week before Mecca, the US envoy declared twice in an envoys meeting in Washington how much "I like this violence", referring to the near-civil war that was erupting in Gaza in which civilians were being regularly killed and injured, because "it means that other Palestinians are resisting Hamas".
Today, a State Department spokesman said:
We have called on others in the region to express their support for President Abbas and those Palestinian moderate political elements who have foresworn the use of violence and who have an interest in reaching a political settlement with Israel via the negotiating table and we're going to continue to support those elements and we're going to continue to support President Abbas.
Yet clearly, envoy Welch has far less interest in who foreswears the use of violence than who wins. And what seems remarkable is that Welch would shamelessly display his credentials as a man of violence in the company of those who would take offense at his blood thirst.

UN envoy: anti-Hamas rhetoric undermines democracy
By Ian Black, The Guardian, June 13, 2007

Alvaro de Soto, the just-retired UN coordinator for the Middle East, has warned that international hostility to the Palestinian Hamas movement, now fighting in the bitterly escalating civil conflict in Gaza, could have grave consequences by persuading millions of Muslims that democratic methods do not work. [complete article]

UN envoy blasts US for pro-Israeli agenda
By Harvey Morris, Financial Times, June 13, 2007

The United Nations' outgoing Middle East envoy has accused the US of using undue pressure to impose a one-sided pro-Israeli agenda on diplomacy in the region and urged Ban Ki-Moon, UN secretary-general, to consider pulling out of the international peace Quartet.

In a hard-hitting confidential report, intended for internal UN consumption, Alvaro de Soto, a veteran Peruvian diplomat who quit his Jerusalem-based post in May, said the Bush administration had forced through an international boycott of the Hamas government that had devastating consequences for the Palestinian people.

Relying on a "small clique of Palestinian interlocutors who tell them what they want to hear," Washington was persuaded Hamas could be confronted and overthrown by its internal rivals. [complete article]
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Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran
By Trita Parsi, Asia Times, June 14, 2007

US Senator Joseph Lieberman's call for cross-border bombing raids into Iran appears to be the culmination of a two-week campaign by proponents of war to put the military option center-stage in the US debate over Iran once more.

The immediate effect of reigniting the let's-bomb-Iran discussions is the undercutting of the recently initiated US-Iran talks over Iraq, which in turn will cause the military confrontation with Iran to be viewed in a new light.

Lieberman out-hawked the administration of President George W Bush on the television news show Face the Nation this past Sunday by calling for "aggressive military action against the Iranians", including "a strike over the border into Iran". Repeating accusations - by now all but abandoned by the Bush administration - of Iranian complicity in the killing of US soldiers in Iraq, the Connecticut senator's comments caused a storm on Monday. Suddenly, the military option against Iran was once more at the center of the United States' Iran debate. [complete article]
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The struggle for Kirkuk turns ugly
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, June 14, 2007

Over the weekend, the London daily Al-Hayat published a two-part interview with Jalal Talabani, the president of Iraq. Talabani, a seasoned Kurdish nationalist and Iraqi statesman, spoke of the current conditions in war-torn Iraq, hardships during his years in the underground, and made interesting references to Kirkuk, the oil-rich city that is currently witnessing much violence and which Iraqi Kurds want to be incorporated into Iraqi Kurdistan.

In 1986, as part of his Arabization process, Saddam Hussein called for the relocation of Arab families to Kirkuk, the center of Iraq's petroleum industry, to outnumber the Kurds living there. He also uprooted thousands of Kurds from Kirkuk. Since the downfall of Saddam's regime in 2003, the Kurds have been demanding Kirkuk, something that the Sunnis curtly refuse, and are returning to the city en masse.

Some observers point to the "struggle for Kirkuk" as the real reason why the Turks are seemingly so serious about invading Iraqi Kurdistan. If given to the Kurds, the city would add tremendous political, geographical and financial wealth to Iraqi Kurds, which in turn threatens neighboring country's like Turkey, Iran and Syria. [complete article]
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Attack on America
Editorial, Baltimore Sun, June 13, 2007

The Bradley University computer science student was arrested on Dec. 12, 2001, at his home in Peoria, Ill. He was charged with credit fraud, and with lying to investigators. Just before he went to trial, he was kidnapped - on the orders of President Bush. Like a lynch mob in the old South, federal agents whisked him out of the detention facility where he was being held and took him away, to a place where they could mete out their own kind of justice. He wasn't hanged - but he was held incommunicado for 16 months, and subjected, his lawyers say, to punishing physical abuse. [complete article]

Now top this, George Orwell
By Scott Horton, Harpers, June 13, 2007 is the essence of democracy, [White House press secretary, Tony Snow] suggests, for the president to place someone who is lawfully in the country on a student visa under military detention, beyond the review of any court, and torture him. Actually, the powers that Snow supposes to be vested in the president match an established category of governance that would have been easily recognizable to Aristotle. The word is tyranny: long defined as a system in which a single ruler has unchallenged power to detain and punish his subjects.
[complete article]
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The imperative dream
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 12, 2007

If there's a meaningful way of talking about "victory" in the Cold War it has little to do with capitalism defeating communism. After all, the subsequent untrammeled success of capitalism has fueled global economic growth that is burning up the planet.

What winning the Cold War really meant was that by luck rather than design, we didn't all get incinerated.

As a consequence, if the so-called "peace dividend" was to have had lasting value, it should have meant that in the newly unipolar world, a courageous American president would have championed a movement for global nuclear disarmament.

That was the golden opportunity of the 1990's -- but it was squandered. It was passed up by men like then-defense secretary, William J. Perry, who now, rather than reflect on how and why he and Bill Clinton failed the world, prefers to offer advice on how America should prepare for the day after -- the day after a nuclear bomb goes off in an American city.

And if that prospect sounds alarmist, then consider this: "Investigators believe they have uncovered the first proof that al-Qaeda supporters have been actively engaged in developing an atomic capability."

That line doesn't come from an early draft for President Bush's 2008 State of the Union speech; it comes from a largely ignored report in last Sunday's Observer -- sister paper of The Guardian, and not generally regarded as a mouthpiece for neoconservative propaganda.

A plot to transfer weapons-grade plutonium (obtained on the black market in Russia) to Iran via Sudan was disrupted in early 2006. A British company that was involved in the scheme has been shut down and one person has already been charged with attempting to proliferate 'weapons of mass destruction'.

This wasn't just a jihadist's pipedream; it was a partially executed plan of action. The report leaves many questions unanswered including what level of support, if any, was coming from either of the governments in Khartoum and Tehran. Even so, it should give pause to those, such as Daniel Pipes, who are eager to disseminate a recent report claiming that Israeli forces have "a reasonable chance of success" if they were to conduct a unilateral attack on Iran's nuclear facilities [PDF]. Though such an attack could impede Iran's efforts to become a nuclear state, it could also increase rather than diminish Israel's vulnerability to nuclear terrorism.

Meanwhile, awareness of the threat of nuclear terrorism, rather than fostering a consensus that nuclear disarmament is now a global imperative, arises at the very same time that the self-legitimized use of nuclear weapons becomes increasingly likely. For instance, in the most recent GOP presidential debate, only one candidate said that as president he would be unwilling to authorize a tactical nuclear strike against Iran.

While the Cold War saw an arms race in which the United States and Soviet Union competed in amassing nuclear arsenals for deterrence, in the post-Cold War world, the unthinkable is now being carefully considered. Long forgotten is Ronald Reagan's call for a nuclear-free world. The issue now is purely one of power: Who can assert the right to possess and use nuclear weapons?

The price for the notion that a nuclear power can say, "no options can be taken off the table," is that we thereby validate the ambitions of those who want the same options. Those with the arrogance to imagine they possess exclusive nuclear rights convince no one but themselves.

Where disarmament might once have seemed like an unattainable dream, it is now a practical imperative -- the only credible, moral, and persuasive response to the dangers of nuclear proliferation.
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Ten killed as Hamas forces seize Fatah HQ in northern Gaza Strip
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, June 12, 2007

At least 10 people were killed and dozens wounded as Hamas captured the headquarters of the Fatah-allied security forces in northern Gaza on Tuesday evening, seizing a key prize in the bloody battle for control of the Gaza Strip.

Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh both made calls for restraint Tuesday, but they went largely unheeded. Fatah announced Tuesday night that it was suspending its participation in the Palestinian unity government until the fighting stopped.

A further 15 Palestinians were killed in other clashes in the Strip on Tuesday, including six Hamas men, bringing the day's death toll to 25. Since the latest round of violence broke out Monday, 36 Palestinians have been killed. [complete article]
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U.N .envoy warns Mideast faces possibility of 'full-scale war'
AP, June 12, 2007

UN envoy Terje Roed-Larsen raised an alarm about the situation in the Middle East, warning that the region faces the possibilities of full-scale war, a fresh effort to contain the current violence, or energetic diplomacy to try to bring lasting peace.

The picture which emerges is very dark, and apparently getting darker, he told reporters on Monday, adding there are reasons for real concerns in the international community.

Roed-Larsen, the current UN envoy for Lebanon-Syria issues who for many years was the top UN Mideast envoy, said the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East has changed fundamentally over a few years.

"A few years ago, as it had been over many, many decades, the center of gravity for all the conflicts were the Israeli-Arab conflicts," he said.

"Now, there seems to be four epicenters of conflict in the region with their own dynamics, the Iraqi issues, the Iranian issues, the Syrian-Lebanese issues, and of course the heart of hearts, the traditional conflict, the Palestinian-Israeli issue." [complete article]
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U.S. relies on Sudan despite condemning it
By Greg Miller and Josh Meyer, Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2007

Sudan has secretly worked with the CIA to spy on the insurgency in Iraq, an example of how the U.S. has continued to cooperate with the Sudanese regime even while condemning its suspected role in the killing of tens of thousands of civilians in Darfur.

President Bush has denounced the killings in Sudan's western region as genocide and has imposed sanctions on the government in Khartoum. But some critics say the administration has soft-pedaled the sanctions to preserve its extensive intelligence collaboration with Sudan.

The relationship underscores the complex realities of the post-Sept. 11 world, in which the United States has relied heavily on intelligence and military cooperation from countries, including Sudan and Uzbekistan, that are considered pariah states for their records on human rights. [complete article]
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Is there a nationalist solution in Iraq?
By Robert Dreyfuss, The American Prospect, June 5, 2007

Over dinner in a quiet corner of a restaurant in Washington, D.C., a few months ago, a leading Iraqi activist and politician laid out a hopeful plan that, in his view, is the only viable political solution to Iraq's civil war: a new coalition to replace the failed, sectarian regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki with a nationalist, Sunni-Shia alliance. The Iraqi, on a brief Washington visit, is deeply involved in efforts to create a broad-based alliance within Iraqi politics that could oust Maliki. "We have a detailed plan," he said.

Many Iraqis, representing a wide range of Iraqi parties -- moderate and secular Sunni and Shia, Sunni religious parties, supporters of Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, the dissident Shia Fadhila party, the Sunni resistance-linked Association of Muslim Scholars, much of Iraq's armed, Sunni-led resistance, and various independents -- are working toward this goal, he said. [complete article]
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A conversation with Zbigniew Brzezinski
The American Prospect, May 20, 2007

Robert Kuttner: In your view, what are the prospects for some kind of big regional settlement in the Middle East? And how do the several pieces fit together?

Zbigniew Brzezinski: I think that a regional settlement is possible, provided the power that is most capable of promoting it engages itself seriously. This is not to say that it will be easy, but it is not impossible. The overwhelming element of uncertainty is whether the United States has the will and the gumption to tackle the issue. [complete article]
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The father of the Taliban: An interview with Maulana Sami ul-Haq
By Imtiaz Ali, Jamestown Foundation, May 23, 2007

Maulana Sami ul-Haq is the director and chancellor of Pakistan's famous madrassa, Darul uloom Haqqania, Akora Khattak. He has served in this post since the death of his father, Maulana Abdul ul-Haq, the founder of the madrassa, in 1988. Darul uloom Haqqania is where many of the top Taliban leaders, including its fugitive chief, Mullah Omar, attended. It is widely believed that the madrassa was the launching pad for the Taliban movement in the early 1990s, which is why Sami ul-Haq is also called the "Father of the Taliban." Besides running his madrassa, Maulana Sami has a long political history as a religious politician. He was among the founders of Pakistan's Muttahida Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) coalition of six Islamic religious parties. [complete article]
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Some in U.S. intelligence see Musharraf on his way out
By Spencer Ackerman, TPMuckraker, June 11, 2007

Since September 11, 2001, the U.S.'s Pakistan policy can be summed up in two words: Pervez Musharraf. But within the U.S. intelligence community, and in Pakistan, there's a growing belief that the U.S.-friendly military dictator's days are drawing to a close -- and possibly within the next few months. It may be time for the U.S. to face what it's long feared in the nuclear state: the prospect of chaos, rising Islamism or anti-Americanism that follows Musharraf.

But the hope -- among Pakistani military officers and politicians, to say nothing of U.S. diplomats -- is that the increasingly inept and unpopular Musharraf can be eased out of power while the U.S. slowly distances itself from him, allowing for as smooth a transition as is possible in the turbulent South Asian country. Some see the Pakistani Army remaining powerful enough to prevent a chaotic transition or an Islamist takeover. "This is going to be a Pinochet-like transition, instead of a Marcos-like one," one former Pakistani official tells TPMmuckraker. In other words, according to the ex-official, the U.S. may not stand foursquare behind its ally Musharraf until he's ultimately forced from power, as President Ronald Reagan chose with doomed Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos. [complete article]
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Post-traumatic Iraq syndrome
By Christopher J. Fettweis, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2007

Losing hurts more than winning feels good. This simple maxim applies with equal power to virtually all areas of human interaction: sports, finance, love. And war.

Defeat in war damages societies quite out of proportion to what a rational calculation of cost would predict. The United States absorbed the loss in Vietnam quite easily on paper, for example, but the societal effects of defeat linger to this day. The Afghanistan debacle was an underrated contributor to Soviet malaise in the 1980s and a factor in perestroika, glasnost and eventually the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Defeats can have unintended, seemingly inexplicable consequences.

And as any sports fan can tell you, the only thing that feels worse than a loss is an upset. An upset demands explanation and requires that responsible parties be punished.

The endgame in Iraq is now clear, in outline if not detail, and it appears that the heavily favored United States will be upset. Once support for a war is lost, it is gone for good; there is no example of a modern democracy having changed its mind once it turned against a war. So we ought to start coming to grips with the meaning of losing in Iraq. [complete article]
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Hamas captures Fatah positions
AP, June 12, 2007

Hamas fighters on Tuesday captured several positions from the rival Fatah movement and threatened to step up the offensive after a rocket-propelled grenade hit the home of the Hamas prime minister. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused his Hamas rivals of staging a coup.

There were no injuries in the early-morning attack on Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's home -- the second in two days. But the attack underscored the increasingly ruthless nature of the fighting, which has killed 18 people in recent days. Exasperated Egyptian mediators said the bitter rivals turned down an appeal to meet for truce talks. [complete article]
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'Escape is impossible'
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, June 12, 2007

The Islamist group of Jund al-Sham is believed to have no more than 50 fighters. Like other jihadi groups in the camp, some of the fighters are veterans of the war in Iraq. They are flourishing in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, which have been in place since 1948 when Palestinians fled or were expelled to make way for the creation of the state of Israel. There are 12 such established camps in Lebanon, the most well-known of which, Sabra and Shatila, were made notorious in 1982 when the South Lebanon Army massacred up to 3,500 people, many of them civilians, under the watch of the Israeli army.

In many respects, Ain al-Hilweh and other camps are the microcosm of a failed Arab state and its anger and politics: packed, crowded, frustrated, hot-housed and surrounded by guards. They reflect the politicisation, the Islamisation and the radicalisation of Arab youth all over the Middle East. Their inhabitants are oppressed and kept poor by badly managed and corrupt regimes; they are hemmed in by visa restrictions and borders that are almost impossible to cross.

For years now the secular factions, which were in the ascendant in the 1970s, have been challenged by the rising star of jihadis and fundamentalists. In the middle lies the besieged nation, filled with anger, mostly at Israel, where many of their families lived until 1948. These are the realities of not only Ain al-Hilweh but of all the Middle East. [complete article]

See also, Syrian Qaeda-inspired group warns Lebanese government (AP), Lebanon army, militants fight on at refugee camp (Reuters), and 2 aid workers slain in Lebanon (LAT).
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Federal court rules in favor of 'enemy combatant'
By Zinie Chen Sampson, AP, June 11, 2007

A divided panel from a conservative federal appeals court delivered a harsh rebuke to the Bush administration's anti-terrorism strategy Monday, ruling that U.S. residents cannot be locked up indefinitely as "enemy combatants" without being charged.

The three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the government should charge Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident and the only suspected enemy combatant on American soil, or release him from military custody.

The federal Military Commissions Act doesn't strip al-Marri of his constitutional right to challenge his accusers in court, the judges found in Monday's 2-1 decision.

"Put simply, the Constitution does not allow the President to order the military to seize civilians residing within the United States and then detain them indefinitely without criminal process, and this is so even if he calls them 'enemy combatants,'" the court said.

Such detention "would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution -- and the country," Judge Diana G. Motz wrote in the majority opinion. [complete article]
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Tribal coalition in Anbar said to be crumbling
By Joshua Partlow and John Ward Anderson, Washington Post, June 11, 2007

A tribal coalition formed to oppose the extremist group al-Qaeda in Iraq, a development that U.S. officials say has reduced violence in Iraq's troubled Anbar province, is beginning to splinter, according to an Anbar tribal leader and a U.S. military official familiar with tribal politics.

In an interview in his Baghdad office, Ali Hatem Ali Suleiman, 35, a leader of the Dulaim confederation, the largest tribal organization in Anbar, said that the Anbar Salvation Council would be dissolved because of growing internal dissatisfaction over its cooperation with U.S. soldiers and the behavior of the council's most prominent member, Abdul Sattar Abu Risha. Suleiman called Abu Risha a "traitor" who "sells his beliefs, his religion and his people for money." [complete article]

See also, U.S. arming Sunnis in Iraq to battle old Qaeda allies (NYT).

Comment -- Amidst constant flux, the one constant in Iraq is the American quest for the good story -- the light at the end of the tunnel, the glimmer on the horizon. The latest such shimmering hope was that Sunni insurgents were going to be able to root out al Qaeda and solve one of the U.S.'s thorniest problems. The assumption was that "the best counter-insurgent is the one who looks like an insurgent." But no sooner than this story starts to take hold in the imagination of many a journalist, and then we hear that the anti-Qaeda coalition is starting to splinter -- and this coming not long after one of the major insurgent groups had already announced a truce with al Qaeda.

The dilemma for the broader Sunni insurgency seems to be this: If al Qaeda was routed and US forces started pulling out, would the Sunnis stand much chance of reaching a political accommodation with the Shia, or would they thereby expose themselves even more? If a realistic political solution isn't already on offer, then the insurgency is more likely to want to rein in al Qaeda than completely force it out.

As for emerging trends that are receiving less attention but may be just as significant, the bridge-destroying campaign that began in mid-April appears to be escalating. How long will it be before this has a crippling effect on US supply lines?
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Iraq parliament votes to oust speaker
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, June 11, 2007

Iraq's parliament voted today to oust its speaker, Mahmoud Mashhadani, a day after one of his bodyguards allegedly roughed up another lawmaker, legislators said.

The parliament voted 113 to 55, with 107 members absent, to remove Mashhadani, a Sunni Arab, from his post, said an adviser to deputy speaker Khalid al Attiyah. The resolution placed Mashhadani -- who took the helm of the 275-member body last year -- on leave, in order to select a replacement who some legislators hope will be a less polarizing and combative presence. [complete article]
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Powell: It's time to close Guantanamo
By Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, June 11, 2007

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," Powell urged that the military commission system for accused terrorists be scrapped, and that detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, be taken to the United States and handled through the federal justice system. The United States continues to hold about 385 people in the detention center, despite the complaints of human rights advocates and other foreign and domestic critics. Their continued imprisonment there, he said, has "shaken the belief that the world had in America's justice system."

Responding to defenders of the current system who are reluctant to allow detainees access to lawyers and judicial protections, Powell said, "So what? Let them.... America, unfortunately, has 2 million people in jail, all of whom had lawyers and access to writs of habeas corpus.... We can handle bad people in our system."

With authoritarian world leaders citing Guantanamo to "hide their own misdeeds," he said, Guantanamo "is causing us far more damage than any good we get from it." [complete article]

Comment -- I wouldn't overestimate the world's faith in America's justice system, even before being shaken by Guantanamo. America imprisons more of its own citizens than any other country in the world. Even more than China and India combined -- in spite of the fact that together, they have eight times the population.
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11 die in Gaza infighting including top Dahlan aide
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, June 12, 2007

At least eleven Palestinians were confirmed dead Monday in clashes between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and more than 40 were injured, hours after an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire was implemented.

The clashes occured mostly near the the Shifa and Beit Hanun hospitals.

In spite of a Fatah announcement of a unilateral cease-fire, Naim al-Dahdouh, a senior member of the Hamas military wing, was killed late Monday and the exchanges of fire continued.

Earlier, senior Fatah figure Jamal Abu-Jedian, was assassinated by Hamas gunmen near his Gaza home. [complete article]
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Talking of peace, preparing for war
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, June 11, 2007

In temperatures of more than 40 degrees, Israeli soldiers are moving in formation up the slopes of Mount Hermon in full battle dress, a few miles from the Syrian border.

Down on the main plateau of the Golan Heights, new army camps are being set up and there are more military than civilian vehicles on the roads that link old battlefields and new vineyards.

Despite talk of peace, both Syria and Israel are preparing for war amid mutual distrust and confusion. "There has never been such a state of readiness since the 1980s and there is a great danger of a chain reaction if one sides makes a mistake in reading the other's intention," said Eyal Zisser, a strategic analyst at Tel Aviv University. [complete article]
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Why Albania embraces Bush
By Nicole Itano, Christian Science Monitor, June 11, 2007

Dogged by protest for much of his European tour, President Bush received a warmer welcome Sunday in Albania, a former communist country eager to show that it remains one of America's staunchest allies.

Tirana, the capital, was festooned with giant American flags and the president was greeted by Albanians in red-white-and-blue Uncle Sam top hats. Mr. Bush, the first sitting president to visit Albania, traveled down a boulevard renamed in his honor.

"We have come to give our hearts to America and to President Bush to say that we are with them in the war on terrorism and we appreciate what they have done for Kosovo and for Albanians," says Arjanit Iljazi, a nurse who waited for hours to catch a glimpse of Bush in a central square Sunday morning. [complete article]

Comment -- Well if Bush ever has to take flight and seek political asylum, here's a country where he can be assured of a warm welcome.
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Syria facing Iraqi refugee crisis
By Paul Cochrane, The Independent, June 10, 2007

A major and growing refugee crisis is developing in Syria. More than 1.4 million Iraqis have fled there since the 2003 invasion, with about 30,000 more arriving every month.

The influx is putting a massive strain on Syrian society, triggering inflation and overburdening social services. Relief agencies are struggling to handle the crisis.

With only a quarter of the £30m allocated for Iraqi refugees by the United Nations used in Syria, UN relief agencies are now appealing for further funds and assistance.

"We are looking for more funding," said Laurens Jolles, a UNHCR representative. "We encourage other agencies to come, and bilateral funding for Syrian governmental departments most affected."

The problem is particularly acute as Syria is a poor country that faces US economic sanctions and is under international pressure to cooperate over Iraq and Lebanon. There are also some 400,000 Palestinian refugees who have lived in Syria since the creation of Israel in 1948. [complete article]
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Al Qaeda's new enemy -- Iraqis
By Frederick W. Kagan, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2007

In the midst of the doubt and fear that grips the United States about Iraq today, however, it's critically important to recognize the positive trends. Iraq's Sunni Arabs, once one of the most supportive communities of Al Qaeda, are now among the most hostile, repudiating their alliance of convenience with the terrorists and risking their lives to fight with us against our worst enemies. This is a trend worth fighting to continue, and Iraqis who now stand with us at their own peril are people worth fighting for. [complete article]

Comment -- It's hardly surprising that the architect of the "surge" would be eager to celebrate a Sunni uprising against Al Qaeda, but it's a bit premature. Only a few days ago the Islamic Army of Iraq announced a ceasefire with Al Qaeda "in the interest of protecting the project of jihad from being torn apart." Meanwhile, McClatchy reports that the Madhi Army "has resurfaced in force, making a push to roust Sunnis from Baghdad and to isolate Sunni enclaves in the west of the capital from their brethren in the south."

At this point, it remains clear that virtually no one in Iraq is interested in following an American script.
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General who helped redraw the borders of Israel says road map to peace is a lie
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, June 10, 2007

Immediately after the Six Day War, 40 years ago, Shlomo Gazit was put in charge of Gaza and the West Bank. Today, the retired general is in favour of talks with Hamas, describes the road map as a "pretext" for Israel not to negotiate with the Palestinians, and thinks the idea that the US can or should veto a peace process between Jerusalem and Damascus is a "nonsense".

At first sight Mr Gazit could be a classic military hawk. A tough, unsentimental man with 37 years in the Israeli Defence Forces behind him, he has never been slow in condemning Palestinian attacks on Israeli civilians. Yet he enjoys the unique distinction of having, from the heart of the Israeli military, proposed in writing a Palestinian state exactly 40 years ago yesterday - 24 hours before the war had even ended.

And he has never been more convinced than now that such a state, its negotiated borders based on those that preceded the war, and involving withdrawal from most of the West Bank Jewish settlements, remains the only answer to the conflict. [complete article]
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Israel is full of little blue-and-white Ahmadinejads
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, June 10, 2007

Ram Caspi has written an article. From the heights of his apartment in Tel Aviv's David Towers, the prominent lawyer has suggested strangulating the Gaza Strip. In the financial daily Globes of May 25, he called for, "neither a land incursion nor an aerial attack, but the creation of a noose ... From the moment that rocket number eight is fired, the government of Israel will act to cut Gaza off from the essential infrastructure systems of fuel, water, electricity and telephones, and will prevent others from providing these utilities to Gaza."

In other words: to cut a million and a half people off from the sources of life. Caspi is a successful attorney, who comes and goes in the tabernacles of justice and rule, a man who moves about in the highest reaches of Israeli society. Not a hair on his head has been mussed as a result of his satanic proposal. This man of the law who incites for the violation of international law has not been chastised. No one has shunned him in the wake of his words. The season for racism, collective punishment and verbal violence is at its height. What was once the reserve of nutcases on the right, the talkbackers and the loony listeners to the call-in radio programs, is now politically correct, in the heart of the consensus, the dernier cri in the violent and overheated Israeli discourse. [complete article]
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Israelis ask, what have we gained since the '67 war?
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, June 10, 2007

... having made her life here, Ms. Harris said, "for the first time ever I've allowed myself to think that Israel may be a passing phenomenon."

The point for her is not simply the fear of a nuclear Iran, but the banality of much of the debate and the "regurgitation of the same failed leaders," she said. "The question is not whether we'll be here, but what will we look like? What will we look like in 20 or 30 years?"

Mr. Halevi asks a similar question: "Will Israel even be here in 50 years? People now talk about that among themselves."

Ari Shavit, an influential columnist, is obsessed with the fear that Israel is losing not just its values in a more capitalist and corrupt era, especially in its collective caring for the poor and the disadvantaged, but also its edge in an increasingly dangerous region.

Last summer's war with Hezbollah in Lebanon showed the increasing mediocrity of the military and the political leadership, Mr. Shavit said, while challenging the ethos of the new hedonistic, modern Israel. Many here, he said, think they are living in a poor European country like Greece, instead of in the Middle East.

"Can the mall defend itself?" he asked. "The gap between the inspiring economy and society, and the dysfunction of the state is becoming impossible. There are admirable achievements in the private sphere, and in the public sphere, decay." [complete article]
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Hezbollah's Palestinian predicament
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, June 10, 2007

In the Naher el-Bared refugee camp near the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli, everyone knows his place. The Sa'sa quarter in the camp's southern part is controlled by a group called Fatah Abu Amar. The "regular" Fatah people are located in the central part of the camp, and parts of the northern section have been "settled" by members of the small Fatah al-Islam organization. This week, when the Lebanese Army flexed its limited muscles against Fatah al-Islam with tank fire and mortar shells, the group asked the Palestinian residents of the Sa'sa quarter to grant them cover in their part of the camp. The answer was no.

Fatah Abu Amar members listened to their leaders' orders, allowing it to cooperate in the Lebanese war against Fatah al-Islam. The situation is similar in the larger refugee camp of Ein el-Helweh. As in every such camp, its quarters are split according to the groups that control them: one quarter for Hamas and one for Fatah, a street for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a neighborhood for left-wing organizations or radical Islamic groups. All of them are armed to the teeth. [complete article]

See also, Fatah al-Islam had rocky ties with Palestinian factions in Lebanon (AP).
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Lieberman backs limited U.S. attacks on Iran
By Brian Knowlton, New York Times, June 10, 2007

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman, an independent who strongly supports the war in Iraq, said today that unless Iran stops training Iraqis to carry out anti-coalition attacks, the United States should launch cross-border attacks into Iran.

"I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq," Mr. Lieberman said in an interview on the CBS News program "Face the Nation."

This could be achieved mostly with air attacks, Mr. Lieberman said, adding, "I'm not talking about a massive ground invasion of Iran."

The comment from Mr. Lieberman of Connecticut, who is sometimes a swing vote in the closely divided Senate, went far beyond the official position in the Bush administration, which has warned Iran about supporting Iraqi insurgents but also recently held high-level talks with Iranian officials. There was no immediate White House reaction. [complete article]

Comment -- Is this how Cheney navigates around Rice? Gets Lieberman -- who I have to say has the face of a ventriloquist's dummy -- to speak on his behalf?
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Improvised explosive defeat?
By David Ignatius, Washington Post, June 10, 2007

The insurgents who kill our young soldiers are ruthless, but we have sometimes been cautious in our response. Take the question of targeting bomb makers: There may be an unlimited supply of explosives in Iraq, but there is not an unlimited supply of people who know how to wire the detonators. In 2004, CIA operatives in Iraq believed that they had identified the signatures of 11 bomb makers. They proposed a diabolical -- but potentially effective -- sabotage program that would have flooded Iraq with booby-trapped detonators designed to explode in the bomb makers' hands. But the CIA general counsel's office said no. The lawyers claimed that the agency lacked authority for such an operation, one source recalled.

There are technologies that would allow us to detonate every roadside bomb in Iraq by heating the wires in the detonators to the point that they triggered an explosion. But these systems could severely harm civilians nearby, so we're not using them, either. "In our system, we often are not given credit for the fact that we are very concerned about collateral damage," Meigs said.

We wrote the book for the insurgents, in a sense. By arming and training the mujaheddin in Afghanistan to fight the Soviets in the 1980s, we created the modern dynamics of asymmetric warfare. That extends even to the fearsome armor-piercing "explosively formed penetrators," or EFPs, that we have accused the Iranians of supplying to Iraqi insurgents. The CIA referred to these tank busters as "platter charges" in the days when we were covertly helping provide them to the Afghan rebels.

The simple, low-tech answer to the IED threat is to reduce the number of targets -- by getting our troops off the streets during vulnerable daylight hours, to the extent possible. It's an interesting fact that very few IED attacks have been suffered by our elite Special Forces units, which attack al-Qaeda cells and Shiite death squads mostly at night, with devastating force. They blow in from nowhere and are gone minutes later, before the enemy can start shooting. That's the kind of asymmetry that evens the balance in Iraq and Afghanistan. [complete article]

Comment -- Thus speaks Ignatius as the good old colonialist. To fight terrorism you have to think like a terrorist and fight like a terrorist. The Special Forces units he romantically describes as blowing in from nowhere, seem to be operating like death squads, but of course they're not. These are the good guys and they're killing the bad guys -- it's all so simple.
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The war economy of Iraq
By Christopher Parker and Pete W. Moore, MERIP, Summer, 2007

On May 26, 2003, L. Paul Bremer declared Iraq "open for business." Four years on, business is booming, albeit not as the former head of the Coalition Provisional Authority intended. Iraqis find themselves at the center of a regional political economy transformed by war. Instability has generated skyrocketing oil prices, and as US attitudes to Arab investment have hardened in the wake of the September 11 attacks, investors from the oil-producing Gulf countries are seeking opportunities closer to home. This money, together with the resources being pumped in to prop up the US occupation, is fueling an orgy of speculation and elite consumption in the countries surrounding Iraq. The sheer volume of loose change jingling around the Middle East would be potentially destabilizing even if fighting did not persist in Bremer's erstwhile domain.

War and profit have always gone hand in hand. In Iraq, as well, a "war economy" is firmly rooted, yet it has gone largely unexamined in the stacks of books and articles dissecting Washington's grandiose venture gone bad. [complete article]
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America's secret obsession
By Ted Gup, Washington Post, June 10, 2007

The explosion in government secrecy since 9/11 has been breathtaking. In 1995, according to the Information Security Oversight Office, the stamp of classification -- "confidential," "secret," "top secret," etc. -- was wielded about 3.6 million times, mostly to veil existing secrets in new documents. Ten years later, it was used a staggering 14.2 million times (though some of the bump-up was the result of increased use of the Internet for government communications). That works out to 1,600 classification decisions every hour, night and day, all year long. (And not one of those secrets is believed to reveal where Osama bin Laden is.)

Managing this behemoth has required a vast expansion in the ranks of those cleared to deal in secrets. By 2004, the line of 340,000 people waiting to receive a security clearance would have stretched 100 miles -- from Washington to Richmond. Many must still wait a year or more. And the cost of securing those secrets -- as much as $7.7 billion in safes, background checks, training and information security -- is about equal to the entire budget for the Environmental Protection Agency. [complete article]

Comment -- As a political phenomenon (as opposed to a practical necessity) what secrecy is ultimately about is the protection of power. Where the transfer of information will result in the dissipation of power, it will be guarded by secrecy. Those who "don't need to know" are those who would otherwise benefit from knowing. Since knowledge is power, the best way of maintaining power is through controlling the flow of information.

As a cultural phenomenon, secrecy is rooted in fear and suspicion -- it is antethitical to the operation of an open society.

As an American phenomenon, secrecy exposes a tension lodged deep inside our notion of freedom. Does freedom serve individual or collective interests? When under the banner of American freedom, narrow interests parade as national interests, secrecy is predictably invoked as a necessity in their service.
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Bush is losing credibility on democracy, activists say
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, June 10, 2007

The Middle East, which first spurred the Bush democracy push, is witnessing the biggest setbacks. Lebanon, whose "Cedar Revolution" was heralded by the White House in 2005 as a model for orderly political change in the region, is the latest flash point. In 2007, the United States is sending planeloads of ammunition and war materiel to Beirut to prop up the troops of a beleaguered government.

The audience willing to listen has also dwindled. Among the participants at Prague's International Conference on Democracy and Security were Reza Pahlavi, a son of Iran's autocratic shah who was listed as an "opposition leader to the clerical regime of Iran," and Farid Ghadry, often referred to as Syria's Ahmed Chalabi. Many other invitees, including Richard N. Perle, were leading U.S. neoconservatives and Iraq war advocates.

"It was a very good speech, in fact, but Bush now lacks credibility," said Amr Hamzawy of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "Governments and opposition movements alike, no one is listening -- governments because they were very quick to understand U.S. policy shifts devaluing democracy promotion, and opposition movements because the U.S. has done very little to act on its promises." [complete article]
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U.S. may soon free 5 Iranians
By Paul Richter and Alexandra Zavis, Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2007

Five Iranians imprisoned by U.S. forces in Iraq since January will probably be released in the next few weeks, according to some U.S. and Iraqi officials, a development that could help ease months of escalating conflict between Washington and Tehran.

The Iranians, who were seized on suspicion of spying during a raid in Irbil, in northern Iraq, are up for a six-month review of their cases at the end of June, the officials said.

The officials emphasized that no decision had been made, but said the review offered an opportunity to resolve an issue that has been a point of contention between the Bush administration and the regime in Tehran, and also a source of tension with U.S. allies in the Iraqi government.

The Iranians' release would make it more likely that the recently started U.S.-Iranian dialogue on Iraq would continue. It could also encourage Iran to release four Iranian Americans, who hold citizenship in both countries, being held in Tehran on allegations of spying, Middle East experts said. [complete article]

Military option on table concerning Iran
AP, June 9, 2007

Military action is one of the options in dealing with Iran's nuclear program,
Israel's deputy prime minister said Saturday, after discussing the issue with senior U.S. officials.

For now, sanctions are the best way to go, said the Cabinet minister, Shaul Mofaz. He said Israel and the U.S. agreed to review the effectiveness of sanctions at the end of 2007. [complete article]

MI6 probes UK link to nuclear trade with Iran
By Mark Townsend, The Observer, June 10, 2007

A British company has been closed down after being caught in an apparent attempt to sell black-market weapons-grade uranium to Iran and Sudan, The Observer can reveal.

Anti-terrorist officers and MI6 are now investigating a wider British-based plot allegedly to supply Iran with material for use in a nuclear weapons programme. One person has already been charged with attempting to proliferate 'weapons of mass destruction'. [complete article]

Iran tightens screws on internal dissent
By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2007

The government of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in the midst of one of the most intensive crackdowns on domestic dissent in the last two decades, targeting groups as diverse as banks and labor unions, students and civic organizations.

In the United States, attention has focused on the detention of four Iranian American dual nationals, three of whom have been charged by the government in Tehran with endangering Iran's national security. But according to human rights activists and ordinary Iranians who described the events, the effect of the crackdown has been far more widespread at home. [complete article]
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Nuclear weapons programs are about regime survival
By Dilip Hiro, TomDispatch, June 10, 2007

Here's the strange thing: Since 2001, our media has been filled with terrifying nuclear headlines. The Iraqi bomb (you remember those "mushroom clouds" about to rise over American cities), the North Korean bomb, and the Iranian bomb have been almost obsessively in the news. Of course, the Iraqi bomb turned out to be embarrassingly nonexistent; experts still consider the Iranian bomb years away (if it happens); and the North Korean bomb, while quite real, remains a less than impressive weapon, based on a less than spectacular nuclear test in October 2006.

And yet these are the nuclear weapons that have taken all our attention. How many of you have ever heard of Complex 2030 or know that, as William Hartung and Frida Berrigan pointed out recently, the Bush administration is, on average, putting more money into our nuclear arsenal (over $6 billion this year) than went into it in the Cold War era? Or that, if all goes according to administration projections, this figure should hit $7.4 billion a year by 2012? (Tom Engelhardt's introduction) [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The war on terror: Inside the dark world of rendition
By Peter Popham and Jerome Taylor, The Independent, June 8, 2007

Words in a time of war
By Mark Danner, TomDispatch, May 31, 2007

The question of torture is not a question of technique
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 7, 2007

1967: Our rights have to be recognised
By Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, The Guardian, June 6, 2007

It's not just the occupation
By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, June 7, 2007

By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 5, 2007

Enduring occupation
Amnesty International, June 4, 2007

Rethinking Israel's David-and-Goliath past
By Sandy Tolan, Salon, June 4, 2007

How the 1967 war doomed Israel
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, June 3, 2007

Financing the imperial armed forces
By Robert Dreyfuss, TomDispatch, June 7, 2007

Iraq has always been "South Korea" for the Bush Administration
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, June 7, 2007
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