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Imperial presidency declared null and void
By Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, June 21, 2007

In private, Bush administration sub-Cabinet officials who have been instrumental in formulating and sustaining the legal "war paradigm" acknowledge that their efforts to create a system for detainees separate from due process, criminal justice and law enforcement have failed. One of the key framers of the war paradigm (in which the president in his wartime capacity as commander in chief makes and enforces laws as he sees fit, overriding the constitutional system of checks and balances), who a year ago was arguing vehemently for pushing its boundaries, confesses that he has abandoned his belief in the whole doctrine, though he refuses to say so publicly. If he were to speak up, given his seminal role in formulating the policy and his stature among the Federalist Society cadres that run it, his rejection would have a shattering impact, far more than political philosopher Francis Fukuyama's denunciation of the neoconservatism he formerly embraced. But this figure remains careful to disclose his disillusionment with his own handiwork only in off-the-record conversations. Yet another Bush legal official, even now at the commanding heights of power, admits that the administration's policies are largely discredited. In its defense, he says without a hint of irony or sarcasm, "Not everything we've done has been illegal." He adds, "Not everything has been ultra vires" -- a legal term referring to actions beyond the law. [complete article]

Comment -- Sidney Blumenthal might as well have said, "I can't name my source -- this key framer of the "war paradigm" -- but his name rhymes with cue, and he's a professor at Boalt Hall School of Law." Could it be anyone else?
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U.S. is urging Blair to be lead Mideast envoy
By Helene Cooper, New York Times, June 21, 2007

C. David Welch, assistant secretary of state for Near East affairs, met with Mr. Blair in London on Wednesday to make the case [for Blair becoming a special envoy to the Middle East, representing the diplomatic "quartet" of world powers], a senior Bush administration official said. Mr. Welch, the official said, would not be in London "if there weren't some seriousness to this."

The official likened the talks to the "late stages of a scouting effort, seeing who's available for an N.B.A. draft," but added that the United States was not pursuing anyone other than Mr. Blair.

Mr. Bush has spoken to Mr. Blair about the proposal, and discussed it Tuesday with the Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, Israeli and Bush administration officials said. Senior Israeli officials said Mr. Olmert was also very keen on the idea.

But British officials said Mr. Blair had not yet decided if he would take on the task, and bristled that public comments from the Bush administration were premature. [complete article]

Comment -- Yet again, the Bush administration is tripping up over the communications process. That the administration's public comments were premature seems evident in news that -- as far as I can tell -- has yet to even be registered in Washington: Tony Blair's conversion to Catholicism.

Not that there's anything wrong with being Catholic (as Jerry Seinfeld might say), but the newly converted Catholic envoy to the Middle East? George Bush's best buddy is now also Benedict's chum but let's not for a minute imagine that anyone in the Middle East is going to catch a whiff of "clash of civilizations" in the air. "Oh no," exclaims Tony -- all he intends to do is "just talk."
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U.S.-led move to back Abbas gov't blocked in Security Council
By Shlomo Shamir, Haaretz, June 22, 2007

The United States, supported by Britain and France, wants to add the Security Council to the international front supporting Abbas, which also includes the European Union and major Arab states. The American initiative also included a denunciation of the violence in the Gaza Strip.

However, the U.S. was forced to withdraw its initiative even before it reached the draft stage, due to strong objections from Russia, South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar. [complete article]

Hamas acted on a very real fear of a US-sponsored coup
By Jonathan Steele, The Guardian, June 22, 2007

While Hamas has successfully blocked the US-Fatah plans for Gaza, Abbas is trying to implement them in the West Bank by forming an emergency government. The policy is doomed since the constitution says such a government can only last 30 days. Parliament has to renew it by a two-thirds majority, and parliament is controlled by Hamas. The only sensible policy for Abbas must be to end the effort to marginalise Hamas. He should go back to the Mecca agreement and support a unity government. Even now, Hamas says it is willing to do so.

Where does all this leave the White House idea to involve Tony Blair as a Middle Eastern envoy? It creates a "coalition of the discredited" - Bush, Olmert and Blair - and sounds like something from a satire since Blair has no credibility with Hamas or most other Palestinians. Better to leave it to the Saudis to revive the Mecca deal, or wait until Abbas realises he has fallen into a trap. Neither common sense nor democratic principles, let alone time, are on Fatah's side. [complete article]

See also, Palestinian fantasy vs. reality (Augustus Richard Norton).
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Exposing the bitter truth of Gaza carnage
By Ed O'Loughlin, The Age, June 23, 2007

Abu Mahmoud is a 38-year-old Palestinian Authority soldier and a proud member of the Fatah party. But if you ask him what he did during the war with Hamas in Gaza last week, he smiles apologetically and waves a hand.

"It wasn't my shift, so I stayed at home," he explains, sprawling on his neighbour's sofa. "If I had been on duty, I would have taken part ... but it was not possible to go there once the fighting started."

It hardly seems surprising, then, that Hamas' militants, though fewer in number and less heavily armed, were able to rout Fatah's 30,000-odd armed men when open fighting broke out. A high percentage of the Fatah security forces were off that day. Hamas, on the other hand, works flexitime. [complete article]

Shock, awe and dread
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz, June 22, 2007

Quiet returned to the streets of Gaza all at once this week - a quiet that the Strip's residents had not experienced for more than two decades, since the first intifada began. Within a few days, after its clashes with Fatah ended in a decisive victory for Hamas, the Islamic movement managed to do the incredible: It ended the chaos in Gaza. The descriptions provided by residents and local and foreign journalists sound almost inconceivable: The gunmen (not members of Hamas) have disappeared from the streets, apparently due to a fear of the Hamas Executive Force.

And now that the movement has banned people from masking their faces, that phenomenon has also ceased to exist. Members of the Public Order - a new force established by Hamas to deal with urgent civil matters - now stand guard at intersections. They are dressed in civilian clothes, identifiable only by the word "Hamas" emblazoned on the backs of their yellow shirts. Their primary task: maintaining the flow of traffic. They're basically Hamas traffic cops, but they're backed up by the armed Executive Force, with whom no one dares to argue. Force members also examine vehicle in the streets and confiscate those suspected of being stolen.
If the improved security situation described by Gaza residents is maintained, Israel is likely to encounter a problem that is opposite to the one it faced at the Erez crossing on the Gaza-Israel border this week: West Bank residents will start trying to go to Gaza. In the meantime, Fatah isn't worried about its ability to cope with Hamas in the West Bank, and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas rushed this week to rule out any negotiations with the other side. But if Israel opens the Gaza border crossings, West Bank residents who witness increasing internecine violence are liable to get jealous of their Palestinian brothers in Gaza who are living under Hamas rule. [complete article]

See also, Gaza Strip holds its breath (LAT) and Calm returns to Gaza (Ynet).
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Netanyahu calls for deployment of Jordanian troops in West Bank
By Shmuel Rosner, Haaretz, June 21, 2007

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu called Thursday for the deployment of Jordanian troops in the West Bank in order to help impose order.

Netanyahu told reporters during a visit to Washington that he believes that Jordan and Egypt are the key to stabilizing the Palestinian government in the territories.

The Likud chairman added that Egypt must significantly increase its efforts to prevent arms smuggling across its border into the Gaza Strip. [complete article]

See also, The Syrians are monitoring developments in the region with increasing alarm (Sami Moubayed).

Comment -- That the Palestinian nationalist movement is severely wounded is no more clearly evident than in the sight of vultures now circling overhead. To those who used to like to say, "there are no Palestinians," now comes the opportunity to revive the idea that Jordan and Egypt can relieve Israel of its problem.
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On the streets of Tehran
By Michael Hirsh, Newsweek, June 18, 2007

The revolution has gotten so deeply under the skin of this society nearly three decades later that the regime feels, if anything, more relaxed about its unchallenged power than ever. The political opposition is all but gone, and the current government led by the radical Islamist president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is adopting a rather savvy tack of letting people enjoy themselves a bit and, above all, make money (no alcohol or drugs, except in the privacy of your own home), despite the rising inflation rate brought on by international sanctions. He's banking on a little capitalism and extra freedoms, in other words, to relieve any urge to revolt. The relaxation comes at a cost, however: less and less political dissent. Radio and TV are totally controlled by the government. The judiciary regularly disqualifies candidates from office with no effective right to appeal. And newspapers were recently confronted with a new, stricter censorship code. Religious conservatives openly invoke the "China model," whereby the mandarins in Beijing managed to quash political dissent after Tiananmen Square by sublimating the impulse for a better life into a booming economy. Here in Iran, the political ferment that appeared in the 1990s, when the reformist president Mohammad Khatami took office, has been dealt with handily with an analogous formula: Ahmadinejad and his "new right" have kept most of the Khatami-era social reforms, and focused most of their ire on political dissenters.

This crackdown is most often accomplished in subtle rather than savage ways. While much of the Western media in recent weeks has focused on the detention of four Iranian-Americans who made the mistake of traveling back to their homeland at a time when the regime is paranoid about Bush's $75 million "democracy promotion" program (seen here as covert regime change), they scarcely provoke much discussion here. Even reformists who poke fun at Ahmadinejad tend to belittle the hue and cry back in Western capitals. "The end result of Bush's program is that a handful of Iranians-Americans are getting arrested," jibes Mohammad Reza Behzadian, former deputy industry minister under Khatami and a vigorous opponent of Ahmadinejad. "That's been basically the only result." Or as a reformist newspaper editor, Mehran Karami, put it to me: "To put just $75 million into a country this size [Iran has 70 million people]. If Bush wants results he'll need to invest tens of billions." [complete article]
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Intense fighting resumes at Lebanon siege camp
By Nicolas Tohme, AFP, June 22, 2007

Lebanese troops used artillery, tanks and machine guns against Islamists holed up in a Palestinian refugee camp here Friday despite the government saying the offensive had ended.

Defence Minister Elias Murr had called a halt to the military onslaught late on Thursday, but said soldiers would pursue the siege until surviving Fatah al-Islam fighters in the Nahr al-Bared camp north of Tripoli surrendered. [complete article]

Radical group pulls in Sunnis as Lebanon's Muslims polarize
By Ellen Knickmeyer, Washington Post, June 17, 2007

...prominent figures in the Salafi community here have served as intermediaries between their flock and [the Sunni-dominated Future Movement leader, Saad] Hariri. In the mosques, "our preachers call upon the people to become part of the political process," said Daii al-Islam al-Shahal, a member of a prominent Salafi family in Tripoli and founder of a group he describes as dedicated to charity, education and preaching.

"There's a relationship between ourselves and Sheik Saad when it's needed," Shahal said. "The biggest Sunni political power is Hariri. The biggest Sunni religious power are the Salafis. So it's natural."

Hariri denies that promoting Sunni political power trickles down to support for armed groups. "We sponsor culture and education, not terrorism," he said in an interview in Beirut. "I am the son of Rafiq al-Hariri -- we never had blood on our hands and we never will."

"I am concerned about Iranian intervention in the affairs of other countries," Hariri added. "But that doesn't mean that we will sponsor Sunni radicalism. Radicalism is not the answer."

The U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have fed Sunni militancy, and U.S. and European leaders are inciting it anew in the building confrontation with Iran and Hezbollah, said Alistair Crooke, former Middle East adviser under European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

With U.S. and European governments encouraging the alignment of Sunnis against Shiites, "it should not be surprising that in November a group of Salafis could think it would be important to come to Lebanon to defend their Sunni people against a growing threat," Crooke said. Fatah al-Islam was founded by Shaker al-Abssi, a Jordanian of Palestinian origin, who arrived in northern Lebanon late last year after serving a prison sentence in Syria.

Abssi reportedly embraces the ideology of Osama bin Laden and seeks to promote Islamic fundamentalism among Palestinians in Lebanon before eventually attacking Israel. [complete article]

See also, The collateral damage of Lebanese sovereignty (MERIP) and Hamdan warns of copycatting of Hamas-Fatah infighting in Lebanon (Ikhwanweb).
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The CIA's torture teachers
By Mark Benjamin, Salon, June 21, 2007

There is growing evidence of high-level coordination between the Central Intelligence Agency and the U.S. military in developing abusive interrogation techniques used on terrorist suspects. After the Sept. 11 attacks, both turned to a small cadre of psychologists linked to the military's secretive Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape program to "reverse-engineer" techniques originally designed to train U.S. soldiers to resist torture if captured, by exposing them to brutal treatment. The military's use of SERE training for interrogations in the war on terror was revealed in detail in a recently declassified report. But the CIA's use of such tactics -- working in close coordination with the military -- until now has remained largely unknown.

According to congressional sources and mental healthcare professionals knowledgeable about the secret program who spoke with Salon, two CIA-employed psychologists, James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, were at the center of the program, which likely violated the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners. The two are currently under investigation: Salon has learned that Daniel Dell'Orto, the principal deputy general counsel at the Department of Defense, sent a "document preservation" order on May 15 to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other top Pentagon officials forbidding the destruction of any document mentioning Mitchell and Jessen or their psychological consulting firm, Mitchell, Jessen and Associates, based in Spokane, Wash. Dell'Orto's order was in response to a May 1 request from Sen. Carl Levin, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, who is investigating the abuse of prisoners in U.S. custody. [complete article]
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Gunmen on rampage in West Bank
By Richard Boudreaux, Los Angeles Times, June 21, 2007

For much of the last week, Fatah gunmen in black masks have ruled the streets here, abducting rivals, looting or burning their property, and intimidating elected officials inside the Hamas-run City Hall.

Demoralized by Hamas' military defeat of their comrades in the Gaza Strip, the gunmen are sowing retribution across the West Bank. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, of Fatah, said Wednesday that the lawlessness was the most pressing problem facing the emergency government he appointed Sunday in the West Bank.

"We have seen chaos here before, but this is different. The police have lost control," said Hafez Shaheen, a Hamas municipal legislator who has abandoned his City Hall office in Nablus, the largest West Bank city and epicenter of the violence. "People are afraid for their lives."

U.S. and Israeli officials, stung by the Islamic movement's takeover in Gaza, have begun to treat the two Palestinian territories as separate entities. They are squeezing Gaza, and have pledged to spend money and diplomatic effort on the West Bank, in hope of turning it into a model new Palestine that can make peace with Israel.

The violence here reflects a complex reality posing more troublesome scenarios.

Most of the attacks have been carried out by the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a decentralized Fatah militia that is nominally loyal to Abbas but acts beyond his control. Like Hamas, it is branded by Israel and the U.S. State Department as a terrorist organization.

The victims of the rampage apparently are unarmed Hamas sympathizers or members of the Islamist group, which enjoys wide popular support in the largely secular West Bank as an alternative to the corrupt rule of the secular Fatah. [complete article]

Comment -- According to Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas is now creating an "empire of darkness" in Gaza -- even though it is now generally reported to be relatively tranquil. At the same time, "Fatahland" is being terrorized, not by Hamas, but factions of Fatah itself. Is the "West Bank first" brigade in Washington paying attention?

Hamas 'project of darkness' angers Abbas
By Donald Macintyre, The Independent, June 21, 2007

Hamas officials trying to begin a reconciliation process with Fatah were given a stark warning yesterday by the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, that "there is no dialogue with these murderous terrorists".

Some Hamas officials were seeking an answer to the profound schism between Gaza and the West Bank after the collapse of the coalition Palestinian Authority triggered by the Islamic faction's bloody victory in last week's infighting.

At the same time, they stepped up the pressure on the kidnappers of the BBC correspondent Alan Johnston, seized 100 days ago yesterday, by expressing growing impatience at their failure to free him and warning that the faction would use "all the means" to release him if necessary. [complete article]

See also, A leader of Hamas warns of West Bank peril for Fatah (NYT), Hamas conquest of Gaza disturbs Arab world with echoes of recent splits and alliances (NYT), and Free Barghouti (Haaretz editorial).

Hamas' shock and awe
By Sam Bahour, Electronic Intifada, June 20, 2007

As the Bush Administration failed to export its understanding of democracy to Iraq via the US military, the US's second regional blunder was trying to impose US democracy in occupied Palestine by using a proxy governing body called the Palestinian Authority. The US's weapon of choice for Palestine was to dangle millions of dollars as bait, there for the taking if the Palestinian leadership showed total obedience. While US and other donor countries channeled billions of dollars to 'promote' democracy and 'build' Palestinian security forces, Hamas was busy learning the intricacies of the US game of military shock and awe and imposed democracy. During the last 17 months, Hamas attempted both, successfully: they won democratically held elections, as confirmed by election observer President Jimmy Carter, and then went on to overrun Gaza by brute force.

One thing Hamas did not do during this short time was govern. Correctly blaming their inability to govern on the Israeli and US-led economic blockade and the blatantly illegal Israeli policy of arresting Hamas-affiliated ministers and lawmakers, Hamas was given a free ride -- permitted to sit in the seat of authority without having to assume the full responsibility of governance. Instead of respecting the outcome of elections that one if its own past presidents monitored, the US allowed the Palestinian people to remain unable to define Hamas either as a legitimate governing body or as a failed experience. [complete article]

Mahmoud Abbas is a fiction
By Israel Harel, Haaretz, June 21, 2007

The Palestinian government sworn in earlier this week is a fiction, even if the United States and Israel support it. In Ramallah, where this fictitious government sits, Hamas won a decisive victory in the last elections: four seats in parliament for Hamas, and only one for Fatah. In Nablus, four seats went to Hamas and two to Fatah. In Hebron: nine to Hamas and none for Fatah. In Jerusalem: four to Hamas and two for Fatah. In the cities of Judea and Samaria Hamas won 30 parliamentary seats. Fatah got only 12.

Given the circumstances, the new government does not represent the Palestinians - only Israeli illusions, and possibly also those of the Americans and the Europeans. The Israel Defense Forces cannot prevent the erosion of Fatah's military power, and it is doubtful whether it is even worth investing efforts in such futility. The experience of recent years proves that our "allies," Mohammad Dahlan among them, are only boisterous characters - corrupt and lacking any real power. They are certainly no ally of Israel.

In any case, Hamas will defeat them, and Israel should prepare well for the confrontation ahead. And in a confrontation of this nature, the various Dahlans would bring no benefit, only a burden. [complete article]
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The West has created fertile ground for al-Qaida's growth
By Soumaya Ghannoushi, The Guardian, June 21, 2007

It seems that al-Qaida's dream is on its way to turning into reality. At last it has found a foothold on the Palestinian scene. Witness the kidnapping of BBC reporter Alan Johnston in Gaza by the al-Qaida affiliated Jaish al-Islam 100 days ago yesterday, and the heated battles in Nahr al-Barid refugee camp between the Lebanese army and al-Qaida sympathisers Fatah al-Islam over the past month. And with Gaza and the West Bank sliding further into anarchy, with Hamas and Fatah turning on each other after a year of crushing siege, this new presence can only grow stronger.

Since declaring jihad in 1998, al-Qaida has aspired to acquire the legitimacy of representing the Palestinian cause, well aware of its rich symbolism within the Arab and Islamic collective conscience. Ever since the eruption of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1948, Palestine has offered vital legitimacy to a great many political movements and regimes, from nationalist Nassirites and Ba'athists to liberals and Islamists. It is this moral authority that gave the late Yasser Arafat the status he enjoyed not only among Palestinians, but across the Arab world and beyond.

Palestine is the mirror in which the Arab political scene is reflected. Fatah was an expression of the rise of the left and nationalism; Hamas of the shift towards political Islam. And that is precisely why events in Gaza and Lebanon's Palestinian refugee camps today should not be taken lightly. They are ominous harbingers of what could lie ahead. When Osama bin Laden and his lieutenant Ayman al-Zawahiri issued their "Jihad against Jews and Crusaders" statement on February 28 1998, responses to their declaration varied from apathy to amusement. They were an obscure group lost in the faraway emirate of the Taliban, a pathetic remnant of the fight against the USSR during the cold war. Their role looked historically defunct and their discourse archaic.

Things could not be more different now. Al-Qaida has become an intensely complex global network, with a decentralised, flexible structure that enables it to spread in all directions, across the Arab world, Africa, Asia and Europe. Whether pursuing active cells or searching for sleeping ones, the security world is haunted by al-Qaida's ghost. Like bubbles, these cells are autonomous, bound together neither by hierarchy nor by a chain of command. It only takes a few individuals who subscribe to its ideology and terrorist methods for al-Qaida to extend its reach to a new part of the globe. [complete article]
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Bush pledges to increase U.S. funding to Israel
By Yitzhak Benhorin, Ynet, June 20, 2007

In a White House statement issued following Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Washington, President George W. Bush pledged to increase US military aid to Israel over the course of the next decade.

An American team will land in Israel in July to finalize the deal. Israel currently receives an annual $2.4 billion in military aid.

"I am strongly committed to Israel's security and viability as a Jewish state, and to the maintenance of its qualitative military edge," said Bush in the statement. [complete article]
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Cut U.S. aid to Israel
By Roni Bart, Ynet, June 18, 2007

...since 1976, Israel has been the largest annual recipient of US foreign assistance. In the past 55 years, Israel has received more than $84 billion in grants alone. Annual American aid to Israel per capita is more than $340, which is by far the highest in the world. Average global aid per capita is only $22! This comparison becomes all the more glaring, given that according to various indices Israel is ranked 27th or 37th on the "rich scale."

From a moral point of view, Israel's place at the top of the list of aid recipients, ahead of all poor and sick and malnourished Third World countries, is, to say the least, problematic. Furthermore, this is, or should be, also a matter of national honor. It was only a generation ago that the goal of "economic independence" was still mentioned in Israel, if only as a distant aspiration. [complete article]
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Direct damage to Israeli economy: NIS 8 million a day ; Gaza down to less than two weeks of supplies
By Guy Leshem, Haaretz, June 18, 2007

The main product supplied to the Palestinians is fuel, with annual sales of NIS 2.15 billion in 2006.

Food sales totaled NIS 250 million in 2006. In the past such sales had reached NIS 600 million a year, but as a result of the security situation, business dropped in recent years.

Dairy and fresh foods supplier Tnuva is one of the companies that will be affected most; it is the biggest food supplier to Gaza.

Another sector to be hurt is fruit, with an estimated 15 percent of all Israeli fruit production exported to Gaza. These include bananas, plums, peaches and mangoes estimated at 70,000 tons a year.

In some cases this fruit is grown specifically for Gaza and is not sold in Israel, and it will be extremely difficult for farmers to find alternative markets in Israel or overseas.

Palestinian exports to Israel are also expected to be harmed seriously.

Today such exports are estimated at NIS 4 million a day. Most of these goods are fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes and cucumbers, and other products such as bamboo furniture and textiles. [complete article]
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U.S. refuses to free 5 captured Iranians until at least October
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, June 21, 2007

The United States will not release five Iranians detained in a U.S. military raid in northern Iraq until at least October, despite entreaties from the Iraqi government and pressure from Iran, U.S. officials said. The delay is as much due to a communication and procedural foul-up within the U.S. government as a policy decision, they added.

During his Washington visit this week, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari appealed to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates to free the Iranians, who were arrested in Irbil in January, U.S. and Arab officials said.

Zebari told U.S. officials that the release would help the new U.S.-Iran dialogue on Iraq, which brought diplomats from the two nations together last month in Baghdad at their first public meeting in almost three decades. Iran has become pivotal to U.S. efforts to stabilize Iraq because Tehran exerts great influence in Iraq with a wide cross-section of parties and has armed and trained many militant groups. Zebari also warned that Tehran might not attend a second session unless the Iranians are released, the sources said. [complete article]
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U.S. holds direct talks in North Korea
By Norimitsu Onishi and David E. Sanger, New York Times, June 21, 2007

The United States' chief nuclear negotiator began a surprise two-day visit to North Korea today, saying he wanted to speed up six-nation talks aimed at dismantling North Korea's nuclear program.

In the first visit to Pyongyang by a senior American official in nearly five years, the envoy, Christopher R. Hill, was scheduled to meet senior North Korean officials, including his counterpart, Kim Kye-gwan, for one-on-one talks. [complete article]
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Engage with Hamas
By Ahmed Yousef, Washington Post, June 20, 2007

The Palestinian National Authority apparently joins the list of elected governments targeted or toppled over the past century by interventionism: nations that had the courage to take American rhetoric at face value and elect whomever they would. No doubt some in Washington persist in the fiction that the United States is following a "road map" to democracy for Palestinians, just as others believe the Iraq war has been a sincere exercise in nation-building. Neoconservative strategists have miscalculated, however, and Hamas is stronger than ever.

For the first time in months, Gaza is secure. This may be a momentary peace as Israel prepares an attempt to retake parts of Gaza. Yet neither blunt force nor U.S. subterfuge will extinguish Palestinian aspirations for self-governance, free from outside interference. [complete article]

What Hamas wants
By Ahmed Yousef, New York Times, June 20, 2007

The events in Gaza over the last few days have been described in the West as a coup. In essence, they have been the opposite. Eighteen months ago, our Hamas Party won the Palestinian parliamentary elections and entered office under Prime Minister Ismail Haniya but never received the handover of real power from Fatah, the losing party. The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has now tried to replace the winning Hamas government with one of his own, returning Fatah to power while many of our elected members of Parliament languish in Israeli jails. That is the real coup. [complete article]
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The 8 fallacies of Bush's Abbastan plan
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, June 20, 2007

Fallacy #1: Mahmoud Abbas is legitimate; Hamas is not
Fallacy #2: Hamas launched a coup against the legitimate government in Gaza
Fallacy #3: Fatah offers a viable alternative to Hamas
Fallacy #4: Abbas can impose his will on the Palestinians
Fallacy #5: The West Bank is in Fatah's hands
Fallacy #6: Israel's Shlemiel regime is capable of 'bolstering Abbas'
Fallacy #7: If starved, the Palestinians will blame Hamas for their fate
Fallacy #8: Hamas is an extreme jihadist group with whom negotiation is impossible [complete article]
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The Palestinian question: What now?
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, June 18, 2007

Last week, many Fatah members in Gaza stood aside, aghast and angry as their American-trained cohorts marched into the Strip (only to just as quickly flee) — and these Fatah loyalists who are not supporters of Dahlan continue to work with their counterparts in Hamas. A Fatah militia has been defeated, but rank and file Fatah members are not being lined up against walls, or herded into camps. Newspapers are not being closed or businesses shuttered. Schools are not being told what to teach and there is no purge. This is not an Islamic revolution but simply a political party attempting to defend itself against the militia of an unelected warlord backed by foreign powers. Not only is life returning to normal, people are now breathing much easier. The instability and violence that marked life in Gaza over the last few months is gone, in large part because the soldiers of the Preventive Security Services are gone. [complete article]

See also, Six questions for Mark Perry on the conflict in Palestine (Harper's).
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A Palestinian "occupation"?
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 20, 2007

Gaza has endured siege and bombardment for over a year, but now it is once again under "occupation" -- at least, that's how defeated warlord, Mohammad Dahlan yesterday chose to describe Hamas' role in the Strip. But if Hamas was really "occupying" Gaza, how would Dahlan explain the fact that Hamas' forces (who were not shipped in) met such little resistance from the larger Preventive Security Service forces under his control?

In an interview with Reuters, Dahlan is reported as saying that:
the strength of Hamas and over Fatah's fighters was no surprise, despite Fatah's apparently greater numbers.

Abbas's men lacked the Islamists' aggressive dedication to a clear goal, he said. He also accused the United States of failing to make good on pledges of support, and Israel of deliberately blocking arms supplies to help divide Palestinians into a Hamas-run Gaza Strip and Fatah-controlled West Bank.
At the same time, a very different account is now emerging from a series of interviews with Fatah's fighters, many of whom clearly feel betrayed by their military and political leaders. The Sunday Telegraph's Charles Levinson in his blog, Conflict Blotter, recounts the following and several other exchanges he had with these men just before he left Gaza on Monday:
A.R. was a major in the Presidential Guard and has served in the elite highly selective force since the days of Arafat. He is educated, bilingual and comes across as a well disciplined career soldier. In the midst of interviewing him in the garden of the Marna Hotel, Gaza City's oldest, Al Arabiya began broadcasting a live interview with Dahlan and we all gathered around to watch. After the interview we continued.

"Funny," A.R. said. "Despite all that has happened in Gaza, Dahlan's spirits seem pretty high."

"What do you think that means?" I asked.

"He knew. Dahlan knew this was coming and he was planning for this scenario," A.R. said.

A.R. continued, describing the total lack of resistance by the Fatah security services. The only order they ever received was to surrender bases if Hamas wanted them badly enough, he said.
The only order we ever heard coming from Abbas in Ramallah was that he didn't want a blood bath and if Hamas wanted the security bases, let them take it. We understood that there was not supposed to be any resistance.
The presidential guard were the most highly trained and professional soldiers in the security services' ranks and they were dismayed when rudimentary and repeatedly drilled steps to respond to the Hamas onslaught were never taken.

No state of emergency was ever declared, curfews were never imposed, contingency counter attack plans were ever drawn up, heavy weapons were never mounted on the roofs of the security bases, and extra ammo stocks were never dragged out of storage.
If Abbas' overriding concern was to avoid bloodshed, this claim might sound a bit more credible if -- once the fighting had abated -- he then turned all his energy towards preserving Palestinian unity. Instead, he now welcomes discussions with Israelis while rejecting dialogue with Hamas.

Only three months after signing the Mecca Agreement and welcoming a national unity government, Abbas now says, "There is no dialogue with those murderous terrorists." Hamas, on the other hand, has opened the door to a new and independent government made up of technocrats who are not affiliated to either Fatah or Hamas.

What has generally been characterized as a power struggle between Hamas and Fatah, can now be seen in much clearer terms. This is a contest between Palestinian nationalists and an isolated faction inside Fatah who are reckless enough to imagine that it might serve their interests to abandon Gaza.

As Charles Levinson reports:
Ousted Fatah loyalists in Gaza widely suspect a political decision was made early on in Ramallah to surrender the Gaza Strip to Hamas in order to extricate Abbas, Israel and the US from the seeming intractable pickle they were facing as infighting spiraled, living conditions worsened, and the peace process seemed hopelessly stuck. With the Palestinian territories now split, the US, Israel and Abbas suddenly have [a] way forward, without compromising to Hamas.
Abu Marzouk, the Damascus-based deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, asserts that, "a plot [is] being carried out by some Palestinians in an irresponsible and unprecedented way to separate Gaza from the West Bank." That view seems to be confirmed when we consider the first moves being made by the new "emergency government." Haaretz reports that:
... the new Palestinian information minister, Riyad al-Malki, said Wednesday that the West Bank-based government Abbas installed Sunday has annulled all decisions made by the previous Hamas government.

All citizens will be required to change their travel documents to papers issued in the West Bank - in effect invalidating documents previously issued in Gaza, al-Malki said.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas was quick to reappoint Dahlan as his security chief, even though a group of senior Fatah officials from the West Bank, along with jailed former commander of Fatah's Tanzim force, Marwan Barghouti, are calling for Dahlan's removal.

It becomes increasingly clear that Abbas and the narrow circle of Palestinians around him have invested all their hopes in promises of support from the U.S. and Israel -- even if this means running the risk of being seen as traitors by a large number of Palestinians. Furthermore, Abbas' position has now become more tenuous than ever after "priceless" and politically damaging information has fallen into Hamas' hands.

Hamas now possesses explosive intelligence material seized from the Palestinian Preventive Intelligence HQ and the Palestinian General Intelligence center in Gaza. These contain a store of national secrets and compromising information that, Israel's DEBKAfile suggests Hamas can use:
to hold over the heads of Western leaders and officials, lists of undercover agents, and records of covert operations carried out by the Israeli Mossad, Shin Bet and Military Intelligence, CIA, British MI6 and other Western agencies. Iran, Syria and Hamas will know the names of politicians, including Israelis, who worked secretly with Palestinians and their shady deals.
According to Al-Quds al-Arabi (via Missing Links), Hamid al-Raqt, Hamas spokesman in Khan Yunis:
... stressed that it will be possible to disclose some of this to specific sectors of the Palestinian people in order to give them a clear picture of what was going on in the preventive security and the intelligence operations in Gaza... And in spite of his insistence that these documents would not be used to denigrate any Palestinian official or foreign agency, so as to avoid increasing tensions with the outside world, he did say that the documents in the control of Hamas show conclusively that the Palestinian security [organizations] were not subordinated to the [Palestinian] Authority in the way that they were subordinated to foreign Mukhabarat [intelligence] agencies. He refused to name the foreign agencies except to mention British intelligence.
Meanwhile, the Bush administration remains oblivious about how badly it has miscalculated, yet if it will listen to no one else, it might pause to consider these words from the Washington Post's conservative, pro-Israeli editorial board:
The most dangerous illusion to emerge from the U.S.-Israeli discussions is the idea that Hamas can be isolated in Gaza while Mr. Abbas is built up in the West Bank. ... Hamas won a free election and still has the support of a large part of the Palestinian population. It cannot be abolished by decree, and isolation will only make it more radical and more dependent on sponsors in Syria and Iran.
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From calamity to full-blown catastrophe in Palestine
By Rami G. Khouri, Daily Star, June 20, 2007

Hamas and Hizbullah are among the most effective and legitimate political movements in the Arab world: They have forced unilateral Israeli retreats that no Arab army could induce; won elections democratically without resorting to the gerrymandering or ballot box stuffing that most American-supported Arab regimes live by; provided efficient service delivery and local governance to their constituents; and sustained resistance to Israeli occupation that appeals to the desire of ordinary Arabs to restore dignity to their battered lives and to their shattered, hollow political systems.

We should criticize such Islamists for some of their policies and ambiguities. But it is a big mistake to confront and fight them mainly because they challenge Israel, are friendly to Iran and Syria, and represent vanguards of regional Islamism; for these three attributes precisely define much of their indigenous efficacy and legitimacy. Those who wish to fight Hamas and Hizbullah would do better to help address the indigenous grievances in Lebanon and Palestine that gave birth to these groups and continue to underpin their popularity.

Such movements are strong also due to a third trend that we witnessed this week: The continued insistence by Israel, the US and Europe - now an explicit team - to intervene in domestic Palestinian and Arab politics in favor of one side in the ideological struggle defining the Middle East. Hamas, Hizbullah and Islamists generally represent at one level a reaction to foreign interference, a desire by ordinary Arabs to exercise true sovereignty, and to avoid becoming puppets of the US, surrogates of Israel, or social welfare wards of Europe. [complete article]
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West chooses Fatah, but Palestinians don't
By Saree Makdisi, Los Angeles Times, June 20, 2007

Fayyad and Abbas have the support of Israel, but it is no secret that they lack the backing of their own people.

There is a reason the people threw out Abbas' Fatah party in last year's election. Palestinians see the leading Fatah politicians as unimaginative, self-serving and corrupt, satisfied with the emoluments of power.

Worse yet, Palestinians came to realize that the so-called peace process championed by Abbas (and by Yasser Arafat before him) had led to the permanent institutionalization -- rather than the termination -- of Israel's 4-decade-old military occupation of their land. [complete article]
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Who won the election?
By Ian Williams, The Guardian, June 20, 2007

If Israelis want peace, they have to talk to the people the Palestinians want, not those anointed and armed by Israel and the US.

One of the points about democracy is that sometimes the "wrong" people win. Many Americans and British looking at their present leaders can ruefully relate to that. Indeed, Ehud Olmert has popularity ratings within a statistical range of zero. Nonetheless, other governments and the political institutions inside their own countries continue to talk to them and recognize them. The rest of the world continued talking to, indeed pandering to Israel, even while the butcher of Sabra and Shatila was its prime minister. That's democracy. [complete article]
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Carter blasts U.S. on Palestine
AP, June 20, 2007

Former President Jimmy Carter accused the U.S., Israel and the European Union on Tuesday of seeking to divide the Palestinian people by reopening aid to President Mahmoud Abbas' new government in the West Bank while denying the same to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Carter, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who was addressing a human rights conference in Ireland, also said the Bush administration's refusal to accept Hamas' 2006 election victory was "criminal." [complete article]
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The Palestinians' "choice": siege or occupation
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 19, 2007

This is how Condoleezza Rice wants to frame the current political emergency:
A fundamental choice confronts the Palestinians, and all people in the Middle East, more clearly now, than ever. It is a choice between violent extremism on the one hand and tolerance and responsibility on the other. Hamas has made its choice. It has sought to attempt to extinguish democratic debate with violence and to impose its extremist agenda on the Palestinian people in Gaza. Now, responsible Palestinians are making their choice and it is the duty of the international community to support those Palestinians who wish to build a better life and a future of peace.
The Secretary of State has spoken. But does she really think that many Palestinians either in the West Bank or Gaza take her seriously?

While in the last few days, Hamas has made several overtures towards Fatah -- both Ismael Haniyeh and Khaled Meshaal reaffirmed that they acknowledge Mahmoud Abbas' legitimacy and authority as Palestinian president; Hamas officials are calling for dialogue with Fatah -- it is Fatah's own leadership under American direction with Israeli and allied support, that has firmly closed the door on democratic debate -- at least for now.

The "West Bank first" policy that is now being driven forward like an express train, is based on a simple premise. If life improves in the West Bank and gets worse in Gaza, the majority of Palestinians will blame Hamas and favor Fatah. This shift in political fortunes can then be institutionalized through quick elections that give the "moderates" a democratic stamp of approval.

"Sounds good to me," was (I imagine) the thoughtful response from President Bush as he signed off on the plan.

The speed with which this divide-and-rule strategy has been laid out, strongly suggests that it wasn't stitched together over the weekend as a rapid response to Hamas' victory in Gaza. On the contrary, this is nothing more than a slight revision to a plan that was described in some detail in what those few of us who paid any attention to it, know as the "Action Plan," described in the "Al-Majd document."

This is a plan that was leaked to the Jordanian weekly newspaper, Al-Majd, at the end of April and was discussed at length in an article that Mark Perry and I wrote for Asia Times last month, "Document details 'U.S.' plan to sink Hamas."
In the wake of the February Mecca Agreement, which called for the formation of a Palestinian unity government, White House officials scrambled to recast their anti-Hamas program. The resulting "action plan" relies heavily on the disbursement of US funds to build President Abbas' security forces at the same time that it escalates the delivery of money to specific development projects affiliated with his office.

The plan as delivered to Abbas, according to a Fatah official, is quite detailed -- salaries would be provided to those parts of the Palestinian government closely affiliated with Fatah and supported by Abbas. The plan envisages delivering "a strong blow to Hamas by supplying the Palestinian people with their immediate economic needs through the presidency and Fatah". At the same time, the international boycott of Hamas would stay in place and Hamas-affiliated programs would be starved of funds.

Senior Fatah officials who oppose the program confirm the Majd claim that the action plan was drawn up between the White House and Arab intelligence officials. "You can see the hand of [Egyptian intelligence chief] Omar Sulieman in this," a Fatah official said. "It is no secret that he has been working with the Americans to strengthen Fatah."

But this Fatah official refused to implicate anyone in the Jordanian government, who he claimed "would be much more skeptical of this kind of thing - which may be why the document was leaked in the first place". And while this Fatah official could not say for certain who in the White House would author such a program, the document reflects the long-held views of White House Middle East adviser Elliott Abrams -- known as the major impetus behind the rearming of Abbas' security force.

US worries over the increasingly weak position of Abbas are made clear in the action plan's language: "In the absence of strong efforts by Abbas to protect the position of the presidency as the center of gravity of the Palestinian leadership, it can be expected that international support for him will diminish and there won't be enthusiastic cooperation with him," the plan says.

"And a growing number of countries, including the European Union and the G8 [Group of Eight], will start to look for Palestinian partners that are more acceptable and more credible, and more able to make advances in security and governance. And this would strengthen the position of Hamas within Palestinian society, and would further weaken Fatah and the Palestinian presidency. And it would also diminish the chances for early elections."

The plan re-emphasizes the US commitment to building Abbas' security service, a program now funded by some US$59 million in direct congressionally approved security assistance. The money "will deter Hamas or any other faction from any attempt at escalation, as long as the security control of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah is on a firm basis". The plan also counts on the support of the EU and World Bank.

"Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas should propose, in consultation with the World Bank and the European Union, a plan that defines specific sectors and projects that are in need of financing, and that will show useful and tangible results on the ground in the space of six to nine months, centering on the alleviation of poverty and unemployment," the plan notes. "And since some projects will take more than nine months, there should be a guarantee of adequate results within the nine months. This is so as to guarantee the usefulness of these projects before the elections."

Anticipating that Abbas' popularity would now be soaring -- and money to his supporters flowing through his office -- the plan proposes that Israel act to enhance Abbas' credibility further by removing roadblocks and barricades in the West Bank and easing Palestinian access to Gaza. "Abbas will need to be supplied with the means, both material and legal, to govern and to strengthen his credibility and legitimacy, so that he can comfortably call for parliamentary elections by the beginning of autumn 2007."
So, it turned out that the effort to beef up Abbas' Preventive Security Force under Mohammad Dahlan's command was a major flop. Be that as it may, the Bush administration is well innoculated against the influence of failure. Indeed, its motto should at this point be: failure is success.

In light of this, it's hardly surprising that we are not now witnessing any strategic re-thinking. Far from it, it's now full speed ahead in the effort to engineer Mahmoud Abbas' political rehabilitation. Whether that will ultimately bear fruit with the election of an Israel-friendly pro-Western Palestinian government may depend on whether it's deemed necessary that those elections must be free and fair.

The problem is, anyone who thinks that a few million dollars is going to turn the West Bank into an Israel-friendly "Fatahstine" is as deluded as those who pictured Iraqis welcoming American "liberators" with flowers and sweets.

In the "West Bank first" policy there is no suggestion that East Jerusalem gets any closer to becoming the capital city of a Palestinian state. There will be no halt in the construction of the unilaterally-imposed territorial boundary called a "separation barrier", nor in the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. There will be no freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank. Freedom of movement inside the West Bank will continue being restricted by the occupation -- minus at most a token number of checkpoints and barricades. U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 will be no closer to being implemented.

The choice confronting Palestinians is not between violent extremism and democracy; it is between submission and self-determination. Ordinary Palestinians now face two oppressive realities: life under siege and life under occupation. It's not a choice and it's far from clear whether either condition is preferable.
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'West Bank First': It won't work
By Robert Malley and Aaron David Miller, Washington Post, June 19, 2007

Having embraced one illusion -- that it could help isolate and defeat Hamas -- the Bush administration is dangerously close to embracing another: Gaza is dead, long live the West Bank. This approach appears compelling. Flood the West Bank with money, boost Fatah security forces and create a meaningful negotiating process. The Palestinian people, drawn to a recovering West Bank and repelled by the nightmare of an impoverished Gaza, will rally around the more pragmatic of the Palestinians.

The theory is a few years late and several steps removed from reality. If the United States wanted to help President Mahmoud Abbas, the time to do so was in 2005, when he won office in a landslide, emerged as the Palestinians' uncontested leader and was in a position to sell difficult compromises to his people. Today, Abbas is challenged by far more Palestinians and is far less capable of securing a consensus on any important decision.

But the more fundamental problem with this theory is its lack of grounding. It is premised on the notion that Fatah controls the West Bank. Yet the West Bank is not Gaza in reverse. Unlike in Gaza, Israel's West Bank presence is overwhelming and, unlike Hamas, Fatah has ceased to exist as an ideologically or organizationally coherent movement. Behind the brand name lie a multitude of offshoots, fiefdoms and personal interests. Most attacks against Israel since the elections were launched by the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, the unruly Fatah-affiliated militias, notwithstanding Abbas's repeated calls for them to stop. Given this, why would Israel agree to measurably loosen security restrictions? [complete article]
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Sharon's dream
By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, June 19, 2007

If Ariel Sharon were able to hear the news from the Gaza Strip and West Bank, he would call his loyal aide, Dov Weissglas, and say with a big laugh: "We did it, Dubi." Sharon is in a coma, but his plan is alive and kicking. Everyone is now talking about the state of Hamastan. In his house, they called it a bantustan, after the South African protectorates designed to perpetuate apartheid.

Just as in the Palestinian territories, blacks and colored people in South Africa were given limited autonomy in the country's least fertile areas. Those who remained outside these isolated enclaves, which were disconnected from each other, received the status of foreign workers, without civil rights. A few years ago, Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema told Israeli friends that shortly before he was elected prime minister, Sharon told him that the bantustan plan was the most suitable solution to our conflict. [complete article]
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E.U. to release aid to Palestinian Authority
By Judy Dempsey, IHT, June 18, 2007

By isolating Hamas and backing Abbas, analysts said, the EU has failed to understand what was taking place in the Palestinian territories and the rest of the region.

"The EU policy is in disarray because of its inconsistent policies," said Alastair Crooke, Solana's former Middle East adviser. Crooke is now director of Conflicts Forum, a research institute in Beirut.

"Since Hamas won the elections, the EU has had a policy of dividing the Palestinians by only enlisting one faction and never enlisting the substantial sector of the community that is Hamas," Crooke said in a telephone interview. The more the EU and others supported Abbas, the weaker the Palestinian Authority would become, he said.

"The EU leapt in last week to endorse Abbas," Crooke continued. "They don't seem to understand that this will undermine Abbas. He will be seen as a puppet. And he will be hated in Gaza and the West Bank because of this."

Fatah, he suggested, could even split as a result of such policies because they are humiliating. Ismail Haniya, the Hamas leader who was chosen as prime minister after the party won the legislative elections 15 months ago, and who stayed in the job when the national unity government was brokered by the Saudis in March, accused Abbas on Monday of participating in a U.S.-led coup to overthrow him.

The EU had already been weakened among Palestinians after it refused to accept its own principles of recognizing the outcome of the 2006 parliamentary elections. The United States had staunchly supported these elections as part of its zeal to spread democracy across the Middle East. The Hamas victory tested the U.S. and EU commitment to those principles. [complete article]
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Washington rallies behind Abbas with end to Palestinian boycott
By Rory McCarthy and Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, June 19, 2007

Mr Abbas won a vote of support from within his movement yesterday when Marwan Barghouti, a jailed Fatah commander, said he backed the president. But, in a statement released from his Israeli prison cell, Mr Barghouti also called for major reforms within Fatah, including the sacking of senior commanders who had responsibility for Gaza.

Mr Barghouti leads a young guard within Fatah and commands more respect among Palestinians than Mr Abbas. Since Fatah lost the elections last year, many in the party have called for a new leadership but there is still disagreement, even following the Hamas takeover in Gaza.

Qadura Fares, a former MP and a Fatah official close to Mr Barghouti, called for the ousting of Mohammad Dahlan, a powerful Fatah leader from Gaza who is a key opponent of Hamas. "Mr Abbas has made good decisions but he has to continue making them in the coming days," said Mr Fares. "In the security services he has to make changes." However, yesterday Mr Abbas re-appointed Mr Dahlan to a newly formed National Security Council. [complete article]

Comment -- Is Abbas again following directions from Washington, or is he afraid of what might happen if he was to cut Dahlan loose?
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Those who denied poll result were the real coup plotters
By Peter Beaumont, The Observer, June 17, 2007

Here is how democracy works in the Alice in Wonderland world of Palestinian politics under the tutelage of the US and international community. After years of being hectored to hold elections and adopt democratic norms, a year and a half ago Palestinians duly elected Hamas with 44 per cent of the vote, ahead of Fatah on 41 per cent.

It was a good election, as former US President Jimmy Carter observed at the time, a free, fair and accurate expression of the desires of a Palestinian people sick of the uselessness, corruption and gangsterism of Fatah. The problem was that it didn't quite reflect the wishes of Washington and the international community.

And while there can be no denying that Hamas, which refutes the existence of Israel and has backed suicide bombings, is a threatening organisation, there was no attempt at engagement, in the way that Fatah, whose militants have perpetrated scores of attacks, has been engaged with for years. [complete article]
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After Rumsfeld, a new dawn?
By Mark Perry, Asia Times, June 18, 2007

With major shifts underway in Iraq and in the region, and with the network of retired officers now firmly behind him in advocating that the "war czar" be picked from among the crop of currently serving officers, Gates recommended to the president that he appoint the Joint Chief of Staff's director of operations as the assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan.

Bush checked Lute's record and noted that he had opposed the "surge", so he had his doubts, but after he and Hadley had interviewed him he agreed with Gates' assessment and Lute's appointment was announced on May 15. As always, the soft-spoken Gates explained the appointment in terms that were far more blunt than perhaps Bush would have liked: "One of the arguments that we hear frequently - and frankly are very sympathetic with - is that we and the State Department are about the only parts of the government that are at war," Gates said. "This kind of position is intended to ensure that where other parts of the government can play a contributing role, that in fact they understand what the president's priorities are and make sure that the commanders in the field, the ambassador in the field, gets what he needs."

For his part, Lute was unapologetic for opposing the "surge", saying simply that he agreed with the president's policy. Even so, like Petraeus and Fallon, Lute is convinced that a military victory in Iraq is impossible without political reconciliation. He has broad support in this from all parts of the high command.

"He's not afraid to get tough with the bureaucracy," a uniformed colleague says. "He will run the war. He won't be a supreme commander, of course, but he'll be a supreme coordinator - and we desperately need one." Lute is also one of the ablest political generals in the Pentagon, having served ably with both Abizaid and Petraeus and was apparently blunt with Bush and Hadley, telling them about his doubts about their policies. "He told them he didn't agree with a lot of what they were doing," a colleague related, "and said, 'so take it or leave it', and they were shook by that. But they took it." [complete article]

See also, part two, A clean sweep (Mark Perry).
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We've lost. Here's how to handle it
By Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh, Washington Post, June 17, 2007

Last week's bloodshed in Iraq and the bombing of what remained of the historic Shiite shrine in Samarra and of two Sunni mosques in Basra were more reminders of a terrible truth: The war in Iraq is lost. The only question that remains -- for our gallant troops and our blinkered policymakers -- is how to manage the inevitable. What the United States needs now is a guide to how to lose -- how to start thinking about minimizing the damage done to American interests, saving lives and ultimately wresting some good from this fiasco.

No longer can we avoid this bitter conclusion. Iraq's winner-take-all politics are increasingly vicious; there will be no open, pluralistic Iraqi state to take over from the United States. Iraq has no credible central government that U.S. forces can assist and no national army for them to fight alongside. U.S. troops can't beat the insurgency on their own; our forces are too few and too isolated to compete with the insurgents for the public's support. Meanwhile, the country's militias have become a law unto themselves, and ethnic cleansing gallops forward.

But the most crucial reason why the war is lost is that the American people decisively rejected continuing U.S. military involvement last November. As far as the voters are concerned, the kitchen is closed. U.S. policymakers have not yet faced this hard fact. Some disasters are irretrievable, and this is one of them. Unless we admit that, we cannot begin the grueling work of salvage. [complete article]
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Index finds Iraq second most unstable country
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, June 18, 2007

Iraq now ranks as the second most unstable country in the world, ahead of war-ravaged or poverty-stricken countries such as Somalia, Zimbabwe, Ivory Coast, Congo, Afghanistan, Haiti and North Korea, according to the 2007 Failed State index issued today by Foreign Policy magazine and the Fund for Peace.

Despite billions of dollars in foreign aid, and the presence of more than 150,000 American troops, Iraq has been on a steady decline over the past three years, according to the index. It ranked fourth last year, but its score dropped in almost all of the 12 political, economic, security and social indicators on which the index is based.

"The report tells us that Iraq is sinking fast," said Fund for Peace President Pauline Baker. "We believe it's reached the point of no return. We have recommended -- based on studies done every six months since the U.S. invasion -- that the administration face up to the reality that the only choices for Iraq are how and how violently it will break up." [complete article]
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Petraeus: Iraq 'challenges' to last for years
By Karen DeYoung, Washington Post, June 18, 2007

Conditions in Iraq will not improve sufficiently by September to justify a drawdown of U.S. military forces, the top commander in Iraq said yesterday.

Asked whether he thought the job assigned to an additional 30,000 troops deployed as the centerpiece of President Bush's new war strategy would be completed by then, Gen. David H. Petraeus replied: "I do not, no. I think that we have a lot of heavy lifting to do."
Asserting steady, albeit slow, military and political progress, Petraeus said that the "many, many challenges" would not be resolved "in a year or even two years." Similar counterinsurgency operations, he said, citing Britain's experience in Northern Ireland, "have gone at least nine or 10 years." He said he and Crocker would make "some recommendations on the way ahead" to Congress, and that it was realistic to assume "some form of long-term security arrangement" with Iraq. [complete article]
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The general's report
By Seymour M. Hersh, The New Yorker, June 25, 2007

...Rumsfeld, in his appearances before the Senate and the House Armed Services Committees on May 7th, claimed to have had no idea of the extensive abuse [at Abu Ghraib]. "It breaks our hearts that in fact someone didn't say, 'Wait, look, this is terrible. We need to do something,' " Rumsfeld told the congressmen. "I wish we had known more, sooner, and been able to tell you more sooner, but we didn't."

Rumsfeld told the legislators that, when stories about the Taguba report appeared, "it was not yet in the Pentagon, to my knowledge." As for the photographs, Rumsfeld told the senators, "I say no one in the Pentagon had seen them"; at the House hearing, he said, "I didn't see them until last night at 7:30." Asked specifically when he had been made aware of the photographs, Rumsfeld said:
There were rumors of photographs in a criminal prosecution chain back sometime after January 13th ... I don't remember precisely when, but sometime in that period of January, February, March.... The legal part of it was proceeding along fine. What wasn’t proceeding along fine is the fact that the President didn't know, and you didn't know, and I didn't know.
"And, as a result, somebody just sent a secret report to the press, and there they are," Rumsfeld said.

Taguba, watching the hearings, was appalled. He believed that Rumsfeld's testimony was simply not true. "The photographs were available to him—if he wanted to see them," Taguba said. Rumsfeld's lack of knowledge was hard to credit. Taguba later wondered if perhaps Cambone had the photographs and kept them from Rumsfeld because he was reluctant to give his notoriously difficult boss bad news. But Taguba also recalled thinking, "Rumsfeld is very perceptive and has a mind like a steel trap. There's no way he's suffering from C.R.S. -- Can't Remember Shit. He's trying to acquit himself, and a lot of people are lying to protect themselves." It distressed Taguba that Rumsfeld was accompanied in his Senate and House appearances by senior military officers who concurred with his denials.

"The whole idea that Rumsfeld projects -- 'We're here to protect the nation from terrorism' -- is an oxymoron," Taguba said. "He and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them. And they've dragged a lot of officers with them." [complete article]

See also, What did Rumsfeld know? (Andrew Sullivan).

Comment -- When Donald Rumsfeld gave his farewell address at the Pentagon last December, he made a point of saying that while in office, "clearly the worst day was Abu Ghraib and seeing what went on there and feeling so deeply sorry that that happened." It sounded like a line phrased to be read back by a defense attorney -- evidence that this particular secretary of defense would never condone torture and that if only he had known he would have done everything in his power to prevent prisoners being mistreated.

But Rumsfeld already knows that, chances are, if he ever goes on trial it won't happen soon enough for Bush to pardon him and it'll be his word against the word of witnesses like General Taguba. Who's the jury going to believe? The master of denial or the guy who lost his job for telling the truth?
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The war inside
By Dana Priest and Anne Hull, Washington Post, June 17, 2007

Army Spec. Jeans Cruz helped capture Saddam Hussein. When he came home to the Bronx, important people called him a war hero and promised to help him start a new life. The mayor of New York, officials of his parents' home town in Puerto Rico, the borough president and other local dignitaries honored him with plaques and silk parade sashes. They handed him their business cards and urged him to phone.

But a "black shadow" had followed Cruz home from Iraq, he confided to an Army counselor. He was hounded by recurring images of how war really was for him: not the triumphant scene of Hussein in handcuffs, but visions of dead Iraqi children.

In public, the former Army scout stood tall for the cameras and marched in the parades. In private, he slashed his forearms to provoke the pain and adrenaline of combat. He heard voices and smelled stale blood. Soon the offers of help evaporated and he found himself estranged and alone, struggling with financial collapse and a darkening depression.

At a low point, he went to the local Department of Veterans Affairs medical center for help. One VA psychologist diagnosed Cruz with post-traumatic stress disorder. His condition was labeled "severe and chronic." In a letter supporting his request for PTSD-related disability pay, the psychologist wrote that Cruz was "in need of major help" and that he had provided "more than enough evidence" to back up his PTSD claim. His combat experiences, the letter said, "have been well documented."

None of that seemed to matter when his case reached VA disability evaluators. They turned him down flat, ruling that he deserved no compensation because his psychological problems existed before he joined the Army. They also said that Cruz had not proved he was ever in combat. "The available evidence is insufficient to confirm that you actually engaged in combat," his rejection letter stated. [complete article]
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The Gaza cage
By Uri Avnery, Counterpunch, June 16, 2007

The timing of Hamas' decision to take over the Strip by force was not accidental. Hamas had many good reasons to avoid it. The organization is unable to feed the population. It has no interest in provoking the Egyptian regime, which is busy fighting the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother-organization of Hamas. Also, the organization has no interest in providing Israel with a pretext for tightening the blockade.

But the Hamas leaders decided that they had no alternative but to destroy the armed organizations that are tied to Fatah and take their orders from President Mahmoud Abbas. The US has ordered Israel to supply these organizations with large quantities of weapons, in order to enable them to fight Hamas. The Israeli army chiefs did not like the idea, fearing that the arms might end up in the hands of Hamas (as is actually happening now). But our government obeyed American orders, as usual.

The American aim is clear. President Bush has chosen a local leader for every Muslim country, who will rule it under American protection and follow American orders. In Iraq, in Lebanon, in Afghanistan, and also in Palestine.

Hamas believes that the man marked for this job in Gaza is Mohammed Dahlan. For years it has looked as if he was being groomed for this position. The American and Israeli media have been singing his praises, describing him as a strong, determined leader, "moderate" (i.e. obedient to American orders) and "pragmatic" (i.e. obedient to Israeli orders). And the more the Americans and Israelis lauded Dahlan, the more they undermined his standing among the Palestinians. Especially as Dahlan was away in Cairo, as if waiting for his men to receive the promised arms.

In the eyes of Hamas, the attack on the Fatah strongholds in the Gaza Strip is a preventive war. The organizations of Abbas and Dahlan melted like snow in the Palestinian sun. Hamas has easily taken over the whole Gaza Strip.

How could the American and Israeli generals miscalculate so badly? They are able to think only in strictly military terms: so-and-so many soldiers, so-and-so many machine guns. But in interior struggles in particular, quantitative calculations are secondary. The morale of the fighters and public sentiment are far more important. The members of the Fatah organizations do not know what they are fighting for. The Gaza population supports Hamas, because they believe that it is fighting the Israeli occupier. Their opponents look like collaborators of the occupation. The American statements about their intention of arming them with Israeli weapons have finally condemned them.

That is not a matter of Islamic fundamentalism. In this respect all nations are the same: they hate collaborators of a foreign occupier, whether they are Norwegian (Quisling), French (Petain) or Palestinian. [complete article]

How Hamas turned on Palestine's 'traitors'
By Peter Beaumont, Mitchell Prothero, Azmi Al-Keshawi, and Sandra Jordan, The Observer, June 17, 2007

How did Hamas win? In the eyes of Gaza residents, the fight and subsequent defeat were inevitable because Fatah's forces in Gaza were widely considered nothing more than an undisciplined series of criminal gangs.

'[They won] from motivation, not fighting for money,' said another Gaza resident. 'They are not getting salaries. It's not a question of Hamas having more fighters, I don't think there were more, but the quality of the men carrying the weapons is totally different.

'Some fought for four days without going home. They believe in what they're doing. The others, Fatah security forces, fought for their thousand shekels (£120) or a packet of cigarettes. Dahlan had used poverty to recruit the people. The majority didn't even turn up to defend their stations, many stayed at home. Most were in plain clothes. Dozens called the Qassam and said, "We want to leave, give us security and a safe passage." Most of the decent security people don't want to fight for Dahlan, or Israel or America. They don't feel they should be killed for the American or Israeli agenda.'

'These guys [Fatah] would join either Hamas or the Israelis tomorrow if someone would pay them,' said one local journalist. 'They don't care who they fight for, as long as they get paid.' And they performed like it last week.

What happens next is the critical question. For despite Hamas overtures, it was clear that President Abbas was prepared to risk an even more dangerous confrontation with Hamas, swearing in a new emergency government yesterday after both he - and Hamas's bitter enemy Dahlan - had met senior US diplomats. [complete article]
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Gaza first?
By Zvi Bar'el, Haartz, June 17, 2007

...Israel must now decide whether control by another military force, with authority and capability, which is liable also to enjoy political support, is a worthy solution for Gaza at least, even if this force is called Hamas.

This is a force that contains all of the components that Israel always demanded from the Palestinian Authority when it was still ruled by Fatah. It is also possible to expect that Hamas will be able to impose its will on the family gangs in Gaza and thus realize another wish: unification of the Palestinian armed forces. In fact, the Hamas that now rules in Gaza is the same Hamas that preserved the hudna and later the tahadiyeh (lull). This time Israel also receives a bonus: It is a government that does not obligate Israel even to pretend that it is conducting negotiations or is committed to doing so. True, this is not the vision to which Israel aspires. It wants all of these good things to be performed by a Palestinian government that recognizes it and is headed by someone who is prepared to exchange kisses with Israel's prime minister even when he is spitting in his face.

But Israel does not have the leisure to indulge in fantasy. Gaza is now crawling toward the West Bank, and there is no guarantee that the comfortable division between Fatahland and Hamastan, which was quickly adopted by Israel, will indeed transpire and that the violent fighting will not erupt tomorrow in Hebron or Jenin. After all, vengeance takes on a life of its own. [complete article]

See also, Palestinian split poses a policy quandary for U.S. (NYT) and Hamas may find it needs its enemy (NYT).
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Israel plans attack on Gaza
By Uzi Mahnaimi, The Sunday Times, June 17, 2007

Israel's new defence minister Ehud Barak is planning an attack on Gaza within weeks to crush the Hamas militants who have seized power there.

According to senior Israeli military sources, the plan calls for 20,000 troops to destroy much of Hamas's military capability in days.

The raid would be triggered by Hamas rocket attacks against Israel or a resumption of suicide bombings.

Barak, who is expected to become defence minister tomorrow, has already demanded detailed plans to deploy two armoured divisions and an infantry division, accompanied by assault drones and F-16 jets, against Hamas. [complete article]

See also, Abbas outlaws Hamas militia forces (CNN) and Israel moves to 'isolate' Hamas (Al Jazeera).
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Hamastan day one
By Charles Levinson, Conflict Blotter, June 15, 2007

Despite alarmed phone calls from editors and loved ones, we feel quite safe and secure now. Compared to the past week things now feel blissfully peaceful. It seems many who write me think we should fear Hamas now that it is in control, but the reality is that the big threat to foreigners and journalists down here is not and never was Hamas. It’s criminal gangs, and far more sinister Islamic radicals who are exploited by the criminal gangs. The consensus is that now, with Hamas newly installed as the kings of Gaza, those criminal elements are going to lie low for the time being, adopting a wait and see attitude to Hamas.

It is of course widely expected, or at least hoped, that Hamas will finally crackdown on the lawlessness and anarchy that has ravaged Gaza for the past 18 months. If Hamas can indeed pull that off their popularity here will skyrocket and they will be forgiven almost any other transgression. [complete article]

See also, BBC journalist to be released 'within days' (The Times) and Hamas 'threatened Johnston's captors' (Ynet).
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How war was turned into a brand
By Naomi Klein, The Guardian, June 16, 2007

Gaza in the hands of Hamas, with masked militants sitting in the president's chair; the West Bank on the edge; Israeli army camps hastily assembled in the Golan Heights; a spy satellite over Iran and Syria; war with Hizbullah a hair trigger away; a scandal-plagued political class facing a total loss of public faith. At a glance, things aren't going well for Israel. But here's a puzzle: why, in the midst of such chaos and carnage, is the Israeli economy booming like it's 1999, with a roaring stock market and growth rates nearing China's?

Thomas Friedman recently offered his theory in the New York Times. Israel "nurtures and rewards individual imagination", and so its people are constantly spawning ingenious hi-tech start-ups, no matter what messes their politicians are making. After perusing class projects by students in engineering and computer science at Ben-Gurion University, Friedman made one of his famous fake-sense pronouncements. Israel "had discovered oil". This oil, apparently, is located in the minds of Israel's "young innovators and venture capitalists", who are too busy making megadeals with Google to be held back by politics.

Here's another theory. Israel's economy isn't booming despite the political chaos that devours the headlines but because of it. This phase of development dates back to the mid-90s, when the country was in the vanguard of the information revolution - the most tech-dependent economy in the world. After the dotcom bubble burst in 2000, Israel's economy was devastated, facing its worst year since 1953. Then came 9/11, and suddenly new profit vistas opened up for any company that claimed it could spot terrorists in crowds, seal borders from attack, and extract confessions from closed-mouthed prisoners. [complete article]
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America's bad deal with Musharraf, going down in flames
By Ahmed Rashid, Washington Post, June 17, 2007

Pakistan is on the brink of disaster, and the Bush administration is continuing to back the man who dragged it there. As President Pervez Musharraf fights off the most serious challenge to his eight-year dictatorship, the United States is supporting him to the hilt. The message to the Pakistani public is clear: To the Bush White House, the war on terrorism tops everything, and that includes democracy.

The crisis began on March 9, when Musharraf suspended Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, the chief justice of the supreme court, who bravely threatened Musharraf's plans to consolidate his power. That triggered street protests demanding Musharraf's resignation, which were met by a government-led crackdown on lawyers, the opposition and the media. Thousands of lawyers nationwide, looking like penguins in their courtroom black suits and white shirts, braved police batons and the heat to lead marches. They were joined by women's groups, journalists and the opposition. For the first time in two decades, Pakistan's civil society has taken to the streets.

The roots of the crisis go back to the blind bargain Washington made after 9/11 with the regime that had heretofore been the Taliban's main patron: ignoring Musharraf's despotism in return for his promises to crack down on al-Qaeda and cut the Taliban loose. Today, despite $10 billion in U.S. aid to Pakistan since 2001, that bargain is in tatters; the Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al-Qaeda's senior leadership has set up another haven inside Pakistan's chaotic border regions.

The problem is exacerbated by a dramatic drop-off in U.S. expertise on Pakistan. Retired American officials say that, for the first time in U.S. history, nobody with serious Pakistan experience is working in the South Asia bureau of the State Department, on State's policy planning staff, on the National Security Council staff or even in Vice President Cheney's office. Anne W. Patterson, the new U.S. ambassador to Islamabad, is an expert on Latin American "drugs and thugs"; Richard A. Boucher, the assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asian affairs, is a former department spokesman who served three tours in Hong Kong and China but never was posted in South Asia. "They know nothing of Pakistan," a former senior U.S. diplomat said.

Current and past U.S. officials tell me that Pakistan policy is essentially being run from Cheney's office. The vice president, they say, is close to Musharraf and refuses to brook any U.S. criticism of him. This all fits; in recent months, I'm told, Pakistani opposition politicians visiting Washington have been ushered in to meet Cheney's aides, rather than taken to the State Department. [complete article]

See also, U.S. restates support for embattled Musharraf (WP) and Can Pakistan mix well with democracy? (NYT)

Comment -- When it comes to US policy towards Pakistan, the unspoken assumption made by both Republicans and Democrats is that the people of Pakistan are not competent to act in their own political interests. The fear of unleashing militant Islamist extremism is pure and simply a fear of democracy. America's fear of democracy in Pakistan is no different from Henry Kissinger's contempt for democracy in Chile: a fear that "its people are irresponsible."

What most Americans are utterly ignorant about is that in a country such as Pakistan, the level of political awareness, political literacy, and political sophistication is significantly higher than it is in much of America.

To say this is not to make some extraordinary claim about Pakistan's population; it is simply to note that repression and poverty are inherently politicizing forces. In contrast, the broad expansion of the middle class and with that the increase in private property, brings with it a concomitant increase in levels of political indifference, ignorance and apathy. The more comfortable we are, the less concern we have for collective interests, the less politics seems to matter. And in a climate of broad-based political indifference, the body politic empowers its government not through a mandate but through the freedom that flows from inattention. (This is what makes Cheney so dangerous.)

Can Americans be expected to care about the awakening of democracy overseas while they are so content to let it slumber here?
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Blair knew US had no post-war plan for Iraq
By Nicholas Watt, The Observer, June 17, 2007

Tony Blair agreed to commit British troops to battle in Iraq in the full knowledge that Washington had failed to make adequate preparations for the postwar reconstruction of the country.

In a devastating account of the chaotic preparations for the war, which comes as Blair enters his final full week in Downing Street, key No 10 aides and friends of Blair have revealed the Prime Minister repeatedly and unsuccessfully raised his concerns with the White House.

He also agreed to commit troops to the conflict even though President George Bush had personally said Britain could help 'some other way'.

The disclosures, in a two-part Channel 4 documentary about Blair's decade in Downing Street, will raise questions about Blair's public assurances at the time of the war in 2003 that he was satisfied with the post-war planning. In one of the most significant interviews in the programme, Peter Mandelson says that the Prime Minister knew the preparations were inadequate but said he was powerless to do more. [complete article]

See also, A bloody epitaph to Blair's war (The Independent) and A cry for justice from a good man who expected us to protect his son (Robert Fisk).
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Iraq's unbreakable deadlock
By Dilip Hiro, The Guardian, June 17, 2007

Furious at the demolition of the remaining two minarets of the Shia Askariya Mosque in Samarra on Wednesday, radical Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr instructed his followers in the Iraqi parliament to boycott the chamber and stay out until the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki promises to rebuild the mosque and strengthen security at all holy sites.

This is bad news for the Bush administration: it is keen to see the Iraqi legislature pass expeditiously crucial laws on oil, constitutional changes, and liberalising the de-Baathification policy - all geared to creating national reconciliation among Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. Even at the best of times parliamentary leaders have to struggle to ensure a quorum. With 30 Sadrist MPs abstaining in a house of 275, the chances of a quorate chamber is much reduced.

From Washington's viewpoint, the time frame is crucial too. The US Congress for the war in Iraq only until September and laid out legislative benchmarks for the Iraqi government on hydrocarbons, constitution and de-Baathification. With Baghdad drenched in searing heat in July and August, MPs are anxious to go on vacation, thus leaving White House officials fretting over the delay. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

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

Gaza: another mess made in U.S.
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, June 14, 2007

"I like this violence"
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 13, 2007

'Escape is impossible': Inside Ain al-Hilweh, Lebanon's biggest Palestinian refugee camp
By Ghaith Abdul-Ahad, The Guardian, June 12, 2007

Attack on America
Editorial, Baltimore Sun, June 13, 2007

The imperative dream
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, June 12, 2007

Post-traumatic Iraq syndrome
By Christopher J. Fettweis, Los Angeles Times, June 12, 2007

The war economy of Iraq
By Christopher Parker and Pete W. Moore, MERIP, Summer, 2007

Is there a nationalist solution in Iraq?
By Robert Dreyfuss, The American Prospect, June 5, 2007

The enemy's new tools in Iraq
By Bobby Ghosh, Time, June 14, 2007

Robo-tripping at Abu Ghraib
By Tara McKelvey, The American Prospect, June 15, 2007

Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran
By Trita Parsi, Asia Times, June 14, 2007

The Pentagon v. peak oil
By Michael T. Klare, TomDispatch, June 14, 2007

Israel is full of little blue-and-white Ahmadinejads
By Gideon Levy, Haaretz, June 10, 2007

(Note on the archives: Regular readers may have noticed that since February the drop-down archives menu hasn't been updating. This is now fixed. If you have any problems accessing the recent pages, let me know. Note that the most recent page appears at the bottom of the menu.)
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