|Iraq + war on terrorism + Middle East conflict + critical perspectives|
Why Europe marches meekly behind the U.S. on Hamas
By Mark Perry, Rootless Cosmopolitan, July 6, 2007
We Americans hardly remember the incident now, but it was not so long ago. On February 8, 2003, at the 39th Munich Conference on Security, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld presented the American case for the war in Iraq . "Diplomacy has been exhausted," he said. After he took his seat, an uncomfortable silence filled the hall and attention turned to German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. An otherwise stoic and understated man, Fischer discarded his prepared comments and spoke bluntly, and in English. "Excuse me," he said, "I am not convinced." As Rumsfeld sat, silent, Fischer even wagged his finger. It was the first time in anyone's memory that any European diplomat had dared lecture an American.
The incident may now have faded, but for Europeans it is a source of constant pain -- and a blood-draining reminder of just how close the alliance that won the Cold War came to splintering. When my colleague, Alastair Crooke and I, made a presentation to EU Ambassadors in Brussels on Hamas in the wake of their victory in the parliamentary elections of January of 2006, the Rumsfeld-Fischer confrontation was still a vivid and painful memory. And it was for this reason that our argument for a European opening to Hamas -- in defiance of U.S. pressure for an economic boycott of their democratically elected government -- was universally spurned. "We know you are right, really we do" one ambassador said after our presentation. "But we will not break with the Americans. We just cannot do it." [complete article] An unpardonable act
By E. J. Dionne Jr., Washington Post, July 6, 2007
I harbored no personal desire to see I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby spend a long time in prison for his perjury and obstruction-of-justice convictions. People who know him tell me he is a thoughtful and interesting man, and I have no reason to doubt them.
Yet when I learned that President Bush had commuted Libby's 30-month sentence, I was enraged although not surprised. Rage should not be a standard response to political events (though avoiding it has gotten harder in recent years), so I had to ask if my anger was justified. Here's the case for getting mad and staying mad.
The core point is that "equal justice under law" either means something or it doesn't. In this case, all the facts we know tell us that Libby received far more than equal justice, as evidenced by the irregular way his commutation was handled. [complete article]
See also, Shame on Bush -- and us (Rosa Brooks).
Comment -- If Dick Cheney got struck by lightening, a lot of atheists would turn into believers.
What's my point? Pundits like E.J. Dionne can vent their rage about this president's lack of respect for the principal of equal justice under law, but the truth is, if Lewis Libby had made a plea bargain and agreed to testify against his boss -- thereby avoiding a prison sentence -- we'd all now be viewing his act of self-interest as also a laudable public service.
The immediate issue isn't so much that justice demanded that Libby go to jail as much as that his going to jail might have served as a warning shot to Cheney and Bush that some day, they too, might be punished as criminals -- hopefully in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
The commutation of Libby's prison sentence is less significant as an injustice -- injustices are after all a daily event in a legal system that favors rich white people; it is more significant as a depressing signal that those who should face imprisonment for the rest of their lives will in all likelihood never even face charges. Key GOP senator breaks with Bush
By Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane, Washington Post, July 6, 2007
White House efforts to keep congressional Republicans united over the Iraq war suffered another major defection yesterday as Sen. Pete V. Domenici (N.M.) broke with President Bush and called for an immediate change in U.S. strategy that could end combat operations by spring.
The six-term lawmaker, party loyalist and former staunch war supporter represents one of the most significant GOP losses to date. Speaking to reporters at a news conference in Albuquerque, Domenici said he began to question his stance on Iraq late last month, after several conversations with the family members of dead soldiers from his home state, and as it became clear that Iraqi leaders are making little progress toward national reconciliation.
"We cannot continue asking our troops to sacrifice indefinitely while the Iraqi government is not making measurable progress," Domenici said. "I do not support an immediate withdrawal from Iraq or a reduction in funding for our troops. But I do support a new strategy that will move our troops out of combat operations and on the path to coming home." [complete article] The war within Fatah
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 5, 2007
Tensions are growing between supporters of the American-backed Dahlan faction and the supporters of Yasser Arafat. Tensions between the two polarised camps increased dramatically last week when Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, who backs Dahlan, fired veteran Fatah leader and former PA interior minister Hani Al-Hassan who had accused Dahlan of planning to murder him -- a charge which Dahlan vehemently denied.
The dismissal followed alleged remarks made by Al-Hassan on Wednesday during an interview with the pan- Arab Al-Jazeera TV network where he argued that the recent showdown in Gaza was not a confrontation between Fatah and Hamas but one between Hamas and the Dahlan faction.
Referring to Dahlan's supporters as "the Dayton group", a reference to the American General Keith Dayton who was in charge of arming and financing the former Gaza strongman, Al-Hassan said that Hamas had to do what it did in order to protect the overall national cause.
Following the interview, representatives of the Dahlan faction called Abbas, pressuring him to fire and punish Al-Hassan, while masked gunmen opened fire on his home in Ramallah. Al-Hassan was not in Ramallah during the attack.
Fatah leaders and media outlets affiliated with Abbas and Dahlan have also been waging a smear campaign against Al-Hassan, claiming he had warned Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal of an impending coup to overthrow Hamas, which Al-Hassan allegedly claimed was being planned by Dahlan and Dayton.
In addition to Abbas and Dahlan, the "moderate camp" within Fatah includes people like Ahmed Abdul-Rahman, Al-Tayeb Abdul-Rahim, Nabil Amr and security officers such General Intelligence Chief Tawfiq Tirawi.
The Arafat camp includes the bulk of veteran Fatah leaders such as the Tunis-based head of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) political department, Farouk Al-Qaddoumi, Hani Al-Hassan, Jebril Rajoub, Marwan Al-Barghouti, Ahmed Hellis and militant leaders affiliated with Fatah's armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. [complete article]
See also, Fatah on shaky ground in West Bank (LAT) and Gaza protesters demand Hamas-Fatah dialogue (AFP). U.S.: Johnston's release won't change world view of Hamas
By , July , 2007
The United States said Thursday that Hamas' role in freeing British Broadcasting Corp. correspondent Alan Johnston has not changed the world's opinion of the Islamic militant group.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters, however, "I don't think the world views Hamas any differently as a result of this." [complete article]
Comment -- So now Sean McCormack doesn't just speak for the State Department -- he speaks for the world!
The world has never had a lower opinion of the United States, yet a US government official thinks he can speak on behalf of the world. Could there -- and I know this is a gigantic intellectual leap to make -- but could there be a connection here? Delivering results
By Saleh Al-Naami, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 5, 2007
Despite difficult economic conditions, the popularity of Hamas, and of sacked premier Haniyeh, is growing. According to an opinion poll published in the 3 July issue of Al-Quds -- the most widely distributed Palestinian newspaper, close to Fatah and funded by the office of Abbas -- if presidential elections were held tomorrow Haniyeh would win 51.38 per cent of the vote, Abbas 13.37 per cent and jailed Fatah leader Marwan Al-Barghouti 12.62 per cent. Salam Fayyad, the head of the emergency government, would barely scrape five per cent of the popular vote.
The results of the poll come as no surprise to researcher Ibrahim Abul Heija. Despite a concerted media campaign against Hamas -- regularly referred to as "oppressors" and "traitors" in the pro-Fatah media, Abbas's position, he says, has been compromised by Israeli-US support. Abbas is now seen by many Palestinians as cooperating with the occupation. In contrast, Hamas has succeeded in engineering an unprecedented improvement in security conditions in Gaza. [complete article] Abbas's grievous gamble
By Ayman El-Amir, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 5, 2007
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has won a dubious victory at Sharm El-Sheikh's summit conference against his rival partner -- the democratically elected Hamas government. With US and Israeli encouragement, which he called "promises from the American and Israeli sides", Abbas succeeded in isolating Hamas by cornering himself in the West Bank. As he rushed to France to market the promises he believed he had won, Israel rewarded him with the only treatment it reserves for the Palestinians -- it stormed Nablus in the West Bank, killed one militant of Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades and arrested dozens. The overwhelming view in the Arab world is that Abbas has reached this pinnacle of power on the tip of US-Israeli spearheads and at the price of splintering the Palestinian movement. This may prove to be his nemesis. [complete article] Construction and development of settlements beyond the limits of jurisdiction
By Dror Etkes and Hagit Ofran, Peace Now, July, 2007
One of the recurring claims of the various Israel government spokespersons over the past few decades regarding construction in the settlements was that it only occurs within the "boundaries of the settlement". Words of that nature were even uttered by Prime Minister Olmert during a recent meeting with Abdullah, the King of Jordan (May 15, 2008), during which he promised that: "the construction of settlements is only being carried out within the approved designated lines". However, through the years, Israel's spokespersons made deceptive and manipulative use of the concept of "settlement areas" in order to continue, in fact, to make it possible for settlements to grow and develop without almost any restrictions. The construction in settlements "within their boundaries" continued, in contradiction to the commitment of those very same governments to maintain "political restraint", where the vision of a future Palestinian state plays a major role. In this context, it is important to remember that the State of Israel's official position is that no new settlement has been established anywhere in the West Bank for over a decade. [complete article] Iraqi oil: a benchmark or a giveaway?
By David Bacon, The American Prospect, July 6, 2007
A strike by Iraqi oil workers in early June threw into question the conditions that some in the U.S. Congress would place on ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq. At the same time, Iraqi nationalists have grown more vocal in their accusations that the occupation itself has an economic agenda, centered on seizing control of the country's oil.
Across the political spectrum in Washington, many now demand that the Maliki government meet certain benchmarks, which presumably would show that it's really in charge in Iraq. But there's a particular problem with the most important benchmark that the Iraqi government is being pressured to meet: the oil law. The problem is, in Iraq, it may be the single most unpopular measure the United States is trying to get the government to enact.
In the United States, this law is generally presented as a means to share the oil wealth among different geographic regions of the country. Many Iraqis, however, see it differently. They look the proposed law and see instead the way its welcomes foreign oil companies into the oil fields. They see the control it would give those oil companies over setting royalties, deciding on production levels, and even determining whether Iraqis get to work in their own industry. [complete article] Al-Qaida: the unwanted guests
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Middle East Online, July 5, 2007
As the arc of chaos grows from Afghanistan to Somalia by way of the Middle East, the region's states are growing weaker and their armed groups gaining in power. But in this battle for competing visions between the US and al-Qaida, the Sunni resistance is now opposing al-Qaida in Iraq, as are the Taliban in Afghanistan.
There is a widening split between armed Islamists, as two recent incidents show. In March the local Taliban in the Pakistani tribal zone of South Waziristan killed foreign fighters from the al-Qaida-affiliated Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan. Almost simultaneously, infighting broke out between the Islamic Army in Iraq and the local branch of al-Qaida. The confrontation between the two strategies -- and two different ideologies -- of the Islamist struggle is getting more violent.
Many of the foreign volunteers who have flooded into Pakistan and Iraq since 2003 are Takfirists, who regard "bad Muslims" as the real enemy. Indigenous Islamic resistance groups have reacted uncomfortably to the growth of this near-heresy within al-Qaida which, by waging war against Muslim governments, has brought chaos to the populations it claims to defend. [complete article] Errant Afghan civilian deaths surge
By Laura King, Los Angeles Times, July 6, 2007
After more than five years of increasingly intense warfare, the conflict in Afghanistan reached a grim milestone in the first half of this year: U.S. troops and their NATO allies killed more civilians than insurgents did, according to several independent tallies.
The upsurge in deaths at the hands of Western forces has been driven by Taliban tactics as well as by actions of the American military and its allies.
But the growing toll is causing widespread disillusionment among the Afghan people, eroding support for the government of President Hamid Karzai and exacerbating political rifts among NATO allies about the nature and goals of the mission in Afghanistan.
More than 500 Afghan civilians have been reported killed this year, and the rate has dramatically increased in the last month. [complete article] Musharraf escapes 'assassination shots' on his plane
By Zahid Hussain, The Times, July 6, 2007
Suspected Islamic militants fired at an aircraft carrying Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan's President today as it took off from a military airbase.
The attack took place as the leader of a Taleban-style movement pledged to fight to the death against troops who laid siege to a radical mosque in the centre of Islamabad.
The gunmen who fired at General Musharraf's aircraft used an improvised anti-aircraft gun mounted on the rooftop of an apartment building close to the Chaklala airbase in Rawalpindi, the seat of Pakistan's military headquarters. The shots did not hit the aircraft and General Musharraf continued his journey to the southwestern town of Turbat, where he visited flood victims.
Major General Waheed Arshad, Pakistan military's chief spokesman denied that the shots were fired at the President's plane. But intelligence officials dealing directly with the incident confirmed that General Musharraf's flight was the target. [complete article]
See also, Pakistan's crisis deepens (The Guardian). Indian doctors fear bomb plot backlash
By Emily Wax, Washington Post, July 6, 2007
When Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced more rigorous background checks on foreign doctors applying for visas to work in Britain, panic spread through India's medical community, whose highly skilled professionals have always found it easy to work and study abroad.
The prime minister's announcement this week followed the disclosure that, among the medical professionals being held in connection with the failed bombings in Britain, three are from a single family in Bangalore. It was the first time that Indian Muslims have been accused of being linked to a possible al-Qaeda plot.
In emotional television broadcasts, Indian political and medical leaders said they worried that it would be harder to get visas to Britain and that Indian professionals living abroad would face racial profiling. [complete article]
Comment -- It seems to me that provoking exactly this reaction -- a fear of foreign doctors -- may have been precisely the intended effect of these attacks. What Britain's political leaders see as prudence, Ayman al-Zawahiri and those who are like-minded, may view as the bait having been swallowed. What happened to Al Jazeera's Sami al-Haj
By Rachel Morris, Columbia Journalism Review, July-August, 2007
On December 15, 2001, early in the morning on the last day of Ramadan, a reporter and a cameraman from Al Jazeera arrived at the Pakistani town of Charman on the Afghanistan border, on their way to cover the American military operation. The reporter, Abdelhaq Sadah, was replacing a colleague, but the cameraman, a Sudanese national named Sami al-Haj, had been on such an assignment before, and had crossed the border without incident. This time, however, an immigration official stopped him. He seemed angry. The official told Sadah that he could go, but "your friend is a wanted man and will stay here."
In Sadah's recollection, the official produced a letter from Pakistani intelligence—written, curiously, in English. It said that al-Haj had Al Qaeda ties and should be apprehended. Al-Haj noticed that the passport number in the letter didn’t correspond to the one in his current passport, but instead to an old passport he had lost several years ago in Sudan and had reported missing. Despite his protests, the official insisted on detaining him overnight. The next morning, Sadah returned to the border post just in time to see a Pakistani military officer lead al-Haj to a car and drive him away. [complete article] How U.S. policy missteps led to a nasty downfall in Gaza
By Warren P. Strobel and Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, July 4, 2007
Officials in the Bush administration awoke on the morning of January 26, 2006 to catastrophic news.
Hamas, a violent Islamist movement whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, had won Palestinian parliamentary elections — elections that were deemed free and fair and a cornerstone to President Bush's initiative to bring more democracy to the Muslim world.
For the next 17 months, White House and State Department officials would undertake an all-out campaign to reverse those results and oust Hamas from power.
Instead of undermining Hamas, though, the strategy helped to exacerbate dangerous political fissures in Palestinian politics that have delivered another setback to the president's vision of a stable, pro-Western Middle East. [complete article]
Comment -- In this McClatchy report, there is what I believe to be the first confirmation in the U.S. media of details of a plan to oust Hamas that was described seven weeks ago in an article that Mark Perry and I wrote for Asia Times. Hamas is the address for doing business
By Mark Perry, Conflicts Forum, July 5, 2007
[Senior Hamas leader, Usamah] Hamdan was naturally reticent to give any details of Hamas's strategy for gaining Johnston's release, though it was soon clear that the leadership had adopted a less than subtle set of tactics to win his freedom. "We are talking to some senior members of the family, telling them this will not help the whole family, and they have to play a role. They can't cover their backs while they are kidnapping this man," Hamdan said. Another Palestinian leader was less charitable: "These people are not Rhodes scholars," he said of the Dagmoush's. "This is essentially a criminal gang, a politicized political gang, but a gang. They understand the use of force."
At first, Hamas worked carefully -- slowly bringing pressure against the family. The Hamas leadership was particularly sensitive to the pleadings of British officials, including Richard Makepeace, the British Consul General in Jerusalem, who held a series of quiet meetings with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza City. But the go-slow approach advocated by Makepeace soon gave way to a tougher line. The key to gaining Johnston's release was convincing 28-year-old Mumtaz Dagmoush, the leader of the family, that there would be a steep price to pay should any harm come to the BBC reporter. Hamas's message to Dagmoush was clear: if he cooperated, he and his family would be left alone, but if he did not -- and if something were to happen to Johnston -- then he and the Dagmoush would have to face the armed might of Hamas's Executive Force, now firmly in control in Gaza. [Complete article] Commercial closure: deleting Gaza's economy from the map
Report by Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement), July 4, 2007
Israel's working assumption is that choking Gaza's economy and closing its borders to the passage of people will achieve the political objectives it wants. According to this theory, political objectives are to be achieved by exerting pressure on 1.4 million women, men and children, whose suffering is to bring out the desired change – toppling Hamas control in Gaza. In reality, a policy of collective punishment is being imposed upon 1.4 million people, in violation of international humanitarian law and, in effect, in clear contradiction of Israel's interests.
This policy is destroying the business sector, creating a new welfare regime in Gaza, and turning growing numbers of Gaza residents into dependents on international welfare agencies and religious charities.
As of today, 87% of Gaza residents live below the poverty line. The opportunity to earn a living with dignity and to build a properly-functioning society is disappearing. According to the chairman of Israel's Association of Industrialists, Shraga Brosh, "the economic boycott on the Gaza Strip …will result in a humanitarian disaster, fueling flames and leading to deterioration of the security situation – a situation that will be destructive to the Israeli economy." [complete article] A time for joy and reflection
By Khalid Meshaal, The Guardian, July 5, 2007
The Palestinian people have been struggling for their freedom for almost a century. In our own land we have been denied basic human rights by an occupier that has enjoyed, under various spurious guises, international support. As Alan Johnston returns home, we hope that the British, and people the world over, reflect on the fact that more than 12,000 Palestinians are languishing in Israeli jails, unjustly denied their freedom. They include ministers of a democratically elected government, parliamentarians, women and even children.
Like Alan, they all have loved ones who long to see them again. Many of these hapless captives are their families' breadwinners. But the reality today in occupied Palestine is that there is no bread to win because the international community has imposed comprehensive sanctions on the Palestinians, denying them even the most basic necessities for survival. All of this is done to coerce us into accepting the occupier's terms.
Nowhere can a free people be made to surrender their historical and national rights. Accordingly, Palestinians will continue to make every sacrifice until we gain our freedom. In that endeavour, we are ready to work with all who wish to pursue our people's just aims. We look to Britain's new prime minister, Gordon Brown, to begin a constructive new chapter in our relationship. [complete article]
MPs urging engagement with Hamas
BBC News, July 5, 2007
A group of British parliamentarians is calling for international engagement with the militant Hamas movement, after it helped free Alan Johnston in Gaza.
Twenty MPs from all parties, including Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, signed the Commons motion a day after the BBC correspondent's release. [complete article]
See also, Give Hamas a chance (Dror Zeevi) and Islamists: To deal, or not to deal? (Scott MacLeod). British suspect's beliefs drove him, friends say
By Marjorie Miller and Sebastian Rotella, Los Angeles Times, July 5, 2007
Bilal Abdullah was an angry militant Islamist long before he became a doctor in Britain or a chief suspect in last week's attempted car bombings in London and Glasgow, according to acquaintances.
The Iraqi doctor spoke fluent English, studied for his British medical exams in Cambridge and worked part time at a local Staples office supply store, according to a friend from those days in 2004 and 2005.
Abdullah also praised former Al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Zarqawi, and kept his group's videos showing beheadings and assaults. He cheered the killing of U.S. and British troops, and wanted to see a strict Islamic government in Iraq, as well as Islamic dominance around the world. [complete article]
The doctors' orders
By Christopher Dickey, July 5, 2007
...[Abu Musab] al-Suri's important breakthroughs have less to do with specific plots than with his wider approach to what U.S. officials have called "fourth-generation warfare," where no clear battle lines, or, for that matter, borders, are respected. He disdains old, hierarchical jihadi organizations, espousing instead complete decentralization of a global war where "groups of guys," as American analysts like to call them -- groups much like the doctors arrested in Britain and Australia this week -- will operate almost independently. [complete article]
See also, Denial of the link with Iraq is delusional and dangerous (Seumas Milne), After attacks, foreign doctors face new scrutiny in Britain (CSM), Militant: 'Those who cure you will kill you' (CNN), and Terror cells favor simple ingredients in building bombs (WP). President Bush's decision to commute Scooter Libby's sentence: Why it's indefensible, even if one agrees with Republican critiques of the sentence
By Edward Lazarus. FindLaw, July 5, 2007
Bush's failure of justification is damning. Commutation, especially in a high-profile and politically-charged case, is a serious undertaking. It is an unreviewable act that has the extraordinary effect of exempting a single individual from the usual application of the law.
Here, the presiding judge, a Republican, deemed the evidence of Scooter's guilt to be overwhelming. Moreover, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals, including two Republicans, has concluded that Scooter has no substantial issues on which to base an appeal.
Against this backdrop, Bush bears the burden of showing that his act of commutation served an aspect of fairness and justice that would be otherwise slighted in Scooter's case. Absent such a rationale, the commutation must be seen as one of three things (or some combination of any of three): a decision simply to substitute Bush's sense of justice for that of the court's; an act of political and personal loyalty; or, more nefariously, an attempt to insure Scooter's silence.
To varying degrees, all three possibilities point to an Administration that considers itself above customary legal constraint - a consistent and dangerous theme for this Administration. Since I write this on July 4, it seems only fitting to describe this as un-American - or at least hostile to the America we desire to be. [complete article]
See also, No-fault foreign policy (Michael Hirsh). Johnston attributes release to Hamas' 'law and order agenda'
Haaretz, July 4, 2007
British Broadcasting Corporation reporter Alan Johnston, freed early Wednesday after four months in captivity in the Gaza Strip, told a Jerusalem press conference later in the day that Hamas is to thank for securing his release.
"I'm pretty sure that if Hamas hadn't come in and turned the heat on, I'd still be in that room," Johnston said.
"Hamas has a huge law and order agenda," he said. Although the Islamic militant movement was controversial internationally, he said, it "is better at keeping law and order than many would agree. And God knows Gaza needs law and order." [complete article]
Comment -- When Alan Johnston gave his first press conference today sitting next to Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, some viewers may have imagined that Johnston was simply making a diplomatic expression of gratitude towards his hosts. During his second news conference, this time from the British Consulate in Jerusalem, he clearly had no obligation to please Hamas. Nevertheless, Johnston was unambiguous in crediting Hamas with a success that Abbas' own security forces could not accomplish. Not surprisingly, this has brought forth a sour reaction from some Fatah officials such as Yasser Abed Rabbo.
But now that Johnston is free, it's going to be possible to investigate more openly allegations that his release 'had repeatedly failed due to what one Hamas official described as "negative interference and obstruction" by Palestinian Authority security circles loyal to Dahlan and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.' By implication, the propaganda coup that Hamas was going to enjoy if it could secure Johnston's release was as much a source of ambivalence for Israel and the U.S. as it was for Fatah itself.
The U.S. media is now reluctant to deliver the message of Hamas' success -- they want to turn it into a human interest story stripped of political implications -- but as usual the Israeli media is displaying more backbone. Credit to Hamas for its ability to impose law and order goes straight into the Haaretz headline, while in Yedioth Ahronoth, columnist Ali Waked lays out Hamas' message in black and white terms:
...this is the message Hamas is interested in conveying to Israel and the world at this time – the message that when it comes to the Palestinians, Hamas is the address for doing business.If Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had even a fraction of the political authority that Hamas now enjoys in Gaza, you can be sure he would already have been to the White House to receive his Medal of Freedom. Hamas's latest coup
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, July 4, 2007
Alan's captivity provided an opportunity for Hamas to demonstrate that they could impose order on Gaza where Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and his Gazan allies such as Mohammed Dahlan had failed.
Hamas received early rewards. Richard Makepeace, the British consul general in Jerusalem, became the first Western diplomat to meet Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister. British officials insisted the only reason for the meeting was to discuss the fate of Alan, but the precedent was set and the recognition was granted.
As one British official remarked when Alan's release first appeared imminent: "If they do free him, what do we have to do in return?"
This meeting between Makepeace and Haniyeh partly explains the determination of Hamas to free Alan. If they could achieve his freedom, they would demonstrate an ability and a credibility that was lacking in Fatah - despite its international recognition.
But Alan's case was just a symbol of a broader message that Hamas wants to send out to the international community and Israel. This is that they can impose peace and security and be trusted to carry out their commitments if they are addressed directly. [complete article] Take the revolutionary road
By Michael Hardt, The Guardian, July 4, 2007
Jefferson insists on the virtue and necessity of periodic rebellion - even against the newly formed government. The processes of constituent power must continually disrupt and force open an establishment of constituted power.
The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere.Rebellion against the government, he maintains, is so virtuous that it should not only be tolerated but even encouraged.
Rebellion is not just a matter of correcting wrongs committed by the government, and thus only valuable if its cause is just; it has an intrinsic value, regardless of the justness of its specific grievances and goals. Periodic rebellion is necessary to guarantee the health of a society and preserve public freedom. "God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion," he writes. In Jefferson's view, rebellion should not become our constant condition; rather, it should eternally return. By my calculation we are well overdue. [complete article]
Comment -- I salute Michael Hardt in his call for rebellion, but as Americans gather together on National Barbecue Day and proudly display the Star-Spangled Banner, there can be little doubt that over and above the honoring of a revolution, today is a day for the celebration of comfort and pleasure. So long as no one disrupts the source of our political slumber, Washington can also rest at ease -- the murmurs of rebellion will do no more than help sustain the ambiance of a free society. IDF chief to Knesset: Abbas, Meshal will form union in time
By Shahar Ilan, Haaretz, July 4, 2007
Dialogue will develop over time between Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the head of the political wing of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, and there will be no separation between Gaza and the West Bank, Israel Defense Force Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Tuesday.
The deputy head of Military Intelligence, Colonel Ronen Cohen, who gave most of Tuesday's briefing, told the lawmakers that Hamas wants to return to dialogue with the countries in the region.
"For that to become possible, it is essential from its perspective to go back to talking to Abu Mazen [Abbas]," he said. [complete article] Obstruction of justice, continued
By Dan Froomkin, Washingtonpost.com, July 3, 2007
During the course of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's trial for obstruction of justice and perjury, we learned a lot about his bosses.
Incremental discoveries that didn't garner major headlines nevertheless added to what we know -- and can reasonably surmise -- about Vice President Cheney and President Bush's role in the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame's identity, which was revealed during the course of the administration's defense of its decision to go to war in Iraq.
We know, for instance, that Cheney was the first person to tell Libby about Plame's identity. We know that Cheney told Libby to leak Plame's identity to the New York Times in an attempt to discredit her husband, who had accused the administration of manipulating prewar intelligence. We know that Cheney wrote talking points that may have encouraged Libby and others to mention Plame to reporters. We know that Cheney once talked to Bush about Libby's assignment, and got permission from the president for Libby to leak hitherto classified information to the Times.
We don't know why Libby decided to lie to federal investigators about his role in the leak. But it's reasonable to conclude -- or at least strongly suspect -- that he was doing it to protect Cheney, and maybe even Bush. [complete article] Bush rationale on Libby stirs legal debate
By Adam Liptak, New York Times, July 4, 2007
In commuting I. Lewis Libby Jr.'s 30-month prison sentence on Monday, President Bush drew on the same array of arguments about the federal sentencing system often made by defense lawyers -- and routinely and strenuously opposed by his own Justice Department.
Critics of the system have a long list of complaints. Sentences, they say, are too harsh. Judges are allowed to take account of facts not proven to the jury. The defendant's positive contributions are ignored, as is the collateral damage that imprisonment causes the families involved.
On Monday, Mr. Bush made use of every element of that critique in a detailed statement setting out his reasons for commuting Mr. Libby's sentence -- handing an unexpected gift to defense lawyers around the country, who scrambled to make use of the president's arguments in their own cases. [complete article] A declaration the president ignores
By John Fabian Witt, Washington Post, July 4, 2007
As we gather around picnic tables and backyard barbecues today, we should pause to consider a forgotten dimension of the occasion -- one that is as important now as it was on July 4, 1776.
We all know that the Declaration of Independence announced the United States' freedom from the British Empire. We all remember that it declared certain truths to be self-evident. But what you probably haven't heard is that the declaration also advanced an idea about war. The idea was that war ought to be governed by law. [complete article] Brown calmly prevails in first days as premier
By Kevin Sullivan, Washington Post, July 4, 2007
Last Wednesday, Gordon Brown stepped up to a microphone outside the fabled black door of 10 Downing Street to address his nation for the first time after becoming prime minister about an hour earlier. Without a smile, he promised to "try my utmost" and soon signed off somberly, like a teacher assigning homework: "Now let the work of change begin."
In the next few days, Britain's strait-laced new leader was forced to deal with floods that caused more than $2 billion in damage in central England, leaving hundreds of families homeless, and failed car bombings in London and Glasgow. His response has been careful, steady and without a single glittering turn of phrase -- a far cry from the telegenic empathy and pitch-perfect oratory of his predecessor, Tony Blair.
And Brown's popularity ratings are soaring. A Times of London poll published Monday found that 77 percent of Britons think Brown is a strong leader, up 14 points from a month ago. Analysts here said Brown, in addition to enjoying a predictable honeymoon period with Britain's carnivorous press, is proving to be a far more formidable politician and reassuring leader than many people expected. [complete article] BBC reporter Alan Johnston freed in Gaza
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, July 4, 2007
Alan Johnston, the BBC journalist held hostage in the Gaza Strip since March, was handed over to Hamas officials by his Islamist captors early this morning.
The 45-year-old Briton was taken to the offices of the disputed Hamas prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, in Gaza City. A witness said he was well, but had lost a lot of weight.
Mr Johnston, looking pale and frail, told reporters that he was "OK". He is expected to leave Gaza for Israel as soon as possible. According to a Foreign Office advance plan, he will receive medical attention in Jerusalem before decisions are made about when he will return home to Britain. [complete article] The peril of the West's Hamas error
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, July 2, 2007
[Alastair] Crooke is the first analyst I've read situating the fate of Hamas in a regional dynamic -- as Washington has failed to comprehend -- in which Islamism is the dominant political dynamic, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. But Islamism, is hardly an undifferentiated political entity, as Crooke makes clear, and on its spectrum, the Hamas leadership is closer to the moderate, democratic tendency of its parent organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, than it is to the jihadist nihilism of al-Qaeda. [complete article] Clash brewing over Iran
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, July 3, 2007
Congress is heading for a showdown with the White House over sanctions aimed at stopping the Iranian regime's nuclear ambitions.
Last week, an overwhelming majority in Congress passed the Iran Counter-Proliferation Act, which would levy economic sanctions against companies that deal with Iran. The measure will likely lead to a clash with the White House because it includes a provision preventing the president from using executive privilege to grant to certain companies a waiver from the sanctions.
The legislation was authored by California Democrat Tom Lantos, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. [complete article]
Comment -- Wrangling between Congress and the White House over who is tougher on Iran makes one thing clear: the guaranteed winner of the 2008 presidential election will again be AIPAC. The darksider
By Hendrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, July 9, 2007
Given the ontological authority that the Post shares only with the New York Times, it is now, so to speak, official: for the past six years, Dick Cheney, the occupant of what John Adams called "the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived," has been the most influential public official in the country, not necessarily excluding President Bush, and his influence has been entirely malign. He is pathologically (but purposefully) secretive; treacherous toward colleagues; coldly manipulative of the callow, lazy, and ignorant President he serves; contemptuous of public opinion; and dismissive not only of international law (a fairly standard attitude for conservatives of his stripe) but also of the very idea that the Constitution and laws of the United States, including laws signed by his nominal superior, can be construed to limit the power of the executive to take any action that can plausibly be classified as part of an endless, endlessly expandable "war on terror." [complete article] Bush and Cheney walk, too
By Sidney Blumenthal, Salon, July 3, 2007
Bush's commutation of Libby's 30-month prison sentence for four counts of perjury and obstruction of justice was as politically necessary to hold his remaining hardcore base for the rest of his 18 months in office as it was politically damaging to his legacy and to the possibility of a Republican succession. It was also essential in order to sustain Libby's cover-up protecting Cheney and perhaps Bush himself.
The sole reason that Bush offers for the commutation -- that Judge Reggie Walton's sentence was "excessive" -- is transparently false. Indeed, the sentence meets the normal guidelines for such a crime. "The sentence in this case was imposed pursuant to the laws governing sentencings which occur every day throughout this country," said Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor. "In this case, an experienced federal judge considered extensive argument from the parties and then imposed a sentence consistent with the applicable laws." Nothing is irregular or extraordinary about the length of the sentence, except the person receiving it. [complete article]
A decision made largely alone
By Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, July 3, 2007
An unanswered question last night was Vice President Cheney's role in advocating leniency for his former chief of staff and alter ego. The vice president has been outspoken in his admiration for Libby, even in the face of the jury's verdict that his former aide perjured himself. "He's one of the most dedicated public servants I've ever worked with, and I think this is a great tragedy," Cheney said after Libby's conviction in March. [complete article] Al Qaeda in Iraq behind U.K. bomb plot?
CBS/AP, July 3, 2007
British intelligence services increasingly believe that the failed car bombings in London and Glasgow bear the fingerprints of al Qaeda in Iraq, CBS News has learned.
Intelligence sources tell CBS News that the people behind the attempts were directly recruited by Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, the present leader of the terror group's Iraq franchise.
Police investigating the plot had arrested eight people Tuesday, including at least six suspects trained as doctors, including a man of Indian nationality arrested in Australia. [complete article]
See also, Doctor arrested in Australia in failed car bombings (NYT). Iraq invasion strengthened the militants
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, July 3, 2007
Car bombs have almost as long a history as the car. What has changed since the invasion of Iraq is that bombers targeting civilian targets in the West now have a popular base and access to expertise in the Sunni community of Iraq.
The invasion was seen as an attack on Muslims as a whole by at least some Muslims in every country, who are willing and able to construct and deliver bombs. From the moment foreign armies were ordered into Iraq, al-Qa'ida was bound to be the winner.
US spokesmen have long blamed al-Qa'ida for every attack in Iraq but in fact the Salafi, proponents of a puritanical and bigoted variant of Sunni Islam, and the Jihadi, willing to wage holy war, belong to many groups,
The al-Qa'ida of Osama bin Laden was a surprisingly weak organisation in Afghanistan and Pakistan before 2001. To make the blood curdling videos of militants training that are frequently shown in documentaries, al-Qa'ida had to hire local tribesmen.
It is in Iraq that al-Qa'ida has come into its own. The US proclamation of the group as its most dangerous enemy served only as effective advertising among young Sunni men. Such denunciations also made it much easier for al-Qa'ida to raise money in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.
The three car bombs used in Glasgow and London are far inferior to anything used in Iraq. This is an ominous pointer for the future because Iraq is now full of people who know exactly how to make a highly-effective bomb - and the means to detonate it. It is only a matter of time before this knowledge spreads. [complete article] Iraq: Kurdistan security forces torture detainees
Human Rights Watch, July 3, 2007
Kurdistan security forces in northern Iraq routinely torture and deny basic due-process rights to detainees, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.
Human Rights Watch urges the Kurdistan Regional Government to end torture and ill-treatment of detainees in the custody of the security services. The Kurdish authorities should treat all detainees according to international standards and ensure their right to due process and fair trials.
The 58-page report, "Caught in the Whirlwind: Torture and Denial of Due Process by the Kurdistan Security Forces," documents widespread and systematic mistreatment and violations of due process rights of detainees at detention facilities by Kurdistan security forces. The report is based on research conducted in Iraq's Kurdistan region from April to October 2006, including interviews with more than 150 detainees. [complete article] Lebanon faces prolonged turmoil as the fragile state fails to quash extremist challenge
By Mahan Abedin, Saudia Debate, July 1, 2007
The meteoric rise of Fatah Al-Islam and the month-long battle between its militants and the Lebanese army has been subject to a torrent of conspiracy theories. Not surprisingly, the divide in Lebanese politics determines the thrust of the conspiracy theory; supporters of the government tie Fatah Al-Islam to Al-Qaeda (and inevitably to Syria), while the Hezbollah-led opposition accuse the ruling March 14 coalition of supporting Fatah Al-Islam and other extremist Sunni groups.
Writing in the Mideast Monitor, Gary C. Gambill, the veteran analyst of Lebanese politics, summarises the situation with effortless clarity: "While both narratives (like all good conspiracy theories) draw upon tantalizing grains of truth, the emergence of Fatah al-Islam is largely what it appears to be - the combined outgrowth of a Sunni Islamist revival sweeping Lebanon and the region, a politically fragile central government, and a perilous security vacuum." [complete article] The all-American president
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 2, 2007
In this famously optimistic nation, why would we expect anything less than an unstintingly positive president? Thus, in today's Washington Post it comes as no surprise that:
...Bush does not come across like a man lamenting his plight. In public and in private, according to intimates, he exhibits an inexorable upbeat energy that defies the political storms. Even when he convenes philosophical discussions with scholars, he avoids second-guessing his actions. He still acts as if he were master of the universe, even if the rest of Washington no longer sees him that way.Until someone shows me evidence to the contrary, I have no problem making a judgement: Bush is out of touch with reality. This is what gives him extraordinary self-confidence.
How else can one explain the latest example of Bush's distorted vision -- his definition of success in Iraq?
According to Bush, if things turn out well, Iraq will end up as a pariah state, unable to forge diplomatic relations with most states in the region. It will remain on a perpetual war-footing, forever ready to attack its neighbors. For decades, it will be the largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States. It will engage in ethnic cleansing and discriminate against religious minorities while its highly paid lobbyists in Washington spare no effort in silencing its critics and promoting its image as a dislocated Western democracy. It will build a wall to protect itself and in the process expand its own borders. A successful Iraq will model itself on Israel.
Could Bush have come up with a more inappropriate comparison? I suppose he could have said that success in Iraq means that Iraq will become like America, but then even conservative observers like Irwin Stelzer would be left in no doubt that the president has become irretrievably out of touch with reality.
In the Hall of Fame for American blunders in Iraq, Bush's remark was as ill-conceived as was the act of draping a U.S. flag over Saddam's statued head at the beginning of the war. He and those under his command betrayed their ignorance of the sensibilities of a whole region.
At the same time, Bush also unwittingly revealed his loss of faith in any so-called peace process. If Israel is in fact demonstrating its success as a democracy because terrorism has "not prevented [it] from carrying out its responsibilities," -- which responsibilities Bush didn't specify -- then apparently the status quo through which Israel maintains an occupation while denying the democratic and rights of a whole population, does not undermine Israel's claim of democratic success.
Nevertheless, what Bush displayed last week was not simply yet another symptom of his being a president who has lost touch with reality; it was the kind of cultural hubris that government officials frequently express in a multitude of ways as they strain to make themselves heard while ignoring whatever their target audience has to say.
The name for this process of one-way communication is "public diplomacy" and it is supposed to remedy the ways in which America is "misunderstood" by the world. Yet America suffers less from being misunderstood, than it suffers from cultural deafness.
In a recent post on Aaron Barnhardt's blog at Kansas City Star, he wrote:
After 9/11 -- after the shock and the fear and the sadness and the anger -- do you remember feeling just a pang of regret that you knew so little about what was going on in the rest of the world?Now if the administration understood how to engage in enlightened public diplomacy they would have recognized a golden opportunity. State Department and Pentagon officials who are in fact able to watch al-Jazeera, would have spoken out and encouraged the cable providers to adopt the new channel. It's availability across the United States would have been a potent demonstration that this is a genuinely open society.
Ironically, while many Americans still imagine that al-Jazeera is nothing more than an outlet for anti-American propaganda, the channel actually does a better job than any American cable news network in providing critical coverage on the very issues that Americans are told they should be concerned about.
For instance, while CNN and Fox News provided soundbite analysis of the Hamas takeover in Gaza, al-Jazeera ran reports such as this one from "Listening Post."
How does a report like this present a threat to the average American viewer? It does no favors for Hamas. Indeed, it presents a more penetrating critique of the organization than any of the US coverage. Perhaps the greatest threat from al Jazeera however, is that it encourages the audience to think.
Is the American enterprise such a brittle thing that it might fall apart under the scrutiny of a more reflective population? Or will the intellectual torpor of this nation eventually be its undoing? Fallout from the UK attacks
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 2, 2007
At first sight, the manner in which the latest UK terrorist attacks were carried out seemed to indicate that al Qaeda and its franchise has lost much of its potency. As counter-terrorism expert Larry Johnson glibly put it:
Looks like we have yuppie Muslims who, despite a medical education, don't understand fundamentals about how to build and detonate quality improvised explosives. They obviously spent all of their cash on the Mercedes and neglected to sign up for the suicide bomber course.But not so fast. The fallout from these attacks could turn out to be much more serious than the amateurishness of these incidents suggests. It is now reported that six of the suspects are doctors. As a consequence, it is likely that many foreign-trained doctors working in Europe and America are going to be viewed with suspicion while new screening procedures may make it more difficult for non-Western medical professionals to fill vacancies in hospitals that are crying out for staff. Once again, the levels of Islamophobia and xenophobia in the West is almost certainly on the rise. This time around the shocking effects of the attacks comes less from what was done than who the perpetrators were.
Meanwhile, one question remains unanswered. ABC News reports that 'U.S. law enforcement officials received intelligence reports two weeks ago warning of a possible terror attack in Glasgow against "airport infrastructure or aircraft."' So far, no one British or American is letting on whether the Americans passed on the intelligence to those who needed it. When it comes to sharing intelligence, the U.S. is infamously stingy. What happened this time? Kidnapped BBC man's fate hangs on clan feud
By Mitchell Prothero, The Observer, July 1, 2007
Moderates in the Dogmosh family say that Jaish al-Islam, while always devoutly religious, has become more radicalised and closer to al-Qaeda in the past year with the arrival of veterans of wars in Chechnya and Iraq, and they fear their relative Mumtaz has fallen under the sway of al-Qaeda's brand of global jihad, rather than resisting Israeli operations and occupation. These new members have brought with them experience, both military and religious. It also explains demands for the release of Islamic militants not linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Hamas has infuriated the group in refusing to conduct what the group considers honest negotiations. Two weeks ago, after Hamas routed Fatah in Gaza, the kidnappers offered a religious-based settlement. 'We suggested that Hamas send a group [of clerics] not linked to the politics of Hamas but only to the religion,' one Jaish member said this week.
'And Jaish al-Islam would send its scholars and together they would talk and find a religious solution to the problem. Then they could issue a joint fatwa to end the situation.
But because they had just taken all of Gaza, Hamas said they did not need to talk and that we should just lower our guns and obey them. This insulted Mumtaz very much.'
The Sabra neighbourhood of Gaza City, where the 12,000-strong Dogmosh clan live, has been turned into a fortress during the course of the feud.
The Jaish al-Islam member explained they only wanted their demands met and safety for their group. 'But Hamas must not come to try to take Johnston and our demands must be met. If we are attacked, we will be forced to hurt him to protect our lives and families,' he said. [complete article]
Hamas seizes Gaza kidnap group member
Reuters, July 2, 2007
Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip seized on Monday a leading member of the al Qaeda-inspired Army of Islam, the group which says it is holding a BBC correspondent hostage.
Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the man known as Khattab al-Maqdessi, who had acted as a spokesman for the group, was detained by Hamas's Executive Force after a gunbattle. His real name is Ahmed al-Mathloum, a source in Hamas said. [complete article] Abbas advisor says Hamas fighting collaborators
By Ali Waked, Ynet, June 28, 2007
The Gaza events were not a war between Fatah and Hamas; but between Hamas and Fatah collaborators who served the Americans and the Israelis, said a senior Fatah advisor on Wednesday.
Hani al-Hassan, the Palestinian president's senior political advisor and member of Fatah's central committee said in a TV interview that what was happening in the Gaza Strip was the defeat of to plans of American Major General Keith Dayton and his Fatah followers.
Al-Hassan's words severely discredit Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other Arab leaders' claims that the Gaza takeover was a coup against Palestinian democracy.
By making such statements the presidential advisor supports Hamas' claims that the war was between a small group of Fatah men who served Israel and the United States. [complete article]
By Joseph Massad, Al-Ahram Weekly, June 28, 2007
As the enemies of the Palestinian people have been attacking them on every front -- Israel with its inquisition against Azmi Bishara and with him Palestinian resistance to the racist basis of the Jewish state inside the green line, or Hariri Inc. and its 14 March allies intent on proving the might of the Lebanese army at the expense of Palestinian civilian lives in Nahr Al-Bared, and the continued siege by the Israeli military occupation and its US sponsor of the occupied territories -- the latest attack came from Palestinian collaborators with the enemy: the Fatah leadership abetted by the United States. Indeed the subversion of Middle East democracy has been the mainstay of US policy in the region since the CIA supported the 1949 Hosni Al-Zaim coup that overthrew democracy in Syria. The list after that is long, US support for the shah of Iran's coup in 1953 against the Mossadegh government, destroying the Jordanian liberal parliamentary experience by organising a Palace coup in 1957, supporting the Baathist coup in Iraq in 1963 against the popular Abdul-Karim Qassim, and so forth. American policy has not been limited to the overthrow of liberal and democratic governments in the region but of actively supporting if not planning and abetting dictatorial rule in its place and training and supplying those rulers who have instituted regimes of extreme repression and tyranny. Its current role in subverting Palestinian democracy and imposing a corrupt collaborator class on the Palestinian people is therefore anything but novel. [complete article] Israel/Gaza Strip: rockets and shelling violate laws of war
Human Rights Watch, July 1, 2007
From September 2005 to May 2007, Palestinian armed groups fired almost 2,700 locally-made rockets toward Israel. They killed four and injured 75 Israeli civilians. In May 2007, many residents of Sderot, the hardest hit city, left for other parts of the country. Palestinian rockets also caused at least 23 Palestinian casualties when they fell short of the border. Rocket attacks from mid-2004 to September 2005 killed another six Israeli civilians.
During the same time period, from September 2005 through May 2007, the IDF fired more than 14,600 155mm artillery shells into Gaza. Shells fired close to populated areas killed 59 people and wounded 270, most if not all of them civilians. [complete article] U.S. accuses Iran leadership over Iraq violence
By Alister Bull and Dean Yates, Reuters, July 2, 2007
In some of its most direct accusations against Iran yet, the U.S. military said on Monday senior leaders in Tehran know about operations in which Iran's Qods Force foments violence in Iraq.
Military spokesman Brigadier-General Kevin Bergner said the Qods Force was also using the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi'ite militia group Hezbollah to sponsor militant activity in Iraq.
Iran does not officially acknowledge the Qods Force. Military experts and some exiled Iranians say it is a wing of Iran's Revolutionary Guards that operates abroad and reports directly to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. [complete article] In Iraq, a private realm of intelligence-gathering
By Steve Fainaru and Alec Klein, Washington Post, July 1, 2007
On the first floor of a tan building inside Baghdad's Green Zone, the full scope of Iraq's daily carnage is condensed into a 30-minute PowerPoint presentation.
Displayed on a 15-foot-wide screen, the report is the most current intelligence on significant enemy activity. Two men in khakis and tan polo shirts narrate from the back of the room. One morning recently, their report covered 168 incidents: rocket attacks in Tikrit, a cow-detonated bomb in Habbaniyah, seven bodies discovered floating in the Diyala River.
A quotation from Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, concluded the briefing: "Hard is not hopeless."
The intelligence was compiled not by the U.S. military, as might be expected, but by a British security firm, Aegis Defence Services Ltd. The Reconstruction Operations Center is the hub of Aegis's sprawling presence in Iraq and the most visible example of how intelligence collection is now among the responsibilities handled by a network of private security companies that work in the shadows of the U.S. military. [complete article] Civilian deaths fuel Afghan outrage
Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, July 2, 2007
More than 100 people, nearly half of them Afghan civilians, were killed in Nato air strikes against the Taliban this weekend, an investigation by local officials in Helmand province has concluded.
The civilian deaths are just the latest incident of so-called collateral damage to have occurred in recent weeks - a pattern that even foreign troops admit is rapidly undermining efforts to establish some sort of security in the country and win the support and loyalty of local people.
The assessment of Saturday's pre-dawn air strike in the Gereshk district came from the mayor and police chief, who said that 62 Taliban militants had died during the attacks as well as 45 ordinary Afghans including women, children and the elderly. President Hamid Karzai said this weekend that it was "difficult for us to accept or understand" what had happened. [complete article]
Iraq in Afghanistan
By Graham Usher, Al-Ahram Weekly, June 28, 2007
NATO commanders in Afghanistan insist air strikes are necessary to bolster their overstretched soldiers combating Taliban fighters on the ground. They say airpower has been effective in subduing the Taliban in their strongholds in the south and east of Afghanistan as well as in repelling an anticipated Taliban offensive this spring.
But Afghan and international human rights monitors say NATO air strikes have been responsible for the unprecedented levels of Afghan civilian deaths this year, and are the principle cause of rising Afghan hostility to NATO's occupation of their country.
On 20 June, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), an umbrella organisation based in Kabul representing 94 foreign and local aid agencies, said NATO and Afghan soldiers had killed 230 Afghan civilians this year, including 60 women and children. This is more than the number of civilians killed by the Taliban. [complete article] The link with Iraq
Editorial, The Guardian, July 2, 2007
The prophecy that occupying Iraq meant attacking al-Qaida has proved grimly self-fulfilling. Osama bin Laden's network has become associated with resistance to British and American involvement in Iraq - either directly, or by using the fate of Iraqis as supposed proof of the west's malign intentions towards Muslims. Can it be denied that the invasion encouraged a growth in al-Qaida's threat and influence? [complete article]
See also, Race to break terror cell (The Guardian).
Comment -- Ask many an American soldier why he's in Iraq or Afghanistan and his reply is likely to be, "Because of 9/11." The desire for vengeance is a universal human drive.
The threat that the West now faces, comes, we are told, from Islamic extremists. Maybe so, but how many others may now be also driven by nothing more than the desire to settle scores. Among the suspects in the latest UK attacks is an Iraqi doctor. I guess he could have been motivated by a desire to re-establish the Caliphate, but it seems just as likely he was responding to the destruction of his country. Iran has a message. Are we listening?
By Michael Hirsh, Washington Post, July 1, 2007
Having isolated Tehran diplomatically, the Bush administration seems content to simply wait until it "caves."
But my 10-day visit to Iran in late June, mostly spent in Tehran, convinced me that any hopes that Iran will just give up are badly misguided. Yes, the regime is under pressure, but it isn't close to having its back to the wall economically, despite its recent move to ration gasoline, which provoked violent protests. Stores are well stocked, the streets are thronged with shoppers, and flower stores and luxury goods abound, indicating that people in this oil-rich economy still have plenty of disposable income. The U.N. sanctions and the quiet pressure on international banks to cut off business with Iran inflict some pain, but they are generally nuisances and not deal-breakers. And the sanctions are shot full of holes: European businesses do vibrant trade with Iranian counterparts, and Iranians have just shifted their business dealings from dollars to Euros.
Bush's feeble $75 million effort to promote democracy in Iran also is not gaining traction. While much of the Western media in recent weeks have focused on the detention of four Iranian Americans who made the mistake of traveling back to their homeland at a time when the government is even more paranoid than usual about American plots, they scarcely make news in Tehran. Indeed, the Bush program's most notable impact has been giving the regime justification for a new crackdown on dissent. [complete article] Love Americans, loath America
By Ian Williams, The Guardian, July 1, 2007
This week former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton lamented to the Jerusalem Post that the Bush administration's foreign policy today was "not the same" because of what he complained was the state department's overwhelming dominance.
"The state department has adopted the European view and other voices have been sidelined," he moaned, complaining that the US is not currently pushing the military option against Iran. Secretary of state Condoleezza Rice "is overwhelmingly predominant on foreign policy," presumably discounting his chances of another recess appointment in American diplomacy.
Former UN secretary-general Boutros Boutros-Ghali once noted that neither the Roman Empire nor the US had any patience for diplomacy, which is "perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness." However, as the Parthians, Goths, Huns and Vandals, were to show, not paying attention to the lesser breeds without the law can have penalties. [complete article] Pakistanis baffled by U.S. support for their military regime
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, June 27, 2007
Abdul Rashid Ghazi, a senior cleric at Lal Masjid - the Red mosque - has called openly for jihad against American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. He's met Osama bin Laden and says he agrees with the al Qaida leader's worldview.
He also says that many of the 10,000 Pakistani students enrolled in the fundamentalist religious schools known as madrassas affiliated with his mosque would give their lives to overthrow the U.S.-backed government of Pakistan and install Islamic rule.
"If (President Pervez) Musharraf continues to suppress us, we cannot guarantee that there will be a peaceful transition ... you cannot say if a Taliban system, if a Khomeini system, will emerge," Ghazi said recently, reclining against a cushion on the floor of a small building on the mosque grounds as a group of men sat outside with AK-47 rifles.
Lal Masjid isn't hidden in a remote, lawless corner of Pakistan. It sits in the middle of the capital, a short drive from Musharraf's office.
It's a measure of Musharraf's troubles that Lal Masjid may be among the least of them. [complete article]
See also, Musharraf's frantic bid to cling to power (Sunday Telegraph). What Tenet knew
By Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books (via TomDispatch), June 28, 2007
How we got into Iraq is the great open question of the decade but George Tenet in his memoir of his seven years running the Central Intelligence Agency takes his sweet time working his way around to it. He hesitates because he has much to explain: the claims made by Tenet's CIA with "high confidence" that Iraq was dangerously armed all proved false. But mistakes are one thing, excusable even when serious; inexcusable would be charges of collusion in deceiving Congress and the public to make war possible. Tenet's overriding goal in his carefully written book is to deny "that we somehow cooked the books" about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. If he says it once he says it a dozen times. "We told the president what we did on Iraq WMD because we believed it."
But repetition is not enough. Tenet's problem is that the intelligence and the war proceeded in lockstep: no intelligence, no war. Since Tenet delivered the (shockingly exaggerated) intelligence, and the President used it to go to war, how is Tenet to convince the world that he wasn't simply giving the boss what he wanted? Tenet naturally dislikes this question but it is evident that the American public and Congress dislike it just as much. Down that road lie painful truths about the character and motives of the President and the men and women around him. But getting out of Iraq will not be easy, and the necessary first step is to find the civic courage to insist on knowing how we got in. Tenet's memoir is an excellent place to begin; some of what he tells us and much that he leaves out point unmistakably to the genesis of the war in the White House -- the very last thing Tenet wants to address clearly. He sidles up to the question at last on page 301: "One of the great mysteries to me," he writes, "is exactly when the war in Iraq became inevitable." [complete article]
Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:
Our second biggest mistake in the Middle East
By Alastair Crooke, London Review of Books, June 28, 2007
The hobbled hegemon
The Economist, June 28, 2007
No one to give the Occupied Territories back to
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, June 28, 2007
Cracks in the anti-Hamas facade
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, June 25, 2007
Fleeing our responsibility
By Julia Taft, Washington Post, June 24, 2007
Cheney: Leaving no tracks
By Jo Becker and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, June 27, 2007
Cheney: A strong push from backstage
By Jo Becker and Barton Gellman, Washington Post, June 26, 2007
Cheney: Pushing the envelope on presidential power
By Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, Washington Post, June 25, 2007
Cheney: 'A different understanding with the president'
By Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, Washington Post, June 24, 2007
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