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Iraq PM: Country can manage without U.S.
By Bushra Juhi, AP, July 14, 2007

Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said Saturday that the Iraqi army and police are capable of keeping security in the country when American troops leave "any time they want," though he acknowledged the forces need further weapons and training.

The embattled prime minister sought to show confidence at a time when congressional pressure is growing for a withdrawal and the Bush administration reported little progress had been made on the most vital of a series of political benchmarks it wants al-Maliki to carry out. [complete article]
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Sunni insurgent leader paints Iran as 'real enemy'
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, July 14, 2007

He wore a pale yellow dress shirt and black-rimmed glasses that lost their tint when he entered the dark lobby of a Baghdad hotel. He drank orange soda and refused a cigarette. His face was tense, but he spoke in a calm, open way about the satisfaction of killing Shiites with his own hands.

Over the course of a 90-minute interview, a leader of an armed Sunni group in western Baghdad described his hatred for Iran and the current Iraqi government, while outlining the dimensions of an armed insurgency that extends well beyond al-Qaeda in Iraq, the organization that U.S. officials routinely identify as their central enemy.

Abu Sarhan, as the 37-year-old insurgent wished to be known, said Iraq's Sunnis are deep into an entrenched and irresolvable civil war against Iranian-backed Shiites. He said the premise of the U.S. military's counterinsurgency strategy -- deploying thousands of soldiers in small outposts in violent neighborhoods -- only inflames the insurgency and prompts attacks against the Americans. [complete article]
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U.S. troops battle Iraqi police in east Baghdad; rogue lieutenant captured, military says
By Stephen Farrell, New York Times, July 14, 2007

In a rare battle between American and uniformed Iraqi forces, United States troops backed by fighter jets killed six Iraqi policemen and seven gunmen during a predawn raid in which they captured a rogue police lieutenant, the military said Friday.

American commanders said that during the raid, against an Iraqi police position in eastern Baghdad, their forces had come under "heavy and accurate fire" from a nearby police checkpoint as well as surrounding rooftops and a church.

They said the captured lieutenant was a "high ranking" leader of a cell they suspected of having links to the Quds Force, part of Iran's Revolutionary Guards. The Iraqi police had no comment. [complete article]
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Two GOP senators defy Bush on Iraq
By Shailagh Murray and Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 14, 2007

The Republican revolt against President Bush's war strategy accelerated yesterday as two of the party's most respected voices on national security proposed legislation envisioning a major realignment of U.S. troops in Iraq starting as early as Jan. 1.

Defying Bush even as his team fanned out to press Congress for more time, Sens. John W. Warner (Va.) and Richard G. Lugar (Ind.) unveiled a measure requiring the White House to begin drawing up plans to redeploy U.S. forces from frontline combat to border security and counterterrorism. But the legislation would not force Bush to implement the plans at this point.

The proposal fell short of Democratic demands to set a firm timetable for withdrawal but underscored the continuing erosion of the president's position among Republicans on Capitol Hill, and it could shape the debate as Congress wrestles with its position on the war. Votes in both houses this week demonstrated that war opponents do not have enough support to overcome a Bush veto, and it remains unclear whether the two sides can reach a bipartisan consensus. [complete article]

See also, Midwest towns sour on war as their tolls mount (WP).
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Hamas rejects 'illegal' government
Al Jazeera, July 14, 2007

Hamas has dismissed a new Palestinian caretaker government appointed by Mahmoud Abbas, the president, as illegal.

"This government, from the outset, is unconstitutional," Ahmed Bahar, the acting parliament speaker, said on Saturday.

The caretaker government was installed to replace an emergency cabinet that stepped down after its mandate expired on Friday. [complete article]
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Brown's new man strains links with Bush
By Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester, The Telegraph, July 14, 2007

Britain's "special relationship" with the United States is under fresh strain today after Lord Malloch Brown, the Foreign Office minister, said that Gordon Brown and President George W Bush would no longer "be joined at the hip".

Interviewed in The Daily Telegraph, Lord Malloch Brown said that it was time for a more "impartial" foreign policy, building new relationships with the French president Nicolas Sarkozy and the German chancellor Angela Merkel as well as the growing economic powerhouses of India and China. [complete article]
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The history boys
By David Halberstam, Vanity Fair, August, 2007

We have, after all, come to know George Bush fairly well by now, and many of us have come to feel -- not only because of what he says, but also because of the sheer cockiness in how he says it -- that he has a tendency to decide what he wants to do first, and only then leaves it to his staff to look for intellectual justification. Many of us have always sensed a deep and visceral anti-intellectual streak in the president, that there was a great chip on his shoulder, and that the burden of the fancy schools he attended—Andover and Yale -- and even simply being a member of the Bush family were too much for him. It was as if he needed not only to escape but also to put down those of his peers who had been more successful. From that mind-set, I think, came his rather unattractive habit of bestowing nicknames, most of them unflattering, on the people around him, to remind them that he was in charge, that despite their greater achievements they still worked for him.

He is infinitely more comfortable with the cowboy persona he has adopted, the Texas transplant who has learned to speak the down-home vernacular. "Country boy," as Johnny Cash once sang, "I wish I was you, and you were me." Bush's accent, not always there in public appearances when he was younger, tends to thicken these days, the final g's consistently dropped so that doing becomes doin', going becomes goin', and making, makin'. In this lexicon al-Qaeda becomes "the folks" who did 9/11. Unfortunately, it is not just the speech that got dumbed down -- so also were the ideas at play. The president's world, unlike the one we live in, is dangerously simple, full of traps, not just for him but, sadly, for us as well. [complete article]
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Brown message to U.S.: it's time to build, not destroy
By Patrick Wintour and Julian Borger, The Guardian, July 13, 2007

The first clear signs that Gordon Brown will reorder Britain's foreign policy emerged last night when one of his closest cabinet allies urged the US to change its priorities and said a country's strength should no longer be measured by its destructive military power.

Douglas Alexander, the trade and development secretary, made his remarks in a speech in America, the first by a cabinet minister abroad since Mr Brown took power a fortnight ago.

The speech represents a call for the US to rethink its foreign policy, and recognise the virtues of so-called "soft power" and acting through international institutions including the United Nations.

In what will be seen as an assertion of the importance of multilateralism in Mr Brown's foreign policy, Mr Alexander said: "In the 20th century a country's might was too often measured in what they could destroy. In the 21st century strength should be measured by what we can build together. And so we must form new alliances, based on common values, ones not just to protect us from the world, but ones which reach out to the world." He described this as "a new alliance of opportunity".

He added: "We need to demonstrate by our deeds, words and our actions that we are internationalist, not isolationist, multilateralist, not unilateralist, active and not passive, and driven by core values, consistently applied, not special interests."

With some neocons in the Bush administration nervous at the direction of Mr Brown's foreign policy, following the appointment of the former UN deputy secretary Lord Malloch-Brown as foreign minister, Mr Alexander went out of his way to underline the special relationship, but challenged the US and its partners "to recognise the importance of a rules based international system". [complete article]
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Iraq on my mind
By Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch, July 12, 2007

Having spent a fair amount of time in occupied Iraq, I now find living in the United States nothing short of a schizophrenic experience. Life in Iraq was traumatizing. It was impossible to be there and not be affected by apocalyptic levels of violence and suffering, unimaginable in this country.

But here's the weird thing: One long, comfortable plane ride later and you're in Disneyland, or so it feels on returning to the United States. Sometimes it seems as if I'm in a bubble here that's only moments away from popping. I find myself perpetually amazed at the heights of consumerism and the vigorous pursuit of creature comforts that are the essence of everyday life in this country -- and once defined my own life as well.

Here, for most Americans, you can choose to ignore what our government is doing in Iraq. It's as simple as choosing to go to a website other than this one. [complete article]
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U.S. tells Iraqi Kurds: Time is up
By Ilnur Cevik The New Anatolian, July 13, 2007

The United States has told the Iraqi Kurdish leadership time is up and "they have to do something against the PKK," Kurdish sources reported.

The New Anatolian learnt that the U.S. is clearly concerned that the tide in Turkey is pushing the Turkish government to take action but no one expects any cross border operations before the elections.

The United States has also reportedly informed the Iraqi Kurds that it cannot prevent a Turkish military incursion into northern Iraq, Kurdish sources said.

The messages were reportedly conveyed to Iraqi Kurdish Regional President Massoud Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani by senior American officials in Iraq.
...both Turkish experts and American diplomats see serious pressures on the Ankara government and feel a military incursion because of the internal dynamics of Turkey may be inevitable if the Iraqi Kurds to not make some solid gestures regarding the PKK.
U.S. officials have said they are working closely with Turkey to combat the PKK but that their focus in Iraq is in combatting insurgents opposing U.S. forces. The United States considers the PKK a terrorist group and has taken steps to cut off its international financing. But U.S. officials have had few examples of success against the PKK in Iraq to point to in answering Turkish concerns. [complete article]
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The outrageous White House report on Iraq
By Fred Kaplan, Slate, July 12, 2007

The White House report released today, on how far Iraq has progressed toward 18 political and military benchmarks, is a sham.

According to the report, which was required by Congress, progress has been "satisfactory" on eight of the benchmarks, "unsatisfactory" on another eight, and mixed on two. At his press conference this morning, President Bush, seeing the glass half full, pronounced the report "a cause for optimism" -- and for staying on course.

Yet a close look at the 25-page report reveals a far more dismal picture and a deliberately distorted assessment. The eight instances of "satisfactory" progress are not at all satisfactory by any reasonable measure -- or, in some cases, they indicate a purely procedural advance. The eight "unsatisfactory" categories concern the central issues of Iraqi politics -- the disputes that must be resolved if Iraq is to be a viable state and if the U.S. mission is to have the slightest chance of success. [complete article]

See also, Bush's optimism is impossible to square with the situation in Iraq (Patrick Cockburn).
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CIA said instability seemed 'irreversible'
By Bob Woodward, Washington Post, July 12, 2007

Early on the morning of Nov. 13, 2006, members of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group gathered around a dark wooden conference table in the windowless Roosevelt Room of the White House.

For more than an hour, they listened to President Bush give what one panel member called a "Churchillian" vision of "victory" in Iraq and defend the country's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki. "A constitutional order is emerging," he said.

Later that morning, around the same conference table, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden painted a starkly different picture for members of the study group. Hayden said "the inability of the government to govern seems irreversible," adding that he could not "point to any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around," according to written records of his briefing and the recollections of six participants.

"The government is unable to govern," Hayden concluded. "We have spent a lot of energy and treasure creating a government that is balanced, and it cannot function." [complete article]
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White House isn't backing Iraq Study Group follow-up
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 12, 2007

Despite an overwhelming House vote last month to revive the Iraq Study Group, the White House has blocked reconvening the bipartisan panel to provide a second independent assessment of the military and political situation in Iraq, said several sources involved in the panel's December 2006 report.

Co-Chairman Lee H. Hamilton, several panel members and the U.S. Institute of Peace, which ran the study group, were willing to participate, according to Hamilton and the congressionally funded think tank. But the White House did not give the green light for co-chairman and former secretary of state James A. Baker III to participate, and Baker is unwilling to lead a second review without President Bush's approval, according to members of the original panel and sources close to Baker.

White House support is critical for any follow-up review. "It is not likely to happen unless the White House approves it," Hamilton, a Democratic former congressman from Indiana, said in an interview. "The group can't go ahead without its concurrence or acquiescence, as we need travel support and access to documents." [complete article]
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The new drumbeat on Iran
By Stephen Kinzer, The Guardian, July 11, 2007

Why attack Iran? War hawks in Washington are having trouble answering that question. Even their dire warnings about Iran's nuclear program have not been enough to alarm Americans already weary of Middle East conflicts.

Now the war drums have taken on a different tone. The Bush administration is testing a new rationale for attacking Iran: We must strike because Iranians are killing our soldiers in Iraq.

This is not simply a charge made by one state against another in the hope that a misguided policy will be changed. It is also part of a calculated effort to find an argument for bombing Iran that Americans will accept.

The politically ambidextrous Senator Joseph Lieberman, a vigorous supporter of Israel and the Iraq war, floated the new gambit a couple of weeks ago. He calculated that Iran-trained units fighting in Iraq, and weapons from Iran or manufactured with Iranian help, have been responsible for the death of 200 American soldiers.

If Iran does not change course, he said, the United States should "take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq." [complete article]
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New U.S. intelligence assessment casts doubts on Bush's Iraq policy
By Jonathan S. Landay and Nancy A. Youssef, McClatchy, July 11, 2007

The Shiite Muslim-dominated government of Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has made only "halting efforts" to end the power struggle fueling the war between Iraq's religious and ethnic communities, a new U.S. intelligence report said Wednesday.

Even if the bloodletting can be contained, Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders will be "hard pressed" to reach lasting political reconciliation, the report stated.

The report, reflecting the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, cast new uncertainty about the chances of success for President Bush's plan to contain the war through the deployment of an additional 28,000 U.S. troops, mostly in and around Baghdad.

The conclusions also appeared to be bleaker than a White House assessment produced by the top U.S. officials in Baghdad, which found that Iraqi politicians have made satisfactory progress on some of the 18 benchmarks set by Congress in May. [complete article]
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The impossible task set for an embattled government
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, July 11, 2007

The benchmarks the Iraqi government is meant to achieve in exchange for US support were never realistic and have more to do with American than Iraqi politics.

The weak and embattled Iraqi government is supposed to make changes which the US at the height of its power in Iraq failed to make stick. At stake are policies deeply divisive among Iraqis that are to be introduced at the behest of a foreign power, the US, in a way that makes the Iraqi government look as if it is a client of America.

One US benchmark is for the elimination of militias and an end to sectarian violence. But the Shia-Kurdish parties that make up the ruling coalition almost all have their own powerful militias that they have no intention of dissolving. In much of southern Iraq the militias and the local police forces are the same. In almost all cases units of the security forces are unwilling to act against their own community. [complete article]
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Pro-Israel Lobby throws support behind Fatah-led Palestinian cabinet
By Nathan Guttman, The Forward, July 11, 2007

Pro-Israel lobbyists and legislators have become unexpected cheerleaders for the Palestinian leadership after the new Fatah-led Cabinet took action against Hamas.

In a memo sent out to congressional offices this week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee commended the new Palestinian government for "taking important steps needed for peace" and for breaking ties with Hamas, which now rules Gaza.

"If followed with consistent action, these promising steps can serve as the foundation for negotiations with Israel," the Aipac memo reads. [complete article]
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Fear and fragile peace: a long-suffering people prepare for a new war
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, July 12, 2007

In the video diary that Ali Dagher intended as his last testament of the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah, there is a scene where he produces two cupped handfuls of metal bomb fragments that landed in his kitchen. "I collected these here in the house," he tells the camera. "I am not telling anyone about them because I don't want them to be afraid."

The time-date stamp at the bottom of the screen reads July 28 2006, a day of intense battle in this former fortress of Hizbullah. The man staring into the camera is hollow-cheeked and exhausted. But a year later, the chance to look back is intoxicating. Mr Dagher has watched this video diary 10 times since the war - each time a celebration of the fact that he is still alive.

"When I was filming this tape, I had no hope of surviving. All I was thinking in my head was that I was going to die," he says. "But now that the war has ended, and I am still alive, I feel good. I feel that I did something important."

Mr Dagher's wife, Jumana, cannot bear to remain in the house when the video is on, and walks out. "It hurts me too much to remember," she says.

The sense of siege has not yet lifted in Lebanon - despite a durable ceasefire, the deployment of 13,500 United Nations troops to keep the peace in the south, and millions of dollars pledged for reconstruction from Arab states. [complete article]

See also Battles rage at Lebanon camp, 4 soldiers die (Reuters).
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Giving up on Iraq
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 11, 2007

When George Bush says he's not given up on Iraq, he's accusing his critics of being defeatists. Giving up on Iraq is taken to mean that the United States is hoisting the white flag and conceding defeat.

All the indications are, however, that most Americans have already given up on Iraq. Last week, for the sixth week in a row, "Iraq" failed to come in as one of the top-five stories in the U.S. media. News organizations and their audiences are simply losing interest.

In large measure this loss of interest can be attributed to Iraq-war fatigue. More specifically it tracks the perceived failure of the "surge." Carnage in Iraq seems so interminable that it is falling below the threshold of news. It's old.

At the same time, Bush is under increasing political pressure from inside his own ranks. The closer the elections, the more worried candidates become about their own association with a lost cause. Not only do they not want to go down with a failed president and a failed policy; they also want to be seen to be cognizant of and responsive to the national mood.

Americans perceive Iraq as irredeemable and an unworthy recipient of blood and treasure. Walking away from Iraq means saying, we did our best, but that ungrateful nation wasn't capable of making use of what America had to offer. There is no strategic calculation, just the expression of a simple sentiment: we've had enough.

In the narrow attention that has reduced the question of Iraq to the question of whether American troops should carry on fighting or return home, something else is being lost. It is a matter that has more lasting significance than the responsibility we bear for the disaster in Iraq; or the United States' military and political standing in the Middle East and the rest of the world; or the growth of terrorism; or the threat to oil supplies, or the promotion of democracy. This is the issue of pluralism.

If giving up on Iraq means giving up on pluralism then we really are sowing the seeds for never-ending war.

Giving up on pluralism in Iraq and managing the kind of "soft partitioning" that is currently being advocated by the likes of the Brookings Institute's Michael O'Hanlon and Sen. Joseph Biden, would create a momentum that could eventually fracture the whole region.

The omens are already evident as Turkey masses troops on Iraq's northern border. While the Turkish government claims that it is responding to the threat from Kurdish separatists in the PKK it clearly perceives no less of a threat from the creation of a Kurdish state.

Meanwhile, many of Israel's leaders see its strategic interests being served by policies that clearly promote division among Palestinians, the Lebanese and elsewhere in the region.

And as ethnic and religious division becomes the norm across the whole region, how long will it be before Israel itself joins the flow and decides to institute the ultimate solution to its "demographic problem" by "encouraging" its own Arab population to move into a Palestinian bantustan?

From a "soft" partition no end of hard divisions may eventually be spawned.

The United States is in no position to place itself at the vanguard of a global movement championing pluralism. We have yet to establish a representative government that genuinely reflects the makeup of our own society. We loudly project a pluralistic national identity but in many respects this serves as a mask for concealing our internal ethnic, social and economic divisions. And when it comes to the Middle East, we display our lack of interest in the greater good, by favoring Israel -- a nation that places a higher value on its religious and ethnic identity than on its need to function as a genuine pluralistic society.

In a shrinking world -- with increasingly mobile and displaced population groups; with societies already riddled with injustice and inequity; with rising consumption and rising competition for diminishing resources -- the nurturing of pluralism and therein the promotion of collectively-embraced human interests (interests that go beyond the identifications through which we separate ourselves), herein lies our only hope.

The partitionists will claim that their position arises out of a willingness to face ugly realities, yet realism always runs the risk of being self-fulfilling. Where division might have seemed absolute, bridges can be built -- South Africa and Northern Ireland prove it is possible.
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U.S. troop buildup in Iraq falling short
By Julian E. Barnes and Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, July 11, 2007

Iraqis continue to flee their homes, leaving mixed areas and seeking safety in religiously segregated neighborhoods. About 32,000 families fled in June alone, according to figures compiled by the United Nations and the Iraqi government that are due to be released next week.

U.S. forces have staged offensives to push insurgents out of some safe havens. But many of the insurgents have escaped to new areas of the country, launching attacks where the U.S. presence is lighter.

And there has been no sign of any of the crucial political progress the administration had hoped to see in Iraq.

U.S. commanders are painfully aware that they are running out of time to change those realities. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, has made several efforts to slow the clock in Washington. Each time, it has sped up.

The full complement of the "surge" arrived in Iraq last month, bringing the total to 28,500 additional troops. Military officers originally hoped to have until 2008 before they had to render a verdict on the strategy. Then the Washington timeframe shrank to September. Now, it is shrinking further, with Congress demanding answers even sooner. [complete article]
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Giuliani, the Likud candidate?
By Jim Lobe, LobeLog, July 10, 2007

Republican front-runner Rudy Giuliani announced his foreign-policy advisory team Tuesday, and it looks from the membership as if he's bidding for the Likud vote (for which he will no doubt receive tough competition from John McCain, Fred Thompson, and, eventually perhaps, Newt Gingrich).

Heading the team is Charles Hill, a retired career foreign service officer who worked as former Secretary of State George Shultz's executive officer during the Reagan administration and is currently a research fellow at the Hoover Institution. Hill's paper trail is confined almost exclusively to the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal where, among other things, he hailed the creation in 2004 of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD), proposed the replacement of the UN by a new organisation of nations "committed to democracy," criticized the 9/11 Commission for failing to sufficiently emphasize "the nature of the enemy" -- "Islamist terrorism; Saddamist-style hijacked states; and regimes fearful of subversion, such as Saudi Arabia, whose policies have inflamed the situation and increased the danger to itself," and decried the Commission's suggestion that U.S. policies in the region might have something to do with anti-American sentiment there.

A big fan of Bernard Lewis' theories about what ails the Arab Middle East, Hill was a signer of the Sep 20, 2001, letter from Bill Kristol’s Project for the New American Century (PNAC) that urged Bush to be sure to include Saddam Hussein, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, and the Yassir Arafat, as well as al Qaeda and the Taliban, in his war on terror.

Of the seven other members of Giuliani's "Senior Foreign Policy Advisory Board," several have also been associated with PNAC and the CPD, most spectacularly, the legendary former editor of Commentary magazine, Norman "World War IV" Podhoretz, whose most recent contribution to Western-Islamic understanding was his article, "The Case for Bombing Iran" (an eight-minute "must-see" video version of which is available on YouTube. A founding father of neo-conservatism, Podhoretz is also, of course, the father-in-law of Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams whose own work in frustrating serious peace efforts between Israel and its Arab neighbors has been second only to Dick Cheney's. Apparently relying on inside information, Podhoretz still believes that Saddam Hussein secreted his weapons of mass destruction to Syria for safe-keeping. [complete article]
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Military Intelligence: Iran will cross nuclear threshold by 2009
By Amos Harel, Haaretz, July 11, 2007

Israel Defense Forces intelligence analysts say they are unconcerned about the danger of Iran's immediate use of nuclear weapons against Israel, but are concerned about the sense of security nuclear capabilities will give Tehran. According to Military Intelligence, Iran's support of terror, which is delivered in partial secrecy, will become more open.

MI says it is unlikely that Iran will attain nuclear capability before mid-2009, and it is more likely to happen around 2010. U.S. intelligence predicts that Iran will attain nuclear capability within three to six years.

Iran's nuclear program may be delayed by one of three possibilities: a military attack on Iran, a system of pressures and sanctions that will push Iran into a compromise, or a continuation of the technological difficulties it is now experiencing. [complete article]
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Iran's "security outlook"
By Farideh Farhi, MERIP, July 9, 2007

The Bush administration, Congress and many American pundits are increasingly convinced that the squeeze on Iran, in the form of Security Council resolutions and more so the economic and financial coordination of the United States and its allies, is working. Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek, for instance, has written that "the financial measures, aggressively pursued by the Bush administration, have hit where it hurts." Sharp criticisms of Ahmadinejad's policies, including his cabinet's security orientation, are interpreted as a reflection of elite conflict and harbingers of an eventual push toward compromise on the nuclear issue. Recent evidence of Iran's economic difficulties in the form of gasoline rationing is seen as yet another indicator of sanctions and pressures having the desired impact, despite the fact that rationing and the more general plans to reduce gasoline consumption and, more importantly, subsidies have been in the works for several years. A bipartisan panel in the House of Representatives is even pushing for sanctions against countries that sell gasoline to Iran.

What is missing from this type of analysis is that, in pursuing a publicly stated and defended security-oriented policy, the Iranian government is behaving in a rather "normal" fashion for a government of a country that sees itself, and in fact is, under external attack and pressure. Indeed, the US is giving the Iranian government ammunition on a daily basis not only to implement its security approach but also to sell it. Iranians who burn down gas stations because they are upset with government rationing are called "terrorists" in the pay of foreign powers which have "allocated funds to cause turmoil"; intellectuals doing research on Iran are "naive lost souls who are knowingly or unknowingly serving the interest of external powers" by supplying them with a skewed understanding of Iran; even past government officials are, at best, appeasers and, at worst, spies. There is no reason to think that Iran will become an "abnormal" country where outside pressure weakens rather than strengthens the security outlook. [complete article]
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How the Pentagon came to own the earth, seas, and skies
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch, July 11, 2007

In 2003, Forbes magazine revealed that media mogul Ted Turner was America's top land baron -- with a total of 1.8 million acres across the U.S. The nation's ten largest landowners, Forbes reported, "own 10.6 million acres, or one out of every 217 acres in the country." Impressive as this total was, the Pentagon puts Turner and the entire pack of mega-landlords to shame with over 29 million acres in U.S. landholdings. Abroad, the Pentagon's "footprint" is also that of a giant. For example, the Department of Defense controls 20% of the Japanese island of Okinawa and, according to Stars and Stripes, "owns about 25 percent of Guam." Mere land ownership, however, is just the tip of the iceberg.

In his 2004 book, The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson opened the world's eyes to the size of the Pentagon's global footprint, noting that the Department of Defense (DoD) was deploying nearly 255,000 military personnel at 725 bases in 38 countries. Since then, the total number of overseas bases has increased to at least 766 and, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, may actually be as high as 850. Still, even these numbers don't begin to capture the global sprawl of the organization that unabashedly refers to itself as "one of the world's largest 'landlords.'" [complete article]
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Where outsiders, and fear, loom over daily life
By Michael Slackman, New York Times, July 11, 2007

Foreign powers have long pursued their national interests on Lebanese soil. But any efforts to conceal those machinations have evaporated.

The old and new airport roads, for example, are lined with yellow banners boasting of Iran's help with reconstruction. At a traffic circle in the municipality of Ghobeiry, just outside of Beirut, there is a small new public garden and three public toilets. A sign says it was all built by the "Iranian committee" in just 40 days.

The small Persian Gulf country of Qatar seems to be everywhere, from the north to the south, doling out cash for rebuilding and for health services. For some, the signs of foreign involvement add to the anxiety. "We in this country are waiting to see the outcome of the American-Iranian game," said Fadi Abboud, head of the Association of Lebanese Industrialists.

A north-to-south tour illustrates the few free spaces Lebanese can find, now, to breathe. [complete article]
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Rash of insurgent shells falls on Iraq's Green Zone
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2007

At least 20 mortar rounds and Katyusha rockets struck the fortified Green Zone on Tuesday afternoon, killing an American service member and two other people in an attack on the heart of U.S. and Iraqi government facilities in the capital.

An Iraqi and a third person of unknown nationality also were killed in the attack, according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy. About 18 people were injured, including two U.S. military personnel and three American contract employees, the statement said. [complete article]
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U.S. envoy offers grim prediction on Iraq pullout
By John F. Burns and Alissa J. Rubin, New York Times, July 10, 2007

As the Senate prepares to begin a new debate this week on proposals for a withdrawal from Iraq, the United States ambassador and the Iraqi foreign minister are warning that the departure of American troops could lead to sharply increased violence, the deaths of thousands and a regional conflict that could draw in Iraq's neighbors.

Two months before a pivotal assessment of progress in the war that he and the overall American military commander in Iraq are to make to the White House and Congress in September, Ryan C. Crocker, the ambassador, laid out a grim forecast of what could happen if the policy debate in Washington led to a significant pullback or even withdrawal of American forces, perhaps to bases outside the major cities.

"You can't build a whole policy on a fear of a negative, but, boy, you've really got to account for it," Mr. Crocker said Saturday in an interview at his office in Saddam Hussein’s old Republican Palace, now the seat of American power here. Setting out what he said was not a policy prescription but a review of issues that needed to be weighed, the ambassador compared Iraq’s current violence to the early scenes of a gruesome movie. [complete article]

See also, Senate begins new debate on Iraq troop pullout (AP) and Bush is firm as criticism over Iraq mounts (NYT).
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The way out
The American Prospect, July 10, 2007

In our June issue, Flynt Leverett penned a memo to the incoming president laying out the options for an exit from Iraq. Below, several prominent progressives respond and offer their own suggestions.

Peter W. Galbraith, Lawrence J. Korb, Suzanne Nossel and Charles A. Kupchan -- plus, Flynt Leverett responds. [complete article]
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Inside Israel's secret talks with Hamas
By Tim McGirk, Time, July 10, 2007

Having secured the release of kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston on July 4th, Hamas officials are now moving discreetly to negotiate freedom for another Gaza hostage -- Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit, seized in June 2006 in a raid by Palestinian militants who had tunneled under the Israeli security wall around Gaza, is currently being held by kidnappers who include members of Hamas' own military wing, as well another radical group, the Popular Resistance Committees.

An investigation by TIME reveals a marked contrast in how the Israelis and Hamas view their complicated on-again, off-again negotiations over Shalit's release. The disconnect arises partially out of Israel's refusal to deal directly with Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization. While some informed Israelis say they are "optimistic" that Shalit will be free "within weeks," Hamas officials are far more cautious -- one offered the glum assessment that bargaining could drag on for another year. [complete article]
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Dahlan departs politics to undergo more medical treatment
By Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, July 10, 2007

Former Fatah security commander Muhammad Dahlan is unlikely to return to the Palestinian territories in the near future after heading over the weekend to Germany for medical treatment.

Fatah officials in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that Dahlan, who already underwent surgery on his knees in a German hospital earlier this year, would not return to the political scene, at least not in the next few months.

"Dahlan's health condition doesn't allow him to return to his previous work," the officials said. "He will undergo more treatment in Germany and, if required, he may have to be moved to the US for further treatment." [complete article]

Did Dahlan talk about slaughtering Arafat?
By Sami Moubayed, Gulf News, July 10, 2007

Mohammad Dahlan, former Palestinian security minister, allegedly talked about killing former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.

It is said to have been found in a hand-written letter dated July 13, 2003, addressed to Shaul Mofaz, the then-Israeli minister of defence in Ariel Sharon's cabinet.

Documents like these were discovered at the security offices of Fatah, which were abandoned three weeks ago after the Hamas takeover of Gaza. Since then a war of words - and documents - has been waged between the two Palestinian groups. [complete article]

Comment -- As Dahlan falls, we can only speculate who he might bring down with him. If, as the Jerusalem Post suggests, he ends up in the United States for health care (and/or asylum), he could put his patrons in Washington in an awkward position. How long might it be before he ends up getting subpoenaed by Congress? If it comes to that, Elliot Abrams and David Welch will then have some tough questions to answer.
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Hamas' stand
By Mousa Abu Marzook, Los Angeles Times, July 10, 2007

The sticking point of "recognition" has been used as a litmus test to judge Palestinians. Yet as I have said before, a state may have a right to exist, but not absolutely at the expense of other states, or more important, at the expense of millions of human individuals and their rights to justice. Why should anyone concede Israel's "right" to exist, when it has never even acknowledged the foundational crimes of murder and ethnic cleansing by means of which Israel took our towns and villages, our farms and orchards, and made us a nation of refugees?

Why should any Palestinian "recognize" the monstrous crime carried out by Israel's founders and continued by its deformed modern apartheid state, while he or she lives 10 to a room in a cinderblock, tin-roof United Nations hut? These are not abstract questions, and it is not rejectionist simply because we have refused to abandon the victims of 1948 and their descendants.

As for the 1988 charter, if every state or movement were to be judged solely by its foundational, revolutionary documents or the ideas of its progenitors, there would be a good deal to answer for on all sides. The American Declaration of Independence, with its self-evident truth of equality, simply did not countenance (at least, not in the minds of most of its illustrious signatories) any such status for the 700,000 African slaves at that time; nor did the Constitution avoid codifying slavery as an institution, counting "other persons" as three-fifths of a man. [complete article]

See also, Hamdan: We reject Al-Qaeda ideology, Abbas claims untrue (Ikhwanweb) and Egypt vehemently opposes deployment of int'l force in Gaza (Haaretz).
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Islamists suffer as freedom slips down the Mideast agenda
By Heba Saleh, Financial Times, July 10, 2007

In a chilling account of his torture in a Cairo detention facility, Abu Omar, an Egyptian cleric, describes how he was interrogated while naked, blindfolded and hanging upside down by his feet.

"I am recording my testimony from inside my grave," he writes in prison at the beginning of an account that goes on to detail beatings, electric shocks and sexual assault.

Abu Omar was released a few months ago after almost four years in detention. He is currently at the centre of a court case in Italy where prosecutors allege he was snatched from a street in Milan by CIA and Italian security agents, then flownto Egypt to be tortured underthe US extraordinary renditions programme.

Four years after US President George W. Bush launched an initiative promising a "forward strategy of freedom" to bring democracy to the Middle East, human rights activists say the war against terror and practices such as extraordinary rendition have underlined the shallowness of America's commitment to democracy and human rights in the Arab world. [complete article]
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Firebrand cleric killed in Red Mosque raid
By Griff Witte and Debbi Wilgoren, Washington Post, July 10, 2007

The pro-Taliban cleric who led an eight-day anti-government standoff at the Red Mosque was found dead in the compound's basement on Tuesday, Pakistani officials said, hours after elite commando troops stormed the compound determined to end the siege.

Although military leaders said before the raid that they would subdue the militants quickly, battles were still raging -- and dozens were dead -- after 15 hours of intense combat.

At 9 a.m. local time, military officials said 70 percent of the mosque had been cleared. Nine hours later, they had taken control of only another 10 percent of the complex, with the remaining 20 percent still to go and militants continuing to offer stiff resistance. [complete article]

See also, Analysis: Musharraf faced with stark choice after mosque siege (The Times) and The mosque and the ballot (Informed Comment Global Affairs).
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'Crack in the dike': White House in 'panic mode' over GOP revolt on Iraq
By Martha Raddatz, ABC News, July 9, 2007

ABC News has been told the White House is in "panic mode" over the recent defections of Republican senators on the president's stay-the-course policy in Iraq.

Senior Bush administration officials are deep in discussion about how to find a compromise that will "appease Democrats and keep wobbly Republicans onboard," a senior White House official told ABC News.

The official said the White House "is in panic mode," despite Monday's on-the-record briefing by White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, who played down any concern over the recent spate of GOP senators who have spoken out publicly in support of changing course in Iraq. [complete article]
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Gaza is not Algeria
By Ahmed Yousef, Haaretz, July 9, 2007

Abbas' current moves to unilaterally declare an emergency government in the West Bank is a political gamble doomed to fail. First, Parliament will not approve deposing Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Therefore the only options Abbas has are to amend the constitution without a parliamentary vote, or to stage a military coup bolstered by Israeli arms and secret-service support in a move reminiscent of Algeria's FLN negating moderate Islamist victories at the ballot box in 1991.

The rational choice would be to engage with Hamas - as it has been trying to do since coming to power - within the framework of the law, and jointly to work toward ending economic terrorism and irredentist occupation. Western powers would do more for the cause of stability by releasing their chokehold on the Palestinian economy and finding more plausible representation than Tony Blair to act as an envoy in the interests of peace. [complete article]

See also, Which group will we work with today? (Zvi Bar'el).

Comment -- Although the always eloquent Ahmed Yousef has had op-eds in the New York Times and the Washington Post, it's good to know what "the face of terrorism" looks like, just so we can have a better sense who the Bush administration adamantly refuses to talk to. Note that Yousef has provocatively asserted the anti-American attitude that we would expect from an extremist by cunningly placing a Star Spangled Banner behind his desk.
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Unit's mission: survive 4 miles to remember fallen comrade
By David Finkel, Washington Post, July 9, 2007

Everything in the Army is supposed to have a task and a purpose, and this simple mission was no different. The task was to get 27 soldiers from Point A to Point B, from their neighborhood combat outpost to an Army base four miles away. The purpose was to attend a memorial service for one of their fellow soldiers, who had died eight days earlier while attempting to make the very same trip.

And so the leaders of Alpha Company had a decision to make: drive in Humvees and risk getting blown up by a roadside bomb, which is what happened to their friend, who bled to death as they worked to save him, or try to minimize the risk of a bomb by walking the four miles in searing summer heat, which would increase the chances of being shot by a sniper. [complete article]
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"Accidents" of war
By Tom Engelhardt, TomDispatch, July 9, 2007

The first news stories about the most notorious massacre of the Vietnam War were picked up the morning after from an Army publicity release. These proved fairly typical for the war. On its front page, the New York Times labeled the operation in and around a village called My Lai 4 (or "Pinkville," as it was known to U.S. forces in the area) a significant success. "American troops caught a North Vietnamese force in a pincer movement on the central coastal plain yesterday, killing 128 enemy soldiers in day-long fighting." United Press International termed what happened there an "impressive victory," and added a bit of patriotic color: "The Vietcong broke and ran for their hide-out tunnels. Six-and-a-half hours later, 'Pink Village' had become 'Red, White and Blue Village."

All these dispatches from the "front" were, of course, military fairy tales. (There were no reporters in the vicinity.) It took over a year for a former GI named Ronald Ridenhour, who had heard about the bloody massacre from participants, and a young former AP reporter named Seymour Hersh working in Washington for a news service no one had ever heard of, to break the story, revealing that "red, white, and blue village" had just been red village -- the red of Vietnamese peasant blood. Over 400 elderly men, women, children, and babies had been slaughtered there by Charlie Company of Task Force Barker in a nearly day-long rampage. [complete article]
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Did Washington's ally prolong Alan Johnston's captivity?
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 9, 2007

Last week, State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, assumed the role of voice of the world when he said, "I don't think the world views Hamas any differently as a result of this" -- this being Hamas's success in securing the release of Alan Johnston. McCormack may be right, but I'd say the jury is still out. What might shift global opinion however, is the claim that one of America's closest Palestinian allies, Mohammad Dahlan, had his representative, Samir Musharawi, intervene three times to prevent Alan Johnston's release.

This has been known to Conflicts Forum since June 19 but could not be made public at that time. The information was disclosed during a meeting in Beirut, in which the following exchange took place between senior British Member of Parliament, Michael Ancram, and Hamas's representative in Lebanon, Usamah Hamdan:
Michael Ancram: You mentioned that Alan Johnston's captors were a family...

Usamah Hamdan: The Dagmoush family.

MA: That they were associated with Dahlan. Would Dahlan have known?

UH: Yes. He knew this, he does. And for three times we came to the point to release Alan Johnston and by telephone call from [Samir Musharawi], who is Dahlan's man, they stopped that.
While Dahlan's motives are a matter of speculation -- he may have felt that postponing Johnston's release would undermine Hamas's ability to provide effective security in Gaza -- the fact remains that Johnston remained captive for as long as Mohammad Dahlan's Preventative Security Services remained in operation in Gaza.
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Fayyad confiscates $7 million from Dahlan
By Ali Waked, Ynet, July 8, 2007

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyafd recently confiscated $7 million from a bank account belonging to National Security Advisor Muhammed Dahlan.

According to Palestinian sources, the confiscated funds were transferred to Dahlan in order to financially support Palestinian security forces before Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip.

The funds were transferred by several international bodies, including the United States and Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan. As national security advisor, Dahlan was responsible for allocating the funds to where they were most needed by security forces.

According to the sources, Palestinian Authority officials were checking whether or not Dahlan managed to withdraw funds from his account prior to Fayyad's confiscation. [complete article]

See also, PA officials smuggled $52 million in U.S. aid (WND).
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Hamas briefing
Conflicts Forum, July 8, 2007

The following comes from an edited and annotated transcript of a discussion between Hamas's representative in Lebanon, Usamah Hamdan, the British Member of Parliament, Rt Hon Michael Ancram QC, the Director of London's Global Strategy Forum, Jonathan Lehrle, and Co-Director of Conflicts Forum, Mark Perry. The meeting took place at the Albergo Hotel, Beirut, on June 19, 2007. The transcript of this meeting could not be made public - for reasons which become apparent - until the BBC journalist Alan Johnston had been released.
Usamah Hamdan: I believe we have to talk about the future. The first point: If you want to deal with the Palestinian people you have to deal with their elected leadership. If anyone thinks that he can generate a Palestinian leadership by financial support and by some political support he will complicate the situation and finally he will fail. And everyone noticed that in Gaza, they could not even survive for three days, even they were supported by the international community by the Israelis for more than twelve years.

Second point: I believe, if you are talking about a solution, if you are talking about stability, you have to deal with a real committed movement, and it was clear in the last two years the most committed movement, for example, to the ceasefire was Hamas, it was not Fatah, it wasn’t any other group.

The third point: I believe they can continue putting the Palestinian people under the siege. But helping Abu Mazen by aid will not help him in front of his Palestinian people. Now — and we will say that in the future — he is a traitor. He is applying the outsider plans, he is doing the steps as the Israeli wants. This will not help him, this will not help his group.

So the solution is clear: To recognize the results of the elections. To respect the Palestinian democracy; to support the Palestinian people to secure the organizations; to secure their democratic systems, and to deal with them directly, talking about peace, security and the political process. This will lead us in the right direction. Otherwise I believe the Palestinian people will defend their rights. They will defend their honor.

Why we should be talking to Hamas
By Michael Ancram, ConservativeHome, July 5, 2007

I am a longstanding friend of Israel, but I have also made it clear that it is not possible to argue for a two state solution unless you are a friend of the Palestinians too – and that means engaging with all relevant Palestinian elements. I have therefore argued for some time that there could be no two state solution in the Middle East unless Hamas as well as Fatah was involved. An autonomous and viable Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel without the involvement of Hamas is a contradiction in terms. Hamas is a significant – and currently a majority – part of the Palestinian political framework. This is not even taking into account the Palestinian constituency of the refugee camps in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon where they have significant support as well.

The idea that Hamas can be eradicated is a fantasy, and that it can in the long term be militarily defeated a misapprehension. At some moment, and I believe sooner rather than later, they will have to be engaged with. I understand that Israel cannot currently talk to them. That does not however mean that others should not begin the process of exploratory dialogue with them, a process which as I personally know opened vital windows for us with Irish republicanism in similarly intransigent circumstances fifteen years ago.

I suggested last weekend in the Sunday Telegraph that Tony Blair, with his experience of Northern Ireland, should begin such a process. I have met with Hamas in Beirut on a number of occasions and I believe that the basis for constructive exploratory dialogue is there. Dialogue is not negotiation. It explores rather than commits. It is often the best precursor to future negotiations. [complete article]

Ancram calls for Hamas dialogue
BBC, July 6, 2007

Senior Tory MP Michael Ancram has called for dialogue with Hamas - the Islamist movement boycotted by the West for refusing to recognise Israel.
Meanwhile 39 MPs have signed a motion calling for engagement with Hamas. [complete article]
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Dissolution of Palestinian Security Council fuels retirement rumors for its leader Dahlan
By Nisreen Qumsieh, International Middle East Media Center, July 9, 2007

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has dissolved the National Security Council, which supervised all security services in the Palestinian territories under the leadership of Mohammad Dahlan, a powerful Fatah leader in Gaza, reported the Palestinian News Network on Monday.

Although the president did not offer any explanation for his decision, speculation points to the defeat of the Palestinian Security forces, managed by Dahlan, in Gaza by Hamas last month.

Just days before the dissolution of the Council, Dahlan submitted for approval a budget of about 10 million USD to the newly-appointed Prime Minister of the Palestinian Emergency Government Salam Fayyad.

Independent observers expressed the opinion that Dahlan might take this opportunity to retire from political life in Palestine, but Dahlan's camp has yet to indicate any possibility of such a movet. Although Dahlan is considered responsible for the blow Fatah endured in Gaza and many Fatah members have called for his retirement, he has stated that he has no immediate plans to leave the political realm just yet. [complete article]
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How Syria helped win Johnston's release
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, July 7, 2007

The world rejoiced over the release of British Broadcasting Corporation journalist Alan Johnston, who had been held captive by Islamist militias in Gaza for 16 weeks. Hamas, recently ejected from government by Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas, took the credit.

Johnston was taken immediately from captivity to meet former prime minister Ismail Haniyya of Hamas. Pictures of the men, hands clasped, made front page news and Hamas, now in control of Gaza after armed conflict with Abbas' Fatah movement, used the occasion to boost its image in the Arab and Western world. However, there was another champion behind Johnston's release: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. [complete article]
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Al-Qaeda veteran led Johnston kidnap gang
By Marie Colvin, The Sunday Times, July 8, 2007

The mastermind behind the kidnapping of Alan Johnston, the BBC correspondent, is an experienced terrorist who fought with Al-Qaeda alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan.

He can be named for the first time today as Qattab al-Maqdesy, a native of Gaza who is in his late thirties.

Johnston, who arrived back in Britain yesterday to be reunited with his parents in Argyll, was held for 114 days in Gaza before being freed last week.

Al-Maqdesy was himself seized by Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that controls Gaza, as part of the process that led to the BBC reporter's release. [complete article]
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In White House, debate is rising on Iraq pullback
By David E. Sanger, New York Times, July 9, 2007

White House officials fear that the last pillars of political support among Senate Republicans for President Bush's Iraq strategy are collapsing around them, according to several administration officials and outsiders they are consulting. They say that inside the administration, debate is intensifying over whether Mr. Bush should try to prevent more defections by announcing his intention to begin a gradual withdrawal of American troops from the high-casualty neighborhoods of Baghdad and other cities.

Mr. Bush and his aides once thought they could wait to begin those discussions until after Sept. 15, when the top field commander and the new American ambassador to Baghdad are scheduled to report on the effectiveness of the troop increase that the president announced in January. But suddenly, some of Mr. Bush's aides acknowledge, it appears that forces are combining against him just as the Senate prepares this week to begin what promises to be a contentious debate on the war's future and financing.

Four more Republican senators have recently declared that they can no longer support Mr. Bush's strategy, including senior lawmakers who until now had expressed their doubts only privately. As a result, some aides are now telling Mr. Bush that if he wants to forestall more defections, it would be wiser to announce plans for a far more narrowly defined mission for American troops that would allow for a staged pullback, a strategy that he rejected in December as a prescription for defeat when it was proposed by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group.

"When you count up the votes that we've lost and the votes we're likely to lose over the next few weeks, it looks pretty grim," said one senior official, who, like others involved in the discussions, would not speak on the record about internal White House deliberations.

That conclusion was echoed in interviews over the past few days by administration officials in the Pentagon, State Department and White House, as well as by outsiders who have been consulted about what the administration should do next. "Sept. 15 now looks like an end point for the debate, not a starting point," the official said. "Lots of people are concluding that the president has got to get out ahead of this train." [complete article]
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The road home
Lead Editorial, New York Times, July 8, 2007

It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.

Like many Americans, we have put off that conclusion, waiting for a sign that President Bush was seriously trying to dig the United States out of the disaster he created by invading Iraq without sufficient cause, in the face of global opposition, and without a plan to stabilize the country afterward.

At first, we believed that after destroying Iraq's government, army, police and economic structures, the United States was obliged to try to accomplish some of the goals Mr. Bush claimed to be pursuing, chiefly building a stable, unified Iraq. When it became clear that the president had neither the vision nor the means to do that, we argued against setting a withdrawal date while there was still some chance to mitigate the chaos that would most likely follow.

While Mr. Bush scorns deadlines, he kept promising breakthroughs -- after elections, after a constitution, after sending in thousands more troops. But those milestones came and went without any progress toward a stable, democratic Iraq or a path for withdrawal. It is frighteningly clear that Mr. Bush's plan is to stay the course as long as he is president and dump the mess on his successor. Whatever his cause was, it is lost. [complete article]

Comment -- So the editorial board that started off as a staunch supporter of the war has finally lost faith. The Times might have added some weight to its appeal if it had included some words of contrition -- a full acknowledgment of the role that it played in cementing popular support for the war.
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A lesson in Iraqi illusion
By Robert Malley and Peter Harling, Boston Globe, July 8, 2007

To imagine what Baghdad will look like after the surge, there is no need to project far into the future. Instead, just turn to the recent past. Between September 2006 and March 2007, British forces conducted Operation Sinbad in Basra, Iraq's second largest city. At first, there were signs of progress: diminished violence, criminality, and overall chaos. But these turned out to be superficial and depressingly fleeting. Only a few months after the operation came to an end, old habits resurfaced. Today, political tensions once again are destabilizing the city; relentless attacks against British forces have driven them off the streets; and the southern city is under the control of militias, more powerful and less inhibited than before.

Operation Sinbad, like the surge, was premised on belief that heightened British military power would help rout out militias, provide space for local leaders to rebuild the city, and ultimately hand security over to newly vetted and more professional Iraqi security forces. It did nothing of the sort. A military strategy that failed to challenge the dominant power structure and political makeup, no matter how muscular it was, simply could not alter the underlying dynamic: A political arena dominated by parties -- those the British embraced, no less than those they fought -- engaged in a bloody competition over power and resources. [complete article]
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Base to Bush: It's over
By Byron York, Washington Post, July 8, 2007

Let's say you're a Republican president, a bit more than midway through your second term. You're scrambling to salvage what you can of a deeply unpopular war, you're facing a line of subpoenas from Democrats in Congress and your poll ratings are in the basement. What do you do?

You estrange the very Republicans whose backing you need the most.

That's precisely what President Bush has managed to accomplish during the two big political developments of recent weeks: the commutation of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby's prison sentence and the defeat of comprehensive immigration reform. But the president's problems with the GOP base go beyond those awkward headlines. Republicans aren't mad at Bush for the same reasons that Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the devotees of are; there's no new anti-Bush consensus among left and right. No, conservatives are unhappy because the president allied himself with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) over an immigration deal that leaned too far toward amnesty for illegal immigrants. They're unhappy because Bush has shown little interest in fiscal responsibility and limited government. And they're unhappy, above all, because he hasn't won the war in Iraq.

All of this has left Republicans saying, at least among themselves, something blunt and devastating: It's over. [complete article]

For Libby, Bush seemed to alter his Texas policy
By Adam Liptak, New York Times, July 8, 2007

In the six years that George W. Bush was governor of Texas, a state that executes more people than any other, he commuted a single death sentence and allowed 152 executions to go forward. He also pardoned 20 people charged with lesser crimes, said Maria Ramirez, the state's clemency administrator. That was fewer than any Texas governor since the 1940s.

As president, Mr. Bush has commuted three sentences in addition to Mr. Libby's and denied more than 4,000 requests, said Margaret Colgate Love, the pardon lawyer at the Justice Department for most of the 1990s. He has also issued 113 pardons and denied more than 1,000 requests. "His grant rate is very low compared to other presidents'," she said.

In commuting Mr. Libby's sentence, Mr. Bush said he had found it excessive. If Mr. Bush employed a similar calculus in Texas capital cases, he did not say so. Even in cases involving juvenile offenders and mentally retarded people, Mr. Bush allowed executions to proceed, saying that he was satisfied of the inmates' guilt and that they had received a fair hearing. [complete article]

See also, Much of US favors Bush impeachment: poll (AFP).
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U.S. aborted raid on Qaeda chiefs in Pakistan in '05
By Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, July 8, 2007

A secret military operation in early 2005 to capture senior members of Al Qaeda in Pakistan's tribal areas was aborted at the last minute after top Bush administration officials decided it was too risky and could jeopardize relations with Pakistan, according to intelligence and military officials.

The target was a meeting of Qaeda leaders that intelligence officials thought included Ayman al-Zawahri, Osama bin Laden's top deputy and the man believed to run the terrorist group’s operations.

But the mission was called off after Donald H. Rumsfeld, then the defense secretary, rejected an 11th-hour appeal by Porter J. Goss, then the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, officials said. Members of a Navy Seals unit in parachute gear had already boarded C-130 cargo planes in Afghanistan when the mission was canceled, said a former senior intelligence official involved in the planning.

Mr. Rumsfeld decided that the operation, which had ballooned from a small number of military personnel and C.I.A. operatives to several hundred, was cumbersome and put too many American lives at risk, the current and former officials said. He was also concerned that it could cause a rift with Pakistan, an often reluctant ally that has barred the American military from operating in its tribal areas, the officials said. [complete article]
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Seeing Al Qaeda around every corner
By Clark Hoyt, New York Times, July 8, 2007

As domestic support for the war in Iraq continues to melt away, President Bush and the United States military in Baghdad are increasingly pointing to a single villain on the battlefield: Al Qaeda.

Bush mentioned the terrorist group 27 times in a recent speech on Iraq at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I. In West Virginia on the Fourth of July, he declared, "We must defeat Al Qaeda in Iraq." The Associated Press reported last month that although some 30 groups have claimed credit for attacks on United States and Iraqi government targets, press releases from the American military focus overwhelmingly on Al Qaeda.

Why Bush and the military are emphasizing Al Qaeda to the virtual exclusion of other sources of violence in Iraq is an important story. So is the question of how well their version of events squares with the facts of a murky and rapidly changing situation on the ground.

But these are stories you haven't been reading in The Times in recent weeks as the newspaper has slipped into a routine of quoting the president and the military uncritically about Al Qaeda's role in Iraq -- and sometimes citing the group itself without attribution.

And in using the language of the administration, the newspaper has also failed at times to distinguish between Al Qaeda, the group that attacked the United States on Sept. 11, and Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia, an Iraqi group that didn't even exist until after the American invasion. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

How U.S. policy missteps led to a nasty downfall in Gaza
By Warren P. Strobel and Dion Nissenbaum, McClatchy, July 4, 2007

The war within Fatah
By Khaled Amayreh, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 5, 2007

Construction and development of settlements beyond the limits of jurisdiction
By Dror Etkes and Hagit Ofran, Peace Now, July, 2007

Commercial closure: deleting Gaza's economy from the map
Report by Gisha (Legal Center for Freedom of Movement), July 4, 2007

Hamas's latest coup
By Conal Urquhart, The Guardian, July 4, 2007

The peril of the West's Hamas error
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, July 2, 2007

Subverting democracy
By Joseph Massad, Al-Ahram Weekly, June 28, 2007

Iran has a message. Are we listening?
By Michael Hirsh, Washington Post, July 1, 2007

What Tenet knew
By Thomas Powers, New York Review of Books (via TomDispatch), June 28, 2007
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