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Out of the shadows
By Seumas Milne, The Guardian, July 20, 2007

"Resistance isn't just about killing Americans without any aims or goals," [says Abd al-Rahman al-Zubeidy, the political spokesman of Iraqi insurgent group, Ansar al-Sunna]... "Our people have come to hate al-Qaida, which gives the impression to the outside world that the resistance in Iraq are terrorists. Suicide bombing is not the best way to fight because it kills innocent civilians. We are against indiscriminate killing - fighting should be concentrated only on the enemy. They [al-Qaida] believe that all Shia are kuffar [unbelievers] - and most of the Sunnis as well." They estimate that al-Qaida now carries out between a fifth and a third of all attacks in Iraq.

But they say that it is necessary for the Sunni-based groups to ally with the Shia. "Even though that is not easy," says Zubeidy. "A great gap has opened up between Sunni and Shia under the occupation and al-Qaida has contributed to that - as have the US and Iran. Most of al-Qaida's members are Iraqis but its leaders are mostly foreigners. The Americans magnify their role, even though they are responsible for a minority of resistance operations - remember that the Americans brought al-Qaida to Iraq."
"Peaceful resistance will not end the occupation," states Abu Ahmad. "The US has made clear that it intends to stay in Iraq for many decades. Now it is a common view in the resistance that they will start to withdraw within a year." Right or wrong, that is one of the factors that has led to the decision to form the new front, which is planned to be called the Political Office for the Iraqi Resistance. As well as Iraqi Hamas, the 1920 Revolution Brigades and the new Ansar al-Sunna, it is to include the powerful Jaish (army) al-Islami, Jaish al-Mujahideen, Jama' and Jaish al-Rashideen. The plan is to hold a congress of the seven groups to announce the front's formation and then move towards the establishment of some form of public presence outside Iraq, though it is hard to see any state being prepared to risk the wrath of the US by hosting such an outfit. "It would need UN protection," Zubeidy suggests.

They have already agreed that at the heart of the programme will be a commitment to liberate Iraq from all foreign troops; recognise only those who reject the occupation and its institutions as able to represent Iraq; demand compensation from foreign forces for the devastation they have inflicted on the country; declare all decisions taken by the occupying states and its client government null and void; and reject any change in population distribution. The aim is for the front to join other independent anti-occupation forces from across the country to negotiate with the Americans for their withdrawal. A temporary technocratic government would then manage the country during a transition period until free elections could be held for a new independent government. Even Saddam's revamped Ba'ath party - which now plays what is regarded as a reduced role in the resistance - is an enthusiast for fully competitive elections.

But what if the US doesn't start to withdraw from Iraq next year, as the resistance groups expect, or merely withdraws to the huge military bases it has built around Iraq to intervene as and when it sees fit? "As long as foreign forces remain in Iraq," Omary replies, "the Iraqi government will not be independent. And armed resistance will continue." [complete article]
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A country in crisis as fearful government cracks down on Islamist opposition
By Ian Black, The Guardian, July 19, 2007

It was 3am when armed security agents hammered on the door of Khairat al-Shater's flat in Nasser City; his daughter Zahra could only watch and comfort her distraught children while her father and husband, Ayman, were detained as Hosni Mubarak's latest crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood got under way.

"The Brotherhood are good people," insisted Zahra, in a hijab of the kind increasingly seen on the streets of Cairo. "We believe in peaceful change and the regime is crushing us. Ordinary criminals are freed quickly and are treated better than political prisoners in Egypt." Seven months on, the two men were up before a military court again this week on charges of money-laundering and membership of a proscribed organisation. Mr Shater, a wealthy businessman, is No 3 in the Brotherhood hierarchy. Some 450 activists remain locked up under emergency laws.

In one sense, November's "dawn visitors" to Nasser City were rounding up the usual suspects in a decades-long cat-and-mouse game between the Egyptian state and the world's oldest Islamist organisation. But the confrontation is deepening - alarming for the 79 million people of the most populous Arab country and for anyone who hopes for democratic change in the Middle East and North Africa.

Egyptians laugh wryly when they recall the US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice's bold talk two years ago of a post-Saddam "forward strategy of freedom" for promoting democracy instead of bolstering the authoritarian status quo. In the blowback from Iraq, America's watchword today is "stability". Reform, especially anything involving Islamists, is off the agenda. [complete article]
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A political conflict
By Azzam Tamimi, The Guardian, July 20, 2007

Western politicians know well that Hamas fits the description of a national Palestinian liberation movement and that it has little in common with some of the extreme manifestations of Islamicism elsewhere in the region or across the world.

It was Abbas's men in Gaza who facilitated the entry of a 20-year-old Saudi "spiritual leader" of what had become known as Jund al-Islam that committed all those atrocities in the name of Islam. In contrast, it was Hamas that freed Johnston and arrested the perpetrators of attacks on internet cafes and barber shops, which had for months been blamed by Abbas's men on Hamas in a bid to tarnish its image.

Characterising the conflict between Hamas and Fatah as one between religion and secularism or between obscurantism and enlightenment may fool a certain number of people in western society for a while. Religion and religious institutions in the European experience have indeed been associated in the western mind with hindrances to progress, freedom and democratisation. Some may find it implausible that Hamas, which is presented more as a religious sect than a political movement, is capable of democracy and good governance. However, the impact of such disinformation on the western public is likely to be very short-lived. [complete article]
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Chief Justice is reinstated in Pakistan
By Salman Masood and Mike Nizza, New York Times, July 20, 2007

The nation's chief justice was unexpectedly reinstated today by the Supreme Court in a case that has fueled national protests and posed a serious challenge to President Pervez Musharraf.

The presiding judge in the case declared that the president's suspension of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry was "illegal and without lawful authority." The decision, by a panel of Supreme Court justices, was 10 to 3.

Hundreds from a wide range of political groups -- including Jamaat-e-Islami, a religious party, and Pakistan People's Party, led by Benazir Bhutto, an exiled prime minister — erupted with joy outside the court here, clapping and chanting, "Go Musharraf, Go." Lawyers also celebrated in Lahore and Rawalpindi, The Associated Press reported. [complete article]

See also, Pakistan's peril (Paul Rogers) and Deadly Violence Spreads in Pakistan (WP).
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Caught red-handed: media backtracks on Iran's anti-Israel "threat"
By Arash Norouzi, Dissident Voice, July 17, 2007

For close to two years, the media has stubbornly clung to a long discredited story about the Iranian President's alleged threat to "destroy Israel" with nuclear weapons Iran doesn't have and denies any intent to acquire. 'Wiped off the map, wiped off the map,' they bleat incessantly, even though his actual words, "The Imam [Khomenei] said this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time," were paralleled with the fall of regimes like the Soviet Union and Iran's former U.S.-installed monarchy [see: "WIPED OFF THE MAP" -- The Rumor of the Century for a thorough disassembly of this claim]. From the start of his Presidency, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has rhapsodized regularly about the demise of the 'Zionist regime' in various metaphorical terms. He and his associates in the Iranian government have compared its fate to the Pharaohs of Egypt and the former apartheid regime in South Africa (which they also did not recognize), but never have they threatened to start a war with any country.

Yet the rumor persists. Top respected journalists, advocates for peace and dialogue with Iran, and individual Iranians themselves bring up the misquote regularly, as do noted Iranian-American scholars. The media's constant drumbeat has even duped top world leaders into believing the myth. On October 29, 2005, the false quote was officially condemned by all 15 Security Council members in a United Nations statement, just following Israel's prior demand that the Security Council expel Iran from the UN due to the remark. [complete article]

Iranian public ready to deal on nuclear weapons, but not uranium enrichment
PIPA, July 20, 2007

A new poll by sponsored by Terror Free Tomorrow and conducted by D3 Systems shows that a slight majority of Iranians (52%) believe their country should develop nuclear weapons. Nonetheless, overwhelming majorities support a deal under which Iran would provide "full inspections and a guarantee not to develop or possess nuclear weapons" in exchange for incentives, including:

• trade and capital investment overall to create more jobs (favored by 80%)
• trade and capital investment in energy refineries to lower the price of gasoline (79%)
• medical, education and humanitarian assistance to Iranian people in need (80%)
• technological assistance for developing peaceful nuclear energy (80%) [complete article]

Understand why Iran is arming Iraqi militias
By Ronald Neumann, The Forward, July 18, 2007

From the evidence I have seen, it is clear that Iranian weapons deliveries are helping to destabilize Iraq, although they are far from the leading cause. Indeed, there are a great many reasons why Iran would wish to ship weapons into Iraq.

Our bellicose rhetoric about Iran's nuclear ambitions gives Tehran every reason to keep us tied down in Iraq. Iran probably wants to maintain close ties with Iraqi groups that it deems friendly to its interests and that are themselves determined to maintain their fighting abilities. And Iran would certainly prefer to maintain Shiite dominance in the Iraqi government.

In short, the causes of Iranian involvement in Iraq are more complex than blind hatred of the "Great Satan." The challenge before us is likewise complex, and while the United States may need to respond, it needs to do so intelligently. We cannot afford to view Tehran's involvement in Iraq as just another manifestation of perpetual Iranian threat, and we cannot afford to offer a one-dimensional response to the problem. [complete article]
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CIA dissenters helped expose renditions, says inquiry chief
By Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, July 20, 2007

American intelligence officials who were deeply opposed to the secret transfer of terror suspects to interrogation centres across Europe cooperated with an investigation into the CIA's undisclosed network of jails, it was claimed yesterday.

Dick Marty, the Swiss senator who produced the Council of Europe's report on the hidden transport and detention of suspects, yesterday told a committee in the European parliament that he had received information about the secret programme from dissident officers within the upper reaches of the CIA. He said the officers were disturbed that the programme, known as renditions, led to the torture and mistreatment of detainees.

"Many leading figures in the CIA did not accept these methods at all," Mr Marty told a committee meeting yesterday. He said senior agency officials had agreed to help his investigation in return for anonymity. "People in the CIA felt these things were not consonant with the sort of intelligence work they normally do," he said. [complete article]
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Quartet, Iran see different futures for Middle East
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, July 20, 2007

Pledging to make headway where others have failed, Tony Blair made his debut as the new Middle East envoy at a meeting in Portugal yesterday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and representatives of the European Union and Russia.

"There is no more important issue for peace and security in the world," Blair said at the Lisbon meeting of the Quartet, the group orchestrating Middle East peace efforts. "I'm nothing if not an optimist."

The Quartet endorsed President Bush's July 16 initiative to jump-start the moribund peace process with a meeting this fall of Israel and Arab countries willing to consider recognizing Israel. The new U.S. plan centers around helping Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas stabilize the West Bank and engage in revived peace talks, while isolating the Hamas Islamic movement currently in control of Gaza. The Quartet pledged to provide humanitarian aid to stranded Palestinians in Gaza.

But in a reflection of the obstacles ahead, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad huddled with the leaders of Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas in Damascus yesterday to chart their own future course for the Middle East. The four parties are the primary opponents of U.S. plans for the Middle East peace process. [complete article]

Comment -- This conjures up an interesting snapshot of the current balance of power.

On the one side we have the representatives of Western power aligned around serenity herself, Condi, Princess of State. On the other side a quartet of the embattled: Ahmadinejad, Assad, Nassrallah, and Meshaal -- each operating in a domain surrounded by hostile powers. And yet in spite of this it is the embattled who wield more political heft than does Western power as it rests on weak ineffectual shoulders.

Even so, Tony "Obi-wan Kenobi" Blair obviously thinks he's channeling cosmic power when he says that the "people of peace" "can then feel that the force is with them." I'll leave it to your imagination where that particular mighty wind is blowing from.
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Powell: 'Hamas has to be engaged'
All Things Considered, NPR, July 18, 2007

NPR: the Middle East peace process, would you talk to Hamas right now in Gaza?

Colin Powell: I think you'd have to find some way to talk to Hamas. I don't want to insert myself into what Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice is doing or what the president is doing. But they are not going to go away. And we have to remember that they enjoy considerable support among the Palestinian people. They won an election that we insisted upon having. And so, as unpleasant a group as they may be, and as distasteful as I find some of their positions, I think that through the [Middle East Quartet, which consists of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations] or through some means, Hamas has to be engaged. I don't think you can just cast them into outer darkness and try to find a solution to the problems of the region without taking into account the standing that Hamas has in the Palestinian community. [complete article]

'All the dreams we had are now gone'
By Shahar Smooha, Haaretz, July 20, 2007

[Former Middle East envoy of the Quartet, James D.] Wolfensohn recalls, powerful forces in the U.S. administration worked behind his back: They did not believe in the [Gaza] border terminals agreement and wanted to undermine his status as the Quartet's emissary. The official behind this development, he says, was Elliot Abrams, the neoconservative who was appointed deputy national security adviser in charge of disseminating democracy in the Middle East - "and every aspect of that agreement was abrogated."

The non-implementation of the agreement naturally had serious economic consequences. According to Wolfensohn, the shattering of the great hope of normality, which the Palestinians experienced so deeply when the Israel Defense Forces and the settlers left the Gaza Strip, brought about the rise of Hamas. "Instead of hope, the Palestinians saw that they were put back in prison. And with 50 percent unemployment, you would have conflict. This is not just a Palestinian issue. If you have 50 percent of your people with no work, chances are they will become annoyed. So it's not, in my opinion, that Palestinians are so terrible; it is that they were in a situation where a modulation of views between one and the other became impossible." [complete article]

Overcoming the conspiracy against Palestine
By Ali Abunimah, Electronic Intifada, July 18, 2007

"Be certain that Yasser Arafat's final days are numbered, but allow us to finish him off our way, not yours. And be sure as well that ... the promises I made in front of President Bush, I will give my life to keep." Those words were written by the Fatah warlord Mohammed Dahlan, whose US- and Israeli-backed forces were routed by Hamas in the Gaza Strip last month, in a 13 July 2003 letter to then Israeli defense minister Shaul Mofaz and published on Hamas' website on 4 July this year. [complete article]

Symptoms of decay in Occupied Palestine
By Bashir Abu-Manneh, AMIN, July 16, 2007

Who would have imagined that secular Palestinian nationalism would degenerate into this: Abbas vehemently refusing to meet with democratically-elected Hamas as he continues to meet with his own military occupiers, courting their approval and support. The result is the same old since Oslo: not one roadblock removed, inch of Wall stopped, settlement expansion halted (let alone reversed), or Palestinian life saved. Worse: Palestine's largest electoral party (Hamas) has been banished into the political wilderness, and the occupied West Bank and Gaza are now ruled by two separate and antagonistic authorities. Under occupation, dual power now reigns supreme. One elected, boycotted, and dissolved government led by Haniyeh is besieged in Gaza, while the other, appointed, unconstitutional, and Western-supported led by Fayyad is now speaking Americanese. [complete article]

The two-state solution is dead
By Khalid Amayreh, The People's Voice, July 19, 2007

Like confused, disoriented children, Palestinian leaders and politicians keep babbling about building a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, as if the prospect of creating such a state is still real.

Some of these leaders, like PA president Mahmoud Abbas and his "eternally-optimistic" Prime Minister Salam Fayadh, even have the audacity to refer to their hapless Ramallah fief as "state of Palestine."

I really can't comprehend how these people, who are entrusted with the national burden, continue to deceive themselves and their people, in such a scandalous and obscene manner, by incessantly talking about an impossible state that will never ever see the light, not now or after fifty years. [complete article]

Yo, Blair
By Christopher Dickey, Newsweek, July 19, 2007

A year ago, in that infamous "Yo, Blair" chat at the G8, Bush had summoned the prime minister to talk about Lebanon, which was being punished by Israeli bombs even as Hizbullah's reputation for bravery and resistance continued to grow. The world was looking for Washington to force a stop to the carnage. Certainly the people dying on the ground were. Instead, Bush stalled, foolishly following the lead of a conspicuously incompetent Israeli government that thought it could win big. Blair volunteered to visit the region so he could keep the clock running and, in effect, the bombs falling: "I can go out and just talk." You've got to wonder if he's going to do the same thing now.

Blair's policies helped make Britain the No. 1 target for terrorists in Europe -- including some who were born and grew up in England. And for good measure, as one of his last acts in office, the prime minister signed off on the knighthood that Queen Elizabeth gave Salman Rushdie, a figure that just about the whole Muslim world loves to hate.

Perfect. How could Blair imagine that he is the right man for this job? You almost have to feel sorry for him, so desperate is he to salvage his legacy after a record like that. You want to warn him off for his own good, and also for the Palestinians and Israelis. But I guess you can't protect a prime minister, or a region, that wants to destroy itself. [complete article]

Jordanian FM: Peace with Palestinians before Syria
By Zvi Bar'el and Yoav Stern, Haaretz, July 20, 2007

There will be no peace in the region unless the Palestinian problem is resolved, Jordan's Foreign Minister Abdelelah Al-Khatib told Haaretz in an interview Thursday in his office in Amman.

"Peace with Syria is no alternative to peace with the Palestinians; the heart of the problem in the region is the Palestinian problem, and without a solution to it there will be no peace in the region," Khatib said. [complete article]

See also, Bush to meet Jordanian King to discuss U.S. peace proposal (Haaretz).
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America is just starting to wake up to the awesome scale of its Iraq disaster
By Timothy Garton Ash, The Guardian, July 19, 2007

Americans have probably not yet fully woken up to the appalling fact that, after a long period in which the first motto of their military was "no more Vietnams", they face another Vietnam. There are many important differences, of course, but the basic result is similar. The mightiest military in the world fails to achieve its strategic goals and is, in the end, politically defeated by an economically and technologically inferior adversary.

Even if there are no scenes of helicopters evacuating Americans from a flat roof of the US embassy in Baghdad, there will surely be totemic photographic images of national humiliation as the US struggles to extract its troops and all the heavy equipment it has poured into the country, perhaps this time an image snapped on a mobile phone and posted on the internet. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have done terrible damage to America's reputation for being humane; this defeat will convince more people around the world that it is not even all that powerful. And Bin Laden, still alive, will claim another victory over the death-fearing weaklings of the west.

In history, the most important consequences are often the unintended ones. We do not yet know the longer term unintended consequences of Iraq. Maybe there is a silver lining hidden somewhere in this cloud. But so far as the human eye can see, the likely consequences of Iraq range from the bad to the catastrophic. Looking back over a quarter-century of writing about international affairs, I can not recall a more comprehensive and avoidable man-made disaster. [complete article]

Comment -- In "How to leave Iraq," Time's Michael Duffy reports:
A State Department official says what is needed is a greater willingness to engage hard-line forces on both sides of the sectarian divide as well as the Iranians and Syrians, all of whom will have a say in Iraq's future. Resistance to this idea comes from the White House, a U.S. diplomat says. "There is a reality on the ground in Iraq that we never really wanted to confront too much, but there are real politics in Iraq," says the official. "If we can tap into that and start working and engaging with Iraqis in a different way, we might actually become part of what emerges as a solution."
As I wrote recently, this or the next administration needs "the humility to ask for help and cooperate with those whose interests both intersect and differ from ours." Some readers might have thought I'm envisioning an appeal for other countries to supply troops to replace American troops, but I meant nothing of the sort. The point is to shift from looking at Iraq as a military issue -- the winning or losing of a war -- to seeing it as a political issue. As the U.S. official says, "there are real politics in Iraq." The administration can, whenever it chooses, step up and engage in those politics. But for that to happen in a constructive way would require a fundamental shift in the way this administration works.

Everyone knows that the United States does not need to be the world's policeman; but neither does it need to be the world's headmaster. The humility required from any government that is going to operate effectively on an international stage simply means that it is capable of engaging others with respect.

If the administration changed its tune, the first way we'd be able to tell would be that officials at the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon, would stopped using the word "behavior" in their briefings.

When the Schoolmarm of State comes out and says that such and such a state or organization knows what it must do to win American approval, the offending officials -- and much of the world in sympathy -- must groan in frustration.

What the hell does it take for America to climb down from the lofty status that only it is deluded enough to imagine it still retains? Get real and stop wagging those fingers! Then everyone can talk.

The alternative is an even greater humiliation than the one the United States has already suffered. It's a stark choice: humility or humiliation. Only the raving wackos still dream of success.
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Yes, Bush is naked, what of it?
By Tony Karon, TomDispatch, July 19, 2007

The Israeli leadership recognized Hamas' takeover of Gaza's security as an opportunity -- but not, as they still tell gullible journalists, to pursue a peace agreement with Palestinian "moderates." Quite the contrary, it's been viewed as a free pass to fend off any conceivable U.S. pressure to conclude, or even work toward, a final-status agreement with the Palestinians. All they now have to do is make wan gestures of support for Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian National Authority, while using the fact that he speaks for half or less of all Palestinians to prove their case that, as ever, "there is no Palestinian partner for peace."

According to the respected Israeli political correspondent Aluf Benn, there is now a cast-iron consensus across the Israeli political spectrum that withdrawal from the West Bank is inconceivable for the foreseeable future. "In this atmosphere," Benn writes, "it is clear that any talk about a 'two-state solution' and [Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's] declarations at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit about ‘new opportunities' and ‘accelerating the process toward a Palestinian state' are bogus. This diplomatic lip service, disassociated from reality and real expectations, is meant to assuage the Americans and the Europeans and deflect pressure on Israel."

Such duplicity is fine with the Bush administration and various European powers, Benn writes, precisely because they are doing the same thing: "The international community is participating in the show, and gradually is losing interest in the conflict." When it comes to pursuing any kind of deal to end Israel's occupation of the territories it captured in 1967, the Bush administration's policy can be summed up in three words: Look reasonably busy. [complete article]

Comment -- In considerations on the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is generally deemed at least untasteful if not downright inflamatory and potentially anti-Semitic to draw any comparisons with the Holocaust. After all, the systematic extermination of six million European Jews stands out as a dreadful moment in modern history that surely has no parallel.

At the same time, when a people face a drawn out annihilation not by being rounded up and killed, but through being whittled away by a relentless effort to diminish their value, to question their identity, to deny their rights, to deprive them of their livelihoods, to confiscate their land, to restrict their travel, or their ability to live with a spouse, or receive medical care, or live in (as opposed to merely dreaming of) their own state -- if one nation with the support of many others, over the course of several decades afflicts this fate upon several million people, it might not deserve to be called a Holocaust, but it surely deserves a name.
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Keeping the Palestinians out of sight
By Aluf Benn, Haaretz, July 19, 2007

If there's any consistency among the Israeli governments, it's the effort to keep the Palestinians out of sight. Since Yitzhak Rabin called to "get Gaza out of Tel Aviv" during his 1992 campaign, all the governments have strived to achieve this goal. They took various measures: a general closure of the territories, the Oslo agreement and setting up the Palestinian Authority, building bypass roads in the West Bank, preventing access from Gaza to the West Bank, fencing off the Gaza Strip, putting up the separation fence in the West Bank, erecting roadblocks, the disengagement and finally the new citizenship law.

The Palestinians, who persisted in terror acts, always provided the reason for the next action against them.

The cumulative effect of all these measures is that most Israelis see Palestinians only on television. Only the settlers who live beyond the fence, soldiers serving in the territories and the few who visit East Jerusalem come into contact with the neighboring nation. Even those who travel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on Road 443 and look at the houses and olive trees along the way could imagine they're in Tuscany or Greece, rather than occupied territory inhabited by a hostile population.

The Israeli media mostly ignores the events in the territories. More important, Israel has surrounded itself by a bubble that is connected to the developed world and cut off from the territories.

The economy no longer leans on the traditional industries, which in the past were based on Palestinian labor. Thus Israel can celebrate an economic boom a few kilometers away from a poverty-stricken, threatening third world. [complete article]
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U.S., EU shun Hamas as Blair debuts as envoy
Haaretz, July 19, 2007

Ahead of a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, of which they are both members, the United States and European Union held firm Thursday to their refusal to deal with the militant Palestinian Hamas movement.

Meanwhile, former British prime minister Tony Blair was to make his maiden appearance before the Quartet on Thursday, in his role as its Middle East envoy.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, both rejected any dealings with Hamas, even as some questioned if the stance could compromise Blair's work with the Palestinians. [complete article]

Comment -- Condoleezza Rice has quite firmly stated that "Hamas, I think, knows what is expected for international respectability." Hmmmm... If they embarked on a nuclear program would that confer respectability? That seems to be working for Iran.
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U.S. threatens action in Pakistan
By Tom Lasseter, McClatchy, July 18, 2007

An ambush of a military convoy that killed 17 troops near the Afghan border Wednesday pushed the death toll in a series of attacks to at least 101 Pakistanis in the past five days -- and brought President Pervez Musharraf, according to a local newspaper headline, to a "Moment of Truth."

The Bush administration, after publicly demanding that Musharraf rein in militants linked to al Qaida, on Wednesday threatened to launch attacks into Pakistani territory if it sees fit.

"We certainly do not rule out options, and we retain the option especially of striking actionable targets," said White House spokesman Tony Snow. "But it is clearly of the utmost importance to go in there and deal with the problem in the tribal areas."

Facing domestic political pressure for staying in power while in uniform -- he is also the nation's top general -- Musharraf has relied heavily on the Bush administration as a source of political support. But with Washington now demanding that Musharraf use force in tribal areas, he is struggling to appear decisive while avoiding a civilian bloodbath or more military carnage. [complete article]

See also, Suicide blasts kill 34 as Pakistan chaos worsens and don't miss William Dalrymple's, Days of rage (The New Yorker)
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The way to go in Iraq
By Peter Galbraith, TomDispatch, July 17, 2007

Iraq after an American defeat will look very much like Iraq today -- a land divided along ethnic lines into Arab and Kurdish states with a civil war being fought within its Arab part. Defeat is defined by America's failure to accomplish its objective of a self-sustaining, democratic, and unified Iraq. And that failure has already taken place, along with the increase of Iranian power in the region.

Iraq's Kurdish leaders and Iraq's dwindling band of secular Arab democrats fear that a complete U.S. withdrawal will leave all of Iraq under Iranian influence. Senator Hillary Clinton, Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joe Biden, and former UN Ambassador Richard Holbrooke are among the prominent Democrats who have called for the U.S. to protect Kurdistan militarily should there be a withdrawal from Iraq. The argument for so doing is straightforward: it secures the one part of Iraq that has emerged as stable, democratic, and pro-Western; it discharges a moral debt to our Kurdish allies; it deters both Turkish intervention and a potentially destabilizing Turkish–Kurdish war; it provides U.S. forces a secure base that can be used to strike at al-Qaeda in adjacent Sunni territories; and it limits Iran's gains. [complete article]

The Kurdish question
By Madeleine Elfenbein, The American Prospect, July 16, 2007

The phantom nation of Kurdistan has as long and bloody and proud a history as any Middle Eastern nation -- longer, bloodier, and even prouder, one might say, for it has never had the chance to fail its citizens. It has led its existence as a shadow country hovering over the mountainous region now occupied by Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Armenia. It has had leaders who fought for it, and enemies who tried to destroy it, and millions of would-be citizens, but it has never appeared on official maps of the region.

Instead, throughout the twentieth century the idea of Kurdistan has been used as both a carrot and a stick to manipulate the balance of power in the Middle East, leading to developments that rarely benefited the Kurds themselves. "No friends but the mountains," the Kurdish saying goes.

Soon the landscape may change. A Kurdish state is now emerging in northern Iraq, and the status of the Kurds as a landless, stateless people appears about to shift, perhaps dramatically. For some Kurds, that is. The Kurdistan Regional Government, as it is still somewhat modestly known, controls what are now the only safe parts of Iraq, and more than a third of its oil. Its enthusiasts include not just the roughly four million Kurds living in the region, and the tens of millions of Kurds living outside it, but an increasing number of American politicians and pundits who see Kurdistan's success as the only way left to justify the war in Iraq. The pro-war Thomas Friedman of the New York Times said as much in his recent column on the subject, arguing that a U.S.-supported Kurdish state would at least provide "a decent democratizing example" for the rest of the region. [complete article]
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An apocalyptic convention wants to drum up support for another war
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 19, 2007

If 4,000 anti-Semites gathered in Washington, I dare say that -- with justification -- the airwaves would be filled with expressions of shock and outrage from our political leaders as they denounced the event. But when an organization that implicitly sanctions religious war and is engaged in the "ongoing vilification of Islam" brings the same number of delegates to Washington, they don't get condemned -- they get received with warm greetings from President Bush, while GOP leaders and their Israeli allies are practically falling over each other in their thirst for the crowd's adulation. The mob that they are so eager to please are the leaders of Christians United For Israel, founded by firebrand Christian Zionist pastor, John Hagee.

This is how Newt Gingrich's address gets reported in the Jerusalem Post:
The former speaker of the House of Representatives, who has strong conservative credentials, didn't hold back criticism of the commander-in-chief, whom he didn't address by the title president.

"We are in greater danger than you can imagine. We lie to ourselves. We have suffered in the West an enormous defeat in Gaza. We have suffered a significant defeat in South Lebanon, and we lie about it. We don't have a peace process. We have a surrender process," Gingrich said, eliciting applause from an audience waving hundreds of American and Israeli flags.
Delegates were also addressed by Senator John McCain, Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli ambassador Sallai Meridor (introduced by former presidential candidate, Gary Bauer).

The key message from the event was Hagee's earnest appeal to his followers that they must step up pressure on Congress to threaten Iran with war.
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Is Zawahiri striving for Islamist unity in preparation for new attack?
By Michael Scheuer, Jamestown Foundation, July 17, 2007

When Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said he had a "gut feeling" that the United States faces an increased chance of a domestic terrorist attack in the months ahead, he brought into sharp relief the fact that al-Qaeda has been working since 2001 to prepare Islamist organizations to take advantage of its next U.S. attack. Given al-Qaeda's own statements, Chertoff's sense of timing is roughly in the ballpark. Senior al-Qaeda lieutenant Sayf al-Adel has written that after the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001, al-Qaeda and the Taliban estimated that the Taliban would return to power in Afghanistan in about seven years, and that its return would be accomplished as part of and "in harmony with a well-examined plan that will defeat the Americans and their supporters". This coming October will mark the sixth of those seven years and that fact might well bestir Chertoff's "gut." [complete article]
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Intelligence puts rationale for war on shakier ground
By Michael Abramowitz, Washington Post, July 18, 2007

The White House faced fresh political peril yesterday in the form of a new intelligence assessment that raised sharp questions about the success of its counterterrorism strategy and judgment in making Iraq the focus of that effort.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush has been able to deflect criticism of his counterterrorism policy by repeatedly noting the absence of any new domestic attacks and by citing the continuing threat that terrorists in Iraq pose to U.S. interests.

But this line of defense seemed to unravel a bit yesterday with the release of a new National Intelligence Estimate [PDF] that concludes that al-Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" by reestablishing a haven in Pakistan and reconstituting its top leadership. The report also notes that al-Qaeda has been able "to recruit and indoctrinate operatives, including for Homeland attacks," by associating itself with an Iraqi subsidiary. [complete article]
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Al Qaeda group's ranking Iraqi is captured, U.S. says
By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times, July 18, 2007

U.S. officials said today they had captured the highest-ranking Iraqi in the Islamic State of Iraq and that he had told them the Al Qaeda-affiliated group is a foreign-run outfit that uses an Iraqi actor as its front man to present a nationalistic face.

In reality, the purported chief of the Islamic State of Iraq, Omar al-Baghdadi, does not exist, said U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Kevin J. Bergner, the spokesman for the Multinational Force in Iraq. He is an Iraqi actor who has been used in the group's videos to conceal its foreign overseers, who envision establishing a Taliban-style state in Iraq, Bergner said.

At a news conference, Bergner said the information came from Khalid Abdul Fatah Daud Mahmoud Mashadani, who was captured July 4 in the northern city of Mosul. Bergner said Mashadani was the communications chief in the Islamic State of Iraq and served as a conduit between Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden, and non-Iraqis running the Islamic State of Iraq. He was one of very few Iraqis holding a leadership role in the organization, a situation that led him to turn against the group, Bergner said.

The announcement comes as President Bush steps up rhetoric linking Al Qaeda to the war in Iraq, even though it had no substantial presence here until after the U.S. invasion in March 2003. Critics of the president say he is attempting to make the link between Al Qaeda, which was responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks, and the Iraqi conflict to generate support for the Iraq war. [complete article]
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Palestinian elections, economic collapse, and a foundering initiative
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 17, 2007

Abbas says, "We will call ... for early legislative and presidential elections and we will not wait for approval from those sitting over there in Gaza or from those sitting abroad." Hamas has previously rejected calls for new elections and says now that the Palestinian Central Council has no authority to call an election, but maybe Hamas should join in so long as it can play by Fatah's rules: We'll only respect the outcome if we win.

As Israel releases Palestinian Education Minister Nasser al-Shaer, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, rightly assumes that anything he says will get reported and thus without citing any evidence whatsoever asserts that Hamas has contacts with Al Qaeda.

As George Bush's Mideast initiative already starts to founder, the UN warns that Gaza faces economic collapse.

The dissembling Dennis Ross
By Tony Karon, Rootless Cosmopolitan, July 17, 2007

It is time someone in the mainstream media (besides my hard-working friend Scott MacLeod, here and here) took to task Dennis Ross, the AIPAC man who served the first Bush Administration and then Clinton as a Middle East mediator, before returning to the AIPAC fold -- but who is treated by the U.S. media as some sort of Yoda figure, the fount of Jedi wisdom in managing the Middle East.

Having presided over the failure of the U.S. to secure an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, he now puts himself forward as a sage among sages (lately by writing a book about "statecraft" in which he introduces some of the 101s of diplomacy as if these were prophetic revelations, and always evading the policy failures he helped author). More insidious, however, are his efforts to shape the U.S. response to the current situation in the Palestinian territories. [complete article]
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Days of rage
By William Dalrymple, The New Yorker, July 23, 2007

Under the leadership of two brothers, Maulana Abdul Aziz and Abdul Rashid Ghazi, the Lal Masjid [Islamabad's "Red Mosque"] had also become a base for Taliban-style vigilante squads, headed by fearsome, stick-wielding, burka-clad young women, which had been pouring out of the mosque and its two madrassas, one for men, one for women. For months, these women had been calling for the establishment of full Sharia law and the closing down of all "dens of vice." Jokes in English-language newspapers about "chicks with sticks" were quickly abandoned as the women began kidnapping suspected prostitutes, threatening video-store owners, and making bonfires of books, videocassettes, and DVDs that they regarded as un-Islamic. For months, the security forces did nothing to stop them, even after the women kidnapped policemen and ransacked government buildings, while the two brothers threatened holy war, and even issued a fatwa denouncing a female cabinet minister who had been photographed receiving a hug from a French skydiving instructor.

The Lal Masjid was also allegedly sheltering militants from some of Pakistan's most dangerous jihadi groups, so when I went to visit, in May, I took the precaution of arriving with a friend who is the owner of Mr. Books, Islamabad's best bookshop. He had known Abdul Rashid Ghazi since Ghazi was a left-wing student activist at Islamabad's leading university, Quaid-i-Azam. We were politely led inside the mosque by three men, two with walkie-talkies and the third with a Kalashnikov, and invited to sit on a carpet. Ghazi, in John Lennon-style glasses and a knitted woollen hat, looked more like an old hippie than like any sort of Islamic firebrand. As we sipped tea, Ghazi, speaking eloquently in idiomatic English, described his campaign to get rid of Musharraf's elitist and pro-American government and replace it with a more egalitarian Islamic regime.

According to Ghazi, the women in his madrassa reflected the true feelings of most Pakistanis, and particularly their resentment of the United States' influence over Musharraf. "After 9/11, Musharraf made an abrupt change in our policy that was not supported by the people of Pakistan," Ghazi said. "The attack on Afghanistan caused a lot of resentment, and in the name of the war on terror many innocent people were killed. In the name of 'enlightened moderation' vulgarity has been promoted—women running in marathons, brothels, pornography in CD shops. ... All these things have been accumulating in the minds and in the hearts of the people of Pakistan. What we are voicing is the desires of the people. The system is the root of all the problems. ... The rulers are living a life of luxury while thousands of innocent children have empty stomachs and can't even get basic necessities." [complete article]

See also, Pakistan's Musharraf vows war on militants, rules out emergency (AFP).
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Exit strategies
By Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, July 17, 2007

If U.S. combat forces withdraw from Iraq in the near future, three developments would be likely to unfold. Majority Shiites would drive Sunnis out of ethnically mixed areas west to Anbar province. Southern Iraq would erupt in civil war between Shiite groups. And the Kurdish north would solidify its borders and invite a U.S. troop presence there. In short, Iraq would effectively become three separate nations.

That was the conclusion reached in recent "war games" exercises conducted for the U.S. military by retired Marine Col. Gary Anderson. "I honestly don't think it will be apocalyptic," said Anderson, who has served in Iraq and now works for a major defense contractor. But "it will be ugly." [complete article]

See also, Democrats maneuver to force Iraq votes (WP).

Comment -- It won't be apocalyptic -- at least not if you live in Pennsylvania. But if you're an Iraqi, hearing Americans with a blasé and fatalistic attitude towards the prospect of your country ripping itself apart, probably evokes a sickening rage.

The innocent, teflon-coated, American conscience sheds the irksome weight of responsibility by casting partition as destiny -- a process we might have set in motion but cannot conceivably arrest.

When it comes to US troop withdrawal plans, the calls to "end the war" and "bring the troops home" are a mirror image of the popular support for dealing with Saddam: both reflect America's narcissistic preoccupation with itself.

War planning was criticized because it failed to consider the so-called "post-war" phase. Troop withdrawal advocacy is similarly fuzzy when it comes to anticipating what will follow. To call bringing American troops home, "ending the war," is as cynical as saying that Americans can forget about Iraq as soon as it stops appearing on American TV.

Yet we should be in no doubt that bringing the troops home will in fact have precisely that effect. As all but the most intrepid of journalists will be leaving alongside the troops, Iraq will quickly become for most Americans, out of sight and out of mind. Not only that, with American troops out of harms way, the US government can return to its familiar role of proxy warfare as it provides weapons and advisers to whichever faction seems to serve its current interests. And unlike many conflicts around the world, thanks to oil this one will never be limited by lack of funding.

The United States has demonstrated in Iraq the limits of its military strength, but the fixing point of our attention should not be limited to the question of when American troops will depart. Neither should we allow our concern to hinge on the issues of success or failure, national or Western interests, or our status as a global power. We can get our troops out of Iraq but we can't get out of our responsibility. Indeed, to say that "Washington should step up its regional diplomacy, putting more pressure on regional actors such as Saudi Arabia to take responsibility for what is happening in their back yards," is merely to display the same arrogance that led to this failure. Instead, what America needs to draw on now is a resource in which it has historically possessed only the most meager supply: humility. We need the humility to ask for help and cooperate with those whose interests both intersect and differ from ours.
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Israel rebuffs call for talks on core issues
By Adam Entous, Reuters, July 12, 2007

Israel ruled out on Tuesday negotiations "at this stage" over the boundaries of a future Palestinian state, rebuffing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and casting doubt on a renewed U.S. push to address the issue.

Israel's response came one day after U.S. President George W. Bush said "serious negotiations toward the creation of a Palestinian state" can begin soon. Bush said these negotiations should lead to a deal on Palestinian borders, suggesting other final-status issues like Jerusalem and refugees wait for later.

Abbas aide Saeb Erekat said the Palestinian president, who dismissed a Hamas-led cabinet after the Islamist group's violent takeover of the Gaza Strip last month, was prepared to start negotiations immediately on all final-status issues. Abbas delivered that message in person to Olmert when they met in Jerusalem on Monday, officials said. [complete article]

Comment -- The US-Israeli vision for the Middle East could be summed up in a slogan: Peace -- but not now.

A resolution to the Middle East conflict always lingers on a distant horizon -- small wonder that working on a "political horizon" is one of Condoleezza Rice's favorite themes. But this fixation on the future is not an expression of the intractable nature of the conflict; it is a stratagem that was clearly and shamelessly articulated three years ago by Dov Weisglass -- at that time Head of the Prime Minister's Bureau, while Ariel Sharon was in power. Weisglass explained that the central purpose of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and of the so-called "disengagement plan" was to freeze the political process:
... I found a device, in cooperation with the management of the world [the Bush administration], to ensure that there will be no stopwatch here. That there will be no timetable to implement the settlers' nightmare [-- withdrawal from the West Bank]. I have postponed that nightmare indefinitely. Because what I effectively agreed to with the Americans was that part of the settlements would not be dealt with at all, and the rest will not be dealt with until the Palestinians turn into Finns. That is the significance of what we did. The significance is the freezing of the political process. And when you freeze that process you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and you prevent a discussion about the refugees, the borders and Jerusalem. Effectively, this whole package that is called the Palestinian state, with all that it entails, has been removed from our agenda indefinitely. And all this with authority and permission. All with a presidential blessing and the ratification of both houses of Congress. What more could have been anticipated? What more could have been given to the settlers?
The plan worked. Nothing has changed.

Because of this, any Palestinian leader with an ounce of self-respect should refuse to meet any representative of the Israeli government until Israel has demonstrated (and not simply declared) that the Weisglass strategy has been abandoned and the political process is no longer frozen. So far, all Israel has done is show its eagerness to make sure that the freezer is maintained at the required operating temperature. Releasing tax revenues, removing a roadblock here and there -- that's just the service fee.
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Italian FM: Hamas significant part of Palestinian people
By Barak Ravid, Haaretz, July 17, 2007

Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D'Alema said Hamas is a "significant and substantial" part of the Palestinian people, Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera reported Tuesday.

D'Alema expressed fears that isolating Islamic groups like Hezbollah and Hamas will push them towards international terror network al-Qaida.

"Hamas has carried out terror attacks, but it is also a ground roots movement," he said.

"Not recognizing the government elected democratically is not exactly a lesson in democracy, and pushing such a group into the hands of al-Qaida is not in the international committee's interest." [complete article]

Bush's farewell speech
By Nahum Barnea, Yedioth Ahronoth, July 17, 2007

The two men currently heading the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas and Salim Fayyad, oppose terror wholeheartedly and are refraining from terror and incitement, uniting the security apparatuses and putting them under external inspection, while opposing corruption. Bush has a Palestinian leadership he can support.

However, it's not a real leadership: It lost Gaza; it lost the support of the Palestinian majority, and it lost its fighting spirit. In his address Monday, Bush promised to pad Palestinian Authority leaders with cash. But the authority does not lack funds at present. Its lacks a public basis.

The US president is not really a president either. Iraq wore him out. The presidential elections will be held more than a year from now, but he is already depicted as a has-been, a lame duck. [complete article]

Mideast experts skeptical about Bush Palestinian proposal
By Jim Lobe, IPS, July 17, 2007

Shibley Telhami, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and an expert on Arab public opinion, ... [noted] that the speech itself offered "nothing new" and demonstrated that the administration is "really kind of out of touch" with the situation on the ground.

"The administration seems to think that the strategy here is to empower Abbas and Fatah to be able to defeat Hamas politically or militarily," Telhami told IPS. "I don't think that can happen, certainly not in the foreseeable future."

"Most Arab governments – including those who want to see Hamas weakened – have reached the conclusion that it's really difficult to isolate Hamas," he went on. "They've all come around to the view that Hamas has to be brought back in [with Fatah]." [complete article]
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Cheney pushes Bush to act on Iran
By Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, The Guardian, July 16, 2007

The balance in the internal White House debate over Iran has shifted back in favour of military action before President George Bush leaves office in 18 months, the Guardian has learned.

The shift follows an internal review involving the White House, the Pentagon and the state department over the last month. Although the Bush administration is in deep trouble over Iraq, it remains focused on Iran. A well-placed source in Washington said: "Bush is not going to leave office with Iran still in limbo."

The White House claims that Iran, whose influence in the Middle East has increased significantly over the last six years, is intent on building a nuclear weapon and is arming insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The vice-president, Dick Cheney, has long favoured upping the threat of military action against Iran. He is being resisted by the secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, and the defence secretary, Robert Gates. [complete article]

Comment -- Ewen MacAskill's "well-placed" source might be red hot, but I get the feeling that both journalist and source are able to convey a sense of penetrating deep inside the workings of The White House for a rather banal reason: half of Washington is on vacation.
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Mahdi Army, not Al-Qaeda, is enemy No. 1 in western Baghdad
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, July 16, 2007

The lights were on in Baghdad. Something was wrong.

Two platoons were creeping through the southwestern neighborhood of al-Amil well past midnight last week. Headlights snapped off, night vision lenses lowered into place, they maneuvered their Humvees and Bradley Fighting Vehicles down narrow streets, angling for surprise. As they approached the suspected homes of the militia leaders they were hunting, their cover of darkness disappeared, fluorescent bulbs on the houses and street lights casting a glow on their vehicles. At 3 in the morning in a city notoriously hard up for power, these blocks were strangely bright.

Capt. Sean Lyons, the company commander leading the raid, said he knew why. "This whole area here is just absolutely dominated by Jaish al-Mahdi," he said, using the Arabic for the Mahdi Army, the Shiite militia led by the radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. "They control the power distribution."

In the 10-square-mile district of West Rashid, the Mahdi Army also controls the housing market, the gas stations and the loyalty of many of the residents, according to the soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment. The militia has a structure familiar to U.S. soldiers: brigade and battalion commanders leading legions of foot soldiers. Its fighters are willing and able to attack Americans with armor-piercing bombs, mortars, machine guns and grenades. Meanwhile, the political wing of Sadr's movement plays an outsize role in the national government.

West Rashid confounds the prevailing narrative from top U.S. military officials that the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq is the city's most formidable and disruptive force. While there are signs that the group has been active in the area, over the past several months, the Mahdi Army has transformed the composition of the district's neighborhoods by ruthlessly killing and driving out Sunnis and denying basic services to residents who remain. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, described the area as "one of the three or four most challenging areas in all of Baghdad." [complete article]
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Mistrust as Iraqi troops encounter new U.S. allies
By Richard A. Oppel Jr., New York Times, July 16, 2007

Abu Azzam says the 2,300 men in his movement include members of fierce Sunni groups like the 1920s Revolutionary Brigade and the Mujahedeen Army that have fought the American occupation. Now his men patrol alongside the Americans, who want to turn them into a security force that can bring peace to this stretch between Baghdad and Falluja.

A few miles away, in the town of Abu Ghraib, Brig. Gen. Nassir al-Hiti and his brigade of Iraqi Army soldiers also have the support of the American military. But they have a different ambition, some American commanders here say: doing everything they can to undermine Abu Azzam's men, even using a stolen membership list to single them out for wrongful detention.

General Nassir, a 37-year-old former special forces officer, denies that, but says he has strict orders not to support "unofficial" groups and to arrest armed men, no matter who they are. He says he supports those who join the security forces but objects to "those who have Iraqi blood on their hands and who kill our soldiers."

The gulf between Abu Azzam's men and the Iraqi soldiers remains vast, with American troops sometimes having to physically intercede. And it is an unmistakable caution that the full depths of the problems facing Iraq cannot be measured in the statistics about insurgent attacks and sectarian killings that carry so much weight in Washington. [complete article]
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A life of unrest
By Steven Erlanger, New York Times, July 15, 2007

Khaled Abu Hilal, a thin, grizzled chain-smoker who sucks in tobacco smoke the way an emphysema patient sucks in oxygen, is at the center of the revolution. He is a hated figure among many in the secular, nationalist Fatah; they think he is a heretic who helped set off the Gaza implosion. But his journey is Gaza's journey, from Fatah fighter and Israeli prisoner to disgusted ex-Fatah man, now associated with Hamas. His anger with Mahmoud Abbas -- Yasir Arafat's successor as chairman of the P.L.O. and now president of the Palestinian Authority -- and with what he considers the endless, futile and demeaning effort of a corrupt Fatah to please the Israelis, is shared among an increasing number of Palestinians.

Standing early last month amid the Israeli-bombed ruins of the buildings of the Executive Force, which he helped Hamas build as a parallel police and protection force, Hilal, now 39, was quietly triumphant. He had been serving as a close aide to, and spokesman for, the tough Hamas interior minister, Said Siam, who left office in opposition to the national-unity government with Fatah. Both he and Siam were central to the campaign by the Executive Force and by Hamas’s military wing, the Qassam Brigades, that pulled Fatah down in six days in early June. "I feel proud, no question," he said as aides urgently shoved cellphones into his hand. "I feel I did my national duty, and that makes me very comfortable, psychologically speaking." Two weeks later, at a packed and sweaty rally in Gaza City, Hilal announced that he would lead a new Fatah movement and military force in Gaza, allied with Hamas, called Fatah al-Yasir/Higher Military Command, named after Yasir Arafat.

"This is pure Fatah, Fatah before Oslo," Hilal shouted hoarsely, referring to the 1993 peace accords with Israel that created the Palestinian Authority. Hilal sees Oslo as a betrayal of the Palestinian struggle for real statehood, and he called his new movement "a true Palestinian national liberation movement." Surrounded by large, bearded gunmen in black uniforms, Hilal wore a loose, untucked shirt and looked as tiny as Arafat. "The good and honorable people of the Fatah movement have rejected the collaborators!" he shouted. At the end, he was mobbed by hundreds of young men, both acolytes and job seekers. [complete article]
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Cunningham report portrays entangled panel
By Greg Miller, Los Angeles Times, July 16, 2007

An internal investigation that the House Intelligence Committee has refused to make public portrays the panel as embarrassingly entangled in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham bribery scandal.

The report, a declassified version of which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times, describes the committee as a dysfunctional entity that served as a crossroads for almost every major figure in the ongoing criminal probe by the Justice Department.

The document describes breakdowns in leadership and controls that it says allowed Cunningham -- the former congressman (R-Rancho Santa Fe) who began an eight-year prison term last year for taking bribes and evading taxes -- to use his House position to steer millions of dollars to corrupt contractors.

When the committee's investigation was completed last year, the Republican-controlled panel would not release the results; now that the committee is controlled by Democrats, it still will not release the findings. [complete article]
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FBI Patriot Act abuse documents: What special project lives in FBI HQ Room 4944?
By Ryan Singe, Threat Level Blog, July 10, 2007

In March, the Justice Department's Inspector General revealed that FBI agents had sent a flurry of fake emergency letters to phone companies, asking them to turn over phone records immediately by promising that the proper papers had been filed with U.S. attorneys, though in many cases this was a complete lie. More than 60 of these letters were made public today as part of a FBI document dump in response to a government sunshine lawsuit centered on the FBI's abuse of a key Patriot Act power.

The most striking thing about these expedited letters (.pdf) (made public via the Electronic Frontier Foundation) is that they all use the same pathetic, passive bureaucratese: "Due to exigent circumstances, it is requested that records for the attached list of telephone numbers be provided." [complete article]
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Who needs Bush's help?
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 16, 2007

True to form, when President Bush today made his case for supporting the creation of a Palestinian state, he did so by misquoting the call of a Palestinian girl -- a call that Bush claims "the world must now answer."

This is what Bush said:
After the wave of killing by Hamas last month, a 16-year-old girl in Gaza City told a reporter, "The gunmen want to destroy the culture of our fathers and grandfathers. We will not allow them to do it." She went on, "I'm saying it's enough killing. Enough."

That young woman speaks for millions -- in Gaza, the West Bank, in Israel, in Arab nations, and in every nation. And now the world must answer her call.
But this is what NPR reported on June 13:
"The gunmen want to destroy the culture of our fathers and grandfathers," said a 16-year-old girl, who gave her name only as Hahla. "We will not allow them to do this.

"I'm saying it's enough killing, enough! What are they fighting for? They're fighting over this broken chair, and neither side deserves this broken chair. If neither side can solve their problems, let them go to hell!"
This wasn't a call to the world; it was a call to Palestinian political leaders to put aside their differences and stand in unity.

What Hahla has since witnessed is a vigorous US-Israeli campaign aimed relentlessly at widening the divisions between Hamas and Abbas -- along with his unelected government.

Bush says that Palestinians now face "a moment of choice," but that if they choose to continue supporting Hamas they will thereby "crush the possibility... of a Palestinian state."

A dozen times, Bush said that he wants to "help" Palestinians, but if they do not now renounce support for the party that only 18 months ago they elected to form their own government, then there will be no Palestinian state.

The majority of Palestinians are at this point wise enough to understand that the promises and hopes fostered by this (or possibly any) American president are worthless. Choosing "moderation" simply means providing Israel with more time to extend its control over Jerusalem, expand West Bank settlements, and consolidate its territorial expansion.

While Oslo might have been conceived in good faith, what it turned into and what was then codified in the Road Map was the promise of a perpetually elusive state -- a state that will forever remain on the other side of the horizon. There are the promises, the visions, and the possibilities, and there is reality. The reality is of siege, occupation, and economic and political strangulation.

As Danny Rubenstein writes today in Haaretz:
Any Israeli who has occasion these days to meet often with Arabs from the West Bank, or speak by phone with Gaza residents, can increasingly hear comments such as: We can't take it any more, we're sick and tired of it. And the continuation: If only the days of full Israeli occupation would return. Occasionally one could think that these words are being said out of a desire to find favor with the Israeli listener. But the truth is that they are being said out of despair. When the hope of establishing a state within the territories, with Jerusalem as its capital, is lost, one can undertake to fight Israel to the finish, as Hamas proposes, or give up and say, under these circumstances, let there be occupation. In other words, make the State of Israel take full responsibility for the territories.

Sooner or later Hamas will fail in its war against Israel. But that does [not] mean that there will then be a return to the days of Oslo and the two-state vision, which has withered and died since September 2000. Rather, there will be increasingly strong demands by Palestinian Arabs, who constitute almost half the inhabitants of this land, who will say: Under the present conditions we cannot establish a state of our own, and what remains for us is to demand civil rights in the country that is our homeland. They will adopt the slogans of the struggle of the Arabs who are Israeli citizens, who demand equality and the definition of Israel as a state of all its citizens. That won't happen tomorrow morning, but there doesn't seem to be any option to its happening eventually. If there aren't two states for the two nations, in the end there will be one state.
When Bush throws down the gauntlet and says that Palestinians must make their choice, neither he nor his advisers nor the Israelis seem to have stopped to consider what it means if the "wrong" choice is made (again). If the dreams of a Palestinian state are in fact crushed, the Palestinian Authority can be dissolved but the Palestinians, as Rubenstein points out, will remain Israel's responsibility.

Israel has had ample opportunity to make good on its offers and its promises, but as a Jewish state it has always had an unresolvable problem: It can neither fully accept nor fully reject either the Arab population in its midst, nor the Arab population over whom it has exercised sovereign control since 1967.

Palestinian resistance, even while it expresses an irrepressible drive for self-determination, has in fact provided the space within which Israel is able to postpone the inevitable: the creation of a state of all its citizens.

If Hamas really wanted to change the world (although I have no reason to imagine that their aspirations are anywhere near this revolutionary), then they should declare that the masquerade is over: There can be no Palestinian state and no Palestinian government. We not only recognize Israel, but we accept your government as ours. We welcome the creation of a Greater Israel and we eagerly await the recognition of our rights as its citizens. And what could Israel then do? Drive the Arabs into the sea?
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Rudy's new foreign policy posse
By Philip Giraldi, The National Interest, July 12, 2007

The naming of leading neoconservative Norman Podhoretz as one of Republican presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani's senior foreign policy advisers is disconcerting to those Americans who have hoped that the current disagreements with Iran might be resolved short of war. Giuliani -- together with Mitt Romney and John McCain -- has publicly advocated a military strike against Iran to keep it from acquiring nuclear weapons. He has also not ruled out the use of America's own nuclear weapons if that should prove necessary to deter Tehran.

Depending on how the situation between Washington and Tehran develops, this pledge could conceivably mean a nuclear attack on a country that has not itself attacked the United States. This would shatter the policy of only using nuclear weapons as a deterrent that has been in effect since the Second World War. It would also establish a dangerous first-strike precedent for other nuclear powers like India, China and Pakistan that might in the future feel threatened. The acquisition of Podhoretz as an adviser confirms that Giuliani's statements should be taken seriously and are not just political rhetoric designed to obtain the support of the influential Israeli lobby.

Podhoretz has recently called on the United States to bomb Iran and he describes the current situation -- pitting Washington against what he describes as "the Islamofascist threat" -- as World War IV. Podhoretz basically advocates a world-wide conflict not unlike World War II to defeat Islamists everywhere they are to be found. Giuliani is already the U.S. presidential hopeful who is perceived most favorably in Israel because of his uncompromising stance on issues like the Iranian threat and terrorism, and the addition of Podhoretz will certainly be viewed favorably by many influential neoconservatives. Podhoretz is himself an uncompromising advocate of what he sees as Israeli national security imperatives very much in the mold of the right-wing Likud party. [complete article]

Comment -- In reports published today, Iran has issued a warning to Israel: Attack Iran or participate in an American attack on the country, and Iran will retaliate with missile strikes on 600 targets inside Israel.

Do Podhoretz and his stateside neocon cronies regard this as a justifiable risk? Or do they have unquestioning faith in the invincibility of Israel's Arrow missile-defense system? Or are they convinced that Iran's retaliatory capabilities can be entirely destroyed? Whatever the answer, the question that every Israeli should seriously consider is this: What poses the greater threat to the survival of Israel - Iran or neoconservatism?
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The other war: Iraq vets bear witness
By Chris Hedges and Laila al-Arian, The Nation, July 30, 2007

Court cases, such as the ones surrounding the massacre in Haditha and the rape and murder of a 14-year-old in Mah­mudiya, and news stories in the Washington Post, Time, the London Independent and elsewhere based on Iraqi accounts have begun to hint at the wide extent of the attacks on civilians. Human rights groups have issued reports, such as Human Rights Watch's Hearts and Minds: Post-war Civilian Deaths in Baghdad Caused by U.S. Forces, packed with detailed incidents that suggest that the killing of Iraqi civilians by occupation forces is more common than has been acknowledged by military authorities.

This Nation investigation marks the first time so many on-the-record, named eyewitnesses from within the US military have been assembled in one place to openly corroborate these assertions.

While some veterans said civilian shootings were routinely investigated by the military, many more said such inquiries were rare. "I mean, you physically could not do an investigation every time a civilian was wounded or killed because it just happens a lot and you'd spend all your time doing that," said Marine Reserve Lieut. Jonathan Morgenstein, 35, of Arlington, Virginia. He served from August 2004 to March 2005 in Ramadi with a Marine Corps civil affairs unit supporting a combat team with the Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade. (All interviewees are identified by the rank they held during the period of service they recount here; some have since been promoted or demoted.)

Veterans said the culture of this counterinsurgency war, in which most Iraqi civilians were assumed to be hostile, made it difficult for soldiers to sympathize with their victims--at least until they returned home and had a chance to reflect.

"I guess while I was there, the general attitude was, A dead Iraqi is just another dead Iraqi," said Spc. Jeff Englehart, 26, of Grand Junction, Colorado. Specialist Englehart served with the Third Brigade, First Infantry Division, in Baquba, about thirty-five miles northeast of Baghdad, for a year beginning in February 2004. "You know, so what?... The soldiers honestly thought we were trying to help the people and they were mad because it was almost like a betrayal. Like here we are trying to help you, here I am, you know, thousands of miles away from home and my family, and I have to be here for a year and work every day on these missions. Well, we're trying to help you and you just turn around and try to kill us."

He said it was only "when they get home, in dealing with veteran issues and meeting other veterans, it seems like the guilt really takes place, takes root, then." [complete article]

Even as loved ones fight on, war doubts arise
By Ian Urbina, New York Times, July 15, 2007

Cpl. April Ponce De Leon describes herself and her husband as "gung-ho marines," and in two weeks she deploys to Iraq, where her husband has been fighting since March.

But she says she stopped believing in the war last month after a telephone conversation with him.

"He started telling me that he doesn't want me to go and do the things he has been doing," said Corporal Ponce De Leon, 22, speaking by telephone as she boxed up her belongings in their apartment near Camp Lejeune, N.C.

"He said that 'we have all decided that it's time for us to go home.' I said, 'You mean go home and rest?' And he said, 'I mean go home and not go back.' [complete article]
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Air Force quietly builds Iraq presence
By Charles J. Hanley, AP, July 15, 2007

Away from the headlines and debate over the "surge" in U.S. ground troops, the Air Force has quietly built up its hardware inside Iraq, sharply stepped up bombing and laid a foundation for a sustained air campaign in support of American and Iraqi forces.

Squadrons of attack planes have been added to the in-country fleet. The air reconnaissance arm has almost doubled since last year. The powerful B1-B bomber has been recalled to action over Iraq.

The escalation worries some about an increase in "collateral damage," casualties among Iraqi civilians. Air Force generals worry about wear and tear on aging aircraft. But ground commanders clearly like what they see.

"Night before last, we had 14 strikes from B-1 bombers. Last night, we had 18 strikes by B-1 bombers," Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said approvingly of air support his 3rd Infantry Division received in a recent offensive south of Baghdad.

Statistics tell the story: Air Force and Navy aircraft dropped 437 bombs and missiles in Iraq in the first six months of 2007, a fivefold increase over the 86 used in the first half of 2006, and three times more than in the second half of 2006, according to Air Force data. In June, bombs dropped at a rate of more than five a day. [complete article]
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Saudis' role in Iraq insurgency outlined
By Ned Parker, Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2007

Although Bush administration officials have frequently lashed out at Syria and Iran, accusing it of helping insurgents and militias here, the largest number of foreign fighters and suicide bombers in Iraq come from a third neighbor, Saudi Arabia, according to a senior U.S. military officer and Iraqi lawmakers.

About 45% of all foreign militants targeting U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians and security forces are from Saudi Arabia; 15% are from Syria and Lebanon; and 10% are from North Africa, according to official U.S. military figures made available to The Times by the senior officer. Nearly half of the 135 foreigners in U.S. detention facilities in Iraq are Saudis, he said.

Fighters from Saudi Arabia are thought to have carried out more suicide bombings than those of any other nationality, said the senior U.S. officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the subject's sensitivity. It is apparently the first time a U.S. official has given such a breakdown on the role played by Saudi nationals in Iraq's Sunni Arab insurgency.

He said 50% of all Saudi fighters in Iraq come here as suicide bombers. In the last six months, such bombings have killed or injured 4,000 Iraqis.

The situation has left the U.S. military in the awkward position of battling an enemy whose top source of foreign fighters is a key ally that at best has not been able to prevent its citizens from undertaking bloody attacks in Iraq, and at worst shares complicity in sending extremists to commit attacks against U.S. forces, Iraqi civilians and the Shiite-led government in Baghdad. [complete article]
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Lock terror suspects up indefinitely say police
By Mark Townsend and Jamie Doward, The Observer, July 15, 2007

One of Britain's most senior police officers has demanded a return to a form of internment, with the power to lock up terror suspects indefinitely without charge.

The proposal, put forward by the head of the Association of Police Chief Officers (Acpo) and supported by Scotland Yard, is highly controversial. An earlier plan to extend the amount of time suspects can be held without charge to 90 days led to Tony Blair's first Commons defeat as Prime Minister. Eventually, the government was forced to compromise on 28 days, a period which Gordon Brown has already said he wants to extend.

The Observer understands that the Acpo proposal has been discussed in meetings between Brown and senior police officers. Whitehall sources said the PM was receptive to the association's demands, but believes an upper detention limit is essential to avoid a de facto Guantanamo Bay based in the UK. [complete article]
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Hamas versus Al-Qaeda
By Saleh Al-Naami, Al-Ahram Weekly, July 12, 2007

She looked right and then left before crossing the intersection leading to the university. The traffic was being directed by four members of the special forces affiliated with the Interior Ministry, all from Hamas. Gawaher Ghadir, 21, is one of very few female students who doesn't wear a head scarf at the Al-Azhar University in Gaza. Nobody, either from Hamas or the security services belonging to the Hamas administration has ever asked her to do so. And she doesn't think that anyone is going to.

Ahmed Ghannash, who sells music tapes and CDs from a stand on Al-Mukhtar Street, the thoroughfare that divides Gaza city into two, said that he resumed business after Hamas gained power. In the past, unknown gunmen threatened to burn his stand unless he stopped selling music recordings.

Islam Shahwan, police spokesman at the Foreign Ministry, told Al-Ahram Weekly that the attacks on music merchants and Internet cafés are now close to zero, down from about 35 attacks per month in the past. In the six months before Gaza fell into Hamas's hands, an Islamic extremist group calling itself the Islamic Swords of Justice -- a group believed to embrace some of Al-Qaeda's ideas -- was particularly active in Gaza. That group called for the closure of Internet cafés and music shops. It attacked some of the parties organised at various wedding halls in Gaza and torched some of the educational institutions run by Christians. The group once threatened to harm female presenters working for Palestine Television unless they covered their heads. [complete article]
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Will bin Laden win?
By Barnett R. Rubin, ICGA, July 12, 2007

The division of the Islamic umma, the Muslim community, into nation states by the European colonial powers the better to dominate them and nullify the temporal power of the Islamic caliphate is at the heart of Bin Laden's grievances against the contemporary world order. Destruction of the caliphate based in Istanbul prepared the ground, in his view, for the catastrophe of the Palestinians, sanctions and war against Iraq, and the "occupation of the Land of Muhammad" by "infidel troops."
Though Bin Laden mentioned neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan, al-Qaida respects the border dividing these two states no more than it does the State of Israel or the secular Republic of Turkey. All are equally products of aggression against the Muslims.

It is no coincidence that al-Qaida, though led and conceived by Arabs, was founded in these borderlands. To Westerners it may appear that Bin Laden is now trapped in an isolated region. But this region, never fully integrated into the modern system of states, provides an appropriate seat for this transnational insurgency against that very system. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

Sunni insurgent leader paints Iran as 'real enemy'
By Joshua Partlow, Washington Post, July 14, 2007

The road home
Lead Editorial, New York Times, July 8, 2007

Base to Bush: It's over
By Byron York, Washington Post, July 8, 2007

Bush's "history," like his war, is based on wishful thinking, arrogance, and a total disdain for the facts
By David Halberstam, Vanity Fair, August, 2007

Iraq on my mind
By Dahr Jamail, TomDispatch, July 12, 2007

CIA said instability seemed 'irreversible'
By Bob Woodward, Washington Post, July 12, 2007

Giving up on Iraq
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, July 11, 2007

Hamas briefing
Conflicts Forum, July 8, 2007

Giuliani, the Likud candidate?
By Jim Lobe, LobeLog, July 10, 2007

Iran's "security outlook"
By Farideh Farhi, MERIP, July 9, 2007

How the Pentagon came to own the earth, seas, and skies
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch, July 11, 2007
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