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'There is always something to be afraid of, because the threat is an ongoing threat'
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 11, 2007

"Vague Threat Prompts Steps by the Police," says the small headline in the New York Times' NY/Region section. The mayor's office issues a statement saying that the city's threat level has not changed. Meanwhile, the New York Post, issues its own "terror alert" with the headline, "NYPD ON THE ALERT FOR QAEDA 'BOMB'," and reports that "officers were mobilized and checkpoints set up throughout the city - at the Lincoln and Holland tunnels and various locations in lower Manhattan, including the Financial District - to conduct searches and monitor suspicious activity."

Did something happen or did nothing happen? The man who triggered the alert stated philosophically (or hysterically), "There is always something to be afraid of, because the threat is an ongoing threat."

Whatever else might have happened (or not happened) yesterday, it's hard not to wonder whether this was a practice run; an exercise to answer this question: If a notorious Israeli propagandist shouts BOO! can he make New York jump? The Giuliani campaign is perhaps already reflecting on the results.

Here's how Israel's Ynet reports what happened:
Be it true or false, imaginary or realistic, DEBKAfile's Giora Shamis can rest easy on Saturday, after having spun New York police into a frenzy following a Debka report that al-Qaeda might be plotting to detonate a dirty bomb in the city.

Moments before updating his site with new information obtained from world-wide sources, Shamis talked with Ynet and refused to take full credit for the incident.

"The New York Police didn't have to take my information seriously," he said. "They had other information, additional to ours."
A Department of Homeland Security spokesman said, "There's no information that leads us to believe that there's an imminent threat." So, contrary to the DEBKAfile editor's assertion that NYPD had "other information," it does not sound as if this was the case.

What can we infer from this incident?

If the NYPD, in coordination with the Department of Homeland Security, is willing to deploy hundreds of police in response to nothing more than a dubious piece of "intelligence" from a highly politically-motivated Israeli web site, it appears that U.S. homeland counter-terrorism operations are extremely easy to manipulate.

Terrorist organizations will take note of this fact and be able to exploit it in a number of ways. They will understand that:

1. Provoking false alarms is economically draining.
2. The more easily security measures can be triggered, the less confidence the public will have that government agencies actually have access to reliable intelligence.
3. The more often false alarms happen, the more complacent the public will become.
4. The more often security services are unnecessarily deployed, the less attentive they will become.
5. Provided with a heightened level of complacency among security services and the public, it will become easier to launch a terrorist attack.

The bottom line is that fear-mongering makes America more -- not less -- vulnerable to terrorism.

To be strong on terrorism means refusing to be governed by fear. Even though there is always something to be afraid of, it does not serve our interests to live in perpetual fear. Necessary vigilance needs to be coupled with a sense of proportion and a measure of skepticism. In the long run, the fear of terrorism can pose a greater threat than terrorism itself. What was true before 9/11 remains true today: The average American is vastly more at risk of being killed by an automobile than by a terrorist. In the last six years approximately 250,000 Americans have been killed in traffic accidents. There are no reports that any of the vehicles involved were being driven by members of al Qaeda.
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Iraq war czar: Consider a draft
AP, August 11, 2007

Frequent tours for U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have stressed the all-volunteer force and made it worth considering a return to a military draft,
Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute is the president's war adviser. Several retired generals turned down the post.

"I think it makes sense to certainly consider it," Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute said in an interview with National Public Radio's "All Things Considered."

"And I can tell you, this has always been an option on the table. But ultimately, this is a policy matter between meeting the demands for the nation's security by one means or another," said Lute, who is sometimes referred to as the "Iraq war czar." It was his first interview since he was confirmed by the Senate in June. [complete article]

Comment -- In U.S. presidential politics, the metaphorical table from which apparently nothing can be removed, generally has space reserved for acts of war and nuclear weapons. Thus, if presidential candidates get asked whether once in office they would consider instituting a draft, somehow I doubt that any of them will be vying for the position that the draft must remain "on the table."

Perhaps a more interesting question for candidates is this: Among those items that "must remain on the table" according to other presidents and presidential candidates, are there any that you would be bold enough to remove?
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Bush, Congress could collide on Iran
By Matt Stearns, McClatchy, August 10, 2007

Should Bush simply pursue a strike against Iran without seeking congressional authorization, it would cause "an uproar over here. It would be a serious breach of (the limits on) executive power," said a military affairs aide to a Democratic senator.

Nevertheless, Bush and Vice President Cheney take a broad view of executive power, and it's unclear what consequences Bush would face if he were to take action without authorization.

Many on Capitol Hill said the reaction would depend largely on the provocation used as a rationale for an attack. [complete article]

Comment -- As I argued yesterday, it seems to me that the lesson that Cheney and Bush will have drawn from Iraq, is that a case does not have to be made if a U.S. strike on Iran is "provoked" by an "incident." Congress won't even be asking questions, let alone have them answered, until after the bombs have been dropped.
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DC rumor mill: "Allawi political coup in full swing"
By Nibras Kazimi, Talisman Gate, August 10, 2007

So the folks in Stephen Hadley's NSC outfit are allegedly putting out the word that Meghan "Wanna-Be Ms. Bell" O'Sullivan, the White House's political envoy to Baghdad, has lined up the necessary support to unseat current Prime Minister Nouri Maliki, who would ostensibly be replaced by the former PM Ayad Allawi.

Pie in the sky, says I.

These are the usual amateurish stunts that US diplomats and spooks resort to when trying to arm-twist a Middle Eastern 'flunky'; Washington is panicked by the Sunni withdrawal from the government whilst their current policy can be summed up with "Give the Sunnis everything they want" -- including arms and protection to former insurgents who’ve been killing Americans and Iraqis for the last five years. By spreading this rumor, the Americans would like to spook Maliki into giving the Sunnis all that they want too -- their current demands being the Presidency, and the Oil, Defense and Finance ministries and the Intelligence Service, in addition to their current portfolios -- and fall into line with policy. [complete article]
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Kill Or Convert, brought to you by the Pentagon
By Max Blumenthal, The Nation, August 7, 2007

Actor Stephen Baldwin, the youngest member of the famous Baldwin brothers, is no longer playing Pauly Shore's sidekick in comedy masterpieces like Biodome. He has a much more serious calling these days.

Baldwin became a right-wing, born-again Christian after the 9/11 attacks, and now is the star of Operation Straight Up (OSU), an evangelical entertainment troupe that actively proselytizes among active-duty members of the US military. As an official arm of the Defense Department's America Supports You program, OSU plans to mail copies of the controversial apocalyptic video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces to soldiers serving in Iraq. OSU is also scheduled to embark on a "Military Crusade in Iraq" in the near future. [complete article]
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Getting Iraq wrong
By Michael Ignatieff, New York Times, August 5, 2007

The unfolding catastrophe in Iraq has condemned the political judgment of a president. But it has also condemned the judgment of many others, myself included, who as commentators supported the invasion. Many of us believed, as an Iraqi exile friend told me the night the war started, that it was the only chance the members of his generation would have to live in freedom in their own country. How distant a dream that now seems.

Having left an academic post at Harvard in 2005 and returned home to Canada to enter political life, I keep revisiting the Iraq debacle, trying to understand exactly how the judgments I now have to make in the political arena need to improve on the ones I used to offer from the sidelines. I've learned that acquiring good judgment in politics starts with knowing when to admit your mistakes.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that the trouble with academics and commentators is that they care more about whether ideas are interesting than whether they are true. Politicians live by ideas just as much as professional thinkers do, but they can't afford the luxury of entertaining ideas that are merely interesting. They have to work with the small number of ideas that happen to be true and the even smaller number that happen to be applicable to real life. In academic life, false ideas are merely false and useless ones can be fun to play with. In political life, false ideas can ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious resources. An intellectual's responsibility for his ideas is to follow their consequences wherever they may lead. A politician's responsibility is to master those consequences and prevent them from doing harm. [complete article]
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Who's in the best position to play a constructive role in Iraq?
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 10, 2007

In his patronizing, familiar style, President Bush yesterday said he'd need to have a "heart-to-heart" with his "friend," Prime Minister Maliki, if the latter continues to insist that Iran is playing a constructive role in Iraq. Then, to drive his message home, Bush switched from friendly to aggressive by saying, "Now, is he [Maliki] trying to get Iran to play a more constructive role? I presume he is. But that doesn't - what my question is - well, my message to him is, is that when we catch you playing a non-constructive role there will be a price to pay." Bush staffers were then forced to untangle Bush's ambiguous syntax by saying that it was Iran -- not Maliki -- that will pay the price. Vice President Cheney has already volunteered that that price could include airstrikes against suspected training camps in Iran run by the Quds force.

With a casus belli such as "catching a truckload of fighters or weapons crossing into Iraq from Iran," the long-feared war against Iran now seems unlikely to start with a shock-and-awe strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Instead, a series of "incidents" spread out over a period of months might escalate into a conflict from which neither side can back down. If this happens, I would argue that it reflects a Cheney-inspired political strategy for circumnavigating high level dissent inside the Pentagon.

For some time, rumors have been circulating in Washington that a significant number of generals would resign rather than support military action against Iran. Yet in the scenario I describe, it would only be after the fact (and too late for anyone to preemptively threaten resignation) before everyone agreed that the threshold of war had already been crossed. The window of opportunity for a principled rebellion is rapidly closing.

Meanwhile, the White House's more immediate preoccupation seems to be whether it's going to continue treating Maliki as a friend or turn him into a foe.

If and when Maliki has this promised/threatened heart-to-heart with the president, he might consider asking Bush how Iraqis should interpret the following two contrasting images.

To Iran's west we see an American-led reconstruction process in Iraq that after four years has yielded meager results. Oil production remains below pre-war levels, electricity supply in Baghdad is under a third of what it was, unemployment is around 50%, and 70% of Iraqis lack adequate water supplies. Until quite recently, the U.S. was characterizing "terrorism" -- not Iran -- as the primary obstacle to Iraq's progress.

To the east of Iran, Herat (Afghanistan's western-most city) is now being hailed as a demonstration of "the positive influence of Iran" -- those being the words of Mohammed Rafiq Shahir, president of Herat's Council of Professionals. Since 2001, "Herat has attracted $350 million in private investment for industry – more than any other Afghan city, including Kabul, which is some 10 times larger. In total, 250 medium- and large-scale factories have been built." The driving force behind this economic boom has been Iran. It has built a highway to the nearby border and it has hooked Herat into the Iranian power grid.

No wonder that -- unlike Bush -- Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai, views his Persian neighbors positively. At the same time, Nuri al-Maliki might well look forward to the day that Iraq is able to purchase cheap electricity from nuclear-powered Iranian power stations.

At the end of the day, what should be more important? Having friendly relations with your immediate neighbors or pleasing a distant, unpredictable and unreliable superpower?
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Unity call as Afghan jirga opens
BBC News, August 8, 2007

Afghanistan must work with Pakistan to defeat Islamic militants, President Hamid Karzai has told hundreds of tribal leaders at a key peace summit.

The Afghan leader was opening the three-day "peace jirga" or tribal council, on combating the Taleban and al-Qaeda, in the Afghan capital Kabul. [complete article]

Comment -- What's the point of a "peace jurga" if you don't invite the combatants?
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Book reveals details of Iran's diplomatic outreach to Israel
By Marc Perelman, The Forward, August 8, 2007

A soon to be released book details previously unknown backroom contacts between Iran and Israel in 2003, when Tehran was pushing the Bush administration into entering comprehensive diplomatic negotiations.

In "Treacherous Alliance," Trita Parsi, an adjunct professor at John Hopkins University and president of the National Iranian American Council, contends that shortly after Iran proposed a "grand bargain" to the United States four years ago, Tehran made a similar offer to Israel during an academic meeting in Athens.

The terms of Iran's offer to the United States -- which included stabilizing Iraq, curbing support for Hezbollah and Hamas, and addressing concerns over its nuclear program, in exchange for an end to sanctions against Iran and the disbanding of an anti-Iranian militant group -- have been known for some time. But as Washington and Tehran now hold official talks for the first time in more than a quarter-century, the book's revelation of alleged Iranian outreach to Israel opens a revealing window on the last serious attempt at diplomatic reconciliation with the Islamic Republic. [complete article]

Comment -- It's hardly surprising that an Iranian attempt to reach out to Israel would -- until now -- have been a well-guarded secret. It would have been hard for the neocons to keep on thumping on the war drums while conceding that overtures at peacemaking were (most likely at their instigation) being rebuffed. At the same time, if Iran does eventually succeed in creating nuclear weapons, those who find that most disturbing should recognize that the neocons were (unwittingly) instrumental in creating the necessary conditions for that outcome.
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In the debate over Iran, more calls for a tougher U.S. stance
By Robin Wright, Washington Post, August 9, 2007

"Discussions about attacking Iran began with the nuclear issue, but it has now become a silver bullet to also deal with Iran's activities with Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, and even to provoke a process of regime change," said Augustus Richard Norton, a retired Army colonel now at Boston University.

A possible timetable has emerged as well. "The consensus I'm hearing is to give the [U.N.] Security Council process more time but not unlimited time, and, at some point in the spring of 2008, there has to be a good hard look at whether that process should continue and whether other options should then be considered," said Kenneth Katzman, a Middle East expert for the Congressional Research Service.

Many advocates of tougher action are speaking out at a time when the administration faces an "internal crisis of confidence" over the viability of its diplomatic strategy, said Suzanne Maloney, a former Iran expert with the State Department and now a fellow at the Brookings Institution. "There's a sense of frustration with the strategy, even among those who favor a less kinetic approach. . . . The one clear alternative with some proponents is the bombing option," she said. [complete article]

See also, U.S. withdrawal needed for security, Iran tells Iraq (Reuters).

Comment -- Given that we already know that this is an administration that engages in rhetoric development rather the policymaking, the rhetorical strategy that is emerging is starting to look like this. Mix together two parts hubris, two parts grandiose delusion, and three parts hysterical fear, and you get a recipe whose flavor the neocons clearly like: In order for the United States to achieve victory in Iraq, we first need to defeat Iran.
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Sunni fighters find strategic benefits in tentative alliance with U.S.
By Ann Scott Tyson, Washington Post, August 9, 2007

Former insurgents like Abu Lwat are making a push for influence in Baqubah, the capital of Diyala province. Sunni insurgent groups and Shiite militias have fought fiercely for territory here against each other and U.S. forces. But earlier this year, leaders of the 1920 Revolution Brigades, with an estimated several thousand fighters, started cooperating with U.S. forces.

Abu Lwat, who fought with the 1920 group, said he had grown disillusioned after seeing his community decimated. "When first al-Qaeda got here, they called themselves the mujaheddin and said they would fight for the country. All the people liked them," Abu Lwat said. But what followed were executions and beheadings of local leaders, bans on smoking and mandatory veils for women that defied true Islamic values and "killed the life here," he said.

"We have no people in government now, so we are trying to do as much as we can to tell people to join the army and police," Abu Lwat said. "That way, they can control the area and government, and American forces can go back to their country."

Sitting cross-legged in the dim abandoned house, Abu Lwat said he seeks a new government in Iraq. "We don't want to be like the people who sit in the Green Zone and take orders from Bush," he said, referring to the American president. "We want to free people and fix their problems." [complete article]

Comment -- Sgt. 1st Class Eric Beck is uneasy about cooperating with former insurgents and says "They are good for a quick fix, but in the end, it could backfire." No doubt, but who's taking the bigger risk? The U.S. commanders or the Sunni insurgents? The latter don't get provided with ammunition, are told "When you run out of ammo, you pick up your knife," and in order to avoid being accidentally shot by their new American friends are being provided with neon "safety belts" to be worn across the chest. That doesn't sound much better than having a target pinned on your back. "We get the Kevlar vests, you get the neon safety belts -- trust us." Sure.
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Parting the veil
By Shadi Hamid, Democracy, Summer, 2007

America's post-September 11 project to promote democracy in the Middle East has proven a spectacular failure. Today, Arab autocrats are as emboldened as ever. Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and others are backsliding on reform. Opposition forces are being crushed. Three of the most democratic polities in the region, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, are being torn apart by violence and sectarian conflict.

Not long ago, it seemed an entirely different outcome was in the offing. As recently as late 2005, observers were hailing the "Arab spring," an "autumn for autocrats," and other seasonal formulations. They had cause for such optimism. On January 31, 2005, the world stood in collective awe as Iraqis braved terrorist threats to cast their ballots for the first time. That February, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced multi-candidate presidential elections, another first. And that same month, after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was killed, Lebanon erupted in grief and then anger as nearly one million Lebanese took to the streets of their war-torn capital, demanding self-determination. Not long afterward, 50,000 Bahrainis–one-eighth of the country's population–rallied for constitutional reform. The opposition was finally coming alive.

But when the Arab spring really did come, the American response provided ample evidence that while Arabs were ready for democracy, the United States most certainly was not. [complete article]
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Mosque and State: Seyla Benhabib on Turkey's recent election, the AK Party, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Dissent Magazine, Fall, 2007

Daniele Castellani Perelli: Ayaan Hirsi Ali has recently written about Turkey in the Los Angeles Times. She writes: "The proponents of Islam in government, such as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul and their Justice and Development Party, have exploited the fact that you can use democratic means to erode democracy. After an initial attempt at Islamic revolution failed in 1997, when the military engineered a 'soft coup' against elected Islamists, Erdogan and his party understood that gradualism would yield more lasting power. They surely realize that Islamicizing Turkey entirely is possible only if they gain control of the army and the constitutional court. Well-meaning but naive European leaders were manipulated by the ruling Islamists into saying that Turkey's army should be placed under civil control, like all armies in EU member states. The army and the constitutional court are also, and maybe even more importantly, designed to protect Turkish democracy from Islam."

Seyla Benhabib: Miss Ayaan Hirsi Ali has now assumed a public role of exaggerating and driving Islam and everything related to Islam into the corner of fascism or a kind of theocracy. Her statement is simply uninformed. It is not a statement that can be taken seriously by anybody who is a democrat. First of all, there is no danger of Islamic theocracy in Turkey. I can assure you there will be a civil war in Turkey before there will be a theocracy.

Anyway, I don't think that the AK Party wants a theocracy. They are carrying out an incredible experiment and it is unusual for some one who is a democratic socialist like myself to be supporting, and watching very carefully, a party like them. But we are all watching carefully because they also represent a kind of pluralism in civil society which is absolutely essential for Turkey. [complete article]
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Sustaining culture
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 8, 2007

We live in a culture marked by its inattention to the unseen. Small wonder that as we trample on other cultures we neither recognize the damage we are doing nor anticipate the unforeseen and unwanted consequences we will later reap.

In "Ancient Nomads Offer Insights to Modern Crises," the New York Times provides a fascinating glimpse into some of the less-considered reasons why America got Iraq wrong.

Ilan Greenberg writes:
Recent investigations have challenged long-held views of nomadic culture as purely transient, with little impact on the urban, sophisticated societies that emerged later.

Instead, scientists like [Washington University archaeologist] Dr. Frachetti are discovering that nomadic cultures are flexible, switching between transient and more sedentary ways of life, and assimilating and inventing new ideas and technologies. Nomads created durable political cultures that still influence the way those countries interact with outsiders or negotiate internal power struggles.

While the view that tribe and clan -- the basic building blocks of nomadic, or semi-transient societies -- influence the contemporary politics of some countries is nothing new, specialists in nomadic studies argue that policy makers have overlooked important "cultural intelligence," like family relationships, when analyzing governments that grew out of tribal traditions.

"Families, tribes these are the things that matter here," said Oraz Jandosov, co-chairman of a Kazakhstan opposition political party. "Foreigners talk about these things, but it's only talk. They don't understand them."

Countries like Iraq and Afghanistan may take on the trappings of modern, Western nation-states, with parliaments, justice departments and other governmental agencies, researchers say. But politics are still driven by the customs and institutions of nomadism, in which political disputes were settled at the level of family, clan and tribe.

"In and of itself you can't graft what happened two thousand years ago and say that's what it is today, but it helps to understand how these societies have found successful strategies and how they respond to outside forces," Dr. Frachetti said. "By not exploring the depth to which nomadic populations have contributed to local political systems, we are naive to an important aspect of the social fabric of parts of the Near East and Central Asia."

The United States military has learned the importance of tribes in Iraq, as evidenced by its policy of arming Sunni Arab tribal chiefs in Anbar Province to fight the leading insurgent group there, Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.

Yet, despite calls for a deeper appreciation of cultures far from the mainstream, "the United States government hasn't been willing to pony up the money to educate" policy makers on "these areas with deep nomadic traditions," said a Central Asia specialist working for the United States government.

* * *

The conceit of those of us who inhabit technologically advanced societies is that we are as advanced as our technology. (Keep that thought in mind next time your computer or your car breaks down.)

I would contend, to the contrary, that the more we (as Thoreau said) become the tools of our tools, the more we lose our mastery of and appreciation for the real building blocks of culture. The advancement, sophistication, and development of our societies has brought with it an unremitting cultural impoverishment.

As we become expert in text messaging, we become less adept in conversation. We acquire megabytes of iTunes but never learn or pass along a single ballad. We know the storylines in many a TV show yet are barely acquainted with ancient narratives from epic verse and drama. The cultural repositories that once provided the primary stock in popular image, phrasing, and metaphor, have been marginalized by a mass media that operates in the thrall of manipulative advertising techniques and commercial imperatives.

Before we can be expected to respect and understand other cultures, we first need to appreciate culture itself. And while, with justification, we worry about the loss of natural resources and an imperiled environment, we need to pay closer attention to those equally fragile resources that can only be sustained within and between human beings. Otherwise we will end up impoverished and ultimately destroyed by our own wealth.
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The road to peace runs through Jerusalem
By Gideon Rachman, Financial Times, August 6, 2007

Even some members of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority argue that Mr Abbas is likely to be offered a deal that he can only refuse. One prominent Fatah member predicts gloomily: "We will be offered a state within the borders of the Israeli security wall, which will mean losing huge parts even of the West Bank. The Israeli settlements will stay. Our borders will be controlled by Israel. We won't be allowed an army. There will be no right of return and the Israelis will effectively take over Jerusalem. This will be presented as a temporary arrangement. But the temporary would become permanent." Mr Abbas's allies say that it would be political suicide for him and for Fatah to accept a deal like that. Hamas would take over the Palestinian cause by default.

When I put this scenario to a senior Israeli official in Jerusalem last week, he replied: "The Palestinians are being over-optimistic. They are not going to be offered even that." The Israeli military – backed, it seems, by public opinion – is unwilling to take the risk of handing control of security on the West Bank back to the Palestinians. The vast security barrier that the Israelis have constructed has helped to keep out suicide bombers. But rocket attacks have been launched against Israel from Lebanon and from Gaza. Similar attacks from the West Bank could hit Israel's big cities. So the Israeli military is likely to argue for retaining the hundreds of checkpoints, all over the West Bank, which make daily life and commerce impossible for the Palestinians. Trips from one West Bank town to another – which should take a few minutes – can often take hours because of the checkpoints.

The mood in Israel now seems to mix fear and complacency in a way that is probably fatal to the chances of a peace deal. The fear is a legacy of the Palestinian terror campaign that killed almost 1,000 Israelis. Memories of the suicide bombings – added to the rise of Hamas – have hugely undermined public willingness to take risks with security.

But the suicide bombings have stopped. And just at the moment, life is good. The nightlife of west Jerusalem – which was dead in 2002 – is now vibrant again. Last week, I went to the Jerusalem wine festival, where affluent Israelis sampled the latest Cabernets and Rieslings from the country's boutique wineries. Palestinian towns such as Ramallah and Bethlehem were just a few miles away. But being behind the wall, they are out of sight and out of mind for the average Israeli. Gaza is sealed off even more effectively. As a result, for all the hand-wringing about Iran and Hamas, Israelis have rarely felt more secure. They feel little need to take risks for peace. [complete article]
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Giving peace a chance in Afghanistan
By Syed Saleem Shahzad, Asia Times, August 9, 2007

Since chasing the Taliban out of Afghanistan in 2001, the United States' efforts to stabilize the country have ranged from hard military options, to trying to establish a democratic government, to courting "moderate" Taliban.

The combined outcome has been less than successful, with the Taliban controlling large areas of the country and gaining strength - and popularity. With the Republican administration of US President George W Bush keen to settle this troublesome South Asian theater before next year's presidential elections, Washington has now devised a two-pronged approach.

On the one hand it has indicated that it will not hesitate to attack directly Taliban and al-Qaeda bases in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan if it sees fit, although this is a controversial matter and carries with it the dangers of severe backlash.

At the same time, Washington and its key ally in the "war on terror", Pakistan, are promoting an unprecedented large-scale interaction among tribal elders, Islamic clerics, politicians, journalists and leaders from Pakistan and Afghanistan in the form of a three-day jirga (council), which opens in Kabul on Thursday. [complete article]

Comment -- Six years after 9/11, the Bush administration remains a victim of its own rhetoric. Hamstrung by an immoral and wrong-headed principle -- we will not discriminate between the terrorists and those who harbor them -- the administration cannot reconcile itself or find any way of coming to terms with the political reality of the Taliban. While Washington has been arthritically slow to adapt, the Taliban has evolved. Moreover, Washington's failure to understand the ways in which the Taliban have changed completely undermines this new attempt to forge a tribal alliance of Pashtuns. As Syed Saleem Shahzad observes:
the downside of the whole exercise is Washington's understanding of the Taliban, who are perceived as Islamists whose natural rivals are secular Pashtun nationalists.

This might have been true some years ago, but in the past few years the mostly ethnic-Pashtun Taliban have positioned themselves as champions of Pashtun nationalism on both sides of border in their efforts to broaden their grassroots support. With some success, they have touted themselves as the real flag-bearers of Pashtun ethnical and honor codes (Pashtunwali).

The Taliban have played up their similarities with secular Pashtuns to soften their image as what has been described as their "strictest interpretation of sharia law ever".

It takes inane optimism to see victory in Afghanistan
By Simon Jenkins, The Guardian, August 8, 2007

Iraq is post-imperialism for fast learners, Afghanistan for slow ones. While the concept of a benign outcome in Iraq is strictly for armchair crazies, such an outcome remains received wisdom in Afghanistan. The British ambassador, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, is building himself an embassy to compare with America's in Baghdad and has forecast a British military presence of 30 years. Brigadier John Lorimer in Helmand says he can suppress insurgency in 10 years but will need "longer than 30" to establish good governance. Such things were being said in Iraq until two years ago, when the body bags began to talk. [complete article]
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U.S. uneasy as Britain plans for early Iraq withdrawal
By Ewen MacAskill, Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour, The Guardian, August 8, 2007

The Bush administration is becoming increasingly concerned about the impact of an imminent British withdrawal from southern Iraq and would prefer UK troops to remain for another year or two.

British officials believe that Washington will signal its intention to reduce US troop numbers after a much-anticipated report next month by its top commander in Iraq, General David Petraeus, clearing the way for Gordon Brown to announce a British withdrawal in parliament the following month. An official said: "We do believe we are nearly there."

It is not known whether George Bush expressed concern about the withdrawal of the remaining 5,000 British troops when he met Mr Brown in Washington last week. But sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the administration was worried about the political consequences of losing British troops. [complete article]
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Pressed by U.S., a wary U.N. now plans larger Iraq role
By Colum Lynch, Washington Post, August 8, 2007

The United Nations has offered to increase its presence in Baghdad for the first time in more than three years, after repeated appeals from the Bush administration for the world body to play a more active role in mediating Iraq's sectarian disputes.

B. Lynn Pascoe, the top political adviser to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that the United Nations was prepared to boost its personnel in Iraq over the coming months. The organization is also seeking $130 million to build a heavily reinforced compound in Baghdad to house the growing U.N. mission.

The U.S. push for a broader U.N. role in Iraq underscores Washington's reliance on the United Nations to strengthen international support for the war. The move also reflects a commitment by Ban, who took over as U.N. chief in January, to overcome the institution's deep aversion to aiding the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. Ban has vowed to do more than his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who opposed the U.S. invasion, but he faces a backlash from U.N. officials who fear inheriting the Iraqi mess and from Iraqi leaders who worry that U.N. peacekeeping efforts could diminish their power. [complete article]

Differences over UN staff in Iraq
Al Jazeera, August 8, 2007

The UN has said it may increase its ceiling for international staff in Iraq by October, but its staff council has called for all UN workers to be pulled out of the country amid security concerns.

The differences emerged as Britain and the US circulated a revised Security Council resolution that would prolong and expand the UN's mandate in Iraq. [complete article]
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Turkey and Iraq in spat over terror base
By Vincent Boland, Financial Times, August 7, 2007

Turkey and Iraq were locked in talks on Tuesday to try to resolve their differences over alleged terrorist bases near their joint border. The talks were the centre point of a visit to Ankara by Nouri al-Maliki, the Iraqi prime minister, that was dominated by security and trade issues.

Turkey has long maintained that militants from the PKK Kurdish separatist organisation hide out in the Kandil mountains in northern Iraq and launch attacks from there into Turkish territory. Ankara has been pressing Baghdad and the US to act against the PKK or face an incursion by Turkish troops.

Relations between Turkey and Iraq, and between Turkey and the US, have been badly strained by the issue, and the Turkish military has been agitating in recent months for permission from the government to launch an attack into Iraq to target the bases. Ankara also fears a resurgence of the latent separatism of Turkey's sizeable Kurdish minority. [complete article]
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Time to withdraw Iraq oil law?
By Ben Lando, UPI, August 8, 2007

Iraq's citizens suffer from the August heat, little electricity and fuel. Death is seemingly around every corner. So the time may not be right for an oil law, especially the one the Bush administration wants.

United Press International has found a recurring theme over recent months during coverage of the Iraq oil law: creating a law governing the bloodline to Iraq's economy should be less of a priority than stopping the bloodletting of Iraq's citizens.

"There is no hurry whatsoever," said Muhammad-Ali Zainy, senior energy economist and analyst at the London-based Center for Global Energy Studies. "Iraq really, now, is bleeding and losing its people in this horrible way and there is terrorism and all that and lack of the provisional basic services.

"Everything bad, there is in Iraq. Why should the government leave all these urgent needs to be addressed and then go to the hydrocarbon law?" [complete article]
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Bush still wields the threat of terrorism
By Jim Rutenberg, New York Times, August 7, 2007

The Democrats' critique of Mr. Bush's conduct of the war in Iraq certainly contributed to their victory in midterm elections last November. And the Democratic candidates for president can count on thunderous applause when they attack Mr. Bush for his failure to capture Osama bin Laden, and for a heavy-handed approach at home.

But while the Democrats had hoped to leave town for the August recess on an upbeat note, Mr. Bush and his party succeeded in outflanking them with veiled -- and not so veiled -- warnings that any failure to give the president the authority he sought [for warrantless eavesdropping] would leave his rivals liable in the event of another terrorist attack.

For a president who has played defense most of the year, relying on veto threats and, in terms of Iraq, almost plaintive pleas for time, it was a rare, winning use of offense. The victory points up an enduring challenge for Democrats, even as they have gained other advantages over Mr. Bush and his fellow Republicans. [complete article]

See also, New law expands power to wiretap - diminishes oversight of NSA spy program (Boston Globe).

Comment -- Democrats and anyone who wants to fight against the Bush administration's political exploitation of terrorism need to go back to basics. This means re-asking (or asking for the first time), what is terrorism?

Definitions of terrorism easily get confused by focusing on the perpetrators and the methods of violence that they employ, but the essence of terrorism is the use of fear to achieve political aims. The Pentagon's own definition is this:
The calculated use of violence or threat of violence to inculcate fear.
When President Bush or Vice President Cheney suggest or imply that their opponents might be "weak on terror" they are using the threat of violence to inculcate fear. This is an act of political terrorism.

Obviously a head of state with all the instruments of government and unparalleled access to the media does not need to explode a bomb, or have anyone else do so, in order to inculcate fear and exploit that fear to achieve political aims. We live at a time where there is no shortage of people willing to articulate threats upon which others are then only too eager take a political ride.

So long as we remain clear that fear as a political instrument and not the particular methods used to generate that fear, is the defining characteristic of terrorism, then it's much easier to understand why terrorism is not simply a tool of asymmetric warfare. "Terrorism" is really the only fitting name for the politics of fear.

If one considers the degree to which George Bush, Dick Cheney, and their cohorts have successfully exploited fear in order to control the deployment of massive economic and human resources in the service of political agendas whose nature often remains obscure, then this cadre of be-suited operatives rank as truly the most successful and powerful terrorists the world has ever known.
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U.S. says Iran- supplied bomb is killing more troops in Iraq
By Michael R. Gordon, New York Times, August 8, 2007

Attacks on American-led forces using a lethal type of roadside bomb said to be supplied by Iran reached a new high in July, according to the American military.

The devices, known as explosively formed penetrators, were used to carry out 99 attacks last month and accounted for a third of the combat deaths suffered by the American-led forces, Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, the No. 2 commander in Iraq, said in an interview.

Such bombs, which fire a semi-molten copper slug that can penetrate the armor on a Humvee and are among the deadliest weapons used against American forces, are used almost exclusively by Shiite militants. American intelligence officials have presented evidence that the weapons come from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, although Iran has repeatedly denied providing lethal assistance to Iraqi groups. [complete article]

Comment -- Michael Gordon must be happy to be able to report again on one of his favorite subjects: Iran's alleged role in providing materiel to Iraqi fighters. But there's a curious omission in this report. Gordon consistently refers to generic Shiite militias and Shiite militants but gets no more specific.

Kim Gamel covered the same story for Associated Press and she reports that:
Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno said factions that have broken away from radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army were believed responsible for most of the attacks.
How come Gordon left that out?

In identifying the militia groups involved in these attacks, Gordon quotes General Odierno saying:
"I think [attacks on U.S. troops are increasing] because the Iranians are surging support to the special groups," he said, referring to the American name for Iranian-backed cells here.
Huh? The American name for Iranian-backed militia cells is "special groups"?

Soon after Gordon filed his report, an overnight U.S. raid on Sadr City killed 32 suspected militants, though there are also reports that the death toll included 13 civilians. AP again reports the military saying the raid targeted fighters from breakaway factions of radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. The strike occurred just hours before Iraqi prime minister Maliki arrived in Tehran.

There seems to be a whole array of messages here. An attack on Sadr City can be expected to widen the gap between Maliki and Moqtada al Sadr at a time when Maliki is losing support from all quarters. At the same time, the military seems to want to emphasize that they are not targeting the Madhi Army itself -- just "breakaway factions." Since the targets were supposedly receiving Iranian support, it also seems as though the strike may be intended to sow suspicion in the minds of the Iranians who are receiving Maliki. Did he give his consent for the strike to take place?

All in all, this looks like a concerted effort on the part of the U.S. military to sow division among the Shiites. Is the theory that division among Shiites will lead to new alliances between Shiites and Sunnis? The more likely effect is that it will deepen mistrust of Americans.
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Disaster looms as 'Saddam dam' struggles to hold back the Tigris
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, August 7, 2007

As world attention focuses on the daily slaughter in Iraq, a devastating disaster is impending in the north of the country, where the wall of a dam holding back the Tigris river north of Mosul city is in danger of imminent collapse.

"It could go at any minute," says a senior aid worker who has knowledge of the struggle by US and Iraqi engineers to save the dam. "The potential for disaster is very great."

If the dam does fail, a wall of water will sweep into Mosul, Iraq's third largest city with a population of 1.7 million, 20 miles to the south. Experts say the flood waters could destroy 70 per cent of Mosul and inflict heavy damage 190 miles downstream along the Tigris. [complete article]
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The surge
By Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, August 7, 2007

Six months after the surge was actually launched, in mid- February, it has failed as dismally as so many First World War offensives. The US Defense Department says that, this June, the average number of attacks on US and Iraqi forces, civilian forces and infrastructure peaked at 177.8 per day, higher than in any month since the end of May 2003. The US has failed to gain control of Baghdad. The harvest of bodies picked up every morning first fell and then rose again. This may be because the Mehdi Army militia, who provided most of the Shia death squads, was stood down by Sadr. Nobody in Baghdad has much doubt that they could be back in business any time they want. Whatever Bush might say, the US military commanders in Iraq clearly did not want to take on the Mehdi Army and the Shia community when they were barely holding their own against the Sunni.

The surge is now joining a host of discredited formulae for success and fake turning-points that the US (with the UK tripping along behind) has promoted in Iraq over the past 52 months. [complete article]
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As British leave, Basra deteriorates
By Karen DeYoung and Thomas E. Ricks, Washington Post, August 7, 2007

As British forces pull back from Basra in southern Iraq, Shiite militias there have escalated a violent battle against each other for political supremacy and control over oil resources, deepening concerns among some U.S. officials in Baghdad that elements of Iraq's Shiite-dominated national government will turn on one another once U.S. troops begin to draw down.

Three major Shiite political groups are locked in a bloody conflict that has left the city in the hands of militias and criminal gangs, whose control extends to municipal offices and neighborhood streets. The city is plagued by "the systematic misuse of official institutions, political assassinations, tribal vendettas, neighborhood vigilantism and enforcement of social mores, together with the rise of criminal mafias that increasingly intermingle with political actors," a recent report by the International Crisis Group said.

After Saddam Hussein was overthrown in April 2003, British forces took control of the region, and the cosmopolitan port city of Basra thrived with trade, arts and universities. As recently as February, Vice President Cheney hailed Basra as a part of Iraq "where things are going pretty well."

But "it's hard now to paint Basra as a success story," said a senior U.S. official in Baghdad with long experience in the south. Instead, it has become a different model, one that U.S. officials with experience in the region are concerned will be replicated throughout the Iraqi Shiite homeland from Baghdad to the Persian Gulf. A recent series of war games commissioned by the Pentagon also warned of civil war among Shiites after a reduction in U.S. forces. [complete article]
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After Gaza
ICG, August 2, 2007

Hamas's takeover of Gaza and President Abbas's dismissal of the national unity government and appointment of one led by Salam Fayyad amount to a watershed in the Palestinian national movement's history. Some paint a positive picture, seeing the new government as one with which Israel can make peace. They hope that, with progress in the West Bank, stagnation in Gaza and growing pressure from ordinary Palestinians, a discredited Hamas will be forced out or forced to surrender. They are mistaken. The Ramallah-based government is adopting overdue decisions to reorganise security forces and control armed militants; Israel has reciprocated in some ways; and Hamas is struggling with its victory. But as long as the Palestinian schism endures, progress is on shaky ground. Security and a credible peace process depend on minimal intra-Palestinian consensus. Isolating Hamas strengthens its more radical wing and more radical Palestinian forces. The appointment of Tony Blair as new Quartet Special Envoy, the scheduled international meeting and reported Israeli-Palestinian talks on political issues are reasons for limited optimism. But a new Fatah-Hamas power-sharing arrangement is a prerequisite for a sustainable peace. If and when it happens the rest of the world must do what it should have before: accept it. [complete article]
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Ground to a halt: denial of Palestinians' freedom of movement in the West Bank
B'Tselem Report, August, 2007

Since the beginning of the second intifada, in September 2000, Israel has imposed restrictions on the movement of Palestinians in the West Bank that are unprecedented in scope and time. As a result, the fundamental right of West Bank Palestinians to freedom of movement, their exercise of which was limited in any event, has become a privilege that Israel extends to them as it deems fit. Indeed, Palestinian travel in the West Bank is now an exception, which must be justified to the Israeli authorities, and almost every trip entails uncertainty, friction with soldiers, much waiting, and often great expense.

Israel combines a number of means in implementing the restrictions-on-movement regime. The means include fixed and temporary checkpoints, 47 of which control Palestinians' movement inside the West Bank, 455 physical obstructions on roads, and the Separation Barrier. Certain areas are under siege: entry is possible only through checkpoints and is subject to checks and possession of a permit. On 312 kilometers of main roads in the West Bank, vehicles bearing Palestinian license plates are forbidden or restricted. [complete article]
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Touring Israel's barrier with its main designer
By Scott Wilson, Washington Post, August 7, 2007

From his stone balcony, Dan Tirza looks out over a rippling expanse of Judean desert, the biblical landscape of the Jewish people. A student of that history, the retired army colonel is a leading actor in Israel's modern story of statehood, conquest and the volatile task of erecting a boundary that divides Arab from Jew.

Soon Israel's $2.5 billion separation barrier will rise around Tirza's settlement, where 350 Jewish families live among palms, playgrounds and a synagogue 10 miles inside the West Bank.

The Israeli government says it is building the 456-mile barrier to protect its citizens from Palestinian attacks and not to establish a border. But the route does not follow the boundary defined when Israel emerged as a modern state in the late 1940s, drawing complaints from Palestinians that the barrier's path is designed to seize land and dictate the terms of a future peace deal.

Tirza's settlement is among dozens of hilltop redoubts that Israel has built over the past generation, creating a mosaic of Jewish communities in the Palestinian territories. When the barrier is complete here, it will place on Israel's side nearly 25 square miles of the West Bank, the proposed heartland of a future Palestinian state. [complete article]
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Britain asks for release of 5 detainees from Guantanamo
By Raymond Bonner, New York Times, August 7, 2007

In a major reversal of policy, the British government today asked the Bush administration to release five British residents that are being held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Under the previous government of former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Britain insisted that it had no obligation to assist the five men because they are not British citizens, even though they all had legal residence status in Britain.

"We saw this as an opportunity to achieve ultimately the closure of Guantanamo," said a British official, speaking on the usual condition of anonymity. [complete article]

See also, Close Guantanamo now (former Guantanamo detainee, Moazzam Begg).
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Prospects of Armageddon
By Abbas Edalat and Mehrnaz Shahabi, The Guardian, August 7, 2007

It is appalling, if unsurprising, to read the neoconservative cheerleader Oliver Kamm arguing in these pages that the atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki 62 years ago saved lives and ended suffering. The subtext is plain. The same camp whose vocal endorsement led to the present catastrophe in Iraq are now hawkishly gazing at Iran. The same absurd and dangerous logic that defends the nuclear atrocities of 1945 can now be used to support the pre-emptive use of nuclear weapons against Iran - the threat of which in turn makes the idea of a conventional attack appear more palatable. Now, more than ever, we should be unequivocal in our moral position: as Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, has said, the mere possession of nuclear weapons today should be viewed with the same condemnation and horror as we have regarded slavery and genocide in our modern civilized world. [complete article]

Comment -- Is the Bush administration's approach to dealing with the purported threat from Iran as confused as it appears, or is Washington, for tactical reasons, purposely creating the appearance of confusion?

While U.S. ambassador in Iraq, Ryan Crocker yesterday sat down for "frank and serious" discussions on security in Iraq with his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Kazemi Qomi, President Bush was making a baseless accusation that Iran "has proclaimed its desire to build a nuclear weapon" -- thus far the Iranian government has made no such declaration.

Meanwhile, the neocon propaganda machine continues to feed expectations that the U.S. would be willing, if necessary, to use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities? Is this empty bluster? Is it a threat whose purpose -- when nuclear weapons are not employed -- is to make a conventional attack appear measured and restrained? Is it part of a desperate effort to push Mad Dog Cheney into action while he still has a firm grip on the levers of power? Does it mean that the Likudniks are less concerned about who becomes the next president than that the fuse for a conflagration between the U.S. and Iran has already been lit before January 2009?

It's anyone's guess.

But the harder it is for Iran to discern America's intentions, the less likely it is that it will either make or respond to any substantive diplomatic moves. The only thing that seems indisputable is that time is on Iran's side. Whoever can make an alliance with time has every reason to be confident of success.
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The myth of mistrust
By Dilip Hiro, The Guardian, August 7, 2007

The Sunni Iraqi Accordance Front's (IAF) withdrawal of its six ministers from the cabinet on August 2, following the failure of Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, to meet their demands, has shaken the governments in Baghdad and Washington. The IAF's list included such patently unrealistic demands as disbanding all (Shia) militias.

"Clearly the withdrawal of the Sunnis from the government is discouraging at the national level," said US defence secretary Robert Gates. "We probably underestimated the depth of mistrust [between Sunnis and Shias]."

This is disingenuous. While bemoaning the "depth of mistrust" between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, the Bush administration has been playing it up in the rest of the Arab Middle East. Two days earlier, Gates and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice announced a massive $63bn arms sale to the Sunni monarchical regimes in the Persian Gulf and Egypt - ostensibly to counter the influence of Iran, a predominantly Shia state.

Their criticism of the Sunni Arab regimes for failing to implement the commitments - specifically setting up embassies in Baghdad - they had made about backing the Shia-led Maliki government two months earlier, highlighted the contradictions in America's policy in the region. [complete article]
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Kosher in Tehran
By Jonathan Cook, The Guardian, August 7, 2007

Iran is the new Nazi Germany and its president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new Hitler. Or so Israeli officials have been declaring for months as they and their American allies try to persuade the doubters in Washington that an attack on Tehran is essential. And if the latest media reports are to be trusted, it looks like they may again be winning the battle for hearts and minds: vice-president Dick Cheney is said to be diverting the White House back on track to launch a military strike.

Earlier this year Binyamin Netanyahu, Israel's opposition leader and the man who appears to be styling himself as scaremonger-in-chief, told us: "It's 1938 and Iran is Germany. And Iran is racing to arm itself with atomic bombs." Of Ahmadinejad, he said: "He is preparing another Holocaust for the Jewish state."

A few weeks ago, as Israel's military intelligence claimed - as it has been doing regularly since the early 1990s - that Iran is only a year or so away from the "point of no return" on developing a nuclear warhead, Netanyahu was at it again. "Iran could be the first undeterrable nuclear power," he warned, adding: "This is a Jewish problem like Hitler was a Jewish problem ... The future of the Jewish people depends on the future of Israel."

But Netanyahu has been far from alone in making extravagant claims about a looming genocide from Iran. Israel's new president, Shimon Peres, has compared an Iranian nuclear bomb to a "flying concentration camp". And the prime minister, Ehud Olmert, told a German newspaper last year: "[Ahmadinejad] speaks as Hitler did in his time of the extermination of the entire Jewish nation."

There is an interesting problem with selling the "Iran as Nazi Germany" line. If Ahmadinejad really is Hitler, ready to commit genocide against Israel's Jews as soon as he can get his hands on a nuclear weapon, why are some 25,000 Jews living peacefully in Iran and more than reluctant to leave, despite repeated enticements from Israel and American Jews? [complete article]
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New ambassador to Iraq wins high marks for experience, diplomacy
By Leila Fadel, McClatchy, August 7, 2007

Five years ago, as the Bush administration was preparing to invade Iraq, Ryan Crocker and a handful of other State Department officials wrote a six-page memo warning of the possible pitfalls of a U.S.-led attack.

An invasion could "unleash long-repressed sectarian and ethnic tensions," the memo said. It also warned "that the Sunni minority would not easily relinquish power, and that powerful neighbors such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia would try to move in to influence events."

It was titled "The Perfect Storm." It was remarkably prescient.

Now Crocker is the American ambassador to Iraq, and it's fallen to him to help quell the tempest. It may be an impossible task, but there's hardly anyone better prepared to do so. [complete article]
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Ahmadinejad stages a bureaucratic revolution
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi, Asia Times, August 7, 2007

Making good on his campaign promise to introduce "revolutionary changes" in the government's management of economic, social and foreign affairs, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has introduced serious measures that have yet to be fully implemented but which will in all likelihood define his era.

Although he has been in office since October 2005, Ahmadinejad has now hinted at a "new diplomatic phase at a different level" within the next four months, promising that a "new movement" in Iran's diplomacy is about to start that will make a significant improvement in the country's external affairs.

Boasting that Iran has "a very active" foreign diplomacy, Ahmadinejad has not publicly elaborated on the details of his bold new vision or whether it will entail any organizational restructuring in addition to a "new approach".

Concerning the latter, Ahmadinejad's supporters, writing on the website, have provided a couple of clues. One, Iran is seeking to make ethics the centerpiece of foreign policy, whereby ethical norms and considerations will serve as guiding principles in line with the Islamic constitution that, for instance, makes it incumbent on the government to express solidarity with liberation movements and to pursue Islamic unity. [complete article]

See also, Iran faces challenges from within (Chris Zambelis).
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Bush differs with Karzai on Iran
By Sheryl Gay Stolberg, New York Times, August 7, 2007

President Bush and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, close allies in fighting terrorism, found much to agree on as they completed a two-day meeting here on Monday, with one major exception: the role of Iran in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai characterized Iran as "a helper" in a CNN interview broadcast Sunday. But when the two men greeted reporters here on Monday, Mr. Bush pointedly disagreed, saying, "I would be very cautious about whether the Iranian influence in Afghanistan is a positive force."

Iran has sent workers to Afghanistan to provide aid to villages, but American officials contend that Tehran is also funneling weapons into the country. Mr. Bush has long viewed Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, and is deeply suspicious of its nuclear ambitions, a view he reiterated Monday even as he said he was "willing to listen" to Mr. Karzai's position. [complete article]

Comment -- As former Bush administration official, James Dobbins, has acknowledged, Iran played a vital role in promoting democracy in Afghanistan. It should thus come as no surprise that Hamid Karzai -- a beneficiary of that effort -- would see Iran as "a helper." On the other hand, while Iran's subsequent role in fomenting conflict in Afghanistan is a matter of somewhat dubious speculation, there is no disputing that with unfortunate frequency American bombs continue to kill innocent Afghanis.
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Neocons aiding '08 Republicans
By Ralph Z. Hallow, Washington Times, August 6, 2007

Most Americans disapprove of the Iraq war and of exporting democracy by force, yet neoconservative proponents of those policies advise the leading Republican presidential hopefuls.

"There is an overwhelming presence of neoconservatives and absence of traditional conservatives that I don't know what to make of," said Richard V. Allen, former Reagan White House national security adviser.

Advisers to Sen. John McCain of Arizona include Robert Kagan, co-founder of the neoconservative Project for the New American Century (PNAC), while former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's policy team includes Norman Podhoretz, a founder of the neoconservative movement, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney gets advice from Dan Senor, who counseled L. Paul Bremer III, the Coalition Provisional Authority administrator in Iraq.

Critics say neoconservatism casts American foreign policy as a new and benevolent form of imperialism, and conflicts with the traditional conservative, who prefers U.S. military power be reserved for defending against direct threats to America's vital interests. [complete article]
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Iraqi government unraveling as more ministers announce boycott
By Leila Fadel, McClatchy, August 6, 2007

Iraq's government, already unable to reconcile rival Sunni and Shiite Muslim factions, seemed headed for complete paralysis Monday as five more Cabinet ministers announced that they'd boycott government meetings.

If the ministers from the secular Iraqiya political list hold to their decision, Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki will be unable to convene a quorum of the council of ministers to approve legislation or take other action weeks before U.S. officials are to make a crucial mid-September assessment of the success or failure of American policy here.

U.S. officials said they'd have no immediate comment. "Things change here by the hour," U.S. Embassy spokesman Phil Reeker said in an e-mail. [complete article]

See also, Gates: U.S. to keep troop presence in Iraq for extended time (CNN).

Comment -- Marc Lynch notes:
What we're seeing seems to be the escalating irrelevance of formal Iraqi institutions, or at least the escalating public admission of their irrelevance. The US military certainly seems to be acting on that assumption: Gates, Mullin and other top DOD officials seem to have publicly given up on political progress at the national level, while Petraeus is focusing on local level initiatives and tactical alliances which completely ignore - and often are opposed by - the Iraqi government.

Forget for a moment the admittedly vital question of whether the September Crocker/Petraeus report acknowledges these realities (I've been thinking that this report might be more honest than many people expect in that regard, even if few of my smart and well-connected colleagues agree with me). If this were really the trend, what kind of American strategy would follow from a tacit abandonment of the institutions of the Iraqi state and the formal political process? Would this make withdrawal easier and more likely, since the unresolvable political contradictions at the national level could just be ignored? Could the US really maintain its military presence while jettisoning the political system it has created and defended over the last four years?
If the Iraqi government collapses, any assessment of the success or failure of the "surge" becomes irrelevant. But it also seems likely that the issue of US withdrawal will become even more complicated. In Washington, advocates of withdrawal need some semblance of political authority in Baghdad to whom the US is transferring responsibility. Without that, it would be hard to avoid creating the perception that the US is withdrawing because it sees Iraq as already having become a failed state. For that reason, it's quite possible that, paradoxically, the worse the situation gets in Iraq the harder it will become for American political leaders to push for withdrawal or deliver on such a promise.
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To exit Iraq, how is as important as when
By Gordon Lubold, Christian Science Monitor, August 6, 2007

Some in Congress and an increasing number of Americans want the Bush administration to begin withdrawing troops from Iraq, but even if the decision came tomorrow to remove all 160,000 troops now there, it could take as long as 18 months to do it, say former military officials who've managed troop exits before.

Sooner or later, American forces will leave Iraq. But that political decision cannot be made in isolation, but must take into account the logistics of departure, which will be neither simple nor speedy, say former military officers.

Unlike other withdrawals from, say, Saudi Arabia after the first Gulf War, insurgents, terrorists, and other bad actors are expected to contest US forces as they leave.

"There is no way they're going to pull out of that theater as fast as everyone thinks," says retired Army Lt. Gen. William "Gus" Pagonis, who oversaw the withdrawal of nearly half a million US troops and hundreds of thousands of pieces of equipment from Saudi Arabia in 1991 over a seven-month period.

Mr. Pagonis says the US should start withdrawing its forces soon – but without a published timetable – and expects it will take as long as 18 months to get the bulk of them out. [complete article]
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In Iraqi south, Shiites press for autonomy
By Sam Dagher, Christian Science Monitor, August 6, 2007

When Najaf unplugged its power station from the national grid last week, it was a sign of provincial dissent over the unequal distribution of electricity. But it also indicates a new assertiveness in the south, as Iraq's regional leaders seek to wrest control from a central government in Baghdad paralyzed by political infighting.

Multiple visions for unifying the county's southern provinces are emerging. The Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC), one of the most powerful Shiite parties, is leading the charge to form an autonomous "South of Baghdad Region."

But 45 southern tribal notables in Najaf last week signed their own pact that envisions creating "the self-rule government of the unified Iraqi south."

Regardless of which southern group wins out, Baghdad faces a formidable challenge that could mean not just the loss of electricity, but revenue from the region's ports and oil fields, and further fracturing along sectarian lines.
[complete article]
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Weapons given to Iraq are missing
By Glenn Kessler, Washington Post, August 6, 2007

Iraqi security forces were virtually nonexistent in early 2004, and in June of that year Petraeus was brought in to build them up. No central record of distributed equipment was kept for a year and a half, until December 2005, and even now the records are on a spreadsheet that requires three computer screens lined up side by side to view a single row, Christoff said.

The GAO found that the military was consistently unable to collect supporting documents to "confirm when the equipment was received, the quantities of equipment delivered, and the Iraqi units receiving the equipment." The agency also said there were "numerous mistakes due to incorrect manual entries" in the records that were maintained.

The GAO reached the estimate of 190,000 missing arms -- 110,000 AK-47s and 80,000 pistols -- by comparing the property records of the Multi-National Security Transition Command for Iraq against records Petraeus maintained of the arms and equipment he had ordered. Petraeus's figures were compared with classified data and other records to ensure that they were accurate enough to compare against the property books.

In all cases, the gaps between the two records were enormous. Petraeus reported that about 185,000 AK-47 rifles, 170,000 pistols, 215,000 pieces of body armor and 140,000 helmets were issued to Iraqi security forces from June 2004 through September 2005. But the property books contained records for 75,000 AK-47 rifles, 90,000 pistols, 80,000 pieces of body armor and 25,000 helmets. [complete article]
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Fighting PTSD; fighting the US Army
By Eric Ruder, Counterpunch, August 2, 2007

During Eugene Cherry's deployment in Iraq, he witnessed unspeakable horrors that were seared into his memory. Like many others, he returned with his physical being intact, but struggled mightily with aggressive behavior, uncharacteristic outbursts of emotion and dizzying mood swings.

But when he went to military medical facilities with these classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Eugene found his commanding officers and base medical personnel woefully unequipped to help him.

After he went AWOL to deal himself with his crisis of depression and anxiety, the military sought to demote, dishonorably discharge and imprison Eugene for the "crime" of trying to salvage his mental health. [complete article]
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Another report on Iraq, another round of headaches for U.S.
By Walter Pincus, Washington Post, August 6, 2007

Buried deep within the 209 pages of the latest report by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), released last week, are a raft of problems illustrating how much remains to be done if the United States is to leave behind a functioning government in Iraq.

Consider the simple issue of how the government in Baghdad spends the money allocated in its budget. When it came to salaries of government employees, 99 percent of allocated funds in 2006 were paid out. But on capital spending for critical oil, electricity, water and education projects, only 22 percent of allocations were spent. The Ministry of Oil, for example, was budgeted $3.5 billion for capital expenses last year but spent only $90 million.

One basic problem is the Iraqi procurement process, in which a lack of rules "causes confusion among ministry officials and creates opportunities for corruption and mismanagement," according to a recent Government Accountability Office study, which SIGIR cites in its report. If a government ministry is awarding a contract exceeding $5 million, review by a High Contracts Committee is required. If the contract is approved, the ministry must apply for a letter of credit through the Finance Ministry to obtain the cash to pay for the contract. The Finance Ministry, in turn, must go through two other banks -- including some outside Iraq -- to get the needed cash. [complete article]
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Pakistan: the enemy within
By Irfan Husain, Open Democracy, July 30, 2007

Another day, another bomb. The question Pakistanis are now routinely asking each other is: "How many casualties?" On 27th July 2007, Islamabad's Lal Masjid claimed fifteen more lives as a suicide-bomber shouted Allah-u Akbar! (God is great!) as he blew himself up outside a roadside restaurant a couple of hundred yards from the mosque. A group of policemen who were on security duty and had wandered over for lunch were the targets; seven of them died, and dozens were injured.

Since the operation against the militants holding the mosque for six months ended on 11 July, a spate of suicide-bombings has taken a savage toll of soldiers and policemen. So far this month, close to 300 have died as a direct result of extremist violence. The numbers killed in the Lal Masjid operation itself are contested: government sources estimate them at 102, though militants claim a far higher figure and accuse the authorities of covering up the true scale of the damage. [complete article]
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Lebanese strike a blow at U.S.-backed government
By Robert Fisk, The Independent, August 7, 2007

They've done it again. The Arabs have, once more, followed democracy and voted for the wrong man.

Just as the Palestinians voted for Hamas when they were supposed to vote for the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, so the Christian Maronites of Lebanon appear to have voted for a man opposed to the majority government of Fouad Siniora in Beirut. Camille Khoury - with a strong vote from the Armenian Tashnak party - won by 418 votes the seat that belonged to Pierre Gemayel, murdered last November by gunmen supposedly working for the Syrian security services.

While the Maronite vote had increased against Gemayel's showing in 2005 elections, the result was a stunning blow to the American-backed government - how devastating that phrase "American-backed" has now become in the Middle East - in Lebanon and allowed Hizbollah's ally, ex-General Michel Aoun to claim that "they cannot beat me". Mr Aoun is a candidate in presidential elections later this year. [complete article]
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AEI: Caught between its Likudist heart and its corporate head
By Jim Lobe, LobeLog, August 3, 2007

Today's quotation in the Financial Times attributed to Danielle Pletka, the Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), was a stunner. "If we ...begin to sanction foreign companies through more stringent sanctions in the Iran Sanctions Act, I think there will be serious repercussions for our multilateral effort."

Whatever would possess AEI and Pletka, who personally has been one of the most prominent and enthusiastic cheerleaders of the rapidly spreading state divestment movement against companies doing business in Iran, to offer a cautionary note about adopting unilateral sanctions, let alone stress the importance of preserving multilateral unity with limp-wristed European allies in dealing with a charter member of the "Axis of Evil"? Judging from its provenance at what must be considered Neo-Con Central, it certainly couldn't be common sense.

In fact, Pletka's observation probably reflects growing tensions between AEI's corporate contributors, many of whom are represented on its board of trustees, on the one hand, and, on the other, the hard-line neo-conservative views of its foreign-policy fellows, such as Richard Perle, Michael Ledeen, Michael Rubin, Joshua Muravchik, and Pletka herself; academic advisers, such as Gertrude Himmelfarb, Eliot Cohen, and Jeremy Rabkin; and its board chairman, Bruce Kovner. [complete article]
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U.S. role in the world
World Public Opinion, August 6, 2007

A very strong majority favors a US role in the world that puts a greater emphasis on US participation in multilateral efforts to deal with international problems and on a cooperative approach wherein the US is quite attentive to the views of other countries not just US interests. Very strong majorities favor the US working through international institutions (especially the United Nations) and support making international institutions more powerful. Strong majorities favor international law and strengthening international judicial institutions. Americans support US participation in collective security structures and are reluctant to use military force except as part of multilateral efforts. A large majority favors the US using multilateral approaches for dealing with terrorism, addressing international environmental issues, and giving aid for economic development. [complete article]

Comment -- If not only the world but also most of America wants to see this country adopting a multilateral approach, isn't it time the Democrats had the guts to push this issue harder?

For this to happen though, will require overcoming that most insidious of weaknesses: the fear of appearing weak.
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Engaging the Palestinians means engaging Hamas; Fatah has lost its credibility
By Jeremy Greenstock, Newsweek, August 13, 2007

Tony Blair's recent appointment as representative of the Middle East Quartet (made up of the United States, the EU, the United Nations and Russia) has many wondering whether the stalemate between Israel and Palestine can really be broken. Is the Middle East doomed to perpetual instability? Many of the problems seem irresolvable, beyond the capacity of governments or international diplomats to fix. Effort after effort has turned to dust. Is there anything left to talk about?
Engaging the Palestinians means engaging Gaza and Hamas. Fatah has been drained of credibility as a negotiating partner, and no amount of money and attention poured in from North America or Europe will compensate for that. Blair must therefore convince his Western colleagues that sticking to old patterns has become unrealistic. Supporting Fatah just because it recognizes Israel suffers from a fundamental flaw: the movement is corrupt and unelected and has been rejected by the majority of Palestinians. It will never alone represent enough of Palestine to strike a lasting settlement with Israel.

That's not to suggest it will be easy to work with Hamas, a hard-line group with a history of violence. Hamas refuses to recognize Israel's statehood as a precondition for negotiations (something the Israelis and Americans have insisted on). But Hamas is a political-grievance-based entity—not an ideological one. This truth has been overlooked in the West. Faced with the prospect that its main grievance -- the dispossession of the Palestinian people -- could eventually be removed and a viable Palestinian state established, Hamas might finally recognize that no settlement is possible unless Israeli security gets the same priority as justice for the Palestinians. At the very least, this avenue should be properly tested before it is rejected. Direct engagement could leave a bitter taste in many mouths, but it would still be preferable to despair and violence. [complete article]
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Inside the CIA's secret interrogation program
By Jane Mayer, The New Yorker, August 13, 2007

Sleep deprivation has been recognized as an effective form of coercion since the Middle Ages, when it was called tormentum insomniae. It was also recognized for decades in the United States as an illegal form of torture. An American Bar Association report, published in 1930, which was cited in a later U.S. Supreme Court decision, said, "It has been known since 1500 at least that deprivation of sleep is the most effective torture and certain to produce any confession desired."

Under President Bush's new executive order, C.I.A. detainees must receive the "basic necessities of life, including adequate food and water, shelter from the elements, necessary clothing, protection from extremes of heat and cold, and essential medical care." Sleep, according to the order, is not among the basic necessities.

In addition to keeping a prisoner awake, the simple act of remaining upright can over time cause significant pain. McCoy, the historian, noted that "longtime standing" was a common K.G.B. interrogation technique. In his 2006 book, "A Question of Torture," he writes that the Soviets found that making a victim stand for eighteen to twenty-four hours can produce "excruciating pain, as ankles double in size, skin becomes tense and intensely painful, blisters erupt oozing watery serum, heart rates soar, kidneys shut down, and delusions deepen."

[Khalid Sheikh] Mohammed is said to have described being chained naked to a metal ring in his cell wall for prolonged periods in a painful crouch. (Several other detainees who say that they were confined in the Dark Prison have described identical treatment.) He also claimed that he was kept alternately in suffocating heat and in a painfully cold room, where he was doused with ice water. The practice, which can cause hypothermia, violates the Geneva Conventions, and President Bush's new executive order arguably bans it.

Some detainees held by the C.I.A. claimed that their cells were bombarded with deafening sound twenty-fours hours a day for weeks, and even months. One detainee, Binyam Mohamed, who is now in Guantanamo, told his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, that speakers blared music into his cell while he was handcuffed. Detainees recalled the sound as ranging from ghoulish laughter, "like the soundtrack from a horror film," to ear-splitting rap anthems. Stafford Smith said that his client found the psychological torture more intolerable than the physical abuse that he said he had been previously subjected to in Morocco, where, he said, local intelligence agents had sliced him with a razor blade. "The C.I.A. worked people day and night for months," Stafford Smith quoted Binyam Mohamed as saying. "Plenty lost their minds. I could hear people knocking their heads against the walls and doors, screaming their heads off." [complete article]
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Slaving away for Uncle Sam
By David Isenberg, Asia Times, August 2, 2007

[Congressional testimony from Rory Mayberry, a former subcontract employee involved in the construction of the US embassy in Baghdad:]

Mr Chairman, when the airplane took off and the captain announced that we were heading to Baghdad, all you-know-what broke out on the airplane. The men started shouting; it wasn't until the security guy working for First Kuwaiti waved an MP5 [submachine-gun] in the air that the men settled down. They realized that they had no other choice but to go to Baghdad ...

I've read the State Department inspector general's report on the construction of the embassy. Mr Chairman, it's not worth the paper it's printed on. This is a cover-up and I'm glad that I've had the opportunity to set the record straight.

Let me spell it out clearly. I believe these men were kidnapped by First Kuwaiti to work on the US Embassy. [complete article]

See also, Company accused of abducting Filipinos to build U.S. Embassy in Iraq (IHT).

At U.S. base, Iraqis must use separate latrine
By Mike Drummond, McClatchy, August 3, 2007

FORWARD OPERATING BASE WARHORSE, Iraq — The sign taped to the men's latrine is just five lines:


It needed only one: "NO IRAQIS."

Here at this searing, dusty U.S. military base about four miles west of Baqouba, Iraqis — including interpreters who walk the same foot patrols and sleep in the same tents as U.S. troops — must use segregated bathrooms.

Another sign, in a dining hall, warns Iraqis and "third-country nationals" that they have just one hour for breakfast, lunch or dinner. American troops get three hours. Iraqis say they sometimes wait as long as 45 minutes in hot lines to get inside the chow hall, leaving just 15 minutes to get their food and eat it.

It's been nearly 60 years since President Harry Truman ended racial segregation in the U.S. military. But at Forward Operating Base Warhorse it's alive and well, perhaps the only U.S. military facility with such rules, Iraqi interpreters here say. [complete article]
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Maliki out on his feet
By Sami Moubayed, Asia Times, August 4, 2007

Leaders worry about how history will label them. Adolf Hitler once said he wanted nothing to be written on his tombstone - the name would explain itself. Hitler might have thought he would be remembered as a great leader who brought pride and justice to Germany. Most recall him as a failed military leader who destroyed Europe.

Similarly, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki - whose days in office are surely numbered - might want to to be remembered as the man who brought democracy and justice to Iraqis; the man who rooted out terrorism and killed al-Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Instead, Iraqis will remember Maliki as a selfish, sectarian politician who divided the country as never before, between Shi'ites and Sunnis. They will remember the death squads that flourished under his regime, the targeted assassinations of Sunni notables, and they will see him as a stooge of the Americans who was unable to fulfill any of the promises he made when coming to power in May 2006.

Maliki's problem is that his government is not constitutional, as his cabinet no longer represents all parties that are seated in Parliament. Thirteen out of 37 ministers have walked out, and more are likely to follow soon. [complete article]

'Moment of truth' as Iraq seeks to heal sectarian split
By Dave Clark, AFP, August 5, 2007

Iraq's most senior leaders are to hold a crisis summit this week to find a way to heal the sectarian split in their beleaguered national unity government and head off more violence, they said on Sunday.

At what one senior Western diplomat said was a "moment of truth" for Iraq's elected leaders, the Shiite premier refused to accept the resignation of six Sunni members of his cabinet and promised to discuss their concerns.

Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki on Sunday met President Jalal Talabani, who is a Kurd, and Vice President Adel Abdel Mehdi, a fellow Shiite. [complete article]
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In Iraq, a perilous alliance with former enemies
By Sudarsan Raghavan, Washington Post, August 4, 2007

Inside a brightly lit room, the walls adorned with memorials to 23 dead American soldiers, Lt. Col. Robert Balcavage stared at the three Sunni tribal leaders he wanted to recruit.

Their fighters had battled U.S. troops. Balcavage suspected they might have attacked some of his own men. The trio accused another sheik of having links to the Sunni insurgent group al-Qaeda in Iraq. That sheik, four days earlier, had promised the U.S. military to fight al-Qaeda in Iraq and protect a strategic road.

"Who do you trust? Who do you not trust?" said Balcavage, commander of the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 25th Infantry Division, his voice dipping out of earshot.

An hour later, he signed up some of America's newest allies.

U.S. commanders are offering large sums to enlist, at breakneck pace, their former enemies, handing them broad security powers in a risky effort to tame this fractious area south of Baghdad in Babil province and, literally, buy time for national reconciliation.

American generals insist they are not creating militias. In contracts with the U.S. military, the sheiks are referred to as "security contractors." Each of their "guards" will receive 70 percent of an Iraqi policeman's salary. U.S. commanders call them "concerned citizens," evoking suburban neighborhood watch groups.

But interviews with ground commanders and tribal leaders offer a window into how the United States is financing a new constellation of mostly Sunni armed groups with murky allegiances and shady pasts. [complete article]

Aided by U.S., militants widen reach
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times, August 4, 2007

The leader of the Revolutionaries of Amiriya sits in his headquarters in an abandoned high school here, explaining the militant group's latest mission: policing and rebuilding Sunni Muslim neighborhoods.

"We need to return the services to the neighborhoods. Al Qaeda destroyed streets, schools, electricity, even mobile phone towers," said the man known as Abu Abed, or Saif. "They made the people here desperate."

Since partnering with U.S. forces in May to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq in the walled, middle-class west Baghdad neighborhood of Amiriya, the Sunni militant group has broadened its reach to overseeing city services. And it is pushing ambitious plans to police a few other Sunni neighborhoods, against the wishes of the Iraqi army and government, some Sunni leaders and U.S. soldiers, who say the militants can't be trusted. [complete article]
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House passes changes in eavesdropping program
By Carl Hulse and Edmund L. Andrews, New York Times, August 5, 2007

Under pressure from President Bush, the House gave final approval Saturday to changes in a terrorism surveillance program, despite serious objections from many Democrats about the scope of the executive branch’s new eavesdropping power.

Racing to complete a final rush of legislation before a scheduled monthlong break, the House voted 227 to 183 to endorse a measure the Bush administration said was needed to keep pace with communications technology in the effort to track terrorists overseas. [complete article]
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The Bush administration's not-so-secret secrets
By Scott Horton, No Comment, Harper's, August 4, 2007

The Bush-Cheney Administration will be remembered for decades for its shamelessly political manipulation of security classifications. A number of general themes have emerged. One is that when documents are stamped "secret" or better yet "top secret" this is far more likely to mean "this would be politically embarrassing to us if it got out" than "this affects the nation's security." And here the "embarrassment" covers a sliding scale. Sometimes it would simply make them look stupid or inept. And on other occasions, it would actually link them to a crime -- as when torture and other serious mistreatment of prisoners is concerned, or the warrantless surveillance practices which are so much in the news. In both cases, the "secret" conduct involves felonies. But another aspect is that things are "secret" only so long as it suits our political interests for them to be "secret." As soon as it's politically expedient to leak them, or some piece of them, that just happens. No questions asked. And guaranteed, no investigations launched.

Witness two examples of Administration-sourced disclosures of "secrets" just in the last week. [complete article]
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The mysteries of American logic
By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz, August 5, 2007

George Bush, as is well known, is an authorized exporter of democracy, but what strategic message does Bush convey to "the democracy of Iraq," or that of other countries, when he supports the "democracy" of Saudi Arabia with arms? And why is $200 million in aid to Egypt frozen because that country does not invest enough in nurturing democracy and civil rights, whereas no such demand is made of Saudi Arabia? Has the development of democracy in the Middle East ceased being a strategic goal, or are oil-rich countries exempt?

Perhaps the logic of Bush's strategy can be found in another dark corner: in that same attempt to convey a $20 billion strategic message to Iran via Saudi Arabia. But there is faulty logic here as well. Saudi Arabia has already demonstrated that it cannot pose a military challenge, neither to Saddam Hussein nor to Iran, even with the finest weapons at its disposal. What strategic balance are we talking about here? If sophisticated weapons in Saudi hands will deter Iran, then maybe the Iranian threat is not as dangerous as we thought? And when a nuclear-according-to-foreign-sources country like Israel cannot deter Iran, how will state-of-the-art fighter planes do so? [complete article]

Comment -- Perhaps the best way of understanding the Gulf states' purchase of weapons from the U.S. is in terms of coughing up protection money for the mafia boss. As the Washington Post reports, fearing a U.S. attack on Iran, these states see themselves as the first targets for retaliatory strikes, given that they all host U.S. military bases. So, America is kind enough to sell weapons to mitigate a risk that America itself is elevating. With a friend like Uncle Sam, who needs enemies?
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Similarities between American and Syrian security services
By Joshua Landis, Syria Comment, August 4, 2007

On my return from my last two trips out of the United States, I have been stopped by Homeland Security at the exit ramp of the airplane and retained for four hours or so of interviews and security checks, while notification was sought from authorities in Washington to see if I could be released, causing me to miss my onward flights. My calling cards, contents of my wallet, and personal papers were scanned to add to my computer files. My luggage was also screened for indications of who I had met and what I had done.

Why has my name on the security-threat list? The only conclusion I could come to is that one of my many admirers in Washington had placed me there in order to amuse themselves. When I inquired how I might get my name removed from the list, I was told to have "my lawyer" make inquiries at a Washington address. My hunch is that this would be an exercise in futility even if I were to retain a lawyer. Homeland Security is under no legal obligation to release the reason for which I was replaced on the list. I will have to play the Syrian game of figuring out who I know in the security apparatuses of Washington who might have access to my files and can help to clear up the matter. Security services seem to be surprisingly similar on both sides of the Atlantic. [complete article]
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Al-Jazeera offers news diversity to U.S.
By Edward Luce, Financial Times, August 3, 2007

Ignored or shunned by almost every cable provider in the US, the al-Jazeera English news channel has turned to the internet in an effort to reach American viewers – with much more success.

Since April, when al-Jazeera struck a distribution tie-up with YouTube, the popular videoclip site owned by Google, the channel has received 2m hits and on one day last month was ranked first ahead of Paris Hilton and other staple fare.

Described by Donald Rumsfeld, the former US defence secretary, as a "mouthpiece of al-Qaeda", the Arabic channel's English-language offspring was given a hostile reception in the US when it started broadcasting last November.

Only two cable providers, Buckeye Cable System, which reaches 147,000 homes in northern Ohio, and a small municipal service in Burlington, Vermont, that is piped to just 1,000 homes, have so far agreed to offer it to their subscribers. [complete article]
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Noteworthy articles from the last seven days:

The future of democracy depends on abandoning the war metaphor
By Paul Woodward, War in Context, August 3, 2007

Blackwater: The rise of the world's most powerful mercenary army
By James Meek, London Review of Books, August 2, 2007

Empty-hearted secularism
By Azmi Bishara, Al-Ahram Weekly, August 2, 2007

The American military's lose-lose dilemma in Iraq
By Michael Schwartz, TomDispatch, August 1, 2007

Behind the Mansour Hotel bombing
Baghdad correspondent, Conflicts Forum, August 1, 2007

Misunderstanding Muqtada al-Sadr
By Matt Duss, Foreign Policy in Focus, July 27, 2007

Why oblivion looms for Abbas
By Mark Perry, Rootless Cosmopolitan, July 31, 2007

Interview with Ahmed Yousef, political adviser to deposed PA PM Ismail Haniyeh
By Dion Nissenbaum, Checkpoint Jerusalem, McClatchy, August 1, 2007

A Zionist politician loses faith in the future
By David Remnick, The New Yorker, July 30, 2007
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